Criminal Minds 410: Brothers in Arms

The episode opens in Phoenix, AZ, which, according to the show Medium, has more serial killers than the rest of the country combined, so it's not entirely surprising that the Criminal Minds team was going to have to head there at some point. This week it's to solve the murder of two police officers, who are gunned down after responding to a fake distress call!

I'd criticize the writing for suggesting that a cop would be stupid enough to wrestle with a shotgun's mounting bracket while a guy in a hoodie was shooting his partner (pretty sure his sidearm will kill the guy just as dead), but the show specifically established that the younger victim was a brand-new cop, and by no means competent at his job yet. So let's give it a pass. And assume that the Phoenix police academy isn't overly insulted by the portrayal of their facilities as incapable of preparing police officers for life-and-death situations.

Joe Regalbuto (TV Frank Fontana!), playing the precinct commander where the murders have taken place (there was a third one off camera) calls in the team, sure that there's a serial killer targeting cops! Who, as I'm sure the episode is going to point out, are actually really easy targets, since they're wearing handy identifying uniforms and they're legally required to go into dangerous situations if you ask them to.

Will the team be able to stop him before he kills another cop?

Obviously not, because we need a mid-episode victim, but they'll grab him before the third incident with any luck. Check back after the credits to find out!

Quick note on that scene I used for the screenshot above - it featured the killer driving through a police station parking lot with a gun on the seat next to him, feeling empowered by its presence. Which is all well and good, but if the killer doesn't turn out to be a cop as well (hey, has the show done a serial killing cop yet? Because there have been a couple of those...), this scene really doesn't make a whole lot a sense. Can civilians just drive into the parking lot where cops store their cruisers? With a guy targeting cops for assassination shouldn't the people heading out on patrol find this stranger eyeballing all of them from his ride?

But the scene's probably just supposed to set a tone, so let's move on.

To the flight, where we discover that the killer drove through a drunk driving checkpoint, then killed the first cop when he was pulled over. Emily says something unbelievably stupid about the cops being 'specifically targeted', as if the killer could have known who was working a checkpoint and which cops would be close enough to answer a particular distress call, but the real problem with the scene is the fact that a high-speed chase was involved in the first murder. What goes along with high-speed chases? That's right - phoning the station to let them know you're involved in a high-speed chase, as well as checking the license plate of the car you've pulled over for wants and warrants.

That's not even getting to the issue of dashboard cameras. Now it's entirely possible that the killer wasn't driving his own car, but this should at least be mentioned to keep the cops from looking unprofessional.

When they get to the station the team discovers that they're going to be working with Jacob form Lost (Mark Pellegrino), who's representative of the department's unwillingness to work with the FBI. Not that the unwillingness makes any sense at all. Perhaps they think that gangs are responsible for these killings (a leader recently swore revenge after his brother was killed), but fundamentally, isn't this a situation where more hands on deck is going to help?

Hey, they acknowledged the dashboard camera! But only for the alley shooting that started the show, and not for the clue that might have let them know about the killer's vehicle. Why? Not sure! Although we see a downgrading of technology, when we're told that they can only get the killer's approximate height from the video. Except the video showed both a cop and the killer walking over the same stretch of land at the same distance from the camera, and since they know how tall the cop was, shouldn't they be able to do a frame comparison? Isn't this the kind of stuff Garcia does in her sleep?

That night two more cops come under fire when responding to an assault call at an abandoned warehouse.

Somehow they don't call for backup, even though this is clearly a place that no one has any reason to be, and there's no sign of the scuffle that they're supposed to be responding to. Do these cops want to die? Then they see a white man in a jacket and hoodie (the exact description of the serial killer they're looking for) seeming to light a man on fire. And still no calls for backup! Or, you know, an ambulance. So it's not a huge surprise when one of the two cops gets shot to death while his partner is busy trying to save a flaming mannequin.

This leads to a dull, pointless scene of the partner flagellating himself while Mark decides that the gang leader must be the killer. It's all pretty-much a time-waster, but I'm reminded that someone should really get Mark Pellegrino a job playing a old-timey detective. He's got a world-weariness that colours all of his performances that would fit well with the noir genre. Or perhaps he just needs a nap.

