Is it just me or is it always worse when children are involved on Criminal Minds? That’s the case in tonight’s episode, “Gabby,” as the team races against the clock to bring a 4-year-old home safely. With a case like this, there’s no time for a personal storyline for one of the team, and thankfully, the show doesn’t even try to include one.

Series star Thomas Gibson directed this episode, and just like the one he directed last season, “All That Remains,” it features a family-centric case.

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

Gabby is absolutely adorable as Kate drops her off at her Aunt Sue’s for the week she’ll be on a cruise, and while Kate’s nervous about leaving her alone for so long, Sue reassures her she’ll be fine and to go. So after their goodbyes, Kate leaves. 

But because this is Criminal Minds, things take a horrible, horrible turn. Sue takes Gabby out for a drive to help her sleep, and while she’s inside a mini-mart running around shopping quickly, someone in a dark van takes Gabby.

With time a significant factor – if it’s a stranger abduction they have less than 24 hours to bring Gabby home alive – there’s no roundtable. It’s straight to the jet as the profilers head to Mississippi to find Gabby, but are they too late? The van stops on a bridge and the driver dumps a body-sized black bag over the side.

Always Look to the Parents

Gabby’s parents are divorced, and Doug, her father, is a trucker on the road with a history of drug problems. I always love when Reid pulls out statistics, and he does so again in this episode, this time stating that he’s more likely the offender than a stranger. Plus, his phone’s off, so he can’t look any guiltier than he does already. 

Kate, who wishes she had never left for that cruise, doesn’t think Gabby would wander off with a stranger because she warned her about strangers. She also has a second cell number for Doug. 

Sue’s a wreck when Morgan and JJ go to talk to her at her house, and they find out that Kate’s parents took her in when she was 8 after her parents died, making Kate like her sister rather than her cousin. She doesn’t really provide them with any answers, but there is the nosy neighbor next door, who does remember seeing a dark van the other day and thinks it was a plumber. Garcia does her magic and comes up with Ian Little, who has a history of drugs. 

And what do you know? It turns out that Doug abandoned his car Sunday and was picked by up none other than Ian Little, who used to sell drugs to Doug, and, when they find him, has second and third degree burns all over his face. Those are the kinds of burns you get medical attention for unless you’re trying to hide something, and his story about lighting a gas grill just does not add up, and they know it. 

Ian’s cell phone pinged off three cell phone towers out of town Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and after Reid gives a brief course in cell phones pinging, he has Garcia check a certain intersection point. It just happens to be the Little farm, where Ian’s father shot his mother and then turned the shotgun on himself. In other words, it’s a really happy place. 

While a team searches the farm, Hotch gives Ian one last chance to answer his questions. He already has a pretty good idea what happened. He let Doug hide out at his farm, but something went wrong and he hurt Gabby. He tried to get rid of the body and added gasoline to the fire, and voila, face destroyed. However, there’s one problem with that theory: Doug’s the one who’s in that bag. He’s dead, and he’s been dead at least 72 hours. 

Hotch is the Best in Interrogations

Kate wants to try talking to Ian to get him to open up since the three of them used to smoke together until she got pregnant and wised up, but he’s not talking, even when Hotch gets in his face when Gabby’s blanket is found on the Interstate. 

Meanwhile, JJ has to bring the focus back on finding Gabby when Sue apologizes for running out for a moment and Kate tells her she would never have left her at all. 

But then the case takes a turn when a close look at the security footage from the mini-mart reveals that Sue hesitated outside for two minutes before she entered and JJ points out that it should have been instinctual for her to park the car in a well-lit spot right outside the store (and there had been plenty of empty spots) instead of off to the side in the dark. Plus, there are dozens of calls from Ian to Sue’s home. Blake takes her aside to give her “formal statement,” and Sue says the predictable stuff about Ian changing and how she’s good for him and how he’s different and just plain looking mighty suspicious throughout the entire conversation. Rossi notices a cut across her palm, and she claims that Gabby broke a glass. 

Then the truth comes out when Hotch offers a deal to Ian. Ian only disposed of Doug’s body. Sue was the one who killed him with a glass candle holder when he showed up wanting to see Gabby. Ian’s story holds up when they look in the house. The candle holder is in a box and there are signs of blood. When Hotch goes in to see Sue, he takes one for the team and says exactly what he needs to for her to react: “What happened to Gabby is all your fault. You know nothing about what it takes to be a mother. You’re pathetic.” Sue attacks him, and she has to be restrained. That’s the real Sue.

Straight Out of a Horror Movie?

The real Sue is really creepy too. Forget the crying woman worried about Gabby. When Kate goes in to talk to her, Sue is nothing like earlier in the episode. Yes, I had a feeling this was coming given the promo CBS released, but I didn’t expect Sue to be like this. She tells her that she never wanted Kate’s “good family.” She had one of her own, and besides, Kate’s “good family” wasn’t so “good” to her. She says Kate’s father liked her to sit on his lap and put her on the floor because it was quieter. He never went into Kate’s room because Sue was his “special little girl.” Kate refuses to believe it, but what matters is where Gabby is, and that’s something Sue is never going to tell her because the not knowing is the ultimate torture. The only good news is that means Gabby’s alive; they would eventually find her body if she had killed her.

They still have to find Gabby, and that means digging into Sue’s life. Sue lives tech-free, but no one (except those in Afghani caves or certain parts of New Jersey, according to Garcia) can be completely offline these days, and Garcia’s able to trace her to a computer at a library, thanks to Blake noting that she uses the word “lightbug” instead of “light bulb.” As an online chat reveals, Sue posed as Gabby’s mother and gave her away, and she’s not the only kid discussed on the forum. It’s a process known as disrupted adoptions or re-homing, and it happens underground. People usually pose as families, but they really just want access to children. This is when we see Gabby for the first time since she was taken, and she’s in the back of a van with other kids. One warns her that if she cries, bad things will happen, and I immediately think of the Law & Order: SVU episode, “Wednesday’s Child.”

Three families responded to the post, but when they reach the home of the one who owns a blue van, she only tells them Gabby’s gone. Garcia works some more of her magic and identifies the people who have her: Michelle Fader and Michael Feehan. Michelle’s kids were taken away after one died in her custody, and Michael has a list of accusations against him that were never proven because the victims were too young. The FBI finds them before it’s too late, and the kids are all safe.

After that, it’s just a matter of Gabby reuniting with her mother, and Kate’s never going to leave her again. But the episode doesn’t end on an entirely happy note as the team wonders how many more kids are out there in a similar situation. 

What did you think of this episode? How much do you love seeing Hotch take control of interrogations like he does? Going into the episode, did you think it was going to end like it did? Head to the comments with your thoughts.

Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Meredith Jacobs

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

If it’s on TV — especially if it’s a procedural or superhero show — chances are Meredith watches it. She has a love for all things fiction, starting from a young age with ER and The X-Files on the small screen and the Nancy Drew books. Arrow kicked off the Arrowverse and her true passion for all things heroes. She’s enjoyed getting into the minds of serial killers since Criminal Minds, so it should be no surprise that her latest obsession is Prodigal Son.