Criminal Minds 301: Doubt

This season opens, in a bizarre departure for the series, with Mandy narrating a letter that he’s writing to the member of the team that he expects will swing by his cabin (from last season’s cliffhanger, remember?) to look for him. In a nutshell, he’s quitting profiling, and I’m not sure why the writers are being so oblique about who expects will read the letter – dramatically speaking it can only be his protégé Reid.

But anyhow, let’s move on to the actual episode, which is a flashback to the case that pushed Mandy over the edge: There’s been a series of murders on a campus! According to Mandy, the fact that someone is tasing and butchering women at a university reminds him of the lady friend of his that Frank murdered in the season ender – which seems like kind of a thin reason for quitting, if you ask me.

The first onscreen murder occurs when the team is inbound from the airport – a woman gets left behind by the campus escort shuttle from the library, and is freaked out by the prospect of walking back to the dorms. A mysterious figure sneaks up behind her, causing to spin, terrified, but then calm down a moment later, her face registering relief:

Why are the producers so bound and determined to kill the mystery right off? There’s only one possible person that this woman would be relieved to see in this situation: a campus security officer. (Or maybe, just maybe, a cop) So once a campus security officer who looks at all creepy has a line, that’s our killer. But we can’t be sure until after the opening credits!

The team arrives at the latest crime scene, and then something bizarre happens:

That’s JJ examining the scene and using what she notices to profile the killer. Um… she doesn’t do that. She’s their media liaison. She rarely goes to a crime scene, and never has any insight to offer. Now suddenly she’s talking about body positioning and theorizing about how comfortable the killer is in the area? Huh?

I can only offer two possible explanations for this bizarre turn of events: 1) Emily was sick that day of filming, and they had the other actress swoop in to take over for her, hoping no one would notice. Or 2) This was the first script back from hiatus, and the production team was so busy trying to work around Mandy’s unexpected departure that no one noticed that the wrong character name had been assigned to those three lines in the script.

In this case I almost think the second one is the more likely option – after all, the things the characters say on this show are so interchangable that, except for Reid, who prefaces everything he says with a piece of pointless serial killer trivia, in any given scene you could shuffle all of the character names and I doubt any of the actors would pick up on it, let alone the audience.

But hey, let’s move on to the story. JJ and Reid talk to the women in the victim’s dorm, explaining that some of them should be extra-careful, because the killer seems to be targeting women with brown hair! They also talk a little more in depth with two brown-haired women who knew the victim. Because they have no clues to offer, I can only assume that one of them will be the next to die.

They don’t have names or personalities… so I’m just going to say ‘green girl on left’.

Over at the morgue Emily interviews the coroner about how the victims all could have been subdued without being drugged, since none of them resisted their attacker. Do stun guns not leave a mark? I honestly have no idea, but you’d think there’d be some kind of small burn at the point of contact, either on the skin, clothes, or both, right?

Meanwhile the Dean is planning to shut down the school to protect her charges, but Mandy warns that if the killer works there, as they’re assuming, he’ll just turn up once the school inevitably reopens.

Which is a nice theory, except for the fact that Mandy has flat-out stated previous to this that they’re dealing with a spree killer, who’s out to get as many people as possible as he can before being caught. That kind of hyperviolent obsession doesn’t just go away because the killer’s obvious victim pool disappears. More likely he’d just venture out into the community, killing any brown-haired woman who seems vulnerable. Now it’s just possible that Mandy is lying here, and wants to keep the school open so that the victim pool will remain, and he can catch the suspect more easily. That’s kind of a stretch, though, because it suggests a level of darkness to the character that the show has never hinted at – and since this episode is supposed to be all about how Mandy doesn’t have the stomach to be a profiler any more, it’s doubtful that he’d be using the entire female population of the campus as bait for his trap.

That’s right, I said entire – while a killer may prefer killing brown-haired women, it’s just about the murdering in the end, and as the spree intensifies and the authorities draw close, he’ll kill anyone he can manage to.

