Criminal Minds 418: Omnivore

Greg drives to South Boston wearing his civvies-

An image that proves oddly discomforting to me, for some reason. He's in town to talk to a retired detective that he worked with ten years earlier. The two of them tried to catch 'The Reaper' (Boston's worst serial killer!) before he disappeared without a trace. The retired detective has a bombshell to offer - he made a deal with the killer! The Reaper sent him a letter, promising to stop killing if he stopped the investigation!

Yay! It took like eighty episodes, but they're finally doing a zodiac killer story!

So why is the detective letting Greg in on this? It seems that the deal was only for as long as they both lived - and since the detective is about to die of cancer, he's afraid that the murders are going to start up again! Greg's profoundly hard on the detective as well, he doesn't think the trade-off he made (purposefully not chasing Zodiac to prevent further killings) was worth it - he's entirely devoted to the idea that their job is to catch killers... whatever the cost!

It seems that Greg's first case, some ten years ago, was trying to catch the Zodiac - and now it's coming back to haunt him! The retired detective dies that very night. Now all Greg can do is wait for the killings to begin. Which happens really quickly. Zodiac drives up on a disabled car, beats a guy with a tire iron, then threatens to shoot a woman in the head with a preposterously large revolver-

Before stabbing her to death with an equally preposterous knife, then finishing the guy off with a bullet and leaving a set of glasses on his corpse. Why the odd signature? I'm guessing we'll find out... after the opening credits!

On the plane the team offers their partial profile of Zodiac, explaining that he loved power and control, and making the detective complicit in his crimes served as the ultimate way of controlling a person. It's a perfectly apt theory, but doesn't really count as profiling because these are all facts presented to him by the retired detective. They also mention a popular book about 'the Reaper', in which the author theorized that the killer had been jailed for years. Which means the Robert Graysmith of this world doesn't have a theory about the killer's identity, which is kind of disappointing.

Rather hilariously, when laying out Reaper's track record, Greg explains that they were sent home before they had a chance to complete a profile. Except the twenty-one murders happened over a three-year period, during which time Greg spent months in Boston. According to the show, aren't most profiles assembled within 36 hours or so? I guess the fact that the killer attacked all ages, races, and genders makes it a little harder...

The team rushes to the crime scene, where popular Canadian actor Justin Louis is hanging around in the crowd!

Is he the killer? Well, he's recognizable, so I'm going to say yes.

Analyzing the crime scene, we learn two interesting facts - that the killer tends to stab the female victims more based on their youth (which suggests a sexual fixation), and that the glasses belonged to an earlier victim - it was the Reaper's habit to take an item of clothing from one victim and leave it on the next (so they would know it was the same killer), except for the glasses guy, who was the ninth victim... but he survived, while his date was murdered! Making him the Mike Mageau of the piece! It seems that the Reaper always called the police to inform them of his newest murder (which makes the personal effects detail kind of redundant), until that allowed this last victim to survive - after that he stopped making calls! Now they just have to track Mike down, because he could be in danger!

Then Justin Louis shows up at the FBI office, and it turns out he's not the killer, he's the Robert Graysmith of the piece! Greg refuses to give him any information, but is sympathetic to his desire to see the story published. Justin warns that if Reaper has, in fact, returned, it won't be long before his next victims turn up. True to his prediction, an old couple are murdered in their car that very night, when the Reaper pulls them over, pretending to be a cop! I still don't think Justin's the killer, though - way too obvious to have a narcissistic serial killer write a book about himself. Also far too bad writing - the cops would have looked heavily into anyone researching a book about the killer.

Greg claims to understand Reaper better than most, and claims that writing the word 'FATE?' on a family picture means that the cops are being blamed for the murders because they failed to stop him. It seems that Greg secretly worked on a Reaper profile for years, but never bothered telling anyone because, I guess as long as you're not currently killing anyone, the cops don't bother trying to catch you? Wait, that doesn't make sense...

He brings out the profile for the cops, explaining that Reaper is an 'omnivore', a killer who'll murder with no specific type in mind. Except they immediately announce that he does have a type - whenever he kills young women he extensively stabs them, making this his sexual fixation. Joe decides this means he's a 'Hebophile', someone who's attracted to post-pubescent children (while a paedophile fixates on pre-pubescent). I'm really glad he made this point, mostly because back in the serial killer souvenir episode I couldn't remember the correct word for what Gacy was when they were calling him a paedophile. They decide to search for anyone with a record of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, hoping to find a lead. Meanwhile their other best lead, Mageau, the only man to have seen the Reaper and lived, has compeltely disappeared from the grid, presumably as a way of making it more difficult for a famous serial killer to track down and murder him. Really, who could blame the guy?

Greg figures there's a good chance Graysmith knows where Mageau is, and he's immediately proven right. He puts Greg in touch with the guy, who's still living in Boston, under an assumed name. The man limps and stumbles, still apparently suffering the effects of his brutal stabbing he received. Confronted with the fact that the killer has returned, Mageau relives the attack. He was going to propose to his young girlfriend that night, and in addition to brutally stabbing the two of them, Reaper stole the engagement ring! Which was kind of a dick move, really. Now we come to the big question - why is he still in Boston? The real Mike Mageau got the hell out of dodge - this is something that always bothers me in fiction. Why not just leave? It's better than dying, right?

The show tries to have the character explain that he wasn't going to let the killer take his home away, but that just sounds like terrible writing to justify this guy being put in danger in the final act. Still, they offer to protect him, so hopefully the guards watching him won't die too easily when the killer shows up.

