Criminal Minds 305: Seven Seconds

It’s every parent’s nightmare this week on Criminal Minds, wait, hold on for a second… have I used that opening before? Man, this show has a lot of victimized children, doesn’t it? Anyhow, this time it’s a little girl disappearing in a crowded mall. There are actually two sets of parents there – the parents of the children, and an aunt and uncle.

The security department gets on the ball immediately, locking down the entire mall. Why do they do this? Because another little girl was kidnapped from a mall and murdered the week before! The lockdown went so well that they can be sure that the victim and her abductor are still inside!

The team moves around frantically, getting a layout of the mall, looking up sex offenders in the area, and interviewing possible witnesses. But in a mall with a thousand possible suspects, where do you start?

With them. The parents and close relatives. I know there was another murder, and that makes this look like a serial thing, but let’s not forget – if a child is kidnapped/murdered there’s a 75% chance their immediate family is responsible.

Offering his own statistics, Reid points out that most kids abducted by murderers die in the first few hours after their abduction – and if the police are looking for them, that time goes down to an hour!

Does that mean we’re looking at a real-time episode of Criminal Minds? Find out after the credits!

While the police search the mall, the team gets busy interviewing the parents. They look for some connection to the other victim, but there is none! The dad is driven to solve the case, the mother is a crazed wreck:

Which one is the more likely killer? I’m holding off until I see more of the aunt and uncle, but for right now, let’s say ‘mom’.

The last place the victim was seen was an arcade, where she and her cousin were playing games. He claims she just disappeared, and has no idea what happened. Then the Aunt opens her mouth, and becomes my prime suspect.

That’s her. Apropos of nothing she volunteers “You’d think after all of my years in retail I’d hate the mall, but it was convenient.” Seriously, she wasn’t asked a question about how she got there. That’s just too much information for a tertiary character to be giving.

Also – the uncle is just super-creepy, explaining that ‘hey, maybe the kid is just lost somewhere, right? Aren’t we all really just wasting our time?’

God, they’re both such great suspects. Still, I’m going to lean on Aunt for now.

The cousin has a panic attack while chatting with the profilers – they assume it’s because he feels guilty for not being able to help, but there’s obviously something more going on…

In an attempt to keep the parents busy, JJ pulls the old ‘try to humanize the victim so the killer won’t go through with it’ trick, making them put out a statement over the PA about what a wonderful child the kidnapper has taken.

Do you think JJ is going to feel silly if it turns out the mother was complicit in all of this?

I don’t know if the writer or director (or hell, production designer) was responsible, but this is the most elaborate use of ‘meaningful’ imagery ever to have appeared on Criminal Minds.

You see, the balloon represents- Just kidding. It’s a free-floating pink balloon with a mother talking about her missing child on the soundtrack. Like there’s a point in explaining that one.

Garcia comes through with some of the goods – the seven seconds during which the victim walked out of the arcade. Since she wasn’t heading to any of the (quite boring) stores nearby, they figure the kidnapper must have been using bait!

Reid and Derek try to talk the cousin into remembering a key detail, and the Aunt shows up to make herself look even more suspicious. What is it this time? Well, it’s not just that she wants to be there for the interrogation (which is natural in real life, but in fiction looks like you’re trying to hide something), she’s also way too specific about her alibi at the time of the kidnapping. She doesn’t say she was ‘shopping’, she says she was ‘getting a lighter engraved’ for her husband. Again, what’s with the specific details, lady? It’s like you want to give them something to impeach you with later!

This is not the face of a competent murderer. On the left. I can’t speak to Emily’s killing skills.

Now, I wonder what the Aunt’s motive might be…

No, I’ve got nothing. Let’s move on to the cousin’s evidence. He claims that he jerkishly ignored the victim, who didn’t want to be in the arcade. Which is an embarrassing enough admission that it might even be true. Also, he was distracted by pretty girls. Not a banner day for the cousin. He does offer the key information that the victim wanted ice cream, though. Maybe that’s worth something?

Downstairs the dogs find a necklace that belongs to the victim – an incredibly valuable pure gold necklace covered with jewels! One that she supposedly ‘found in the school yard’. The team instantly knows that because the necklace was thrown away, the abductor was angry at the victim. Or possibly the necklace. It’s not clear just yet. And where does a kid get a multi-hundred dollar necklace?

Oh, christ, did the shifty uncle give her the necklace because he’s abusing her? And the Aunt killed her because she blamed the six-year-old for being abused? Are we really going there?

God, I hope not.

The team searches the victim’s house, and comes up with bedwetting and mutilated Barbie dolls – which means she’s being molested. So yeah. Ugh. They jump to the immediate conclusion that the cousin did it, because it makes total sense that he’d be able to come up with hundreds of dollars for a bejeweled gold necklace. They even question the uncle about his son.

