Criminal Minds 411: Normal

This week's episode is going to be about a desperately pathetic middle-aged man. How do I know this? Check out the first image visible after the establishing shots:

In the world of fiction, only middle-aged men crushed by the ennuis of their emasculating family lives wear classic sports car ties. Insider tip, that. The middle-aged man (Mitch Pileggi!) is immediately criticized by his wife (Faith Ford! Two weeks in a row with Murphy Brown alums!), who tells him to lose the tie, since they're going to a party for her, and she doesn't want to be embarrassed. Mitch retreats to his hobby room, which is dominated by models of the classic cars he loves so well-

See, the cars are the one part of his life that he feels are part of his identity, so attack them is like attacking his manhood! Normally I don't like the Six Feet Under/Dr House 'bet you think that guy's the victim: Hah! Gotcha!' Wouldn't it be nice, though, if just once we started an episode once with a hen-pecked man who hates women - and then have him surprisingly be the victim? Well, not 'nice', obviously...

Mitch then loads a long giftwrapped package into his car and heads off to the wife's party - on the way there he's harassed by an aggressive female driver who's exactly as blond as his wife. Naturally, there's only one thing Mitch can do in this situation. Pull a shotgun out of the gift box and shoot the woman in the face!

Hold on, there was a shotgun in that box? Mitch was going to shoot up his wife's party? Not cool, Mitch!

Funny note before we move on? The swerving stunt car had its window blown out, but the stunt drivers forgot to roll down the window on the one that was called to do the big stunt:

Oh well, can't win 'em all, guys. Great stunt, though.

Mitch arrives at the party, suddenly feeling confident and full of vigour - shmoozing with all the people he'd planned to kill, then returning home to have sex with his wife! Mitch can't sleep afterwards, though, so he heads out to the garage to improve his shotgun, but only after looking at his children's rooms - letting us know that in addition to his scolding wife, Mitch also has three daughters. Well no wonder he's emasculated, am I right, fellas? So, how many victims before he tries to murder his family, and they get rescued by the team? I'm guessing one more - let's find out together, after the credits!

The team flies out to the scene, their briefing revealing that since the opening sequence Mitch has shot two more people, immediately proving me wrong about the story. Although, to be fair, I meant onscreen kills... ah, who am I kidding, I lost. Anyhoo, Emily drops some crazily wrong science on us, as is her role: When fake-JJ says that the first victim (who miraculously survived) only remembered vague details of the killer, Emily responds that it's impossible, “Trauma victims either remember everything or nothing” which is just so completely wrong that I don't even know where to start. So let's keep going.

The team arrives at the station to meet the local cop running the investigation (Gina Torres!) and get a look at the evidence and files. Hilariously, they go through the inconsistencies in the different murders (vehicles, times of day), before coming to the conclusion that they have to re-interview the first victim. As if that wasn't the first thing they do whenever they've got a living victim or key witness.

The victim tells Greg about the accident, and how she cut the guy off before he shot her. Of course, that's not enough to motivate a shooting, so the killer must have a problem with blond women irregardless! As if they couldn't extrapolate that based on the fact that he was shooting them. Greg's ruling on the case is that the woman 'made it personal' for Mitch, and that's why he opened fire. Which is all well and good, but they seem to be blaming her for her own shooting, which kind of involves overlooking the fact that the killer just happened to have a loaded shotgun in the front seat of his car - meaning he was on his way to murder someone. Not sure why they aren't picking up on that.

Reid's geographic profiling picks up a connection - all of the murders occur a few kilometers past a merging point. He's been driving around at night, waiting for a woman to cut him off, and then killing her! The team talks to construction workers who might have seen the killer. They immediately find one, who noticed that he was wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses, playing at being tougher than he actually is - which, when you're talking about Mitch Pileggi, is really saying something.

Now it's time for the profile - they believe he's a family man, and they need to find the precipitating incident that turned him into a murderer! Not just all of the emasculation, mind you, although the show is clear about women constantly sapping his sense of self-worth being the defining characteristic underlying all the violence - they need something more dramatic to explain what turned a 'normal' man into this:

For the record, I would completely watch a show about that guy.

Their plan to catch him? 1 - Find a list of all small blue SUV owners. 2 - Set up one of those merging lanes as a trap. 3 - Put out the 'profile' and hope someone phones them.

Missing is fundamentally important point 4 - Run all of those Driver's license photos by the living victim. There could be a couple hundred, sure, but how many of them are bald and in their 40s? Even if she picked out a dozen of the photos all they'd have to do is check to see how many have blonde wives and children. That would narrow it down to the point that they could interview each one.

There's a quick scene with Mitch at his office, where he flashes back to some kind of a tragedy before we discover that his name is 'Norman', just to push the 'normal' thing a little harder. A co-worker lets us know that there was some kind of a tragedy a few months back, so we know where the stressor was, but not what it was. The next psychotic flashback of Mitch's shows him sadly touching the door of the one daughter we haven't seen, so she's dead, and maybe he feels responsible.

The profile is a pretty clear description of Mitch, so he grabs the shotgun and leaves the office early, presumably so he can go home and murder his family. On the way there he freaks out in his car a little, when when two guys try to help, they get shot to death! Which is our mid-show kills, so there's still time to save the family!

