Remember how "100" was Thomas Gibson's episode? Well, Criminal Minds episode 200 was AJ Cook's, and she was absolutely outstanding. Any word you could think to describe this episode that means amazing, breathtaking, heart-pounding, and emotional, well, use it.
"Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look."
Like "100", "200" was a very emotional hour, and while it ended with a happy family moment – the complete family, including Prentiss and Will – it took a long time to get there. In fact, this was a happy moment that JJ had been waiting years for, as the episode took a look at what she had really been doing in her time away from the BAU. She had been assigned to a US Operations Camp in Afghanistan in October 2010 to get terrorist names out of a woman, and she was getting her to cooperate and give up names. However, the woman was raped and murdered. After talking to Prentiss on the plane to Paris, JJ suspected a double agent, and in Afghanistan, she first met several people who would be important in the present: Cruz, Tivon Askari, and Michael Hastings. In a case like this, the actors playing the UnSubs couldn't be more important, and much like "100" had the formidable C. Thomas Howell return as The Reaper, "200" cast Farah Tahir and Tahmoh Penikett in spine-chilling roles as JJ and Cruz's past came back to haunt them in the present. They couldn't have chosen better actors for these roles.
The episode began with JJ being dragged into a room and seeing Tivon, and with that injection and "If I were you, I would save my strength," so began scenes where you almost had to remind yourself to breathe as she and Cruz were tortured for codes to access Integrity, the database born out of her mission to protect covert agents and operations. Meanwhile, the rest of the BAU, with Prentiss' help as she flew back from London the moment she learned JJ was in trouble, put together the pieces. While they thought Hastings had been killed in action, he was alive, a fact JJ realized when she figured out he was Tivon's boss after Tivon remarked that JJ would lose more than a baby if Cruz didn't give up his code. JJ had found out she was pregnant while in Afghanistan, but after their convoy was attacked when JJ had received approval for off-site interrogation to expose the double agent, she lost the baby. Cruz had been the only person she had told before Hastings came in to tell her the BAU was calling about Prentiss. Tivon was as bad as they came when it came to torturers, but Hastings was, in fact, worse. He was the one who was threatening to rape JJ to get Cruz to give up his code.
JJ had entered her code, but she had entered it backwards to trigger an alarm, so when "Blackbird" popped up on Garcia's computer, Prentiss knew it was her because of a conversation they'd had. Garcia was able to trace the server just when they needed to, so as Hastings had his man initiate the file transfers, the lights flickered, and he knew he was in trouble. He killed his computer guy and left Tivon to take care of JJ and Cruz while he headed to the roof for an extraction. However, Tivon stabbed Cruz and left him to bleed out on the floor, but before he could do anything to JJ, Hotch shot him from behind. JJ and Prentiss chased Hastings to the roof, and JJ showed she had become a badass and got what she needed, and Hastings fell to his death. After that, all that was left was the reunion and six more hours with Prentiss before she had to leave. That was the end of the lies.
"When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you."
AJ Cook's performance in this episode was Emmy-worthy. "200" showed just how much JJ has grown as a character from the first season, and in an hour where she needed to give it her all, Cook did just that. JJ finding out she lost her baby was even more heartbreaking because of how Cook played her joy at being pregnant and then her grief at the miscarriage, and enough cannot be said about her during the torture scenes.
The milestone also brought several familiar faces back in a way that made sense and didn't feel forced just for the sake of doing so for the 200th. JJ was missing, so they called in Prentiss. Strauss had known why JJ was transferred, so she was there to meet her in Afghanistan. JJ was missing, so her husband brought their son to the BAU to tell her team what he knew. With Garcia at the S.C.I.F. with Reid and when it was one of their own in danger, they needed another analyst, so they brought in Kevin.
Criminal Minds episode 200 was just what it should have been. This show is one that is downright creepy most of the time, and over the years, the team members have become victims themselves. When that happens, that's when the show seems to step up and be at its best, and that was what it was here. There's something about putting the characters you've gotten to know and love in dangerous situations that makes the show even more terrifying, and you could argue that what happened to JJ and what could have happened to her puts this at the top of the list.
So, in conclusion, congratulations, Criminal Minds. Well done. That was an excellent episode. What did you think of "200"?
Photos: ABC STUDIOS/Robert Voets; Robert Voets/CBS
© Meredith Jacobs 2014