Criminal Minds 210: Lessons Learned

It’s finally time for Criminal Minds to tacky the thorny issue of Islamic-themed terrorism! A DEA SWAT team breaks into a suspected drug lab, and finds instead a bomb-making hideout! The terrorists escape, but the bomb is scary enough to force Greg to get out of bed at 6AM – and he’s going to have to miss his new son’s portrait being taken the next day, too!

It’s rough being Greg.

Back at HQ, it seems that Emily’s now officially on the team. Good for her! And it turns out she can read Arabic, and translates their message into English and breaks their relatively simple code: There’s going to be an attack in two days. Then it’s time for some PC ass-covering – when someone announces that the terrorist mastermind calls himself ‘Soldier of God’, and it’s commented that Al Qaeda believes that they’re engaged in a holy war, Reid points out that the words ‘Holy’ and ‘War’ never appear together in the Koran.

As if that means something.

You know, the word ‘Crusade’ isn’t in the bible either. So?

Luckily the terrorist mastermind is already in Gitmo, so they’re going to have to profile some answers to him if they want to save the day!

Then, right before the credits, Mandy mentions something odd – he says that if they don’t stop it, this could be the first terrorist attack in America since 9/11.

Uh… the Anthrax attacks? The Beltway Snipers? That guy who was blowing up army recruiting centers without killing anyone? Has he not been paying attention?

Watching the credits, I just noticed that Greg’s wife is played by Gay Jack’s sister from Dawson’s Creek. Doesn’t mean anything, but huh.

Mandy takes Emily and Reid with him down to Cuba, hoping they can serve as an effective investigating trio. Emily’s supposed to be important because she speaks fluent Arabic, but somehow I doubt the show’s going to make its audience watch people speaking a foreign language for long, and quickly move into having the terrorist mastermind speaking English.

When the team arrives in Cuba the Terrorist has already been beaten and humiliated by the interrogators-

Be thankful that this is a CBS show. On cable (and in real life), he’d be naked. An FBI interrogator briefs them on just how badass this terrorist is – not only has he not cracked, but two weeks earlier he’d heard that another prisoner was talking to the FBI, so the terrorist managed to talk to him for three minutes in the shower line, and the guy wound up killing himself that night!

Which makes him, I guess, the Hannibal Lecter of terrorists? Because that’s what they were ripping off?

More importantly, though, how did he get near another prisoner, or find out that someone was giving info? They specifically referred to him as being a ‘Ghost Prisoner’ at Gitmo, meaning that his presence there is top secret, and won’t appear on official prisoner manifests. Wouldn’t that necessitate him also being kept in complete isolation?

Mandy instructs the FBI supervisor to have the CIA rough up the terrorist a little, so that he can rush in and save the day, and also provide the terrorist with clothes. Not sure how he’ll put them on while wearing shackles, though. Mandy’s plan is simple – demonstrate that he’s a completely different kind of interrogator, hoping that it will lead to him opening up.

Yeah, remember how I guessed they wouldn’t wait long before having him speak English? I was overly optimistic. He didn’t speak anything but English from the moment he opened his mouth.

The other half of the team searches the bomb house thoroughly, and finds documentation suggesting that they were planning to weaponize Anthrax! This leads Reid to point out that the amount of Anthrax sent to Tom Daschle’s office could have killed millions had it been properly distributed.

Wait, Reid, if you remembered the Anthrax attack, why didn’t you correct Mandy back at the end of the teaser?

Emily proves her worth, kind of, by recognizing Terrorist’s accent as being from Egypt. You’d think one of the military or CIA translators would have known that already, but let’s move on. Jason tries to play the sympathy card by telling the Terrorist that the sun’s about to set, and allowing him to pray.

Meanwhile JJ and Garcia are illegally eavesdropping on all audio communications, and catch some chatter about a bomb being hidden at a construction site in Virgina. The message of this scene? That private communications are passe. What we need is a government who will listen to everything we say all the time so that they can decide what’s good or bad for us, and shoot people accordingly.

Then it’s back to Cuba, where Mandy finally gets around to the red-hot theological debate that we’ve been waiting for! The terrorist proves to be a kind of a simplistic straw man – he seriously seems to want people to convert to Islam all over the word. As if Al Qaeda didn’t have actual, realistic goals that it wanted to achieve.

Then he mentions that he was radicalized by a bombing attack on a bazaar when he was young. Which I’d imagine would piss someone off. I can’t say for sure – I’m from a country where there are extremely few bombings. Maybe you get used to it after a while?

Back in the USA the DEA team raids the construction yard. Hold on, why is the DEA still involved in this? They now know that it has nothing to do with drugs. Shouldn’t this be an FBI SWAT team? Or did they just not want to hire any more actors? If that’s the case, why were they a DEA SWAT team in the first place?

Anyhoo, the place is empty, so Mandy knows he has no cards to play, and he gives the terrorist the information to see how he reacts. When the information relaxes the Terrorist, Mandy realizes it must be a trap, and tells Greg and the rest to get out of there as quickly as possible before this happens:

Only one person ends up being killed by the blast, and no one whose name we knew – lucky it was one of those booby traps set to go off a full six minutes after people broke into the building, huh.

