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Criminal Minds - Family Tree - Review: “Roots”

We’re down to the wire now, folks. Last episode before the two-part series finale.

And for an episode that has such a meaningful spot in a show’s run, it turns out to be something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s setting up some significant elements for the finale itself, with two team members getting news that could be quite life-changing, and an appearance from the Chameleon, who’d made his presence known at the beginning of the season, only to have gone dormant since then. The stage is set for a final showdown with him, and leaves the door open for changes to the team’s future, both individually and collectively. Which is good! That’s precisely what a show should be doing as it winds down.

On the other hand, we have our case of the week, and on the plus side, it’s not exactly a predictable one, and there are some intriguing elements to it. On the downside, it’s also kind of bizarre? There’s an interesting case there, but some of the elements, while interesting, don’t seem to gel together quite as well as they should.

But if the way the case wraps up is any indication, this may not be the last we see of this unsub, or at the very least, his crimes. There are some aspects left for the team to puzzle over, some items that could lead to a lot of potentially intriguing revelations. If this episode’s case does wind up having some connection to whatever happens in the series finale, then maybe it’ll help sort out some of the more strange and confusing moments.

If there is no connection, and this is it, well, at this point, most people probably aren’t as focused on the cases anyway, so...maybe it’s for the best? Still, it would be nice to have that side of things better fleshed out, since the cases are a rather important part of the show.

But let’s get into the case itself, and maybe we can make the call as to what happens from there.

The Case:

A man encounters a couple prostitutes chatting by the side of the road. As he does so, we’re privy to his thoughts via voiceover, in which he starts talking about many people deserve better than they get in life, and that things can get better if one wishes hard enough. He meets up with one of the women, hobbling along the way (he tells the woman he tore a ligament). He tries to entice her to leave her current life and join him for a fresh start. She seems uncertain, but looks to be leaning towards considering his offer…

...or so it seems. Turns out that her interest is all in his head. What actually happens is she turns him down flat and starts to walk away. Of course, this does not bode well for her, and the next time we see her, the man is dragging her body into a wooded area and burying her in a shallow grave. He places a kiss atop the grave, as a final flourish. While all this is unfolding, we continue to listen to his thoughts, in which he acknowledges what he does is wrong, but sometimes one needs to “pick the lesser of two evils”. He admits that his crimes chip away at him, and he’s scared to become pure evil.

As is often the case with these kinds of crimes, this woman is not our unsub’s first victim. Another prostitute’s recently gone missing as well, but that’s not all. Two businessmen are on the victim list as well; one, like the prostitute, is currently missing, the other was murdered recently, just like the woman from earlier. The unsub’s M.O. is a pretty gruesome one: he’s chopped off his victims’ tongues, ears, and left hands. Ick. The contrast in his victimology is striking, so naturally, that’s going to be a big focus for the team. Revenge? A moral enforcer? When next we see our unsub, he’s begging to be found and stopped...before putting a few parts of his victims in an envelope.

Of course, the victims’ backgrounds look pretty stereotypical on the surface. The men were upstanding members of society, had families, church-going, all that good stuff, while the women were on the struggling end, caught up in drugs and living rough lives in general. The missing man and woman have been found at this point, and the woman was also buried in a grave, while the man was disposed of unceremoniously, in an abandoned incinerator. What’s more, the women have been wrapped in white sheets, buried face down, and while found nude, there’s no sign of sexual assault. The men were also knocked out and stabbed, and the women were strangled. Why the difference in treatment?

Another similarity among the men is that they come from money, and have deep roots in the area. The team’s starting to think the unsub might be making some kind of commentary about how society treats them versus how they treat the prostitutes. Interviews with the men’s families imply the men had no interaction with these women, but as Tara rightly points out, just because they say that doesn’t mean it’s true. JJ comes in at this point with a sketch of their potential unsub, given by one of the prostitutes we saw at the beginning. Reid also notes a distinct age difference between the two prostitutes, and the fact that the men are in their fifties. The unsub’s clearly trying to work out some personal issues against somebody in his life, but who?

As the team works the case, the unsub seems to be focusing on his next potential targets. One is a salesman at a car dealership. The unsub seems to believe that the salesman is his father, and that he conceived him with a woman named Lydia under a tree thirty-one years ago, when they were both young. That’s...specific. The unsub seems to believe him, talking about wanting to make things right...but nope, once again, it’s another fantasy sequence. What actually happens is that the unsub agrees to test drive a truck with the saleman, and I’ll let you guess if we ever see him again.

