Criminal Minds 313: Limelight

The episode opens, rather strangely, with two dudes bidding on the contents of an abandoned storage unit. What they discover inside will haunt your dreams for years to come:

Bet you wish you had some sweet-ass Tonka toys like that, don’t you? Oh, and there’s also a trunk full of monstrously detailed sketchbooks about the owner’s plan to kidnap women and then torture them to death in hideous bondage contraptions.

But I maintain that the toys are the real find. The team is sent copies of the file immediately – Joe heads up to look over the material with Reid, so they can determine if the guy is actually a serial killer, or just a fantasist. When they arrive they meet Jill, the agent in charge of the office. She’s announces that the storage unit was rented under a fake name, and they’ve got no idea who’s behind it! Although you’d think that somewhere, among the thousands of sheets of paper in the crate he must have left a fingerprint somewhere, right?

After spending hours with the perverse reading material Joe and Reid come to a mixed conclusion. The guy wants to be a serial killer, but there’s no evidence that he’s actually killed anyone. Jill is disappointed to hear this, and lets them see the final piece of evidence – some hair that had been locked in the trunk – apparently according to Joe’s book collecting hair basically means you’re planning to start serial killing people. Who knew? With that crucial evidence in his hands, Joe has all the reason he needs to call in the team – which will happen, naturally, after the opening credits!

Finally they let us know that, yes, there were fingerprints everywhere – the guy’s just not in the system. A search of the unit and notebooks suggests that he’s really excited about electrocuting women as a method of murder. They manage to come across a few bodies fitting that MO, and head over to one of the crime scenes, looking for clues to the killer’s identity. They discover a line leading into the house’s power system, which me must have used to electrocute the victim – that, along with the fact that they found textbooks from electrician’s school in his storage unit, they draw the obvious conclusion – he must be an electrician!

Back at the office JJ summons Jill to a meeting, and it’s at the point that I notice that we’re spending way more time with this woman than any local since Blackwolf!

Also disconcerting? Her false modesty about all her awards, and the fact that she’s presumptuously and unprofessionally trying to come up with a clever nickname for their serial killer.

Oh… oh god no. If this episode is going where I think it’s going… Christ, it had better not… I mean, when Jill was first introduced she was yelling at someone over the phone, but they can’t… You know what, let’s give it a wait and see, huh?

The next scene, where they discover all his other victims (no one made the connection because they were dumped in other states), some weird continuity mistakes happen. They established in an earlier scene that the first victim was killed five years earlier, and that the other four victims they’ve discovered died within two years after. At the end of the explanation, Jill says ‘Four kills by the age of 30’ then Greg follows up with a sombre ‘And he was just getting started!’

Except he didn’t start when before he was 30. Earlier in the episode they found grade 1-level art belonging to the killer, dated 1976. From this they extrapolated that the killer was around 38 years old. Meaning that when he started killing 5 years ago (the dates get fuzzy here – the show is set in 2008, but it was written and filmed in 2007, and they didn’t exactly police the dates), then he would have been 32 or 33 when he started killing.

Yes, the head of the local FBI office can’t do basic math. The only question remaining is whether the team is incapable of that math as well, or if they were just keeping quiet to save her some embarrassment.

So, how are they going to find this guy? Jill’s plan is to go to the press, announcing that a serial killer is out there. The rest of the team is unhappy with this – Greg confronts Jill, accusing her of wanting to make her career off the case, valuing fame more than justice for the victims. Even the rest of the team prioritizes gossiping about Jill’s blindly ambitious behaviour while having dinner over actually talking about the case. Could they be laying this on any thicker?

That night Joe gets a visit from Jill at his hotel room – she apologizes and they go for a drink. She talks about how hard it is to be an ambitious woman because the world is stacked against them, and the Joe reveals that he knows Jill planted the long blonde hair in the trunk to guarantee the team’s involvement. He figured it out because the killer didn’t keep any other hair in the trunk – just dresses that he uses to pretend to be his victims after they’re dead. What’s really insulting is how he refers to the hair she planted – he infers that she ‘kept it as a memento of the femininity (she) had to give up’ to excel as an FBI agent. Joe offers a slight olive branch, in admitting that he was just as driven as her when she was a junior agent, but then returns to the paternalistic idea that it’s somehow unseemly for a woman to have those traits.

Okay, he doesn’t use those words, but it’s the point of the scene.

