Criminal Minds 424: Amplification

This week's episode starts in a public park, full of children and youths alike. A sinister man goes walking through it - is he up to something? Almost certainly, given the show's subject matter. The man drops some grass, checking the wind, then scatters anthrax into the air! We know it's anthrax because A: It's a white powder, and B: The show has yet to cover the whole 'anthrax' storyline, which is odd, given their love of tearing things from the headlines.

The next scene gives us a look at a dying mother and child, who, naturally, are merely the tip of the iceberg. People rush to the emergency room, but it's almost certainly too late to do anything. The team is called in to consult in the middle of the night, and as they arrive we learn that Reid's gun fixation has officially gone completely out of control.

He's wearing the gun on his stomach (which would basically make it impossible to sit down comfortably) in the middle of his office. While Derek and Emily-

Aren't even armed! Someone's got to take this guy aside and have a conversation with him. Soon.

Also, he needs a haircut.

They get the word about the mass poisoning - 25 people around Anapolis, Maryland have gotten sick, and twelve have died! The government is keeping the attack a secret, so people won't panic. Or, to put it another way, so the show won't have to attempt to show the kind of mass panic that would erupt if such an announcement were made. This guy shouldn't be that hard to catch, though - only an incredibly highly-trained scientist with access to anthrax would have the capability of developing something like this.

Reid and JJ mention the anthrax letters from 2001, and the unsolved mystery of why they mysteriously stopped. Which is a pretty good question, since they like to say that all serial killers keep going indefinitely. More on that below. For now, let's just follow the actual story of the actual episode!

Joe doesn't like the general in charge of virus response - apparently he didn't feel they handled the last outbreak very well. Greg tries to calm the situation down by mentioning that the team had cleared the guy who was falsely accused of being the terrorist, but, again, more on that later.

Reid goes to visit one of the victims, hoping she'll remember the face of the killer. She's too sick to even make language work correctly, though, so it's kind of a wasted trip. Over at the park Emily complains a lot about the fact that people aren't being told about the threat to their lives (there's always one on every team), but she's still willing to do her job. A job she does while apparently unarmed:

Which seems super-unprofessional to me. Not Reid-level unprofessional, but still.

Oh, hey, speaking of Reid, he makes what could be termed a ridiculous jump to conclusion that will no doubt turn out to be completely accurate. Thinking about the killer as a scientist, he discusses the way the anthrax would have to be tested on a variety of primates before it was ready for human testing. Then, he announces, the killer would have to perform a small-scale test before moving on to this one!

Um... why? Why couldn't this be the small-scale test before attacking a stadium or theatre? Remember the LSD assassin from a couple of seasons back? His first 'trial run' had a dozen or so victims, didn't it? What makes this any different?

Ah, nonsense. Right.

Oh, back at the office, JJ is agonizing over whether she should tell junior to get the baby out of town. Greg tells her they can't, because it wouldn't be fair to all the people who don't work at the FBI. God bless that boring, boring man.

Reid's ridiculous guess turns out to be right, and they find three other victims, all of whom were at the same bookstore on the day they died. The team rushes over and tests the location - it's full of anthrax, and going by the serial killer logic of 'first victims', the bookstore must be important to the killer somehow!

The team gets ready to give the profile - they're under some profound time stress as well - it seems that the story may be leaking, and the president might have to make a speech about it! Gasp!

The team lets the gathered scientists and military people that they might know the killer - that he would be someone who makes a big fuss about the possibility of anthrax attacks, but feels that no one is listening to him. Someone comes forward at the end of the profile with a DVD of a hysterical doctor who, back in 2002, recommended that everyone in America would have to be prepared for an inevitable anthrax attack, even if it costs fifty billion dollars to train everyone and purchase the equipment! When his ideas were rejected he became a little emotional, and screamed at a senate subcomittee - why the hell was this guy not already on a watch list?

He was run out of his job, and fits their profile perfectly! Suspiciously, he's not at work that day, nor is he at home. Testing his office results in no useful discoveries - although that's not entirely surprising, after all, there's oversight at an office, and this is the kind of work you need complete privacy to do, which suggests a home or off-site secret lab. Which is why it's so important that they thoroughly search the house before-

What's that? Reid went into the house before the army scientists were done checking it out? Are you kidding?

