28.1.11

Criminal Minds 408: Masterpiece

The episode opens as most Criminal Minds Episodes do: piano music plays while we see shots of a woman and some children trapped in a small room, being photographed by a surveillance camera.

Okay, so maybe this is a bit of a departure, and it seems like a clever enough one that it’s worth getting excited about, except for one thing: when we get a look at the killer’s lair (which is directly adjacent to the murder room), we see that it’s full of famous paintings with geometric lines drawn over them. If that doesn’t tip you off to how annoying this is about to get, the show drops in a lingering shot of this:

Yup, it’s the spiral of a shell. So we’re in for an hour of nonsense blathering about the golden mean and Fibbonacci. Fantastic. You know what the crazy part is? I bet most of the characters act like they’ve never heard of it, even though it was prominently featured in the Da Vinci Code (that’s how I learned about it, after all) – and don’t tell me they all haven’t read the Da Vinci code. These people spend a thousand hours a year on planes. Of course they’ve read the Da Vinci Code.

Okay, it might actually be time to move on to the story now, in which Joe and Reid are talking to a group of college students about life in the FBI. As the speech continues Jason Alexander slips into the back of the room, wearing what can only be described as a preposterous getup:

What’s he up to, other than being this week’s guest killer? We’ll find out after a quick trip to Quantico, where Todd, the temp-JJ sucks at her job. The show lets us see her completely botch an interview with a detective who’s looking for help on a case, and then gets incredibly defensive when Derek swoops in to help out. Will she get good at her job before being transferred, or simply get fired for incompetence when it’s time for JJ to get back?

At the college Jason walks up to Reid and Joe and introduces himself as ‘Professor Rothschild’, then shows them a few pictures of his murder victims:

Which are very effectively creepy, and do a good job of organically hiding the faces of the victims. It seems the art department has really stepped up its game since that collage disaster back in season 1!

Jason boasts that he dissolved them all in acid, and that there are five more victims, who will all be dead in the next nine hours unless they can beat his game. Can they? Let’s find out after the opening credits!

(SPOILER ALERT) Yes, they can. I mean, I haven’t seen the episode yet, but, you know, formula.

At Quantico Todd goes to complain to Greg about Derek’s behaviour, then storms off in a huff. Which is totally the way an FBI agent should be behaving. Greg then gets a call from Joe about the Jason Alexander situation – he’s bringing the freak in for questioning, and wants them to get started figuring out who the pictures are of!

Garcia’s going to get on top of that, maybe even solving the case while doing so – but first she’s going to spend some time with her boyfriend Xander, who’s visiting from his own FBI tech officer office! They chat a bit about comic books before Greg swoops in with the assignment, and during the whole scene I never get a good look at the Murder Map, which is kind of frustrating, but hardly unexpected.

In the car ride to the office Jason is cagey about offering any new information about himself. He refuses to engage with Joe, explaining that he’s so brilliant that he’ll only talk to Reid. He’s so brilliant, in fact, that he’s only revealing his crimes because he wants an audience for them! Which sounds like a great motivation, except when you consider the fact that killing seven people without leaving a trace isn’t much of an accomplishment for a serial killer – Leonard Lake and Charles Ng killed four times that many and no one had the slightest idea they were out there.

When Jason and the team arrives back at base they discover that the five upcoming victims are a woman who runs a daycare center and her four charges. Now that they know the nature of the ticking clock, the team is all the more irritated by Jason’s blathering on about genetics and superior intellect. The most important clue he offers is that he’s wearing a pendant:

It’s an odd design, and totally unfamiliar to me.

While the team tries to figure out who Jason’s victims are by learning more about him, things a happening quickly inside the container where the children and teacher are being kept. Gas begins to seep into the room, and oxygen masks fall from the ceiling and regular intervals, forcing all five victims to line up through the length of the room. What is this man’s game?

Also, in trying to be just a little too clever, the show cheats – theoretically Jason is taking automatic photos of the situation in the room with a camera attached to the door:

But the computer that Jason is recording to shows this live image:

Of a little girl, shot from a completely different (and moving!) position than the one established camera would be capable of.