Um… of the two of them, which would be more likely to be able to get that necklace? Half-wits. Although, to be fair, in the conversation with the dad, they discover that the cousin has a history of stealing jewelry to impress girls. So that does justify their crazy theory a little. Also backing up the theory? The fact that the aunt suddenly no longer seems interested in interfering with her son’s interrogation.

Finally Greg and Emily crack the case – realizing that the uncle’s total lack of interest in his own child means that he’s molesting his niece. Also, there’s the cost of the necklace. But I’m not going to harp on that any more. The uncle cops to molestation, but announces that he’s not kidnapper or murderer.

Then the show gets really funny. Emily flashes back to Aunt talking about the lighter, and asks Uncle about it – he mentions that he quit smoking over a month ago! Then she flashes back to the Aunt’s other way-too-detailed explanation, and figures that if she was familiar with the mall, she’d know where to hide the victim!

Aunt does not hold up well under interrogation, but finally breaking when confronted with the horror of child molestation in the form of a mutilated doll.

It’s wrong that I found that kind of funny, isn’t it? But come on, that musical sting is just so over the top…

The team finally discovers the victim down in a basement storage closet, nearly dead from an asthma attack caused by confinement and duct tape! The paramedics manage to save her life, and everyone goes home happy!

Except for the Aunt and Uncle who are off to jail, and the cousin, who’s out two parents, and probably won’t be taken in by the Mother and Father, because he could have told them at any moment that his mother was the abductor, but he was too afraid to say anything.

Totally psychologically understandable, but I doubt the folks will be too forgiving, what with his inaction almost causing their daughter’s death.

Oh, and on the ‘when will Greg’s family be stalked by a serial killer’ front, the episode ends with a coda of him swinging by his old house to check on his sleeping son. Man, is it rough trying to raise a family when you hunt serial killers. You want them to have normal lives, but you’re in a unique position to know just how awful the world you send them out into every day really is.

If you’re looking for more information about the difficulties in raising a family while hunting serial killers, feel free to watch any other movie or TV show about serial killers ever.

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

Depends which crime we’re talking about – the fact that a father was completely disinterested in his own son but knew all about his niece is a good psychological catch – but we’re not here to solve a molestation. No, since this crime was solved by Emily remembering the way the Aunt gave her way too much information for no reason at all, I can’t really give them any credit.

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

While all of their psychological dicking around finally nabbed them a kidnapper, that wasn’t their primary goal this week. No, they were trying to find a kidnapped girl. And the kidnapped cracked when presented with the proof of her guilt, rather than a psychological outreach of any kind.

One could even make the argument that if the team had just pitched in with the search instead of trying to find the abductor, they might have found that little girl a few minutes earlier, before she suffered the near-fatal asthma attack. Then the little girl could have just told them who did it, and the Aunt’s confession would have led to the Uncle’s molestation charges. Solved.

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

1/10 – I’ll give them this – at least we finally got a case that wasn’t ‘Teaser kill/middle victim/final rescue’. At least there was that.


Now it’s time to see if this episode checked in with Penelope, and her murder map! Although I don’t know why I’m even pretending that it did – the whole thing was set at a mall, so duh. Speaking of, the location card at the start of the episode:

Confused me a little, because apparently that’s not the name of a city in Virgina. It’s the name of a mall in Woodbridge, VA. Luckily the internet was able to help me where maps couldn’t, so we still get a dot this week!

Here was what our map looked like last time:

And here it is with Woodbridge, VA added on-

Really coming together now, isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

hi again. great commentary. i won't point out every episode, but once again this episode was written by a woman and the acting was carried by the women with the men on the sidelines. the kidnapper was a woman, and a woman solved the crime. the male actors were just window dressing for the most part. continuing them in women written episodes of criminal minds.

Rationalist said...

Whos greg?

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered your podcast and blog. As a person who lives near Woodbridge, VA and has been to the Potomac Mills Mall I can tell you that the writers did no homework. The Mall only has one story. I mean it isn't hard to look this stuff online, right?

Anonymous said...

Cool post! I'm rewatching Criminal Minds now that the series is over and I was waiting for this episode because I remember the first time I watched it I was so surprised at the ending which typically doesn't happen to me.

I don't agree with your final point that profiling was not necessary in this episode. Profiling helped the team narrow down the list of suspects from everyone at the mall to the family of five. After they found Katy's expensive necklace, Reid and Morgan searched the house to profile the family in which they uncovered signs of child molestation. I don't think the local police would have searched the victim's house at this critical time where Katy could still be alive and would have no way to know who got Katy the necklace. Also, I believe profiling was instrumental in getting the aunt to confess and if Prentiss didn't show her the messed up doll she wouldn't have broke down and given up the girl's location (at least not in time to save her life).