Matthew Gray Gubler directed Criminal Minds‘ “Elliott’s Pond,” which means going into the episode prepared for a scary hour. While it does have its jump moments, it’s more psychologically creepy than terrifying like some of his past turns behind the camera.
Elsewhere in the hour, Prentiss has a big decision to make about her career and future when they finally address what’s going on with Hotch.
A Cornfield and an Alien Abduction? No, This Isn’t The X-Files
It’s 1983, in Clayton, Delaware, two kids, John and Allie, are just having fun near a pond in the middle of the night, as kids tend to do. Their older brother comes to get them so they can go spend time with their father — it’s his weekend — and he suggests they race home. In fact, he tells them to cut through the cornfield so they get a head start on him since he’s on his bike. Basically, he gives them a push in an UnSub’s direction, and just as someone/something comes up behind them, with a bright light overhead in the sky…
It’s present day, and Josh is telling his friends, P.K. and Bones, about an alien abduction. No, it was the Oxon Hill Maniac, and he chained the kids up for days to fatten them up. Or their older brother. Or some other guy. It’s the local legend, and they’re planning to solve it by leaving their phones at home, lying to their parents and sneaking into the cornfield.
It pretty much goes without saying that they go missing. When Josh comes to, he’s in some abandoned building, by himself, and he sees a pair of legs behind some furniture. After he stumbles, he turns back, only to be attacked by someone.
The BAU learns that a local mental institution burned down in 1956 and the inmates who escaped moved into into abandoned houses. The boys could have been following the legend; they are into scary movies, according to their parents. But there’s also the matter of the Henson twins who went missing in 1983. Their clothes and traces of blood were found, but no bodies. Are they looking at the same offender? Could the UnSub have been young enough back then to still be strong enough to kidnap multiple kids? Could he have help?
Coop, the local police chief, takes Prentiss and Reid out to the cornfield, and a man rides up to them on a bike. Upon confirming they’re FBI, he wonders why Coop didn’t bring them in before. Too cocky then? Too lazy now? This man is Deeley Henson, the older brother of the twins who went missing, and he’s not talking to them. His siblings are gone, and nothing will change that. After he rides off, Coop explains that it’s a small town, and there were rumors that accused him of being responsible. He drank to cover up his guilt.
The boys’ parents show them the last movie their kids were working on: an alien invasion. Rossi and Tara note one guy they caught on camera, Jimmy Ridley, and Rossi has Garcia run his name. There are three people with that name, and while senior and junior have died, the third still live and works on the family farm, but he has no priors. A camera across from the cornfield also catches Jimmy’s truck soon after the boys entered the field.
As they check out Jimmy’s house, the three boys hear creaking upstairs, a sign that someone’s in the building with them. However, these aren’t the same locations. In Jimmy’s house, the team finds a creepy sculpture with photos of kids on it, Jimmy under the sink and Bones’ helmet.
But after talking to him, Luke knows he’s not sophisticated enough to be their UnSub. According to Jimmy, he took pictures of the three boys because they took photos of him. No one care about trespassing of his property, despite the signs being up, so, like his father, he took photos. The night before, he shot off a firecracker to scare them, and it worked. He kept Bones’ helmet after it fell off his head.
At this point, the boys know they shouldn’t have left their phones at home, but since there’s nothing they can do about that, they have to focus on getting out of there.
Since Deeley biked across town to talk to the FBI, they decide to give talking to him another go, and Reid and Luke head out to his place. Even though he’s drinking a beer and has many empty cans in a crate, his hand is steady. He didn’t take the boys, he tells them, giving an alibi: he was working, and there are cameras. When they tell him they don’t think he did it, he comments they’d be the first. Everyone in the town thought he killed his brother and sister, and his parents blamed him for losing them that night. When Reid asks which way the twins went that night, he tells them they went through the corn and past the Ridley farm, but he found them at Elliott’s Pond. The pond was dragged.
Still, the agents go to check out the pond, and since it’s going to be dark soon, decide to call in a search party. Luke then finds one of the boys’ backpacks.
Deeley joins the search party, having given up beer for lots of coffee. Old Man Clemens had hunting traps out there. He was a survivalist type. And then one of the people searching the area gets caught in a trap with fresh bait — and there’s a tranq dart.
The boys find a window in the basement, but there’s no way they can get out through it. And when they find a vent into the room next to them, someone punches through it and reaches through. They’re then brought upstairs and sat down at a table with candles.
Clemens was “off his rocker,” Garcia relays to the team. He spent time at the mental hospital before it burned down, for assault with a deadly weapon. But it was the harm he did to himself that put him away. He was all about conspiracies and claimed he needed protection from aliens. He lived off the grid to an extreme level. When he was 18, he got in trouble for abducting a minor, and his defense was “loneliness.” He was released the year before the Henson disappeared. He could have taken them for two reasons: survival and companionship. If he’s still alive, he’d be 82, so it’s doubtful he’d be able to hold the boys and set hunting traps.
