Criminal Minds 315: A Higher Power

A woman arrives home, talking on her cell phone with a friend. We can glean from the conversation that she and her husband are having a hard time because their daughter died recently, but apparently the husband was reacting well.

His suicided corpse would beg to differ. Or is it murder!? Probably the second, since this isn’t a show about investigating suicides.

How does the team even get onto this one? It seems that the a cop feels there’s been too many suspicious suicides recently, and wants their help. That cop? 24’s Ryan Chappelle!

The team looks over the details of the case – 14 children died in a fire, and a suspicious number of the parents have killed themselves in the aftermath. Five, in fact, each two weeks apart – the last was Ryan’s brother!

Meanwhile Greg heads off alone to spend some time with his son. How will that go? Find out after the credits!

While on the flight to the crime scene Derek still isn’t convinced that a serial killer is involved – he maintains that since 14 children died there’s enough grief to go around, and suicides are understandable. Except this is a full 35% of the dead children having a parent commit suicide – no matter how tragic the circumstance, the idea that 35% of its victims would have a family member committing suicide in the immediate aftermath is so far beyond the realm of any statistical probability that even Derek, who’s not the statistics-inclined member of the group, should find the likelihood utterly fantastic.

Statistical probability is something that these characters should be living by – to use an illustrative example that ties into the show’s narrative, let me mention something they bring up. Since the killer is likely trying to put these parents out of their misery, they classify him as an ‘Angel of Death’ – the category of killer that doctors and nurses who euthanize patients unnecessarily fall into.

You know how those people are usually caught? Hospitals keep track of their mortality rates – they know how likely it is for any given patient to survive their treatment, and their stay at the hospital. Any time the death rate stretches beyond the normal margin for error, an investigation is launched – because they know that things get outside the realm of probability for two reasons – incompetence or malice. Both are worth looking in to.

Ryan meets them at the office, and immediately sideline him so that he won’t interfere with the case just because his brother was one of the victims. The team look around the dead guy’s house, and question his wife. She’s sure her husband didn’t commit suicide, and Joe is fairly convinced. Derek and Emily notice that the outlet upstairs was old-fashioned, and didn’t contain the GFI necessary to prevent an appliance from electrocuting someone in the tub – despite the fact that the husband was a contractor, and should have fixed that when he remodeled the house! Did the killer install new outlets to permit the crime to occur? Isn’t there an easier way to fake a suicide?

Ryan wants to warn the public that there’s a serial killer on the loose, but the team cautions him not to until they’re sure these weren’t suicides. Um, I’m not sure why they’re debating talking to the public at all – the victimology suggests that there are only 14 potential sets of 1 or 2 victims: the parents of each dead child. So why not just give those people a shout and let them know what’s going on? Couldn’t possibly take more than an hour or two, could it? After all, there are only 9 victim sets yet, right?

This woman dies because they didn’t bother to try and contact her. Someone shows up at her door while she’s feeding her son, and next thing you know, she’s hanging from a noose in the other room. The baby’s fine, though – in case you were worried.

Oh, and funny continuity thing – the baby has a glass of apple juice in front of him-

But hours into the ‘left alone’ montage, he hasn’t drunk any more of it. Which kind of seems like a stretch.

I know it’s a little hard to see the level of the apple juice in that shot – let’s try a zoom.

Well, that’s just a mess of pixels. I thought we were living in the future, CSI? What the hell? Take it from me, though – every time he hits the glass, you can see the plentiful liquid sloshing about inside.

The team arrives at the scene, and tries to square the victim’s lack of defensive wounds with the fact that she probably didn’t kill herself. Derek still presses for the suicide idea, even though the statistics are now closing in on a 50% fatality rate. The fact that there were no signs of a break-in means that, like all the other victims, she invited the killer in, and was then drugged!

The final nail in the coffin is Reid’s handwriting analysis of the suicide notes – it’s suspicious that all of them talk about regret and sadness, but none reference death or ending… but why? Because they’re not suicide notes at all! Greg shows up to help them work the profile, while Derek continues to be a dick about the whole idea that there’s a killer at all.

They start trying to figure out who may have been involved in the deaths – and how he could have been involved in all the victims lives. I’m going to go out on a limb and say… grief counsellor? At least that’s what it was in the episode of Touching Evil that was similar to this, plotwise. That time Gollum was the killer!