The team starts to profile Jason, and discover that he seemingly only kills brunette women, and get a good idea of the general geographic area he lives in. Then they get a little extrapolation-heavy; noting that he doesn’t have fingerprints on file anywhere, the team assumes that he must be a researcher rather than a teacher – because all teachers are fingerprinted. Garcia rushes to check central grant databases, and it somehow doesn’t occur to anyone that Jason might be lying about his name and profession. Even though he’s obviously a narcissist who wants to be seen as the epitome of intellect and distinction, they don’t jump to the logical conclusion that he might be lying about the ostentatiously classy name ‘Professor Rothschild’?

The next scene kind of makes Garcia look like an idiot, as she sits at her desk, trying to figure out a way to determine how far Jason could have taken his victims in the three hours between abducting them and showing up at the university. She chides herself for never learning algebra, and that’s funny and all, but hasn’t she done this a bunch of times already on the show? She’s working with the highest-end software the federal government has to offer – surely there’s a program that can at least draw the circles for her, right? Also, shouldn’t she be sifting through the security camera footage from the university, trying to find out what kind of car Jason drove onto campus? Finding his car seems like it would be a pretty huge lead, actually.

Garcia is interrupted from failing to work by an E-mail, which sends her through a link to ‘goldenrat.net – reminding me that it’s also called the ‘Golden Ratio’ – thanks, show! The website is, naturally, the live video feed of the people trapped in the container.

Joe head back into the interrogation room to talk to Jason, and continues to heap abuse on Jason, then has Emily confront him, because he clearly has a problem with brown-haired women. Despite his protestations to superiority, Jason shrinks away from her. Annoyed at having been proven a coward, Jason strikes back, claiming that one of the five victims has just died – cutting away shows us that the furthest-from-the-camera section of the container closes off from the rest, so that an acid sprayer can kill just a single person. Although we’re thankfully spared the image of the sprayer actually melting the child in the last section. Jason assures Joe that they will continue dying, once every two hours until it’s over.

The shows begins to cut back and forth quickly now, with Greg and the rest of the team going through a list of missing women in Virginia while Joe has to put up with Jason claiming that he’s a killer because he’s an XYY baby. Thankfully Joe treats this idea with the derision it deserves. That’s not to say it’s impossible for there to be a genetic component to crime – poor anger management and low impulse control can be inherited traits, but the idea that someone is genetically programmed to be a serial killer is plain crazy.

Derek and Todd head to the newest crime scene and discover something strange:

A message left by the killer! But what does it mean?

Inside the container, the teacher has a brave plan: she’s currently situated closest to the door – so she switches places with the last child, so she’ll be in last place, and hopefully the next one to be sectioned off! Which is almost amazingly noble, if you think about it.

Looking over a list of potential victims, the team finds the seven most likely choices, and have their suspicions confirmed when it turns out that five of the victims lived close to one another – two in one town, three in another! Something about this information causes Reid to have something that can only be called an ‘Artsplosion’:


Then he rushes into the interrogation room, grabs Jason’s necklace, and announces that he knows how to find the victims! Boom! Now that’s an act break!

When back from commercial Reid explains the basics of the Golden Ratio, and then shows how the various towns the murders were committed in all follow the same spiral pattern that appears on Jason’s necklace. Which is all well and good, but there’s a huge problem with the reasoning that follows:

This is the map they use – the conclusion that Reid jumps to is that Jason must have the children hidden in the town that forms the starting point of the map. But why? For every crime now he’s moved forward along the spiral (although not a distance of any numeric significance), why would he go backwards to hide the newest victims? Why didn’t you base the start of the spiral on the first murder?Yes, he might be based in Chester, but there’s no reason to assume he went to the trouble of bringing his victims back there. This is a hugely big leap to make – as is the fact that Reid says Jason’s life is so defined by the spiral that he’s doubtless have stashed the kiddies somewhere along the same spiral on a map of Chester. Of course, since you’re allowed to scale that spiral in and out as much as you want to make it fit, theoretically there’s no point on a map of Chester that won’t be touched by it, so I can’t really call Reid on this one.