While leaving the morgue Emily gets a call from the continuing storyline! The Assistant Director of the FBI drops her a line to remind her that she’s supposed to be finding dirt on Greg so that he can be kicked out of the Bureau. I’m still unclear as to what her problem with Greg is. Maybe we’ll find out this episode?

Oh, and it turns out I was wrong about them ‘ruining the mystery’. Turns out there was never supposed to be a mystery at all. Right after the scene where they announce campus is being slowly evacuated we get a shot of this guy holding open a door for a brown-haired girl, saying hello, and then leering after her.

There’s your killer, folks. Hopefully the twist will come soon, because it’s a little odd to announce him just ten minutes into the show.

The big profiling scene pops up, where they explain that he’s someone with access who hates brown-haired women. Finally they get around to the ‘taser’ clue, but not in any logical way. It’s actually the Dean of the university who suggests the possibility of tasing, because campus cops don’t carry guns. This is backed up by the arrival of a picture from the morgue seconds later:

Yikes. There was one of those on each of the victims and it’s only now that the possibility of tasing (and the suggestion that campus security harbours the killer) is coming up? What did they need the FBI for again?

They background check the various security officers, a move that will no doubt lead them directly to this guy:

Who’s so crazy that he does Taxi Driver-style poses while heavy metal plays on the soundtrack. We also get his (way too shallow) motivation for the crimes. His wife threw him out and got full custody of their child! Oh, and he was considered too crazy to become a police officer, so he’s just all kinds of the killer. The team tosses his apartment, and discovers that he’s built a shrine to his own murders. But will they be able to find him in time to keep him from killing his latest victim?

Amazingly, the answer is yes, even though we’re only seventeen minutes into the episode! What’s going on this week?

With the serial killer safely in jail, the episode gets a little weird. Despite the fact that he was carrying a concealed knife and had been menacing a girl when he was arrested, voice-over Mandy calls into doubt their supposition that he’s the killer. For some reason no one mentions the shrine he’s built to the murderer in his apartment. Hell, they even say they can’t hold him on anything!

Um… except for the fact that carrying a concealed knife is probably a crime. And he was holding a girl in a car against her will. That’s more than enough to get the guy charged, which means at least 24 hours to search for evidence and interview anyone the killer had ever met. Instead of doing this Mandy believes that he can just talk the guy into confessing, a plan that, as usual, does not go fantastically.

Seriously, has he ever talked anyone into confessing? Even once? Fitz would be sickened by this guy.

Okay, here comes the twist. With the killer in custody the campus decides to relax and party! Which is just the time for a killer to strike, murdering…

The green girl on the left! Boom!

Wait, what am I celebrating again? Oh, guessing which fictional character gets brutally murdered.


Moving on, this latest crime convinces the police that they’ve got the wrong guy in custody, despite the fact that the MO of the death is completely different. The woman was subdued with a rock as opposed to a taser, and the stabbing was much less forceful. Luckily the team is onto the copycat nature of the crime, but the local cops are too stupid to believe them.

Also to stupid to believe them? Derek – yeah, it seems they wanted to throw a little doubt to the audience, so they have one of the characters announce that this might be another ‘Richard Jewel’, the guy who profoundly didn’t bomb the Atlanta Olympics.

Which would be a germane point to make, except for the fact that the latest murder was significant in that it contained none of the elements of the MO that weren’t reported in the papers – basically guaranteeing that it had to be a copycat crime. Derek’s just looking like a stupe at this point.

They come up with a daring plan: let the killer go, hoping that the copycat will approach him once he’s released! And who’s the copycat? A girl named Anna, who’s pointedly dyed her hair brown from its natural blonde. She also has a shrine to the killer in her room. The student who notices all of this does the smart thing and mentions it to the team, who are ridiculously reticent to listen to her advice until she mentions that the suspect ritualistically cuts herself. I know they want to increase drama by making the team not catch on right away, but they’re oddly cold to the theory, considering that they’re trying to find a copycat.

