The last time we saw the Criminal Minds team they had lost one of their own – in the Season Eight finale the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit’s chief, Erin Strauss fell victim to the latest criminal to set their sights on the criminal profiling team. The finale closed with the team reminiscing on the life of Strauss, having caught the unidentified subject (unsub), ‘The Replicator’ (played masterfully by Mark Hamil) after a tense stand off which left the majority of the team in mortal danger.
The show returned for its ninth season in the UK tonight, and threw us straight into the action, as we see Agents Jennifer Jaraeu (JJ, played by A J Cook) and Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) in the midst of a high speed chase. A brief glimpse of a truck speeding towards their SUV is all we get before we flashback two days and are introduced to our unsub of the week – a guy who hunts out twenty something girls, shooting them, and leaving them in a praying position post mortem.
One of the things that makes Criminal Minds stand out from the rest of the procedural dramas that are on TV is the focus on criminal behavoir. Rather than look at crime scenes for evidence, the BAU look for markers of bahavoir, patterns which tell them something about the person who is acting out their criminal fantasies. When considering this show in isolation the idea of someone thinking of women as praying mantises may seem a little bizare. However, in the context of the show they make it completely believable, and it continues the pattern of looking at the most extreme sides of human psychology.
Time may have passed for the team, but the great dynamics and witty team banter is still as evident as ever. At the start of the last season the team was shaken up by the introduction of a new team member, to fill the void left by Agent Emily Prentiss. I was at first cautious about how Doctor Alex Blake would fit into the group dynamics of a tight knit team, but was pleasantly surprised by how she fit into the group. At the start of this season no one new was introduced as the section chief, and so I am left wondering whether Agent Hotchner will take up the new position, leaving a space in the BAU, or if some one new will take over. Either way, things are going to be shaken up in the upcoming episodes. The rest of the team are as tight as ever. Having played these characters for at least seven years, it is clear that the main cast know their characters as well as dedicated viewers do. Matthew Grey Gubler is as charming as ever, as the genius Doctor Spencer Reid. Kristen Vangsness is impressive as Penelope Garcia, the tech wizard who is convincing in her chemistry with the other characters, despite the fact that she barely stands in the same room as them.
The episode takes a gruesome turn, when we find out that the unsub forces his victims to eat human flesh before killing them. While it is clearly a grim idea, this is not something that is completely new to the viewers of Criminal Minds. The show is unflinching in the most extreme demonstration of human depavity, and is all the better for it. Moments where the unsub converses with a desiccated head gives visceral moments of gore which helps to make the show more real. Another strength of the show its its ability to get inside the heads of the criminals, giving real insight into the obsessions of the criminals featured.
The episode ends with a nail biting finale, as the unsub devolves and threatens a room full of women, only to lead the police on the aforementioned car chase, and we are left wondering what Hotch will decide. While no bigger criminal was introduced in this episode we are left with the tantalising to be continued which has me excited for the next episode.
8/10 – Not the strongest opening episode of a season of Criminal Minds, but interesting and engaging nonetheless, and showing great promise for the rest of the season.
Criminal Minds Season Nine airs on Sky Living, Monday nights at 9:00pm.