Greg mobilizes the team and has them head to Chester, VA – but Joe doesn’t think Jason’s played his entire plan. So he heads in to talk to Jason one more time, giving him a little more time to ramble with his dime-store philosophizing about humanity’s corrupt nature, and how it deserves to all be wiped out. He even claims that there are plenty of pieces of evidence in Joe’s books to suggest that he share’s Jason’s nihilism. Garcia breaks into the interview to tell them that the house is being broken into as they speak – then Jason drops the bomb: the house is a trap! They were supposed to find it so that they could be killed by the acid! This whole thing has been an attempt to get revenge on Joe!

Revenge for what? It seems that Joe had sent Jason’s brother to the gas chamber, and being the brother of a famous serial killer had ruined his life, so he decided to blame Joe for it! With Jason’s confession on tape, Joe reveals his own ace in the hole – his team figured there was probably going to be a trap, so they disarmed it before heading in! And just like that, Jason’s whole scheme was torn asunder, leaving him with no recourse but to physically attack Joe. What with him being Jason Alexander and Joe being Joe Mantegna, it doesn’t go great.

Let’s pause for a second before the final wrapup, however, to consider this: Jason’s entire five-year plan, involving a dozen murders and the construction of an underground death palace, hinged entirely on allowing himself to be caught, letting the FBI know where the death palace is, and then having them charge in without investigating or securing the location in any way, shape, or form? His genius plan revolved around the team ignoring every bit of entry procedure that they’ve learned in years of training? Hell, doing the entry themselves rather than letting SWAT take care of it, the way they’re supposed to?

Not much of a scheme, that. Although the team did stupidly do the entry themselves rather than waiting for SWAT, but still.

Derek and Todd discuss the case outside the house, with her observing that ‘they don’t always turn out this well’, and him responding ‘I wish’ – making this two times in three weeks that Derek seems to have forgotten that they save people every – single – week. Anyhoo, the two of them settle their differences over the whole disagreement that morning, and everybody’s happy!

Except for the families of the seven women who’ve gone from ‘missing’ to ‘dead’. Not that anyone mentions them, of course.

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

Marginally, yes – Reid used careful observance of Jason’s traits to identify the importance of the Golden Ratio in his life, which helped them crack the case. Of course, Jason’s plan was entirely dependent on them noticing those traits, so he went out of his way to show them off. As a result, we can only give them a partial credit this time.

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

Whether dealing with a team of profilers or just some regular beat cops, it can be assumed that Jason would have gone out of his way to make sure the bait for his trap was solveable, so I’m going to have to say yes. And since regular cops would have called SWAT to secure the location rather than rushing in, it even would have ended the same way!

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

3/10 – Here’s a bigger problem with the scheme, however – Jason claims that the whole thing was an attempt to get back at Joe, and that he was killing people according to the Fi sequence: 1-1-2-3-5… this is all well and good, except for one thing: Joe wasn’t in the FBI 5 years earlier. Jason specifically lays out that he’s been working on the plan for five years, and the capstone to the ‘Masterpiece’ was getting Joe to send his five-member team to be the last five victims in the sequence – the children were never really in danger (kind of a theme on the show, actually).

But if this whole scheme was started five years earlier, what did his original endgame look like? Joe was retired, and had no team to be sacrificed to his own hubris.

Somehow I’m guessing there’s no good answer to this one. Although, if he’d only been working on it for a year instead of five, this wouldn’t have been an issue, writers.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are amazing.
Criminal Minds is, quite seriously, my favorite show. Instead of being irked by your harsh critiques of the show, however, I find myself laughing and completely agreeing. I still love the show, but I think I'll be following this blog as closely as I follow the cases. Please, please, please do not stop writing.

Anonymous said...

i completely agree with the first comment. and i'm sure there are a lot of others out there who agree also. well done sir!

Anonymous said...

great work

Alex said...

I completely agree with the first comment I love criminal minds but your blog is lol hilarious and I love it. CM was recently added to Netflix so I've been watching each episode and then reading your review after. I hope you add more blog entries

ilovemightybite said...

Either use the character names, or the names of the actors who play them. To use a mix is asinine, especially to call Hotchner "Greg", from the long-defunct sitcom in which he co-starred. In fact, every aspect of your writing is painfully bad.

ilovemightybite said...

Either use the character names, or the names of the actors who play them. To use a mix is asinine, especially to call Hotchner "Greg", from the long-defunct sitcom in which he co-starred. In fact, every aspect of your writing is painfully bad.