Derek then reports to the team that since these two cops were added to the shift that night because of the murders, the killer couldn't be targeting specific officers. Although that was basically true of the last three victims as well, unless the killer was another cop. And if the killer was another cop, then these two could have been specifically targeted just as easily as the other three. What I'm trying to say here is that Derek and the team seriously talked for a minute without offering us any new information.

Also, hey, what's going on with the 911 calls? We know that he used them twice to lure in cops to be murdered, so why haven't we heard them? I'm not saying there's a voice print database to match them against, but shouldn't they be releasing this information to the public and asking anyone if they no that person? Or at least familiarizing all the 911 operators with the voice so that they can have a better chance of recognizing a trap when it's being set up?

Instead of doing something practical like that, Frank drags in the gang leader who threatened the police. This whole story is a dead end, so I'm going to gloss over it a little. The team is sure that the gang leader isn't responsible for the murders, so Derek asks the gang leader to help catch the killer in order to prove his innocence. Derek makes the point that the killer is working entirely in the gang's turf, so they really ought to know who he is. Derek tells the gang leader to think of someone with a chip on his shoulder who's quick to violence.

In an amazing coincidence, the gang leader happens to remember that a mysterious white guy killed a Lieutenant of his some months earlier! Well, there's the first victim, and since the first victim is the one that the killer is most connect to, this should give us the information we need to catch the guy!

Before they can get the information, however, there's a report of another shooting downtown - but since the episode is only half-over and the cops have the shooter surrounded, he can't possibly be the serial killer they're looking for. A quick interview with the surviving cop reveals an entirely different MO, meaning that they haven't caught their killer! That doesn't matter to the cops of Phoenix, however, who bust into the building and blast the gangster out the window, Walker Texas Ranger-style!

Interestingly, he was blasted out the window by a shotgun while suffering no superficial injuries of any kind-

What, they couldn't be bothered to smear a little ketchup on the stunman's tank top? Did he bring it in with him from home?

Frank would like very much to wrap up the case, but Greg assures him that they haven't stopped the real killer - it seems a little early to be making a decision in either direction - shouldn't they get a ballistic check on the gun the gangster was using? Frank, being unusually reasonable for a fictional authority figure, offers to give Greg a few hours to bring him some evidence before going to the police with the announcement that they've stopped the cop killer. The evidence comes in quickly - it turns out the gangster had a grudge against one of the cops he shot, suggesting a level of personal involvement that the rest of the shootings hadn't possessed.

Derek badgers Mark into helping him with the case, and he tracks down the earliest known killing, the gang lieutenant. It turns out that they didn't investigate the killing with any real effort because he was just another gang member, and they have a tendency to get shot to death. Reid offers that the same is true of police officers, a comment that would seem to suggest that he's equating a cop being killed by a criminal while protecting people with a gang member being killed by another gang member while committing crimes.

Which is so unbelievably insensitive when they're trying to catch a cop-killer that I can't believe no one immediately takes Reid aside and slaps that stupid haircut right off of him.

Based on the fact that the gang lieutenant's necklace was stolen they figure it was another attack by the same killer, so they broaden their search out for any other similar victims in the past few months who were shot in the neck with a .357 magnum. Wait, they hadn't done this already? Is Garcia going to solve the crime for them again?

Also, why didn't the cops remember two other cases of people getting shot in the neck with 357s that went unsolved? Seems like kind of a big detail to miss - I know there are plenty of serial killers in Phoenix, but there can't be so many people getting shot at the neck that they would overlook this detail.

The earliest similar case they find is of a bouncer getting shot - which means he's probably the guy the killer had a personal grudge against. An interview with his boss reveals that the bouncer competed in some sort of underground 'Fighting Club'. Talking to the crazy-eyed psychopath who runs the place:

Reveals that the club's thing is that when a fight is over, the winner pins the loser down by grabbing their throat, which is exactly what the killer did on the video! So now the team knows that the killer was humiliated by the bouncer, went looking for payback, and then kept right on killing. Only one question remains - who's the guy that the bouncer emasculated right before he was murdered? The club owner just knows the guy's nickname, but is able to offer a general description and a sketch of the killer. Without any good way of finding the guy in time (like, oh, I don't know, searching the list of people who own 357 magnums and showing the fight club people their pictures?) the team decides that the only way to keep another cop from getting shot that night is to present the killer with a better target... Greg!

