"Slave of Duty" is not 'Criminal Minds' at its finest, and a small step down from the previous episode "100", which was a shocking, tense and emotionally devastating episode and one of Season 5's highlights. At the same time, it is not even close to being among the show's worst, like "200", "The Black Queen" and the worst of Season 11. Instead it is one of the very good episodes, if just falling short on being great.
The emotional impact is what is particularly striking about "Slave of Duty", with it being one of Season 5's and the entire show's most touching and emotional episodes. The beginning is one of the show's most touching scenes, while the scenes with Jack (portrayed beautifully by a very cute, but never cloyingly cutesy, Cade Owens) are heart-melting and heart-breaking. Love also the scenes between Hotch and Rossi, which show Rossi's wisdom, and the ones between Morgan and Rossi, showing a sympathetic side to Morgan, and the close and supportive bond within the team.
Regarding the case/mystery itself, it's not particularly original or inventive but it's never dull, and doesn't play second fiddle to the emotional content and never losing sight of what makes the show so great. And it has tension and suspense with a shocking twist and a standout scene with the foreboding line "Why do you have a key" delivered with such deranged anger and intensity. The unsub is not one of the show's most interesting or immediately memorable, but has enough personality and menace to be a proper threat and the scenes with him and Erika are intensely done. Rena Sofer and Wes Brown do great jobs individually and together.
The episode is as ever stylishly made, hauntingly scored with beautiful use of music at the beginning, sympathetically directed and tautly scripted, shining especially in scenes where the team are bonding and in the scenes with the unsub and Erika. The acting is very good, especially Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna and Shemar Moore of the regular team.
For all these many great things, there are shortcomings. Strauss continues to be as cold, underdeveloped and manipulative as ever, and one really doesn't buy her abruptly backing Hotch when she spent all her screen time in previous episodes wanting him out for reasons never made clear. The scene with Jessica also seemed a bit glossed over, while it could have been open to interpretation and Jessica may have been unsure what to make of how she felt it could have been a little ambiguous as to whether she was completely on Hotch's side or blamed or resented him.
Overall, solid episode and a very emotional one. 8/10 Bethany Cox