Criminal Minds does not exactly have a stellar backlist of season openers. #1.1, "Extreme Aggressor", was good, but not great; #2.1, "The Fisher King: Part 2", failed to deliver on the promises of the excellent Part 1; #3.1, "Doubt", was of equally generic fare; #4.1, "Mayhem", was a near-total disaster after the magnificent #3.20, "Lo-Fi"; and *only* #5.1, "Faceless, Nameless", achieved greatness (ironic, considering the title). So, did that episode break the curse for good? The answer, for now, seems to be 'yes'. The opening scene echoes the opening scene of the previous season's ender, and then, in *less than a minute*, we are plunged straight into horrific action. This is the most assured opening of a season opener so far in the series history. The plot picks up directly from where we left of, and it doesn't really matter that it's hard to care at the character who was killed in the previous season's finale because we first saw them in the same episode, since the focus is now *elsewhere*, unlike in the disappointing "Mayhem", where the death of what's-her-name didn't really register, the BAU members carried the Idiot Ball and clichés piled up with handy coincidences and right-out impossibilities (the Enhance Button trope). Looking back, I see that some fans unable to accept that there are flaws in the plot of "Mayhem" have voted my review of that episode "not useful". How childish.
There is a disturbing twist in the plot that makes this episode so memorable. Also, the pacing remains frenetic, meaning we are not really kept waiting at any point. In the end, it's quite amazing how much happens in this episode. Tim Curry, naturally, dominates, his delivery of his character Billy's answer to Ellie's question of why he kills people being particularly creepy. A genuine surprise here is Isabella Murad, who portrays the young Ellie. She could develop into a major talent if all goes well. However, the biggest surprise is that JJ, ironically considering her character's "arc" is about to end, gets to be in the central role, and A.J. Cook seizes the opportunity to shine.
Some niggles remain. Though Paget Brewster's red, cleavage-revealing t-shirt from the previous season returns to please those of us who like it, this reviewer included, it really isn't FBI standard issue, is it? Contrast JJ's white-collar long-sleeve shirt. Morgan's fury, meanwhile, is pure Writing-for-the-Dimwitted, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Poor Robert Davi is left with minimal screen-time consisting mainly of expository dialog now that his character no longer has a function plot-wise. Reed, Rossi and, not that it is a shame since the character hasn't been believable anymore, Hotch all pretty much just hang around. Kirsten Vangsness is really lucky in that Garcia *always* has something to do, and her character has the most of the best dialog in the series. But deep inside, even the deniers know that Gracia is just a poor man's Abby from NCIS.
We can all pretty much guess how the story ends, but it is all done with such conviction that it's more important how it is presented on the screen. It's all the more relate-able because Morgan remains professional when confronting Billy, unlike Hotch did with The Reaper. Again, if the writers' Hand-Waving of Hotch's loss of control with Strauss' subsequent approval of it, plus Hotch's miraculous recovery from the trauma didn't remain a constant burden in this series' continuity, this would be a triumphant 9/10, but as it is, this cannot be higher than an 8/10. A real shame. Once continuity is established in a series which started firmly in the episodic territory, the writers cannot just ignore that continuity by "forgetting" what happened when they realize they made a mistake in the writing.
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