Criminal Minds 319: Tabula Rasa

The episode opens, confusingly, with a flashback to 2004 – the team (sans Mandy), is attempting to catch a killer named Matlock in his apartment complex. I will continue calling him Matlock for obvious reasons. Derek is distracted momentarily by dreamcatcher, then chases Matlock out onto a roof. Matlock tries to jump for it-

But since he proves not to be a videogame character, he doesn’t make it to the other side. Derek, who certainly is a little more videogame-y, jumps to the other side successfully, but can’t grab Matlock’s hand before this happens:

We do a ‘life flashing before his eyes’ thing and then he splatters all over the pavement. He’s not dead, though, and for no good reason they call an ambulance to make sure he survives. Which means that in the present day (2008), he’s able to wake up for the trial. What’s the twist? He’s got total amnesia, and doesn’t remember being a serial killer! Will they be able to jog his memory and get him into jail? Find out after the credits!

But again, the answer will be yes. It’s a formula, people, and he’s no Keith Carradine.

As if the amnesia stuff wasn’t bad enough, their only witness to the crime has died! In a flashback, we get some hilarious costuming twists-

It’s Reid’s first case and he’s even dorkier, and 2004 was the last year before Derek gave up on his personal appearance and started showing up at his job (as a federal agent!) wearing T-shirts and jeans!

Seriously, why do they put up with dress that slovenly?

Going over the case again Derek mentions that they never found any sign of the trophies he took from the victims, but they did learn that he was obsessed with Native American mysticism. Did they call in Blackwolf to help on the case? Probably not, since they hadn’t met him yet.

Sigh… are we ever going to see Blackwolf again?

Then it’s time for a court scene, which is so bizarre that I can’t really fathom what its purpose is supposed to be. You see, Matlock has amnesia, so he can’t remember the crimes – since he wasn’t going to confess in court, this has zero effect on the case. The prosecution wants him to undergo something called ‘brain fingerprinting’ to determine whether he’s actually physically lost the memories, is just choosing not to remember them for psychological reasons, or is faking.

I’m not sure what the goal of this procedure could possibly be. If they’re gone, it doesn’t affect the case, if he’s blocked them out, it doesn’t affect the case, if he’s faking, then it still doesn’t affect the case – according to the constitution he can’t be compelled to testify against himself, so what does it matter if he remembers it or not? Again – you were never going to get a confession, so his presence in the court is incidental.

You should have convicted him while he was in the coma.

Matlock volunteers to take part in the procedure, since he’s genuinely curious to discover whether he’s a serial killer or not. Good for him. Someone for whom it’s less good for is the father of one of the victims, who says hi to Reid outside the courtroom. Let’s all begin our countdown to when this guy:

Brings a gun to the courtroom for a little personal justice. We’re eleven minutes into the episode, so I’m guessing… twenty minutes away, at 31:30. Make your own guesses, and I’ll let you know what the clock is when he finally gets talked out of executing the serial killer by Reid! (Which, for the record, is the only way this storyline can play out.)

Matlock is hooked up to a science machine, and the test begins! He’s shown images of the victims and their corpses – his reactions are gauged… by science! The result? No recognition! Which his lawyer can use to say he couldn’t possibly have committed the crime!

Wait, remind me again why they did this test? What they were hoping to achieve with it? Because that was never clear. The team then debates the morality of punishing a man for crimes he doesn’t remember committing. Not that they have to worry about it – that night he starts having nightmares about his crimes! This won’t help the team though, who don’t hear about it.

There’s another clue, though – Matlock had a visitor every week in his hospital room. A mysterious woman named Nina – who could she be? There are dozens of women with the same name in the area, but no one with a clear connection to Matlock.

The trial begins the next day, with the defense pointing out that there’s no clear evidence of Matlock committing the crime – it’s just psychologists guessing at his personality type. On the stand Greg recounts, in flashback form, how they figured out who they were looking for. This leads to him fuzzing over the real reason they solved the case – that a random guy saw one of the victims walking off with the killer.

Emily and Joe talk about the mysterious Nina – she’s the right age to be his mother, and it turns out that Matlock was adopted! Here’s the bigger twist – she’s a native, and that’s why he became obsessed with their mythology: he’s half-native! They track down the birth mother’s name, and head over to talk to her.

Now for Greg’s cross-examination. The defense tries to muddy the waters about the fuzzy science of profiling. Greg admits that you can be led to the wrong man through profiling, which he correctly interprets as ‘guesswork’. Then Greg manages to wow the court by telling them all about the lawyer’s personality. He does a great job, Sherlock Holmes-style, but it doesn’t totally sell the idea that Matlock is the killer – to anyone but Matlock, that is! He’s growing more concerned about how sure people seem about his guilt. Coupled with the nightmares, there’s no doubt that he’s the killer!

Reid has another talk with the grieving father in the courthouse, and is surprised at how upbeat the man it. Dad then goes out to the car and grabs his gun – at 26 minutes, we’re well off my guess – but let’s see when Reid talks him out of using it.

