Criminal Minds 512: The Uncanny Valley

When a body dressed as some kind of a fashion doll shows up on a merry-go-round, it's up to the team to travel to Atlantic City and sort things out! Not before Reid heads down to the local part to show off his intellect in the only way that TV writers know how - they show him playing chess in a park! The show tries for the old comparison between chess and other mental exercises, such as profiling, but it doesn't really go anywhere.

So, let's ask the big question - since the term 'fashion doll' doesn't come up in the initial conversation, how long will it take the team to come to that conclusion - especially when we learn that the killer kept his victims alive and immobile for months so that he could dress them up and pose them as living dolls. Or more likely 'her' victims, since men generally don't play with dolls, and the victims weren't molested in any way.

I give them five minutes, so that's a total of 10.5 minutes into the episode to point out the most obvious reason for the victims' appearances. That should be plenty of time, right?

Gosh, that's some pretty bad "she can't move anything but her eyes" acting right there. How many times do you think they told the actress "Remember: You can't move your head!" before just giving up and using a take? Ah, who am I kidding, no cast members, no consequence to the story - this is a one-take kind of shot.

The team heads down obvious avenues of investigation: access to paralysis drugs, custom-made gowns, and any place that the women might have had in common, thereby explaining how the killer found them. There are no immediate hits on any of their theories.

Joe and Greg come up with a series of logical inductions, convincing themselves that the killer would have likely used a wheelchair to get the bodies to the dump sites, meaning, as a consequence, that she would have both a van with a lift and a handicapped placard. Which seems like a pretty good lead, although it assumes that none among Joe, Greg, or the audience have ever seen a folding wheelchair. As someone who lives in an apartment building with a bunch of people who both use wheelchairs and drive sedans, I can assure everyone that they're very real.

Garcia, as usual, comes across the first useful information - two new victims were abducted a week earlier to replace the two living dolls who died! They were taken a single day apart, which suggests that not only did the two women die of natural causes oddly close together, but that, like so many killers on this show, the dollmaker must have a dossier of potential victims who she's tracking at all times. Otherwise we'd be forced to believe that a large woman could just sit outside a thrift store for hours and hours, assuming that she'd luck into a victim who exactly fit her size criteria, and then be able to subdue that woman without making a fuss - in public - with no witnesses spotting her.

Actually, you know what? It's just terrible writing to get the spree killer thing going, so let's move on. There's a new victim who uses the buffalo bill ruse to trick a woman into her van. Classy.

There's something disturbing with the new corpse - instead of hair extensions, she had a wig sewn to her head! Will that be important later, or simply a disgusting detail designed to turn the audience's stomach? I'm calling B.

Sixteen minutes in and still no one has mentioned that they're obviously dealing with a doll collector. It finally shows up nineteen minutes in, when giving the profile, although it's kind of nonsensical. They explain that sewing hair on is the way that wigs are attached to porcelain dolls, which might be true, but sounds strange to me. Do you really use a needle on porcelain? More importantly, however, we get the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night.

So she went immediately from losing her dolls to creating living dolls? Really? You don't find it more likely that this obsession would have built over years, with continual failures to replace the dolls finally driving her to madness? Are they really saying she had a whole serial killer MO just ready to go with no experimentation or practice the second she snapped? Why am I trying to talk reason to these people?

While JJ tries to find out about who might have made the dresses, the rest of the team is assigned a ticking clock: The latest victim is diabetic! While the killer obviously has medical training, she can't possibly know about the condition, so they have just hours to save the day! Speaking of, since the profile specifically stated that the woman wouldn't currently be working as a nurse or anything like that, they're going to have to do one hell of a lot explaining for how she's getting the truly heroic quantities of drugs it would take to maintain three women in preserved comatose states.

A ludicrous scene set in a collectible doll store ensues, where the team tries to get the owner to identify what doll line the killer is obsessed with without actually showing him pictures of the  victims. Not that it would have mattered - the dolls he names, a contemporary line from the 80s, bear absolutely no resemblance to the sixties-inspired classy dresses that the killer is creating.

