Criminal Minds: Season 7
Seven years ago the propensity for broadcast networks to run police procedurals with the emphasis of forensic science. This shifted the onus of the writers from setting the episodes in the dark back streets of the city to the ultra modern laboratories where the minuscule evidence is located, categorized and readied for the prosecution. CBS redefined its image from senior citizen detectives to bright young scientists in starched white lab coates replacing years of street smarts with advanced degrees in molecular biology and particulate analysis as the network dominating the ‘CSI’ franchises they had to find a variation to branch out into. With physical forensics covered the ‘eye ball network’ went off in a different direction, psychological investigative techniques better known as criminal profiling. Since the public awareness of the F.B.I.’s behavioral science unit (BAU) war heighten with serial killer movies like ‘Silence of the Lambs’ this seemed to be a logical direction to follow. The combined result was a series ‘Criminal Minds’. Following the top BAU team in the Bureau’s enormous resources they take their Gulf Stream jet off to anywhere in the country in the pursuit of active serial killers. That was seven seasons ago and the fundamental principle of entropy is not in effect in the quantum universe but in the conference rooms of the network programming divisions. After seven years of retaining favorable ratings the series is showing signs of losing the heat of its initial popularity. It is evitable, but the networks and fans realize a course change is required to reinvigorate the show. since there is not much that can be accomplished by altering the premise, the experiment was tried and failed in a single season spin off, so that pretty much leaves the perennial favorite, shake up the cast. This can frequently reset the inter character dynamic but usually flirts with launching the series in a great arch over the proverbial shark. This seventh season comes close to that leap into oblivion it managed to doge the reaper for at least another season but with significant personnel changes looming.
The BAU team has always been exceptionally tight knit with more of extended family socialization. At the end of the previous season this feeling was disrupted when the covert past of one of the team, Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) is revealed. Prentice was a replacement agent after a personnel shift early in the show’s run. Due in large part to Ms Brewster’s acting acumen her character quickly became vital to the interpersonal bonds that retained the cohesiveness of the team. With her death, the team was devastated specially the socially awkward genius, Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Guber). He finds relationships exceedingly difficult and bonded very closely with Emily. Before joining the BAU Prentice was recruited as an operative for the CIA working abroad on numerous dangerous clandestine missions. When her past caught up with her revealing her past she was murdered. At least that is what the team believed. Prentice was alive and a Congressional committee was convened to investigate the BAU breaking with protocol to act independent of instructions and exceeding their prevue in tracking down a foreign operative involved in Prentices perceived demise. It is revealed that she is still alive and trying to apprehend the foreign agent responsible. Ultimately the committee rules the teams close tie is advantageous and permits them to remain together. However, faking her death created a rift in the team that quickly became systemic. This included the team’s tactical supervisor, Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) and the computer whiz technical analysis, Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness). The quirky hacker had always been the emotional core of the group and felt especially betrayed at the deception no matter what security concerns were at work. Many of the group had their own issues to deal with this season infusing more of a soap opera motif to this season. Garcia is experiencing relationship turbulence with her boyfriend, fellow FBI computer geek, Kevin Lynch (Nicholas Brendon) who brings out her fear of commitment. The Team Leader, Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson), is a single parent of a young son and in this season is beginning to get over the death of his wife and has started to date. Jennifer 'JJ' Jareau (A.J. Cook) had been the public relations and media specialist but now that she is a mother and in a committed relationship with a police detective. She wants out in order to spend more time with her family. That leaves the other senior agent, David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) he had been one of the founders of the BAU but retired becoming very wealthy with series of bestselling books. He remains the most experienced and insightful member of the team.
This season did follow the established format of the Unsub of the week but the connective tissue that pervaded the seventh season is ‘the times they are a changing’. Reid is angry at JJ and Prentice for excluding them from their plot. This reduction in the team’s esprit de corps requires a significant part of the season to heal. In many ways this is ways a more realistic way to introduction a series of changes and demonstrates a certain level of respect for the fans. Rather than just reinvent the series in a sudden shift at the start of the new season the arbiters eased into the changes giving an organic feel to the alterations. This afforded the cast and producers the opportunity to wrap up the loose ends to the characters individual story lines. The two hour season finale is a prime example of this where once again Rossi hosts a family style dinner for the team where the trials and tribulation can be put in the rear view mirror and the stage set for what happens next.
With all of this going on it might have been easy to forget the Unsubs that drive the individual episodes. This season had the usual great assortment of villains with so many psychological issues the writers must have the DSM-IV in their favorites folder. One of the most entertaining was a guest appearance of Battlestar Galactica’s’ Tricia Helfer as serial bank robbers with a playing card slant. This case warranted a two part episode, the previously mentioned end of the season. Another notable episode is one involving a gothic setting and ritualistic murders. It was directed by Matthew Gray Gubler and features a guest appearance by the original Freddie Kruger, Robert Englund. Most transitional seasons are off their game and uncharacteristically diminished in quality but ‘Criminal Minds’ managed to hold together and give hope for next season to their fans.