Criminal Minds

Season 2 Episode 19

Ashes and Dust

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Mar 21, 2007 on CBS
out of 10
User Rating
517 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

A serial arsonist who targets the homes of upper-middle-class families in San Francisco as they sleep is investigated. The BAU determines the arson victims are linked together through corporate development companies that have been accused of building on contaminated land.

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# 6
  • A serial arsonist targets families.

    A serial arsonist targets families burning them and watching them die I don't see how a killer could kill the families how he did but he had his reasons because he they was linked to a corporate development company and they have been accused of building on contaminated land Things got personal for Hotch when a man killed himself to kill the serial arsonist by setting the place on fire when they was both in causing a deadly explosion Overall it was a decent episode but not one of my favorites of the season.moreless
  • The real Hotch is revealed, and he's neither a narcissist, a bully nor a drill sergeant.

    Dark, brooding, tragic. From the initial scenes of the Cutler family succumbing to the fire, this episode grabbed the viewer and didn’t let go. We were appalled that anyone could stand there and watch a family burn to death, we were moved by Hotch and Prentiss’s reactions to the dying burn victim, and we were saddened by Evan Abby’s sacrifice and Hotch’s grief. Even the transitory moments of fun – Garcia’s comment and Reid’s clumsiness – only served as a counterpoint to the tragedy.

    Such an emotionally charged episode is painful to watch – the raw emotions shown by Hotch, the protectiveness of Gideon and Morgan and the hopelessness of Abby do something to viewers beyond just the horror of these crimes. It’s the characters’ reactions to the crimes that inform our own emotions. That’s why watching a well-written and produced drama like CM is more compelling than watching the same story on the evening news. And the character development continues. Prentiss has become enough of a member of the family to tease Reid about his statistics, and is emotionally drawn to Mrs. Cutler and to Hotch’s reactions. Gideon’s connection to Hotch is revealed to be deep and intense. And Hotch has many more layers than we might have suspected.moreless
  • Hotchner's episode

    That was a good episode. I liked that it concentrated on someone else than Reid. Not that I have anything against that, oo no vice versa, but this is a team and they all need some focus now and then.

    The story was moving but somehow it feels like every episode is. They really have caught the level very high and that really makes it hard to score it: not as high as some previous ones we had, but good... quite good still.

    This time it is around fire and a man, who might be involved but as story envolves we learn much about him.. and on the process about Hotchner.

    I most say this episode really had powerful visual effects - the fire at the start.. the car fire..moreless
  • In spite of the horror of this episode and the intensity of all that took place in it, how enlightening to see the 'real' Aaron Hotchner underneath the 'I am the boss' exterior. A excellent yet horrifying episode as we watch depravity at its worst.moreless

    What kind of person could set fire to a house and then stand inside, fully protected in a fire suit and watch a family of three burn to death? A serial arsonist who also happens to be a sociopath, that's who.

    The BAU travel to San Francisco to assist in the identification and apprehension of an unsub who has set two deadly house fires in three weeks. The latest, the Cutler family home, left only Mrs. Cutler alive and as she nears death in the hospital, Hotch and Prentiss interview her and learn that the killer not only set the fire, but wedged the door so that they couldn't escape. The tender way in which Hotch in particular treats the dying woman will bring a tear to your eye. He and Prentiss lie to her and tell her that her husband and son have survived and are waiting in the hall to see her, an act of such warmth and tenderness from such a serious man that it will make you jolt.

    As the investigation leads the team towards a group called the 'Earth Defense Front' (EDF), Hotch comes into contact with Evan Abby, the group's leader who is terminally ill and estranged from his only child, a young son. Abby reluctantly agrees with Hotch that the killer, who has now changed his MO and is simply torching random strangers because of his anger at Abby for disbanding the EDF, must definitely be someone he knows. Once again, we see Aaron Hotchner, human being as he identifies with Abby, having lost his own father to lung cancer when he was still in high school.

    It is Abby himself who ultimately proves to be the hero when he lures the person identified as the arsonist to a place where people cannot be hurt and torches himself and the unsub, thereby ending his own pain and suffering and ending the career of the killer at the same time. When Hotch visits Abby's young son a few days after the funeral, he shows how clearly he understands the boy's pain and again, we see Hotch, the man, not just the SSA who is the upfront persona for most of the time.

    Great episode and some superb acting from everyone involved. The writing and the sensitivity shown within it was great too, so 'well done' to all involved.moreless
  • Brilliant episode! It had hoorror, suspense and a perfect and fitting ending!

    Once again, I was highly eimpressed by this episode of Criminal Minds, because it had all the aspects of a great episode! The case was centered around a series of murders, with the MO of arson.

    The episode brings an ecco-terrorist group into the fray, as well as giving us a bit of indsight into Hotche's past.

    I thought the episode was a little frightening, an d I felt very sorry for the way those various people were kileed by the arsonist. It wasn't pleasant to see those secenes.

    The ending of the episode is definitely a great one, and it really put the cherry on top of a delicious sundae!

