"Minimal Loss" is only Season 4's third episode and already it sets up the season's very high overall standards brilliantly, for me it was even better than the previous two episodes (which were still very solid) of the season. Sure, it is different from the norm in terms of type of story and concept, something that may raise slight alarm bells because 'Criminal Minds' have done numerous attempts at changes of pace and while some fare very strongly others fail quite badly.
That was in no way a hindrance at all, because while it is one of not many non-serial killer episodes and profiling is minimal the episode is such a masterpiece of characterisation and emotional impact that those reservations are easy to forget about. Even not enough JJ and Garcia (Garcia especially is barely in it) didn't come as that much of a concern for me, underuse or side-lining of characters as well as over-prominence can be an issue on 'Criminal Minds'.
Just for the record, in its prime 'Criminal Minds' is one of my favourite and most watched shows. It's nowhere near as good now, with still some outstanding and good episodes but from Season 6 onwards the quality has been wildly inconsistent and when at its worst it is really bad. "Minimal Loss" is up there as one of the top 10 episodes of Season 4.
Production values as always are as always extremely high with lots of style and atmosphere, there is some slow motion (something that in general doesn't do much for me and is abused a lot) in the climax but it actually added to the tension and isn't overused. The music sets the heart racing and some of the most mood-enhancing of any episode from the earlier seasons. The script is tight and thought-provoking, making one really care about what happens to the characters.
In "Minimal Loss" the storytelling is a triumph. Effortlessly absorbing, and filled to the brim with suspense, chills and poignancy, making for one powerful episode complete with a shocking climax. Prentiss' treatment is gut-wrenching and while one feels sorry for her her bravery also shines. Also striking is Rossi's compassion and Hotch's conflict (showing him as much more than a cold character, never personally thought he was but there are people around who do), as well as Hotch's loyalty to the team and Rossi's loyalty to him.
Direction is alert yet expansive, while the acting at its best was exceptional though absolutely nobody was bad (AJ Cook and Kirsten Vangsness fare weakest but in no way due to their acting but to do with screen time). Matthew Gray Gubler and especially Paget Brewster, displaying some of the best acting she ever did on 'Criminal Minds', are the standouts of the leads, which makes sense as they are the central characters to the action. Luke Perry is more than up to their level as well.
Overall, a classic episode with no loss of power. 10/10 Bethany Cox