Criminal Minds 508: Outfoxed

There's some serious cross-cutting going on in this week's episode - while a mysterious killer murders a family as they cower in their home, the mother begging for the lives of her children, Reid attends a lecture on the Neurobiology of serial killers given by a man so non-telegenic that he can only be an actual expert in the field.

It's the scientist's theory that simply by looking at a brain scan he can tell is someone is a psychopath - basically his assertion is that all psychopaths share the same inborn brain damage, one that makes them unusually willing to resort to violence, and unable to be satisfied by the simply pleasures of life that we all take for granted. It's all very fascinating stuff, and I'm sure the guy's TED talk would be a great hour, but I'm fairly sure that it's not going to work into this week's plot, given that nothing like real-life psychology ever has anything to do with the killers and their incredibly neat and tidy motives for killing that have little to do with genetic predestination.

Perhaps the goal of this speech was to distract us from the fact that the show is doing some pretty stupid things here in the first scene. A:) They expect us to believe that someone could fire a pistol five times inside a suburban house that isn't soundproofed in any meaningful way (there are french doors in the room the gun is being fired, for god's sake) without alerting the teenage girl swimming in the pool behind the house that her family is being murdered. Which, you know, come on. Even wearing swimming earplugs, you'd still hear that. As would the neighbours, who would be calling the police ASAP.

B:) They want us to not notice that the killer is obviously a woman - or possibly the spindliest man in the world, with unbelievably tiny feet. But since Reid has an alibi (he's at the guy's talk), it must be a woman.

This is Reid going to investigate the death house. Please note that the house next door is merely thirty feet away from it. Just saying.

Turns out the deaths were in a military community - the father's in Iraq, the rest of the family were murdered by a crazy woman. Who dug graves and buried the family out back without anyone noticing. Seriously. The murders were early enough that the teenage girl was swimming out back, yet no neighbours noticed half a dozen gunshots, a violent drowning in a swimming pool (that's how the teen went), or a woman digging a mass grave and dragging four bodies out to it?

Yet they were alerted by the sound of a dog barking and scratching at the mound of earth? Yeah, let's just check out of this episode now, plausibility-wise.

Turns out that this is the second mass murder - almost exactly one year ago another military family was murdered in exactly the same way! Which leaves the team with just three hundred and sixty days to save the next family!

I'm kidding, of course. I'm sure another family will die around the twenty-minute mark, with a third family being saved at the last possible moment. Let's find out if I'm right after the opening credits!
While Derek may not be making much of an impression on me as a team leader, I've got to say, he's dressing a lot more professionally these days.

The team talks a little about the crime - what was taken, what's the significance of the girl being drowned while the rest were shot... then Reid drops the stupidest line of the night:

Wait, what? You think she was on foot because she only took jewelry? So you can say, to a certainty, that if she'd drive a car, she would have also taken the family's television? That's something that family annihilators often do? How can you possibly assume that the jewelry wasn't taken as part of the ritual? Or that, far more likely, she had a car and didn't want to draw unwanted attention by strapping a sofa to the roof of it before driving away?


I know it seems like I'm harping here, and I absolutely am, but these are the lines that really bug me. The overall stupid plotting of the show is kind of expected at this point, but when I hear these tossed-off lines that are supposed to make the characters sound like they're smart  and always carefully analyzing the evidence, and they make absolutely no sense at all - they're just complete gibberish - it really gets under my skin. Partially it's the idiocy, but it's also how generic the lines are - literally any one of the characters could have said that - it's like they're assigned randomly to whoever hasn't spoken enough in the scene.

God, it's a terribly-written show.

Okay, the show just got interesting - it seems that the killer has sent clippings about these murderers to a guy the team caught back in the first season: The Fox! If you don't remember, he was the family counselor who loved killing the families he counseled. It should have been way easier to catch him than it was. They mention the similarities between the case - dead families, stolen wedding rings... could the new woman be a copycat? Greg's going to go talk to 'The Fox' to find out?

I know the episode was called 'The Fox', but did they actually call him that? I feel like they didn't, yet I have no interest in going back to check. Also,it's weird that they didn't flash back to Mandy Patinkin, instead shooting new footage with Derek talking to the guy. It really must have been an acrimonious departure.

