Criminal Minds 209: The Last Word

If the beginning of this episode of Criminal Minds is to be believed, some people are just too stupid to live. A family is out picnicking in the park, and while the wife is alone at the table for a moment a mysterious man runs out of the words and announces that his daughter has disappeared. So what does the woman do? Does she yell and run to the crowd of people fifty feet away, hoping to gather a large group of people that can quickly locate this missing child?

Nope, she follows a stranger into the woods.

I’m not saying she deserved to get murdered and then have her corpse raped by the fake Green River Killer, but come on. There’s a bare minimum of personal safety that you have to maintain to deserve being taken seriously as a sentient human being, and she just performed the serial killer equivalent of walking blindfolded out into traffic.

Later that night a prostitute is woken up by her son – once she realizes what time it is she races out the door to get to work. Only to wind up gunned down my a mysterious toque-wearing figure!

Are the two killers the same man? Probably not, but I guess we’ll find out after the opening credits!

There’s some drama going on back at the base, as Andy’s friend from Andy Richter Controls the Universe walks into Greg’s office, announcing that she’s joining the team. Her name is Emily, BTW. Greg’s having none of it, though, because no one consulted him or Mandy about replacing Elle on the team.

Of course, given that she’s a recognizable actress, she’s a new cast member.

Yup, here’s the new opening credits group shot.

I’m not saying that someone felt that Elle was utterly replaceable, but take a look at the opening credits group shot from the previous two episodes.

And now one episode before ...

So yeah, it wasn’t exactly a struggle to segue her out or anything. I wonder why JJ was the only one who took the opportunity of the rejiggered opening credits to get a new cut-out in there?

Then they start the discussion of the two serial killer cases – it seems that the ‘Mill Creek Killer’ has been getting a lot of attention because he kills middle class white women in a stagey fashion, while the ‘Hollow Man’ has been getting almost none because he shoots prostitutes in alleys and doesn’t care what race they are. This lack of attention seems to be annoying the Hollow Man, and he’s started sending letters to the press, hoping to start the clock on his fifteen minutes.

That’s right, it’s about two competing serial killers. Preposterous? Yes. But it worked in Kiss the Girls, right? Okay, so not that well…

One serial killer shoots hookers, the other bludgeons professional women – can it be a coincidence that they’re working at the same time in the same city? The answer, of course, is yes. It’s not a multiple personality thing at all, because Fake Green River is played by known actor Jason O’Mara, from the terrible Life on Mars remake, and though we didn’t see toque-guy’s face that well, it clearly wasn’t him.

After a brief visit with the latest victim’s husband, the show cuts to a scene of FGR visiting his latest victim’s corpse, though they mercifully cut away before the molesting starts. Then it’s time to visit the hooker’s family, so as to better make the episode’s heavy-handed theme about the two classes of people living in the same city. The point is made again at the police station, where the FGR case has six boxes of files, while the Hollow Man has just a slim folder.

Then JJ has a conversation with the reporter who’s been receiving the letters, and encourages him to not write about Hollow Man, hoping that this will enrage him into coming forward. And enrage him it does – leading to him gunning down two whores in broad daylight. He manages to get away with it, though, because there was no one else in his alley. We learn a vital fact about him, though – that he’s a cab driver!

Oh, and also they find FGR’s latest victim, and figure out that he returns to molest the corpse. Hilariously Mandy solemnly announces that ‘next time, we’ll be waiting for him’. Which is a nice theory and all, but what are the odds that they’ll find the another victim, deep in the woods, before he comes back for it?

Now it’s time for the ubiquitous profiling scene, in which the characters outline various personality traits they think the killers will have. The Hollow Man will have a menial job, FGR will be handsome because he gets women to follow him – despite a fun detour into graphology, there’s no real value to the scene, so let’s move on to-

Yet another victim! Because, like all Criminal Minds serial killers, FGR does not have a day job, and kills 3-4 people per week.

Out in the woods FGR is stopped by a sheriff, but he’s already disposed of the body, so no evidence is discovered. For some reason the sheriffs aren’t taking down the license plate of everyone they stop on the mountain roads that day, so an easy clue is lost forever.

The team guesses that FGR must know the schedule of the park rangers, to better ensure that no one will find the body before he returns to it – they search that area and, miraculously, come across the corpse. Mandy’s plan goes into effect, and they hide in the woods and wait. But when someone arrives to find the corpse, it’s not FGR, but rather the reporter!

