Being a review of Criminal Minds 4×13, “Bloodline,” written by newcomer Mark Linehard Bruner, directed by Tim Matheson.
Well, that was problematic.
In this episode, the team is called in to investigate a child disappearance in Alabama, leading them to discover a family whose first generation immigrant apparently couldn’t get a wife for his son, so he decided to make one.
The first time I watched this ep, I was wincing at the racist implications of a Romani family murdering families and kidnapping girl-children as child brides, being such an obvious and painful stereotype. It was only on the second time through that I caught on that we were talking about a case of cultural appropriation, aided by Rossi’s flat statement that Romani do not act this way. I’m still not entirely soothed by it, and I have to think a while longer about whether I think the deconstruction works. In any case, the narrative gets a little muddled, and that troubled me, and it’s not always entirely clear what they think they’re saying and about whom they are saying it.
Especially since in many ways it’s a good episode, otherwise, but I’m having a hard time seeing past my gut-level reaction.
This saddens me because the character and thematic work is great: for the first time, I really appreciate Rossi. He seems gentler, suddenly, and I think it’s because he’s paternal towards Todd, who is being scaled clean by a job the difficulties of which she never understood. Rossi, untouched by the horror of it, explaining that horror very patiently to Jordan, and explaining to the team that even if they need that ability to compartmentalize (which Prentiss demonstrates so beautifully) that doesn’t make the compartmentalization right.
The actress playing the abused and triangling mother is wonderful, as is the way the episode draws parallels between the team as family-of-choice and the UNSUBs as family-of-assimilation. Prentiss is fabulous in both the interrogation scenes: the one with the kidnapped girl and the one with the mother of the boy, who is a former kidnap victim herself. I think the episode handles the details of how being raised to a damaged pattern breaks people very well, and there are little side-nods to Hotch’s divorce and to how trauma affects young victims.
We get to see Hotch unpack his inner monster, becoming the abuser he despises and yet knows so well, and it tells us again why he keeps his emotions under lock and key. I’m not sure they ever need to make his backstory explicit: it’s evident every time a scene like this gets played.
Other characters get less focus this ep, but there’s Reid being catty—and his deep muscular flinch when Prentiss comments that the boy is only ten—Garcia with her hypercompetence and banter, and Morgan with the deductive leaps of smart.
And yet it’s another lose for the team, complete with horror-movie ending and sequel hook. I find I always like the episodes where they lose. Probably because it reminds me that on this television show, at least, the possibility of abject failure exists.
Criminal Minds airs on CBS, Wednesdays at 9.