Joe goes to talk to the birth mother, and she reveals that Matlock called her out of the blue, and then she rejected him! Which the team surmises must have been the impetus for him starting to kill women! Joe then asks if Matlock had any further contact – it seems that he sent all of the murder trophies to his mom! Ick!

Okay, time for the important scene. Matlock is being brought into the court for his trial, Dad’s going to kill him, then Reid rushes in-

30:57! I was like half a minute off! How did you do?

Oh, right, the show. Reid convinces him not to shoot that guy. Dad is convinced to to pursue things when Reid tells him that Nina is going to testify about the trophies she was sent by the killer. Which is the last few nails in the guy’s coffin. But she feels really guilty about it.

With no doubt left in his mind, Matlock decides it’s time to make a break for it. He knocks out the friendly female guard who’s been talking to him, then gets away in a car.

The team is faced with a dilemma – where’s he going? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest… the park where he killed all those women? Reid confirms my theory by searching through Matlock’s cell, where he finds sketches of places in the forest.

This is really bad for the woman who jogs down the path right past where he’s hiding. He doesn’t go through with the murder immediately, though – still unsure about who he is as a person. But when they approach Matlock, it turns out he didn’t grab the jogger at all… he just dug up the one corpse that the cops didn’t find. Greg then talks Matlock out of killing himself, for reasons that are unclear to me at the moment.

Reid then heads over to the grieving Dad’s house, where he drops off the daughter’s watch, and tries to comfort the guy a little. It’s all very touching.


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

No. There was a witness to the crime. Yes, their profile told them the killer was likely a park employee, but the fact that he was seen just before committing the crime was far more responsible.

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

Did you see 1? There was a witness that saw him lead a girl into the woods just before she was murdered. How much more obvious does it need to get?

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

2/10 – The profile narrowed down the suspect pool a little, but not nearly as much as the witness did.

PS – Turns out I was hearing it wrong, and the guy was named ‘Matloff’. I stand by what I typed, because it’s more entertaining that way.


That’s right, we finally got another look at the murder map, only it’s at such a bad angle that it’s of no help at all! There’s slightly different angle earlier in the scene that I thought was going to help me figure out what part of Florida Jamie Kennedy had been eating people in, but then it turned out that they were just reflections from the wall.

So, anyhow, here’s last week’s map-

Now let’s add Roanoke, VA-

Only one more episode left in the season, folks – where will the last dot go? I’m not a betting man, but given the patten, I’d say within three hundred miles of Quantico!


Anonymous said...

Actually, they wouldn't be able to try him while he was in a coma or with the amnesia. He has to be physically competent to stand trial for them to convict him. If he's not competent, he can't be made to stand trial since he can't properly defend himself. If he can't remember what happened, he can't really defend himself.

Anonymous said...

who is this greg you speak of?

Anonymous said...

great review as always! i enjoyed this episode quite a lot. thought it sort of made fun of itself. at about 45 minutes in i was thinking "what, no spree killer this episode?" then the team suggested the killer would begin spree killing once he escaped, only for him to not spree kill. you have to admit, that was a nice turn of events for this show. kind of like the writers realize their formula and were making fun of it. also same with splitting the final quote at the end between the victim's watch and reid. so, while you are right about behavior analysis being mostly useless in this criminal minds episode, i think this episode deserves some props for varying up the formula a bit and not taking itself quite so seriously.

i also enjoyed the idea of how we change throughout our lives and how that applied to the killer.

Unknown said...

sorry this is years later but you forgot to make a comment about how reid couldn’t remember the name of garcia when she was new which is why derek called her baby girl. just something i wished you had commented on.

Hanna said...

Finally you comment on how they dress. It has been bugging me for a while.

is there no dress code at the FBI? Garcia never sees the light of day in her dark office, so I guess she doesn't count. But the rest of them go out in the field and the FBI doesn't care how they dress?

Hotch always wears a suit as I would expect. JJ and Prentiss also dress apporpriately for the most part. There were some very low cut tops for Prentiss, but because it is TV, I can let them get away with that.
Rossi is this celebrity profiler so I understand that the bureau lets him maybe get away with the occasional pair of jeans and he at least wears shirts.
Then there is Reid. He looks like a five year old that was dressed by his mum in his sunday's best but then went out to play with friends and run around for a day.
When he started he was very young and maybe didn't know how to dress for the job, but I don't see why nobody took him aside after a couple of weeks to tell him to buy a suit. Obviously not Gideon, who always dressed like a dad on a fishing trip, but Hotch just doesn't seem like the kind of boss who would put up with that.
And then there is Derek. Who always wears combat boots and pants and a dark T-shirt.

I guess they made these choices to emphasize the most important character traits. Reid the teacher's pet / genius who isn't that socially competent, Hotch the workaholic who even sacrifices his marriage for his job, Derek the tough guy.
But really, if you need to rely on clothes this much to tell the audience how much what kind of a person the character is, they are not doing a great job writing and acting.
There are waaaaay subtler hints to convey all of this.

Unknown said...

(although I am smart enough to figure it out by myself) I would also like to know who this Greg character that you speak of is.
(10 yrs later and still waiting ...fingernails tapping on the table)