16.10.09

Criminal Minds 114: Riding the Lightning

It had to happen eventually. An episode of Criminal Minds so dull, so unrelated to psychology and so without interest that I can’t bring myself to go into it in-depth. Why not? Because it’s not about solving a murder. Yup, it’s a Criminal Minds episode about the team going to interview a husband-and-wife team of serial killers just before they’re executed.

In an interesting note, the husband part of the team is played by Michael Massee, the man who killed Brandon Lee.

The main mystery of the episode is just how many young women Michael killed, and just how involved his wife was in the deaths. In point of fact, the only death that the wife was convicted of was the death of their 2-year-old son, whose body has never been found – she confessed to the crime.

I’m guessing we all see the twist coming – yup, the son isn’t dead, she just hid him away so that he’d never know who his real parents were. In fact, she dies rather than letting anyone reveal the truth about their son.

The big problem with the episode is that the main dramatic tension of the episode is the possibility that they’re going to be executing an innocent woman – but they’re really, really stretching the definition of the word ‘innocent’ here. The theory of the crime is that the wife would lure young women into a van where Michael would waylay them – even if she didn’t take part in the actual torture, murder, and dismemberment, she’s still just as guilty of the crimes.

Even under the most generous version of the events, with Michael abducting the women on his own, she still knew enough about the crimes to be able to turn Michael in to the police anonymously, which makes her enough of an accessory that I’m not exactly concerned about her ultimate fate.

The one thing that the episode succeeded in doing was expressing just how frustrating it must be to try and weasel a little more information about unknown victims from a serial killer about to be executed – the old standby that you’re dealing with a person who is obsessed with control, now they’ve had all of their power taken away from them, except for the ongoing pain they can cause by withholding the identities of their final victims. I’m sure it must be horrible, and it’s certainly something that actual profilers have had to deal with, but because the stakes in this episode don’t really matter (we never meet anyone with a missing daughter who suspects Michael of her murder, or anything), it’s hard to care what happens to any of the characters this time around.

Sadly I’m not able to do any scoring this week, since no crimes were solved. But, on a totally non-judgmental, non-scoring basis, they really didn't use much psychology in what should have been an entirely psychology-themed episode. In their interviews with Michael they don't get any useful information at all, in fact, he takes the identities of four other victims with him to his grave. Similarly only a bare minimum of psychology makes an appearance in the 'secret son' half of the story - after Mandy makes the random guess that wife isn't the type of person to kill her own child, they never manage to talk any information out of her - the son is found entirely through simple deductive reasoning.

Very weak episode, Criminal Minds.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are entirely too focused on the "crime-fighting" part of this episode. You're like the guy who can't enjoy E.E. Cummings because he's fixated on some missing commas. Yeah they didn't actually solve any crimes, but I really don't think that was the overall goal of the episode. Maybe they just wanted to tell a good story. I thought they achieved that quite nicely.

I've read enough of your reviews to know you critique the writers as if they're making a documentary rather than a TV drama, and I have to wonder how you think ratings would be affected if all resources went toward triple-checking every factoid rather than creating the good story.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure they based Jacob and Sarah Jean on the crimes of Charlene and Gerald Gallego. I agree with you that Sarah Jean wasn't innocent. She was luring the girls to the van. I What did she do when the girls found out their was no joint to smoke and wanted to leave? This episode made no sense to me. BTW in real life Charlene only served 16 years and is out living as a free woman. She changed her name to Mary Martinez. Gerald died on death row from rectal cancer. They murdered 10 people in Nevada and California. They are known as the love slave killers and were active during 1978 to 1980.

Anonymous said...


You vardulon are a frigging impenetrable idiot. I can only imagine you idolize Rush Limbaugh, hang velveteen prints of Elvis on your walls, and have clear shower curtains with naked female silhouettes.
And yet you blog... and blog... and blog...

Anonymous said...


You vardulon are a frigging impenetrable idiot. I can only imagine you idolize Rush Limbaugh, hang velveteen prints of Elvis on your walls, and have clear shower curtains with naked female silhouettes.
And yet you blog... and blog... and blog...

Anonymous said...

I mean you wrote this ages ago but I feel like I should point out the obvious: Sarah Jean did NOT lure the girls for Jacob. He claimed she did this and that she was complicit in his crimes but he was lying which they make very clear in the show. She didn't invite the girls to smoke pot at any point, that was just a story Jacob told. Also: she knew he brought home girls but she thought he was simply cheating on her. She had no idea that he was killing the girls. When she realized what he was doing, she called in an anonymous tip -- anonymous because she feared for her son Riley and what Jacob would do if he found out she had turned him in.

Anyway, I just felt that for someone so annoyed at this episode you might at least actually understand the basic plot points of the narrative.

Anonymous said...

