Criminal Minds 216: Fear and Loathing

It’s a dark night in suburbia as a female teen sneaks out of her house, dressed to meet someone special. But before she can reach the appointed meeting place of her mystery man a stalker-y ex-boyfriend drives up, demanding to know who she’s sneaking out to be with. The question is answered immediately when another car pulls up at the curb. Stalker goes to question his ex’s new beau, and winds up getting shot for his troubles. The killer then tries to force the teen into his car, then winds up having to chase her into some nearby woods.

What have we learned about the killer from this encounter? A: He’s black – the intended victim (teen girl) was black, and serial killers tend to kill within their own ethnicity, and B: He’s a moron – seriously, who, when having his plan to escort a victim to a secondary location interrupted before anything suspicious has happened elects to kill the interruptor, rather than just driving away? He had no way of knowing he wasn’t being watched from across the street, or that a cop car wouldn’t drive up in that moment. When you’ve gone to the trouble of getting a victim to voluntarily come to meet you in the middle of the night, why suddenly expose yourself?

The team identifies the teen as members of a pattern – three dead black teens, each of whom had a swastika painted on their face after their brutal murders. The assumption? That it’s a killer racist out to make a point about black people moving into suburban Connecticut! Also, and I hope this will become important later, Reid is having flashbacks to his time being tortured by Van Der Beek.

Will his newfound addiction to heroin ruin the case? Find out after the opening credits!

While going over the case files on the plane they turn up a hate note that was dropped off at the latest victim’s house a few weeks earlier. Of course, the whole racial thing is clearly a red herring, so it can’t be important. Especially since we know the victim was dressed up to meet a date when she snuck out of her house.

The team finally figures this out based on an analysis of the crime scene (she was dressed to go out, he was dressed to stalk someone from a car), and a conversation with the note writer. The note writer drops a hint that the dead teen had recently become popular because she’d sung well in a talent show. Could that have a larger significance in the storyline? Of course it could. This isn’t the kind of show that gives characters depths that the plot doesn’t require.

That night the killer kidnaps another victim – yet another black teen girl. Meanwhile a local pastor fuels the flames of public hatred by blame the white establishment for ignoring the deaths of black teens.

A trip to the victims’ houses gives them a clue as to the connection between them. All of them loved to sing! The team is ready to give their profile – a black guy who uses his music industry connections to lure pretty young girls into his web of death! There’s one problem – the mayor doesn’t want to put out the information because of the charged racial climate! The detective in charge of the case (who’s also black) overrules him, though, and the public has been duly informed about the villain in their midst.

They get a few tips about suspicious cars in the vicinity of the latest victim’s house, so Derek and the detective drive out to the neighbourhood to look around. Wait, that’s two black guys in a dark cop car at night… oh, this can’t go well, can it? Especially not after Derek and the cop start talking about thorny racial issues.

Almost immediately they see a suspicious car drive by, and when they get out to look around the black cop winds up getting shot by a paranoid homeowner as he skulks around the back yard of a private residence.

I know this is supposed to be tragically ironic, but why weren’t they identifying themselves as law enforcement when they went looking for the criminal? And why wasn’t the detective wearing a bulletproof vest while chasing down a criminal that they know carries a gun and has no compunctions about using it? After the detective’s corpse has been loaded into an ambulance-

Hold on, that can’t be right…

No, that’s an ambulance. Huh. I guess in this town paramedics don’t have anything more important to do than haul around corpses. Must be a quiet place.

Anyhow, the homeowner is thrown in the back of a cop car, despite not really being at fault, and then Greg tries to comfort Derek over his screw-up.

Meanwhile yet another girl has disappeared – that’s three in a single week. Which has to be something like a record, doesn’t it?

The released profile has turned up a hit, though: a local girl remembers being approached by a creepy guy who claimed to recruit singers for a record label – but he couldn’t even produce a well-forged business card. It looks like the team is out of luck when she mentions that she didn’t keep the crude card, but then the twist arrives… she didn’t need to keep it, because she knows him!

Wait… if you knew the guy’s name, why wasn’t that the first thing you mentioned? Is this how conversations with the cops normally go when you’re ratting out a killer? Do you tell an elaborate story in the abstract before dropping the name right at the end? Wouldn’t that just piss the cops off?

