For someone who didn’t know he had a daughter for nearly 30 years, Rossi has settled into having a family quite nicely. However, he’s in for a surprise in Criminal Minds‘ “Inner Beauty” when his ex-wife shows up to see their grandson.

Meanwhile, the BAU investigates when women are found in a water tank, faces slashed repeatedly. The UnSub is making his victims into surrogates, but for whom?

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Smart and Stupid Behavior

In Sacramento, a woman wisely hurries into her apartment in the sketchiest of buildings when she sees a man walking down the hall carrying something, but he’s just a worker there to fix the flickering light. Moments later, however, the water in her shower begins to turn brown and down in the basement, the worker finds two women, faces slashed repeatedly, in the water tank.

Later on, a “nice guy” intervenes when a guy won’t leave Danielle alone, and he helpfully offers her a ride home, no strings (he has a girlfriend, he makes sure to tell her), in his van right up the street. Listen, if a guy makes a point to say he has a girlfriend, leads you to a van and just so happens to have stuff in the front seat so you have to ride in the back, RUN. Do not wait for him to open the back and show you the body already inside. By then, it’s too late. Danielle is chloroformed, and the UnSub has his next victim.

Is This About Rage?

The area in which the victims were found has a high crime rate and is known for drug usage. Were they drug deals gone wrong? Prostitutes? Are they looking for a moral enforcer, a vigilante trying to clean up the streets? One of the victims’ record suggests that could all be true, but interestingly enough, the UnSub dressed Debi in clothes she wouldn’t normally wear, so that could be part of the fantasy.

At the disposal site, they quickly rule out the UnSub being a vigilante since he’d want to display his murders and inspire fear, whereas he appears to be going the other direction. Did he put the victims in the tank for safe-keeping so he could revisit them? Whatever is going on, he’s going to need to find a new disposal site.

Danielle comes to in a cell, and when the UnSub comes into the room, he asks if she trusts him and then injects her with something.

It looks like the UnSub used two different types of blades on the victims’ faces: a precision blade like a scalpel postmortem and a jagged tool with a serrated edge antemortem. He also dyed one of the victims’ hair. That, and redressing the other victim, suggests that he’s making them into surrogates for the real object of his rage.

Another victim is found, this one in a covered Jacuzzi, indicating that it’s not just water that’s important to the UnSub. He wants them enclosed. This woman was a real blonde but wearing the same dress as Debi. When Reid spots a suture on the latest victim’s face, he realizes that the UnSub isn’t using two blades. The jagged edges are left by him ripping out sutures. The postmortem slashing is to hide a surgical component. Looking into the victims’ histories reveals they all seemed to be turning their lives around and going to rehab. They’re ready to deliver the profile.

They’re looking for a white male in his late 20s to early 30s. He’s a surgical sadist who’s operating on women he finds in or around the recovery community. He earns their trust, so he may be part of that community as well. Pain is his goal, and he cuts the women to inflict physical and psychological scars that won’t heal. He’s putting his victims through a transformation before putting them down. These women are surrogates for someone who wronged him, and that person may be a first victim who has yet to be found. She likely has a personal connection to him, so finding her is key to stopping him.

When Danielle comes to, her face is bandaged and bleeding, and items in her cell are labeled “your poetry,” “your favorite perfume,” “your favorite stuffed animal” and “your dress.” What did he do to her? It’s phase 1, the UnSub tells her.

The profilers realize they’ve missed a key component when the ME reports the breakdown of the drugs found in the victims: pain management drugs. A sadist wouldn’t try to make them feel better. Furthermore, an improvised implant was found in the right cheek of the third victim. He thinks he’s helping these women.

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Getting to the Heart of the Matter

The UnSub forces Danielle to take pills before uncovering a mirror and cutting the bandages from her face. She’s beautiful, he tells her, calling her “Sarah.” She disagrees given what she sees. Then, as she repeats her name to herself and talks about the brother she was going to be there for after not being there due to her addiction, he puts her in a blue dress just like the other victims. “This isn’t me,” she says.

