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Is This The Most Disturbing Group Of Killers On Criminal Minds?

Among the many depraved and diabolical unknown subjects, or "unsubs," featured on "Criminal Minds," there have certainly been some standouts during the series' 15-season run. Over the years, the members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit tangled with killers who collected faces, killers who trimmed trees with body parts, and killers who turned their victims into human marionettes. It should be said, though, that the immensely popular crime procedural didn't always turn to unsubs who hacked and sawed their victims in order to disturb and haunt viewers.

Such is the case of the family featured in Season 4, Episode 13, "Bloodline." Unlike the aforementioned killers, whose modus operandi provided much of their respective episode's shock value, the criminal family offered viewers multiple shocks, each exponentially worse than the previous, all culminating in a shocking ending that still has fans begging for more. So, what exactly made this family so disturbing in the first place? 

The unsub family starts off by abducting a child and killing her parents

At the opening of "Bloodline," a mother (Cynthia Gibb) and father (Andrew Divoff) are sitting in their car trying to encourage their 9-year-old son (Slade Pearce), who is clearly nervous and reluctant. The sweet moment sours quickly when it's revealed that the family's evening plans consist of breaking into a home, slashing the throats of a married couple, and abducting their 10-year-old daughter, Cate (Adair Tishler).

Though the crime lacks some of the flash of human marionettes, its simplicity still manages to unnerve because it plays upon common fears of a late-night intruder entering our home and killing us in our sleep. Worse yet, the abduction of Cate likely sent shivers down the spine of parents, especially those with young children, who would suffer any fate just to keep their child from harm. 

The unsub family would have been memorably twisted solely based on their modus operandi and choice of victims. But, this is "Criminal Minds," and the family gets significantly worse once the BAU's investigation uncovers secret after secret.

The family followed a twisted version of a horrific tradtion

After kidnapping Cate, her abductors take her to a trailer home, where they keep her locked in a small space. During one interaction with Cate, the boy tells her he has decided that her name will be "Elena." Later, Cate, who has been without medication to treat her epilepsy since the abduction, has a seizure, which prompts the father to declare her "no good." Though he wanted to kill Cate and find another girl, the mother intervenes, and Cate is bound and left on a roadside, alive but shaken.

When the authorities find Cate, the BAU begins to understand the true nature of the threat they're facing. The family has adopted a barbaric, centuries-old tradition of "bridenapping" once practiced among some Romani (nomadic travelers found in Europe, Western Asia, and North and South America), though the tradition has largely been abandoned and criminalized in modern times (via The Conversation). The goal of bridenapping was to abduct a young non-Romani girl and "marry" her to a young Romani boy, thus ensuring the expansion of Romani blood across the population. The BAU also comes to learn that at least 30 girls have been abducted over the last 100 years for the same purpose. 

If Cate's abduction was enough to chill viewers' bones, the revelation that hers was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a 100-year-long, nationwide kidnapping scheme perpetrated by what is essentially a cult, surely encouraged many viewers to double-check their locks before bed. Now, the episode's writers could have stopped there and still delivered a supremely twisted pair of unsubs ... but wait, there's more.

The mother had a classic case of Stockholm syndrome

Once Cate was deemed an unsuitable mate for their son, the mother and father struck again, killing another couple in their sleep and kidnapping their daughter, Lynn (Sierra McCormick). Knowing law enforcement is closing in, the family burns their trailer along with all their possessions. The precaution, while criminally smart, proved futile since by that point the BAU had already made a major break in the case. The mother was once known as Kathy Gray, a young girl abducted by a similar family after her parents were murdered in 1971. 

As the BAU points out, Kathy, who was given the name Sylvia by her kidnappers, has a classic example of Stockholm syndrome. According to Healthline, Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response in which abuse victims and abducted individuals develop a bond with their abuser or kidnapper. That bond can become so strong that the victim defends the abuser and may even participate in their crimes.

Once the BAU discovered the burnt remains of the trailer, the team knew the unsubs would need to replace their possessions. To that end, they distribute flyers featuring a digitally aged photo of Kathy/Sylvia to the local shopping mall. While shopping, the boy finds a flyer and brings it to his mother, who then allows herself to get arrested so that the father and son can escape to wherever they are holding Lynn.

Mother, father, and son made killing a family affair

Under interrogation, Kathy struggles with the truth of her identity, which is something she has locked away in the depths of her recollections. At first, she refuses to tell the agents where her family and Lynn are, but eventually, she breaks under pressure and provides the location to the BAU. The father is subsequently arrested, and Lynn and the boy are brought to safety. 

However, when Kathy is given a moment to say goodbye to her son, she whispers something to him in Romani. When the BAU receives the translation, they are stunned to learn what the words actually meant. Kathy's parting words to her son were, "Don't tell them about your brothers." Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) asks the boy how many brothers he has. In response, he simply smirks at her, then turns his head away and refuses to answer.

The unsub family is twisted and larger than anyone knows

In the next and final scene, viewers see a parked car with two parents and their 9-year-old son talking. Like the episode's opening scene, the father tells the boy that he's becoming a man and asks him if he's ready. When the boy nods, the mother tells him she loves him. The boy responds in kind, and the screen fades to black.

It is unfortunate that "Criminal Minds" exploited the offensive and unfounded stereotypes some assign to the Romani. Making the family Romani added nothing to the sickening crimes. The writers could have easily made the family followers of a fictional cult, which would have had the same effect without the offensive cultural stereotypes. 

Ignoring the needless Romani aspect, the episode remains strong and unsettling by including plenty of well-written plot twists that mark the criminal parents as one of the most disturbing families in the show's history. Beyond the brutal murders and kidnappings, the father's eagerness to kill a "no good" abductee, coupled with dumping a child in need of medical attention on the side of the road, proves there's no humanity in him. That Kathy, who directly experienced the trauma of murdered parents and abduction, would subject other young girls to the same surely earns her a spot in the Twisted Moms Hall of Fame. With the son's smirk, viewers are led to believe that his mind has been twisted as well. And the shocking reveal of additional brothers, who are presumably engaged in the same perverted tradition, means this family is about as twisted as they come.