26.3.10

Criminal Minds 212: Profiler, Profiled

Like the unabomber episode before it, this one opens with a bang! Although it’s much less impressive. It’s just Reid impressing the girls in the office by making a simple rocket. How simple? It involves putting baking soda and vinegar in a plastic film case, then snapping it shut and turning it upside down.

You may remember this ‘experiment’ from the first grade. Or episodes of Mr. Wizard aimed at the under-5 set. Yet it’s portrayed as something neat or weird that Reid is able to do.

I mean, jeez, it’s not like this is even a weird fun trick, like the match in the upturned glass creating a vacuum. It’s just baking soda and vinegar, like everyone’s paper mache volcanoes.

Is there anything more ridiculous than the way ‘smart’ people are depicted by television?

Anyhoo, let’s get to the actual story. Derek’s in Chicago for his mother’s birthday, and he’s both being followed by someone with a camera and menaced by gangsters.

It’s also mysterious because he’s standing over someone’s grave in that shot. But whose grave, and why? And who does he have to see at the local youth center? One of the kids, or the hardbitten coach? Derek breaks up a fight in the street between a couple of kids, who’ve heard of him because of his time playing football at that selfsame youth centre. Yup, he’s a local hero, right up until the cops show up to arrest him for the murder of one of the fighting kids?

Is Derek a murderer? Does his love of murder come from the fact that he and his sisters were adopted by white people? I guess we’ll find out after the opening credits!

Okay, spoiler alert – Derek didn’t do it. Of course, I haven’t seen the end of the episode yet, but that’s how sure I am that they’re not taking this show to a dark place. I’m offering a spoiler alert for something I don’t know about.

At the police station it turns out that a local white cop has a Javert-style relationship with Derek – he’s been harassing the guy for his whole life, and is now sure that he’s a serial killer! Why? Because when Derek was younger he raised money for the burial of a random kid who turned up dead (that’s the grave he was at). They assume that it’s due to guilt over his having murdered the guy. And what with him giving a ride home to the kid who wound up dead, they feel they’ve got enough to put Derek away for life.

You know what the sad part is? If Derek weren’t an FBI agent, and just a random black guy living in Chicago, that totally would be enough to have him put in jail for life.

Okay, now I’m depressed. Let’s move on.

The team shows up and start to bigfoot the local dicks, but don’t get into see Derek right away. Which gives racistcop enough time to reveal that two years ago there was another similar murder while Derek was in town. And you want to know the kicker? Racistcop only thought that Derek was the killer because he fit a profile of the killer that Mandy made for him!

This leads to a hilarious scene where characters point out that profiles are better used for the elimination of suspects, rather than the inclusion.

Yes. In the real world. And in the real world, profilers don’t leave the office. Your point being?

Derek tries to offer an explanation to Greg about why he looks so suspicious. He’d found the body when he was fifteen, and it freaked him out so much that he became obsessed with making sure that the kid got a decent burial, and was well-remembered.

This is actually a pretty hilarious series of scenes, in which the team tries to undercut the whole idea of profiling, while racistcop uses their own words to foil them. Derek is also made to look bad by the revelation that he had a history of getting into fights as a child before his record was expunged. Derek explains that it was just a childhood fight with some gangsters – one of them was Rodney, the gangster who’s been following him around!

Derek’s oddly suspicious about letting them help him – he recoils at the idea of them looking into his life, even though he’s clearly being framed for the crime. Mandy demands to know what Derek is hiding, but Derek insists that his secrets are more important than his freedom.

Wow, now those are the actions of a man who’s read the script to the end.

Reid and Emily swing by the mother’s house, and discover that Derek likes to hang out at the youth center because, after he witnessed his father getting shot, he was headed down a bad path until the tutorship of that local coach turned his life around by getting him into football. They head over to see the coach, but only find the other teen from the fight at the youth center. He clearly wants to talk to Derek about something important, but they don’t push it far enough to get any useful information out of him.

The coach turns up at the station, and the rest of the team find him oddly cold on the subject of Derek, considering their past history. He’s even the one that told the police that Derek drove the dead kid home! For once Mandy’s on top of the game, and notices that the coach fits the profile exactly – he was the right age when the murders started, he has access to children, and he constantly injects himself into the investigation.

Derek gets really pissed off at mention of the coach, which means there’s only one way the story can be going. But before they can Cracker him into revealing that he was molested, Greg leaves the interrogation room door open (accidentally?), and Derek makes a break for it, leading a great shot of him hiding in a ninja-like fashion.

Then Derek’s off to solve the problem himself, rather than just telling them who the killer is. Because that’s a plan less likely to wind up with you getting shot, right?

Derek meets teen 2 at the youth center, and commiserates with him about the fact that both of them were molested by the coach. In a surprisingly well-handled scene Derek convinces the kid that he’s not alone and to come forward, then goes to confront the coach. It’s motive time! It seems the coach new the dead kid was going to talk to Derek about the molestation, and he had to kill him to shut him up!

The whole thing is a great acting showcase for Derek, and he does a darn good job of it too. Even more conveniently the cops had snuck in behind the coach halfway through the confession, so there’s no reason not to cuff him and lead him away.

There’s a quick coda where they head to the graveyard after the teen has been buried, but disappointingly they weren’t able to get a name out of the coach for the other two mysterious dead kids.

Wait, come to think of it, they didn’t actually prove that he did it at all. Coach had a clear motive for killing that last kid (shutting him up), which raises the question of whether he’s actually a serial killer or not.

Kind of a big loose end to leave dangling at the end of that episode, come to think of it…

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

Actually, yes. By a pretty wide margin this has been the season’s best episode from a psychological standpoint. All the stuff about Derek’s internal conflict and coach’s serial molesting was well-written and acted, and they finally de-mystified profiling a little, even pointing out a few of its flaws.

Although I’m sure that will go away next episode.

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

Dear god, yes. At any point in this story Derek could have said ‘you think I killed someone? Actually there’s a pretty prolific child molester who knew all the victims. You might want to check him out.’ I know that his problems with dealing with his molestation kept him from facing up to this years ago, but once the murders started, it seems like he could have at least made an anonymous phone call or something.

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

8/10 – Good work, Criminal Minds, you finally delivered an episode where psychology was integral to solving things! I’m so proud of you. Hopefully next week’s episode builds on this platform!

4 comments:

Perpetual Beginner said...

I realize I'm coming late to this comment, but is there any reason within the show why you're saying that Derek and his sisters were adopted at all? I didn't see anything to indicate that the woman shown wasn't intended to be his birth mother.

Vardulon said...

Obviously you're right - there's no reason in the show to suspect adoption. I was attempting to make a humourous aside about the fact that, when you've got a white mother and a mixed-race child, shows generally go out of their way to show a picture of the absent father, so as to establish why the child looks the way they do. Because the episode lacked that shot, I thought it would be funny to assume that we're looking at adoption, since there's no hard evidence offered to the contrary.

I now realize that my point was so incredibly obtuse that there's no way it could have been clear. That'll teach me to write a review on Christmas Eve while watching Attack of the Clones!

Perpetual Beginner said...

Fair enough, it's not like my posts are picture perfect all the time. It's just something I pegged right away, because my mother's best friend is a woman with a black father and white mother from Chicago.

I enjoy your reviews, even though I seem to like Criminal Minds a whole lot more than you do.

Anonymous said...

I love your posts! Just started watching the re-runs whilst I'm off work and your reviews add much more depth to the program and mean I can watch them without wanting to shout my head off at the brilliant profilers :-)