Armed with a name they’re able to pick out the killer’s workplace, a local recording studio where he’s a security guard. It’s a terrifying race against time, but in the end the cops are able to get there before the killer has murdered his latest victim! Not before he’s drugged her though, and there’s a genuinely creepy Dahmer-esque sequence where the drugged victim goes stumbling out into the alley and is found by the cops, and then the killer almost manages to convince the police that he’s her cousin, trying to get her home after a night of underaged drinking.

The fictional story winds up much more happily than the true-life version, though: the team shows up in the alley and grabs the killer, saving the girl’s life.

After the really quick resolution of the serial killer storyline it’s time for a trip to the cop’s funeral. We never do learn what happened to the guy who shot him, though, which seems like a more important plot thread to tie up than ‘was he properly buried’. There is a nice opportunity for a character moment for Derek, whose own father was a cop killed in the line of duty. The whole ‘Reid is a drug addict’ storyline stutters along as well, with Derek trying to get him to open up, while the youngest member of the team refuses to admit that he’s got a problem.

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

Just a little – the assumption that a black man was the killer was based on profiling, and that certainly did help push them in the right direction.

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

It largely was. The key element here was that the killer was using a music-industry front as a way of approaching all of his victims, an assumption the team made after finding out what all the victims had in common. Of course, that’s something that the regular cops really ought to have been looking into to start with.

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

2/10 – I’ll count the racial thing, although it’s pretty borderline. The fact is that it’s not just serial crimes that follow the racial rule – simple ethnic community grouping makes it a truism that you’re most likely to be criminally victimized by a member of your own race.

Criminal Minds Fact Check!

Ever hear of Wayne Williams?

The producers of Criminal Minds certainly have. Between 1979-81 in Atlanta a large number of black children were killed in what would become known as the ‘Atlanta Child Murders’. Wayne Williams, an amateur DJ and musical talent scout, is widely believed to be the killer of most of the victims (at least 20), although he was convicted of just two murders, and both of those were adult males.

Williams was caught because the police had taken to staking out the local bridges and rivers after a couple of bodies had turned up in the water. After a splash was heard under a bridge one night the cops pulled Williams over as he drove away from the scene – they took down his information, as well as his (bogus) alibi, and when a body turned up in the river a few days later he was the prime suspect. Searches of his car and home turned up a wealth of physical evidence, and Williams had been seen with a number of the victims before their deaths. It was rather open-and-shut, actually.

The killer in this episode was clearly based on Williams, with two major changes. The first was the racism angle – while there was no overt racist iconography used in the actual Atlanta Child Murders, it’s theorized that Williams was not responsible for most of the crimes. It remains a real possibility that many of the murders were hate crimes committed by people affiliated with the KKK, and that Williams, an unrelated serial killer, served as a convenient scapegoat for as many as twenty killings.

The second, and far more interesting change from my point of view is that Wayne Williams was a homosexual sex criminal, something that Criminal Minds has yet to address. We’re halfway through the second season, and I’m just now realizing that gay killers have never once been mentioned. I wouldn’t have even noticed the oversight except that when Reid was recapping the famous anecdote about Dahmer talking his way out of a traffic ticket, he mentions that Dahmer went on to kill fifteen more ‘people’ as opposed to fifteen more ‘men’. Which is kind of odd, since these ‘giving the profile’ speeches have previously made reference to numbers ‘women’ being killed.

Is this something to do with the perceived prejudices of the American viewing audience? Are they happy to watch a show about twisted serial killers, as long as there’s nothing ‘gay’ about the murders? It would certainly explain why they reproduced Dahmer’s far less impressive feat of talking his way out of a ticket, rather than the time he convinced two cops to hand over the naked 14-year-old boy that had escaped while Dahmer was in the process of murdering him.

Of course, that could be less about decency, and more that they wanted to rip off the scene for this episode.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wait, how is the homeowner, whose family in no way fits the victimology and who chose to play vigilante rather than locking himself and his family in the house and calling the police when he saw a car/person who fit the description the police were looking for and who gleefully yelled 'I got em' honey!' after shooting someone, completely innocent here? He was clearly living some kind of Charles Bronson hero fantasy when he decided to go outside and bang away and since the cop he killed was no threat to him what so ever, he straight up murdered him.