The other person the unsub’s fixated on is a woman who works at a bar. Her name is Becky, and he seems quite taken with her, though he takes issue when she criticizes her mom for taking her ex’s side, saying, “Family is everything. Without family, nothing makes sense.” He returns to the bar later, telling her his story of being conceived under a tree (guy is really fixated on his conception here, wow). He’s convinced that he and Becky have met for a reason, and he tries his “fresh start” speech that he’d used on the woman from earlier on her. “I would never try to deceive you,” he assures her, which is totally what any girl wants to hear from a guy who’s rambling about being conceived under a special tree and acts like they’re meant to be despite having just met.

Becky seems to be enticed by his words, but you know the drill at this point. Yep. Fantasy. Instead, she’s understandably weirded out by his presence, and another guy rightly tosses him out of the bar, making it clear he’s never to come back there. Of course, later that same night, as Becky’s leaving work, see if you can guess what happens? Yep, he kidnaps her. And when they make it to his secluded place, she’s greeted with the horrifying image of a whole mess of left hands and ears hanging from a tree. Remember, up to now it’d been believed the unsub had only murdered five people. But there looks to be a LOT more than that on that tree.

Obviously, she’s curious about the hands and ears, though I'd tell her that asking the unsub why he has them isn't a good idea. You don’t want to know the answer to that, honey. His explanation is even more nonsensical – he explains that he put all the hands and ears on the tree as a way to honor what happened there, which, okay. He also talks about wanting to “bring everyone together”, and how trees can “sense things” and “regenerate”, and I’m sitting here all, “WTF, dude?”. He figures they can make things right, but she’s clearly not on board with his crazy plans, and he’s disappointed that she’s just like all the others. Buddy, you’ve got hands and ears hanging from a tree, nobody’s gonna be on board with that.

Now, one thing you might be noticing about the salesman and Becky – they don’t fit the unsub’s earlier victim type. Becky isn’t a prostitute, and the salesman isn’t rich like the businessmen. So why is he picking them? The salesman, obviously, was a quick and easy way for him to steal a vehicle (though he has lived in the area for years, which fits with the “deep roots” aspect of the male victims), but is there something specific about Becky that made him focus on her?

While the unsub’s out collecting his latest victims, the team’s putting a few more pieces of the puzzle together. They’re getting some creepy mementos from the unsub – bits of the victims themselves, and a series of recordings. All those voiceovers we’ve been hearing thus far? That was the unsub recording his thoughts for posterity. His ramblings seem incoherent and rambling – sometimes he wants the FBI to stop him, sometimes he doesn’t, sometimes he’s talking about fresh starts, “mother trees” and alters.

The mention of alters gives the team an idea, though: the unsub seems to be seeing his female victims as brides. The left hand is normally where a wedding ring goes, and the white sheets – well, white=bride. The unsub is likely either trying to recreate or mock a wedding ceremony. Perhaps his father had an affair with a prostitute, or his mother was a prostitute, and was shunned by the father’s family. So basically the unsub’s dealing with unresolved family issues. Aren’t they all?

“When you apply Garcia’s law of diddly-squat, things narrow down considerably.”

Sure enough, thanks to Garcia, they look to be on the right track. In 1989, a sixteen-year old girl named Lydia did give birth to a boy. She fought for child support and got it, which was good, as she’d been living a rough life up to that point. She moved with her son to Houston afterward, but her life sadly did not improve from there. She struggled with drugs, and recently died of cirrhosis. Further digging into the father reveals his name was Billy Crawford, and the Crawfords are a wealthy family that had been in the area for generations. After getting Lydia pregnant, he was shipped off to boarding school, and she was given a nice chuck of change by his parents in the hopes she’d go away and take the scandal of her pregnancy with her. Billy died of cancer five years ago. Now with Lydia dead as well, their unsub is basically an orphan.

The Crawfords owned a patch of land just outside of town, so the team concludes that’s where the unsub’s hiding out, and where he’s taken Becky. They head out there, and catch up to the unsub just as he’s running off to get some supplies. Rossi follows him deeper into the woods, and the unsub starts shooting...and hits Rossi!