    Keep it going, Criminal Minds! The quality of this season remains very high, and I can't wait to see some more! Great work, and I'd highly recommend it!moreless
A.J. Cook

A.J. Cook

SSA Jennifer "JJ" Jareau

Kirsten Vangsness

Kirsten Vangsness

Analyst Penelope Garcia

Mandy Patinkin

Mandy Patinkin

Senior SSA Jason Gideon

Matthew Gray Gubler

Matthew Gray Gubler

SSA Dr. Spencer Reid

Paget Brewster

Paget Brewster

SSA Emily Prentiss

Shemar Moore

Shemar Moore

SSA Derek Morgan

John Nielsen

John Nielsen

Dennis Cutler

Guest Star

Sean O'Bryan

Sean O'Bryan

Vincent Stiles

Guest Star

Karen Lew

Karen Lew


Guest Star

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (3)

  • QUOTES (15)

    • Vincent Stiles: What are you doing?
      Evan Abby: The right thing.
      Vincent Stiles: Why? You didn't know any of those people.
      Evan Abby: Neither did you!

    • Garcia: Brace yourselves. I'm going to teach you the meaning of L.U.S.T.
      Gideon: Did she say lust?
      Garcia: I cross-referenced every known fact on the victims and I just found a website that links both Dennis Cutler and Mathew Jarvis' companies on a list of businesses guilty of L.U.S.T.
      Hotchner: I'm missing something.
      Garcia: Leaking Underground Storage Tanks.

    • Gideon: When he arrives, bring the fake bodies right past us nice and slow. I want him to get a good look.
      Lt. Vega
      : Remind me never to play poker with you guys.

    • Prentiss: The EDF? The ecoterrorist group?
      Reid: They aren't ecoterrorists. They're environmental activists.

    • Gideon: For them, fire's just a substitute for sexual release.
      Garcia: Oh, great. So if these guys don't get laid, they start fires?
      Gideon: Or in this case, burn entire families to death.
      Prentiss: (to Reid) No statistic?
      Gideon: No, they don't have statistics on this guy; one of a kind.
      Garcia: Thank God.

    • Det. Castro: I'll issue an APB for a resentful six-foot white guy.

    • Det. Castro: (as JJ introduces Reid to him and Reid clumsily drops everything he's carrying) A genius you said?
      JJ: Yeah, uh, his coordination drops off when he's thinking.

    • Reid: Statistically, 94% of all serial arsonists are male, 75% are white and few, if any, are ever caught.
      Prentiss: Few? You don't have a percentage?
      Reid: 16%. Those 16% set 30 plus fires before they're ever apprehended. I'm trying to be more conversational.
      Prentiss: Oh. It's not working.

    • Hotchner: I catch killers, I save lives, I'm a hero until my key hits my front door and then I'm just the father and the husband who is never there.
      Gideon: Yeah, I got that one.
      : Here's the thing, when I'm home, I'm in this silent panic because I know that I have to be as good as I can as fast as I can. Because any minute the phone is going to ring and my time is up. And that panic is exactly what I saw in Abby.

    • Vincent Stiles: How do you plan to get out?
      Evan Abby: (holding a cigarette lighter in his hand) I don't.

    • Prentiss: All those people, no booze or music. That's either a very lame going away party, or an EDF meeting.

    • Reid: He's like a drug addict, only fire's his drug. Each time an addict needs a fix, they need more of the drug to get off, so his crimes will most likely get much worse. It'd be almost impossible for him to quit without help.

    • Doctor: (of Charlotte Cutler) I'm giving her as much painkiller as I can. She asked about her husband and son. She passed out again before I had to answer.
      Prentiss: She doesn't know?
      Doctor: Whatever you tell her, she won't live long enough to know different. I'll be right back.
      Prentiss: Did she just tell us to lie to a material witness?
      Hotchner: No, she told us that we could.

    • Hotchner: Gandhi said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."

    • Hotchner: "The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul." John Calvin.

  • NOTES (2)

    • Location confusion: The first house we see torched is identified as South San Francisco, however, the BAU consult with SFFD (San Francisco Fire Department). South San Francisco is a separate city from San Francisco and would have it's own Fire Department (SSFFD).

    • The music playing at the start of the episode, during the fire, is "Boadicea" by Enya. The music at the end of this episode was "Grey Room" by Damien Rice.


    • The name of the character "Evan Abby" is an homage to nature writer Edward Abbey, who is the patron saint of the guerrilla eco-activist movement represented in "Ashes and Dust" by the fictional E.D.F. Abbey's novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, tells of a group of radical conservationists who protect trees by sabotaging logging equipment. Although Edward Abbey (unlike Evan Abby) was never an admitted eco-guerrilla himself, his novel was a direct inspiration to the founders of Earthfirst!, a real-life group known to interfere with timber operations via tactics it called "monkey-wrenching" in Abbey's honor.

    • The title "Ashes and Dust" may refer to a quote attributed to Jack London: "I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."

      This sentiment seems to sum up Evan Abby's feelings about his life, and his death - his reasons for ending his life the way he did.

    • Lt. Vega and Hotchner discuss serial arsonist Paul Kenneth Keller, who pleaded guilty to setting 32 fires in 1992-93 in Seattle. Police believe he may have been responsible for over 40 more during the same period. Only three people were killed in his fires, which was miraculous as he targeted churches, retirement homes, unfinished homes, garages and stores.

    • Gideon: You're Abby. You're a dead man walking.

      The phrase "dead man walking" originally referred to a condemned prisoner on death row. It was popularized by the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. This expression can be used to describe anyone who is facing imminent death. It can also be used facetiously to describe someone who is about to get into trouble.

    • The Earth Defense Front (EDF) in this episode has a similar name to the real-life group Earth Liberation Front (ELF). The ELF are radical environmentalists who have been involved in arson and other property damage. The FBI considers them to be "eco-terrorists."