The next scene is set in a counselling session, where a guy is talking about his son’s death. Is he the next victim? Or is it one of the people that the team are interviewing in an attempt to get a clue about the killer’s identity. They’re no help, but the audience gets a clue when a guy from the counselling session goes to a little league game (his son used to play), and then another member of the AA ground swings by to talk to him!

Is that guy the killer? Almost certainly!

Garcia phones up with their forensic evidence – people are being injected with a tiny needle that paralyzes them temporarily before disappearing from the bloodstream. It’s a tool he uses to kill the baseball dad from the previous scene!

Wait, wasn’t there a strict two week cooldown period between each murder? You’re forgetting that this is Criminal Minds – where every killer is a spree killer!

Reid finally notices that the letters aren’t suicide notes at all – they’re letters that you write to yourself when you’re in treatment for alcohol, drugs, or sometimes grief! Reid knows because of that whole ‘heroin’ thing last year. They talk to the local support groups, hoping to get a lead on the killer – they all hear the same story about a dude whose brother committed suicide when they were younger. This is the neat little package that explains his motivation. But did the killer also murder his brother? That’s the theory they’re working on!

They immediately track down the family name based on the details from his confession, and the team rushes to his house. But he’s not there! Luckily he’s got a list of all of his victims, with the ones he’s already killed crossed off. The latest victim hasn’t been ticked off yet – which means there’s still time! Not that there’s a lot of threat – even though there’s been three murders this week, which is one higher than normal, being the third-act girl still gives her a great chance of being rescued.

The team arrives at the church after the meeting has already let out, and it’s a close call, because as they’re scouring the location the killer is getting a ride from his latest victim! He’s given up the whole ‘fake suicide’ thing too, and he’s just planning to shoot her. The victim foils her by ramming her car into a wall, knowing that her seatbelt and airbag would relatively protect her, while the killer had no such defenses.

With the killer in custody and the last victim saved (herself), it’s time to wrap things up – with a final twist… Ryan’s brother actually did kill himself! Which means the show still followed the two victims and then a rescue format!

Which still leaves open the question of how he ended up with the bad outlet in his bathroom. Did he change it just to kill himself? Again, that seems like a really long way to go in order to commit suicide.


Oh, except for a brief interlude where Greg and Joe discuss Greg’s ongoing family difficulties. Derek and Emily also discuss Derek’s business interests – he owns rental properties! Yeah, I don’t care either.

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

Not really – they go into the psychology of the killer, but it didn’t really help them find anyone. Reid’s insight was based on his personal experience as an addict, which we can’t really give him profiling points for.

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

Yes – and the team did a terrible job of using those basic methods. It seems as if no one did any work at all to discover what the five victims had in common – or any of the potential victims, for that matter. Don’t they normally take these people’s lives apart to figure out how the killer knew them? Shouldn’t ‘oh, they were all in AA/NA/WhateverA have come up during those interviews? Then all they would have had to do was ask around the groups those people were in, and they would have had a description and name for their killer – which is what they got, in a far more roundabout when than they needed to.

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

2/10 – There was insight involved, but it barely registered on the usefulness scale, so I just can’t give them much appreciation on that front.


Still no new looks at the map – have the producers completely forgotten about it?

That was last week’s trip to evil Santa/Clown country – now let’s just drop Pittsburgh, PA onto the screen:



Anonymous said...

Just saw this eppisode on a rerun last night. The woman getting murdered while her baby son sat in a highchair was too much for me. Very distrubing.

Anonymous said...

This episode annoyed me so much when they acted like they had to canvas hundreds of support groups all over the city instead of finding out which ones the potential victims actually attended. Also, you'd think they might have bothered to call those families and let them know how the killer was targeting them so they would know not to let strangers from support group into their car. Just a thought, BAU.

Anonymous said...

The chick who finds her as it turns out non-victim, suicide husband is Renee O'Connor. Poor bastard probably killed himself not from grief, but from knowing he could never live up to her past life soulmate Xena.

Vardulon said...

And really, who could blame him?

Cooper said...

I felt that killing the upbeat woman with the baby. Leaving the child alone would also seem to go against his "helping people"/"I've done nothing wrong" thing. That said, for a contractor, changing an outlet would be extraordinarily easy. I am not a contractor and I can do it in about ten minutes or less. So for him, that would be an easy way to go.