Criminal Minds 405: Catching Out

A train runs through a dark city, making this the second week in a row to open with a vehicle headed somewhere. No traffic fatalities this week, however, just a crazed homeless man who sees everything in psychosis-vision:

Or, based on that screenshot, maybe Van Gogh-vision. Has he come to this random town to kill someone? Of course he has - and then he takes a shower afterward, and sniffs some glue! Okay, this guy is clearly barely functional - how is he going to get away with this? Not that he'll get away with it in the long run, of course - obviously they're going to catch him by the end of the episode, but how is not going to get caught the next morning, when neighbours see a disheveled black guy walking out of an old white couple's suburban house?

Meanwhile, Derek indulges in his favorite passtime: hitting on every attractive woman he comes across. Which, I'll take a moment to remind everyone, the rest of his team sees as a harmless, even borderline-comedic personality trait, rather than a symptom of underlying trauma caused by all the times he was raped as a child.

The twist in this little flirtation is that the woman already knows who Derek is! Is this because she's a serial killer stalking him? Well, she looks like this:

So no. Let's move on to the briefing, where the team discovers that the hobo already has six victims in addition to the two he just murdered the night before (remember, all serial killers are spree killers!) and the team must rush out to California to stop him! Interestingly, the biggest problem they have so far is that he's been dubbed the 'Highway 99 Killer' - why does Greg object to this? I'm guessing we'll find out after the opening credits!

I'm not disappointed - Greg gets on top of the nickname the second they arrive at the field office. His explanation? Naming the guy after the route of his presumed travels can make the investigators tend to focus on crimes and clues committed in those areas, and overlooking relevant information found elsewhere. He even points out that the 'Green River Killer' title may have kept cops from searching the woods for all of Gary Ridgeway's other victims.

Also keeping them from doing that? The fact that The Green River is a discrete, searchable landmark, while 'The Woods Around Seattle' are a functionally limitless area that the police could spend a hundred years scouring and never come up with anything approaching a clue. So maybe it wasn't just the name that kept the cops focused on the river.

Whether Greg is right or wrong about the psychology/facts of the Ridgeway case here, it's worth noting that he took the time to discuss the whole 'naming the killer is bad' idea with the Head of the Field Office, and explain his point of view. Compare this to the last time we saw this exact situation, back in (shudder) episode 313: Limelight. That time around Joe just dickishly announced 'we don't do that' and expected his will to be followed. Which brings me to my question - was the difference in treatment of a colleague because Joe's a dick and Greg's respectful, or because Joe was dealing with a woman, and Greg is talking to a man?

It's obvious enough where I'd weigh in on the question, so let's move on.

Now it's time for a visit to the latest crime scene, which proves to offer a wealth of information - the killer murdered the people with an iron before sniffing nail polish! They also get a key clue - the killer wears the victim's clothes, then drops his own soiled attire on the male victim. Joe comes to the only logical conclusion: the killer must be homeless - and the only way a homeless person can travel such huge distances without drawing attention to themselves is by riding the rails!

That very night (spree killing, remember?) the hobo murders another couple - this time pausing to read their paper the next morning, catching up on the press' reporting of his crimes. Then he leaves the house in broad daylight, once again raising the question of how no one's noticing the black guy in ill-fitting clothing walking away from a house he has no cause to be inside.

Derek and Joe talk to a railyard bull about the killer, who lets them know about the makeshift camps where the hoboes congregate. While they're discussing this we learn that all the victims lived within a mile of the train tracks - a detail that Reid's vaunted geographical profiling really ought to have caught. He's more interested in the small farming towns that sit along the train lines. Then it's profile time, where the team lets the gathered agents know that the hobo will smell like a 'combination of human filth and paint thinner'. Which would be stunningly useful as a clue, if it weren't for two things: 1 - He's a hobo, and you just said that huffing solvents is the most popular drug of hobos, and 2 - He bathes, cleans up, and dresses in laundered clothes after every kill, so there's a day or two post-murder when he won't conform to that description at all.

Didn't Joe just warn the other FBI agents not to make these exact kinds of assumptions?

My theory is borne out when Derek and Joe arrive at the hobo camp and immediately find it full of filthy guys with drug rashes. Then they learn a lesson that the writer of the episode saw on Mad Men: That hobos leave signs at their camps, telling the next set of hobos what the local situation is. It seems that, in addition to noting when cops are going to be trouble, the also let people know where to find sympathetic old people who offer work or food to the homeless - and the hobo is using that information to find victims!

So learn a valuable lesson from Criminal Minds, kids - never help homeless people!

You know, I was being sarcastic there, but when you consider the Elizabeth Smart story, that's not the worst idea. Also - funny coincidence - in the Elizabeth Smart story the cops followed the profile of likely suspects, grabbed an ex-con who'd worked for the family and held him in jail until he died of heart failure, all while ignoring the search. His involvement in the case? Nothing!