So she believed he was cheating on her? with tween girls?? She was cool with that?? She didn't hear the girls being raped and killed in his workshop on their property? These girls made no noise or didn't scream for their lives and in pain? yeah, right. I agree with Vardulon. This episode was horrible is the basic plot. The writer obviously tried to redo the Gallegos case with Charlene as an innocent woman but failed. Maybe they believe she is innocent, after all this is the show that redid the McDonald case from the standpoint that he is innocent and it really was the murdering hippies.

Anonymous said...

Based specifically on the details in the show, yes she is innocent. We are never told she knew how old the girls were and it was fifteen years ago so they were in their early twenties, she wasn't quizzing the girls she thought her husband was banging for id and we don't have enough details to know if the girls were gagged, if the garage was sound proof-etc... It's also implied but not stated that he was abusive/controlling in some manner, enough that she afraid/worn down by him and again wouldn't even check on things. Immediate to her finding out, she called the police.

Anonymous said...

This was quite possibly one of the best episodes I've seen. I watch every one. The critic, apparently, missed the whole point of the show. That's what happens when you are fixated on details, as opposed to the human element of the story. Wether or not Sarah Jean is innocent or guilty is not the issue here. It is the fact that she would die rather than have her child know what his parents were. She refused to have his life ruined even if it meant her death. The true love of a parent. I've watched this episode many times, and it never fails to bring a tear. Maybe if you watched with your heart instead of a critical mind, you would get it, and appreciate it for what it is.

Joan von Sternberg said...

Thank you! This is one of my favorite episodes too. Jeanetta Arnette is mesmerizing in this role, moving me to tears every time I see this episode.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite episodes. This is the BAU, and I loved that this episode dealt purely with human behavior and psychology. Normally the agents chase after clues at a murder site, here they chased after decades old clues, based on human psych, and I thought the plot was beautifully executed. The actors who portrayed the couple were brilliant. I loved how Sarah Jean was graceful and dignified in the face of death. Clearly the death sentence was excessive given that she was not a co-conspirator, but she sacrificed her life to give her son a better life. I loved Gideon's emotions when he was persuaded to let Sarah Jean go to the chair. I loved it when Derek and Elle walked away, and Sheffield stopped them to say thank you.... He knew exactly why they were there. I loved how Gideon went to Riley's cello performance, I believe he did it for Sarah Jean. When Garcia discovered that Riley was a cello prodigy, the team started to realize that in this case, baring the truth would ruin Riley's life. This episode was far from boring... It was intense!

desertdea said...

Anonymous on Aril 11, 2015 explains it well. I JUST started watching this show, which has captivated me. This episode is about a woman who gave up the most important thing in her life, and from the perspective of 15 years later, the other facts blend into the background. I believe she being the anonymous tipster and spending 15 years in prison is payment enough. Aside from all that, 15 YEARS waiting for death patiently to save her son...I was very moved and cried like Gideon at the end. I felt his frustration and helplessness...and could see the battle to save this woman, the emotional strength it took to let her go and honor her wishes for her son. OMG the power of the writing and acting, timing and pace that brought me to that point that I didn't expect, to feel that strongly. I just sat and cried for what she gave up, her personal sacrifice. To be Jacob's final victim, she knew she had to.

Anonymous said...

Would just like to add that they did get something useful out of the interviews using psychology. Hotchner successfully goaded Jacob into giving up a burial site. Not the one he was going for, but still. Also, he eventually learns the number of women murdered. But to be honest, I don't think it matters that much, they knew going in that this guy wasn't likely to give much up. I agree with the others that this episode was much more focused on Sarah Jean's story (and I agree with the others that she isn't an accessory. The story about luring the women is part of the tale Jacob spun so she'd go down with him. It wouldn't make sense, her suddenly wanting to turn Jacob in if she was in on it. Why would she do that?)

One thing did bother me though: Jacob displays a pattern of hiding bodies under the structures that he builds. Could they not use that information to find more bodies? How hard would it be to find the things he's built and use that "see through the ground" instrument until they find the rest of the victims?

BedazzledCrone said...

Just watched this episode for the first time since it aired way back when. I think that the Count is too hard on the episode. Maybe he was just having a bad day when he wrote this. I have to agree though, that the episode was excruciatingly boring for the most part and full of holes as some of the other commentators have noted.

The only tension that I felt was whether or not Gideon would let her die. I was so afraid that the writers would cop-out and get her off of death row. And I actually shed a few tears when Gideon did the right thing. No good purpose would have been served to tell the son who his biological had been. She was right - she gave the son a life that was free from the particular horror of knowing this truth. If he found out later in life, so be it!

I often wonder how different Rizzoli and Isles the TV show would have been if they had followed Janet Tamaro's books and kept Maura's biological parents as the serial killers similar to the two in this CM episode. The book where Maura Isles goes to visit her biological mother in jail is wrenching.

BedazzledClone said...

Whoops - That's Tess Gerritsen as the writer of Rizzoli and Isles books, not Janet Tamaro