Even in an era of reboots and revivals, Criminal Minds: Evolution comes so soon after its predecessor’s series finale that neither of those terms really feels like it should apply. But, after watching the two episodes made available to us so far, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, despite all the darkness, it’s a welcome return.
That’s not to say that the world at all needed more doom and gloom, or that the very dark subject matter is at all something we missed. Quite the opposite. There’s even a scene where one of our all-time favorite television characters says something we’ll paraphrase here: We’ve never stopped missing the BAU family, but we’ve never once missed their work.
Without spoiling anything, though, let’s just say that the very real, human heroes at the heart of Criminal Minds: Evolution are what make it worth following. In the wake of all the losses over the two-plus years since we said our farewells to the BAU, it’s both fitting and gut-wrenching to see the portrait of grief that Joe Mantegna presents as David Rossi. Not everybody’s experience with loss is the same. But personally, I’d say Rossi’s response is as true to the character as it gets, extremely well-played by Mantegna, and a source for some beautifully touching scenes with other characters.
While Mantegna shares such moments with just about everyone, there are two scenes in particular that might just break longtime fans. The first is with Paget Brewster’s Emily Prentiss, and the second is with Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia. (Hi. I’m saying this as a longtime fan — they broke me.)
Which, of course one of the most emotional moments has to come from Garcia. (Or, to be more accurate, several of them include her.) Garcia has always, always, always been the heart and soul of Criminal Minds. This revival is no different. And Vangsness is just as good as ever at showing us Penelope’s light, her quirks, her…whatever-she-calls-it with Luke, and — yes — even the moments where she just plain hurts. The problem with having such a big heart is sometimes the world breaks it. Far too often, really. Especially in this line of work.
With the family mostly back together, it’s admittedly somewhat jarring not to have Matthew Gray Gubler back as Spencer Reid. In some ways, it feels like he could just materialize at any moment. But in a lot of others, there’s…just something missing. Then again, I’ve never even gotten over Gideon, much less others like Morgan and Hotch. So, with just how much Reid often shared that “heart and soul” role with Garcia, it’s no wonder the lack of his presence stands out.
But just like us, the remaining BAU members haven’t forgotten Reid. (Or Gideon either.) So, even in his absence, Reid’s still part of the family.
And, uh, speaking of family? JJ’s family…nope. There is no way that child is that old. We refuse to accept. (And, in a great moment from A.J. Cook, so does JJ.)
Actually, as a way of selling Criminal Minds: Evolution, I’ll basically go back to the point I made around the original’s 200th episode. The series’ strength is not in its portrayal of the most horrible criminals imaginable. It’s in the human connections, that found family, and the hope they bring in defeating one UnSub at a time.
With that being said, for viewers who like a good mystery and a heaping helping of suspense, these episodes are as full of those elements as ever. And the way the season-wide arc gets introduced, little by little, is definitely intriguing. Even if smart viewers who follow the news already know what’s up, the BAU doesn’t. So, we’re on this journey with them. And let’s just have a little faith they’ll make sure it all works out in the end.
Criminal Minds: Evolution premieres with two episodes on Thursday, November 24. Episodes will release each Thursday until the mid-season finale on December 15, then return on January 12. Only on Paramount+.