Every family celebrates Thanksgiving differently. Some watch the Macy’s Day Parade, some watch the football game, and some watch fictional serial killers commit murders that would leave anyone with nightmares. Personally, I found that the best way to wind down after some pumpkin pie.
Last Thursday saw the return of the BAU on Criminal Minds: Evolution. The first two episodes premiered on Paramount+ and, for those who hadn’t subscribed, aired the first episode on CBS—with just a few alterations. One of the benefits of streaming, Criminal Minds: Evolution get to push past the boundaries of network television. Even if you only sign up for a free trial, it’s worth it to hear Agent Rossi drop a few F-bombs.
We shared our predictions for the reboot earlier this month, when the trailer dropped, but how did the show stack up? Let’s take a look at the first two episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution.
A Reboot or a New Season?
If you were to look up Criminal Minds: Evolution on Wikipedia, you’ll find a page titles Criminal Minds (Season 16). That’s what many fans were expecting going in: more content of a show they already know and love. But Criminal Minds: Evolution is not just another season. It’s a different project altogether, and the first two episodes are quick to establish that.
As we’ve discussed, the new show is much more cinematic than its predecessor—just the camerawork can show the tonal difference—but the first thing that struck me was the title sequence. I expected a new take on the old intro, the same theme song in a deeper pitch with some new striking graphics. Criminal Minds: Evolution doesn’t give into that expectation. The silent title card sets this new venture apart. Still, I’m glad to see they carried over the tradition of having a quote at the beginning and end of each episode.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of the missing team members. Fans were desperate to know what happened to Agent Simmons and Dr. Reid, but again, the show resists. So far, the only thing that’s been said about them is that they are on “assignments” and “if and when they return is entirely up to them.” There’s the occasional name-drop—”Gideon told me” or “I miss Reid too”—but nothing more substantial than that. And that’s not a bad thing.
The first two episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution clearly set its priorities. They are here to tell a new story with some familiar characters, not fill in the gap between projects. With only ten episodes, there’s no time to spare being overly nostalgic about the past. The show has a new title for a reason; it’s not just another season of Criminal Minds.
The Tragedy of David Rossi
While all the characters on Criminal Minds have been through hard times, the writers seemed to torture Spencer Reid a little more than the rest. His status as a fan favorite made him an easy target for drama. Without Reid on the show, it looks like Criminal Minds: Evolution has found its new punching bag in David Rossi.
The visual storytelling of Rossi’s tragic life is actually spectacular. Before we even find out what happened to him, it’s clear just how far the agent has fallen in the last few years. His very first scene shows him making a microwave dinner—something that literally made my jaw drop. (Yes, maybe I’m a bit overdramatic and over-invested.) But, for an Italian man who used to pride himself on his cooking and culture, it was a succinct way of saying, “This man has drilled below rock bottom.”
Joe Mantegna does a fabulous job portraying Rossi’s struggle, grief, and rage, but there’s so much more that goes into this depiction. The costuming, the set dressing, the editing—all of it is extremely well done, painful as it may be to watch.
However, the performance does come at a cost. What caused Rossi to spiral was the death of his wife Krystall, an ex-wife who remarried him in Season 14 of Criminal Minds. Killing Krystall for Rossi’s character development—otherwise known as fridging—feels like an easy way out. It’s conflicting, because while Rossi’s grief is beautifully portrayed, the writing behind it feels cheap.
An Internal and External Adversary
One of the highlights of Criminal Minds: Evolution is the BAU’s two new enemies, played by two fabulous actors. Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights, Midnight Mass) takes on the role of a serial killer in charge of a network of serial killers—as if one killer wasn’t gruesome enough. He leaves kill-kits for other killers, establishes rules, controls who can commit what crime at what time. It’s despicable, and yet with Gilford in the role, he’s almost a sympathetic character. The end of episode two reveals that he has a wife and two kids. On top of that, the story shows a certain respect for his craft. It took a lot to pull this off and, if nothing else, most of us can relate to the annoyance of unruly employees who just won’t listen to you.
Inside the walls of the BAU, we’re introduced to Deputy Director Bailey, played by Nicholas D’Agosto. You may recognize him as Harvey Dent from Gotham…another insufferable bureaucrat who was an undeniable villain. Maybe D’Agosto is being type-casted, but he plays into it well. Bailey is no Two Face, but he still poses a threat to the BAU. He’s an overeager man trying to climb the corporate ladder within the bureau. In order to do that, he plans to disband the BAU to cut costs within the FBI. He’s the rock to Gilford’s hard place, and the BAU is stuck in between.
The Return of Penelope Garcia
On a lighter note, the first two episodes have a lot of fun showing off Garcia, and the life she’s built for herself since leaving the FBI. Thankfully, her apartment and wardrobe are just as colorful and spunky. There’s a great slice-of-life sequence that shows her morning routine, her new job as the founder of a cyber-safe social media site, and her baking club for Anglophiles. It offers a much needed break in the doom and gloom of the series.
Admittedly, I’m sad that she and Luke Alvez aren’t together, as the Criminal Minds finale insinuated they might be. Still, I’m hopeful for more backstory in later episodes. As for the Post-It note Garcia left in her office, the Criminal Minds: Evolution brings it back without revealing its contents. If you’re interested in what it might say, you’ll have to check out actress Kirsten Vangsness’s tweets on the subject.
Garcia’s dragged into the BAU’s case after one killer uses her un-hackable social media site to stalk victims; that’s only the beginning. She’s also contacted by a mystery informant, who gives her a code that reveals the location of all the kill-kits. So who is this person, and what are their intentions?
Whoever it is, they don’t seem to know Garcia personally. They’re surprised and angry when she gives the information to the FBI. In fact, they warn her that people will die because of what she did. The way the threat is phrased, it sounds like they’re trying to stop the killing network. On the other hand, their first message to Garcia offers “revenge” against the person who hacked her site. If they didn’t want the killers brought to justice, what did they intend Garcia to do?
Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait to find out. If you don’t have Paramount Plus, the first episode of Criminal Minds: Evolution is available in its entirety on their official YouTube page. Watch new episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution on Paramount+ every Thursday.