Nope, wait, he doesn’t. Yet another fantasy sequence. Geez, show, don’t do that to me. Rossi’s actually fine, and he shoots the unsub dead. Becky is saved, and returned home. The local officers will continue to look into the numerous body parts left behind, since, as noted, it’s clear that there’s far more than five victims. The team, meanwhile, has copies of the recordings. Tara’s spending a late night at the office, listening to and transcribing them, in the hopes they’ll reveal some further insight into the unsub and his crimes. So far, all she and Reid can conclude is that he struggled with the difference between reality and fantasy, and couldn’t handle the dual parts of his life.

“I guess I’ve lived my life with a sliver of...arrogance.”

Rossi, meanwhile, is visibly rattled by his experience hunting down the unsub, as it brought back memories of Lynch attacking him in the field a year ago. He explains to Matt that he’s realized he’s suffering from PTSD, something he’d never had experience with before, and felt he was immune from. He’s also still racking his brain over why Lynch let him live when that doesn’t fit his M.O. After Matt attempts to reassure him, he heads home. As he does so, we hear the unsub’s voiceovers once again, and I’m nervously watching him get into his car and drive away, just waiting for something to happen. But thankfully, nothing does.

Instead, we end on this scene: A woman enjoying a nice day outside, being greeted by her significant other...and it’s Lynch! Clearly, he’s picked his latest victim. They’re being all lovey-dovey, and he makes a comment about how much he likes her “facial structure”, and how she should be “preserved under glass forever”. Uh-oh. She’s safe for now, though, at least, heading back inside as Lynch stands there, lost in thought.

Question for you all at this point: did the voice for the bookend quotes in this episode sound different? It should – normally, as we all know, the bookend quotes have been read by a team member. This time, however, Lynch is the one reciting them! He leaves us with these ominous words from infamous serial killer Ted Bundy:

"We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow."

After that, the words “to be continued” appear on the screen. And on that incredibly chilling note, we’re set for next week’s finale!

I really, really liked that ending. Having an unsub read out the quotes was an inspired touch, especially as we get ever closer to the end of the show. That particular Bundy quote was a pointed reminder of the kinds of evil these people have had to battle over the course of fifteen seasons, and, depending on what happens in the finale, may continue to battle. Plus, given the numerous references to real life killers and crimes over the years, I mean, Bundy’s about as appropriate a reference as you could make.

I also liked that ending because given the unsub was caught, as it were, earlier than they typically are, and with the scene of Rossi walking to his car, I was so certain we’d end on some kind of predictable dramatic cliffhanger, with an explosion or car accident or something. Aside from the obvious reasons I’m glad they didn’t go there, this ending was a much better way to set an unsettled, creepy mood, and leave us wondering about how things would play out in next week’s final showdown.

And I don’t think the final showdown will be solely confined to Lynch, either. I really liked the use of voiceovers and recordings in this episode, and I feel like there’s more still yet to be revealed from those recordings. Just something about the way Tara was listening to them, and the team talking about how confused his ramblings were, it all implies to me that this story isn’t quite over. I keep wondering if we’ll discover that this unsub has some kind of connection to Lynch. Either that, or maybe, if he’s not closely involved with him, their crime sprees will still intertwine somehow at some point.

Or I could be completely wrong. I kind of hope I’m not, in part because I think that’d make for an interesting twist, but also because if the unsub’s crimes were confined to this episode, then this case just fits in alongside so many of the other cases from this season, weird and kind of nonsensical and all over the place. For instance, it’s not uncommon for unsubs to change their victim types, but I feel like they didn’t really give us much reason as to why he suddenly picked a bartender for his final victim instead of yet another prostitute. Yeah, he felt they were “meant to be”, but it still felt kind of a flimsy reason. And if the deep roots were more the issue than the money in regards to the men, then why were the first two men so wealthy? Clearly money had to play some role, since the unsub’s mom was paid off to leave town after giving birth to avoid the scandal.

And for that matter, there wasn’t any indication that Lydia was a prostitute. She had a down on her luck life, yes, and got pregnant quite young, but if the unsub was trying to work out those issues, as the team believed he was, why pick prostitutes, then? I figure in that case the point is that he believed the town treated his mother as though she were a prostitute, but even then, that still feels a stretch if that’s what they were going for. Course, there was the whole thing of him trying to play rescuer to women that are down on their luck, but a woman doesn’t have to be a prostitute for him to do that – again, I point to his attempt to pull that “fresh start” speech on Becky.

I would’ve also liked a little more time spent with him at this tree he claimed was so important. Yes, he talked about why it was so special, and of course, a lot of his rambling about the tree can be chalked up to him struggling with whatever delusions he had. But still, for as important as that tree was to him, it’s weird that we didn’t really get any moments of him spending time there.

