Criminal Minds 402: The Angel Maker

This week's episode opens with a cliche - the blond woman creeping around her empty house, suddenly being scared by movement, but then it turns out that it was just the cat. The show tries to be clever by having the woman acknowledge in dialogue that her situation is cliched, but then it goes and drops in a second one, Myers-style.

Yup, it's the old 'out of focus killer moving soundlessly getting ready to ambush the woman' shot. I don't fault the show for employing classic horror movie tropes, I fault them for thinking that they're better than the tropes, and making jokes that outright claim as much.

The woman is, unsurprisingly, beaten to death with a hammer just a short amount of time later moments later, and then her corpse is violated with a post-mortem rape and stabbing. Ick.

Back in Quantico Greg is getting an MRI - demonstrating a nice acknowledgement by the show that there are major lasting physical repercussions from being within five feet of a huge explosion. He's warned that he should stay away from further loud sounds for a few weeks, lest he be deafened permanently! Greg badgers his way into being put back on the active duty roster, but the scene ends with a note of concern from his doctor, who has to tell him that the phone in his jacket pocket is ringing. Which is a great idea, except that it requires the audience to believe that Greg, a man who's now been living for a few months with a serious degree of hearing loss, wouldn't have already switched the phone's vibrate feature on to compensate.

Once Greg has arrived at the office the start going through the details of the case, but not before Derek takes a moment to tease Reid about his ridiculous haircut:

I also take a moment to mention this seemingly random and unimportant act because it's worth noting that, according to the first episode, Mandy had everyone refer to Reid as 'Doctor Reid' because he looked too young to be an FBI agent, and he wanted to ensure that the man was given the proper respect that his intellect warranted. Now it's four years later, though, and Reid no longer looks too young to be an FBI Agent. He now just looks like an FBI agent with a haircut that's completely inappropriate for an employee of the federal government to be sporting. He's by far the least-appropriately attired member of a team that includes a member who feels comfortable running around in jeans.

While representing the FBI.

Hey, so where were we? Ah, yes, the new crime is a copycat for a serial killer who called himself 'The Angel Maker' - a serial killer who was executed one year to the day before this new crime. Ready for the twist? The semen found on the dead body was an exact DNA match for the Angel Maker! What could possibly explain this development? Let's find out after the opening credits!

(although the only two possible explanations are identical twin or semen smuggled out of death row)

While on the plane the team addresses the main discrepancy between this new crime and the previous murders: the original women were beaten to death with the Angel Maker's bare hands, while this one was hammered to death. Which instantly points to a weaker victim, meaning small man or woman.

The case gets more interesting as the team learns that the copycat was able to reproduce specific elements of the killer's MO, ones that never made it into the press or trial records! Of course this means that the killer has to be someone who worked on the original murders or someone who'd been in contact with the Angel Maker before his death. Given that every bit of correspondence from people on death row to the outside world is monitored and recorded, I'm guessing they're going to have an incredibly small pool of suspects to choose from this week.

Another clue? The stab wounds on the victims were made with a screwdriver, and each body had a different number of wounds in a unique pattern. The copycat corpse's wounds have traces of paper in them, which was not the case in the original murders. We're now eight minutes and thirty seconds into the episode, and we've just been told that the copycat had a piece of paper with him that laid out exactly where the stab wounds were supposed to go - meaning that the patterns themselves are vitally important to the killer's motive.

How long before the characters in the show - theoretically the world's foremost experts on this stuff - figure that out?

For the record though, I have no idea what this pattern means:

Although Emily finds it oddly familiar. Inverted cross? Connect-the-dots inverted cross? The fact that I'm just seeing inverted crosses probably doesn't say fantastic things about me, huh.

Over at Death Row a super-creepy guard smiles while reminiscing to Derek about what a hit the Angel Maker was with the ladies.

Somehow this guard doesn't immediately become their prime suspect, and the subject of constant surveillance to keep him from killing again. I wonder how many lives that will wind up costing? Oh, right - 1 more, because the middle victim dies, and the last one is saved. After the last two 24-themed episodes I'd forgotten about the formula.

Hell, they don't even seem to suspect the guy of being the person who smuggled the semen out of prison, even though guards are the only people in a position to do so.

It seems that the Angel Maker was fond of sending letters to the police, and a new one has shown up at a local newspaper office! Could the Angel Maker still be alive? Obviously not, but the sheriff's office decides to exhume the corpse, just to be safe - and the grave turns out to be empty!

