People are seeing shadow monsters with talons for hands before a loved one ends up dead. Despite no one else being in the house, they claim they’re innocent. Doesn’t that sound like something that would happen on Supernatural? It’s just “Mr. Scratch,” a Matthew Gray Gubler-directed and Breen Frazier-written episode of Criminal Minds.

Frazier and Gubler have teamed up twice before — on season 6’s “Lauren” and season 9’s “Blood Relations” — and this is easily the scariest, most twisted episode they’ve put together yet. When it comes to an episode directed by Gubler, I have certain expectations. I expect to probably be scared at some point. I expect some creepy visuals, perhaps one or two that stay with me after the episode. I expect there to be a moment that trumps anything from his previous turns behind the camera. I previously ranked his episodes from least to most horrific, and this one easily beats them all. The last 10 minutes alone? Among the most terrifying and startling that have ever been seen on the series. In short, well done, Breen Frazier and Matthew Gray Gubler.

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I’m Sorry to Tell You, But You Did Murder Your Wife/Mother/Boyfriend

What better way to set the stage than to kick off the episode with a storm? Larry is in an interrogation room in Quantico for the murder of his wife, but he swears he’s innocent. So what killed her? A shadow monster, with talons for hands. He went downstairs to check on a noise she heard, and upon smelling sage, fell to the floor. A door creaked open, he heard the monster, saw its clawed hand reaching out and ran upstairs, hearing her screams. He found her dead.

However, that’s not what really happened. What happened was that he stabbed his wife to death, and the police found him still holding the knife. Two others, Daniel and Christine, have told similar stories. Someone induced a psychotic break in the three of them, Hotch explains, and they’re going to figure out who turned them into killers.

Daniel tells a similar story about his mother’s murder when Morgan and JJ take him through a cognitive interview, except the shadow monster raped him, but the police ran a rape kit and found no evidence of an assault. Christine started tapping her forehead after telling the police a story about being attacked by a dark figure, and she hasn’t said anything since.

Garcia does have a possible connection: all three victims were adopted in 1985. They would have been three or four years old, which is strange since memories don’t imprint on the brain until age 5, according to Reid. The UnSub is using a primal fear of the dark and the monsters in it.

How the UnSub Is Controlling His Victims

In Larry’s home, Rossi and Reid find plastic tubing inside a vent, and it tests positive for powerful dissociative drugs: one for waking dreams (to hallucinate the fear) and the other, in high doses, to make the victims susceptible to suggestion (to make the victims attack the fear, not knowing they’re killing a loved one). But the specificity from each victim — and the fact that Larry and Daniel draw a very similar monster — means that it’s more than just a nightmare; it’s something they actually experienced.

While the team is still figuring things out, a son goes to his father to check his room for the boogeyman. After the father does so, even going so far as to call out to the boogeyman and then tucks his son into bed, I’m just sitting there wondering who’s dying. I hope that the father doesn’t kill his kid because of this UnSub. Big sigh of relief when that doesn’t happen. The father is targeted, but as JJ notes at the crime scene, his paternal instinct won out over the drugs, explaining why he slit his own throat.

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Why These Victims Are Being Targeted

The latest victim’s ex-wife reveals that he started “remembering” things from his childhood in therapy, and the BAU realizes that all the victims probably did as well. They’re more susceptible when dosed, and the UnSub was there in 1985 when they made up a story as kids, and it ruined his life. He wants revenge. But what happened when they were kids?
That’s where Christine comes in, as she’s the only one who hasn’t told a story just yet. Hotch sets the scene, lighting the sage, and starts asking her questions. She’s four years old again, and “home is scary.” The monster is coming for her, and the lights start flickering. No, really, the lights start flickering in the entire building, and the one in the interrogation room blows out, as do several others. Christine scratches at her face and says repeatedly that “Mr. Scratch” is coming and then finally, that he’s “already here.” At that point, there’s not much I can do but think about the storm and throw my hands up in the air because this is a Gubler/Frazier episode.

Hotch Gets Answers

The power’s out in the whole building, making everyone’s lives a lot more difficult. It’s a complete and total network and infrastructure shut down, and whoever hacked them was looking in the witness protection files. Reid boils that down to mathematics, and the specific technique used was one taught in a certain math class at Harvard. Those who take it are immediately employed by the NSA because it’s too dangerous for them to work anywhere else.

Hotch turns to Axelrod for answers, and even as the guy protests that he can’t give him anything because he took an oath, Hotch just lists off everything they know about the guy and tells him he knows who the Unsub is. It’s one of those “I can’t tell you or I’ll be fired, but here, I’ll write down a name while I tell you to find another way” situations, and they have a name for their UnSub: Peter Lewis. Nice job, Hotch.

Peter’s parents ran a foster home, and that’s where Mr. Scratch comes in. One of the boys said that Peter’s father dressed up as the devil, and his father was killed in jail for being a pedophile. None of the kids are in witness protection, so whose file was Peter after? Dr. Susannah Regan, a member of the Believe the Children movement, encouraged the police to believe what children had to say. Her work was debunked, her career flopped, and she received numerous death threats.

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What’s Real?

Hotch is the closest to Susannah’s home, so of course he goes by himself, which is a terrible idea. He shows up in time to watch her stab herself and for Peter to drug him. “You do what I say,” Peter says as Hotch comes to. 

Susannah burned sage during their sessions. “You said that she would burn sage, but how would you know that? Unless she questioned you too,” Hotch says because a couple of drugs can’t stop him. “I know, Peter. I know how those interviews worked. How coercive they were. With children who were innocent and helpless. She questioned you about your father, and she wouldn’t stop until she got the answers she wanted, so you gave them to her.” As the rest of the team pulls up, Hotch tells Peter that they’ll kill him, but Peter doesn’t think so.

With that, Rossi, Reid, Morgan and JJ enter the house, and the first to get shot is Reid. Then Rossi gets hit, and after Morgan steps over Peter’s body, he checks on Hotch before getting shot as well. Now Peter knows what scares Hotch. That’s right, none of that was real, and even though I know it can’t be real even as it’s happening, I’m speechless.

As the team really arrives, Peter tells him that he’s about to come through the door and to kill him before he kills Hotch. Hotch tells him he needs his gun, and Peter tosses it in front of him, so when Rossi and Reid enter the house, Hotch grabs his gun and shoots Peter, who manages to get away. Morgan and JJ find him upstairs in a closet, declaring “I win” as he surrenders and warning them they have no idea what he did to Hotch.

So what did he do to Hotch?  As Peter is put in a squad car, he smiles back at Hotch (creepily, of course) and taps his forehead. When Rossi tells Hotch they have to talk about what happened, Hotch admits that parts don’t make sense to him, and it takes him a few moments to steady himself before he starts with, “This is what happened.” 

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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.