That means taking the next logical step: he didn’t kill the Hensons. He kept them isolated and convinced them of his delusions that the world was coming to an end. The Henson twins took the three boys.
The twins then approach the boys at the table, offering them something to eat. “Don’t be afraid,” Allie offers in what she thinks is comfort. “No one will ever find us here.” That’s the opposite of what they want to hear.
The profilers know that the boys are all about adventure, so they’d keep the UnSubs talking in hopes of finding a way to escape, and they’re right. Josh comes up with a plan to fake being sick, and when the Hensons come downstairs, PK and Bones can grab the keys around their neck and unlock the front door, escaping to go find help. Bones is successful, but when he opens the front door, he finds a wall of logs and Allie comes up behind him with a gun, asking why they’re trying to hurt them.
Prentiss, J.J. and Coop burst into the house through another door, and Coop manages to get Allie to drop the gun after promising they won’t hurt them. The boys are rescued, and the team watches their happy family reunions.
As for the Hensons, Deeley goes down to the basement and sits across from where his siblings are huddled under the stairs. He waits for them to come out, and after they do, this family is reunited as well.
So, About Hotch…
Hotch has not been away on special assignment like everyone thought, Rossi reveals to the team before they get the case. That was just a cover. He had seen Peter Lewis watching one of Jack’s soccer games, but by the time he reacted, Mr. Scratch was gone. This was days after he resurfaced in Arizona. Rather than drop everything and having everyone worry, he had Jack under 24/7 surveillance. However, while they were in LA, Lewis surfaced again, this time at Jack’s school.
Hotch knew he wouldn’t stop, so he and Jack went into witness protection. At first, he believed that they could just catch Mr. Scratch and that would be it, but Hotch decided that he couldn’t put himself and his son in danger again, Rossi explained. He resigned. They’ll never talk to him again. It’s not ideal, but it’s a decision they have to support as Hotch’s friends. To guarantee his son’s safety, they’re both off the grid.
While J.J. can’t believe that Hotch was dealing with that for weeks without telling them, Reid points out that he always kept things to himself. And J.J. can understand wanting to do anything to keep his kid safe; she’d do the same for her boys.
Thanks to this storyline, we get what’s easily the best scene of the episode: Rossi calling Garcia to check on her. She’s trying to remember the last thing she said to Hotch, she admits, but she can’t remember and can only guess it was something boring, like “Yes, sir.” So now she wonders if she should end every conversation with something meaningful. It’ll get better, Rossi assures her, even it doesn’t feel that way now. They’ll adapt. He’s been there before. And Garcia makes sure to end their conversation with something meaningful: “I love you.” “I love you too, Penelope,” he replies.
Welcome Home (and Here’s a Promotion)
With Hotch gone, the team needs a new leader, and it’s not going to be David “I’m allergic to paperwork” Rossi. Instead, Hotch requested that Prentiss take over, but while the team is happy for her, she’s still deciding if she’s going to accept.
She loves the job and everyone, she tells Tara, but she has a life and boyfriend back in London. She didn’t have a chance to talk to him before getting on the jet, but she takes Tara’s advice and takes a moment to call him in the middle of the investigation.
On the way home on the jet, Prentiss checks in with J.J. and Reid to see what they think. They’ve been through a lot of changes, Reid points out, but they always figure it out. After Morgan and Hotch leaving, if she stays, it’ll be okay. As for her boyfriend, she spoke to him, and he’s coming to visit the following week, but she only has until the morning to give the bureau her answer.
Well, if she says no, they’ll have a stranger, and they don’t know how that will turn out, but they’ll support her no matter what, Reid and J.J. go on to tell her. It’s a good thing she’s staying, because they’ve all missed each other.
And since good news travels fast, Garcia has a mini-celebration ready for the team back in the office. It wouldn’t be complete without the perfect toast from Rossi:
“I’ve been in and out of here since 1978, but I know this is where I belong. I’ve seen a lot of great agents pass through those doors and a lot of them have moved on. Now, most of this team has been together for over a decade, but I promise you, that doesn’t happen often. I’ve heard the rumblings about how lucky we are, and it’s true, but the truth is it’s what happens when we’re not on a case that has defined who we are. We stand beside one another, through good, through bad, because we’re family. So, to Aaron and Jack. I don’t know who’s luckier but it warms my heart to know they’ll be together every day and safe. And to Emily, our friend and new unit chief. Welcome home.”
What did you think of how Hotch was written off? Are you happy Prentiss is the new unit chief? How would you compare this episode to the others Gubler has directed?
Criminal Minds season 12 airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Criminal Minds Facebook page.
(Image courtesy of CBS)