Criminal Minds 413: Bloodline

It's night, deep in the woods, and Andrew Divoff(!) is driving his wife and child to a house off in the middle of nowhere! The son is hesitant about meeting his future bride, who they need to kidnap while she's young enough to forget her family! What the hell is going on here? Divoff and son sneak into the house, slash the throats of the parents, and are off with no one the wiser! The only evidence of their crime (other than, you know, all the dead bodies) is some broken glass they spread by the door they entered through.

The team finds out about the case and immediately gets ready to move - although fake-JJ is wary about going along - she's feeling overwhelmed, and it's clear that she's about to go through with her plans for quitting announced two episodes back. With an abducted child in play, the team figures the death clock is set at less than a day - of course, we know better, because the show immediately cuts to the trailer where Divoff and company live. The kidnapped girl is locked in a closet, where they intend to keep her until the Stockholm Syndrome sets in. Step one to brainwashing? Renaming the little girl 'Elena'!

Will the team rescue her before she's driven mad? Let's find out after the credits!

On the plane the team goes over the known facts of the case, while fake-JJ demonstrates an inability to detach from the emotions of the situation, insisting on referring to the victim by her first name. Okay, producers, we get it, she's leaving. I don't know why you feel like you have to offer an explanation for why the character is leaving. It was always a temporary gig. If you want to demonstrate the toll this job can take on people, may be show the effect on someone we know or care about?

Actually, I guess they already did that with Reid's drug addiction, and what ever happened to that, anyhow?

Scouring the crime scene and canvassing the area they come to a conclusion - there had to be two killers because the parents were killed simultaneously! A conversation with the victim's biological father doesn't prove particularly useful - he doesn't talk to his daughter enough to have good information about who might be targeting here. The daughter is epileptic, though, which Divoff didn't know! So if they don't get her some medicine soon, she might die!

And now, for the question the producers are hoping we won't ask: 'Why isn't she wearing a medicalert bracelet'? And don't give me that 'she was asleep'. If she had a seizure while sleeping and the parents have to call 911, they're going to want the paramedics to be able to see it plain as day. Also, even if that was the case, shouldn't the Gypsy family have seen it when they spotted her and began stalking the family?

At the very moment the team is learning about her condition the victim is beginning to feel the stress of her situation (being locked in a closet will do that to you), while Divoff teaches his son how to pick pockets using a Fagin-style* jacket covered in bells.

Which means that these are gypsies, and I just got a little sick to my stomach. I'm not going to go off on the episode right now, though, since I don't know where this episode is going, but man, had this episode better be careful.

Elena has a seizure, so Divoff decides she genetically insufficient, and announces that she must die. The rest of the family isn't entirely down with that, however, and they manage to bargain him down to tossing the girl out on the side of the road, wrapped in a heavy blanket, but still alive.

Although maybe not after they roll her down that hill. Cold, Divoff. So this means they're going to need another child bride! But where to find one? At least there's no ticking clock. It's not like the son is going to die if he doesn't get a bride by his tenth birthday or anything.

The team goes to interview the victim about her ordeal, but she doesn't have much to offer other than the existence of the bell-coat, which they find just as compelling evidence as I did. So the gypsy hunt is on!

You'd think it would be a little easier than normal to catch Divoff given his, shall we say, memorable facial characteristics. His all-over scarring doesn't come up, though, possibly because they didn't alter the script after casting Wishmaster.

They head to the nearest trailer park to the crime scene, checking on whether they'd had any Romanians. The manager remembers some, and points out the odd detail that they left broken glass all over the ground, just like at the crime scene. To keep the scene from being nothing but people sifting through grass (this isn't CSI, after all), Joe tells Derek that fake-JJ was right about the fact that they don't get emotionally involved in the cases, and Derek counters that they couldn't do the job if they did. Joe concurs, and I wonder why they just wasted thirty seconds debating a point they've both already agree on.

I wanted to give this episode a fair shake, but man does it get super-racist super-fast. They toss the slightest bone to cultural sensitivity, by having Reid refer to the unsubs as having 'perverted Romani culture', but then that gets wiped out just a second later when they ask Garcia to look up similar crimes in areas that have also had the kinds of petty thefts that you would associate with waves of Romani moving through.

Because, you know, Romani are all petty nomadic thieves.

Look, I'm not saying they're allowed to do this episode, but try to class it up a little, huh? Guys? Romani aren't nomadic thieves. They own businesses, they work in our communities, they're an integrated part of society. Are there groups of people who move around nomadically living off petty crimes? Sure, and we have a word for them: Gypsies. Hell, we started using the word 'Romani' to separate the ethnic culture out from the slur 'Gypsy'.

Saying that 'Romani' move in waves through cities, stealing what they can before moving on is like saying 'Chinese' move into a town, set up a small area that they defend with violence, and then use it as a base of operations for heroin dealing and human trafficking. We have the words 'Gypsy' and 'Triad' to describe criminal subcultures. So use them.

