Suspect Behavior 106: Devotion

Another week, another instance of the obtuse opening crawl that doesn't really explain why the show exists. Here's the problem: Criminal Minds already presents a fictional version of an absurdly interventionist Behavioural Analysis Unit, one that rushes en masse to crime scenes around the country, dons bulletproof vests, and kicks open doors. How could a 'Red Cell' possibly be any more proactive?

I'm guessing that we're about to be presented with more proof that it's couldn't.

A family is gathered in the woods to take a photograph, but their camera's battery has died. Even though it's just a five minute walk back to the car, the wife and daughter allow the father to walk back on his one - which leads to him being knocked out and dragged off by the creepy man that the daughter saw following them. The parents didn't believe her about the man, of course, because what person would take their child's claim of being stalked seriously?

Oh, and he's abducted pretty easily despite the fact that he was parked in a long line of cars-

And the park is incredibly packed with people-

What is this guy, a ninja?

Anyhoo, the killer stands the guy on a stool, puts a noose around his neck, and then forces a woman to watch the whole murder-

Yikes! That guy is sadistic. Back in DC we see the team being called in - there was a similar murder two days earlier in Omaha, where a construction worker ducked out from a restaurant to use a bathroom, and wound up lynched in the parking lot. The FBI worried that there might be a racial component, because the guy was Hispanic, but now that there's been a white guy killed the same way, they've dismissed that possibility. Because it's impossible that anyone could have a problem with both Hispanic and White people.

The one thing they're sure of is that the killer is traveling east along a certain highway - will this give them the advantage they need to catch him? Let's find out after the opening credits!

The team heads to the crime scene to look over the evidence and talk to the family. As always, Forest is the one who interviews them, because twitchy mumbling is the exact quality you want when dealing with emotionally fragile people. They do learn about the stalker, however, when the wife admits the daughter saw the killer in a Hoodie, but didn't take it seriously. Forest tells the wife not to blame herself, and that there's nothing she could have done differently - I'm not giving him the Prentiss award for it, though, since he's obviously just trying to be nice, and knows that there's dozens of things she could have done differently in order to prevent this tragedy.

Janeane and the sniper find a set of tire tracks in the woods, which must be the trail the killer left when taking his victim into the woods. There's a little bit of preposterousness here, as sniper uses a scope to find a clearing in the trees, guessing that it must be the way a car went, which is all well and good, except for one thing - couldn't they have just followed the footprints? The killer sapped his victim, knocked him out with chloroform, then carried him to his car (in a crowded parking lot), loaded him into the trunk, and then drove off into the woods. Now, let's set aside for a second the fact that, since the killer drove here in a day, probably following his victim, it's not likely that he'd know these parks well enough to be able to find an unmarked access road in the dark, and focus on the fact that he'd have to drag both the victim and his hostage from the car down to the crime scene. Wouldn't that leave ample, easy-to-see tracks that basically anyone could follow, let alone a talented sniper?

But wait, Count, you may ask, didn't the last scene establish that it had rained, washing evidence away? Couldn't that have gotten rid of the tracks? Well, sure, absolutely - except for one thing. Janeane is able to guess the year of the car they're searching for based solely on the surprisingly-intact tire treads:

So I guess the rain couldn't have been all that bad, could it? Of, and they also find some blue candle wax, which is a little weird. Then they get a call from Forest, letting them know that they've found the last gas station where the family stopped - it was an hour west, and the first place the daughter saw the killer. Which means I was right about the bad odds of him having a good sense of the park's layout. They're dispatched to go check out the gas station. For some reason they don't mention the wax.

Investigating the crime scene, the team notices the tracks leading to the tree, and the rope marks leading around the trunk. Someone must have been tied to it! Which we already knew about, of course. Meanwhile the killer ties up his hostage in a motel room and leaves lit blue candles all over the place. Then, bizarrely, he looks out the window and finds his next victim, a man standing by the open trunk of his car.

I say bizarre because we hear the man talking on the phone with his wife, but it's muffled, suggesting that it's what the killer is hearing. Which would ask you to believe that you could possibly hear what someone is saying from fifty feet away, through a closed window. With a not-gagged, possibly noisy hostage in the room. Seriously, her breathing should be louder than that phone call.

