12 seasons later Criminal Minds continues to be psychologically thrilling, with moments of comedy and an overall sense of teamwork, loyalty and unapologetic commitment to justice. Opening their season, the BAU Team have their hands full, still on the hunt for the escaped serial killers of last season. “The Crimson King” opened on an expansive shot of the Arizona desert, where a young man is seen walking, disoriented, arms strapped to some sort of torture device. As the audience wills him to keep going, he eventually makes it to the highway where he’s nearly hit by fast-moving semitrailer. Thankfully, the brakes kick into gear just in time. Meanwhile, cut to another part of the desert and we are introduced, for the first time, to Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez) ; the ex-army ranger responsible for helping put 13 of the escaped serial killers back behind bars. This time around, he’s working with Rossi (Joe Mantegna) and the team to apprehend another. They successfully complete the arrest, as Rossi continues to encourage the new recruit to make the BAU his full-time home. He’s reluctant though, the profiling is not his thing, and he’s more an action man. Regardless, the young man found in the desert reveals a connection to Alvez that he can’t ignore.
Daniel Cullen, or commonly known as the Crimson King, was known for cutting his victims, and their latest victim Brian, has the very similar cuts on his stomach. And you ask why it becomes an FBI case? Well the letters carved into Brian’s stomach spell out “BAU” – here comes the mystery. In the meantime, the team have all arrived back to work from their respective holidays; specifically Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) having had taken his mother to Paris. What they all have in common though is an eagerness to meet the infamous Luke Alvez that is everyone but Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness). It seems she gets mighty flustered (circa early Derek Morgan) around Agent Alvez and its super adorable. On one hand, with her explanation about her boyfriend, I thought she was telling the truth, but as the conversation continued I also got the feeling she was making it up. Either way, Miss Garcia is certainly attracted to him, with both Vangsness and Rodriguez falling into an innocent, flirty like dynamic.
Meanwhile, Hotch (Thomas Gibson) and Lewis (Aisha Tyler) have arrived at the hospital to question the victim. After a brief time with Brian, Hotch instructs his team to meet them in Arizona; it seems the BAU message on the stomach, coupled with particular parts of the victims’ statement, could be indicative of the work of Mr. Scratch, Peter Lewis. In transit, the team brainstorm why and how this could be Mr. Scratch. They discuss the fact that most serial killers act out of compulsion but with Peter Lewis, he has some sort of an agenda, he is acting to achieve a particular goal. But what is it this time? They are interrupted by Garcia bringing odd news of an emergency call having been made by a “Jennifer Jareau” that lives on “Rossi” avenue. Talk about sending a message. Hotch and Lewis intercept the information with the rest of the team still mid-air, only to arrive and find a young girl tied up, repeating “Hotch” over and over again. As she sits up, we see that she has had “Hotch” carved into her forehead. It’s haunting and completely confronting, the remnants of Mr. Scratch’s torment of Hotch flashing across his face.
With this new development in the case, and the new victim (Chelsea Carter) the team must now figure out if she and Brian are connected in any way. Hotch and Lewis search her house, while the team look into her history. Lewis and Hotch are the first to find something uncovering medication for anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. Upon this, they figure out that Brian and Chelsea attended a camp when they were younger, for children suffering from dissociative identity disorder. They’re ready to give the profile; Peter Lewis is using a drug to dissociate his victims, subsequently training them to kill for him. The question is why didn’t Brian go crazy, and Chelsea did? Lewis insists on talking to Brian again, and this time figures out that he has alternate identities that may have been at play when he was captured. Reluctant and defensive to this line of questioning, Brian eventually reveals that his alternates were two girls but they no longer show themselves. It seems as though Lewis has finally connected with the young man, so much so, that she asks for his help to go through the list of potential UnSub’s.
In their sit down as colleagues, Luke approaches Hotch about his history with Lewis, questioning whether he’s out for revenge. While Hotch admits to wanting to kill Lewis, he reminds Alvez that a life behind bars is more justice than that. Hotch, being as intuitive and knowing as ever, knows that there is more to Alvez’ history with Cullen; Cullen brutally attacked Alvez partner, a reality still so raw and painful for him to relive. This reality also, shows Hotch that there is something in their profile that Agent Alvez doesn’t agree with. He highlights to the team that Lewis’ plan is not full proof, that he obviously has the resources in place. He planned to have Brian in custody, so which part of his plan worked? Which part are they missing? And with that, the shock hits the team all at once. Them. The point was to get their attention, courting it. So what is he going to do now that he has it? And that’s when Lewis works it out. Brian, he’s using Brian to get the list. And as Hotch instructs Garcia not to distribute it, he’s a minute too late. It’s already gone; and as we cut to the hospital we witness Brian (experiencing flashbacks of Lewis’ training) horrifically kill the young police officer before carving “Bye” into his forehead.