The next day hundreds of crazies swing by the office, hoping to offer some information about the killer. Among them are the parents of a woman they suspect the killer took, and another victim’s boyfriend, who found out his missing girlfriend was murdered by a serial killer on a press conference, which has to be one of the worst ways to discover that. Meanwhile the killer is dressing up as his victims and listening to audio tape of their deaths. Then he calls the police switchboard anonymously to tip the cops off to the location of his latest corpse. He makes no real attempt to hide his identity, referring to a woman as a ‘bleeder’, which is profoundly disgusting.

The tip-off turns up the latest body, as well as another in the same hole. The team figures out that the killer is acting so obviously because he wanted the press to start reporting on him. And what better way to do that then by kidnapping a member of the press?

Back at Garcia’s lab she discovers the identity of the two dead women from the grave – her map’s in the scene, but it’s so out of focus that it’s not useful – the women went missing on the same day! Which lets us know exactly what’s going to happen when the just-kidnapped reporter calls Jill on her office phone. But will the rest of the team figure it out in time? They’re not helped by Jill’s plan to meet the reporter secretly, alone, and in a parking garage. Joe hears about the missing reporter and tries to warn Jill, but it’s too late!

Interestingly the killer doesn’t search her at all before tossing her into the back of his van with her arms tied behind her back. Lucky for him that she’s such a terrible FBI agent that she went out without a gun or knife, because if she had, he’s kind of be dead right now.

The team finds the scene that she was kidnapped from – is there anything they can use to find her? They’d better hurry, since the reporter is already being electrocuted to death by the time they get there! And look, there’s our crying girl in a chair:

Christ, this episode.

The team finds the internet café the killer sent the last message from, and the proprietor tells them about his white van. Using the list of electricians they got from the city, Garcia narrows it down by proximity to the storage unit and ownership of a white van. For some reason she doesn’t also narrow it down based on the fact that his age can be narrowed down to at least 38 and at most 42 (based on the date from his childhood artwork) even though you’d think that would be a really big clue.

Even without it there’s only one name left on the list, and the team rushes over to his house, busts in, and rescues Jill from the crazed killer-

Who I swear I recognize from something…

In the aftermath of the crime Joe confronts Jill with the fact that she’s so closed off that she didn’t even ask about the fate of the other victim – who didn’t make it. As Jill rushes over to talk to the press outside the hospital, Joe looks on judgementally.


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

Just barely. The killer give them all sorts of information about his identity, but they weren’t able to glean anything useful from it. The only thing kind of helpful was the assessment that he’d probably live somewhere proximate to the storage unit and internet café, but that barely count.

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

They found the guy based on his area of expertise (electricity), and the fact that he and his car were spotted by a witness. Utterly conventional stuff.

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

2/10 – Also, screw this episode.

Near the middle of the show, Emily lays out what a bondage-freak serial killer intends to do to his victims:

This also perfectly describes a bondage/domination narrative – in one of those stories (the most famous being ‘The Collector’) an ‘Arrogant Woman’ is punished for not knowing her place. See where I’m going with is?

Let’s consider the character of Jill, and how the show presents her-

From her first scene, where she’s introduced yelling at a male subordinate, we’re supposed to think of her as grasping, overreaching, inappropriately excited to be doing the work, unconcerned with the victims of the crime.

Why does Jill behave like this? There’s no reason in the story for her to be such an arrogant and overbearing monster. The only reason that she needs to lie to get them on the case is so that we, the audience, will feel contempt for her and question her motives. She simply could have found one of the blood-stained dresses in the storage unit, which would have more than justified the team’s involvement. She lies and fabricates evidence so that we will know that she’s a ‘bad woman’ who deserves the punishment that’s coming to her.

Am I being too harsh? Let’s compare her to the other victim who gets kidnapped this episode (it’s the same structure as always – middle girl dies, final girl rescued by the team). She’s a professional woman, to be sure, a reporter, but how is she introduced?

She’s on the phone with her husband, cancelling dinner plans because she’s too busy with work. Notice how this obsession with work makes her sort of fit the narrative of Arrogant Woman, but because she clearly has a husband she at least understands partially the value of normal femininity in a way Jill doesn’t. Compare this to Jill – the only reference to dating she makes is the fact that, at Quantico, after she made it to the top of the class the male students stayed away because she wasn’t an accessible woman anymore. Once again, we get back to the bondage narrative, where the Jill character is professional, driven, and sexually unavailable despite taking care to maintain an attractive appearance.

