So you want to be a hero?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any episode written by Andrew Wilder is likely to be an exceptional installment of the show.

This one is no… er… exception.

Being a review of Criminal Minds 4×11, “Normal,” written by Andrew Wilder, directed by Steve Boyum.

 

In this episode, we travel to a cloverleaf highway interchange in scenic Orange County, California, where somebody is killing blonde women badly driving luxury cars. There’s no mystery for the audience as to who the UNSUB is, because this is one of the CM episodes that relies heavily on the guest actors and delves deeply into the broken soul of the antagonist. In this case, Norman the antagonist is played by Mitch Pileggi, probably best known to television audiences for his role as Assistant Director Skinner in The X-Files.

Norman is, indeed, a normal guy: one horribly broken by a tragic incident—the death of his daughter—for which he blames himself. The tension in the episode comes from the team’s race to identify and get to him before he kills more people, a murder spree that they believe will inevitably end in his killing his remaining family members.

There’s a trick of characterization they use often on Criminal Minds, showing one aspect of a person, and then other, contradictory aspects. This happens with the protagonists, but also with victims, bystanders, and villains. No one is ever entirely good or bad in this universe, and that’s a complexity deeply explored in this episode.

For example, the first victim of the episode (played by Elaine Hendrix) is initially presented as the sort of person you really would kind of like to see have a horrible car wreck after she cuts you off. And then we meet her again in the hospital, and we see a different, desperate side of her, and everything about our perception of her changes. Likewise, Norman himself never quite stops being a figure of sympathy, despite his terrible actions. Some of that is Pileggi’s nuanced, understated acting, and some of it is the delicacy of an outstanding script.

This is one of those episodes where the team loses, and in this case they lose terrifically big.  Jordan Todd begins to understand the job, and exactly what the job entails—something everybody else on the team has long since accepted and found ways to deal with—and from the rest of the team we see the combination of ruthlessness and compassion that makes them such compelling fictional people.

A standout episode all over.

Criminal Minds airs Wednesday night at 9 PM on CBS. New episodes resume on January 14th.

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