Naturally we know he’s not the killer, because we’ve seen FGR already, but he’s got a big clue to offer – Hollow Man sent a letter telling where the body was! The press has blown their stakeout, and they’re left with a puzzle - how could one killer know where the other killer had dumped a body!

Well, they’re obviously in contact. I mean duh.

Out on the street FGR tries to abduct a woman on a well-traveled street in broad daylight. She fights him off and yells for help, and he goes running away. The theory is that he’s breaking down because he wasn’t able to molest that last corpse, and now they’ve got a sketch of what he looks like!

Based on the assumption that the paper that the Hollow Man left when he shot the two women was significant, other than the headline promoting another killer’s work over his own, of course, Reid digs through the papers until he finds mysterious lines in the classified section. He knows that they’re from serial killers to serial killers because the pseudonyms used are from Catcher in the Rye, a book that only crazed sociopaths enjoy. That’s their take, not mine. Although I’m not a fan of the novel.

In the messages back and forth they find a reference to the body dump that Hollow Man tipped off the press to – but there’s a problem, as it’s too oblique to have been useful. He named an area of park and the name of a trail, but there’s no way the killer would have left the body actually on the trail, lest it be discovered by random hikers. Logic dictates that he must have dragged the body to a point easily accessible from the trail – but if that’s the case, how could the reporter have found it? Hollow Man didn’t know where it was.

They come up with a daring plan: make a fake letter to the FGR, claiming that the Hollow Man has left a body for him. This leads to a ridiculous scene of them painting up a policewoman and burying her under some leaves.

Couldn’t they just get a corpse from the morgue? Perhaps the corpse of the last victim? Or even a dummy? Hell, a pile of pillows under the leaves would be as useful as anything as a real person.

We cut immediately to FGR arriving at the scene of the body dump…

Wait, hold on for a second. They put the ad in the paper to make into the next day’s morning edition, and are assuming that FGR is going to read it and immediately go looking for the body. Let’s set aside the fact that they can’t know that he doesn’t have a job or a place to be that day, and move on to the question of how he could possibly find the body.

While FGR’s message to Hollow mentioned a specific area and trail name, the team’s message to FGR contained only an oblique reference to ‘Harm’s Way’, which they’re hoping he’ll interpret as a direction to go to the “Harms Wood” area of the nearby national park.

Now here’s the problem. This is Harms Wood:

Look, I’m well aware that there’s no scale on the map, but any way you slice it that’s a really big area of land – there’s at least six different trails running through it. And all that FGR knows is that somewhere in that expanse there’s a corpse.

How on earth could he ever manage to find the thing? And within a reasonable amount of time for that woman to be lying there?

Of course, he does, and the team immediately pounces on the guy as he’s starting to strip. Naturally he claims he’s not the killer, but the fact that he was taking out a tube of lipstick to apply to the corpse when he was tackled means he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Also he molests the corpses, so there’s got to be some DNA.

Wait, what’s that? Greg said they don’t have any evidence? Right – everyone’s incompetent. So it’s up to Mandy to Cracker him into a confession.

Which Mandy has failed to do every time he’s attempted it. So I’m sure this is going to go well.

They also don’t know who he is – despite the fact that his van must have been somewhere nearby.

During the conversation FGR proves not to require any cracking at all – he’s all too happy to talk about the crimes and the Hollow Man in hypothetical terms. And then when confronted with the threat of being identified as a necrophiliac he immediately confesses.

Wait, what? You know, if there character had been identified at all, given even a rudimentary personality, maybe I’d believe he had a public image to protect – Ted Bundy freely admitted to molesting corpses, after all. Next to being a serial killer necrophilia isn’t such a big deal.

Now it’s time to wrap things up by drawing out Hollow Man. JJ gives a press conference announcing that the police now believe that the shootings were all isolated incidents, and that the last two were probably a copycat.

Huh? How can you copycat an isolated incident – and the fact that it was two victims at once, in a good part of town, in broad daylight, means that it wasn’t similar to the other shootings at all.

Let’s pause for a moment and give the writers of that line a hand.

Still, the press conference makes its point, and Hollow Man walks into police headquarters and tries to shoot FGR. You may be wondering how he managed to get a gun into the building. Well, it turns out that all you have to do is wait for a guard to start wanding you after setting off a metal detector, and you can just knee him in the face, gaining ample time to pull a gun and cow the rest of the agents, who seemingly weren’t even aware that the alarm had gone off.

