Did ‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’ Just Deliver Series’ Best Twist With Gold Star Origin Reveal?

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Ahead of Criminal Minds: Evolution Season 17, when TV Insider spoke with the cast, pretty much every single one hyped this as the series’ best season. And so far? It’s delivered. Part of that is the latest twist of the season (of which there have been a few, including perhaps the series’ most disturbing storyline yet) as the BAU’s search for Gold Star continues.

But also part of that are the quieter moments we get to see with the team, and among them are two in this episode: Tara (Aisha Tyler) checking in on Rossi (Joe Mantegna), whose struggles post-Voit abduction everyone can see, and JJ (A.J. Cook) with Prentiss (Paget Brewster) as the two deal with the fallout of the former’s discovery of BAUgate (a dark web site with deepfake porn of herself) and the latter wanting to quit. It’s not often that this show can take the time to show the heart at the center of it, but this episode excels at doing just that.

The Origins of Gold Star Revealed

A scenario in which one (or more) of the team is killed before the eyes of another isn’t new to Criminal Minds. (Remember “Mr. Scratch”?) But that doesn’t make Rossi’s opening nightmare any less chilling, especially with him seeing Voit (Zach Gilford) forcing Prentiss to hauntingly sing Billie Holiday’s “When You’re Smiling” before he kills her. To say Rossi’s dazed after that is an understatement; he tries to insist he’s fine as he sees multiple hallucinations of Voit all over the office—and hears Prentiss’ singing from his nightmare—but no one buys it.

Tara finds him cleaning his gun in his office—with his finger on the trigger!—and he finally admits that he has PTSD and it’s getting worse. Something she loves is that they can sit together, quietly, with their thoughts, and she suggests they do just that and he can know he’s okay. He holds out his hand, she takes it, and he thanks her. It’s easily one of the best scenes of the season. Rossi eventually admits that while he sometimes talks to UnSub in his head to help him profile, he’s now talking to Voit all the time and it’s unwanted and intrusive. She explains that it’s a classic symptom of trauma survival, a.k.a. what he went through when Voit locked him in that shipping container. It can be managed, with 90 minutes of therapy a day, minimum. But he doesn’t have time for that, so Tara’s other suggestion is to do what he says has made UnSubs in his head go away in the past: see Voit in prison. Rossi would rather go to therapy first. He also argues that he knew the others would never get out, whereas Voit is angling to make that possible. But what might help is if Rossi can get Voit to admit to him that he’s Sicarius and seeing him behind bars.

And after Rossi steps into the elevator and hears and sees the walls closing in on him—a perfect visual for how he’s feeling—he does just that and has the guard turn off the cameras in Voit’s cell. Voit wonders if he’s going to kill him, but Rossi explains that they need to talk, just them, and his deal isn’t going through. Voit says he hasn’t met his lawyer. Rossi tells him he wants him to admit he’s Sicarius and killed 60 people. Sixty-two, Voit corrects him. But he knows that’s not all Rossi needed to hear. In fact, because he’s read Rossi’s books, he’s figured out he’s haunting the agent. Rossi denies it and instead turns to the fact that Voit mentioned Gold Star to Bailey. Voit thinks he’s just a totem for something even worse than himself. Rossi argues nothing’s worse than him, but Voit points out he’d never give him the satisfaction of saying that unless his repression is so deep he’d rather lie to him than face the truth, which he thinks they can figure out together. All they have to do is take what thy know, make deductive inferences, and then build a profile.

Rossi wants to start with North Star because he likes to work backwards, and Voit insists it’s nothing. Damien and Jade responded to it, he says, because they’re looking for clues, and he gave them one. When looking for constellations, you start by finding the north star—or where it all starts. Damien and Jade are looking for who to blame for why they are the way they are: how the program got started. Voit looked into it, and he thinks Rossi knows. Stuart House sounds like the perfect crucible to create serial killers, and Voit wonders who would’ve given them that idea…

With that, Rossi returns to the team with a box of old files from the archives. Thirty years ago, Rossi and Gideon drafted (but never submitted) a paper. When the study of serial killers was ramping up, they were asked to come up with a hypothetical scenario that would generate a serial killer: how to find at-risk kids who grew up in 360-degree environment of family violence, remove them from that environment and isolate them in worse conditions, ideally during puberty, where they can then be evaluated for psychopathy. Given the right variables, these kids could be controlled—and directed. It was never published because it felt like a recipe,but it seems like someone got a hold of that paper and created Gold Star. It began with North Star, and North Star is the BAU! How can you not love a twist like that?!

“I just feel blessed” to read scripts like that, Mantegna tells TV Insider. “I’m a firm believer of, if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. You always have to have good writing for things to continue. Otherwise this thing’s become kind of rote and kind of like, ‘Okay, we get it.’ So whenever you can kind of throw in a little something to ‘What?!’ and we take you off in another direction… It’s a testament to the quality of our writing staff. You don’t stick around that long if you’re just going to churn it out. That’s the quality of the show, and I’m thrilled that we’ve kept that standard up.”

“We Don’t Quit”

In the aftermath of being placed on restricted duty, Prentiss recovers from a night drinking—and, as JJ later learns when she checks on her, edibles—on Garcia’s (Kirsten Vangsness) couch. Prentiss introduces JJ to the wonders of eating chips with chopsticks (and feeds her one) and admits she’s “not not high.” When she needs to think or contemplate life, it focuses her, she explains. In this instance, she’s wondering about her future with the FBI. JJ knows that she’ll be back in the field in a couple of days, but Prentiss says that this is how careers come to an end with the bureau, so her plan is to quit.

JJ argues it’s not the best time to make any big life decisions, but as Prentiss sees it, Voit will get what he wants eventually, and she crossed a line with him she never thought she would. Now, she’s struggling to figure out why she’s fighting so hard to win the battle of good versus evil, so if she’s going to go out, she wants it to be on her own terms. And this is when JJ realizes that she’s been eating Prentiss’ edibles…

Soon, Prentiss finds out that she’s been reinstated as unit chief of the BAU, but she still wants to resign (and wonders if she should delete “Sent from my iPhone” from the email, a great moment). She reminds JJ of everyone who has come and gone since they met: Gideon, Morgan, Hotch. The longer you stay at this job, the odds are you’ll lose yourself or someone you love or your sense of honor, she says. It just takes and takes and takes. Has the job given JJ anything? “Most recently, the deep-seated fear that someone from my son’s high school will find the BAUgate website,” she admits. What bugs her, she continues, is that Prentiss didn’t tell her. Did she think she couldn’t handle it? Prentiss says she knew she could, but that doesn’t mean she had to; she thinks she’s supposed to protect the team, and if she can’t, it’s another reason she needs to quit. But JJ doesn’t need her to protect her—she needs her to be honest with her. And honestly? Prentiss wants to quit.

But JJ points out that what those Prentiss listed have in common is they left, while they were kicked out but still here—you gotta love that, in reference to Cook and Brewster both being let go during the original run and then being brought back. “We are stronger than anyone, anyone gives us credit for,” JJ tells Prentiss, who thinks it’s just a matter of time before she’s fired. Then “let them fire you,” JJ says. “We don’t quit. We don’t. I didn’t quit on you in Paris.” (Again, love that reference.) “You didn’t quit on me after my miscarriage,” she continues. “This job takes a lot, but you know what it gives? It gives me you. And you know what, after all of this, if you still want to go, I’ll support you, I will, always.” That’s when Rossi messages them to come in (and they take a rideshare).

What did you think of the latest Gold Star reveal? How much did you love Prentiss and JJ’s conversations?

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