Oh, hey, remember when I talked about how there was no ticking clock? Yeah, turns out the team disagrees with me. They think that the family is going to try to complete the 'ritual' as quickly as possible. Hey, guys? Even though it might seem like it to you completely secular and utterly Americanized types, tradition isn't a mental illness. Normally I give you half a pass on the whole 'they were interrupted with the last victim, so they've got to get another one right away!' thing because you're talking about borderline psychotics. That's not the case here. According to your theory, they're not mentally ill, they're just following the dictates of their society. If a guy's Bar Mitzvah gets canceled because a venue burns down he'll want to reschedule it. But if Bar Mitzvahs are banned in that town and people will be thrown in jail indefinitely for trying to hold one in another venue, you'd better believe that guy and his family are going to hold off until the heat has died down, or at least do it far enough away to avoid notice.

Let's get back to the plot, huh? Divoff and co. are stalking a new little girl, debating whether it's going to be safe to try and grab a new victim so soon. The elect to go for it, and stumble across the easiest-to-grab victim in the history of kidnapping. Seriously, this little girl's bedroom features a French door to the back yard that they leave unlocked.


So that's another set of dead parents, making them the middle victims, and I'm guessing the rescued girl is going to count as the third victim, even though they didn't plan on killing her.

While the team is giving a profile to the cops Garcia calls up with a shocker - she's found thirty of these cases, going back nearly a hundred years.

This is seriously a story about gypsies stealing children and killing parents as part of their normal society? Isn't that basically racist nonsense that people used to say to incite hatred against the gypsies? Earlier I wrote that I didn't mean to imply that the show shouldn't have been allowed to make this episode, but now that's exactly what I'm saying. This is exactly the kind of criminal racial libel that has been used to incite hatred against Romani for hundreds of years, including in one famous example that I'm going to try to class the joint up by not mentioning.

They wouldn't have done an episode about an evil Rabbi who cannibalizes Christian babies (and thank God they wouldn't) but they made this, an equally offensive story about how anti-Romani racism is completely well-founded.

Adding insult to injury, Penelope demonstrates in this scene that she's completely forgotten what her murder map was supposed to be for.

Yes, she's laid the current set of Gypsy murders out on it. For no reason. Seriously, who is that for? She's the only one who's going to see it, and she can put the same information up on her monitor far more easily. That map is to show you all the cases you've solved and cheer you up, Garcia - not to act as a pointlessly time-consuming investigative visual 'aid'.

Thank god I've been taking care of this for you.

Oh, and they explain that since the murders all took place over a far enough distance and were separated by enough years that no one noticed the connection. So that's how they've been getting away with the racist caricature up until now.

The team heads to the new crime scene, and Reid is puzzled by the fact that in each house the daughters probably could have been removed without waking the parents - so why murder them at all? Derek's theory? It was a scheme to make sure that at some point, the cops would stop looking for the missing child, since there was no no one to constantly hound them about new developments in the case. Which is a great theory and all, except for the fact that those people might well have close friends and families who will kick up a fuss about a lack of progress on the case. It's not like Divoff and co. bother to check into the extended relations of the families they kill. Reid's big question at the scene: What are they doing with the girls!?

Which makes me wonder why Reid is puzzled by this - his role on this team is to act as a walking wikipedia, yet somehow he's never heard the racist lies about Gypsies stealing children in the night to turn them into Gypsies? That's not entirely plausible.

Garcia figures it out for them, though. There was some DNA evidence on the blanket that the living girl was dumped in - a hair from a girl who was abducted in 1970, who's now become the wife of Divoff!

Okay, hold on a second. We're expected to believe that when a girl was was kidnapped (and her parents murdered) in 1970, the cops collected samples of her hair, and placed it in some kind of database broad enough that 38 years later Garcia could match it to a hair that was found yesterday? That, by all rights, shouldn't even have been processed yet? This is CSI-level stupid techno-fantasy.

Meanwhile the Divoff clan is burning their RV to prevent any evidence from being discovered, while the mom of the family comforts her new daughter-in-law, explaining that she knows what it's like, since she was once a kidnapee herself. It's all very heartwarmingly evil.

Garcia uses science to figure out what the mother looks like now based on her childhood photo, while the team rushes to the scene of the RV fire to sift through the burned wreckage of their lives. They explain the bell-coat to the audience, and once again compare tradition to mental illness, suggesting that the family was incapable of waiting to grab another little girl, since they've been doing this for so long in such a specific fashion. Again, these are people who were able to walk away from everything they owned to protect themselves from the police, yet we're supposed to believe they wouldn't drive two days to achieve the same end?

The team also feels that they know exactly where the family is going next - the closest mall, since they need to do some quick Gypsy-style theft in order to build a bankroll before fleeing! Wait, shouldn't they have done that before kidnapping the little girls? When the family spots the mom's wanted poster in the mall she decides to take one for the team, letting herself be captured while the rest flee to the car and make good their escape. Questioning her does no good, however, as the mom has no interest in rolling on her family. Emily and Greg's good cop/bad cop routine doesn't get them anywhere, and it's only when Greg pulls out the crime scene photos of her dead parents that the mom's facade cracks. While the emotional breakdown is satisfying and all, it's important to remember that they never successfully get anyone to co-operate. Instead they attempt a Mentalist-style trick, reading a list of fences and waiting for her to freak out - knowing that this must be the person that Divoff is taking the goods to.

