In the highly-populated landscape of television procedurals, Criminal Minds has continuously managed to stand out above the rest by consistently delivering intriguing tales of the morally corrupt and mentally disturbed. Last season, “The Replicator” (Mark Hamill) terrorized the BAU by recreating the crimes of their past cases, ultimately leading to a showdown where Strauss (Jayne Atkinson), the BAU Section Chief, became his final victim. With the top spot of the unit open, and a projecting cannibal on the loose, is CBS’ sleeper hit on its way to a season 10 renewal?
In the Criminal Minds season 9 premiere, “The Inspiration” (Part 1), executive producer Janine Sherman Barrios weaves a gruesome tale about a paranoid, methodical killer named Wallace (Fred Koehler) who - through projected cannibalism (who know that was a thing?) - attempts to destroy (in the most gruesome manner possible) his greatest predator: women.
“The Inspiration” isn’t the most complicated case the BAU has ever been called in to investigate, nor is their investigation all that thrilling. In fact, this premiere is what one could call BAU-lite, wherein everyone’s favorite familiar cast takes a (literal) seat to the more compelling tale of the UnSub’s self-destruction. Though more office-based investigations aren't typically as exciting as ones where the team is able to put their feet on the ground, so to speak, Koehler - who is already beloved in the Death Race franchise - does an impressive job leading the episode as well as his character, Wallace, through the grisly indulgences of a deranged man.
The episode, though extremely well-constructed, does, however, leave little time for actual progression of the core cast storyline: the replacement of Strauss. Criminal Minds has never been that great with its female members, no matter how important their portrayals are, and the loss of Strauss - arguably the most underutilized female member of the BAU - isn’t a storyline that should be extended. (Though it will, until episode 4, when Matt Cruz (Esai Morales) becomes the new BAU Section Chief.)
All is not lost, however, as the episode makes good use of a twist ending which will require the BAU to return to this investigation next week. Of course, a repeat of the episode from the week before is never really all that fun – and that, thankfully, is where Camryn Manheim comes in. Nowadays, if Manheim is going to appear on a show, it’s going to be for a reason. That reason, unfortunately, has yet to be revealed - but since Manheim is playing the role of Wallace’s mother, and Manheim has the ability to easily step into darker roles, there’s more than enough reason to be excited about what’s to come from the mother of a madman in next week’s episode.
Sitting at the ripe old age of 9, Criminal Minds is still considered part of the procedural heyday that was created by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’s popularity, yet it’s still one of the few (save NCIS) that is able to earnestly engage its viewers, year after year, season after season. And yes, though the cast has gone through changes (some not so great), at its core it’s still one of the most thrilling procedurals you’ll find on network television.
Criminal Minds returns next Wednesday with "The Inspired" (Part 2) @9pm on CBS. You can check out a preview of next week's episode below: