“Criminal Minds” is great at getting right to the heart of human trauma and emotion. Especially when it comes to its audience’s emotions. “Criminal Minds” can cut us to the quick and patch us up again within the span of one 45-minute episode; that was the show’s great skill.
There was one season 1 episode that did just that; broke us down while giving us a little hope. Sarah Jean Mason and her husband Jacob Dawes were convicted of at least 12 murders, and were awaiting execution in Florida. They went on a murdering spree over 5 years in 1990, killing 11 teenage girls and their 2-year-old son. The BAU got wind of a 13th murder, and Gideon went to interview the couple.
When they were caught, Sarah Jean copped to murdering her son but denied involvement in the girls’ murders. But, both husband and wife were sentenced to death. Although, there was a twist ending that made the episode all the more heartbreaking.
‘Criminal Minds’: Solving Crimes and Breaking Hearts Since 2005
Gideon suspects that Sarah Jean is lying about something in their interview. So, he does some digging around, and finds something remarkable; Sarah Jean’s son isn’t dead, after all. He’s alive and well, a teenager named Byron Sheffield. Sarah Jean went against Jacob’s orders and left their son with a family who would take care of him and raise him as their own. She kept her son safe from Jacob and maintained her story throughout the trial so her son would continue to stay safe.
Gideon wants the BAU to find Byron, thinking it’ll get Sarah Jean a stay of execution. But Sarah Jean doesn’t want anything to do with it. She doesn’t want her son to know the truth about his real parents. In the end, Gideon relents, and Sarah Jean asks him to attend to execution so that his face is the last one she sees.
In an even more heartbreaking moment, the end of the episode shows Gideon attending Byron’s cello recital.
“Criminal Minds” is really great at tapping into our emotions, not just when it comes to the main characters. But, as we see here, with the unsubs as well. Sarah Jean elicited a certain amount of sympathy because she was just looking out for her son. She sacrificed everything for him, including her life; she did it all so he could have a normal life without his murdering parents.
That balance between irredeemable unsubs and sympathetic ones is the great success of “Criminal Minds.” If every villain on the show was horrible and terrifying, there’d be no variety. It would get boring quickly. “Criminal Minds” reminds us occasionally that the unsubs are people too, even when they’re committing unspeakable horrors.