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Criminal Minds: The Eighth Season

Paramount // Unrated // September 3, 2013
List Price: $64.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 14, 2014 | E-mail the Author
In the latest of an apparently continuing series, my wife Nicole returns to offer her thoughts on another show I'm not likely to ever watch.

In 10 Words or Less
The mind of a killer can be terrifying

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Criminal dramas, Morgan/Garcia relationship, J.J.
Likes: Joe Mantegna, Thomas Gibson
Dislikes: Erin Strauss
Hates: "The Replicator"

The Story So Far...
Since its inception in 2005,where it began following the cases cracked by the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, audiences have fallen in love time and time again with Criminal Minds. Its amazing to think that a cast from such diverse backgrounds could be brought together and woven into the "family" they've become over the past eight seasons. From Thomas Gibson, who will forever be Dharma's better half, to Mandy Patinkin of Broadway fame to Shemar Moore, who began his career melting hearts on The Young and the Restless, the series has developed a cult following of viewers. With storylines so frightening you'll be sure to check the deadbolt twice, the writers delve deep in the psychotic minds of characters that can only be compared to rabid animals. Over the past eight seasons, relationships have developed, setting the groundwork for storylines that make you either love the characters or hate them. As frightening as the crimes committed by the criminals are, it's disturbing to think what it takes to go inside their thought process, always one step ahead to catch them. The key to the success of this series is simple: the cast is amazing, their chemistry is like no other and the writers are really closet serial killers. This is the eighth season collection released on DVD, and DVDTalk has reviews of the first three..

The Show
This season was especially well written because for the first time we were given the opportunity to see our beloved main characters and their personal lives brought to the forefront. The normal thrill of catching a killer was heightened by the connection and the episode storyline. We pick up where we left off in season seven, with Emily starting over in London and a new face joining the BAU.

Since the death of his wife Haley, Aaron Hotchner, better known as "Hotch" (Thomas Gibson) has learned to cope but never fully recovered from the devastating loss of his love or the satisfaction of killing "The Reaper." His focus this season is, as always, leading his team but for the first time we see him relax a little and find love again with Beth (Bellamy Young) and cherish every moment he has with his son, Jack. Hotch will always be the rock behind the BAU but we've witnessed his rebirth into a character who can save the world from bad guys and still go home and kiss his son goodnight.

My first introduction to Shemar Moore was as Derek Morgan. I'm actually very sorry I never became a soap opera junkie and got to see him on The Young and the Restless, for all the right reasons. I don't remember the exact moment his nickname for his teammate Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), "Baby Girl," came to be, but with being a fan of this show, I secretly want the finale to include Garcia and Derek riding off into the sunset together, or at least sharing a kiss. With no spoiler for season 9, Derek finally finds happiness. Could my secret dream come true?

We've witnessed tremendous growth in each of the characters, but none so much as the quiet, soft-spoken "JJ" (A.J. Cook). Her evolution from media liaison to full fledged team member, as a result of Emily's departure, has been wonderful to watch. Each week she continues to prove the old adage, "behind every great man (Hotch) is an even greater woman." JJ is the woman who brings everyone together and keeps them grounded, in even the most tense situation.

All I can say about Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is that if she really existed, I'd want her in my life! She brings so much exuberance to the show. I look forward to seeing what wacky outfit she's wearing or what new and insane items she'll have in her "cave." The Morgan /Garcia relationship is that of the brother/sister relationship build from a Norman Rockwell painting. At times, you really never know what's going to come out of her mouth, but you know it'll be good. I absolutely love that she's a loud, proud and amazing hacker girl!

You can't help but fall in love with his boyish looks, but not all women are attracted to men solely based on looks. Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Grey Gubler) packs the one-two punch and finally, truly falls in love only to be deeply hurt while solving a case. Intellectually brilliant in all aspects, his photographic memory and strategic puzzle solving skills are mind blowing. I, myself, am one of those people who thoroughly enjoys learning about nonsense information. For fun in sixth grade, I memorized the Periodic Table to the first twenty elements and made up a jingle in college to help me learn the Greek alphabet. I've never needed either of those two things in 38 years as of yet, but it was fascinating to do. He combines his innocence and intelligence to give a clearer insight into a case when everyone else is blurry eyed.

When the series first began, I loved the idea of Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), but as time went on and his character started to get "weird" and then abruptly abandoned the team, I was thrilled to have David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) take his place. With his character's background from Long Island, my own location, I felt an instant compulsion to love his character. Thankfully enough he clicked almost immediately with the rest of the cast and fell right into place. His "I don't care what you think, I'm doing it my own way" attitude is very indicative of Long Islanders, we're a breed like no other! He knows his place in the team and respects Hotch's position, but it's his lifetime of experience that solidifies him amongst his peers.

New this season to the BAU is Alex (Jeanne Tripplehorn.) She has relationships to build with the team and old demons to put to rest with Strauss. As a linguistics expert, shes brings grit and edginess to the table each episode. Her intelligence is superior, sometimes rivaling though never surpassing that of Dr. Reid. She's got a lot to prove, but is willing to go the distance.

Erin Strauss (Jayne Atkinson) is the boss you love to hate. From her first interaction with Hotch you can sense the tension, but mutual respect they have for one another. She's a hard nut to crack and butts heads with most of the team on a regular basis, but when it comes down to it, she knows they are the ones who make everything happen and bring justice to those who have been wronged.

I had a hard time picking just one episode that stood out as my favorite for this season. The writers and cast have really outdone themselves once again. With storylines ranging from amputated limbs being found transplanted onto other people, to the severing of heads to rectify a grudge, to couples being forced to stab one another, to a killer who kills because of the colors of the words he sees when people talk, is incredibly intriguing to watch. Many special guests have joined the team this season including Ray Wise, Mackenzie Phillips, Michelle Trachtenberg, Rebecca Wisocky and Mark Hamill to name a few. This season is a definite who's who of television, with some surprising and devastating twists and turns.

Normally season finales leave you hanging onto the edge of seat, holding your breath until the next season, but by the grace of god, the writers gave us the closure you desperately wanted. Without giving away any specifics, the team will suffer a devastating loss this season. In the end, the death is slow, cruel and heart-wrenching and as always, I cried. When I rewatched the episode at a later time, I actually found myself pausing the DVR just before I knew what was about to happen, to help prepare myself. As always, the team is a family. And as always, they deal with this loss together, sitting around a table, sharing fond memories about their dearly departed.

The DVDs
Shipped in a slipcase, the 23 episodes in this collection arrive on 6 DVDs in three clear, dual-hubbed ThinPak cases, with episode info on the back. The discs feature animated anamorphic widescreen menus with options to play all the episodes, select a show, adjust the set-up and check out bonus features. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH.

The Quality
Often a dark series, these episodes look great in their anamorphic widescreen transfers, with bright colors and a sharp image. It's not the HD presentation seen on TV, but it does the trick, showing off the show's quality filmmaking, without any problems in the image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on this set do a nice job of reproducing the way the show sounds when it airs, with the dialogue sounding clear from the front of the room, while the surround speakers have plenty of action, with sound effects and music filling the sides and rear.

The Extras
This collection included a wide array of extras. Some were good, some were ok and some were really amazing. The usual Gag Reel (6:05) is funny, yet nothing I haven't seen before. There are outtakes for profanity and line flubs, wrong entrances and missed cues. It's filler for me; nothing I'd miss if it weren't there.

There are six deleted scenes (5:16) in this set with the indicated episode (a play-all option is not included.) These deleted scenes were ok, but in some shape or form, portions were included in the final episode cut. They range in from 33 seconds to 2:08.

This was my first time reviewing a collection that included commentaries. I was a little nervous at first that I wouldn't be able to watch the episode, follow the storyline and listen to the actors and writers discuss their thoughts and ideas for that particular episode. But to my surprise, it was really very easy. In "The Fallen", Joe Mantegna along with writers Rick Dunkle and Danny Ramm exchange dialog as if they were hanging out together sharing a beer. The episode revolves around a killer who torches homeless victims to death. In the process of solving tracking the killer down, Rossi comes face to face with his past and an old comrade/superior (Meshach Taylor) from his days in the service. As life would have it, roles are reversed in present day and once again they've got eachothers "six." It was enlightening to listen to Joe talk about his own military family as his reflected on the storyline.

A second commentary was included in this collection, with a storyline that hits Morgan to the core and requires him to revisit his past and face his ever-lingering demons. Shemar Moore, Janine Sherman Barrios and Jim Clemente are great together in this commentary, as they discuss the reasoning for bringing back this terrible story of abuse and betrayal. This storyline and the particular resolution is emotional and touches the viewer, no pun intended. The writers lend their creative insight and views throughout the discussion.

An exciting and informative bonus feature added to this set, "The Profiler's Handbook" (19:13) gives the viewer yet another glimpse into the making of particular episodes. With commentary from both cast members and writers, the secrets of how they cast their magic is revealed, not completely, but enough to satisfy.

"Beautiful Minds" (7:05) is a tale of love gained and of love lost. Though he was briefly "infatuated" with a young actress in season 1, for the first time in this series, Dr. Spencer Reid is in love, as in "real" love. Though they've never met and have only spoken on the phone Reid and Dr. Maeve Donovan, a genetic scientist studying Reid's brain scans, are a couple. She herself is living a life of solitude as a stalker haunts her every move. Its a brief recap of the relationship. It made it both smile and frown.

A new bonus feature entitled, "Alex and Jeanne" (5:51) gave the viewer a clear and distinct comparison of who Alex Blake really is, what her backstory can tell us and how alike or opposite she is from Jeanne Tripplehorn. I really would have like to have seen more of this type of feature for each of the cast members, as it was very informative and entertaining.

The final bonus feature "The Killing Season" (28:39), which I found to be most enjoyable, spotlighted two of my favorite actors, A.J. Cook (J.J.) and Kirsten Vangsness (Garcia) as they sat down with the incredibly creative and slightly demented team of writers. Questions were posed to the group via the actors in a roundtable setting. Asking the obvious, "How did you ever come up with that storyline?" or "Do you have any deep dark secrets in your closet?," questions were easily and thoroughly discussed by all members of the writing staff. Everyone who partakes in the writing process leaves a definite and distinctive mark on the episode. Writers choose to write for a particular character or re-write grisly stories ripped from actual newspapers. All in all, it was great to watch, very informative and delightful to see Cook and Vangsness interact with each other and the writing staff. Questions were answered and hints were dropped as to what might happen in the future for the series and the team. The Bottom Line
I'm a sucker for a good drama, whether it be a medical or criminal, I can't get enough. I look forward to re-runs of Criminal Minds on a regular basis. Even if I've watched the episode numerous times, with the plot and characters emblazoned in my memory, I'll sit and watch. I find it both fascinating and disturbing that the writers can come up with such intense storylines. The cast are true artists in what they bring to each episode. Together, the writing, the direction and the execution of the episodes are a must see, a must watch, a definite must love!

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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