Criminal Minds 311: Birthright

We’re out in farm country as this episode kicks off, where young people are partying despite the fact that two young women have disappeared recently! I’m guessing that the missing girl counts as victim number one, so the brown-haired girl who gets abducted when she and her boyfriend wander away from the party will be the victim we get to know a little before she’s brutally murdered.

The team has the case presented to them the next morning – the women are being held for weeks, then tortured to death, cut to pieces, and dumped in a national park. Here’s the hook – this series of murders is identical to a series from twenty-five years ago! Could the killer have returned?

The killer might be in his fifties – the show is careful to let us see only black-gloved hands in the next scene, showing us what happens to the women he abducts-

Ah, crying girl dangling from a hook. You’re not as disgustingly overused as ‘crying girl tied to chair’, but you’re damn close. The victim in the foreground explains the rules to the new girl – the killer wants to pretend he’s at a party, so don’t scream and he won’t burn you with cigarettes.

Ick. And on that unpleasant note, let’s drift over to the opening credits, shall we?

God damn you, opening quote. You know, mostly I just let the opening pretentious quotes drift by without a second glance, but this week’s… yeah – you know what? I’ll just re-quote it here:

“It doesn’t matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was.”

Well what was the point of all that mystery at the beginning, then? The gloved killer, the possibility of a BTK-style killer returning after a 25 year absence – why are you going to bring all that up if you’re just going to reveal the twist in the pretentious quote, a mere six minutes into the episode?

Based on that quote, there is literally nothing that this episode can be about other than a dude who’s recreating the crimes that his serial killer dad committed some 25 years earlier. Is there any reason that couldn’t have been the ending quote?

Goddamn pretentious quotes.

On the way to the crime scene they try to figure out why the killer might be dumping corpses in the battlefield. Maybe it’s self-aggrandizement, maybe it’s proximity – answers are unclear at this time. They talk to both the new and old sheriffs about the crime - one is a generic and unfamiliar actor, the other is Blank Reg from Max Headroom!

As they go to the crime scene JJ proves to be unnerved by the circumstances of the case. Why? Greg thinks it’s because the victims on this show are invariably young women, and what with her being a young woman, perhaps seeing all those corpses somewhat traumatizing for her. I suppose that makes enough sense as a character beat – but where will it go in the future?

That night the killer chops up the old victim and dumps the pieces in the park, leaving just the middle victim tied up in a hole somewhere in the woods.

Joe decides to interview Reg one-on-one, hoping to get some better information. He feels that they’ve got something in common, since Joe is haunted by his failed case as well. This is his opportunity to go a little deeper into the story of his charm bracelet: the kids who saw their parents killed? It seems that happened on Christmas Eve!

That’s right – Joe doesn’t know it yet, but he’s hunting an Evil Santa! He also mentions that he calls every year to remind them that he’s looking for the killer, but this past year not one bothered to return his call. Not that you can really blame them, since he hasn’t demonstrably been working the case for the past few years that he hasn’t had FBI resources. What updates could he have possibly been offering during that period? Was he calling just to tell them that he feels bad about not solving the crime once a year? Because if so, I’ve got to say that I don’t blame them for not taking the call. That would get old fast.

While the team isn’t able to come across any good leads on murder, a canvas outside the county turns up a woman who was abducted, secreted away, and raped for weeks before she escaped. When they talk to the woman, though, she claims that none of it ever happened. They don’t bother investigating her possible motives, assuming that she just doesn’t want to remember the details of the crime. There’s another big possibility, though – one that I’m surprised they don’t tweak to – she might have had a child by the rapist/serial killer, and she wants to protect her son (it’s always a son, for irony’s sake) from knowing about his father… but it’s too late, since he’s already killing like the man!

Joe does manage to get one piece of logical evidence out of the early victim simply being in town – logically there’s no way she’d move back unless the guy was gone or dead. So they ask Reg who disappeared or died in 1980. Reg notices that a man fell into a combine harvester right when the killings stopped! Except the killings stopped in December of 1980. What the hell would someone be doing running a combine harvester in December? I mean, I know they don’t get Canada-style winters down in Virginia, but there’s also no reason to be running farming equipment that whole season.

Oh, and I was wrong about the killer’s identity. Reg’s very first line to the original killer’s widow is ‘How’s your son’, and she responds that he’s married now, and doing well. So he’s obviously the killer, since he has no other reason to exist in the episode. That other woman was brutally raped and had to give birth to an illegitimate son because the plot needed a red herring.

Whoa – I’m going to need an explanation here. It seems the widow left town when she found out she was pregnant, then came back because he begged her to. She arrived on the very day he died, which means that she murdered him because she found out about the serial killing.

Hold on – the son never met his father? Then how could he have exactly recreated his crimes, down to the fact that the song he plays while murdering is ‘Honky Tonk Women’, a popular song from his father’s days as a murderer? I’d imagined we would discover that the son, when young and impressionable, had tagged along with his father to watch the murders, but now that’s impossible. Did the son find a journal or something? There had better be one hell of an explanation for this one.

First it’s time for another victim, though-

And since on Criminal Minds all killers are spree killers, the next abduction happens just two days after the dark-haired girl was kidnapped, rather than the traditional three weeks. Because if we didn’t have a bodycount, well what would be the point of watching?

The team immediately figures out that the killer is likely the original killer’s son, especially because he’s copycatting parts of the MO that were never released to the press. But then they get distracted when they find out about the red herring rape victim’s son, and want to interview him – forgetting that he’d have no practical way of discovering his father’s MO for killing and body dumping. At least the legitimate son could conceivably have stumbled across a diary of evil – the illegitimate son has no believable way of having that information, and they really ought to know it. Also, the legitimate son killed a cat when he was fifteen, so he’s obviously the killer.

