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Criminal Minds has spent 14 seasons and more than 300 episodes telling stories of the worst of the worst criminals, and there's still one season left to wrap the stories up. Over the years, the show has gotten pretty gruesome and tackled some subjects so extreme that you might not expect them to air on network television.
As fans know, Criminal Minds has gotten away with a lot in developing iconically awful criminals, but there are still lines that can't be crossed on camera. Criminal Minds director Diana Valentine recently chatted with CinemaBlend, and she explained what the show still isn't allowed to do when asked if she's surprised about what can be shown:
Yes and no. There are things that I think we should be able to get away with that we're still not able to do. There are things that I see on other network television shows that we're not allowed to do on Criminal Minds, which I always find is very interesting. It's just a matter of shooting it in a way that leaves a lot to the imagination so you actually kind of think it's more gruesome than what you actually see. Does that make sense? We're just now allowed to show bad guys who can smoke. No good guys can smoke, but bad guys can smoke. We're still not allowed to shoot anybody in the head. We're still not allowed to shoot anybody actually slicing somebody's throat. You can see the aftermath, but you can't see the actual metal to the neck or things like that. There's things that your brain fills in and you think you see it but you really don't.
As much as Criminal Minds is known for some of the most horrifying killers committing some of the gruesomest crimes on broadcast television, not all of the horror gets to be shown on camera, despite episodes airing in the 10 p.m. ET time slot on CBS. Shows in that time slot can generally get away with more than shows airing at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.
Considering the wide variety of bad guys from the show -- ranging from the one who melted women down into candles to Tim Curry's "Prince of Darkness" to Mr. Scratch himself -- viewers might actually be surprised to realize that they haven't seen certain things happen on screen. After all, there have been victims who were shot in the head and with throats slit, so that violence obviously happens in the Criminal Minds universe, and the scene afterward is often bloody enough that viewers can imagine what happened.
Of the various things Diana Valentine listed, good guys not being allowed to smoke may be the most surprising, on top of the fact that the bad guys only just got the go-ahead to smoke on camera. Throats being slit and heads being shot can be nightmare-inducing, but smoking? Criminal Minds has pulled off far scarier things than characters with cigarettes.
Diana Valentine, who will direct one of the episodes from Criminal Minds' shortened final season, went on to explain that she doesn't believe the show suffers for not getting to explicitly show certain things:
I'm fine with not showing it. I don't know how I feel about that, because like I said, I like to leave a little to the imagination, and I watch a lot of horror genre stuff. I watch every scary movie that's put out, and I love that kind of show anyway. It's one of my favorite genres, is horror. I guess it doesn't really bother me to see it and it doesn't really bother me to shoot around it.
There's more to horror than showing monsters and murder victims, and there's more to Criminal Minds than the gore that is or is not shown in episodes. Filling in the blanks in our heads can be even scarier than seeing the show's version of something terrifying, and how many viewers can honestly say that they can't deal with a little bit of horror if they've been watching Criminal Minds for more than a few episodes? Criminal Minds is not for the faint of heart.
Diana Valentine has directed six episodes of Criminal Minds since Season 11, with her seventh coming in Season 15, so she knows what she's talking about when it comes to delivering gruesome crimes and killers without necessarily showing them committing those crimes. (Or smoking cigarettes, at least in previous seasons.)
It should be interesting to see how Season 15 compares with seasons past with regard to what can and can't make it to broadcast. Just because Season 15 is reportedly going to be somewhat more serialized certainly doesn't mean there's not room for some of the classic Criminal Minds standalones!
Criminal Minds isn't the only CBS procedural Diana Valentine has directed and noted limits on what can be shown on camera. She has also helmed episodes of NCIS (including the installment that featured a big reveal from Ducky) and NCIS: Los Angeles (which celebrated a long-awaited wedding earlier this year). While directing a recent episode of NCIS: LA, she discovered part of a car stunt that couldn't be shown on camera. Here's what happened:
I just did an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles where a guy gets crushed between a car and a wall, and he survives until they move the car, basically. And I was really surprised at the last minute that we had a hit on a dummy, that pushed him into the wall, and like at the last minute, they took that actual impact of the dummy out. I'm still not quite sure why, because I've seen it on hundreds of television shows. And we hit actual people in cars on television shows all the time! We hit stunt guys who go flying over the hoods of cars, but actually hitting a dummy and smashing it into a wall was I guess one step too far for whatever reason. It's things like that that I find really kind of puzzling.
NCIS: Los Angeles certainly doesn't go light on things like shootouts and explosions, and the shot of a guy crushed between a wall and a car is par for the course. Despite it being quite clear that the character had been hit by the car in order to wind up pinned to a wall, the episode evidently couldn't show the impact of the hit.
Cars stunts -- which happen regularly on the big screen and small screen alike -- can be quite impressive, and the NCIS: LA reveal of the man crushed between the car and the wall wasn't ineffective in painting the picture of what must have happened. It was just an instance of viewers needing to use their imaginations, just as Criminal Minds viewers sometimes must for episodes.
Does either show suffer for not getting to show every gruesome detail? Not as long as viewers can fill in the blanks, and the episodes generally provide plenty of other details for that to happen without any trouble. Considering the time and consideration that has gone into producing the final season of Criminal Minds, it's probably safe to say that the final batch of episodes will deliver some of the best of the worst baddies that the show has ever produced.
No premiere date for Criminal Minds' final season has been released just yet, but showrunner Erica Messer has teased some details about how the season will pick up, including that it will open with a two-parter. If you need some viewing options between now and whenever Criminal Minds returns, swing by our midseason TV premiere schedule and our summer TV and streaming premiere dates.