30.10.09

Criminal Minds 116: The Tribe

This episode is going to take the team out into the desert, it seems. The story begins at a house party that some sexy teens are throwing in a unfinished home in the middle of a development. Among the teens is a blonde girl who seems slightly out of it. After saying that she’s looking for the bathroom she heads outside, leaving the back door wide open. She doesn’t get more than a few steps away from the house when she’s grabbed by some men who were watching her from a van out front!

Amazingly, that’s not all the horror that happens, as just moments later a team of killers rushes down out of the hills behind the house and attacks the rest of the teens in the building with long knives! What’s going on here? Are these two events connected, other than spatially and temporally? I guess we’ll find out after the opening credits!

Over at the offices of the Behaviour science unit it’s time for some more character stuff! Gregg’s younger brother turns up at office, announcing that he’s dropping out of law school in the hopes of becoming a chef? Will Greg be able to let go and accept his brother’s life choices? Will anyone care?

The team analyzes the scene, and determines that all of the teens were skinned alive by the team of killers! And one of them was impaled on the spike! Elliot brings up some of his genius knowledge, and announces that all of these methods of murders are similar to the ways that a variety of Indians used to kill their enemies. It also happens that the development where the murders took place is on land that was recently stolen from the local Indian reservation!

They check into local Indians who might have an axe to grind with the town, and one name pops up – reservation sheriff Blackwolf!

Yeah, I wish the show was about this guy. The team checks in with the sheriff while he’s teaching a class in Native American history. They find the fact that he carries a knife a little suspicious, but he’s so obviously not the killer that suspicion isn’t much worth addressing. Naturally Blackwolf is an amazing tracker, and manages to tell them exactly how many attackers there were, based on footprints. Greg is oddly standoffish with Blackwolf, which is a little odd – the guy’s backstory is that his dad was killed at Wounded Knee. Given how unbelievably angry this guy has a right to be at the FBI, you’d think he’d be a little more deferential.

Maybe he’s just in a bad mood because his brother doesn’t want to be a lawyer.

Now it’s time for the profiling sequence, where they talk about the fact that the they’re almost certainly dealing with a group of racist fanatics who kidnapped the blonde girl to use as leverage, and are framing the Indians to turn public opinion against them. They interview some local racists, but don’t get any good leads, since the racists turns out to just be greedy land developers who are using racism to help them seize the land.

They finally get an ID on the missing girl, whose widowed father is so out of contact with her that he didn’t even know she’d disappeared until the FBI showed up. They find the father oddly undistraught about the kidnapping, and start investigating him while having him make a speech on the news directed at the kidnappers. The kidnappers actually happen to see the message, leading to the episode’s first twist – they’re paid kidnappers, who were pulling the daughter out of a cult at the father’s behest!

Hoping to keep his daughter out of jail, the father doesn’t want to give details about the cult she was being rescued from, lest she be connected with the murders. Elliot swings by the hospital to check on the daughter, and finds that she’s insisting that she’s not a victim at all, but rather a prisoner of war, refusing to offer anything but her name and social security number! The team fail to crack the daughter in time, giving the cultists a chance to break into the racist’s home, killing both his family and a cop who was watching the home on the off chance he was behind the killings!

Confronted with the FBI’s knowledge of the cult, the father finally offers what few details he knows about the killers. He doesn’t know much, except for a few details about the cult having an obsession with Native mythology. Over at the new crime scene Blackwolf has a plan! He’ll bring the daughter to see the bloodshed, and use his Indian cred to convince her that she’s on the wrong side, instantly undoing a year’s worth of brainwashing! It doesn’t go fantastically, but she does drop a hint about the general area that the cult might be hiding out in. Meanwhile back at the office they’ve found a scummy former Native history major who had classes with the daughter – establishing himself as the likely cult leader. They raid the motel he’s hiding out in, and while they’re able to catch him, the rest of the cult is on the loose, looking for more people to kill!

That’s right, it’s time for a little cracking. Which they don’t have a great record of, since they’ve never managed to crack any of their targets, or glean a single useful piece of information from them. This interrogation scene is no different, with the cultist offering no useful information, just cliched speeches about his intention to trigger a race war by framing the Indians for murdering whites, then angering the Indians by killing some natives while pretending to be the racist militiamen. This is getting so close to the actual case this is based on that the team actually starts discussing Manson, as I’ll address in the FactCheck section below.

Over at the reservation it’s Greg and BlackWolf against the cult until backup arrives, and BlackWold, who carries only a knife, convinces Greg to fight with just his baton. I’m not sure why Greg goes along with this, other than to lead to a Batman-style sequence where the cultists are searching through the backrooms of a schoolhouse while Greg and the Wolf pick them off one by one. Greg does finally wind up shooting someone, which pisses of BlackWolf, even though doing so saves his life. Greg dismisses his concerns with a joke, again demonstrating his insensitivity to the fact that a guy whose dad was killed at Wounded Knee might have some pretty damn strong feelings about an FBI shooting people on a reservation.

Then the episode ends with Greg giving his brother the business card of an agent in the New York field office, so he’ll have someone to call if there’s an emergency while he’s learning to be a chef. It’s nice that the two of them reconciled, but this kind of comes out of left field – Greg’s change of heart wasn’t prompted by anything that happened in the episode, he just kind of changed his mind out of the blue. He was a dick in the first scene, and apologized in the last, with nothing relating to that storyline happening in the rest of the episode – this whole thing seems to have been added to give the character the appearance of depth without actually deepening him at all.

Left unresolved at the end of the episode: Was the daughter reunited with her father before being sent to prison? What happened with the land development the actual Indians were pissed about? Why did the cultists kill a bunch of college kids who may have been from out of state to enrage the populace, rather than going straight for local families?

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

Dear lord, no. Their first profile, which assumed that the cultists were SLA-style politicos was completely wrong-headed, and their second profile, which accurately pegged them as Manson-style fanatics, had nothing to do with catching the culprits. And it’s not like the team had any special psychological insight into the situation that allowed them to figure out the cult’s motive. They had one of the cultists flat out tell them when a non-profiler did a better job of cracking her than they did.

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

Oh yes, very much so. In that profiling did not solve the case at all. Actually, the case wasn’t really solved, so much as just ended. While they did figure out where the killers were going to strike next, that didn’t actually help them prevent the final crime, which was only foiled because

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

2/10 – And that’s a frigging gift. I should really disqualify the score because it was BlackWolf who was able to get the daughter to talk, and managed to annoy the cult leader a little, but what the aitch, I’m feeling generous.

Criminal Minds FactCheck

As mentioned above, this episode was a pretty clear Manson parable, the only difference being a slight change in motivation (and I mean really, really slight). Just as the episode featured a cult that hoped to incite a red/white race war, Manson hoped to inspire the black race to rise up by killing a large number of rich white people, demonstrating that the established social order was easily torn asunder.

The main difference here is that there wasn’t a second level of meaning to the Indian cultists’ crimes – unlike Manson, who arranged the slaughter at Sharon Tate’s house as a way to settle scores with Terry Melcher, who he perceived as betraying him by failing to produce a musical career for the psychopath.

I’m not going to go into much detail about the capture of the Manson family, since many, many movies are available that go into ample detail on the subject. I hope it suffices to say that profiling wasn’t involved in any way, shape, or form. No, they were caught the old-fashioned way – they told far too many people about their crimes, and committed a lot of other petty, unrelated crimes that allowed them to be tracked down and arrested with relative ease.

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