Then we get a brief journey into the lair of the killer, where the middle victim warns the final victim about the killer’s MO, as she’d been warned earlier.

There’s a brief interview with the illegitimate son, but again, he can’t possibly be the killer, even though he admits he’d figured out who his father was, he’d have no way of knowing where the girls were held or how they were killed. Despite this, Joe announces that they can’t rule out the illegitimate son, primarily because Joe isn’t very bright.

The rape victim is finally willing to offer some insight into her captivity, now that the cat’s out of the bag, and she confirms that, yes, the original killer played the same exact song when he murdered (another thing her son couldn’t know!), and tortured women the exact same way. She’s able to tell them that he has both a barn and a separate holding location.

I’m not sure why they’re acting like it’s such an impenetrable mystery where the girls are being held – they know who the original killer was, so given the amount of time and privacy he’d need with the victims, they’d have to be on his property, or land that he had unrestricted access to – which isn’t a huge number of places to search.

Of course, this information is only useful if the new women are being kept in the exact same place – which would only be possible if the legitimate son is the killer. So shouldn’t finding him and searching his land be the absolute top priority?

Derek and JJ swing by the legitimate son’s house and talk to his wife, who’s surprised to hear that her husband is a suspect in the crime. On an unsurprising note when they pop open his barn, they discover his killing shackles and murder stump-

But find no sign of the missing girls! Guess the rape victim’s memories will be useful after all. They interview the widow about her son’s whereabouts. She doesn’t have any information to offer. At least they managed to turn up the diary, which explains the exact MO – although I’m not sure how the son was able to find that book even though the mother never could.

The rape victim confronts the widow about her husband’s evil, and the widow confirms that yes, she murdered the original killer. So that’s wrapped up in a neat little package.

Also, a brief interlude reveals that the legitimate son’s wife is pregnant, so I guess she’ll be killing the legitimate son in an attempt to continue the ironic cycle of violence.

The rape victim leads them down an isolated trail, past some mossy rocks, all the way to the murder cave, where the team finds… both women alive! That’s a nice twist, huh? It’s touch and go for the middle victim, but she winds up making it out alive, in what might be a first for the series.

Meanwhile the legitimate son is getting drunk in a civil war battlefield, and his wife murders him with a gun before the FBI can get there.

Will the cycle of violence continue? Somehow I doubt it, given that this child won’t be reading a secret journal, living in the killer’s house, or having to discover the hidden history of his family, since the father/son murderers of Fredericksburg, VA will be huge national news, and no doubt lead to a series of true crime novels, episodes of Law and Order, and maybe, if they’re very lucky, a feature film!

Joe has a final scene with Blank Reg to remind us how heavily unsolved murders can weigh on the soul, and he tells Joe to solve the crime post-haste. Although, since it’s already late fall in the world of the show, the odds of him getting it done before the Christmas anniversary, as Reg suggests, are pretty darn long.


Oh, except for a scene where Greg’s wife sends him divorce papers. Get far away, Gay Jack’s sister! It’s your only chance of not being kidnapped by a serial killer to make Greg feel more depressed than usual!

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

I’m giving them a partial this week – once the original killer was identified halfway through the show, the crime was basically solved, and they did it by figuring out why the rape victim would have come back to town.

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

They really shouldn’t have had to talk to her to get that information, though – serial killers don’t stop killing. This one dead. That means he either moved, was jailed, or died. A simple search of people who lived near the civil war battlefield and died right when the murders stopped would have gotten them their killer without having to bother that poor woman or her illegitimate son.

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

3/10 – They did kind of use profiling, and even if they didn’t need to, at least they’re pretending, which is the most they’ve doen in a while, frankly.

There’s something pretty major that the show didn’t really explain – the change in victimology. The original killer nabbed drug addicts and hitchiking runaways – the new one grabs college girls out of public places. Why the change? The show suggests that it’s just because the kind of victims who were available switched over 25 years, but that doesn’t really make sense. There were plenty of clean-cut girls back in the 80s – the killer picked the fringe women because they were easier to grab and wouldn’t be missed.

So why wouldn’t his son do the same thing? The only logical reason is that the show is pulling some kind of creepy, SVU-esque moralism in its victim selection. It imagines that we, the audience, wouldn’t care about the victims unless they were ordinary everywomen who’d done nothing to deserve their fate – which, by extension, suggests that the drug addicts and runaways from the 80s ‘got what was coming to them’.

Nowhere is this suggestion made more explicit than with the rape vicitm character, who seems to have been punished with a child that she can’t bear to look at for her sins. The character says that she couldn’t have an abortion because she didn’t want to punish her child for something his father did, but there’s never any suggestion that having the child has brought her anything by misery for the past three decades.

Hopefully this is just a one-off vibe that I’m misreading, but I’m going to be watching from now on for this kind of message, and reporting on it when it comes up.


Last time our map was looking a little like this:

This time we add historic Fredericksburg, VA, which means-

Oh, come on! Another dot on the I-95. I’m beginning to suspect that Virginia has some kind of a serial killer cluster. Something in the water, perhaps? Or just the show not wanting to have to use the jet set every week?


Anonymous said...

I found this review (and blog I guess) searching for this episode, and I loved it. :) It was entertaining and sarcastic, the best thing ever. I will be reading your other reviews!

Puck said...

I'm upset that you didn't even mention that the bastard son was none other than Joey from NOES 3 & 4!

Hanna said...

You think the quote is bad? in Germany the episode is called "family tradition". So yeah, even before the episode started it was obvious that this was a mudering family.