Arriving at the crime scene, the team notices that the shooting, which was totally out of the 'normal' M.O., happened just twenty minutes after the press conference. Do they pause for a moment to consider the fact that they just got two people killed by releasing a stressor when they knew they were dealing with a killer who was especially susceptible to them? Nope, they just count their lucky starts that they know the killer works within twenty minutes of the new crime scene!


Fake-JJ is understandably upset by having caused a murder, but she's so desperate to prove that she can do the job that she immediately agrees to give another, even more provocative press conference. Also, she gives the press conference while dressed like this, which seems almost Reid-level unprofessional.

The crazy part is that they know he was leaving work abruptly, probably to go home. So why would you provoke him further when you know that he's likely to kill his family next?

Mitch, full of self-hatred and remorse, tries to confess to his wife and kids, who don't believe him. Which will prove to be a very bad decision, I'm guessing.

The tip line bears fruit when Mitch's friend from work calls and reveals the backstory. His youngest daughter was killed because she wandered into traffic while Mitch was fixing a flat tire. Tragic, to be sure, but can it excuse killing? Of course not. Frankly, I don't even know why I asked that question. What's that? Oh, rhetorical, right. Sorry.

Anyhoo, desperate to prove he's a man Mitch forces his family into their car and takes off down the highway while they cower in fear. He wants to flee the city, but his wife demands to know what's going on. A high-speed chase quickly ensues while Mitch tries to reach catharsis about his relationship with his family.

Half the team goes to check at the house, while the rest join in the high-speed chase. Although I'm not sure why they're trying, I mean, what's a single unmarked SUV going to accomplish that a fleet of black and whites and a police helicopter can't?

As the chase continues Joe and Greg break into the house. The two scenes are intercut to maximize the effect of the twist that, admittedly, I didn't see coming. The crying children and Faith Ford that are in the SUV berating Mitch? Figments of his imagination. It seems that he murdered his family some indeterminate time earlier - long enough to create a horrific smell when the team enters the place. Mitch only discovers this after he purposely crashes the car, attempting suicide. Mitch flashes back to the night of his first murder - it seems that he killed his family immediately, and has been living in a psychotic break ever since. Which raises a pretty major question - the show explains that the wife 'took a few weeks off' after her promotion at work, which explains why she wasn't missed, but didn't someone notice the lack of school-aged daughters?

Um, and if those bodies had been decomposing for weeks, how did none of the neighbours notice the smell?

With Mitch in custody and everybody dead, the episode wraps on an unusually dark note - which is an odd thing to say when describing a show about serial killers, come to think of it. All that's left to handle is some loose plot ends, as Fake-JJ quits from the stress, making room for JJ, who's already back from maternity leave, along with her adorable son!

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

Well, 'solve' is kind of a nebulous term - they publicly provoked the killer until he went on a murderous rampage that ended with him being captured after a high-speed chase. Yes, their psychological skills were effective at figuring out which buttons to push to make him go on a psychotic rampage, but I'm not certain that's something they should be proud of.

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

Incredibly likely. They had an eyewitness, a make of car, and a database of everyone who has a driver's license that they could cross-reference with car ownership. Yet simply trying to identify the killer the old-fashioned way never occurred to them.

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

3/10 - They may have used more psychology than normal this year, but I'm still docking them. Why? Because they jumped to using the most dangerous possible strategy immediately - there were safer, more conventional avenues that hadn't been exhausted. The team knew that Mitch would murder his family if provoked, and then they went right ahead and started provoking him in the most public and humiliating way imaginable. Yes, his family turned out to already be dead - but they had no way of knowing that!

Speaking of, how did Mitch's neighbours not hear three shotgun blasts going off in Mitch's house in the middle of the night? Those things are like lightning-loud, and I doubt his generic suburban home was professionally soundproofed.


Unknown said...

I didn't expect the twist either! Especially since they showed the corpse of his wife. I figured it be all "I felt guilty about my daughter, but I ended-up killing my whole family" screaming in a cell.

Also was it suicide? Since he hallucinated his wife grabbing the wheel & steering into the cop car? Like maybe subconsciously since he really did it himself.

Anonymous said...

Hey, President Bush, the word is "regardless". The lack of regard is denoted by the suffix "-less", rendering the prefix "ir" here totally irredundant (note the deliberate mistake).

Plus, it took me a little while at the end to realise you weren't talking about boats. Admittedly that may make me a little slow...

Anonymous said...

LOL President Bush...Fantastic edit by the Anonymous commenter here.

Vardulon said...

Funny thing about language - it's not math. Check your facts, and you'll discover that there's a rich tradition in the English language of using multiple negatives for emphasis.

While it's true that irregardless was originally born more than a century ago by someone conflating the words 'regardless' and 'irrespective', today, by any metric you want to assign (it appears in common usage, most people can define it, it's in the dictionary) it does, in fact, qualify as a 'word'.

Also, in defense of double negatives, even if language were math, then double negatives being self-negating still wouldn't make sense, since a negative added to a negative equals a bigger negative. The only way the anti-double-negative pedantry could possibly be true is if putting a negative in front of another negative were the linguistic equivalent of multiplication, which is impossible to argue with any intellectual honesty at all.