Shelter from the Storm

Being a review of Criminal Minds episode 4×06, “The Instincts,” written by Chris Mundy, directed by Rob Spera.

The first thing I would like to say is, Chris Mundy delivers.

I thought this was a particularly good episode in terms of cinematography, character development, and nuance—one of the best of the new season so far.  The intricacies of plot may have been a little lightly addressed, but then, there’s only so much you can do in 43 minutes.

In this episode, the team journeys to Las Vegas to hunt for a kidnapped boy, thereby embarking upon a suite of adventures in which not only will several of them will find their parent/child relationships in question, but there will be opportunities to take jovial stabs at certain other well-known CBS cop shows—and in a possible television first, absolutely no stock footage of the Las Vegas Strip.

In a moment of slightly overplayed narrative convenience, the course of these investigations will also trigger a buried memory in Las Vegas native Spencer Reid, who is having nightmares again. Those nightmares will provide the setup for… next week’s episode!

But essentially, this was an episode about mothers and sons, and mothers who have lost sons, and sons who have lost mothers. And JJ, currently big as a house with her soon-to-be firstborn son, who is the other focus of this episode.

Reid, as we learned in Seasons 1 and 2, has not necessarily lost his mother. Which is to say, he knows exactly where he left her: in a Las Vegas sanatorium. His mother, Diana Reid, is a paranoid schizophrenic and once-brilliant academic, played with prickly mercuriality by the amazing Jane Lynch. And Reid, of course, is very much aware that schizophrenia is a genetic illness, which informs his interactions with many of the very ill people he meets in the course of his work.

With the presence of Jane Lynch, it was inevitable that the CM guest stars would steal the show again. This time, the other real standout was Kari Matchett as the mother of the missing boy, who brought a definite fragile steel to the role of a woman trying to hold herself together so as to help her child any way she can. There are several beautiful moments, as well, where in the midst of her own drama she makes space to comfort a struggling Reid or JJ, to lend them with strength she cannot really spare.

Reid’s mother does the same: her illness is evident, as is his struggle with it—but it’s also evident that somewhere in there is his mother, who loves him desperately and who would do anything to protect him. She fears for him as well. She’s aware that she’s sick, and she’s aware he’s at risk. For me, maybe the most worrisome element of the episode is the revelation that Reid is experiencing audio/visual hallucinations, and more or less treating them as business as usual. It’s something we’ve been lead to suspect since early first season (“Derailed”) but this is the first time we’ve ever seen it happening in a way that is obviously not just the rapid data processing of his overclocked visual brain.

He seems perfectly capable of distinguishing these hallucinations from reality…for now.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

JJ’s drama is much more subtle in this episode, but it’s the sort of thing that should be well underplayed. It’s obvious she’s making the transition, over the course of an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy, to thinking of herself as a parent, and beginning to understand what that entails.  Her resentment at having been relegated to the rear lines is tempering as she finds ways in which to be useful, and to remain at the core of her team’s activities. I love the fact that even though she’s big as a circus tent, Hotch is still treating her as an equal and a colleague, and backing her judgment up without question.  Her protective gestures towards her unborn child are becoming more unconscious, less “Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to do this,” and it’s fascinating to watch.

I’ve never seen a TV show show us the process of a woman learning to be a mother before, and I think it’s a lovely bit of discussion—especially in an episode entitled “The Instincts,” in which several characters make the claim that “mothers just know these things.” Mothers may claim they “just know these things,” but the women we see doing it—and claiming that intuition as their excuse—are all intelligent and capable, and in several cases very transparently using “intuition” as an excuse to say what they know from observation the other woman needs to hear, whether it’s objectively true or not.

I think it’s significant as well that Morgan, the survivor of child sexual exploitation, is the one guiding Reid through his half-repressed memories of childhood trauma. (Just how much childhood trauma can these characters pack into their histories, anyway? Well, it’s a hit show. Realistically, it could run for another three or four seasons…)

And then, the cherry on top of this rather disconcerting sundae, is the kidnapper. Who, as we learn over the course of the episode, is not a preferential child molester or a sexual sadist at all, but an exact analogue of Diana Reid: a woman with a crippling mental illness. Except the kidnapper had no family support network, and was not permitted to keep her child.

I think it was an interesting choice to keep Reid out of the sequence where the team confronts the kidnapper. It’s Hotch and Morgan who talk her down, while Reid rescues the child—and in the process, saves her life, without ever exchanging words with her.

Win/win, right?

…maybe. Tune in next week!

(Criminal Minds airs on CBS at 9 pm on Wednesday nights.)

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