They also weirdly misrepresent the crimes of 'The Fox' in a couple of ways. First, they don't mention how he found his victims, instead describing him as a stalker who hid in the bushes, watching the families - which while it might be accurate, is less important. Secondly, they have him say that he kept the families separate until the last night when he killed them all, but that wasn't true - he play-acted as the father for a few days while the dad was held captive, then murdered everyone. Finally, Derek says that an 'absent father' was a key similarity between the cases. Again, that's just flat-out wrong. Yes, Tony Todd(!) was absent from his kids' lives, and it was the stepfather who got murdered in the earlier (off-screen) case, but in both the teaser kill and the rescue case it was regular nuclear families who were being targeted because the killer felt like the dad was letting things fall apart from a lack of discipline.

It doesn't make Derek look great that I remember his cases better than he does.

Derek gives the father (who's been flown home from Iraq) the bad news, and the guy takes it exactly as badly as you'd think he would. Also, just a tip, guys, maybe you should give him the news a little further from the board that's covered with pictures of his family's mass grave, huh?

It's literally fifteen feet away, and the office he's in has big glass walls.

Now it's time to check in with Fox, over at the amazingly-named 'Red Onion Supermax Prison'. Greg and Emily go to visit with the guy, giving him a chance to pull his Hannibal Lecter routine. And I mean that literally. The plot of Red Dragon was that a guy was murdering entire families and sending fan letters to Hannibal Lektor, so Will Graham had to go and talk to him. This is a complete rip-off of that, except the killer is a woman. And probably doesn't find her victims by working at a film-developing house, since that's not a thing that exists any more.

Before we get to the good stuff, though, the show cuts back to the rest of the team noodling the case and saying really stupid things.

No, it made him easy to catch. That's how you caught him. The only thing all the families had in common was that they were in therapy at the same place. How have you forgotten this?

Also, you don't profile a copycat like the original, you profile them like a copycat, which comes with its own set of distinct motivations. How are you this stupid?

In important news - they found fingerprints, and have confirmed that both families were killed by the same woman! Actually, I'm not sure how they don't realize the killer is a woman at this point. They've got fingerprints - do they think the killer is a man with super-small hands and feet? Can't bury people in a mass grave without leaving footprints in the loose earth, don't you know. Oh, and they think there must have been other victims, since killers don't just start out murdering whole families.

Don't they? You never suggested the Fox did anything but kill entire families.

Okay, it's back to the Fox. He brags about how many fans he has, tries to get Emily to read his creepy journal, the usual awful stuff. They talk about the wedding rings the Fox stole for a little while, which leads to another flat-out stupid thing from Greg.

Shouldn't you know this? The guy operated in a single city, the one he lived in. If there had been four more entire families murdered in a ritualistic fashion staged as a murder-suicide, except their wedding rings were stolen, wouldn't you have heard about it? Or is that a super-common occurrence in the world of Criminal Minds?

Also, husbands and wives tend to have matching rings, Greg - often engraved to highlight that fact. Seems like it would be easy to judge whether they were four sets or eight singles.

Hey, look! I did the work for you!

Also the fact that he has five videotapes, one for each of the families he killed, and then a tape of surveillance on the family you saved, would also suggest that there were only four families.


Things get tense – and for an interview with a psychopath, that's saying something – when the Fox continues ripping off Manhunter by announcing that he can only help is able to look at the crime scene photos. Emily is a little uncomfortable with this and takes Greg aside to discuss the idea. She thinks the idea of using photos of a dead girl to arouse a serial killer and get him to talk is despicable, and she's not wrong, Greg points out that they really don't have that any other choice since they need to know why he killed those families.

Why? Why do you need to know that? How could that possibly help catching the the woman who`s copycatting him? I look forward to your half-assed explanation.

The the team continues revealing the depths of their idiocy as the profile goes on – after noticing that most of the fingerprints from the first house were in the teenage girls room, they figure the killer must've placed her there, separate from the rest of the family. They suddenly realize that this couldn't have been a coincidence - the killer must've been singling out the teen girls! Seriously, they're just now figuring this out? In both cases there is a teenage girl roughly the same age – the rest of the family was shot to death, and the teen girl was suffocated so as to preserve the appearance of her body. And it's taken them halfway into the episode to realize that the teenage girl is the focus of the killers obsession?

