Criminal Minds 112: What Fresh Hell

Things get horrifying in this episode of Criminal Minds, as we discover that Delaware isn’t just the home of corporate tax loopholes expansive enough to make JP Morgan blush, but murderous child molester/abductors as well! Yup, a little girl who wanders off from a football game winds up falling for the old ‘help me find my dog’ trick, and gets spirited away in a green SUV.

The team is pulled into the case when it becomes clear that it wasn’t a case of custodial interference. Elliot drops some statistics about how 99% of all abducted children are killed within a day, and since 20 hours have already passed, there’s almost no chance of finding the little girl alive. Of course, this is a CBS show, so I’m guessing the odds are fairly decent.

From here the episode is a fairly realistic depiction of what you have to go through in order to find an abducted child, with one big question – I’m not sure why the FBI serial killer team is involved in the case. From talking to the parents to interviewing suspects, there’s nothing that the team can really bring to this case. The family aren’t suspected of anything, and since this is a stranger abduction, it’s not like they have any information to offer.

There’s a whole set of scenes about the mother’s bad relationship with her child and the father’s cancer-ridden status that has absolutely nothing to do with the crime, or the possibility of solving it. It’s not that the stuff about the disintegrating family isn’t well-written, it’s just that it’s utterly pointless. The girl didn’t run away, she was grabbed by a child murderer.

And yet the tragic family stuff goes on and on. I’m not sure why – are they concerned about trying to get us to feel for the people involved? Here’s a tip: A little girl got kidnapped by a child molester. We’re already on her side.

This all leads to a time-wasting subplot about the child’s father being shown a list of sex offenders from the internet and attacking one of them for no reason.

Roughly 60% of the episode is wasted time, with the profiling offering no useful insight into the villain beyond the most generic facts about how paedophiles often act. Psychology only enters the picture when they come up with a clever plan to manipulate the press. A second news conference is held, with the green SUV being identified not as a possible perpetrator, but as a definite witness to the crime. The reasoning is that people who might not suspect their neighbour of committing a crime will happily tell the police about a witness.

It works like a charm, and a civilian calls in with the information that they know a person with a green SUV who likes to hang out around parks every day. The team rushes over to the house and is stymied for a second by their local police liaison, who explains that they don’t have enough evidence to justify a warrant, so they can’t just break into the house. This seems like a really thin way of stretching out tension, seeing as the evidence they already have is that he’s got the same car and habits as the killer, and even really had a dog by the same name was the one the killer used while trying to lure little girls back to his SUV.

Mandy’s not putting up with no bureaucratic jive, though, so he just runs over to the house and kicks the door down, immediately arresting the paedophile within. You know what, if you’re so desperate to find this kidnapped girl, why not just tell the judge that you heard someone struggling around inside when you were knocking on the door? It’s not like the paedophile is a believable witness to his own innocence.

They try to get a little more drama out of the fact that they can’t find the little girl inside the house, but they start freaking out before adequately searching it. They search the main floor and the basement, then are close to giving up when Mandy makes the brilliant observation that the paedophile has insulation on his shirt. Yeah, she wasn’t in a secret passage or anything, she was just in the attic, which has a completely not-hidden trap door leading to it.


Oh, Mandy – how am I supposed to find your insights fascinating and valuable when the only brilliant move you made tonight was bothering to look up? Doesn’t that say more about the other cops that failed to, you know, just look up? Also, the little girl wasn't tied up so badly that she couldn't have thrashed around and made a lot of noise once the cops were in the house. Just saying.

With the girl rescued and the family reunited, they’ve got a happy ending in the offing! The fact that the little girl is still wearing her soccer uniform while tied up suggests that the villain never even got around to molesting her, which is both heartwarming and totally unbelievable.

1 - Was profiling in any way helpful in solving the crime?

Incredibly useful. The observation of human nature that led them to ask people to look for a witness rather than a suspect was instrumental to solving the case. It’s a believable bit of insight that I could really see helping to land one of these criminals.

2 - Could the crime have been solved just as easily using conventional police methods given the known facts of the case?

Actually, no. Despite all the efforts of amber alerts and quick responses, the number of children abducted by predators (as opposed to custodial interference) who ever get found is shockingly, disturbingly, depressingly low, and those who are found are basically never found alive. Yeah, of all the Criminal Minds episodes so far this one is pretty much the biggest wish-fulfillment fantasy they’ve done.

So, on a scale of 1 (Dirty Harry) to 10 (Tony Hill), How Useful Was Profiling in Solving the Crime?

8/10 - Okay, how weird is it that the episode with the most psychological profiling is the one with the most filler and wasted time? Perhaps it’s because, as I’ve suggested all along, actual profiling does not make for good television, and profilers really shouldn’t have their own show.

Fun continuity note. Early in the episode we see Mandy’s office, and a counter along one wall is covered in pictures – at the end of the episode, he ads the girl from this episode’s picture to the display, confirming that they’re pictures of people he’s saved. As we’re panning across, I see this-

Look familiar? Yup, it’s Josh Patel, from the ‘A Beautiful Mind’ episode. It seems that after the rescue he and Mandy never really got close, because the only photo Mandy got of him was his student ID:

Also, it would be really hard to describe Mandy's actions in that episode as in any way 'saving' anyone on that train.

No comments: