Criminal Minds 404: Paradise

Ooh, the episode opens with a trucker barreling down the road in the pouring rain, listening to rock music blaring from his radio - does he keep the music loud to drown out the screams of the people he keeps locked in the back?

Guess not, since he just ran into a car that was parked across the middle of the highway! So they're dealing with a killer who drugs people and then uses trucks as his murder weapon! Clever!

Also, now that 24 is off the air, I have to take my practical stunts where I can get them.

Back at home base the team breaks down the case - it turns out I was wrong, the people are already dead when they're put in the car, the woman raped and tortured, the men beaten to death. With this revelation JJ and Garcia are able to run down similar crimes, and find that there have been a number of similar cases in the past few weeks. Yes, weeks. Because every serial killer is a spree killer in the world of Criminal Minds.

Which brings them to the big question - how is the killer finding his victims? Tow truck ruse like in the hunting humans episode? Seems like this is the perfect place for that 'geographical profiling' thing. After all, if the killer is driving the victims' cars to the various highways where he leaves them for trucks to destroy, then he's got to be within easy walking/biking distance of all of those sites, right? Unless there's a second killer and they take 2 cars - but still, there's going to be a comfort zone situation and... you know what? I have no idea why I'm trying to solve this crime for them. Let's just meet our victims who, according to the timeline, will be tortured for 2 days before being murdered (in the business, they call this 'the ticking clock!).

On the way home after a trip to Reno, a married couple (one of them is William Mapother, of Lost/being related to Tom Cruise fame, and the other is Robin Lively - the Teen Witch!) decides to stop in at a motel to spend the night. After which the plot of the movie Vacancy will likely ensue. Hopefully we won't see too much of the couple - I didn't even like the movie, so I'm doubting that the rip-off is going to offer many improvements.

While flying to the scene the team outlines their plan - keep the investigation secret so that the killer won't try to flee. Then we immediately cut to the couple at the motel, who are having a blissful morning. There's only one way this story can be going, with the couple realizing they're trapped and yelling at each other, and since their actions have literally nothing to do with whether they're going to get saved or not, I couldn't care less about them. So unless something majorly unexpected happens, I'm just going to skip over this part of the story.

The geographic profiling starts, and while it's nice to plot out where the cars were found and where the people were from, they don't mention the most obvious clue - where were they coming from, and where were they going to - knowing that should let them triangulate a stretch of road (or several) that all of them would have traveled down, ideally saving some time. Derek, Joe, and Emily swing by the crime scene, hoping to get some insight into the killer. All they clue into is the fact that the killer made sure the accident sites were next to dirt roads, allowing him a chance to escape.

Greg talks to the father of one of the latest victims, breaking the news of the whole serial killer thing, and trying to get some clues about where they might have been. They get a lead on a diner where they always stopped while on the road - might the other victims have stopped at the same place? Emily and Derek check it out, and find a waitress who remembers them! They were in town for two days before the disappeared, which means that they must have been staying in the area!

Tiny break to notice something ridiculous in the 'captive people' story. They have been talking about having waffles. Then waffles are delivered to their room. Their response upon discovering that someone is watching/listening to them is to pack up. Not to just run screaming to their car, desperate to flee whatever fate this maniac has in store for them. It is in this way that they are fundamentally different from how real people would react in this situation.

Armed with a list of all the motels and hotels in the area of the diner, the team starts canvassing the area, looking for where the couple might have been staying. They quickly discover that the new couple has disappeared, so now they know about the ticking clock - which means it's time for a profile! As a violent rapist, they're certain that this killer must be the product of a horrible mother, because 'only a woman could make him hate women this much'.

Net value of all this backstory about misogyny, child abuse, and rape on solving the crime? I'm guessing none. Or, I guess, technically, 'zero' is we're talking about math.

Knowing that his MO is to torture people for long periods of time and then escape using dirt roads, they elect to check out everyone who works at the most isolated motels first. Then, puzzlingly, the first motel we see Derek visit is a fairly modern affair with a dozen members in its full-time staff.

That's a cleaning woman back there. With a cart. And a uniform. How could this possibly be the place? Even if there was a 'night manager' left all alone overnight, he'd need to be able to overpower two people, get them to a second location (couldn't torture in the motel with other employees around), and then dispose of their car all within an impossibly tight timeline. For gosh's sakes, the place even has a pool. Joe's a little smarter, checking out the local ATV rentals, and the creepy guy who runs the shop.

It's Greg who finds the killer though - and it's Wil Wheaton!

Looking all greasy and unkempt - good for him! He's shifty and solicitous, but Greg doesn't notice anything suspicious, and leaves his card before departing. Wil immediately rushes another customer out the door to keep the place empty, which raises a pretty big question, actually: Greg's supposed to be super observant - let's overlook the creepiness of Wil Wheaton here - and we know that Wil has turned on the 'No Vacancy' sign to discourage people from driving up while he's busy raping and murdering people.

Let's compare the claim of a lack of vacancy to the glut of keys hanging on the board behind Wil's head.

It's possible that he's turned off the 'No Vacancy' sign during the day, but why would he? That just invites people to come in and ring the bell (as the other customer does), forcing Wil to come out and run him off - which is a hell of a lot more suspicious than just leaving on the 'No Vacancy' sign over an empty parking lot.

Here's another incredibly suspicious thing Greg misses - the customer who Wil was about to help storming out of the office pissed off, just thirty seconds after Greg left. That's not even enough time for Greg to have gotten his keys out at the car.

Maybe the guy's just having an off day.

Back at home base, Emily drops the latest connection in a scene so absurdly awful that I've got to present it in full:

Okay, first off, why did you tell us about the handyman? You've already dismissed him as a possibility, so why are you wasting everyone's time? It's not like you segued gracefully into the underwear conversation or anything - and how can you extrapolate from that to 'car accident as final rape'? Here's what we know so far - the car accidents are an attempt to cover up the crime, so it looks like people are explicably dead, rather than inexplicably missing. Rapists and serial killers often like to take trophies, which the underwear almost certainly is. How does 'trophy+practical disposal method' get her to Vehicular Rape?

Of all the team members, Emily is the one I would feel least comfortable sitting next to on the subway.

Okay, now this show is getting nuts - in the very next scene starts off with the sheriff reiterating the idiotic 'crash as rape' theory, only to have the team ignore him and start talking about how a certain subset of rapists ALWAYS takes underwear as trophies, and since the killer is of that type, he's probably got a record!

Hold on... you've been on this case for more than a day already - you didn't start checking for known sex offenders in the area the second you found out the victim was raped? What is the government paying you people? Other than too much, I mean.

Garcia drops in with search results for similar rapes - it seems that a serial rapist was recently jailed for a series of crimes - but the last one of them didn't fit his MO, it fit that of their killer! They search through the other suspects in the final crime, hoping to turn up a name from their 'hotel employee' list. Oh, okay, Garcia was working the 'sex offender' angle the whole time. Good - glad to know someone's on the ball. But if that's the case, what was the point of the whole 'underwear' interlude? They acted like it was a key piece of evidence because it proved they were dealing with a serial rapist - but they already knew that. Because he'd been serially raping women.

Were they seriously just wasting our time buy trying to be as disgusting as the network would let them get away with?

Back to the show now, where Joe says, bar none, the stupidest line of the episode so far:

'Be sure to look for an intellectual component - this guy used the MO of another rapist to make sure the wrong person went to jail for his crimes.'

Um... no he didn't. Four women were raped but otherwise physically unharmed. A fifth woman was beaten to death with the killer's bare hands. That's nowhere near the same MO.

This is a terrible episode, even by Criminal Minds' standards. At least there's no middle victim to be sacrificed for the body count. That's something, right?