Meanwhile, Reid deduces that the UnSub attempted to cut flaps in the right cheek and sew it back together. They realize that he’s not angry with these women but in love with them. In his eyes, he’s making them more beautiful. At some point, he was obsessed with someone society didn’t want to look at and wants her back. As Garcia tells them about Danielle being missing, Reid puts the pieces together: Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors on the nerve tissue.

Garcia looks into women with tumors embedded in the nerves on the right side of their faces and gets a hit: Sarah Sherwood, blonde. She drowned herself in her parents’ house three weeks ago. That was the trigger. She held down the remote for the pool’s retractable tarp. That explains the UnSub’s disposal sites. And she was wearing that blue dress. Her boyfriend, Joseph, found her and was inconsolable. He delivers food to treatment centers, which is how he has access to pain medication.

Still thinking Danielle is Sarah, he takes her to the room that was meant to be his girlfriend’s. It’s blue, just like her dress, and that may be too much blue for an entire house. All the porcelain dolls have their right cheeks missing. He kisses her in hopes of helping her remember, and she wisely plays along until she is able to get her hands on a mirror and hit him with it. She manages to make it out the front door and to the sidewalk, but when a jogger tries to help her, Joseph intervenes, telling him his wife just got out of the hospital and is on medication. He then takes her back inside.

As the team moves out to check out Joseph’s work and home addresses, Garcia fills them in on Joseph. When he was 11, his mother was in a car accident that left her face mutilated. She was bedridden for three years before dying from her injuries. He ended up in the foster system, and his group home was busted on abuse charges. Also, right before Sarah killed herself, Joseph had taken her to the park for a picnic. She was embarrassed by the tumors on her face, and when he went to get the wine he left behind in the car, she had a panic attack. He’s trying to rewrite the past and get it right this time.

When Rossi and J. J. find Joseph and Danielle, they have to get him to accept that Sarah is gone and Danielle isn’t her. He’s been hurting innocent women who never wanted him to make this choice for them. Once he lets Danielle go, J. J. cuffs him and Rossi checks on her. “I’m Danielle, right?” She asks him. Yes, she is.

Face-to-Face is Better Than a Call or Text

What better way for Rossi to spend some time off work than with his grandson and son-in-law? With Joy held up in customs, the family may be down one, but hey, we get to see Rossi playing with his grandson. (I never thought I’d like the Struthers family as much as I do. Well done.) However, a door bell interrupting a nice day can never be a good thing, and in this case, it leads to a whole lot of awkwardness because it’s ex-wife #2 on the other side, a.k.a. Joy’s mother, a.k.a. the woman who didn’t tell Rossi he had a daughter for 29 years and then ignored his calls and texts when he found out.

After moving on from “you’re right,” Hayden explains that she showed up now because she knew they had to put it behind them to be the kind of grandparents Kai deserves. As for why she didn’t tell him, she reminds him that she always came second to the job, and while he argues that she should’ve given him a choice, she asks what he would have chosen. Kai running over with a police car toy keeps him from answering, as does the call about the case.  
But he’s distracted enough that J. J. suggests alien abduction to see if he’s listening before getting him to open up. After he fills her in, she too reminds him of the man he used to be, how he told her that nothing came between him and the job. It’s easy to say now that he would have put everything on hold to be a father, but she knows that he can understand why Hayden made the call she did. (Bringing up the man that he used to be reminds me of how Rossi was when he first joined the team, and it’s because of that that I love this talk between him and J. J. so much. I’ll admit I wouldn’t have expected it back in season 3.)

When the case is over, Rossi goes to see Hayden and tells her what he figured out he needed to say: “I can’t wave a magic wand and change what happened, but what I can do is understand why you did it. You were in the trenches, turning what I’m sure was a handful of a little girl into a confident, beautiful woman. And I’m sure that couldn’t have been easy.”

They exchange stories about their daughter; she tells him about Joy accepting a scholarship and not telling her, he reveals that she met a serial killer in a dark alley (a story for another time). They’ve come to an understanding, and that’s for the best, especially with their grandson inside who won’t settle down for a bedtime story (Rossi’s specialty).

Criminal Minds season 11 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.