Is a zombie stalking the town? Of course not, but the scene was important insofar as it established Greg's self-destructive tendencies: Even though he knows that loud noise can cripple him he elects to stand next to the grave during the exhumation, retreating only when severe pain causes him to do so. What's going on with this guy? Death wish? Has being separated from his family caused him to refocus entirely on his job, but deep down he realizes what a dead-end that is and subconsciously trying to injure himself so irrevocably that he's forced to give it up? Am I thinking far more about the psychology of the characters than the writers of a show that's (theoretically, anyhow) about psychology?

The team decides to track down a rumour that the execution had a series of... irregularities. It seems that the needles had become dislodged, and they had trouble pumping enough poison into his body to kill him for good. Even creepier? His last words promised that he would be 'born again'! Joe, demonstrating a shaky grasp of the bible, equates the threat to a 'latter-day Lazarus, returning to deliver hell on earth'.

Then the show takes a detour into talking about serial killer memorabilia, with a specific shout-out to the creepy people who buy John Wayne Gacy's clown paintings. I'm with the show on this one: you should really be keeping a close eye on anyone collecting those things. Although she makes a mistake that the rest of the team doesn't immediately, and dickishly, correct, they way they're wont to, so I'm guessing it was a mistake by the writer. She calls Gacy a 'paedophile', which isn't actually true - his predilection was for teens, and there's another word for that - paedophile is just for pre-pubescent children. I don't actually know the word, and I don't care enough to look it up, but it's out there. I know I'm asking you to trust me more than the writers of Criminal Minds here, but given the evidence presented in the last sixty-odd reviews, who's more likely to be right about this stuff?

Turns out the Angel Maker loved to autograph things and sell them online. Unsurprisingly it turns out the distributor is the incredibly creepy guard who I immediately pegged as the killer. It seems I was wrong, and the guard is dead:

I stand by my suggestion that they should have been tailing this obvious suspect, though - and now we discover that doing so would have nailed the killer! The guard has also been shot in the groin, which the team should immediately realize means that the killer was a woman - although it takes them finding a bottle of viagra in the guard's bathroom to help them figure it out. In the next scene we learn something that makes the team look even more incompetent than usual - it seems that the dead guard lost his previous job at a women's prison because he was sexually exploiting the inmates.

So a routine check into the backgrounds of the people closest to a serial killer didn't catch the fact that his death row guard was a reputed rapist? Even though that's the exact kind of info they'd be looking for when trying to find a copycat? What are they paying Garcia for, anyhow?

The team offers a profile about serial killer groupies, wasting some time talking about types of groupies that the killer isn't before focusing on the more likely type. Of course, since the 'likely type' is just 'women who are attracted to violent men', the profile is far less useful than simply checking who the Angel Maker visited with and wrote to, so that's what the team zeroes in on. I wonder if they're going to do a Sondra London thing here - probably not. That lady is way, way too scary to put on television.

A visit with one of the groupies gives them a lead. One time she received the wrong letter by accident, and that letter was singularly odd in that it used none of the killer's standard purple prose, but was rather perfunctory and awkward. Before they can figure out what this might mean, there's another victim! Don't worry random lady we never met, your death won't be in vain - with two bodies down, the next victim has to survive!

A look at the corpse finally gets them where we were sixteen minutes ago - figuring that the pattern of the wounds is important! They still don't know what it means, but it least they're looking. Reid also comes up with a better lead - reading all the nonsense letters to the other groupie reveals that they're likely written in code... but what code, and how to crack it? Well, the guy almost certainly didn't know how to write in code when he went to prison, and his groupie certainly didn't know how to decode them, so wouldn't looking at their earliest correspondence offer some clues?

Or if they talked about it in person, you'd want to find someone who visited him a lot right at the beginning, and then suddenly stopped when the letters to 'Dove' (that's her code name in the letters) started. You know, I'm guessing that none of these avenues of investigation will be followed, and they're just going to come up with the answer.

While Reid is busy the rest of the team engages in victimology, figuring that since both women worked at home-based businesses the killer might have stopped by posing as a customer in order to case the victim's house and leave a window unlocked so that they could sneak in later that night. This is an incredibly clever line of investigation that's dropped immediately, and inexplicably, when they don't find any overlapping names on the two victims' appointment lists.

So, to be absolutely clear, the team drops their theory because they're certain that when making an appointment with the woman they planned to kill, the killer would use her real name? Huh? Wouldn't a far more effective investigation technique be to call all of the women on the list to check which of them are real people? Then, when you've found out which was the fake name in each case, you'll know exactly when the killer's appointment was on either day, and be able to canvas the neighbourhood, checking if people noticed anything suspicious at a really specific time.

