Okay, as promised in various forums, a year-end Criminal Minds wrap-up and speculation post. And then probably I can let it rest for a while.
I'm still sorting out what I think about the season finale, and the season, and the two-season arc, so bear with me
First of all, the parallels and circular naratives. They do this all the time, of course--the narative progression in this show is designed as a series of interlocking spirals, like a field of razor wire. Loops come back and touch previous loops, just brush past them. Sometimes it's just an image (Reid performing magic with the irrigation syringe in 2x12 ("Profiler Profiled"), foreshadowing Other Things; Elle's centipede scar making a reappearance (first time I've seen a TV character injured on a show and requiring open-heart surgery develop scar continuity, which is why I think Spencer's continuing to wear rolled-up sleeves is important, more on that in the drug obsess below) and sometimes it's a line of dialogue, like the repeated refrains ("You did your job," "You did what you had to do," "You did everything you could," "Profiles can be wrong," (and their variants)) and sometimes it's a plot or thematic or imagistic element. "We argued about the definition of a classical narcissist," Hotch says, in 2x15 ("Revelations"). And yes they did, sort of, back in 1x06 ("LDSK"). And from that, he gets, and the audience is expected to get, the magic trick Reid is trying to remind Hotch about.
Run. Run. Try to keep up.
But "No Way Out II" (I just can't call it "The Evilution of Frank." Sorry, guys. I love your titles, but that one is not so much with the... er... anything but cheesy.), as a season ender and the start of a new macro plot-spiral (there are wheels within wheels, like the gears of a clock) both picks up any number of languishing threads, starts a few more, and ties the spiral back into its origins.
Writers and critics call it circularity, and it's one of the things that lends a sense of closure/epiphany/catharsis to a narrative. It's also a hard thing to get right, expecially in a serial drama, where you need threads leading forward. Remember how TV shows always used to end with the main cast sitting around in a room--often the same room where the story started?--and somebody cracks a joke and everybody laughs? *g*
We've gotten a little better at serial drama for what used to be the small screen, now.
And there are so many elements of that here, both within the hour (I think they could have used five more minutes for this ep. But 43 minutes is a hell of a ticking clock if you want to do anything more complicated than a simple shoot-em-up with some character development in the corners.) and harkening back to the beginning of the season.
And this show always deals in parallels. Parallel lives, parallel outcomes, layers and layers of parallels. Parallels across seasons, not just within episodes. Their thematic arguments are not the sort that can be resolved in that short hour.
The obvious one of course is the flowers. Gideon's inability to pick out a bouquet for Sarah while she's being murdered, and he doesn't know it. His indecision. The fact that it's the job that made him late, and the job that killed her. "Button mums are something you give your mother."
And Frank is never indecisive. He never waffles. He kills without hesitation, with a terrible certainty, delaying only long enough to enjoy the fear of his prey. And he brings flowers to his mother, too. Even though she's been dead for decades, rotting in a little apartment on the East Side, so far decayed she doesn't even smell anymore.
They really go out of their way to establish the Frank/Gideon parallels in this one (as they have all along.) With Frank wearing Gideon's clothes and using his name, even, however briefly.
Although it occurs to me that the only other person we've seen dumping sugar into his coffee like that is Reid. *g*
Which brings me to another circularity: Rebecca, the Fisher King's daughter. Another parallel there--one between Rebecca and Sarah, Reid and Gideon: Reid loses Rebecca, and Gideon loses Sarah. (The narrative treats Reid and Gideon as on pair of mirror characters in their endless funhouse series of distorting mirrors [everybody is a twisted reflection of somebody else, including the villains and the victims and the cops-of-the-week], and more on that character dynamic in a bit. Also, HELLO Old Testament names.)
Of course the dynamic is different. Rebecca isn't a girlfriend, or even a friend. She's somebody Reid saved. And she's also central to one of the allegorical arcs of the show (there is more than one allegorical arc: the one I'm referring to right now is the Arthurian one.
Because Rebecca, of course, represents the Holy Grail. Which Frank snatched away from them, after they thought her safely won.
But Rebecca is also just a person, She's not actually the Holy Grail. She's the daughter of a madman. (As Reid points out.) However, thematically, she represents the Holy Grail. The thing all the knights are fighting for, and fighting to reach. She's a life saved. She's another goddamned starfish. It's not Rebecca: it's all the Rebeccas.
And she represents healing, as well, because that's what the Sangreal does. Another goddamned starfish. The whole reason they can get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.
Because sometimes they win.
And healing, traditionally, is also what Percival does for the Fisher King. Except our Percival can't quite manage it. He can't heal the Fisher King. The Fisher King has to heal himself.
"A Fisher King wound cannot be healed by somebody else. It's not a wound to the body. It's a wound to the memory. A wound to the mind, it's - a wound that only you can find, and a wound that only you can heal...
