Today, I got some news that I wasn’t expecting yet did not surprise me at all: Criminal Minds is coming to an end after 15 whole seasons. Now, for those of you who happen to know me, you will know that I love crime drama. And if you listen to me very closely you’ll know that Criminal Minds is actually the reason I can’t stand BBC’s Sherlock. My last review of the hit British crime drama was beset with jabs and remarks about how much better Criminal Minds handled the topics of genius, weird serial killers and interpersonal drama; but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about Criminal Minds. Let’s talk about what it was, what it became and how we got to here. Oh and spoilers. This is a swan song, I refuse to be held down by the constraints of keeping the veil over some plot points.
Criminal Minds began in the 2000s as a crime drama to end all crime dramas. It centered around the somewhat real and somewhat fictional BAU or Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI, and had a cast of mostly intact characters that were pivotal to the show’s success (more on that later). The first season was pretty unremarkable except for how smart the show was. Since it mostly focused on weird serial killers and used jargon most Americans wouldn’t understand (like “un-sub” for unknown subject) it was considered smarter than Law and Order: SVU and in places even its real rival, CSI. The cast was tight back then with Shemar Moore, being one of the only men on earth who can call me “baby girl”, and Matthew Gray Gubler, playing a cinnamon roll who needs to be protected with at all costs. There was a charismatic lead with Mandy Patinkin and a Daddy of all Daddy, Aaron Hotchner played expertly by Tom Gibson (also more on him in a minute). The first three seasons were pretty standard crime drama; there were some overarching drama but mostly it was the behind the scenes drama that made that first three seasons so good. Famously, Patinkin hated the show. He hated being on a television and left after the third season. He was replaced by the much warmer Italian-American stereotype factory that was Joe Mantegna as David Rossi. Oh, and there were women, too. This show actually has a group of fantastic female characters: each one balanced, complex and wonderful in their own regard like Jennifer Jareau and Emily Prentiss, who is so bad ass she can infiltrate the Irish mafia, get their main dude to fall in love with her unto marriage, and then betray the man all for her country. God bless Emily Prentiss. And I won’t forget Penelope Garcia: hacker, tech genius, and overall ray of sunshine that the show needs. Her platonic yet flirty relationship with Morgan (played by Shemar Moore) is what kept me going in my darkest of hours.
The fourth through tenth seasons may be some of the best on television dealing with many overarching plot issues, like The Fox who had a hard-on for Hotchner and his family, The Replicator (played by Mark FREAKING HAMILL) who had a hard-on for another female BAU operative and had episodes that to this day make me question humanity, faith, reason, logic and decency. The show was good; hell, it was brilliant in places. The episode “Strange Fruit“ should be mandatory watching for those looking for a masterclass in tension and storytelling. “Heathridge Manor” was a brilliant episode in manipulating the audience and only Criminal Minds could make me cry in as many places as it did. I felt for all of these characters. I felt for them on their bad days, when they buried their own, when they faced immense trials and tribulations. I felt for all of them; especially for Dr. Spencer Reid (played by adorable cinnamon roll Matthew Gray Gubler). Dr. Reid is a precious thing and the show seemed to pick on him more so than any other character. He in progressive seasons lost his best friend, lost his girlfriend, lost his mentor, and was left a broken sad little genius of a man and his loss was so genuine and painful that it makes me sad to this day.
The show was doing well, but there was nonsense afoot. The cases were getting more and more convoluted and as season eleven rolled around, an ugly part of the show was revealed: our beloved Aaron Hotchner (played by Thomas Gibson) was a jerk in real life. Gibson caused a mess on set, argued over his role, got into a fight with Shemar Moore (resulting in Moore deciding to leave the show) and was eventually fired at the start of season twelve. That was a problem. Gibson’s character was the backbone of the show. Not just that Hotchner was the boss of the BAU, he was also the emotional center: calm, cool, rational but also fiercely loyal to his team, Hotchner’s loss was one everyone felt. Suddenly, the team and the show felt rudderless. I’m not saying Gibson didn’t deserve to be fired, but once he left I sort of left. The show by this point had already had an issue keeping some of its core cast: mostly the female agents and some had been replaced and adjusted with varying levels of success. Aisha Tyler was great and it was nice to see her continue on the show. Seasons twelve on felt aimless. There was drama but it continued to center on Reid, which just felt unearned. He had suffered season after season and it just felt like kicking a puppy who was already down. Moore’s departure also left a beefcake shaped hole in the series which they tried to replace but the replacement was not enough to fill the gaping hole left behind by Moore’s biceps. And these newer characters just didn’t have the chemistry of the old cast: that tends to happen when your cast is the same for nearly a decade: everyone is very close and not easily replaced.
Seasons thirteen on didn’t even fly close to my radar but we all knew this was coming. Which brings us to now; after season fifteen, we’re done. The show is canceled and we’re finished. And I have to say, I am sad but only so much so. Criminal Minds was one of the few shows I could watch with my grandmother before dementia took her mind and memory and in my hours of costume-based solitude, it was reliable entertainment. I’m sad to see a show I love go but nostalgia is not more powerful than poor writing. I’ll always have the memories of the show I loved but the hollow husk left behind by in-fighting, actor replacements and poor writing will not be missed. So goodbye, Criminal Minds. You kept me going, you made me genuinely afraid to go outside sometimes and you were wonderful at your very best.
Thanks for the memories, even though they weren’t so great.