A mass grave is uncovered in this episode of Criminal Minds, but it’s impossible not to care (a lot) more about what’s going on with Barnes’ investigation into the team, specifically Prentiss’ leadership.
“Miasma” sees J.J. as the team’s acting unit chief while they head to New Orleans for the case, and while I do like seeing her in charge — especially when I think about how far she’s come since season 1 — it’s just not the same without Prentiss with the team and as its leader. But Prentiss has much more important things to worry about than catching an UnSub, so it’s a good thing she can trust her team to do their jobs.
Prentiss vs. Barnes
Picking up right where “Cure” left off, Barnes wants to know why J.J. thinks she wasn’t chosen to take over after Hotch left. Prentiss was the natural choice and had seniority, J.J. says, instead wanting to know why Emily’s being placed on administrative leave.
With the one year anniversary of Reid’s arrest coming up, it’s standard operating procedure for the director to initiate an internal audit, so Barnes will be going over the BAU’s caseload to make sure they’re following protocol and Prentiss will need to give a full account of the team’s actions. Though Barnes tells J.J. to keep it between them, when Prentiss calls her about a case, J.J. tells her something’s going on.
It’s just a standard administrative review, Prentiss tells the team before sending them off with J.J. in charge, but as Simmons tells everyone, this is what happened right before Barnes disbanded the IRT. There’s nothing to worry about because they haven’t done anything wrong … right?
Barnes’ first question for Prentiss is if J.J. called her (as she expected she would) and she thinks that she’s lying when she said no. However, as Prentiss explains, she called J.J. Prentiss is off to a good start, but Barnes is determined to shake her, recalling the team’s investigation following Reid’s arrest. With Prentiss at the helm, she states, it seems like team loyalty is more important than bureau policy. They’re there to discuss the state of the BAU under her leadership.
But Prentiss has an answer for every “problem” Barnes brings up, from the recent case in Roswell to Reid’s arrest to the Scratch investigation and even Walker’s death. His death was a tragedy, Emily states, and since Barnes isn’t in the field, she can’t understand the snap decisions that have to be made. When Barnes brings up Reid’s statement that she deleted, something that could result in charges for obstruction of justice and end her career, Prentiss asks for a break.
Barnes is trying to rattle her, Rossi tells her when he checks in, and Prentiss admits that she doesn’t know what Linda’s after. “Don’t let her push her around,” Rossi says, reminding her that she’s earned her job.
And so when Prentiss goes back into Barnes’ office, she goes on the offensive. She tells Barnes she knows she wants to make a name for herself, that she can’t get enough power. She knows Barnes wants to be director, but better agents have tried and failed to split up the BAU. (Here’s the thing: I know we’re not supposed to like Linda Barnes, but I do enjoy these scenes with Paget Brewster and Kim Rhodes.)
After another break, Barnes turns the focus to the team, specifically Rossi and Reid. She questions Rossi’s focus with his books and family and suggests Reid’s better off in the academic world, teaching like he has been. Her investigation has revealed a pattern of negligence in the BAU. Prentiss refuses to give her a fall guy to avoid bad PR and give Barnes a win. Rossi and Reid are indispensable, she insists, and she stands by her team.
But while Prentiss can hold her own against Barnes, she doesn’t have good news for the team when they return after the case. She’s been suspended from active duty indefinitely. J.J. will continue being acting unit chief. And Barnes will be personally overseeing the unit. They are under investigation, and while she tried, with her suspension, Prentiss can’t protect them.
The UnSub vs. Sickness
As for the case, the team (minus Prentiss) heads to New Orleans to investigate a mass grave of 10 bodies, drained of their blood, in a vandalized crypt in Treme Cemetery. With Xes on the crypt denoting a grave of a voodoo practitioner, they wonder if they’re dealing with ritualistic killings.
The UnSub strikes again, wearing a mask as he holds a chicken over his victim’s body before draining him of his blood. This victim is disposed of in another crypt, one without any markings, suggesting that’s not as important to the UnSub as they thought. With his elaborate M. O. (concealing and burning the bodies), they wonder if the UnSub is on a mission.
The UnSub drained his victims of their blood and burned their bodies postmortem, with the cause of death a large quantity of pure ketamine, practically painless. It suggests he doesn’t want them to suffer, like he’s putting them out of misery, perhaps. The cemetery is important to him. Did he lose someone?
Some of the original 10 victims were homeless or working professionals, while the latest left work early claiming not to feel well. And the next victim the UnSub targets is coughing at a bus stop before he grabs him in his van. However, he’s a big guy, so it seems the UnSub didn’t give him enough ketamine because he wakes up before he’s strapped down, fights back and drives off in the UnSub’s van. However, Carl is still out of it and crashes into a parked vehicle.
Garcia tracks the VIN number of the van and discovers it was stolen from Houston eight years ago. They’re able to determine where the UnSub was holding his victims based on information from Carl, and there they find his mask and Reid realizes what’s going on: with two of the victims reportedly sick before they were taken, the UnSub views himself as a modern-day plague doctor. He thinks it’s his job to take care of them before they can contaminate others.
The UnSub’s trigger is sickness, real or perceived. Medieval practitioners thought that chickens could absorb illness, hence the dead ones in the UnSub’s lair.
The UnSub likely lost a loved one and blames modern medicine for not saving that person. (He did. A flashback shows that there was bacteria in the UnSub’s mother’s blood, and he blames the doctors for not helping her.)
In his van, the agents find medications (some dated back to 2008) without any identifying information, but for a lung condition or breathing ailment. His van was his whole life, and there’s no telling what he’ll do next now that he’s lost it. He’s going through the stages of grief and anger could be next. He could start to lash out, meaning that they need to get extra security to hospitals and pharmacies.
And health clinics, they’ll soon realize, as the UnSub spots a woman coming out of one coughing and goes inside to confront the doctor about letting the “contaminated” woman leave. Doctors couldn’t help his mother and just make people suffer, he declares, correcting this one when she says that people just get sick but his mother was “made sick.” When she goes for a pair of scissors, he gets to them first, pours rubbing alcohol all over, ignites it with his lighter and stabs her.
The UnSub may be devolving with this latest attack, but he’s also showing an evolution of thought by punishing those in the medical profession. His next step may be going after those he sees responsible for his loss.
And that’s connected back to his first victim, who, as it turns out, was his own mother. Every kill since has been about justifying that action and easing his own guilt. Dead flowers in his van lead them to the woman who sent them, and she tells them everything they need to know.
Tanesa Winters was her neighbor, and after Hurricane Katrina, she lived in a flop house that was condemned. The tenants filed a civil suit, with her the primary plaintiff. They sued for negligence and bodily harm, and Tanesa became ill due to black mold. Requests for inspections were ignored. She died three weeks ago. That was the UnSub’s stressor. The UnSub is her son.
And her son, Kevon, is going after the landlord, Walter, who is now a business mogul and spends his time at a bar he owns. Kevon arrives while J.J. and Rossi are talking to Walter in his office and pours gasoline all over the bar. They can’t risk taking a shot with the gasoline vapors in the air, so they have to talk him down and get close enough. That’s just what they do, securing Kevon’s lighter and cuffing him.
Are you worried about the future of the team? What did you think of Prentiss’ face-offs with Barnes? And what did you think of the case?
Criminal Minds season 13 airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Criminal Minds Facebook page.
(Image courtesy of CBS)