Criminal Minds returned Wednesday night with a landmark episode that threaded a delicate needle through the past of the BAU. After Meadows (Karen David) helped the serial killer cult kidnap Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) in the Season 13 finale, the rest of the team had to figure out how to get two of their star players back. The key to doing so laid in a case from a decade earlier, the raid of the Benjamin Cyrus (Luke Perry) compound in the 2008 episode, "Minimal Loss."
Prentiss (Paget Brewster) realized she had seen Meadows before as one of Cyrus' captives in the compound about halfway into Wednesday's premiere. Some clever editing allowed the Criminal Minds team to make it look like the FBI traitor and the new cult leader Ben Merva (Michael Hogan) had been in the compound when "Minimal Loss" was originally shot. However, the truth is the decision to connect to that particular case came by happenstance in the Criminal Minds writers' room this summer.
"I had a number of questions [after re-watching the finale] and I was like,, 'I need to answer all of these things within the body of [Episode] 300," executive producer Erica Messer explained to TV Guide. "I said, 'We've done a cult before. It's been a while but it was the one Luke Perry was the leader of. We started looking into it because it would be amazing if we could connect those worlds."
The two episodes have a lot more in common than just being about cults though. It's almost mystical how easy it was to combine the mythology of the two.
"When Luke Perry introduces himself to Joe Mantegna's character he says, 'We're believers.' I was like, 'What? He said what?! That's amazing!' Then Luke Perry's name in the show was also Benjamin," Messer added. "I [thought], 'What if this is Ben's Believers and it's tied to a case that we worked on ten years ago and this is sort of — we think it's a revenge scenario coming back after the BAU.'"
Using old footage from "Minimal Loss" was a no brainer, showcasing Reid, Prentiss and Rossi (Mantegna) inside the church with Cyrus and his believers. The trick became making the audience believe that Meadows and Merva had also been there a decade ago.
"[We used] footage from 'Minimal Loss' to see Luke Perry, to make him alive, to see Prentiss and Reid ten years ago and Rossi ten years ago. That's another little wink to the audience like, 'Look at this. Look how long we've been doing this,'" Messer said.
The team then shot close-ups of Meadows and Merva in Cyrus' church, drinking wine as part of his loyalty test, juxtaposed with footage of Reid and Prentiss looking at the crowd of followers to make it look like they were making eye contact with the leaders of the new cult 10 years ago. "The way we shot that was incredible and believable...I wanted the audience to take that away, like 'My God, was she there?' She was not."
Did you fall for it?
Criminal Minds continues Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS)