18 September 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Had the danger of being routine and bland, ended up being one of the season's better episodes
Not one of the best of the entire show, and just falls short of being outstanding. However, out of the episodes between "The Fox" and "Riding the Lightning" where the quality slumped and some cases became bland, dull and routine, "What Fresh Hell" is the best one.
It isn't perfect by all means, although 'Criminal Minds' generally is a personal favourite there are not many episodes admittedly that are virtually flawless. Gideon's manner of getting into the house at the end has been criticised by fans, and personally do have to agree that it was rather over-the-top for him. Also Elle's lack of personality is continuing to annoy me, and Lola Glaudini plays her too much of a cold fish devoid of much emotion.
What to me though was good about "What Fresh Hell" was how it took a basic and very done-to-death plot (by crime-mystery standards), and made an episode out of it that was edge-of-your-seat, intense and moving, allowing one to really feel several emotions about the situation, which is every parent's worst nightmare, while watching. Some of the episodes in the first season, especially in the slump between "The Fox" and "Riding the Lightning" (for example "The Popular Kids" should have been a much more interesting case than it actually was), suffered from pacing issues and twists and unsub identities that can be smelt from ages away. "What Fresh Hell" had none of those problems.
Really loved what was done with the supporting characters, especially the parents. The episode has been criticised for too much soap opera-like issues but to me they added so much to giving the story depth as well as making the parents interesting and easy to feel for, personally they are among the most interesting and most well-developed parents on the show especially in episodes tackling this kind of story. These plot-lines were balanced very well with the mystery, which contains classic 'Criminal Minds' profiling, and tension and emotional impact are palpable.
Production values are still stylish and atmospheric, and the music is haunting and adds a good deal to scenes if not quite enhancing/inhabiting it (never is it distracting either). The writing is tight, with a well-developed Gideon and considering the subject matter keeping humour at minimum to nothing was a good, wise decision which would have run the risk of jarring if included. The direction is also solid, while all the acting, from leads and supporting, is fine, Mandy Patinkin dominating.
Overall, should have been routine and bland but while not one of the show's overall best it is one of the better, and perhaps underrated, episodes of the first season. 8/10 Bethany Cox