Wednesday's Criminal Minds is the fourth episode Matthew Gray Gubler has directed — and the episode itself might not have even been made if he hadn't directed his first three.
"The whole impetus behind this story is very bizarre and when the network heard that I was directing this one and they knew that the last one I did was slightly strange and worked, they gave us the go-ahead," Gubler, who plays Reid, tells TVGuide.com. "They were like, 'We trust your writing. We trust Matthew's directing and we're going to let you do this crazy thing. Good luck.' That was the sign-off. I felt I had a little favorable treatment since the last ones I've done have been odd but effective. I've paid my dues!"
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Indeed, the actor assures that his fourth effort will be in the same vein as his previous three: that trademark quirky, whimsical yet creepy Gubler style that's low on the blood and violence that's been the show's calling card the past few seasons and heavy on leaving things to your imagination. "It's such a stupid, age-old thing to say, but the less you show the audience, the more scary it is," he says. "That's a fact." The episode finds the BAU tracking an unsub (Brad Dourif) who's turning his victims into human marionettes and leaving their bodies contorted in all sorts of ways that have you stretching in sympathy.
"It rides the fine line of magic realism. My hope is that it will be memorable ... and that it affects you on a primal level. [The unsub] may or may not have a type of Peter Pan syndrome. I wanted it to have an eerily childlike quality. I think the things that scared you as a kid are always the most effective things that will ever scare because they make a lasting impression on you," Gubler says, adding that he got the rights to a haunting lullaby version of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" to amp up the eeriness.
"What I like most about directing is creating a world more so than anything," he continues. "To me, the music is the wrapping paper on that world. ... [The song is] done all instrumental with a glockenspiel. It's very creepy. I think a lot of people won't even realize it. It's a nice shout-out to anyone who liked the grunge movement in the '90s, but it's also creepy."
Nevertheless, Gubler cautions that there is "a little gore" in the episode, but its shock factor is nothing compared to the surreal "super surprise" halfway through. "It's a little bit of a writing thing and a directorial thing, but it's something unlike you've ever seen on Criminal Minds or on TV, so I'm really excited about that," he says. "When you realize what Brad is doing, hopefully, the intention is, you'll be incredibly shocked and curious at the beauty."
If nabbing Dourif — aka the voice of big-screen serial killer doll Chucky — as an unsub seems like a casting that's been a long time coming, that's because it is. Gubler had met the Oscar nominee years ago and almost asked him to appear in his Minds directorial debut in 2010. "I'd been saving him in my back pocket for years," he says. "Whenever I meet actors I greatly admire and they acknowledge that they know I exist, I put them in my little black book in my head and I'm like, 'I'm gonna call on them one day to be on an episode of Criminal Minds.' He and Bud Cort were one of the firsts, but Bud Cort was so perfect for 'Mosley Lane.' And Brad is absolutely phenomenal in this. He is truly one of the great unsubs."
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Gubler also called on a "very dear old friend" to play another very important person this season: Reid's mystery telephone girlfriend. Unlike his previous directorial episodes, this one is Reid-heavy, culminating with the long-awaited reveal of his girlfriend's face. "There's definitely a lot of me. I think it went well," Gubler says with a laugh. "It made me be very focused because it's hard. Directing, for me, is 100 percent from my brain. I have great confidence in myself as a director from my head, but acting, to me, is from my heart. It's coming from emotion instead of rationale, so it is and it isn't hard to do both simultaneously."
Especially with such a big story line. Gubler says he was on board from the beginning with the decision not to reveal her face — aided by the fact that she's in hiding — partially because Reid is such a fan favorite. "That was the most thrilling thing to me," he says. "Again, to me, the less the audience sees, the more they create their own thing. I was very excited about that." The woman is running from a stalker who's been trying to kill her for a year — someone the BAU will, naturally, help collar later this season. "She has [reported] him. She actually doesn't even know who the stalker is. She's basically playing it safe and choosing to lead a reclusive life in hiding," he adds. "She's also a bit of a weirdo, as anyone Reid would fall in love with would be, obviously."
And because Reid is equally, if not more, left of center, expect their first date to be predictably peculiar. Not to mention, excluding him taking JJ (A.J. Cook) to a Redskins game way back in Season 1, this will be Reid's first date ever — at 31. "Two years after my first date," Gubler, 32, quips. "You might see a little bit of a date [this episode]. But he's never been on a date, so he's very trepidatious. He likes her mind so he doesn't necessarily want to meet her. He's very nervous to meet her. He may or may not shoot himself in the foot with his own neuroses."
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Because he's been in pre- and post-production, Gubler says he hasn't heard any fan reaction to the introduction of Reid's girlfriend yet, but he is looking forward to hearing them after her unveiling. After that, he'll "go back in his cave" to prep to direct this season's 20th episode — and he's already got a guest star in mind as the unsub.
"If it all stays the same, I'll be calling a very talented female I've always wanted to work with," he says. "Sharon Lee Watson, who wrote the [third] one I did, is writing this one. It's again another eerie, strange world that I'm looking forward to helping create. I'm already thinking about it, so I have a little time to sleep!"
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS. Watch a sneak peek of Wednesday's episode below.
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