Justin shows up at the FBI office again - he's been sent a copy of the deal memo, and he wants to know if they're cool with him publishing it. Greg tries to bribe him with complete access to the team if he keeps it a secret - he believes, and not without cause, that if people know the police co-operated with the killer, the people of the town will never trust them again. Just seems convinced but leaves without giving his official answer. That night Reaper calls Greg's hotel room and (I can't believe I didn't see this coming) offers him the same deal. Greg, naturally, refuses.

Which doesn't go too well for the people on a certain city bus-

Yikes. He was no screwing around. He even writes 'no deal' and a series of numbers on the windows! Greg beats himself up over the declined deal, which is time wasted when they could be cracking the code. Joe manages to talk him down, though, which keeps things from denigrating into Mandy-esque self-recrimination. Going over the casefile, they realize that the numbers on the windows are all the addresses of the various places Mageau lives! How could he possibly know that, unless Justin is the killer after all - he even dropped by the crime scene to announce that he was having a meeting with Mageau to discuss the copycat!

I want to restate one more time that the cops would have looked into the Reaper's biographer, so there's no logical way Justin could be the killer.

The team rushes to the various houses (the guy has three houses? There must be a lot of money in being a computer consultant for the city!) and in one of them Derek gets tackled out the window by the killer!

He isn't shot, though - the killer just kills the local cop, takes Derek's badge and leaves. Lucky for him only two cops were sent to chase after the worst serial killer in Boston's history. But let's move on.

The cops find blood all over the kitchen floor - too much for someone to have survived. They assume it's Mageau's - quite reasonably, I'd think. That does raise the question of why there wasn't a set cops following Mageau around, however. Greg announces that he 'refused protection', which isn't exactly accurate. They offered, and he said 'you can't protect me', which isn't the same as saying 'don't try'.

Okay, in the next scene the entire plot falls apart and we discover that Mageau is the killer. His would-be fiancee? It seems that she was actually just a student in a course he was TA-ing, and they'd only known each other for a couple of weeks. Why would he lie? Because he's the killer, obviously. The bigger question is why didn't they notice this huge discrepancy when first investigating the crime? Why didn't Justin notice it when interviewing Mageau 'dozens of times' for the book he wrote about the case?

Bad writing, that's why! Although, in their defense, this particular example of bad writing fully excuses the previous one, “Why wouldn't he just leave?”

The team immediately tracks Justin's cell phone and races over to his location to stop Mageau before he kills Graysmith. On the way they explain his stabbing - he killed the girl, made the phone call, then brutally stabbed himself when he heard the EMTs arriving, knowing they would be just in time to save him. Which sounds good and all, except for one thing: Where did the knife go? The Reaper never leaves a weapon at the crime scene. No knives, no shell casings - after stabbing himself, he wasn't in any position to carry the knife to a third location, and the police would have doubtless extensively searched his car and the immediate area for traces of the killer. So where did the knife go?

Mageau confronts Justin about the fact that he didn't publish the details of the deal and threatens to shoot him. The team shows up and manages to talk him down by reminding him that it will be up to Justin to write the second book that fully explains his story. With the Reaper in custody and Justin safe, the show wraps up on a happy note!

Oh, except for the part where Reaper escapes from jail using a method so preposterous that I'm not even going to bother recounting it here. Suffice to say it wouldn't have worked in a million years, especially with a prisoner as incredibly high-profile as Mageau.

I'm not going to harp on it too much, though, since he's obviously going to be back for the season ender Frank-style, and we can talk about it then.

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

Not particularly. This is a perfect example of them being able to glean interesting facts about the killer that in no way help them catch him. He's a narcissistic who likes teen girls! Great, how is that useful?

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

They caught one of the victims in a lie. It proved he was the killer. This case was solved by reading the casefile. Which Greg apparently hadn't bothered to do in his decade of obsessing over the killer.

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


Criminal Minds FactCheck!

This is normally where I would explain how the real-life serial killer that the case was based on was caught, focusing on the fact that profiling had nothing to do with it. The Zodiac killer was never caught, however, so I can't really offer a comparison between real life and fiction.

To its credit, the show did get the basic facts to the case right - Zodiac loved talking to the press, was more interested in killing women then men (to the point that he left a couple of men alive), and dropped mysteriously off the face of the earth.

Robert Graysmith (The real Justin Louis) makes a fairly convincing case for who the killer may have been be (check out either of his books on the subject, or the movie Zodiac, for an explanation), but, unsatisfyingly, there was never a confession of any kind, or any resolution of the case.

Hopefully Criminal Minds will be more entertaining than real life.


Anonymous said...

Why does the Reaper give the team his addresses, threaten himself by writing them in blood on the bus, go to all the trouble of setting up his own faked death, then sit in one of said houses with the reporter, not seeming to realise all these houses might just be being checked for, you know, his dead body? And act surprised when he gets caught, just sitting around in one of the addresses he's given them?

feenix219 said...

No, he gave them the houses on purpose so they could see the gallons of blood - his own blood - and therefore be declared dead and truly be able to disappear. He would have lived the rest of his life knowing that he won, with the new book to read to relive it all. They found the reporter with his phone's GPS.

Anonymous said...

Greg??? Don't you mean Aaron Hotchner "Hotch"? Not sure where you came up with the name Greg.

Anonymous said...

ANon moose: Thomas Gibson played Greg on Dharma & Greg. Seriously, how did you overlook that connection?

Anonymous said...

I got the sense that when he said that he was planning to propose to the girlfriend but got cold feet, it was the first time he'd ever told them that. If you just think the dead girl was his girlfriend, there's no discrepancy to catch, so they wouldn't have put it together ten years ago. And I figure he fed them that discrepancy on purpose, since he wanted to be caught.

Anonymous said...

zodiac killer has been found now!!