Season seven was a bumpy ride for CBS’ Criminal Minds. With the return to the cast of previously written-out actors handled rather clumsily and with the clichés of the show’s formula beginning to show a little wear and tear around the edges, the show had its problems. Individual stories can still be riveting, and in the best episodes, suspense is nicely sustained, but a show this late in its run needs some kind of infusion of fresh perspectives if it’s not to simply run on fumes. Despite a couple of late season attempts at something unique, the gas tank for Criminal Minds is now edging toward empty.
Criminal Minds: Season 7
Directed by Matthew Gray Gubler et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 1023 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 stereo English
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Review Date: September 6, 2012
As in the previous seasons, the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) concentrates on the most serious of crimes, often involving serial killers. The perpetrators in this series are lethally venal in nature, and to its credit, the series writers don’t shy away from plucking killers from all walks of life, all ages, and, obviously, both sexes, and the crimes are usually quite grisly making the show not for all tastes. Along with agent David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), the team resumes its same make-up from some earlier seasons with the “return from the dead” of Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster). She’s brought back in the season premiere in a clumsy senate-hearing episode (with guest star Mark Moses at his most absurd leading the charge) and must spend some episodes regaining the trust of her fellow agents who had grieved her loss. Otherwise, the unit is still headed by Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson). Also in on the analyses of the “un-subs” (unidentified subjects) are team muscle Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), genius in residence Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), department liaison J. J. Jareau (A. J. Cook), and computer information expert Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness).
The show’s writers also vary the nature of each show’s investigations even if they too-often conclude their stories with the perpetrator holding a knife or a gun to the head of his last victim as the FBI faces him down. In most of this season‘s shows, the Columbo model is followed: we‘re shown the perpetrator and wait to see the team track him down methodically (almost always accomplishing the identifying through what appears to be rather large leaps in logic.) Only once in a short while does the staff feature a standard mystery where the team discovers clues, narrows down the list of suspects, and arrives at the killer’s identity by the end of the show. (Almost all episodes are closed-ended and don’t necessarily have to be viewed in order. The non-serialized nature of the episodes makes it very easy to come and go with one’s viewing without having to remember a season-long story arc.) Once in a while, a team member gets himself embroiled personally in a case either as a friend of a victim or as a suspect (Garcia’s friend in her survivors’ support group is abducted; J.J.’s fiancé is abducted), and occasionally, plots involving the agents from one episode resonate several episodes later (Morgan’s involvement with a long lost relative goes back to a story in season one). Romance blossoms into the lives of both Hotchner and Garcia this season though baby steps are being taken in developing these relationships. The season, however, does end in a wedding rather than the usual death-tinged cliffhanger, a nice change.
The stories are undoubtedly quite grim and grisly, and the show is definitely adult in nature. The series finds whatever lightness it possesses most often from computer expert Garcia’s innuendo-filled communications with the team while they’re out in the field, and they’re most welcome. Among the more interesting stories this season involve a killer who focuses on taking away the senses of his victims using acid, a 911 operator using his job to target his victims, and a possible return of the Zodiac killer. The season ends with two admittedly different episodes: the team holding a seminar on their work for a college class and a two-hour finale that’s a heist/hostage story (with a very obvious “secret” antagonist) rather than an investigation into serial killers. The show’s popularity means it can recruit some really sterling guest stars who often play the most reprehensible of killers. Among the outstanding guest actors turning in first-rate work this season are Jayne Atkinson (in several episodes), Jack Coleman, Rene Auberjonois, Jay Karnes, Charles Dutton, Shawn Hatosy, Dean Cain, Cathy Baker, Robert Englund, Kyle Gallner, Mackenzie Astin, and Josh Randall.
Here are the twenty-three episodes which are contained on six discs in this season’s DVD set. Names in parentheses refer to the participants in that episode’s audio commentary. Shows with an asterisk (*) have as an added bonus a “Mind’s Eye” mini-documentary about some aspect of the show:
1 – It Takes a Village
2 – Proof
3 – Dorado Falls
*4 – Painless
*5 – From Childhood’s Hour
6 – Epilogue
*7 – There’s No Place Like Home
8 – Hope
9 – Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
*10 – The Bittersweet Science
11 – True Geniuses
12 – Unknown Subject
13 – Snake Eyes
14 – Closing Time
15 – A Thin Line
16 – A Family Affair
17 – I Love You, Tommy Brown
18 – Foundation
*19 – Heathridge Manor (Matthew Gray Gubler, writer Sharon Lee Weston)
20 – The Company (Shemar Moore, writer Breen Frazier)
21 – Divining Rod
22 – Profiling 101
*23 – Hit/Run
The series is framed at 1.78:1 and is presented on CBS in 1080i. These downconverted 480p masters are exemplary in color, flesh tones, and sharpness for the most part and in close-ups suggest high definition, dimensional images that are quite outstanding (scars and facial pores and anomalies are easily seen with a good upconverting player). Only the occasional soft shot and some infrequent moiré tend to mar the otherwise startling image quality. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is wonderfully active with source music and plenty of ambient sounds delivered to the available channels and occasional deep LFE as well that helps suspense-building in the tensest scenes. This is one of the most outstanding sound designs available for currently running television series, and it’s well represented here even in lossy Dolby Digital.
There are two audio commentaries (see above listing for episodes and participants). Gubler directed his episode, so his comments on what he was trying for and how well he thinks he achieved it are interesting. Moore and Frazier share a mutual admiration society in their comments but explore a little about the backstory of the episode and the psychology of Moore’s character during the proceedings.
All of the bonus features are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Mind’s Eye” are six mini behind-the-scenes documentaries on some aspect of the show they’re paired with (see above episode list for which episodes contain them). They run anywhere from 4 minutes to 9 ½ minutes.
There are six deleted scenes scattered among the episodes contained in menu selections for the episodes in question.
“Seven Stories” is the most substantial extra, 28 ¼ minutes focusing on seven key episodes of the season which involve spotlight moments for seven of the show’s primary characters. Actors and writers of those episodes comment on their significance.
“Wedding Toast” finds the show’s actors in character making a wedding toast video to the couple who gets married in the season finale. It runs 5 minutes.
“Fireside Chat with Matthew Gray Gubler” is a silly question and answer trifle with Gubler answering mock questions about the episode he directed, posing as an Orson Welles-type of haughty director.
“Wheels Up” is a 2 ½-minute music video fashioned from the show’s crew and with clips from the show and from behind-the-scenes.
The season’s gag reel runs 5 ¼ minutes.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Season seven wasn’t the best one in the history of Criminal Minds, but there were enough thrills and surprises for the show to maintain its popularity and be renewed for yet another season even if, once again, the make-up of the squad is going to change due to cast shake-ups.