Criminal Minds has had many, many scarier episodes than “Boxed In” — it wouldn’t even rank in the top 15 or maybe even 20 — but what makes this one stand out is that it’s about a very real fear parents have on Halloween. When their kids go out trick-or-treating, they expect them to come home. In this case, they do, but almost a full year later.

Series star Thomas Gibson once again stepped behind the camera, directed his third episode of the series (“All That Remains” and “Gabby” are the previous two). While the episodes Matthew Gray Gubler directs tend to be on the creepy side, the ones Gibson directs tend to involve families, specifically abducted children.

Cases involving kids are always the toughest and always guarantee the team a race against the clock. That’s once again true here, as the BAU hopes to get ahead of the UnSub and prevent another kidnapping. They can’t, but they can hope to bring the kid home to his parents the same night he was taken instead of 364 days later — and forever traumatized, maybe in a body bag — like the others. 

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Psychos Say the Darndest Things

At a pumpkin patch, a mother becomes concerned when she turns to speak to Tyler, only to find her son gone. When she does find him, he tells her he found someone taking a nap, and when she checks on the person in the skeleton costume, the boy screams for help.

That kid is Joshua Parker, who disappeared last Halloween, and…that’s when the lights go out in the BAU because the building decides to get in the Halloween spirit. Once the generator kicks in, it’s back to business. Joshua was a chronic runaway and had disciplinary problems, so it was never classified as an abduction. The same thing had happened with another boy, Tommy, but Rodney Tanner, a pedophile and all around horrible human being, had stalker photos and confessed. Their goal is to stop another kid from being taken, but the UnSub is already cleaning out and preparing his box for his next target.

Both victims were found 364 days after their disappearances, suggesting that they were released and that Halloween holds significance for the UnSub. There’s no evidence of sexual assault, but the first victim died from malnutrition and his muscles were atrophied, suggesting that his physical activity was limited. He was also covered in splinters and bruises. As the doctor tells JJ and Reid at the hospital, Joshua is dehydrated, his muscles are also atrophied and he has the same splinters and bruises as Tommy. When he was first brought in, he screamed, “Let me out.” Reid realizes that he was being kept in a homemade wooden box.  

For the UnSub, what matters is holding them. He doesn’t want to kill these kids. With the MO being so specific, it looks like Tanner’s not involved at all. As for his confession, as Rossi puts it, “psychos say the darndest things.” After Morgan and Kate talk to him, they confirm that theory: Tanner’s just an attention-seeker. The real UnSub is still out there.

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Lesson: Don’t Be a Menace on Halloween

While Hotch issues a statement to the press warning about trick-or-treating, a family sits down for dinner, ignoring the news report on in the background, and argues about eating vegetables and homework and Halloween night plans. Hunter grabs a couple of cartons out of the refrigerator before meeting his friends to egg houses, cars, the street, etc. and be little menaces. When a man catches them egging his house, they hurry off, but Hunter hides in the bushes until he goes into his house. That’s when the UnSub, wearing a Halloween mask, grabs him.

The UnSub puts Hunter into a box in the ground and tells him, “Spend some time down there, you might learn your lesson,” which screams in flashing red lights that someone told him something similar when he was a kid. As Hunter begs to be let out, the UnSub drives his car over the box and parks it.

After Rossi talks to the man who caught the kids egging his house, Reid puts the pieces together, recalling the transcript from the police interview with the first victim’s mother. Tommy had taken their toilet paper to TP houses. The UnSub is taking kids with disciplinary problems, bad boys. He’s a fundamentalist vigilante, and this is his version of punishment. He releases his victims on a consistent timeline because he’s mission-oriented. He comes from a broken home of abuse and had disciplinary issues as a kid.

The UnSub’s Traumatic Childhood Is Revealed

A woman comes into the police station after seeing Hotch on the news because she thinks the UnSub is her brother. She says he’s always been a “freak” and locked her in closets and killed animals and laughed about it. Their abusive father, Sam, left them on Halloween after telling John that he’d keep him in a trunk until the next Halloween to teach him a lesson. He’s punishing kids to regain a sense of power and control. When they track down his mother, they find out the whole story. Sam had locked him in the trunk because he had egged a house, and when she tried to get him out, he hit her. She then fought back with a fire poker and freed John, then had him help her drag his father’s dead body outside. “He’s the way he is because of me,” she says, blaming herself.

Once she tells them where she buried Sam’s body, they find John, but not before he had enough of Hunter begging to be let out and jumped down into the box, so Hunter’s out of it and his mouth is taped when the FBI and police arrive on scene. He can’t scream for help, and so they have to get John to tell them where he is, which he refuses to do, even as Rossi tells him that a prison cell is “a box,” not so different from what his father put him in as a kid. It’s not until they bring in his mother and she apologizes for not leaving Sam and for what she did to him that he tells them where Hunter is. Fortunately, he’s alive. In the hospital, Joshua wakes up and sees his parents. They’ll both be as okay as they can be, given what happened to them. Most importantly, both of them are alive.

Madame Bouvier (and Penelope Garcia), at Hotch’s Service

Before the case interrupts Hotch’s plans with his son, he proves that he’s a good father by tracking down the perfect costume for Jack. Garcia directs him to Madame Bouvier, who gets him a Darth Vader costume thanks to a cousin who runs a prop house. Because he’s Garcia’s friend (though Madame Bouvier is a bit surprised at that, given Hotch’s suit) and a father who cares enough about his son to endure the horrible weather, it’s on the house. Unfortunately, Hotch only gets a few moments to show off the costume and be with his son (and be relaxed and carefree in a way that he never is at work, given the nature of the job) before he’s called in on the case.

The costume pays off because Jack wins Best Costume, prompting a brief conversation with JJ about their kids’ costumes. (Henry was Spiderman this year, which, frankly, is a step down from Reid. He also thinks that they should use web shooters at the FBI, which earns him a point or two.) While Hotch did have to miss Halloween for the first time with Jack, his son falls asleep on the couch waiting for him to come home so he can show off his costume. “Always kiss your children goodnight, even if they’re already asleep,” is the episode’s end quote, and Hotch does just that.

While it wouldn’t really fit in with the rest of this episode, again, I ask, when will there be even a glimpse at the arc introduced in the season premiere?

Criminal Minds season 10 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.