Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Paget Brewster, Joe Mantegna, Nicholas Brendon
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All photos © ABC
Reviewed by Will Harris
aving watched Season One of “Criminal Minds” once upon a time (as in, back when not every TV-DVD set I viewed was part of my job) and been somewhat underwhelmed, there was little reason to suspect that I’d find myself returning to the series. And, yet, when our man Ross Ruediger took the plunge and reviewed Season Two of the show, only to surface with a four-star review, I had to admit to a bit of curiosity as to what I might’ve missed on the first go-around. As a result, when Season Three came available for coverage, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give “Criminal Minds” another try.
There’s no question about it: “Criminal Minds” has grown considerably since its first season, most notably in the way it has begun to focus more on the personal lives of its characters. Perhaps that’s the influence of another procedural on the network which has succeeded so well at this – insert plug for “NCIS” here – but whatever the reason why, it has indeed changed the series for the better. Based on Mr. Ruediger’s review, it appears that this transition began in the previous season, since he noted how the series “ups the stakes and drama by frequently focusing on the personal lives and issues of the Behavioral Analysis Unit and how these people’s personalities both clash and dovetail with their work.” That focus is placed squarely on Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) as the season opens, finding him in the midst of a serious crisis between doing his job as a profiler and maintaining his sanity. In the end, Gideon opts for the latter, departing the unit and providing Patinkin with both a noble exit from the series and the opportunity to return for a guest appearance should he desire one.
Replacing Patinkin in the cast is Joe Mantegna, playing Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi, a guy who’s been retired for the better part of a decade but has made the unexpected decision to return to active duty. It’s a move which surprises everyone within the unit, since Rossi is not only a legend within the Bureau but also a best-selling author, but – shocker! – Rossi has personal reasons for wanting to come back to work. Yes, a case has been haunting him for almost 20 years, and although it’s not a Bureau case (it occurred before he ever joined the organization), he decides to take this opportunity to utilize their database to finally solve it. The case hovers in the background for several episodes, but when it finally becomes the primary focus, the resolution occurs a bit too quickly – we’re talking within one episode – but it’s done in a manner where the guilty party proves more deserving of pity than hatred, and the conclusion is emotionally satisfying. (There’s a quick shot within the last moments of the episode that’ll have your tear ducts quivering.)
There are a few episodes between Gideon’s departure and Rossi’s arrival, and they serve as an excellent showcase for Thomas Gibson, a.k.a. Agent Aaron Hotchner, who’s dealing with the repercussions that his innate ability as a profiler has on his marriage. Like “NCIS,” however, “Criminal Minds” has taken to expanding the lives and personalities of everyone on the team throughout the season. Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) battles through Gideon having known that he would be the one to discover his departure from the unit (Gideon leaves a letter at his cabin with Spencer’s name on it, and, indeed, Spencer’s the first person who thinks to check the cabin for Gideon’s whereabouts); he also has a tremendous spotlight episode later in the season when a suspect’s attributes come strikingly similar to his own. Tech goddess Penelope Garcia (Kristen Vangsness) deals with a major cliffhanger during a two-parter in mid-season, but she recovers and gets a love interest in the form of a fellow techie played by Nicholas Brendon. (Sure, he’s totally channeling Xander Harris in this role, but it’s so good to see him back in top form that you won’t care.) Agent Jennifer “JJ” Jarreau also finds herself a steady beau and more.
The comparisons to “Silence of the Lambs” that have been made here and elsewhere are completely on the mark, with the profilers working hard to determine the next possible victim of the criminals they’re seeking, but wow, are there really this many serials killers out there? Let’s try to pretend this is more fiction than fact, if only so we can sleep at night. Of course, those who were watching Season Three of “Criminal Minds” when it originally aired probably haven’t slept since the season-closing cliffhanger, anyway, since it offered a split-screen of the various members of the team getting into their respective SUVs, only to have one of them blow up immediately before the closing credits.
You’ve got to love a show which demands that you come back next year for the sake of your sanity, but, even more so, you’ve got to love a show that’s grown as much as “Criminal Minds” has.
Special Features: In addition to the obligatory gag reel and deleted scenes, there are no less than five featurettes included in the set: “Killer Roles,” “From Script to Screen” (which focuses on the development of the episode entitled “True Night”), a profile of the new guy (Rossi / Mantegna), a spotlight on Shemar Moore, who plays Morgan, and a season wrap-up, “The Criminal Element: The Making of ‘Criminal Minds: Season 3.’”