There's only one question that matters. There's only one really important question - can you forgive yourself?"
Which of course is the question that every single one of our guys is being forced to ask him or herself, this season. Thematic statement for the whole 2
(4)3 episodes, right there. Bang.
And that's why we come back to Rebecca in 2x24, and why she has to die. (Also, I think Gideon's crack--"What are they going to do, take away the jet?" is emblematic of that, because the jet is their safe space. It's their protected sanctuary, refuge on holy ground, the only place where they do not have to be on their guard.
The FBI didn't take that away, literally. But.)
Frank took away the Grail: the safety of the victims.
And Erin Strauss, Ph.D., is trying to take away the jet, metaphorically: the sanctity of the team, which is already damaged by Elle's betrayal (let's just go ahead and call it a Fall) and Morgan's secrets and Reid's dereliction of duty.
Can JJ forgive herself for not being fast enough for the girls in North Mammon? Can Hotch forgive himself the compromises he makes on behalf of his family and his career? Can Morgan forgive himself for being ashamed enough to keep for fifteen years a secret that resulted in the sexual exploitation of who knows how many young men? Is Prentiss going to be able to forgive herself whatever nightmare choice she's about to make? Can Reid forgive himself for being human, and having limits, and not being strong enough and smart enough to save everybody?
(Where "everybody" is Tobias, his mother, Elle, Dr. Ted Bryant, Rebecca Bryant (no relation. *g*), Randall Garner--) Sometimes, Spencer, you can only save yourself. And sometimes only for a clean death, when it comes right down to it. Good thing for Reid's fragile sanity that Frank's victim #2 wasn't Nathan. It's never been quite so fortuitous to have been involuntarily committed to the Greater DC Area Home for Incipient Serial Killers, has it, kid?)
Everybody on this show walks with a limp. So to speak. And of course, because the whole narrative revolves around him, the core question is, can Gideon forgive himself, well, everything?
Hotch doesn't think so. I admit, I also don't think so. I think it's too late for Gideon, and that's part of what makes him interesting. He's going to die in that harness, and he knows it, and so does everybody around him. He's Lancelot, the knight with the fatal flaw. But he's still fighting the good fight.
And slowly, the things that protected him are being stripped away. His sense of his own infallibility. His cabin. His home. His old friends. His separation between his life and his work. His mentoring relationship with Reid.
And now Hotch, the single biggest thing that protects Gideon, is on the chopping block.
This could get ugly.
Because (beatriceeagle and I were talking about this last night) there's another reason to kill off the Grail. ("She's not the Grail. She's your daughter." People are not symbols, in this show, even when they are. They're people. Even when they are avatars of evil.)
It could be that the Grail plotline has come to a close, and it's time to move on in Arthurian romance. Which can only be bad for Our Heroes. Now, admittedly, our Arthuriana is not quite like that Arthuriana. Percival and Bors and Galahad came back from the castle of the Grail, and Percival continues to be tempted (and tested), and Galahad is anything but pure.
beatriceeagle pointed out that Rebecca (false Grail) being dead frees them up to resume a quest for the true Grail.
But at this point, the other major available plotlines are Merlin's betrayal by Nimue, Lancelot's betrayal of Camelot, Arthur's sin and fall... and Mordred. *g* And I know which one they mean us to be thinking of. But I still think Prentiss is Gareth Beaumains, not Mordred. (I could be wrong! I could be! It has happened!)
Especially since I think some of our knights hold more than one role. And in addition to being Bors, I think Hotch is Kay, warder of the castle and keeper of the hearth. (Okay, he gets along with Lancelot, which is out of character, and also why I peg him for Gawain. Er. Early Gawain. But these things don't have to be rigidly assigned. Patterns can shift.
Like the personalities of a fallen angel. But we're not doing the God And The FBI meta here. That's already over at glass_cats, if you want it.)
The terrible question is, which one of them is Bedevere?
The parallels are broad and tangled in a lot of ways. Reid is Percival, of course. But he's also, in a sense, Galahad: Lancelot's more noble/unstained son. And Morgan also gets to be Galahad sometimes, as when the three grail knights enter the castle to confront the Fisher King. And of course Lancelot/Gideon has a son, Stephen, who I hope we will eventually get to meet.
(I wonder if the whole world has forgotten about Gideon's kid. Stephen hasn't been mentioned in a dog's age. A little continuity there would be nice: just a nod. A glance at a photo. And can we have some progress on the backstory regarding the wife/wives and/or the PTSD layer under Boston? Because let's face it: Gideon hasn't been right for years. Possibly, the entirety of his adult life.
Mention Sean while you're at it, guys: the fans crave the semblence of a continuous narrative.
