What follows below the cut is a spoileriffical review for Criminal Minds episode 4×02, “The Angel Maker,” written by Dan Dworkin and Jay Beatty, directed by Glenn Kershaw.
“The Angel Maker” plays the trope of the dead-but-reborn slasher in a real-world fashion, taking one of the hairiest cliches of horror film and, well, resurrecting it. I have to admit, my heart was sinking a little during the cold open, because it was such dead predictable thriller-fodder, but once we got past the inevitable murder of the blonde with the orange cat and into plot and character development, my worries eased, and in the long run, I rate this as an excellent installment.
Criminal Minds is aware of its own metatext, and it’s impossible that they would do a revenant-serial-killer-terrorizes-small-town episode without at least a brief handwave to the Traditional Thriller Explanations for the DNA of a dead man turning up at current crime scenes:
“He never actually died!” Well, no, he died. “It’s an evil twin!” (Or, as Reid postulates—in a scene eerily reminiscent of the Pitch Session from Hell—”eviler twin”) Nope, no twin. “The prison guard did it!” Actually… not so much. Sorry to have mislead you. Okay, not sorry at all.
CM is back to stylish and slick, something that fell out of the mix in the last part of season 3 (well, they had a lot on their minds, what with an actor desertion, the writer’s strike, a looming actor’s strike, and scrambling to get as many episodes in the can possible) and I’m happy about it. We’ve got some very pretty cinematography and editing, nice postproduction work, and a brief glimpse of SpencerCam—point of view shots from inside the picture-thinking low-latent-inhibition (okay, we don’t actually know the pathology of his genius, but the POV shots look like information firehose) brain of Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) a character who is sort of the bastard love child of Nikola Tesla, John Nash, and Richard Feyman, complete with overlong fingernails and terrible dress sense.
Also in this episode (without giving away too much of the game) we get some long-arc setup. The obvious half of this is further development on Hotch’s (Thomas Gibson) injury. It’s been very little time since he was hurt—he’s still sporting scabs on his face—and there are several scenes in which it’s plain that he is furthering the damage to his body by pushing himself too hard. I think Thomas Gibson is a very underrated actor, honestly; having seen him play everything from irredemable bastards (Tales of the City) to the current hyper-ethical workaholic boyscout, I’m impressed both by his range and his ability to make you believe in very different people, without chewing scenery.
There’s also a lot of sleight-of-hand directed at Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster), which I believe is setting up the long-awaited revelations about her backstory. We’ve been getting hints for two years now that Prentiss is not what she seems; I suspect that particular narrative thread is moving towards a climax.
Other than that, much of the character development in this episode revolves around letting the team be the team. Prentiss and Reid (the awkward geeks) are back to being easier with each other than they have been since Reid’s injury and flirtation with painkiller addiction—and Prentiss’s relentless pursuit of him on the matter. Reid is very much himself again, a season and a half of post-traumatic stress and Trauma Hair later, but he’s not without a certain new aura of adulthood and capability. David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) is integrating with his coworkers finally, supporting them and allowing them to support him. As a writer myself, I got a lot of joy out of the moments when his auctorial pride was offended by the villain’s lousy prose.
In addition, Jennifer (JJ) Jareau (A.J. Cook) and Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) have a couple of brilliant just-us-girls BFF moments, the sort of stuff that is probably a large part of the reason why so many female viewers are wildly passionate about this show. (“There are three chicks, see? And they’re friends with each other.“)
It’s a calm before the storm, a moment where there are traces of ominousness on the horizon, but for the time being the characters are doing all right. They saved a life this week (Something they don’t always get to do; Criminal Minds subscribes to the Hill Street Blues model of cop shows, and there are not a lot of guaranteed wins) and Hotch made a smart choice at the end, after making a lot of poor ones.
And we all breathe a sigh of relief to have dodged another bullet today.
It won’t last.
Criminal Minds airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm on CBS.