Criminal Minds Episode 120: Charm and Harm

There’s two things this killer loves: Murder and steak! First he eats steak, then he kills the woman he’s got tied up in a chair across from him! That’s quite a theme, huh? Yeah, maybe not. Let’s see where they go with this.

Where they go is to the office, where the team teases Elle about their theory that she’s got a new boyfriend. They head to the office and find out about Steakman’s crimes! That’s right, he’s already been identified as a serial killer who loves to kidnap women and drown them in hotel bathtubs – and the police need the team’s help to find him!

I’m not sure why they don’t need the media’s help more, but I guess we’ll see after the credits.

The killer is named Mark, and he’s a former car racer who loves to torture women before killing them! They hope to look into his past to discover his motive, thus explaining where he’s going. This is actually a decent plan, since most of the victims are people he’d dated or worked with at some point.

An interview with his business partner offers little information other than the fact that he was married more than a decade earlier. They make a chilling discovery at his house – he’s got all sorts of fake ID, and since he travels around the country all the time for his job, he’ll know how to hide from them! So how will they manage to catch a human chameleon! And more importantly, why does he drown women?

Actually, is that more important? The show seems to think it is, because they cut away to a first-person drowning scene.

Digging into his background reveals that he used to be a voyeur and statutory rapist! Also that his ex-wife is still out there somewhere. Their profile suggests that he’s specifically intending to kill a single person, but since they don’t know exactly who, they have no idea where he’s headed. A phone call puts them on a plane to Georgia, though – that’s where the latest drowning was! A search of the crime scene reveals a photographer’s business card – they theorize that he’s picking up women by pretending to be a professional photographer! We then cut to another one of his schemes: Heading out to the airport and dressing as a pilot, looking to kidnap someone else.

The team finally tracks down Mark’s ex-wife, who explains that he was controlling and abusive, and obsessed with the idea that he was cheating on her. Could that be the trigger? Reed and Mandy head over to Mark’s father’s house and interview him. In the most insultingly cursory way possible. They cover the most basic elements of his childhood – where they moved to as a child, et cetra. Then they discover the fact that his mother died in a car accident when he was 10, and decide that it must have something to do with his hatred of women. They don’t press the issue, though, and move on quickly.

Oh, and Mark got another victim while this was going on. By using the pilot’s uniform to bum a ride at the airport, then killing the woman who picked him up.

Another motive piece shows up when they discover that his first victim, a girlfriend, was actually married while she was dating him. Could that have been his motive to kill? But if so, why? Another piece of the puzzle shows up when they discover that the crash that killed Mark’s mother also involved Mark!

It seems like that’s something they would have known if they’d just spent a little more time talking to the father. So they head back to see him, and confront him about the fact that there are no pictures of the mother there. They press the father on the subject, and finally get him to confess that the mother was cheating on him, which caused Mark to hate his mother, even at age 10! Which may have even led him to cause the car crash! They try to guilt the father into helping them, although it seems kind of pointless, since there’s no way the father would have had any idea where his son is.

Meanwhile Mark grabs a woman from a local grocery store parking lot and drags her to a hotel pool. This is all done in public and in broad daylight, so he actually gets stopped this time. But while a stranger is performing CPR on the victim he runs off, claiming that it’s is wife and he’s going to call an ambulance!

The team acts like the discovery that Mark probably killed his mother is the key piece of information that’s going to crack the whole case. Shockingly, it is. In an unsurprising twist they discover that he had killed his mother by drowning her, which is the origin of his obsession with submerging women! Even more conveniently, he’s forcing his newest abduction to drive him back to the lake where his mother drowned so that he can recreate the original killing!

Mark’s falling apart mentally, so he’s not able to control the victim well enough to keep her from purposely crashing the car. This makes so much noise that Derek and Elle (who were already in the area) is able to drive over to the scene of the accident and shoot Mark before he can kill her. The rest of the team waits by a speakerphone with bated breath for the news, including blonde woman, who does so wearing the world’s most ridiculous shirt:

What the hell is going on with her? Isn’t she the PR person who has to go in front of cameras all the time?

With Mark dead and the last victim saved, the case is wrapped up in a neat little package. Actually, the package is almost insultingly neat and little, isn’t it?

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

Sort of. I mean, obviously the facts they gleaned about the killer’s mentality allowed them to predict his behaviour, but all the stuff was so contrivedly pat that it’s hard to call it actual ‘profiling’. I almost feel like I should ressurect the third category of judgement for this episode.

