Criminal Minds 119: Machismo

In Mexico, they celebrate something called ‘the day of the dead’. I’d get into the social importance and history of it, but it’s not key to the episode except inasmuch as it’s a thematically interesting time for a serial killer to show up and murder someone.

Which is exactly what happens. There’s some family drama when a disapproved-of son comes home drunk for the holidays, and is then thrown out. A little later, his mother is murdered. Could he be the killer? Of course not. There’d be no show if he was. The killer is someone she feels comfortable enough to invite into her home, though, even going so far as to have the mother admit she needs more help around the house! But who would she ask for help?

That question answered, and more, after the opening credits!

There’s a quick scene with Greg’s family – his wife is played by Gay Jack’s sister from Dawson’s Creek! And she’s not happy that he has to go into work on his birthday to help catch a serial killer in Mexico. Because really, who would be?

It sems that all sorts of old ladies have been killed in a single town, and the Mexican government is trying to play down the whole ‘serial killer’ talk. They want the team to fly down and prove that the son is the killer, and close the case. Because that’s what they do now, I guess. Now it’s time for an interesting a little piece of trivia – Mexico has almost no serial killers! But is it because Mexico is less immoral than America, or because their police don’t connect crimes the way Americans do?

The second, obviously.

They run into an old pal of Gideon’s from Mexico, and he explains that profiling probably won’t work in Mexico, because he doesn’t undersant Mexican society. He feels that the defining characteristics of their culture are Family and Machismo, two things America lacks. Ah, bigotry, you know no borders, do you?

The team investigates the crime scene, which lets them know the things we already saw in the prologue – that the woman seemed to know her killer. Machismo rears its ugly head now, as everyone dismisses the possibility that the person the victim was sharing a drink with could be the killer. Why? Because the drink, a sweet cocktail, is the kind of thing you share with a woman, and not a man! Everyone agrees that a woman couldn’t possibly be the killer. They announce that the killer must be a heterosexual male because the crime seems to be sexually motivated.

Which pretty much rules out the son, because he’s gay, and that’s why the family had been shunning him. Also ruling him out, the fact that we saw the victim with the killer in the prologue, and she clearly wasn’t talking to her child. Mandy gets him to admit that he’s gay, which he wants to keep completely secret, once again due to ‘machismo’, the trait that makes homosexuality among men utterly taboo in Mexico!

Greg figures that the captain knew this all along, and when he’s confronted the captain admits it. He apologizes for getting them down there on false pretenses, but he explains that policing in Mexico is so backwards that he couldn’t have used a psychological explanation to clear the man to the higher-ups. He needed them to come to the conclusion on their own, because the attorney general would only accept the word of a knowledgable american.

It’s true. Mexicans can’t govern themselves.

After talking to the sister they come to the conclusion that the son’s lover may be the killer, but that’s clearly another red herring, since we saw the killer in the opening sequence. So I won’t waste your time. He does offer one piece of information, though – whil leaving he saw a heavy woman walking through the suburbs that night, probably a social worker looking to help the old ladies in the neighborhood. They assume that this must be the witness who was sharing a drink with the victim – who we already know is the killer.

They get some DNA off the drinking glass which proves to be male! It’s a fake social worker in drag! And there’s been another murder!

They talk to the new victim’s daughter, who offers a piece of key information – a necklace stolen from the victim was the daughter’s property. But what could that mean? Meanwhile there’s a mix-up back in the station, as the beat cops pull in dozens of trannies and sex offenders, assuming that the killer will be caught in the dragnet.

It’s all a waste of time, of course, since the killer wouldn’t be a well-know tranny, and rapes aren’t generally reported in Mexico. They know that sexually motivated serial killers all start out as rapists. Now they delve into the psychology of sexual psychopaths, explaining that serial rapists work up to killing after a ‘stressor’. While this is largely true, there’s a larger contingent of serial rapists who become serial killers simply because they don’t want to be caught.

Talking to one of the rape victims reveals a key piece of information – the last woman he attempted to rape managed to knock the rapist down and call him queer for wearing a dress – just the kind of humiliation that would have led to him starting to kill! By interviewing other rape victims they manage to find a key similarity – four of them work at the same factory!

They ask the manager who the least confident man at the factory is, and she gives them a name. The team rushes to his house, but he’s already gon out killing! Inside they make a horrifying discovery, though:

Yup, he Norman Bates’d his real mother. Wait, is that Robert Stack on the TV in the background?

Now they’ve got a problem – they’ve identified the killer, but how can they find him before he kills someone else? Because like all the serial killers on this show, he kills much faster than real killers. They find another connection that will help, though – it seems that the killer is killing the mothers of all the women that he raped!

Wait, none of the rape victims noticed this? The episode mentions, when they all come forward, that even if the cops aren’t interested in talking to them, they all talk to each other. And none of them found it weird that every single one all of their mothers had been killed in the past two years? Wasn’t that a little statistically preposterous?

The women finally managed to get it togethere though. They figured out the plan just before the cops, and ambushed the killer at the house of his last victim, brutally murdering him. Way to show up the profilers, random local women who look way too happy given the situation:

I mean, sure, none of you are being charged for killing that guy, and that’s great, but all of your mothers are dead except for one. Shouldn’t there be a few minor recriminations?

The team flies out of Mexico, satisfied with a job well done.

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

Just a little. Because they were dealing with a ‘ticking time bomb’ kind of killer the speed at which they were able to identify the rapist was an important part of the case. So their ability to describe the killer to the plant manager did actually help them solve the case.

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

Of course, if they’d just gone to the houses of all the men at the plant they would have found the Norma Bates eventually, so we can only be so impressed by the way they sped up the solution by maybe an hour. Also, it was the women who actually solved the case, and they did it considerably faster than the team.

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

3/10 - Seriously, they solved the crime by just asking who did it, which the sexist Mexicans were too sexist to bother doing. I can’t stress this enough: it doesn’t make your characters look smart when they clean up after idiots. It just makes them seem awake.


This episode was loosely based on the Mexican ‘Old Lady Killer’, who killed somewhere between 20 and 50 elderly women around Mexico City starting in the late 90s.

Interestingly this is the first episode of Criminal Minds to have been based on a current serial killer. The episode aired in April, 2006, and the killer, Juana Barraza had only just been caught that January!

You may note from the name of the true-life killer that some liberties were taken with the story. That’s right, the real old lady killer was, in fact, a woman. The rest of the details were fairly accurate, though – she pretended to be a social worker to get access to old lady’s houses, then killed and robbed them.

The gender confusion came from equal parts generic sexism and the fact that witnesses had seen an extremely heavyset woman fleeing a variety of crime scenes. Police jumped to the conclusion that the killer must have been a man in drag, which is the story the episode ran with.

In fact, the killer was heavyset because she was a former professional wrestler (or ‘luchadera’) who fought under the name ‘The Silent Lady’. In a real life case of profiling being useless the police wasted plenty of time looking into the motives of transvestites and interrogating sex offenders.

Juana was caught when police saw her fleeing from a house and arrested her. Her fingerprints matched those at a dozen of the crime scenes, and the case was quickly closed.

Other than the underestimation of females as serial killers by the police the whole affair doesn’t have many lessons to offer about gender relations in Mexico, which explains why it was changed so drastically.


Unknown said...

The ending was really amusing how the women beat the crap out of this guy and get away with it because of the justice in the old West clause. The true story that it is based on however was really creepy.

Hanna said...

Don't you just love how everyone the team interacts with in this small mexican factory town just conveniently speaks flawless English?