Criminal Minds: Evolution’ Season 2’S Best Storyline Is Also Its Most Underrated


Promising us Evolution, Seasons 16 and 17 of Criminal Minds have definitely ramped up its stakes and magnitude, creating outreaching social networks for serial killers and underground programs that are dedicated to breeding the perfect psychopath. Between these bold strokes is the quiet yet hard-hitting storyline that surrounds Jennifer “JJ” Jareau (A.J. Cook), who is living every modern day’s woman’s worst nightmare. The fears around AI-created deep-fakes targeting women are gradually coming into focus, with disgusting people using the technology to mainly hurt women. Though her story has little to no screen time as the show fleshes out its greater schemes, every time her troubles are mentioned, the atmosphere immediately becomes sobering. It is rooted in horrifying realism and is disturbingly relevant to today’s type of digital crimes, deeply resonating with audiences in a sour and harsh way.

JJ’s Storyline Is Grounded and Refreshing in ‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’

Criminal Minds prospered on the fact that it detailed crimes that could effectively happen to anyone, erring on the side of realism and terror. While Evolution deftly adapts to today’s overly digital age, it is a bit more difficult to relate to the notion of underground serial killer networks in chat rooms or a location that is designed to cultivate psychopathy in young children to create unsympathetic assassins in the more recent season. Criminal Minds starts feeling like a mystery psychological thriller instead of a police procedural. That being said, the idea is compelling, thrilling, and still terrifying considering the consequences trickle down to the public. But, with the grandeur of tightly-knitted conspiracy theories and bureaucratic hostility, the show dips its toes into the “outlandish,” leaving us searching for something familiar.

We find threads of the original Criminal Minds’ relatable terror in JJ’s storyline. As Elias Voit, Sicarius (Zach Gilford), whispers the words of a website address to Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez), he begins one of the more grounding and refreshing storylines of the season. Luke checks this website to discover fake pornography depicting BAU members and informs both Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) and JJ about it. Prentiss justifies her silence by saying she was protecting the team, while JJ dismisses this, believing it was still the same crudely drawn anime it was in 2014. However, with the advancements in technology, and her previous role as the media liaison, AI-created deep-fakes, mainly featuring JJ, now replaced those drawings.

All this is conveyed in hushed, secretive tones, becoming a haunting sub-plot that feels hidden between the folds of the major cases going around. It is distinctive in its quietness, but also due to how grounded it feels next to the almost ludicrous conspiracy theories. Even the early dismissals of the site are like gut-punches, especially as JJ sits down alone and witnesses the videos that have been made about her.

‘Criminal Minds’ Uses Realism To Be Terrifying

While the tone of the storyline is refreshing, it is brutally and pitilessly terrifying in its realism. Her plot taps into the very real fear of AI-created deep-fake pornography that is now ingrained in women. 10 years ago, the only pictures or videos that could cause this kind of (unjustified) humiliation or destruction to a woman’s career, self-image, and relationships were pictures she took herself and sent to someone she thought she could trust or were hacked out of her device. Now it’s become so out of her control, having any sort of existing image, including ones where she’s wearing an FBI uniform and reporting facts about a serial killer, can be turned into a weapon.

Episode 6 in particular communicates a frightening concern, as JJ talks about how she fears her son or his friends at school may see it. Though she is the victim, we all know how cruel children can be sometimes. Next to the intangible Gold Star program, JJ’s plot is far more devastating, especially seeing how much time is slotted between the two. Both JJ and Prentiss focus their resources on Gold Star, since they can be physically apprehended and stopped — how do you apprehend a community of anonymous faces that rely on AI? And even if Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) uses her magic to identify the culprits, whatever enters the internet, stays on the internet, potentially haunting JJ forever. She has a brief and simple plot that inflicts such a powerful impact on audiences, resonating with every woman’s newfound fears and helplessness.

A.J. Cook’s Heart-Breaking Performance Resonates With Us

JJ’s reactions towards this discovery drives the hopelessness of the subplot home. Though she initially laughs the site off, she immediately caves in when she realizes the true extent of the images. The day after watching the videos, JJ hunches her shoulders, pulls her sleeves over her hands and avoids eye contact while sitting at the round table. Her heart-breaking performance becomes the paragon of vulnerability and protectiveness, as she draws further into herself, as if trying to make herself invisible after all the unwanted visibility she was assaulted with. She is far from the confident, patient and comforting JJ we know, who held victims’ hands as they came in for interviews or manipulated the media to ensure only necessary information was being released.

As such, the most recent episode’s scene between Prentiss and JJ was entirely necessary and rewarding. As they unintentionally get high together, JJ finally reveals that she knows about the site, leading to Prentiss feeling guilty about hiding it. Though the issue is still unresolved, and likely will never be fully resolved, watching JJ lounge back onto a couch and open up about her concerns is relieving and bittersweet. Though it is a much-needed, light-hearted scene, it is paired with a gravitas that had been searching for throughout the show. The two original cast members reminisce about their fallen comrades and find comfort in each other, calling back to older episodes where the team often relied on each other to move on from particularly jarring cases. JJ’s storyline may be ephemeral and quiet, but it is the hauntingly realistic and grounded aspect of Criminal Minds that we have learned to depend on to get through the more bloody and cruel tones of the show.