Tara is understandably shaken, and feels deeply responsible for having not noticed the identifiers that Brian was turned. But her team assures her that this isn’t her fault. As the team come together again to brainstorm just what Peter Lewis’ endgame is, they all come to the conclusion that Brian truly thinks he’s the Crimson King. Again, Alvez seems to see something the others don’t; why was Brian strapped to the arm spreader in the first place? To ensure he wouldn’t question that he was a victim, another key part of Lewis’ plan. But what Alvez picks up on is the stitching in the leather of the arm spreader. Who would have thought such an element would be the big break in the case. Regardless, Alvez calls Garcia to ask her to search for sex shops that stock this particular type of arm spreader. This demand catches Garcia totally off guard, leaving her speechless and nearly falling off her chair. Kirsten Vangsness is hilarious in these scenes, her genius as this character continuously growing.
Meanwhile, Brian has rejoined Peter Lewis after escaping the hospital and disabling the GPS on the cellphone he has. At the police station, Tara is having a hard time dealing with the events of the day and when JJ (AJ Cook) notices she asks how she can help – Tara simply responds by just asking her to ensure she doesn’t miss anything when questioning Brian’s parents. Aisha Tyler, is hands down, the MVP of this episode with her emotional vulnerability and commitment to amending Tara’s mistakes heart wrenching. She’s give this cast a new layer, with the psychological background of her character adding depth and scope. Brian’s adoptive parents inform JJ and Tara that when he was young he’d be violent towards himself, but he also used his alternate identities as ways to sloth himself. This piece of information sparks something in Tara, as she goes further to question what exactly it was that Brian would say to himself. In the meantime, Reid has found out that Lewis has been using his personal details when the sex shop worker shows them evidence of Reid having been the one to purchase the arm spreaders. This aside, the team finally discover a key difference, a difference between Lewis’ arm spreader and Cullen’s.
The fantastic thing to watch with Criminal Minds, is when the team, one by one figures out the UnSub’s game plan. And in this case, they all simultaneously realize that Lewis’ is going to get Brian to kill Daniel Cullen. They arrive just in time to find Brian (alone, Lewis is long gone) beginning to carve into Daniel Cullen. What happens next is an emotionally drive stand off with the FBI; Brian is broken, and has no idea what he’s doing. Yet when Tara and JJ arrive, they begin to talk to the young man – “no one is going to hurt you like that ever again”. As Brian starts to calm, Tara asks whether he remembers Eliza and Angelica; again, JJ and Tara ensure Brian that no one will ever hurt him. After promising him, Brian drops the scalpel and Tara arrests him, sticking close by to the young man. I’m going to say it again, but Aisha Tyler was deeply moving within this episode, balancing determined and stoic with disappointed and pained brilliantly.
While all of this ensued, Alvez remained solely locked on Daniel Cullen and when the heat of the situation dies down, confronts the serial killer. But what we’re surprised to discover is that Daniel Cullen has lost his memory, he doesn’t remember Alvez’ partner nor his own name. And with that, Adam Rodriguez cuts the audience deep with a dynamic delivery of deep, unparalleled pain. Back at the BAU, Hotch and Alvez are discussing the case and that Hotch focuses on the ones he can save, not the ones he could kill. He also offers Alvez a full time position within the FBI, to which he accepts. He takes this news straight to Penelope, still having trouble maintaining speech around him, who is not one bit excited about it. If the Criminal Minds team were trying to fill the void of Derek Morgan, they may have just found the solution. Don’t get me wrong, no one will ever replace Shemar Moore and the chemistry with Kirsten Vangsness, but Adam Rodriguez character has a specifically intriguing and hilarious dynamic with Garcia that I for one cannot wait to watch.
(Note: Peter Lewis circling the name Desmond Holt — could this be his next ally?)