Oh my god he's the dumbest character on television. He even locks himself inside the house with the poison. Also, the dead body of the scientist they were looking for! Yeah, he was murdered by the real killer. Which is something that a scientist in a haz-mat suit could have easily discovered. His refusal to leave the house or even wear gas mas leads, inevitably, to the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night:

Yes it will do you good, you moron, the more you inhale the more quickly you will die. You specifically told us five minutes ago that the first victims died so quickly that they were asymptomatic because they had a greater concentration of the dust in their lungs than the second set. What do you think will happen to you if you walk around a house literally full of anthrax?

Also, there's nothing you can accomplish in there that a team of brilliant government scientists in environment suits can't. There could very well be a cure inside, but who's more likely to find it? A team of virologists, or a guy with no practical experience in dealing with any of this stuff?

The sad part is I know this is all going to turn out fine for the guy, since I've seen him in ads from later seasons. But wow, if ever a character deserved to have his stupidity lead to his death, this is that occasion.

Alright, with Reid currently dying, they take some time to do a little weeping and rending of garments - this gets a little funny, with Garcia mentioning how every time they go out in the field she's worried because they're in such enormous danger. Which is, you know, ridiculous. If these FBI profilers are so key to the operation of the entire FBI (or this week, all national defense), why are they kicking down doors while wearing bulletproof vests? JJ continues to worry about whether she should tell Junior about the virus.

So now it's time to follow their only lead - they have to follow their only lead - he must have been working with a partner of some kind! Instead of searching the office for clues as to who it might be, Reid records an audio message for Jane Lynch. I get that you want to do this, but do it while reading through the killer's files or looking for the cure, huh?

In a reveal so obvious that observing the connection defies classification as 'insight', Reid is able to figure out from the fact that the killer had a thesis about anthrax on his desk, complete with bibliography and annotations, that he must be a student, possibly one who studied under the dead professor. Shocking, right? Also, shouldn't his name be on every page, or at least the title page, if it's a thesis?

They check PHD students against people who worked at the bookstore, and get themselves the killer's name and identity! At the same time, Reid's advice that the cure for the new anthrax would be hidden somewhere devious bears fruit - what about the dead guy's inhaler? You know what? This episode has beaten me down. Let's just pretend that makes sense and move on.

Okay, now an incredibly insane thing happens - the General reveals that the killer had tried time and again to get a job working at the fort where WMD research is done, but each time he'd failed the psych examination. How? When asked whether it was acceptable to sacrifice a few people to save a lot, he said yes! The monster! God, he must be a psychopath - or, you know, someone who's honest about all American governmental policy since ever. One of the two, really.

Hey, hold on a minute - they had a list of people who'd tried more than once to get a job working with viral weapons, but proved too crazy, and they didn't run THAT against the bookstore list? Why not?! Oh, right, because they wanted Reid to have the insight, rather than Dan Lauria. Whoops.

Over at the killer's house, Emily is faced with the ultimate test of her convictions: will she tell a woman who sees a person in a haz-mat suit that she should flee town? Of course not. She wants to keep her job. It's not a real test of her ethics, though - the person in the suit had already given them the high sign, revealing that there was no contamination inside the house, and waved them in. What would Emily have done if the house across the street from this woman been full of poison? Really, once you find out that there's no death in the house, this is basically the safest neighbourhood in the city to visit - why would he come back to where he lives to spread the toxin, after all?

Oh, and Reid is being rushed to the hospital, but he's not going to die, so who cares.

Inside the murder house they find lightbulbs (to fill with anthrax), and a map of the subway system. But where would he strike? Also, is he trying to kill himself?

Unlike carefully taking a wind direction and then spreading the anthrax downwind from your location (which is still super-dangerous), he's planning on throwing these lighbulbs on the floor of the subway, ensuring that he'll be infected - and he doesn't have the cure. Also, if you're just planning to kill yourself, why go to all this trouble with the light bulb nonsense. Can't you just start spilling handfuls of the stuff all over subway trains, pretending it's the powdered sugar off a muffin or something? Seems a hell of a lot less inconspicuous than breaking light bulbs in public.

Hey, remember that show Now and Again, where the guy put nerve gas in eggs, then left them on the seat of a subway car, sure that the rattling of the rails would eventually dislodge them, causing them to break and release the gas? Man, that was a good show.

Okay, so, how are they going to figure out which subway stop he'll be at? Ah, it seems the General has an answer for that one too - the most vulnerable line, as defined by one of the professor's reports! Greg, on the other hand, is sure that he'll attack the line which is on the way to the fort that turned down his job applications, since all of his attacks are based on getting revenge on locations where he was aggrieved!