What’s so especially infuriating about this episode is that it didn’t need to be a bondage narrative. The Jill character didn’t have to so neatly conform to the BD ideal of the ‘Arrogant Woman’. Would the events have really transpired so differently had the Jill character been a noble, conscientious agent just trying to capture a monster who no one else believed existed? Back in the Saw ripoff episode, we had a male character desperate to get the team working on a case no one else thought was real, and he wasn’t painted as vain and egotistical. So why must Jill be such a monster? The only possible reason is to create a character who perfectly fits the bondage narrative’s ideal of the ‘Arrogant Woman’.

I’m not saying you can’t make an episode about a bondage freak, I’m saying you shouldn’t make an episode suggesting that the bondage freak is correct in his worldview. Which is exactly what this episode does.

This is the final scene, as Joe is leaving while Jill talks to the press:

Joe isn’t just disgusted by her attempts to make a name for herself on tragedy, he’s upset that she hasn’t been properly humbled by her experiences. Despite the fact that she was tortured by a serial killer for her ‘sins’, Jill still hasn’t learned her place. This is the narrative the show wants to get across – making it a bondage tale with a sad ending. Instead of a woman being broken or killed, she has survived the ordeal with her arrogance intact: the worst outcome the bondage freak can imagine. This may seem like a happy ending to you or I, but the show certainly doesn’t think so. Take a look at Joe’s expression again:

The fact that she’s retained her personality and not been made subservient by the torture is presented as a negative outcome. This is a bondage narrative, through and through. It’s also the single most objectionable episode of Criminal Minds I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, screw this episode.


Too depressed with this episode to have fun here. This was last week’s map.

Now I’ve added Philadelphia, PA:

There. Done.


Anonymous said...

The writers of Criminal Minds only know of two times--"Now" and "Not Now." Don't ever torture yourself trying to figure out Hotch's age. He was a DA and a SWAT leader and has been working at the BAU. Okay!

Anonymous said...

Interesting take. I agree that this episode focused on "female ambition" but I think I came away with a different conclusion than you did. I took it as more of a comment of the complexity of being a woman trying to "prove yourself" and how that can be a toxic idea, not that ambitious and aggressive women are inherently flawed/should be put in their place. In the diner, Emily defended her by saying 'if she was a man, you'd be saying she has balls," suggesting she (as someone who has been looked at with suspicion for being an ambitious woman) sympathizes. Add the fact that she was targeted by the "ambitious woman"-hating serial killer? I took that as a dramatization of the idea that yes, there is hostility one has to put up with for being ambitious and a woman at the same time. But I don't think the disappointed face Rossi had on came from that place. To me it was more, "someone who's in that position and trying to climb the ladder anyway runs the risk of being compromised ethically, and it seems you've succumbed to that, which is a shame, because I did too when I was your age and I was hoping I could help you avoid that." Which was kind of what he was saying at the bar, no? Talking about the bridges he burned when he acted like she was acting? (Although I do agree that whole "kept a piece of my old hair to reminisce about my lost femininity" bit was weird) Also, I sooo did not think the woman cancelling plans on the phone was supposed to be negative or contentious, like how awful, she has to cancel plans when she should be at home tending house. I barely noticed it, I just took it as a conversation between a couple in which a clearly employed woman is slightly distracted on the phone and not noticing a car coming up behind her.

Anonymous said...

Agree with both the blogger and the comment from March 10, 2017.

I didn't think much of the Chronicle lady's conversation. Seemed like a normal convo a couple could have.

Regarding Jill, I did come away thinking she was very arrogant. There's a difference between arrogance and confidence. She was just plain arrogant. If she wasn't a Jill and instead was a Jack, my thoughts would still hold true. The character was written to be unlikable.

Regarding the guy from the earlier season: he was easier to like. He was confident but not arrogant. He lied as well but seemed to know his lying was wrong unlike Jill who seemed to see it as a means to an end.

PC said...

Vardulon, I agree with your take on this episode: I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth as well.

To anonymous 3/10: Simply put, how the main character reacts to a given situation usually reflects a show's viewpoint on a given topic. Therefore, Rossi's disapproval of Jill is, for better or worse, CM's perspective on female ambition. This perspective is blatantly problematic--even you acknowledge parts of it as "weird"--and it's okay that we all see that it is problematic. CM is not a perfect show.

Esh said...

I was thinking the same. The guy told JJ that it was his duty to care for them. It was about saving the people for him. But from the beginning to end, Jill made it about her. Een after witnessing trauma first hand, she couldn't care less about the women who died partly because of her.

Esh said...

I was thinking the same. The guy told JJ that it was his duty to care for them. It was about saving the people for him. But from the beginning to end, Jill made it about her. Een after witnessing trauma first hand, she couldn't care less about the women who died partly because of her.