The hostage then falls over, and we learn that this killer is the worst at bondage ever-

Those ropes aren't attached to her in any way. What's keeping her from getting away? Is she drugged?

Forest gives his profile and announces that they're assuming the killer is going to continue east on the major highway, and kill people every night near an exit to that highway - because that's what's happened two nights in a row. Every killer, you'll remember, is a spree killer. I've got to ask, though - what does this killer do if the person he's following drives to a house, or goes to a major hotel, or gets to their apartment in Chicago? (the last kill was in a park in Illinois) Does he give up? Find another victim?

Janeane and the sniper check in at the gas station, and ask the attendant if she remembers anyone creepy. She does, and lets them know that the guy was asking about low-cost hotels in the area. Which is all well and good, but would he still be in the area? This gas station was fifty miles from the kill site - and the kill happened hours ago. Wouldn't he have continued west for at least a couple of hours before turning in for the night, making her advice useless? Oh, and he bought the candles at the store, along with perfume and flowers. Which is strange.

Amazingly, it turns out that he did, in fact, stay at the hotel that was recommended to him, and the manager shows Janeane and the sniper (Mick! I just remembered that! It's so frustrating how no one ever uses anyone's name except for Forest, who mumbles and slurs his words to badly I can't understand him half the time) where they stayed. Hopefully this will give them the clue they need to catch the guy - but even if it does, I doubt it will be soon enough to save the next victim, what with the formula and all.

They find candle wax and the stink of perfume permeating the room - as well as simple chemicals that can be used to make chloroform. Garcia checks out the other guests at the motel, and discovers that there was only one family man (the team has noticed that the killer has targeted family members so far) at the motel - they try to phone him, but the trap has already been sprung! And god, what a stupid trap it is!

It seems the killer passed him on the road, turned his car around to block a narrow tunnel (I thought these kills were only happening at exits off of major roads?), then got out of his car and played dead in front of his car, hoping that the guy would walk up and check on him, which is exactly what happens.

So this plan was dependent entirely on no other cars arriving from either direction in the minutes it took to get set up, and the (at least fifteen) minutes it's going to take to perform the actual murder? How likely is that? Also, couldn't it be foiled by the victim just calling the police with his already-established cell phone?

He does, by the way, but the plan isn't foiled because the call goes like no other 911 call I've ever heard. What's different about this one? The operator's first question 'what's your emergency' goes well enough, but the second question 'where are you' never seems to actually happen. Because if it did, the cops could have blocked that entire road off in a matter of minutes.

Oh, bad writing, you're the most effective tool in serial killer's arsenal, aren't you?

And don't tell me they wouldn't have shut the road down - the cops on the line hear a struggle, screaming, and a murder. And it goes on for minutes, long enough for him to drag his hostage out and string the victim up from a light fixture in the ceiling-

How did he even get up there?

So that's two victims down, but they've finally got a clue! The recording lets them hear something telling - the killer's speeches about fixing things are all there, but the hostage's screams for help aren't! Yup, she's not alive at all - she's a corpse, and the guy is schizophrenic! This leads to a discussion about schizos between Mick and Janeane, who wins out Prentiss Award for the stupidest thing said by an FBI agent.

So, Janeane, what's the third option you're suggesting? He starts taking drugs on his own and is allowed to go on his merry way? Half-wit.

After a quick discussion of other people who've kept corpses around for weeks at a time, the team tries to figure out where he's going next. Since the trail is going from Nebraska, Illinois, and then Ohio - he must have started around Nebraska, and the highway ends in the whole Maryland/Virginia/DC area - but which is he headed towards?

Wait, hold on a second - they're in Ohio now? Then why is the same State Trooper-

From Illinois still with them? You know that the 'State' in State Trooper means that their jurisdiction ends at the state line, right? Or, in this case, two state lines ago, what with Indiana between them and all.

Alright, back to the story. They try to look for the death that set the killer off - who is the woman he's dragging around? Garcia can't find any grave-robbing, but she manages to connect what the killer's been saying to the most awkward political slogan of all time:

How do you fix a promise?