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

Not really. That’s the problem with spree killers. By the nature of their crimes – brutal and in quick succession, the police are always playing catch-up. They’re almost always caught because someone sees them comitting a crime and calls the cops quickly enough, or because they give up (either by surrendering or suicide) when they’ve killed a sufficient amount.

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

I’m going to give them a 4/10 – because within the world of the show their profiling was key, but the whole setup was so unrealistic that it almost invalidates any kind of judgement on it.

The whole thing about his key ‘first crime’ that he wants to recreate is so utterly ridiculous and far-fetched that it only happens in fiction (which is stranger than truth). They try to justify it by name-checking Edward Kemper, a spree killer who worked up to his ultimate target (his mother – note the similarity) – but the case in this episode is so vastly different that it’s hard to fairly compare it.

Funnily enough it would have all been plausible if he’d, like Kemper, been searching for a particular victim (a mother that was still alive, for example). The idea of him heading towards a particular place is just ridiculous.


Other than all of the psychological motive mumbo-jumbo, this episode of Criminal Minds is fairly close to a retelling of the Christopher Wilder story. A spree killer in the early 80s, Wilder was a bad seed from early on. After surviving a drowning at age 2 (the one drowning you’ll see in the real story) he grew up to be a nasty sort. Convicted of participating in a gang-rape in his native Australia at age 17, he was briefly thrown in an insane asylum to deal with his deviant sexual tendencies.

It didn’t work, and he continued raping and molesting women, although he would never serve any time despite repeated convictions for these crimes in Australia and Florida. Ah, the 70s. They sucked.

The episode dovetails with the next section of his story pretty closely – after moving to Florida he became a fabulously wealthy real-estate developer, while racing sports cars and dabbling in glamour photography in his spare time. During this time a number of women disappeared or turned up dead in areas around where Wilder lived, so it’s safe to assume that he never stopped killing, even during his pre-spree days.

So what triggered him to go on a suicide run? Not any fruity psychological crap, that’s for sure. While visiting his parents in ’82 he raped a pair of 15-year-old girls. He managed to get bail and permission to go back to Florida so he could work while awaiting trial. His lawyers delayed the trial as long as they could, but by the beginning of ’84 the trial date was firmly set for April. It’s likely that the stress of this case caused him to to get a little sloppy with his victims, and he killed both a model he met at a racing event and an ex-girlfriend in relatively short order.

The ex-girlfriend’s family hired a private detective to look into his disappearance, and when the PI discovered that she’d dated a sex offender he went to interview Wilder. Knowing the jig was up, Wilder fled the city immediately, and started randomly killing people on the road.

I’m not going to go into the real-life details of the flight from authorities, because this case depresses me enough as it is, but it’s important to note that, unlike the episode’s version of events, the manhunt lasted for a full month, and claimed six victims. He drove cross country, killing women and stealing their cars – even at one point kidnapping a 16-year-old girl and forcing her to help him lure other victims.

Eventually the police caught up with him on the way to Canada, after a would-be victim escaped and gave the police a description of his current vehicle. Faced with capture Wilder shot himself in the chest – leaving the question of exactly how many people he’d killed over the years an unsolved mystery.

Man, this case was so bleak and tragic that it just makes me angrier the way the show trivialized it with their dime-store psychological crap.

He didn’t go on a killing spree because he was triggered by something from his abusive childhood. He killed because he liked it, and when he knew that the cops were coming he went on a spree because he wanted to kill as many women as he possibly could before the cops caught him.

Christopher Wilder was pure evil, and presenting him through a layer of fiction as a twisted oedipal nutbag just trivializes the horror in a way that’s insulting to his victims.


Anonymous said...

Criminal Minds is a FICTIONAL crime drama. Simply because certain episodes are inspired by actual cases doesn't mean the show should follow the real story to a tee. Otherwise it would be a documentary. Further, what qualifies you to characterize Christopher Wilder as a killer who just enjoyed killing? You have no idea what was in his head. Consequently, I've seen this episode and I don't feel it trivialized the horror, they took the story in another direction. For one thing, they shot him at the end, which is a much more fitting end for him than prison. I enjoy this show and I believe that it gives audiences closure regarding each and every case. The villian is always captured at the end and given the tragedies we see everyday in real life, it's great to see justice being served in this drama filled show.

Anonymous said...

Self-correction: Christopher Wilder was shot by the authorities in real life. That I believe is one of the most important facts they didn't change.

Criminal Minds is a show for one who is interested in the criminal psyche. Each episode may in fact be inspired by several different serial killers which would explain the deviation from Christopher Wilder's bio. Interesting blog though Vardulon.