Vulnerable: exposed, in danger, susceptible, at risk. Strong, independent FBI agents aren’t the ones who are supposed to feel vulnerable. They are the heroes, the doers of deeds, the impervious knights who fight the dragons and rescue the damsels in distress. Their armor is not just physical, to protect them from injury, but also moral and emotional, keeping them safe behind shields made of laws, principles, and the knowledge that they are in the right. Confident in their armor, the shock of their vulnerability is enough to undo them.
Hotch’s vulnerability is his family. He is so happy at the beginning of this episode, looking forward to being with his wife and child, that his interaction with Haley takes 10 years off his face and puts the twinkle back into his eyes. Contrast that with his dawning realization that his wife and son are in imminent danger when Haley shows up at the BAU. He is completely unprepared for this threat.
Reid’s situation is similar – he feels vulnerable because of his family, but for a completely opposite reason. He wants no one to know that his mother is mentally ill, and hides her from his fellow knights, afraid of what this reveals about him, his life, his past, and his own potential. Having successfully kept this secret from his new family, when he finds that the unsub has found him out he feel completely exposed, even terrified.
Poor Garcia – hers is the saddest story. A simple game, her defenses down, and her most precious possession – the sanctity of her information systems – is destroyed. And she knows that her own mistakes have caused this breach in the walls. She is the one who has fallen asleep on duty and allowed the enemy a foothold in the sanctuary of her fellow knights.
Gideon’s vulnerability is the most difficult with which to empathize. He needs his time away – a world where he can escape. “I needed a place where I didn’t have to know what was out there, where I could close my eyes and not see bodies torn to pieces, hear children calling out for help. That cabin was the only thing I had left and this guy took it away from me.” It isn’t until he sees the dangers facing the rest of the team that he is able to pull himself from his wallowing.
No one is safe. Emotionally. Psychologically. But physically, Elle pays the highest price. The vulnerability of this strong, independent and volatile member of the team takes everyone, including the viewer, by surprise. If these warriors are not safe, then who else can be? As a cliff-hanger leading into season two, we can only assume that the rules have changed, and our heroes are now as vulnerable as anyone they’ve met as victims this year. Certainty is gone. Anything goes.