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Tim Curry’s Last Great Role
Celebrating one of the best character actors of all time.
Tim Curry made a whole career out of playing villains. After playing the foil to Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the infamous Dr. Frank-N-Furter, he continued to eat up these roles for the next few decades. Pennywise in the It miniseries, iconic literary characters like Cardinal Richelieu and Long John Silver, and Satan himself in 1985’s Legend.
After suffering a stroke in 2012, his work has been limited mainly to voice acting.
That means that his last great wicked role will be his 2010 appearance on Criminal Minds.
2010 was the height of Criminal Minds. Fans were all over it and the ratings showed that.
That’s when I was watching consistently too. And when I tuned into the Season 5 finale and saw Tim Curry as this week’s unsub, I couldn’t believe it. Most unsubs of the week are not cast with someone so special, so this must be a big deal.
And it was.
Inspired by infamous killers like The Blackout Killer, Gordon Cummins, Curry played Billy Flynn — also known as The Prince of Darkness.
Driving around the country in his jalopy of an RV, Billy Flynn chases the darkness. He finds cities with power outages or purposeful rolling blackouts. A signature behavior of his crimes is his commitment to doing them in darkness, thus his nickname.
After a montage that follows him through New York (Son of Sam, anyone?), St. Louis, and Reno, he has made his way to Los Angeles. Just like that Summer of Sam in ’77, it’s hot. It’s California in the summertime. Flynn has heard the news that LA is planning rolling blackouts as a result of an intense heatwave.
He’s sweaty and clearly sinister.
He’s shot in such a way that there’s no doubt who this is. Not only will we quickly learn some of his signatures, this isn’t a Whodunit — it’s a cat and mouse game. And Flynn has been successfully running for over 25 years. He knows it’s incredibly difficult to be caught when there are issues pertaining to the blackouts all over the city.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Local police know that too. They can see the pattern, but know that he’ll be hard to catch with their resources.
In comes the BAU.
They’re teamed up with Detective Matt Spicer. He’s played by Eric Close, whom fans of cops show will recognize as Martin Fitzgerald from Without a Trace. That show had ended the year before, so Close must have been riding that wave in casting calls.
From this point on, there are spoilers for decade-plus old episodes of a police procedural.
It turns out that Spicer is the most convenient person they could possibly be working with as it seems as though Flynn is after Spicer himself. He’s mirroring killings from decades before that left Spicer orphaned. He’s come full circle to complete the job.
And as the episode ends, they discover that Flynn has kidnapped both his sister and his daughter to lure him in. And it works. Spicer and Morgan barge in and fall directly into his trap.
This is where Tim Curry really gets to shine. Before this climactic scene of the episode, he did some snickering, some heavy breathing, and some runny-nosing. But now, he gets to chew the hell out of the scene with the most sinister of lines like:
Your sister grew up real pretty. Last I saw her, she was just an itty-bitty thing. Not as good as your mom, though. She squirms too much.
A side note: Sometimes I’m blown away by the boundaries of network television. It’s not easy to get things to pass standards and practices, and so when something truly horrid like this comes out of a character’s mouth, you have to respect the writing that pulled it off perfectly.
As the episode ends, Curry finds himself sealing his fate in Criminal Minds lore as the show totally goes for it…
He kills Spicer and kidnaps his daughter, leaving Morgan and Spicer’s sister tied up. And then the episode ends.
The folks at home now had to wait out the summer to see what would happen next. Nothing will ever beat the suspense left by the cliffhanger of Dexter’s fourth season (where people had to wait nine months for season five), but this comes pretty close.
Watching it back now, it seems a little too convenient that Spicer exists — he’s basically there solely to be used as a dramatic kill at the end of the episode.
But when the writing leaves a bit to be desired (and I don’t remember feeling that way in 2010), Curry pulls it off perfectly. He brings both his awesome character actor skills and his decades of hallmark horrible people to bring out a character that needs that push to be truly creepy.
Curry really finds the vulgarity in a performance on network tv, showing just what a master he was/is.
Season 6’s premiere saw us picking up exactly where we left off with Curry’s Flynn and the two episodes back-to-back play like a great 90-minute movie.
It’s a shame that we didn’t get another decade of Tim Curry performances like this one, but he’s used this time to connect with fans at conventions. Not only is he clearly a very nice man with the utmost appreciation for his fans, but he has an entire body of work that means so much to so many. If his role as Billy Flynn will be his last great live-action role, it feels like a master at work giving a culminating performance.