JJ and Garcia are doing more important work, trying to see what the two families had in common that might've allowed a killer to target them. They go through the military's communications – but will they find anything useful?

Well, it has to be more useful than anything the Fox has to say – after he sees the crime scene photos he starts smirking at his luck, the show goes to a fantasy of him walking them through the crime scene:

Where he tells them a little about his MO. Which isn't useful in this case, since the woman here isn't a child molester the way he is. Yep, no useful information at all:

Oh, and another family is being murdered, this one in broad daylight. Because every killer is a spree killer and gunshots can't be heard outside of houses.

The team arrives on the scene and walks towards the house in slow motion and hey –

Why are you letting Reid out in the field with a gun? A gun he can't possibly draw because his gun hand is using a crutch.

This really is an episode for harping, isn't it? Check this out:

Not only did no one on the street on which they live hear the dozen gunshots it took to kill everyone, but no one noticed a woman digging and filling a mass grave in the middle of the day? God dammit, show – why are you doing this to me? Oh, and they don't live out in the middle of nowhere:

See? It's a populous suburb with paved sidewalks and house directly across the street.

So, it's it's a spree killer now – but why? Some planes fly overhead and Derek picks up on literally the first thing he sees, questioning if there's some connection between the airshow and these murders. The local the detective says that last year the murder was around the time of the annual air show, and this year's airshow is a huge anniversary affair, the biggest one in the country!

So obviously the airshow is the stressor. Oy.

Back to the Fox: he gloats about raping children for a while. It means literally nothing. Luckily by this point Greg and Derek have figured out that the person sending letters to the Fox isn't the killer – what? They're basing this on the fact that a psychotic triggered by the airshow wouldn't gloat – but they don't know it's a psychotic, the killers could just be choosing the airshow for other reasons. I'm sure their random guess is right, though, and I'm wrong, but it's coming out of nowhere.

Greg and Emily stick around so they can find out who the fan is, though, reasoning that someone writing letters to a serial killer and claiming responsibility for murders is probably someone they should be looking into. That is some super proactivity. Great work, guys.

Now it's time to confront the Fox with what they figured out about him – he was molested by his father, and that's why he killed people! There you go, neat little package, let's move on. Attempting to justify this whole sequence the writers have Emily realize something based on the Fox his MO – if the Fox killed families because of his fixation/identification with the father, maybe this villain is killing families cousin of her fixation/identification with the daughter – which would make her a woman! Nice that they finally got there, even if it was a preposterous way. You'd think the footprints and fingerprints would've helped, but whatever.

Oh, and in a bizarre twist – the Fox reveals that it was the reaper who's been sending him mail, and taunts Greg with the fact that the reaper is coming after him. He doesn't say it out loud, but he heavily implies that the messages were all about Greg and that the admirer is "just getting started". What else could that possibly mean?

In a legitimate win for psychology, Reid mentions that the only reason you dig a mass grave is that you had some experience with them, and the only place they can think of white people having recent experience with mass graves (people tend to kill within their own racial grouping) would be in Eastern Europe in the 90s. So it's off to Interpol, to look for similar cases! Which is something that you think they would do all the time, when fingerprints don't show up in their own system.

They find fingerprints at a variety of crime scenes throughout Europe, starting in Serbia – now they know they're looking for a survivor of that whole ethnic cleansing mess. But how is that going to help them find her? It won't, of course. As usual, Penelope solve the crime for them. In this case, she notices that all of the military families use the same online photo sharing service so they can see family photos while the dads are overseas. If this sounds familiar, it's because using family films or photos to select victims is how the killer worked in Manhunter, which this episode is a complete ripoff of. I could've predicted this, except I really didn't think the show was going to rip it off that baldly.

The team rushes to the killers house but can't find her, she must already be with another set of victims! Luckily the killer left pictures of her next victims on the wall, so the team is able to rush to their house and save the day. They botch the job a little, with Derek managing to survive only because the killer tackled him rather than shooting him, but it all ends happily i.e. with the killer being dead and family entirely alive.