Of course, Greg is right, although I'm not sure how they figure out which of the two dozen stops along that line he'll be at, or how they could think that he wouldn't be exposing people along the way. They randomly guess he'll be at the stop directly under the lab, and they turn out to be right - but how do they stop him from just dropping the bag and killing everyone? By asking the general to show up and stroke the guy's ego! Once the general has talked about the man's importance in figuring out the virus, the killer is more than happy to turn the bag over to him. At which point he's arrested by the FBI and hauled away - the plan worked perfectly!

Except for one thing - the guy had obviously come to the subway to commit suicide by spreading anthrax. So how could Greg possibly know that he wouldn't throw the bag of lightbulbs to the ground the moment he saw a gun pointed at him?

He couldn't, of course. Which is what made this such an awful plan.


Except for the wrap-up. Reid didn't die, JJ didn't reveal the threat, and Emily learns a valuable lesson: it's important for governments to lie to their citizens in order to keep them safe

Thanks, Criminal Minds!

Oh, and apparently the government has thousands of different bio-weapons locked up under a fort in Anapolis.

There's nothing classier than ripping off Raiders, is there?

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

This time, yes. Finally. Not so much the figuring out who did it, more in the area of catching him. It took some manner of psychological insight to determine that he'd be attacking the army, but there was so much luck in his reactions and specific location, I can't give them full marks.

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

It didn't occur to them to go to the list of crazy people desperate to work in bio-weapons first? Really? Also, how is there a thesis without a guy's name on it? Come one, people, this just isn't believable.

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

6/10 - You know, this might have been their highest score so far this year. Amazing, right?


The 2001 Anthrax Attacks in America, or 'Amerithrax' as they're called with people who care more about hilarious puns than they do about human lives, were a series of letters sent to news outlets and Democratic senators, killing five people. A bizarre, troubling case, the government worked on very little evidence, attempting to trace the anthrax in the letters to its source, and the best they could do was one Bruce Ivins, who worked at the bioweapons lab discussed in this episode.

Seven years after the attack, when it looked like an indictment might be coming down, Ivins committed suicide, but there was never any conclusive evidence one way or another. Experts are divided over whether the anthrax could be traced to his lab or even the supply he had access to, although no other extremely likely suspects have ever been released to the press.

The FBI closed the case in 2010 without satisfactory resolution - which is why we so often prefer fiction to reality.


Anonymous said...

Hi, just a quick thing, you keep referring to anthrax as a virus and the scientists as virologists, however anthrax is caused by spores produced by the bacteria Clostridium anthracis, not a virus.

Kalieka said...

Probably the funniest reviews I have read yet! LOL Awesome job writing this one. :-) I can literally Hear the sarcasm jump from the screen. Just. Hilarious. Still love the show, though. I am hooked. I love the characters I guess and I like crime shows in general, always have. I think one of the biggest "Wait, what?!" moments for me was in the subway. If they knew the guy was suicidal, Hotch pointing a gun at him would most certainly end the episode immediately. Clever how the general talks the guy down, but (and please make no mistake, I am still in agreement with your original review) if they were going to go with that resolution, they should have done that very sly-like, without the guns and screaming people. THAT may have played out in a more believable fashion. I am with you on the light bulbs also... after the way he carefully spread the anthrax at the park, why light bulb bombs in a subway car now? Somehow when thinking about this, I see you saying, "Just because? OK! We will run with that." lol

Think you are being Very generous on scoring how useful profiling was in this episode. Still, great job!

Anonymous said...

Your reviews are funny and spot on. These types of shows usually have me rolling my eyes at the contrived leaps of logic, which is why I don't watch them often. And also because most of them have Scooby-Doo endings where the accused admits to everything and sometimes even says something similar to "and I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you about the “small scale test”. (Also the ridiculous “running in front of a car” in an earlier episode.) Another development implausible to me is that they actually named the new strain after the killer. But his background is in social sciences right? Even if he did a not-short attachment with the scientist whom he killed, thoroughly trained himself in the fundamentals of first biology then the specifics of anthrax-making so as to produce a thesis in that subject, the scientist is still the main inventor. It’s the latter’s inhaler right? He may know the methods of making anthrax and was able to do it effectively with high yield, but it’s ridiculous they actually named it after him only, not even jointly with the scientist.

Anonymous said...

Just watched this episode in 2023. Some of their comments don’t age well in a covid world!