Instead of following that totally logical line of investigation, though, they instead have a brainstorm while walking out of the house - Emily thought the stab pattern was familiar because it was a constellation! It's part of a series of nine constellations called 'The Heavenly Waters' - there have been eight victims already, just one more to go!

Meanwhile, Reid has cracked the code by checking on who the Angel Maker's friends were on death row! It seems that the Aryan Brotherhood are known to use a specific kind of code invented by Francis Bacon in the Sixteenth Century! In the code each number is assigned a value of 1 or 0, and each group of five letters spells out another letter.

That doesn't explain why sometimes L, G and H are 1s and sometimes they're 0s, but I'm sure it makes sense in Reid's head. I guess it could work if each time a letter is used its value switches... but then why would the Es and Is remain 0s? Also unexplained? How 'Dove' learned the code. Pretty sure she wasn't hanging out with any Aryan Nation hard-timers.

The correspondence apparently started right after the verdict (well before he met the Aryans on death row, and before she could have possibly learned a cipher), and in the letters she promised to 'bring a piece of him back into the world', which the team immediately interprets to mean that the original intent of the smuggled semen was to get the groupie pregnant!

There's a quick red herring trip where Groupie A tries to kill someone in order to regain the death serial killer's favour, but other than offering more evidence for the show's 'well, duh' thesis that serial killer groupies are deeply messed up, it has no real value.

With one letter offering a clue to the date of conception the team is able to estimate a date of birth, and operating on the assumption that the killer had the baby in that county under her real name, they search for single parents within a brief window. It turns out that one of the names on the list was Chloe, a woman who was on the jury in the serial killer's trial! And after their child died shortly after birth, she decided to turn to murder!

So wait, they didn't need to narrow the list down at all, they just had to cross-reference it with names associated with the case?

The team rushes over to the killer's house, but she's already out looking for another victim! Oh, and BTW, she's got the Angel Maker's desiccated corpse in a trunk in her front hall.

Searching through the killer's things they find her appointment book, listing her meetings with the other victims! Meaning my theory about fakes names was right, and they should have investigated it! You know, they also could have put out a statement to women who work from home in the town - give them a heads up that a crazy lady was going to try to kill them.

The team rushes over to the victim's house and - ready for a surprise? - gets there just in time to keep the killer from murdering her last victim! They try to confuse her by claiming that the Angel Maker wrote love letters to a bunch of women, not just her, and it kind of works, while being wholly unnecessary. After all, she was busy tying up the victim when Derek entered the house, giving him ample opportunity to simply shoot her in the back. He also neglects to shoot her in the back when she wanders off, instead prioritizing getting the victim out of the house while the killer was still wandering around with a loaded gun.

Really bad priorities there, Derek.

Anyhoo, with the last victim rescued there's nothing left for the killer to do but run outside, gun in had, getting the cops to shoot her. Thus giving us the real reason Derek didn't just shoot her in the back when he had the chance:

If he'd done that, Greg's ear wouldn't have been even further injured, allowing him to take a day or two off!

Unless he gets into some kind of a crazy killbilly adventure while driving back to Quantico, though, I'm not sure why it's important that he do so.

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

Not in the least! They were looking for a copycat, and a simple search of people who were close to him led to one groupie, who told them about the killer!

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

While codebreaking is certainly a little more cerebral than fingerprinting and checking license plates, it still counts as a normal police technique.

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

2/10 - And that's a gift. I'm giving them an extra point for using psychology to delay the killer long enough for Derek to get the victim out of the house, but since they just wound up shooting her anyhow, it's not much of a victory.


Anonymous said...

Nice review as always. On an unrelated note, the word you were searching for, "someone with a sexual attraction for pubescent children", is ephebophile.

Anonymous said...

Your reviews are why I watch the show.

Bugmenot said...

L, G and H are sometimes 0 and sometimes 1 based on the way they're written. In your photo I can see that one of the Ls has an obtuse angle, and one of the Hs has the horizontal bar way below.

More on the cypher here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon%27s_cipher

Anonymous said...

Great reviews! I can hardly wait to finish an episode, I immediately go and read your post for it) Thank you!

Hanna said...

Is nobody else bothered by the fact that Derek refers to the instruments she uses to "simulate sexual assault" as a "rape kit"?
Maybe it is because English is not my first language, but to me a rape kit is the stuff used to collect evidence after a rape and nothing else.