Less something is the fact that the interludes with the victims have actually gotten to the 'prelude to a rape' phase. Is this seriously why we're spending so much time with these characters? So we could watch Wil Wheaton threaten a crying woman who's tied to a bed? I feel confident in saying that's something the audience profoundly didn't ask for.

Suspect triangulation gets the job done - Greg reads off the suspect list and it turns out that one of them had a record for stealing underwear, a crime that only rapists (or would-be rapists) commit. That man also happens to be the owner of the motel Greg visited - Wil Wheaton!

Whoa... are they seriously glossing over the fact that they didn't immediately check the criminal records of everyone who owned or worked at the motels in the area? Damn, this is some incompetent policework.

The team rushes down to the motel, getting there too late to stop the rape, but just in time to prevent a murder! Wil flees on foot, which leads to a terrifying revelation:

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Wil Wheaton had a back injury or something just before shooting started. Of course, in that case, they could have gotten him a stunt double or something. At least keep shots of him and the other two more separate, so as to avoid inviting comparisons.

How did Derek not catch that guy, anyways? Chasing people is literally all he brings to the team, and he can't even catch a guy who's seemingly physically incapable of running?

Anyhoo, Wil runs out onto the road, where he's murdered by irony:

Now it's just time for a little wrapup, as Greg chides himself for missing Wil's amazing creepiness. Joe tells him not to worry about it - it could have happened to anyone. People who don't share that kind opinion: The woman who was brutally raped and her husband, who was severely beaten with a baseball bat - crimes that weren't prevented because Greg was unable to notice obvious clues.

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

Nope - Greg didn't notice anything strange about the unbelievably creepy Wil Wheaton when he was face-to-face with the guy. Beyond that, there was only the barest attempt to add a psychological dimension to the proceedings: Emily's laugably awful 'car-rape' theory, the less said about which, the better.

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

Well, let's see... they found out one of the couples was staying at a local hotel, so they looked into hotel staff. One of the members of the local hotel staff was a sex criminal. Can't get a lot more conventional than that, can you?

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

1/10 - They searched a list of sex offenders. Wil Wheaton was on it. They chased him until he stepped into the path of irony. This wasn't an especially 'thinky' hour of television. Far more disappointing is the relationship drama that it turns out I was correct not to cover - even though they were the stars of nearly half the episode, once the FBI runs in to rescue them the husband and wife disappear from the story. They're not even given a couple of lines to wrap up their emotional arc.

God damn it, Criminal Minds!


Tough bit of mapping this week, as, in a rare occurrence, this episode wasn't set in a real city! So I've just decided on a settled on a little plot of land NE of Lake Tahoe, since that's where the murders seem to center around.

Fun fact I learned while making the google map? The episode explains that the trucks hadn't been able to stop because the cars were always placed on steep switchbacks - overlooking the logical fallacy there (18-wheelers tend not to go too fast on steep switchbacks) - one of the cars was hit 'on the 395 between Reno and Carson City'. According to the satellite footage, there are no switchbacks between Reno and Carson City. Huh.

Also, I find Google Streetview terrifying for some reason.


Anonymous said...

another great review! thank you so much. p.s. you write quite well. i hope you pursue it in other areas as well. i've read several people criticize your reviews for varioius, usually frivolous reasons, but it is much harder to write entertaining and informative reviews like this than most people would think. it is way easier to complain than to do. again, thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

this episode was written by debra j. fisher and erica messer. they tend to write the worst episodes.

Anonymous said...

Reid: The best illustration of a terrible mother is a Native American myth about the Great Mother destroying her children.


Definitely not an actual case of a mother harming her child; or an analysis of why and how women abuse, as distinct from male motives. Or a discussion of the effect on the developing psyche of maternal as opposed to paternal abuse.

Absolutely, discussion of Native American mythology is without a doubt the very best way to illustrate "terrible mothers".