Being a review of Criminal Minds 4×14, “Cold Comfort,” written by Dan Dworkin and Jay Beatty, directed by Anna Foerster.
Whew. Guest star city. Vondie Curtis-Hall, Cybill Shepherd, Randolph Mantooth… it’s all good.
In this episode, the team travels to Seattle to hunt a serial killer who’s abducting and embalming victims for sexual purposes. Along the way, they have encounters with good mothers, bad mothers, and a psychic who may be a con man—or perhaps a con man who may be a psychic.
Criminal Minds has an interesting relationship with the supernatural, religion, and the idea of divine intervention. I think it’s part of the thematic argument that drives the entire series—the lack of certainty, the lack of good answers, about the causes of evil spill over into the realm of the supernatural.
There’s nothing in the world of this show in which anyone can take comfort: God and psychics will both let you down, but you don’t even get the atheist’s comfort of absolute certainty that they’re not real. At the same time, the world of the show acknowledges that if you leave things open enough, anybody—even Hotch—will fill in the details.
That theme is picked up in the episode title, one of the punalicious ones Criminal Minds loves so well. It’s cold comfort for everyone, from necrophiliacs to the parents of missing children.
I also like that, just as with the ongoing nature/nurture argument and the one about personal responsibility in “Tabula Rasa,” various characters are partisans of different viewpoints as to the reality of an unseen world. Garcia believes; Prentiss is skeptical; Morgan and JJ wish they had faith; Reid remains the perfect agnostic, open to the possibilities but not invested in any particular answer; Rossi is scornful of the paranormal but a practicing Catholic; and Hotch remains an enigma.
It’s a theme we’ve come back to repeatedly over the years, sometimes with subtlety (“Broken Mirror” and “Revelations”), sometimes in a much more heavyhanded fashion (as in “Lucky” and this episode). I thought this one was a bit wobbly with overplaying the woo woo, but I loved the contrast of the reality—the psychic is a con man—with what people want to believe. And there’s a nice twist in the idea that he may indeed have some special ability, and it still may not help at all.
I also thought it was a nice thematic twist that JJ, the consummate liar, is the one to whom he directs most of his lies. And that she acknowledges that she wants to believe, and why. Her self-awareness is one of the things I love about that character. JJ always knows why she does things, even when she’s doing something dumb.
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9 pm on CBS.