Anyhow, he's a local city councilor in DC, and obviously the ultimate target of these attacks. So while blonde and murderer go to visit him, Forest goes back to the office, where he wants Garcia to meet him so that she can help him work the case. Which totally makes more sense than him going to her office, where all of her computers and information are, locked away on a network that should be all-but-impenetrable, and not the kind of thing you should be logging onto from an active boxing gym.

The councilor announces that he doesn't know anything about Nebraska or the murders, and invites them to question anyone who might be in danger. Okay, so what about the guy's background check? Or are they not doing one?

Using her magical computer skills, and proving that she's earning both of her paychecks, quickly solves the crime by offering the insight 'Maybe a schizophrenic guy would have a medical history of being crazy'. Quickly searching her secret FBI database of every American's medical records, she finds a foster child with a history of unbalanced behaviour - just one, in all of Nebraska.

He's the killer, of course, and when Janeane and Mick rush to his last known address, they find this in the barn-

Wait, I get that he's preserved his sister's room, but if he came home and found her hanged, why is the noose still up? Didn't he quickly cut her down to see if he could save her? Also, in the scene leading up to this one, there was a shot of a decomposing horse that I'm not going to insert here. Thanks for making me see it, though, Criminal Minds. Notably, among the sister's things, Mick finds a poster for the councilor's campaign, with the dude's face burned out:

Because it makes total sense that a flyer for a guy running for the city council of Washington DC would end up in rural Nebraska. Have the producers of this show ever seen a map?

Anyway, there's a letter that Tami (that's the dead girl!) wrote to the father that abandoned her and her brother! So... wait... the councilor is the father, I get that - but if he immediately knew what was going on, why didn't he tell the FBI and ask for protection? Is he worried that they'll catch the killer, and he'll be exposed as a morally questionable candidate? In the city that elected a crack-smoking mayor? Twice?

And why does it seemingly take him eight hours before gathering up his family? It's dark when he gets home and checks on his gun, only to find that it's missing, and was grabbed by his wayward son!

Hold on, the son didn't already have a gun? Then how did he get those guys to stand on the footstool that he kicked away? It's not like you can drag someone up by the neck without choking them - given the lack of fight they put up, I'd just assumed he must have had a gun...

Okay, plot wrap-up time. Killer tries to get dad to put his head through a noose while the whole family (including Corpsie down at the end) watches. Forest rushes in to try and talk the killer out of murdering anyone, while Mick aims a rifle at him. Forest's trick? Talking to the corpse like it's alive! Eventually killer gets so freaked out that he puts the gun to his own head, and it's then that Mick fires... shooting the corpse in the head!

Wait, what? Forest thinks that seeing the corpse 'killed' will shock the killer into giving up. But it would just as likely have caused him to shoot Forest or the Dad or any of the other family members. So why not just shoot the killer?

Oh, right, because they wanted the state to have to pay for the next sixty years of that guy's around-the-clock insane asylum care.

Also they get off on defiling corpses.


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

Um... no? Sure, they dressed it up in quasi-psychological terms, but it was simple observation (the stench of death in the hotel room) that let them know their killer was carting a dead body around with him. Then a Google search let them know that the one crazy person in Nebraska had to be the killer!

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

Yes, especially once it became clear that the killer was just restating that politician's terrible campaign slogan. Still not clear on why that guy didn't just tell them who the killer was and ask for protection. He was ready to flee town instead, and that's just as likely to lose you a campaign as it coming out that the child you abandoned is a murderer. And since probably both were going to happen in his plan, how would that be the better solution?

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

1/10 - This show has gotten so far from the premise of psychology being involved in crime-solving that I'm considering a false advertising lawsuit against the title.

Would this episode have played out any differently had the regular team been running things, or was there some advantage to having a rogue Red Cell that operates 'outside the bureaucracy'?

Except for Forest's flights of speaking as the killer in first person to 'get inside his head', once again this could have been a regular Criminal Minds script. Seriously, why didn't they send Greg and company out on this one? Were they busy with something? Is the zodiac killer finally back?