Okay, one last scene with Fox, where he spells out the identity of his correspondent, because Greg is too slow to take a hint:

One of the newspaper clippings the Fox was sent concerns Greg's attack and has the zodiac killer's logo drawn on it. Sorry reaper's logo, my bad. How did they not already know about this? All the guys mail is opened and searched – shouldn't this item have been on a list somewhere, typed in bold and underlined three times?

Does this mean that the reaper is going to be back next week? I thought they'd spin this out the rest of the year! Bold move, producers!

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

I'm giving them partial credit for the mass grave thing, but it wasn't really helpful enough to move this above the three mark.

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

While the killer's identity was unknown in Europe, if the police had simply bothered sending this mass murderer's fingerprints over to Interpol they would've known where the murders started, and the likely nationality of their killer. Then it would simply be a matter of searching for all the Serbian nationals who moved to this midsized Virginia town within a year before the first killings. That couldn't be a long list.

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

3/10 - Okay, so the way in which this wasn't a rip-off of Red Dragon is that it wasn't the fan doing the killing? I'd give them a pass, except for the fact that the end-point of the original story, where Will Graham runs home to save his family from the killer, is doubtless going to happen to Greg next week anyway, so the plagiarism has just been portioned out over two episodes.

Except I guess Greg will be running not to his home, but to the witness protection house. But still - it's a rip-off.

On the upside, though - The Reaper's back next week! I love that guy! Not his storyline, of course, because it's nonsensical, but C. Thomas Howell is always fun to watch.


Maaian said...

I have to admit I don't see the point of this episode. After watching and reading your recap I still dont see why that girl would kill anyone or how she got to the US in the first place...

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that the detective had to be told about the Bosnian War - I guess it's something Americans don't know much about? Say 'mass grave' to the average British person and they'll know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

Plus, why did they know so little about what The Fox did to his victims? They had the bodies. I'm guessing the child sex motive was just added in to spice things up a little in this episode?

Paige said...

He definitely didn't molest them in his original episode. I remember them talking about how "well cared for" all the bodies were, and they couldn't even find ligature marks (because he used hospital restraints, I think). This whole episode was ridiculous.

Just recently found your posts and they're hilarious!! I'm amazed you kept it up as long as you did, this show gets downright intolerable. Thanks for the laughs :)

Kalieka said...

First off, you forced me to look up "acrimonious." Ok got that down pat. lol Nice vocabulary!

Second, what perspective you are writing this blog from? Because you lose me sometimes. At one point it seems you are writing at the same time you are watching the episode. Then you flash back, or forward (lol) with other commentary later in your review. I am a simple minded chick who enjoys your writings, but I need to be able to understand your flow!

And lastly, I understand Derek's need to dress more business like with his new title and all, but the suit he is wearing in one of your video cuts swallows him up, making him look like smaller a man than he really is. It makes him look like a pencil pusher more than the regular kicking-down-doors-tackling-murderers-and-beating-up-bad-guys Derek we have come to know and love (despite some of the lines he has to spit out.)

I have always acknowledged this is a fictitious drama written for our entertainment, but review or no review, summary or no summary, some things just need pointing out for the sole purpose of rationalization and giggling over the holes in the story lines. So, commenters who rag on you for criticizing the show, I hope you can understand that we love the show, or we would not watch it. And that these reviews and comments are also for the sole purpose of us entertaining each other and having fun with the whole thing.

Just saying.......

Now I feel better lol

Hannah Gillis-White said...

Did anyone else think that the prisoner, Garrett Pain (Hotchner and Prentiss pass by his cell when first arriving at the prison to see The Fox and mention that he ripped apart 14 women) would have had a larger part since they went out of their way to mention him? It all just seemed somewhat pointless.

Anonymous said...

This was hilarious! I didn't feel like watching the episode, so I searched for a recap and found yours. Best recap I've ever read.

Unknown said...

It finally clicked who this Greg person was you mention often lol.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else bothered by that notification scene? Is this how it works in real life?
So the soldier dad is stationed overseas and they tell him he needs to fly back to the US without telling him what it's about. So he flies home. But any normal human being would call their family to tell them that he is back in the US. So if he did that he can't reach them. Why on earth would he go to the police station before checking on his family?
How and why did they keep him in the dark until he was there?

I have no idea how this works in real life, but it really seems cruel to me.