Criminal Minds 117: A Real Rain

It’s raining in New York, and a doughy man tapes tin foil to the windows of his apartment to keep the voices from getting into his head. With that done he heads out onto the street (where the voices live, apparently), and gets in a cab. The doughy man has this cabbie drive him out into the middle of nowhere, then murders him with a pistol!

By shooting him, in case you were wondering. What so strange about this murder? The killer also blindfolded the cabbie and stabbed him in the ear with an icepick. There are two other murders with the exact same MO, but there are no leads of any kind!

While on the way to way to New York the team pauses for a little character stuff, including blonde girl flirting with Reed, but none of it is relevant to the case, so we’ll keep going.

Trips to the crime scenes reveal that the killer had the murders meticulously planned out. Unfortunately they don’t have enough evidence to put together a helpful profile, and only manage to waste the time of the police and the audience alike. Their conclusion? That he’s a white guy who has a day job (because he kills at night). Great. Way to narrow down the field.

Here’s something that doesn’t get mentioned – one of the people was killed in her apartment, first shot and then stabbed. How did no one hear the gunshot? (Later scenes will demonstrate that he does not have access to so-called 'gun report silencing' technology)

While they’re busy wasting everyone’s time the doughy man swings by a church and murders a priest. An old lady saw the killer at the scene before the crime, and noticed that his fingers were twitching oddly.

Then the team has a revelation – the killer could have killed the old lady, but didn’t… so he’s killing specific people, who might have something in common!

Wow, is this insulting to the audience. That they treat this information like it’s some kind of a brilliant insight. Every single episode of this show has stressed that all serial killers have reasons for killing the specific type of victim they hunt. If all the victims aren’t obviously similar, petite brunettes with straight hair, for instance, it’s important to figure out what the common denominator is to better understand the killer’s motive.

This information seems like common sense to me, and has been drilled into us by previous episodes of the show. So why did it take the FBI to figure out that this is an avenue they should be pursuing? And why did it take them four victims to even bring it up?

They also pick up an obvious motive, as it turns out that the priest was a child molester who’d just been found not guilty by the courts. In other evidence, it turns out the knives they were stabbed with were made of flint. They get into the symbolism of this a little, but the bigger issue is that they’re only just now noticing how odd the knife is. The same flint blades were used in every crime, and they read the file on the case – how was this not already noticed?

With the new information about the priest’s background they check into the other suspects, and discover that all of them had recently been acquitted of a crime. Again, it’s amazing that it took them this long to even bother looking for a connection, and by the time they find it the killer has struck for a third time (in three days? Seriously?) since they’ve been on the case.

Looking a little deeper into the connections they discover that all of the criminals were tried at the same Manhattan criminal courts building. They swing by the building and start asking general questions about their profile to the people who work there. Is there a guy who’s cautiously supportive of the vigilante, and was recently the victim of a crime but isn’t talking about it? They come up empty, possibly because they didn’t bother checking if anyone had worked on all the cases to narrow down their subjects a bit.

Instead they decide to check in on the reporter who’s been writing pro-vigilante articles. They try to put a little suspicion on him, but I can’t imagine a busy high-profile crime reporter would have time to be out serial killings. Mandy’s a dick to the guy, and then he storms out. Meanwhile a man in a hoodie is out in Central Park, who guns down an undercover cop. Of course, we got a good enough look at the actual killer to know this guy isn’t him – something that becomes all the more clear when the hoodie man immediately goes to the police and confesses to being the vigilante. With ten minutes left in the episode. So yeah. He’s not key.

After realizing that hoodie man is just a psycho the team comes up with a plan to exploit the undercover cop’s death. They hope that because the vigilante believes in justice he’ll feel guilty about the cop dying and show up at the trial. This proves to be a dead end, but while they’re looking for more background into the case they discover that one of the court cases’ transcript isn’t available yet – meaning that the only people who could have known about the details of the case are people who worked directly on it. They discover that the same stenographer worked on all three cases, which means that he must be the killer!

A trip to his apartment is only a partial success – he’s not there, but his files are, meaning that they should be able to find his next planned victim. Knowing that he’s got a thing about criminals who don’t take responsibility for their actions, they find a matching case where a man killed his parents after suffering years of abuse, and was acquitted because of that victimhood.

They rush over to the man’s apartment just in time to create a hostage situation, as the killer has already made it into the apartment and wounded the victim. Fun reveal? The killer is Neelix from Voyager! Way to go, Ethan Phillips!

Recognize him? Continuing a kind of fun trend in the show, the killer actually was in the background of a previous scene:

Mandy tries to talk the killer down, but his efforts are hamstrung by the trigger-happy SWAT team on the building next door, who execute him at the first opportunity, leading to a sad slo-mo montage that ends the episode.


Oh, except for a montage of people debating the morality of vigilantism in a series of man-on-the-street interview clips. Since, as I understand it, all fiction about vigilantes must end this exact way.

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

Slightly. Their first profile of the killer was utterly useless, and while they second profile was closer to the mark, it didn’t actually give them either a lead or help in narrowing down the suspect list. The one useful piece of psychology in the episode was the victimology that allowed them to guess who his next victim would be, giving them the chance to corner and kill him (maybe) before he killed again. The maybe’s in there because the episode ends before we discover if the final victim’s gunshot wound was fatal or not.

Also left unresolved? How he was shooting people with a gun in populated areas and no one heard it or called the cops.

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

Again, conventional investigation solved the case. As I mentioned above, had they started looking for commonalities right at the beginning they could have found him much earlier – as it was, it was looking for those common details of the victims that was entirely responsible for identifying the killer.

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

2/10 – I’ll give them the victimology thing, but that wouldn’t have even been necessary had they just followed the evidence from the beginning.

Criminal Minds FactCheck-

This episode wasn’t based on any real case that I could identify, but I should mention that they name-check the Mad Bomber case, often identified as the first time profiling did a great job in identifying a suspect. They even repeat the old line about the profiler predicting that when the bomber was arrested, he’d be wearing a double-breasted suit, buttoned up – which he was.

Of course, he wasn’t really. When arrested at midnight he was wearing his pajamas. Because it was midnight. Then the cops got him dressed to take him down to the station, and it’s not clear whether he chose the double-breasted suit, or they picked it out for him in the hopes of making for better press.

Interestingly, the Mad Bomber case is a real-life example of the profile seeming like it was more helpfully than it actually was, and the police fundamentally dropping the ball. In this case the ‘Mad Bomber’ had written numerous letters to the press, all of them blaming Con Edison for his crimes and stating that they had committed ‘dastardly acts’ against him. The assumption was made that he was a disgruntled employee – but the police never sat down and interviewed everyone in the company’s ‘dangerous cranks’ folder, reserved for people who had written threatening letters or repeatedly sued the company.

The Mad Bomber had done both, and it was a Con Ed clerk going through that file after the huge publicity of the case that finally identified him.


Unknown said...

I like how the only reason I clicked on this is to find out what type of knife the killer used in the episode because I didn't feel like watching it but my God I regret reading half of what was wrote such a pessimist my god I lost brain cells

Anonymous said...

actually he was shot by hotch, not the swat tea

Cooper said...

Actually, they made a point in the opening sequence that the initial lack of similarity in the victims was similar to the Zodiac killer, who killed for 30 years without being caught. So that was the importance of the living witness. He wasn't killing for killing's sake, he did have targets. I agree that basic victimology should have turned up the fact that they were all felons, but early in an investigation, I forgive that slight.