He goes on the news and announces that the FBI is taking over the case, thereby making himself the natural next victim. Then it's simply a matter of wandering out the police parking lot until the guy tries to kill him, which is exactly what happens. Since Greg's the third victim he's never in any real danger. Once again, though, they took a suspicious tip without looking into who sent it or from where the call was made. Why? For no good reason!

With the killer taken down (trying to shoot an FBI agent in a police parking lot was a little over-ambitious), all that's left is for the team to gloat that they knew all along that the killer would attack in the parking lot.

Oh, and for the show to recreate the death of Lee Oswald:

Yes, that was the killer being walked out of the front doors of the police station, and the gang boss running up and shooting him.

At this point, you may be asking yourself “Where were the police taking this man that they had literally just arrested in the middle of the night?” That's a really good question, actually. He's already at the police station, so he can't be going to jail, since they have cells in the basement. It's the middle of the night, so they can't be taking him out for an arraignment. There's literally no reason for this man to be out of the police station. Yet there he is, getting shot, because they wanted the characters to be able to arrest the mob boss for something?

Hell, the sequence is even faux-portentous enough that after the shooting's over we get black and white freeze frames, just in case they worried we'd miss the reference:

Come on, Criminal Minds - now this is just getting silly.

Oh, and Derek gets a character moment, comforting the child of one of the dead cops - he was once the child of a dead Chicago cop, remember.

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

Marginally - it was a good prediction that they'd be able to put Greg out as bait and take the killer down that way, it relied on a killer known for his ability to create elaborate traps for the police to not realize it when one of those traps was being set for him. That's like planning to catch an arsonist by waiting near a really flammable building and then setting it on fire when he walks inside.

Which, come to think of it, actually is how they caught the arsonist in that one episode.

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

Here are some far more sane and productive uses of your time than setting a preposterous trap for the killer: Track down his car based on the license plate information, release his picture to the press, track his phony 911 calls, track gun purchases (both legal and il-), track ammo purchases (even crooks who buy illegal guns can still just walk into Walmart to buy the ammo for them). Any one of these would have been safer and likely gotten them to the same result.

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

4/10 - It was effective, but pointlessly dangerous and entirely optional.

Also, the whole gang interlude was utterly pointless. Yes, he mentioned that his lieutenant had been shot, but a simple search of earlier crimes with the same MO (which they should have done anyways), would have given them the exact same information. And did. Once again, Garcia basically broke the case for those guys.


Anonymous said...

Are you a cop or something? Your review is juvenile and blatantly biased.You make it all to easy to see that you have an ax to grind, and your motive for writing this review is to find fault wherever and whenever you possibly can. It's painfully clear that from the moment the show portrayed anything possibly bad about cops you were on a mission to get back at the characters and the writers.

Anonymous said...

You take all of this time to write these reviews about a show or movie and talk about all they did wrong. IT IS NOT REAL LIFE. It is meant to be dramatic and dumb they have to fill an hour slot. If it was like real life then they wouldn't make as big of a hit. I find these reviews pointless and a pothetic use of time.

Anonymous said...

No lie, I watched this episode just for Doug Jones. But since i couldn't remember what it was about, I read your review. I loved your review! I'm pretty cynical about TV these days, what with the amount of technology and how much we pay actors, so when they don't meet them for silly, silly reasons, I get frustrated. Thanks for the no-nonsense, non-"I'm going to idolize this show because the actors are pretty" review!

beatrice1983 said...

You take all of this time to write these reviews about a show or movie and talk about all they did wrong... AND I LOVE IT! I am re-watching the entire show at the moment and I make a point of visiting your blog and reading your review after every single episode. You make me laugh out loud. Thank you for the reviews, they are simply great.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

"hey, has the show done a serial killing cop yet?"

The deputy in "Penelope."