They decide to let the meeting between the two play out, hoping that one will admit to murder. Turns out the copycat doesn’t have the guts to kill herself, and she wanted the serial killer to do it for her. He won’t bite, assuming that he’s being set up, and this irritates the copycat enough that she stabs him to death, then follows by finally getting the nerve to kill herself.

Then the show takes another weird turn – Mandy expounds on the voiceover about how he can no longer trust the profile. Even though their profile was completely correct in this case. I’m also unclear why he should care about the two murderers winding up dead. Mandy wonders what might have happened if they’d been wrong about the man they accused of murder. Well, he wouldn’t have gone off alone with an unbalanced girl at the end if he wasn’t guilty, so the ending wouldn’t have happened.

Oh, and when he was in jail the real killer would have actually struck again, because he’s not the type of killer that can control his actions.

Also you would have put a man in the system who, while innocent of this crime, was clearly working himself up to something, what with carrying around a concealed knife, owning a trunk full ‘o guns, and maintaining a shrine to a spree killer.

That’s the kind of guy you want off the street regardless of his specific guilt.

Greg then has to swing by his boss’ office – where he’s suspended because he let that girl kill their suspect and then kill herself! Poor Greg – I assume he’ll be back next week, since Mandy’s quitting his job and all.

Or is he? The episode ends with him cradling a gun in his hands:

Is he going to kill himself? I guess we’ll find out next week!

But, you know, obviously not. He was clearly writing a ‘I’m quitting the FBI letter’ and not a ‘I’m quitting life’ letter. Still, though, nice of them to keep the attempts at drama going.

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

Not particularly – the ‘who inserts themselves into an investigation’ kind of counts, since it started as a psychological observation, but the rest of the evidence was so obvious – killer’s shrine, stockpiled weapons, access to the victims and possession of the murder weapon are all far more important than the facile ‘hey, the victims kind of look like his estranged wife!’ observation.

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

I’m not sure how it wasn’t. How bad was this coroner that he didn’t notice the taser marks on any of those victims? Now the FBI has to come in just to give cursory surface examinations of bodies? What is this, Twin Peaks? This week was a classic case of ‘make the locals look like idiots to embiggen the cast’.

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

3/10 – I’m absolutely giving them ‘inserts himself into the investigation’, but I can’t stress how much the case’s solution hinged on just looking at a picture of the body, and the obvious surface injuries it possessed.

No FactCheck this week – while the ‘victims look like person’ angle and the killing of college students both match Bundy, the case so wildly differs in every other respect that it can’t really be called a ‘based on’ at all.


Anonymous said...

I have to tell you, I enjoy watching Criminal Minds. Its my favorite tv show. That being said, I enjoy your dissection of it even more... Thanks!

Vardulon said...

Thanks for the comment - hopefully you'll continue enjoying them for seasons to come!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why this episode was necessary. Gideon's girlfriend having been slaughtered and left in his bed in his apartment seems like sufficient reason to leave his job.

Especially since, if he had tracked Frank down earlier, it wouldn't have happened.

The episode was okay but it made no sense as an explanation for Gideon leaving.

quintaqua said...

Season 12 is on! Looking forward to your dissections!

Unknown said...

Did anyone notice that Prentiss was in the flashback?? Shouldn't that have been Greenaway?? But since she left to go back to the East Coast, they had to make do with what they had.

Hanna said...

The picture from the morgue with the taser burns? Emily took it. As she is talking about the girls not defending themselves, she snaps that picture. And then when the lady cop points out the possibility of tasers, she runs over to the printer to print it. Then she holds it up to the taser to see if the distance between the marks fits. Which is incredibly stupid. There is no reason the picture would be to scale.

Also: everyone who has watched TV would have guessed taser when seeing the marks. The coronor should be fired. Is everyone on that show incompetent?

(also if you still pay attention to the comments you might notice that I am currently binge-reading your reviews and watching along. Listening to the podcast ist next on my to-do-list. Gotta love all the time to waste that a pandemic provides)