So yeah. It’ll be interesting to see if there is more than meets the eye here or not. It won’t surprise me if this is all there is to this case, and in some ways that might actually work better, ‘cause lord knows there’s going to be a lot happening in the finale as it is. But if this storyline does happen to continue, I will be curious to see where else it could go.

Of course, whatever happens case-wise in the finale, that’s just a portion of what to expect. This episode also set us up for some potential seismic changes happening within the team, changes that could affect certain characters’ futures forever. And no, that’s not an exaggeration.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

“After a hundred-plus years, I think it’s high time the Bureau had a female at the helm.”

Emily’s in a meeting with the deputy director as the episode begins. That’d be important in and of itself, but this isn’t just any ol’ typical meeting. It’s quickly revealed that she’s been handed a very big job offer: director of the FBI.


Naturally, Emily’s honored that they’d consider her, but she requests some time to consider the offer, for obvious reasons. The deputy agrees, reassuring her that she’s got some time to think about it, as the transition period will take a few months. In the meantime, she’s advised to keep mum until she’s made an official decision.

She’s not the only one weighing a significant job change, though. JJ’s also got a few things to consider as well. When we first see her this episode, she’s regaling Garcia and Reid with stories of a recent family visit to Will’s hometown of New Orleans. She then reveals to them that she’s been offered a job of her own, at the New Orleans field office. She’d put her name in on a whim years prior, but had totally forgotten about it until now.

Reid and Garcia are surprised by the news, and are torn between being supportive and, obviously, not wanting her to leave. JJ reminds them that she hasn’t actually made an official decision yet, but another potential job offer may make her decision that much more complicated. At the end of the episode, Emily tells her about her own offer, and then says that if she does take that job, she would like JJ to be the new unit chief. JJ’s very appreciative that Emily would think of her, but now she and Emily each have a choice to make. For JJ, does she go to New Orleans and start a new life with her family there, or stay on and become unit chief? For Emily, does she move to Denver to be with Mendoza and his daughter, or take over as FBI director? Two very big, life-changing decisions, to be sure.

Personally speaking, I would prefer to have them both stay and take the director and unit chief positions. They’re both qualified for them, and I also agree with the deputy director about a woman running things. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the show did go that route. Partly because it’d be a good way to keep as much of the team still contained at the FBI, even if they’re not all alongside each other in the BAU anymore, and partly because I feel like the deputy director’s “women” comment was a notable hint in that direction. Especially when you factor in the way Brewster and Cook were unceremoniously dumped by CBS years ago. It would be a very fitting end, as a result, to have their characters moving up in their jobs, and finding themselves in positions of power for a change.

At the same time, however, Emily has made clear her feelings on politics in the past, and if she did take the director job, she would obviously have to deal with a LOT of that. And the show made a big thing earlier this season about how important JJ’s family is to her. We’ve seen her balance her work and her family throughout the years, of course, and I personally have no trouble believing she’d find a way to do that if she did become unit chief. Plus, she refused to quit her job whenever Will brought up the idea in the past, so it’d make sense for her to do that here, too.

But I could also see recent events causing her to reevaluate a few things, and choosing a quieter life with her family down in New Orleans instead. Especially since she’s well aware of what the job did to Hotch and his family. And Emily seemed pretty committed to trying to make things work with Mendoza and his daughter last episode, and was clearly frustrated by the long-distance relationship. It would seem rather abrupt for her to turn away from that as a result.

There’s also the possibility that one of them could stay and the other could leave, and in that case, I could see Emily staying more than JJ. Emily cares for Mendoza and Keely, yes, but there’s not the kind of deep history with them that JJ’s built with her family. And Will’s stayed in Quantico for so long for JJ’s sake, so I could see where JJ might feel it’s time to repay the favor.

So many possible ways this could go, and we’ve only got a short time left before we find out what will become of them, and the team as a whole. I’m both excited and anxious to see how the show wraps everything up, and I’ve got Kleenex at the ready as well. Here’s to the final chapter, everyone.

What did you think of the episode? Did you get tricked by that fakeout of Rossi being shot? And if not, were you certain something would happen to him as he headed home towards the end? Do you think those recordings, and the unsub and/or his crimes, will play a role in the finale? What do you think of Emily and JJ’s respective offers? Which choices do you think they’ll ultimately make? And finally, are you at all prepared for the show to end? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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