Criminal Minds 121: Secrets and Lies

Okay, this is a bit of a departure for the show, and I’m not really sure how to handle it. The whole angle I’ve taken for the run of this article is looking at how the show Criminal Minds deals with using psychology to solve crimes in general, and serial crimes specifically. This episode is so far from the show’s normal structure that I think it’s going to completely defy the framework I normally use.

It starts with a middle-eastern mother and her two children waiting at the Baltimore Docks for someone, who turns out to be the time demon from Angel. After hiding them away somewhere for their own protection, the time demon goes back to his apartment, where he’s promptly tortured and executed by a couple of people, before a second group of people come in, document the crime scene, and blow off his head with a shotgun so it will look like a suicide.

As you can see, it’s very new subject matter for the show, but at least it’s a dynamic opening.

Mandy gets involved in the case when he discovers that the Time Demon’s death was reported as a suicide. It seems that the man was an undercover CIA agent, and Mandy was the man who was in charge of psychologically assessing those kids of agents and clearing them for duty.

Wait, the CIA doesn’t have its own psychologists? Well, they’re probably do, but they’re just not as good as Mandy.

Anyhoo, Mandy calls the head of the Time Demon’s unit, who shows up at the office and asks Mandy’s team to uncover who the mole in the unit is. I’m going to predict, without having met any of the other characters, that the boss will turn out to be the mole, because the writers of Criminal Minds are hacky enough that they love the idea that writing a standard spy story will give them a chance to add the kind of ‘twist’ that doesn’t normally show up in their bleak and brutal procedural.

Time for some backstory – the woman is a source giving them information on her terrorist-funding husband. The Time Demon was trying to get her to safety before the husband can find and kill them. So they’ve got two problems – they have to both find the mole and figure out where the Time Demon hid the family!

The team is introduced to Gina, Spence and Olivia, who are the red herrings that will distract the team from figuring out that the boss is the mole.

While the show goes through the standard ‘interviewing the suspects’ sequence, and ask a few questions about this episode’s premise. The Time Demon knew that he’d been comprimised, which is why he hid the family in a shipping container. Yet, despite the fact that he knows someone’s out to get him, he goes to his own house all alone after stashing the family. That’s like in Lethal Weapon 2 where Riggs is out on a date with the chick from the South African consulate, and then the consular forces attack. Once he’s gunned down half of the embassy he takes his date… back to her apartment like nothing happened. As if the South Africans didn’t know where their employee lived.

If the Time Demon was such a good agent, good enough to stash an informant somewhere mysterious, why did he then go to the only place where he could be easily found?

It’s all the more ridiculous because he knows that only four of the uppermost members of his unit could be the mole, meaning that, after stashing the family, he could have gone to anyone else in the unit (or even all of them), for help. He could have even gone to Mandy and his team, for gosh’s sake.

Rather strangely, Mandy had a meeting with the Time Demon three days before his death. He’d been called in for an emergency consult – supposedly to make sure the Time Demon was sane, but the Time Demon suspects that it was the mole’s way of finding both his location, and the location of the family.

You know, it seems like a good question to ask would be ‘which one of the four people ordered the consult’? Wouldn’t that go a long way towards identifying the mole, since that’s obviously who the Time Demon thought it was?

Yet that question manages not to come up. Huh.

In a cute, yet oddly false note, one of the interviewees reveals that all CIA agents on the team are asked to write a suicide note so that their bosses can kill them at any time, should the circumstances of the job require it.

Doesn’t that seem like a bit of a stretch? Who would take that job?

In one of their interviews the team really upsets Olivia, who heads into a back room to sulk alone, while doing a little research into who the mole might be. Because a high-security CIA situation room is a simple place to sneak away from and kill a person, that happens, with the old ‘gentle neck turn’ that we see on TV so often-

Well, at least their suspects are down to three, right? Or two, since those are a man’s arms, and one of the remaining suspects is a woman.

The team drags the other agents into a room and confronts them with the murder. Spence acts shocked, and the other two don’t let down their poker faces.

Mandy goes in for a private conversation with the boss (who, if you’ll remember, is the killer), and does some simple talk investigation. He doesn’t get any information out of the boss, nor does a talk with Gina yield any leads. The tech girl calls them up to offer some exposition – the virus that briefly shut down the security cameras came from Spence’s computer and, according to the files, the Time Demon ordered his own psych evalutation! But why!?

It seems that he did it so that, if he was killed, Mandy would be called in to consult on the case – and be forced to watch the interview tape again, where he dropped all sorts of hints about where he was planning to hide the family. Amazingly the profilers don’t notice the obvious language he’s using, and it takes Tech Girl and Blonde Woman to crack the impossible code that his constant analogies about ships and boxes might actually refer to shipping containers.

Of course, they then reveal that Time Demon’s cover in the middle east was as a shipping magnate. Shouldn’t they have already been considering that as a pretty important clue?

Naturally the information is compromised as quickly as it’s revealed, and we’re into a race over who can get to the family first, the husband or the team?

Spoiler alert, it’s the husband, but the team gets there in time to keep anyone nice from getting killed.

So now it’s just a question of figuring out who the mole was. Mandy announces that it was Spence, because of the virus and the fact that he was cheating on his wife, but that’s obviously just a trick to lull the boss into a false sense of security.

Which leaves just one question left – how did the team figure out that the boss was the mole? Other than ‘by knowing how these stories are structured’, of course.

It was in the talk therapy, of course. When Mandy asked Boss how he felt about his employees being killed, Boss didn’t say ‘guilty’. Seriously. That’s how he figured it out. Boss is sanguine about being caught, explaining that he knows enough secrets that he’ll be able to negotiate a retirement package.


Turns out he’s wrong, though. The CIA murders him in a fake car accident. Yes, that’s seriously the ending.

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

Apparantly it was central to solving the crime, since it was an emotional slip-up that revealed his involvement. Of course, this means that, despite the fact that they talk about CIA Agents being among the best liars in the world, they’d come up against a killer so stupid that he didn’t even both trying to lie to the very man who was investigating him.

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

Except the whole thing was so preposterous that I can’t take the psychology stuff seriously at all. The guy basically announces that he’s the mole by telling his agents on scene to execute the husband rather than bringing him in for questioning. Also he had to kill the woman in the office because she’d started looking into his financial records. Yeah, apparently he was such a bad mole that he had easily traceable financial records.

How he knew she was working on the financial records is an excellent question. Another excellent question is why she felt she had to investigate it in dangerous isolation, as opposed to a safe crowd in the open-concept office.

Man, this was an awful episode.

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

I’m not scoring it this week, folks. This was Criminal Minds attempting to do an episode of 24, and failing so miserably that I sincerely hope that it’s the last time they drift too far from their formula.

It’s cold and dark out there among the other genres, and I don’t the the writers of Criminal Minds are prepared for what they’ll find.


debsaid said...

I thought the boss (mole) faked his own death in the end, to get away.

Anonymous said...

Fucking hilarious! Came here for a recap b/c I couldn't remember the storyline & laughed so hard every time I read Time Demon. Plus you threw in plenty of other goodies too. Thank you!