Criminal Minds 206: The Boogeyman

As of the beginning of this episode Elle is still, technically, a member of the FBI. But given that everyone knows she’s a nutjob, that’s not going to last. Of course, the FBI cleared her of any culpability in the shooting, despite the fact that she was acting against orders in going to the rapist’s apartment, and no one has any idea where his gun came from.

More importantly, when Greg is ordering her into therapy and she tries to say she doesn’t need it, he doesn’t pull out the big gun – that she, whether the shooting was justified or not, created a situation where a shooting was likely to occur, and she did it for no defensible reason at all.

Elle’s headed for therapy, and off the show by the end of the hour, I’m guessing.

So, on to the plot of the episode. A bunch of kids are hanging out, listening to an older child tell a scary story about how an old man who lives in the woods killed a little boy recently. They believe the old man watches them from a haunted house atop a hill. There seems to be some truth to the story though, because while it’s being told another child is beaten to death in the woods!

My guess about Elle seems to be right on track – once we’re back from the opening credits we discover that Elle, instead of going to therapy, is on the run! Yup, we’re going to have divergent storylines this week, with Greg hunting Elle while Mandy and the team track down the killer.

He’s something of an unusual killer, it seems. Not only were the children not molested, but now the killer has murdered both boys and girls! So who could it possibly be?

There’s kind of an elephant in this room for the whole conversation, where an obvious solution is just sitting there, but no one mentions it. Which is kind of funny, since it’s generally the first place they go in any other situation: serial killers generally kill within their own general demographic group. It’s by no means a hard and fast rule, but the show has mentioned, time and again, that if you’ve got white victims, look for a white killer, black victims, a black killer. It’s not a magic solution, but it’s definitely a useful avenue of investigation.

Yet no one even considers the possibility that a child could be the killer – despite the fact that the only link between the victims is their young age, they weren’t raped so it wasn’t a child molester who didn’t want to get caught, and it’s easy for children to get close to other children without drawing attention to themselves.

So why wouldn’t this completely valid line of reasoning come up in the conversation? I can only assume that they want it to be a surprise later on when a kid turns out to be the killer.

Of course, in order to generate this surprise twist, the show must make the characters look incompetant. Luckily that’s not something the producers have a problem doing.

The teams visit the crime scenes, and then give lectures to the parents and children of the town. They warn the kids to stay in groups of at least 2, and the mother of one of the dead kids mentions that a hat was stolen from the corpse – a potential clue for later, perhaps?

A little later on the kids from the beginning are daring one of their number to ring the old man’s doorbell and then run away. But lurking in the window is…

Well, obviously not the killer, because he’s tall, and not a child. But it’s still meant to be creepy. Because we’re supposed to seriously think that a show like this would actually have the killer turn out to be a mysterious old man who lives in a haunted house. He almost gets up to the door to rung it, but then someone grabs him from behind… could it be the killer? We don’t know, because we then cut to commercial.

Back at the sheriff’s office, the school guidance counsellor warns his son not to go wandering off on alone, then goes to talk to Mandy. I’m guessing this kid has to be the killer, since he serves no purpose to the plot, yet has a line.

Also, the media seems to hate red-headed children for some reason:

I could be wrong, but you’ve got to admit that’s a pretty compelling set of arguments.

A woman shows up, announcing that her son has disappeared – could he be the one that was being dared to run up to the house? Maybe, I’m not sure what that kid’s name was. The little brother confirms that he was the kid we’d seen, and the team rushes up to the haunted house to check if a boogeyman lives there.

We cut away to a scene of Elle visiting her father’s grave, which leads to some awkwardly dialogue where she tries to explain her justification, without ever actually confessing to anything. This is one of the most awkward character exits I’ve ever seen.

The team doesn’t arrive at the haunted house until well after dark, and while they turn up no boogeymen, they do manage to find the kid they’re looking for, hiding in a shed. He claims that he wasn’t grabbed from behind, but rather touched by a swinging tree branch. They do manage to find the missing childrens’ possessions in the house, confirming their belief that the old man must be the killer. But then the old man’s long-dead corpse shows up, which means someone else must have been squatting in the house and using it as a base of murder operations!