Then it’s time for the happy ending, in which the reporter has put together a cover story about all the dead whores. Heartwarming, right?

Oh, and Emily is still hanging out at the office, waiting to join the team. It seems she really loves profiling, and already started on a new case! Greg’s nervous about the idea, but no matter how resolute he may be, even he can’t fight the opening credits.

The Fake Green River Killer

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

Dear lord, no. He was caught because he gave another serial killer (largely an untrustworthy group of people) the information necessary to catch him.

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

There is no police technique more conventional than getting one criminal to rat another one out, so I’m going with this was a completely run-of-the-mill solve.

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

1/10 – This is yet another case where, had the team not shown up, things would have shaken out largely the same way.

The Hollow Man

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

Actually, yes! For the first time this season the team actually accomplished something. Sweet, right? Based on an analysis of the letter that the Hollow Man mailed they were able to determine that he was so desperate for attention that depriving it of him would draw him out. It didn’t just draw him out, rather preposterously it actually made him turn himself in to the cops! Which is kind of a stretch, come to think of it…

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

There was a pretty good shot, actually. He’d started shooting people in broad daylight, and it was just good luck keeping him out there at that point. Eventually someone would have notcied a cabby shooting a whore, and that would have been it.

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

5/10 – It was certainly a psychology-intensive solve, but based on just how far-fetched the idea of a serial killer turning himself in is, I’ve got to chop some points off. Because, let’s face it, if he hadn’t turned himself in, they’d have had no idea how to find the guy.

Criminal Minds FactCheck!

As I mentioned in the review the ‘Mill Creek Killer’ was a stand-in for the real Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway. In fact, the killer seems to have been split into two characters for the purposes of this episode, one with Ridgeway’s methods, and another with his targets.

The whole ‘lying in wait’ thing is based on a famous conversation that Ted Bundy had with investigators while he was assisting on the case. He announced that the killer would likely return to the bodies to molest them later on, and a good way to catch him would be, if they found a fresh body, to set up surveilance on it until he returned. This proved to be a no-go, since A: they never found a body that fresh, and B: it was kind of a crazy idea.

So, was profiling useful in catching the real Green River Killer? Sadly, no. But it’s one of my favorite stories of serial killer catching, so let’s quickly go over it.

Gary’s MO was to have a prostitute get into his car, where they’d be put at ease by a picture of his son and the small toys left lying around. Then he would drive them somewhere isolated and strangle them.

One of the prostitutes he picked up had a boyfriend/pimp watching out for her, and when he saw her struggling in the front seat of the car as they pulled away, he’d tried to follow the truck, but couldn’t manage it. While the boyfriend didn’t get the truck’s license plate, he was relatively certain that he’d be able to identify it if he saw it again.

So the boyfriend/pimp enlisted the help of his girlfriend’s father, and together they drove around the suburbs until they found it. Then they called the police, putting Ridgeway on the authorities’ radar.

Sadly there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him (a pimp’s word isn’t worth much in court, apparently), and when he passed a polygraph Gary went to the bottom of the list of suspects. He wasn’t so low that they didn’t take DNA samples in the late 80s, just so low that they didn’t get around to testing them until 2001. When the police found a match Gary was arrested days later, and he quickly confessed to all the murders.

Ridgeway was one of the most heavily-profiled killers in history, and the investigators’ conversations with Ted Bundy about catching him were groundbreaking examples of employing the examining the mind of one serial killer to better understand another (they would also inspire the plot of ‘Silence of the Lambs’) – and yet despite all of this, Ridgeway was caught in the simplest manner possible – someone saw him do it. It just took the cops 18 years before they were able to prove it.

One final note on the case – Ridgeway actually did kill with a nearly fiction-level frequency, murdering up to four women a month during his busy periods, occasionally killing two women in the same week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the scene where Reid discovers that the two killers are communicating via the Personal Ads, the first entry they show us is: "DEAR HOLDEN, They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. Since you were almost in harms [sic] way, I thought I'd share some art. Should make you feel better. Sunny".

Three or four minutes later, Reid says the exact same words, which apparently are the ones he used to fool the Mill Creek Killer into showing up and getting caught. You'd think he'd notice getting the same message twice...