In the season’s 21st episode, “Nanny Dearest,” the team closes in on an Unsub who has kidnapped young women and the children in their care around the same time every year. Read on to find out what the minds behind Criminal Minds have in-store for us this week.

Nanny ‘Napping

The episode begins with Hotch informing Blake — and the audience — that the team will be making a pre-emptive trip to Los Angeles because for the past several years, someone has been abducting nannies and the children they care for around the same time every year. Though the Unsub releases the children unharmed less than 24 hours after their capture, the nannies are sexually assaulted and tortured before being killed. The Unsub then dumps their bodies in local playgrounds on the same date every year.

The strongest lead the team has in this case is a living victim — Tara Rios — who managed to escape from captivity but could give them no information about the Unsub or where she had been held. When another nanny and child are kidnapped, JJ and Morgan make a plea for Tara’s help but it takes a press conference with the missing child’s parents to convince Tara to cooperate.

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Phoebe and Tara

When more than 24 hours pass with no sign of the missing child, the agents realize that the Unsub has broken pattern and is not sticking to his usual schedule. The agents conclude that the children are the Unsub’s true targets and the nannies are merely collatoral damage, but they wonder what makes this child — Phoebe — different from the children the Unsub has released every other time.

The agents discover that Phoebe’s asthma makes her the perfect surrogate for the Unsub’s sister, whom he lost when he was just a child. The Unsub blames his former nanny for his sister’s death and that is why he exhibits so much rage against the nannies he abducts.

With Tara’s help, the agents are able to identify the Unsub and Garcia finds his home address. Though the Unsub initially escapes, JJ chases him down and kills him when he refuses to surrendor. Both Phoebe and her nanny are rescued and Tara gets the closure she needs, knowing that she helped bring down the man who caused her so much pain.

I thought this episode was one of the strongest of the season, with great performances from A.J. Cook and the guest stars. Though the case was not personal for any of the agents, it had an emotional relevance that has been lacking in most of the cases this season.

JJ’s heart

The B plot in tonight’s episode revolves around JJ and the reason she has stayed with the BAU. The episode opens with JJ giving Henry a bath before she heads to work. Henry questions why his mom has to work all the time and JJ explains that there are people who need her help.

JJ is key in solving this week’s case, as she connects with Tara in a way that helps the traumatized young woman remember important details about her abduction. Given the nature of the case, it is no surprise that the episode ends with JJ rushing home to check on Henry. As JJ and Will celebrate her homecoming, viewers are left with the feeling that JJ does what she does for cases like this and the closure she can bring to victims like Tara.

This week’s JJ-heavy episode comes along at an interesting time, given recent rumors that Cook and Kirsten Vangsness may not return for Season 9. The actresses have reportedly joined forces for contract negotiations, hoping to raise their salaries to something closer to those of their male co-stars. Though cast changes are nothing new for Criminal Minds, fans were angry about JJ’s exit in Season 6 and I have a hard time picturing the series without Garcia.

What do you think? Did you enjoy Criminal Minds‘ case-of-the-week? Were you happy to see JJ take such an active role in the investigation? Do you think A.J. Cook and Kirsten Vangsness are vital to the show? Hit the comments section and let us know your thoughts.

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(Image courtesy of CBS)

Megan Cole

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV