It’s time for Criminal Minds to go back to the well. The Child Molester well. Which, if you’re making a list of all the wells out there, it belongs near the bottom. Or the top, if it’s a list of ‘worst wells’.
A group of people in one of those FBI operations where they hang out on paedophile chatrooms hoping to identify sickos is sent an image of a young boy being held in a tiny, soundproof container. The boy is ‘Peter’, an unknown sex slave who was abducted at least a year earlier, and has shown up in a few videos since then. Now he’s aged out of his captor’s attraction range, and the villain is looking to sell! But instead of just cutting a cheque (which would require a more efficient bureaucracy, one imagines, they call the profilers, because if there’s one thing profilers know how to do, it’s look at a live video feed of a kidnapped child and figure out where that child is being held.
Wait, no, I’m thinking of psychics. I’m not sure why she’s calling Mandy’s team.
Pointlessly creepy note – Peter is filmed through a camera set into the mouth of a severed mannequin’s head:
According to the random ‘creepy statistics’ section of the episode, there are 40K new pieces of child pornography uploaded to the internet every week. Which seems crazy, but I’m very naïve about the awfulness of the world.
It seems that the camera’s feed is impossible to trace within the 18 hours they have before the auction ends, so the head of the child protection task force at the FBI, who is a former profiler herself, decides that she needs Mandy’s help to find the kid. I’m still not sure just how, but it’ll come up soon, right?
Despite the fact that they have no idea what the child’s real name is, the children’s advocate announces that they know the child was kidnapped somewhere on the east coast. Not sure how, when you don’t know who it is, but let’s move on.
During the flight there’s some generic speech about how easy the internet makes it for paedophiles to find their targets. Of course, it’s not like paedophiles have had any trouble finding victims in the ‘all of history’ before the internet was invented, but whatever, the point is that this is another episode going out of its way to show the terrifying danger you suffer from creepy strangers kidnapping your children. It’s an odd message, considering that most child molestations and murders are committed by relatives, friends of the family, or acquaintances who have a good reason to be around the child. For a show that actually did one of its ‘depressing facts’ segments about how ‘Stranger Danger’ was the most useless child safety programs ever conceived of, this is two episodes about child molestation in a row where the guy responsible was the creepy stranger in the dark van.
Meanwhile, they track down what they assume is the molester’s credit card information from the company that handles his internet account – wait, wasn’t that unfindable? It seems no. While the stream of video is coming through Belarus, the guy also has some hosting space of his own, which he paid for by credit card. Since one of those sites features a teen boy being tied up in real-time, they figure it’s time for an old-fashioned raid!
But it was all for naught! The tied-up teen boy is actually a camwhore, who makes a little extra cash tying himself up for live video broadcasts, hoping to make a little extra money off twisted sickos. The camwhore explains that he hosted to the video as a favor for one of his clients. He doesn’t want to give Mandy any information about that client list, but then Mandy tries to empathize with him, telling him that while he can’t get back at his father, at least he can get back at the sicko who’s grabbed Peter. This gets through to him, and he gives them the screen name and some tracking info for Mehtevas, the sicko in question.
Over at the FBI childcatcher headquarters the rest of the team are trying to figure out just where Peter is hidden, based on visual cues in the feed. One problem? The cell doesn’t have a door. This puzzles them, leading to some speculation about just how Peter got inside. Then Elle (back from her ‘getting shot’ leave) theorizes that the molester built the cell around Peter, “Like a ship in a bottle”.
Maybe I’m all backwards on this, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how ships in bottles are built. If they were, the world’s long tweezer market would completely collapse. While I’m sure it’s possible to saw the bottom off a bottle, slide a complete model ship inside, and then glue the base back on, I’m equally as sure that it’s cheating to do so, and cheating doesn’t constitute how you build a ship in a bottle. Because it’s cheating.
It’s like describing something’s success as ‘hitting a home run’, but what you mean is smashing a softball with a corked bat.
None of this is useful information, of course, so it’s back to the camwhore, who they decide to use as bait for the molester. This gives us our first look at the molester, who, in no way ironically, turns out to be an elementary school principal!
We’re just halfway through the episode, so while he’s a molester, he’s obviously not the molester. A search of the principal’s office doesn’t turn up much but his pornography-enabled laptop, which is more than enough to get a confession out of him. One might think they’d have trouble getting into the laptop, but no, he’s another one of those guys with a really easy password to figure out. Confronted with his library of child porno, he admits that he’s been bidding on the kid, which they’ll be able to use to track the real molester down.