A slightly more useful clue comes from Penelope - who, let's face, is the one solving most of these cases - it seems that all of the murders are happening in towns where there's a harvest going on! Their immediate jump-to-conclusion? He must be a migrant farm worker! Except that migrant farm workers generally don't have to ride the rails. They kind of move in large groups. And get paid for their work.

But thanks for equating them with Hoboes, Criminal Minds.

Oh, and after discovering the latest (middle!) kill, Reid, Greg and Emily pause to let us know that the killer is speeding up (from 'spree' to 'rampage', I suppose) - and if they don't catch him, there'll be another victim... possibly tonight! With the ticking clock wound and set, it's time to move on to the actual 'catching' part.

That's helped by the fact that stolen jewelry was pawned at a shop with surveillance cameras! This gives the team a partial picture of the killer's face, which the producers take as an excuse to stop being so coy with us, and just let us know that the killer this week is...

Bubbles from the Wire! Playing another drug addict! Don't be too sad, guy - I'm sure the job on Fringe in two years will cheer you up! This is a perfect example of why I don't pay attention to opening credits, though: the fun of having an actor I like turn up by surprise! Two weeks in a row of that, now!

There's quite a bit more information from Garcia, who discovers that all large farms keep employment records and provide housing for their migrant workers - housing that's regulated, and requires ID to use! This should provide a good lead, but the team raises a bigger question before checking it out - why is Bubbles remaining in California for all these murders, when he could easily be fleeing the state? We're given a clue when we see him pin an envelope to a bulletin board at the camp he's staying in, but its meaning remains mysterious.

A quick cross-check of all the people who've worked and stayed at the various camps near the murders leads them to a team who's been in all of the cities at the right time. By scouring the members' list Garcia finds that there was one guy who was with the team when the arrived at the town where the first murder happened, but mysteriously absent at all the subsequent farms. Also that guy has a criminal record for robbery and B&E. Also his fingerprints were in the house of the first victim. And he looks just like the pawn shop photo.

Wait, did Garcia just solve the case again? Why do they need anyone but her?

She even tells them where he's likely to be, simply by checking where the team that the murders have been following has recently arrived. The team shows up with some immigration agents, and I'm shocked once more by how obnoxious I find the fact that they've redubbed themselves 'ICE' in a pathetic bid to have the coolest government acronym. But that's neither here nor there - in the actual story they quickly find Bubbles' brother, who lets them know that yeah, his brother is super-crazy, and was kicked out of the work team, which apparently drove him to murder! He's stayed in contact, though, and dropped off money at the camps by way of apologizing! Now that the team knows he's in town, it's simply a matter of finding a house in the area that he'd be likely to target and catching him before he kills again!

While the search goes on the show continues spending time with the brother, who offers Bubbles' motivation for the crimes - he never had a comfortable bed to sleep in growing up! What, really?

A woman then hears someone creeping around outside her house and goes to turn the lights on (frightened by the news stories about Bubbles' exploits) - she sees him and screams, then calls the police as he flees! Bubbles tries to escape the only way he knows how, by cowering inside a boxcar. This proves understandably ineffective, given that there are plenty of cops and only a limited number of places to hide on a single train. He still manages to stab a cop to death before Derek chases him down on foot and Greg shoots him, though, so it's not exactly a happy ending.

Okay, so Penelope finds out who the killers are, and then Derek chases them down on foot... what role does the rest of the team serve? At this point, they're beginning to seem like dead weight.


Oh, except for a scene where it turns out that the pretty girl Derek came on to at the beginning is going to be JJ's replacement while she's on maternity leave! So that's how she knew who Derek was. Certainly less sinister than I'd assumed.

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

Good lord, no. I mean, not even a little.

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

They found him by checking fingerprints at the crime scene against people who were known to be in the area of each murder. Also they had a video of him pawning the stolen merchandise. This may have been their easiest case ever.

Other than the one that was resolved by a stranger with a gun. I guess that was a little easier. And hey, that killer was Sobotka from The Wire! Neat!

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

1/10 - Again, had the team just not shown up and Garcia simply phoned the local cops to tell them who the killer was, I'm not sure if this would have played out even slightly differently.

Criminal Minds FactCheck!

For the first time in a while we've got a case that was actually based on something! So yay!

Angel Resendiz was a delusional psychopath who loved murder and rape, and traveled the country riding the rails and killing people whenever the mood struck him. His identity was known to the police almost immediately - not only did he leave a surviving victim of one of his attacks, but unlike the (preposterously contrived) killer in this episode he wasn't overly concerned about leaving fingerprints at crime scenes.

He was nearly impossible to catch, however, simply because he moved around the country without leaving a paper trail. His one constant - referenced in the episode - was that he remained in contact with his family, in Angel's case, a wife in Mexico and a sister in Texas. The sister was tracked down by the Texas Rangers, and one of their number was able to convince her help catch him by promising that he wouldn't be given the death penalty if he turned himself in.

The sister was able to convince Angel to surrender, but the Ranger had overpromised, and Angel had the bad luck of being arrested and charged in a state where the justice system doesn't care how crazy you are if they want to see you executed. He was sentenced to death and murdered by the state in 2006.

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