Wait, that doesn’t make any sense…

Since the chatter was a trap, that means they don’t have any actual clues, and profiling the terrorist has proven more important than ever! Mandy appeals to his humanity, using the family of the dead agent as pawns. The Terrorist responds that no Americans wept for his son’s death. Which is a good point, actually…

With the admission that his son was killed, they now know that his son was killed by a bomb, they’re able to reveal the terrorist’s true identity – he’s an Egyptian cleric who moved to America to recruit terrorists from prisons! Wait… so they knew this guy both as a trouble-making cleric, and as an anonymous terrorist, but they never put the two together, even with two months of having him in custody and not knowing his name? Don’t they have facial recognition software for that kind of thing at the CIA? Especially when you consider that he was a famous enough preacher that the two CIA goons immediately knew who they were talking about the second his real name came up.

The new CIA/FBI partnership pulls up some useful information – they discover some Anthrax was stolen from a Dutch lab earlier that week, and a watchlisted Muslim flew from there just four days earlier! They rush to the guy’s house and discover that five guys have been shot to death in one of the rooms, and that the anthrax bombs have already been completed!

Wait, why did they kill half their cell? Five dollars says we’ll never find out.

More importantly, this gives them the ticking clock the story needs – it’s only nine hours until moon rise! Why is that significant? The coded message said to do the attack at the next ‘Crescent’, which of course means that they’d actually wait until nightfall to carry out their attacks, and not just to attack on the day when that moon happens, right?

Because it makes total sense for them to hold the attack after dark, when most people are safe at home, and not in the middle of the day, when they’re milling about in public areas.

Mandy brings Reid in for a last-ditch attempt to get some information about the coming attack. It’s after sunset, and they’re basically begging for him to help. But then it’s too late! Mandy gets a call on his earphone, saying the attack has happened! They open the door, and a news story in the background plays a generic news story, while Mandy accuses the terrorist of being evil while giving no specifics about the attack!

God, I can’t believe they’re actually doing this. Are we really supposed to buy that the Terrorist is this stupid? That he’d immediately start gloating without any proof that his attack was successful?

Yeah, he is. The terrorist gloats about his plan to send a bomb to the grand opening of a shopping center. Which is apparently happening after sunset?

Making things worse? That’s the mall that Greg’s wife is taking their son to in order to get the pictures taken! Hold on, who goes with their newborn to get their picture taken at the grand opening of a mall? Wouldn’t the crowds be absolutely ridiculous?

Anyhoo the FBI gets there in time and shoots all the remaining terrorists, leaving us forever wondering why they killed five members of their gang. Also, in a cute bit of ‘Big Brotherism’ we discover in the next scene that they covered up the attack and told people that it was just an attempted robbery.

There are no more scenes with the Terrorist to wrap up his story, just a bit with Mandy explaining that the Terrorist had wanted the FBI down in Gitmo to confirm that the plan had worked, and that’s why he’d let them track his cell phone. But wait, the cell phone was only tracked because the DEA randomly raided what they thought was a drug house, which turned out to be a bomb lab. If they hadn’t done that, the plan would have gone on without a hitch!

Are we supposed to believe the Terrorists called the cops on themselves, just so their leader could have a chance to gloat? They couldn’t be that stupid, could they?

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

Sort of – Mandy’s guessing that the Terrorist wanted him down there is what led him to pull the con game that saved the day, which kind of counts as profiling… Of course, he utterly failed at Crackering the suspect, so it’s a pretty much a wash.

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

Actually, maybe yes – it seems like no one took that whole ‘loose anthrax’ very seriously, and a watchlist guy flying from the country where it had happened the next day? I’ve got to think someone, somewhere would have been on top of that.

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

3/10 – I’d have scored this higher, had Mandy’s plan not been entirely dependant on the incredibly dedicated and patient Terrorist revealing himself to be a vain idiot.

You know, I just realized that Emily did absolutely nothing in Cuba. She recognized his accent (which, again, anyone familiar with accents should have been able to do, just like people fluent in English can tell a Texan from a Scot from a Newfie), and then offered no other aid. Not a great first couple of days on the job for her, actually.


andthusIam said...

I googled this episode as soon as I saw it was to do with Islamic terrorism and came across this blog. very interesting. I'll be checking out any other entries related to Criminal Minds.

Bugmenot said...

In the Islamic calendar, the day begins with the sunset. Maybe the storywriters confused sunset with moonrise?

Anonymous said...

Wait why do you keep calling Hotch greg?

Anonymous said...

Well done, interesting, thoughtful. Told me the story (I fell asleep during after a hard 18 hour day) and all the holes I love to find. Thanks

Unknown said...

Because he played Greg on Dharma and Greg

Unknown said...

I just discovered your...work?...today while rebinging criminal minds and im in love. I finally have a window to see what its like to be in my husbands head while he watches this "crap" with me