Aisha Tyler joined Criminal Minds in the season 11 premiere as Dr. Tara Lewis, a forensic psychologist whose interview to join the BAU takes a turn she could not have expected. It results in the rest of the candidates, hoping to fill the empty spot on the team, being sent home. However, it’s not until “The Witness” that she officially works a case as a member of the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
While some of the team has been around since the beginning, these profilers aren’t strangers to new teammates and to agents coming and going. However, some characters — on the original series, the short-lived Suspect Behavior and the upcoming Beyond Borders — have fit in better than others, whether it’s due to the way the character is written or the way he or she is portrayed. So which category does Aisha Tyler’s Dr. Lewis fall into?
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A New Skill Set
As Hotch comments in “The Job,” Tara’s skills aren’t exactly what the BAU is looking for to fill this spot. She may have the most clinical evaluative experience of all the applicants, but it’s not really relevant to what they do there. Interviewing serial killers in prison isn’t the same as hunting them down, but as Tara explains, that’s why she’s there; she wants to catch them instead of just talking to them after the fact. These profilers have interviewed killers in prison before, but it’s one thing to hunt and catch them and then interview them as well; it’s another to be part of that first step. What Tara does makes the transition a bit easier than it probably would be in other cases.
As her conversation with Reid in the second episode demonstrates, what Tara does is find something she can identity with when she talks to these killers in prison to establish the therapeutic alliance, which, in this case, is key to establishing that relationship between psychologist and killer. For example, her mother and a killer’s mother attended the same elementary school and both liked fossils as kids. Things like that aren’t what we’re used to hearing about when it comes to the BAU and the UnSubs they catch. Bringing in something new like this, especially when a show reaches its 11th season, can, more often than not, only help.
Jumping Right into the Action
Tara doesn’t go through a normal interview process when it comes to getting this job. Just like cases interrupt these agents when they’re off the clock, Hotch has to hit the pause button for 36 hours when the team gets a case, but by the time the interview resumes, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that she has the job.
That’s because, in that time, she’s called on to mimic the voice of the wife of the man in the car with the UnSub. It’s not exactly something someone is prepared to do on the day they’re just interviewing for a job — actually getting the job on the same day isn’t either – but it shows that she can think on her toes, which may not be what someone who goes in to talk to killers after they’re caught is used to doing. It’s a good — and necessary — way to show that she can do this job even though it’s not exactly what she did before.
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She Fits in with the Team
So far at least, I haven’t gotten any of that awkward newbie vibe that can so easily come along with a new team member on a show like this. Yes, everyone may still be feeling each other out — for example, when Tara and Rossi both agree that Charlie wasn’t responsible for the sarin gas attack in “The Witness,” she thinks there’s nothing they can do about it, but Rossi calls Garcia to look into him — but that’s just part of having someone different around who doesn’t know everything everyone on the team can do.
She’s not stepping on anyone’s toes and is seamlessly fitting in with the team when it comes to working a case, at least with the one (and a half) we’ve seen so far. While she had to step up in a big way in the premiere, it was like she was just another one of the team, nothing special about it, in Los Angeles. That was a smart move; it’s never a good idea to do too much too soon or to make a new investigator have to constantly step up in a big way in their first few episodes.
Two episodes in, and I do like Tara. Now, it’s not the same as having Prentiss or JJ with the team — but no one else can be part of the team like they are — but as someone who we’re told from the start isn’t going to be sticking around on a permanent basis? She’s good, as is Tyler in the role, in a way that I want to see more of her but I don’t feel is in any way taking away from the regular team members.
Tara brings something new to the show that we haven’t seen quite that much of before. As pointed out, this team catches the serial killers; it’s quite rare that they deal with them after they’ve been locked up. However, while we hear about Tara establishing the therapeutic alliance in episode 2, I would like to see that in action before she leaves. That’s something that needs to be shown not just talked about, and it would be a disservice to the character if that doesn’t happen.
Criminal Minds season 11 airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CBS.
(Images courtesy of CBS)