They search the house for evidence of who the killer might be, but don’t actually bother fingerprinting it or anything. The big clue they discover is a wealth of meals-on-wheels trays, which have been consumed entirely, save for the creamed spinach, which was sealed in its container with duct tape.

Before the investigation can continue, it’s time for some character stuff! Remember how I was criticizing their inability to notice Elle’s declining mental state, and their stupidity for putting her in a stressful quasi-undercover position? Well it turns out that Reid didn’t mention the fact that she was getting drunk one night in Ohio while everyone else was working – either to the team at the time or the FBI internal investigation of the shooting.

So he’s just flat-out terrible at all parts of his job.

Also, there’s a jerking us around story where JJ claims that she was afraid of the woods because she’d lived through a Friday the 13th type of situation. Of course it’s a lie, and designed to waste our time.

Finally some evidence turns up – there’s two sets of fingerprints on the food trays, the guidance counsellor, and a mysterious child.

Yup, the red-head did it.

Christ, this is a questionable show most of the time.

Also they don’t find it particularly strange that one child’s fingerprints were found on all the trays, and assume that they belong to one of the victims. Except there’s no reason that one of the victims’ fingerprints would be on all of the food, since the killings largely happened before the food arrived.

For a moment they seem to have all the evidence they need against the guidance counsellor, between his fingerprints and the murder victim’s hat they find in his backpack. They’re so certain that he’s the killer that even after they discover the fingerprints on the trays belong to another child they just assume it’s a fourth victim. Of course, there’s no physical evidence that any of the other victims were in the house, so why he would have broken his pattern is a good question.

Searching the guidance counsellor’s home turns up more dairy products that have been sealed with duct tape. Mandy decides to put the guidance counsellor to the test by asking him if he wants cream in his milk! He does! Which means that the son was the one who couldn’t eat the creamed spinach. This leads Mandy to assume that the kid must be the killer, which the dad confirms right away.

With the plot wrapping up it’s time to add a ticking clock to the proceedings, in the form of a little girl that the red-headed kid abducts from a bus stop and tries to kill with a bat.

Of course, they’re not going to show us a girl getting killed, let alone popular child actor Elle Fanning, so naturally the team gets there in the nick of time. The mechanics of the rescue aren’t interesting, so let’s skip over them, right after taking a look at the ‘let’s wrap up the plot in a single line’ cheat that Derek busts out just before the rescue.

As everyone’s getting out of the car, Derek says “You know, after his mom left Jeffrey probably resented the fact that his dad spends more time at work with other kids than with his own.” Mandy follows up with a “Took out that rage on any kid who he viewed as having what he didn’t.”

That’s all the motivation we’ll get. The wild guesses of people who have been completely wrong about everything right up until now. They overlook the fact that the mother only left six months ago, which isn’t a lot of time for psychopathic rage to build up. More importantly they don’t explain away the child’s complete lack of empathy, which doesn’t just go away once you decide to start murdering people. No, the only way to get a child who loves murder as much as the red-headed kid is early childhood abuse or neglect, and you’ll need to continue the violent abuse through formative years if you want to produce the kind of brutal rage this kid evidences.

Oh, and Elle quits her job, and leaves the show without confessing. Will she return as a vigilante murderer in a later episode? I’m guessing no.

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

Profiling in no way entered into the solving of this crime. All of their theories were completely wrong, and they never even suggested the most obvious ‘demographic profiling’ solution.

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

Yeah, it was.

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

1/10 - Well god-damn but this was a terribly-written episode, wasn’t it? Let’s take a moment to look at just how stupid almost everything about it was.

The mystery of the episode revolved around the possibility that a creepy old man was the killer, only to have it turn out to be a creepy kid instead. But let’s look at what brought them to the house in the first place – children’s stories about the cannibal hermit who lives there. That’s it. No evidence, no suspicions, just children’s stories, and the fact that a kid had disappeared there while knocking on the door and running away. Obviously all of that turns out to be meaningless, and it should have been a dead end.