This, of course, assumes both that the mom would know exactly where Divoff was going with the clothes after the mall, and that Divoff wouldn't change those plans after the mom was taken by the FBI. Since everyone in the show is as stupid as the FBI agents, this plan works, and Divoff is captured

Mom also cuts a deal to turn over the children so long as she gets a chance to speak to her son. Why does she want to do that? So she can give him a creepy message: “Don't tell the police about all your brothers!”

This sets up the episode's creepy sting ending perfectly, as we instantly go to Divoff's oldest son, preparing to kill a family and steal a child for Divoff's grandson!

Or maybe it's a cousin - I don't know if Divoff and the mom are old enough for that guy to be their son. But still, creepy, right? That there's an army of Gypsies out there, murdering families and stealing their daughters, and the police are powerless to stop them? Well, it would be creepy, unless you thought about it for even a second. The premise of this episode is that these crimes have gone unnoticed because people didn't see the connection between all of these disparate murders all around the country. Now, however, every time a family is murdered and the single daughter disappears, there's going to be a nation-wide alert out warning about Gypsies! Hell, when this story hits the press it's going to be nationwide news for months, and kick off a whole new wave of persecutions against the Romany!

Let's not forget - throughout history Romany have been hunted and murdered (sometimes en masse) based on LIES about this kind of thing happening. Now we have documented cases of it. Can you even imagine how bad things are about to get for Gypsies in the world of Criminal Minds?

Because the writers can't.


Oh, except that fake JJ quits, and JJ is going to be back next week.

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

Only through the aid of contrivance - they 'profiled' the behaviour of racist Romany caricatures, and it's only because Divoff and co. behaved exactly like a silent movie villain version of an evil Gypsy would that their profile wound up working.

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

They had evidence that gave them a picture of the mother. They had pictures of the little girl. And the other little girl would be able to describe Divoff's... singular... features. This was clearly only a matter of time.

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

2/10 - When you need contrived and stupid villain behaviour for your profile to work, then the profile is useless. Also, their entire profile was based on the idea that a social group who believes in rigid tradition would be as unable to deviate from it as a serial killer. Which, let's say it one more time, equates religion and tradition with severe mental illness.

Screw you, Criminal Minds.

* It's been so long I honestly don't remember if Fagin used one of those to train his pickpockets.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you on most of the points you raise in your critiques; I laugh a lot and sometimes learn something (you do appear to have a prodigious knowledge of films and television, not to mention serial killers).

However, I'm not sure I agree with you on the issue of Penelope's murder map. What possible use would it serve for her to have such a record of the team's solved cases - especially as she doesn't backdate it to before she had the map? Only a researcher on crime trends would be likely to need that kind of information, not a technical analyst.

In the map's first scene, it looked to me like Penelope turned the lightbulb off after the team had solved the case - surely it's just a visual representation of the team's current open cases? Obviously, they don't only have one case open at a time; we just see the most dramatic.

Anonymous said...

Oh good God, you do like a prattle don't you? I might have taken your outrage as genuine if you had managed to spell "Romani" the same throughout, as you did not, my belief is you spew scorn to spice up your review, and sweetie, it needed spice.

Anonymous said...

Found your review after watching this Criminal Minds episode in utter disbelief. I'm glad I'm not the only one who was baffled and annoyed by this weirdly racist story that the writers have come up with.

The lack of intelligence in the story did not bother me that much; it must be hard to write a story that's free of plot-holes after the first couple dozen episodes. But if your lack of inspiration is so severe that you have to make a racist caricature the entire plot of your story - well, maybe it's better to ask your boss for a vacation.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a re run of this episode and watching it a second time I have to agree that it does potray a stereotype that is incredibly derogatory. I'm not surprised however this episode made it to production when you consider what's happening to the Romni in Europe at the moment. As long as there are laws that condone and even encourage rascism it's not exactly a shocker that the media will presist with stereotypes rather than subvert them.

However I have to disagree with the point you made about hair being in evidence for thirty years. In my country thirty year cold cases have been solved because hair was kept in evidence. Apparently in the 70s there was already rumours for the potential for DNA technology so they collected and kept biological samples in hope. Obviously they made the right bet though when you think about it seems pretty logical. The theory for DNA profiling was floated about in the 60s and became a concrete reality in the early 80s. So you could imagine some cop looking down at his unsolved case thinking maybe one day as he carefully packs away a bag of hair.

Anonymous said...

You guys take this way too seriously. Criminal Minds never once said or implied that this is the normal behavior of Romani people.

In fact, they stated several times that this particular family has perverted the culture.

Like it or not, no matter what religions or cultures that exist, there are those groups who pervert those religions/cultures beyond recognition.

Let Criminal Minds do their show.

Go and live your life, and stop watching if you hate it so much.

Unknown said...

Evidently the episode takes place in an Alternate Universe. The Madison County, Alabama I know intimately looks NOTHING like the location here!

Jeremy B. said...

Found the racist