Again, why wasn’t the FBI bidding on the kid as well?
Then the FBI prove themselves to be completely incompetent. Instead of keeping the arrest under wraps until Peter has been rescued they perp-walk him out the front door where the press have gathered. In an amazing coincidence, the molester just happens to be watching the news when this is happening, and since he knows who the principal really is, he shuts the auction down, and leaves it there until a fake story goes out that the FBI are looking in the wrong state.
A fake story that wouldn’t have had to be put out if they’d just done their jobs right the first time.
Back at HQ tech girl and blonde woman try to figure out who Peter is by running down the unit number on his cub scout shirt. They act like figuring the number out is harder than it actually is. Here’s the picture they’re looking at.
Is it just me, or does that clearly read 3446? Let’s not forget, the characters in the show aren’t looking at a blurry screencap the way we are. And still they can’t figure it out - they even act like it’s impossible to just go through a list, because there’s 999 possible combinations. That’s right, the two of them can’t even make out the ‘3’, they’re just working on the fact that it ends in 6. They turn up a word on another part of the shirt, though, which narrows it down to just one unit.
The team goes to check out the town where Peter’s scout troop was located. It turns out his name is actually Charlie Sparks, and the school believed that he transferred out – it’s a pseudonym, and it seems that the kid was living with the paedophile while in school and the cub scouts!
This leaves them with a pretty big question – why did the molester shut down Peter’s life and lock him in a room? Mandy thinks that it’s because the FBI was closing in on him! They look through a list of everyone who was interviewed on the case. Only one of them is alive, in state, and out of jail, so they guess that it must be him!
The team rushes over to his house and arrests him without incident, rescuing Peter from the trunk of his minivan at the same time. It turns out that Peter was kidnapped at age 1, and has been molested continuously for his entire life.
So yeah, that guy’s done for. The show tries to end things on a happy note with Peter’s mom coming to meet her son for the first time in half a decade, but this kind of story is basically impossible to put a positive spin on. Even if the kid miraculously doesn’t have a complete inability to empathize from his utter lack of healthy attention, he’s almost certain to wind up with paedophillic tendencies himself.
That’s right, kid. Look forward to a life of only being able to be aroused while imagining naked children. The happiest ending possible is that he lives the rest of his years in a profoundly unhappy state, never hurting anyone else.
But that’s not the most likely outcome.
So what’s worse – that they’re doing a popular network show about such awful subject matter, or that they’re misrepresenting the awfulness so completely?
1 - Was profiling in any way helpful in solving the crime?
A little – after all, if Mandy didn’t have the skills necessary to figure out that the camwhore was abused by his father, he couldn’t have gotten under the kid’s skin to get him to co-operate. Then again, that came from a place that’s less of psychological insight and more of common sense. When the camwhore first meets the FBI they ask where his father is, and the camwhore responds that the guy is a bastard that he hopes he never sees again. Also, his chest is covered with cigarette burns. Gee, I wonder if parental abuse might have been involved?
Here’s another clue – he’s a 14-year-old boy who’s working as an illegal camwhore for paedophiles all over the globe.
Of course, since the camwhore led them to the principal and the principal was a dead end, it didn’t actually help them solve the case, did it?
2 - Could the crime have been solved just as easily using conventional police methods given the known facts of the case?
Actually, it almost completely was. The case was solved by looking at a video feed and finding out where the victim lived by reading something written on it (Ah, Skinwalkers. I hated you.), then making the totally normal law-enforcement assumption that a criminal went to ground because he thought the cops were onto him.
Completely run-of-the-mill policework, with little-to-no psychology involved.
Also, why weren’t they bidding on the kid?
So, on a scale of 1 (Dirty Harry) to 10 (Tony Hill), How Useful Was Profiling in Solving the Crime?
2/10 – Yes, they showed off a decent bit of psychology this week, but since none of it actually helped solve the case, they can’t be well rewarded for it.
In a final note, I was pretty hard on the show for misrepresenting the bleak monstrousness of Peter’s future, but it’s possible they didn’t quite mean it – the episode ends with a strangely incompatible mix of image and music. The soundtrack is cautiously upbeat, headed in the direction of triumphalism because of the reunion, but the last image is of Mandy’s profoundly unhappy face:
Of course, since the show is generally not the best-written thing around, I don’t know if I can attribute that look to Mandy knowing that, in twenty years time, he or somebody like him is probably going to be arresting that kid while other mothers comfort his victims.
Also, why was this episode called P911?