Yeah, I know, they come back to stuff forty episodes later. Bear with 'em, Bear. They've got a lot on their plates. They'll get there.
And if they don't, well. Then I can start bitching.)
I think Stephen and Reid and Morgan could be delightfully awkward with each other. Um, what I was saying above? About the spirals interlocking? Yeah. This is not a simple linear equivalency here. Especially since they also all might be angels. And God knows what all else. And FBI agents, of course.
Which, in the interests of continued circularity, leads us back to Reid's and Gideon's parallel. Reid's on the same path as Gideon, and the question is, of course, whether he'll be able to walk that line, or whether he too will fall.
Gideon, as above, does carry that fatal flaw. He can't set his burden down, and he can't walk away. And in some ways, he's been bending Reid into his legacy. (There's that word again.) If Nathan is mini-Reid, then Reid is mini-Gideon.
Gideon says, "You don't want to model your social life on mine." More or less, you don't want to be Gideon. And Gideon knows it.
But he also can't resist shaping Reid in his own image. Because, well, it's what he does. Gideon manipulates people like breathing. He uses them, he herds them in pursuit of his obsession, he takes insane risks with their lives, and he pushes them beyond their natural limits.
None of this makes him a bad person. In fact, it's what makes it possible for him to be as good at his job, to save as many lives as he does, to win as often as he does. He's a gambler, and part of gambling is losing.
If you are a professional, you never risk more than you can afford to lose. And if you do lose, you pick yourself up and start over.
There is an ongoing poker metaphor/theme in the show, and no matter how often Gideon tells himself (and Reid) that he's playing chess, he's not--they're playing poker. They don't know what the other guy has in his hand, and they're trying to figure out what he's going to do before he does it. And luck plays a huge part: even if you read the other guy correctly, if he's determined to call your bluff there's not much you can do about it.
The problem these guys have is that the stakes are always more than they can afford to lose. They play for lives and souls.
Sometimes, their own.
But Reid is starting to figure out that maybe he doesn't want to be Gideon, and it will be interesting to find out if he can manage that.
The question is, of course, can he forgive himself? Can he forgive himself for the people he's killed, for the ones in whose murder Raphael made him complicit, for not sacrificing his own entire life on the altar of his mother's madness, and for a thousand other things?
Or is he going to turn into Gideon, who has all that blood on his hands, and who still keeps trying? (There's that newspaper photo of Gideon in Boston, with bloody hands. The blood of his own people, in that case. And then there's Gideon in "Open Season," with a monster's blood on his hands. And there's Gideon in this last ep, covered in Sarah's blood.
And then there's Reid, trying and failing to wipe Nathan's blood off his own hands, and mostly just spreading it around.)
I said in the CM chat last night that I just recently started to wonder if Spencer's sperm donor was on the bottle. No real evidence, just that ditching your genius ten-year-old with your schizophrenic wife and taking off for parts unknown is typical alkie avoidance of responsibility. Well, I don't have to do it. Somebody will clean up.
And if that somebody is your son? So be it.
Which leads us neatly to that addiction plotline. I said way back that I thought the Reid drug plotline was a red herring to distract from a deeper plotline revolving around Gideon and Hotch (and I seem to have been correct...), but I also don't think they're going to abandon it with the shallow treatment it's gotten so far. I'm currently a proponent of script narcotics or alcohol over street drugs (the rolled up sleeves, for one thing, and the possibility of a random drug test).
coffeeem suggested that somebody at the network freaked out over a nuanced discussion of drug addiction featuring somebody who was apparently capable of doing his job while using, and it's been put to bed because of that. I kind of hope not, but hey, if the
editor network puts a gun to your head... there's not much you can do.
She also suggested that Reid did his research and planted his sore little feet (I love that turn of phrase way too much) and detoxed in front of God and everybody during "Distress" and "Jones," and thus explains his erratic behavior and mood swings in those eps.
Which is true, and she makes a good case. I think it's an unsatisfying payoff for a really fraught setup, and I will be sad if that's all we get out of it.
But I'm not sure it's a dead issue. The writers have been keeping their options open. And this thing is arranged like a fugue, and themes submerge and re-emerge and twist around on themselves. And rarely seem to get put to bed.
Seven major characters, each of them carrying a sub-plot or two. (Of course, if it all vanishes without a trace, and Gideon's parenting issues likewise go poof, along with Hotch's marriage and kid... then, yanno. I'll be taking back many of the nice things I've said about the writers.
But so far so good. And they did bring back Rebecca and Tracy. And then there's Elle's scar. And the definition of a classic narcissist. And schizophrenia. And child molestation. And cancer survivors. And post-traumatic stress.
And daddy issues.
Don't hold your breath, but all those things might just be coming back up again.)
So we'll see.