But it isn’t. Why? Because, in an amazing coincidence the killer has been using that house as a hideout!

Wait, what?

An 8-year-old has been using it as a hideout? Why and how?

Now, let’s give them the fact that the dad figured out the old man was dead because he’s the one who delivers meals-on-wheels up to the house. And for some reason he didn’t inform the authorities, but did tell his son about it. Why was the son going up there? Why was the father letting him, and not just permitting it, but encouraging it, by continuing to bring his son the old man’s meals on wheels?

Let’s not forget, the son wasn’t just grabbing the meals on wheels and eating them unbeknownst to his father-

The dad was wrapping the spinach in duct tape so that the son wouldn’t accidentally eat any. Just like he did with his dairy products at home:

Speaking of, for a house of two people, one of whom is deathly allergic to dairy products, those are an awful lot of dairy products to keep around. Does he really need yogurt, cream, milk, and cream cheese?

Overlooking the fact that, since he was the one bringing the food he could have just tossed the spinach on the way, rather than leaving it in the package, I’ve got to ask, why was the dad bringing his son food at all? And when was the son eating it?

So the son leaves for school in the morning, goes to school for six hours, then, what? He goes up to a creepy house in the middle of nowhere and hangs out until his dad brings him some dinner, and then they come home?

Why was his dad allowing this? It’s not like they don’t have a home of their own that they can go to.

Honestly, it seems like the only reason for them to be squatting in the house was so that they could leave clues pointing to them as the guilty parties – clues that would only be found if the cops completely randomly decided to search a house that had no connection to the case…

You know, this might be the worst-written episode of Criminal Minds yet.

Except for that time a guy was hiding in a car trunk in an empty parking lot and the team didn’t bother searching for him at all. I guess that was a little worse. But only a little.

Also, who was looming in the window in this shot?

There was no car in the driveway, so it couldn’t have been the guidance counsellor, could it? Especially when, in the very next scene-

He’s in the police station with his son?

Wow, I hate this episode.


Anonymous said...

Not to totally pour on your hate parade, but you either didn't watch the episode closely or made a lot of silly assumptions up out of thin air.

The guidance counsellor/father didn't know his son was up there and didn't know the old man was dead. The boy-killer was the one wrapping the spinach up in duct tape (something his father taught him to do but didn't do for him, in this case).

As far as the agent characters in the episode can tell, actually, the boy simply stumbled on the old man's corpse, but he seems to have been at loose ends since the departure of his mother and therefore just spent his days up in the house without his father knowing or noticing. Presumably, he'd use the delivery of the meal as his signal to start heading home or something like that.

As for the fact that his mother only leaving a few months before not being enough time to build up a homicidal rage: you're likely correct, but the kids seemed to be a psychopath and therefore anything could have been a trigger and then it would just be the time until he realized that killing was worthwhile, rather than actually being a matter of getting "mad" enough to kill, like with "normal" people.

Vardulon said...

I watched the episode to check, and there's actually no textual support for either my theory or yours. Mandy suggests that the kid wrapped the spinach, but we never get any confirmation on it - and Mandy's wrong a lot.

More importantly, though, I was led to my conclusion about the father providing the meals because of a basic fact about the way food delivery to shut-ins works - you'd never just leave food lying around. This isn't a question of theft or spoilage, either, one of the more depressing aspects of being a 'meals on wheels' worker is that, as the only point of contact with the outside world, they're often the ones who discover that elderly shut-ins have died. If someone doesn't answer the door to receive the food, then the assumption is made that there's been a medical emergency, and they have to to call for help.

Anonymous said...

this is hilarious. the show doesn't include inter-character dialogue to 'waste time'. it's a tv show it's meant to be enjoyable. Also i love how you're analysing their actual ability as profilers. Profiling is 99% bullshit. The statistics released by the FBI on their success rate is really biased and most profiles are completely wrong, humans just aren't as predictable as we''d like them to be and there is not as much information available as there is in these shows. You're ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I like Criminal Minds but I kinda agree, some of the things in this episode were kinda stupid