Luckily, it's the dresses that will be the final clue unmasking the identity of the killer. It seems that there was a contest inviting children to design dresses and write bios for their dolls. When this led to many descriptions of child abuse, all the essays and designs were turned over to the police! So it's just a matter of searching through the designs for the ones made by the killer - it would seem like the designs should match what the victims are wearing, but instead they're identified based on a unique stitch, which the killer has apparently been doing exactly the same for twenty years.

Now for some backstory - the little girl was molested by her father, who then gave her electro-shock therapy to try and cover up his crime! The father? Commander William Riker! Reid heads over to the hospital to confront Riker, but before he and Joe get there, we get a suggestion that the profile was, as usual, pretty far off.

It seems that the killer is still working as a nurse/orderly after all. Although I'm not sure who's trusting a mental defective with nurse or orderly duties. And how does she find the time to also work doing alterations all over town, as well as stalk victims? Busy girl, this one.

Reid has his battle of wills with Riker, which plays as a massively inauthentic sequence. For no discernible reason Riker stonewalls the team about his daughter's whereabouts until Reid threatens to expose the doctor's love of molesting his patients. Which, of course, he does anyway. I say it's massively inauthentic because the evil Riker's motivation makes no sense - he has no reason to doubt the FBI's word, and refusing to co-operate with them only serves to draw their ire. Which is puzzling, when he's got a history of crime that he's trying to cover up.

They funny part about all of this? It's completely unnecessary! Garcia already had a list of all the halfway houses, and the police could have started searching all of them at once long before the team ever made it to Riker's office. Which would have prevented the close call that happens when the killer comes home to find that the diabetic woman had almost escaped. Why is she home so early? Because she saw cops at the office, and got spooked! Wait, is she aware that she's doing something wrong to the point where she realizes that the cops are after her? This is a really poorly-scripted episode.

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

Sort of - they employ knowledge of the psychological schemes used by child molesters in order to get Riker to co-operate.

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

As usual, it was. A simple investigation of the clothing the killer made, as well as the doll-theme she applied to her victims got the killer's name fairly quickly. Actually, I'm not sure why the FBI was needed on this one at all.

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

2/10 - One more thing from the episode: In a move that's supposed to be heartwarming, when the latest (diabetic) victim is rolled out of the house to a waiting ambulance, her husband is there waiting for her:

Sweet, except for one thing. The medical personnel wouldn't have wasted any time between Reid capturing the suspect and getting this dangerously ill woman to the hospital. So this couldn't be happening more than 5 minutes after he first walked in the door. Which means that the husband was waiting outside, and probably came with the team. Here's the thing about that, though: they knew the diabetes would cause the drugs to have strange effects - either wear off quickly or kill her instantly.

So there was a 50/50 chance the team was inviting the husband down to see his wife's corpse get wheeled out.

Not cool, team.

Also, and this is important to note: they in no way explained how she could have absconded with literally dozens of liters of controlled substances without anyone noticing her.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand, either, why she specifically had to have petite women of a particular size and body shape. They said something about it being so they'd fit the clothes she made for them, but why could she only make clothes in a certain size? It's not like she kept the dresses and reused them - each victim was dumped still wearing her dress - so she had to keep making identical dresses?

It's a bit of a stretch as well to suggest that young girls asked to write a story involving their doll would, in droves, report stories of sexual abuse, just because therapists use dolls to elicit information from child victims. Doesn't this rather assume that all those girls had previously had doll-centred therapy and therefore associated the telling of stories about dolls with the revealing of sexual abuse? Or are we supposed to believe that there's something intrinsic in playing with, discussing or writing about dolls that makes children just want to blurt out their secret traumas? Given that the psychological evidence doesn't in fact support the use of dolls in child therapy, since it can negatively affect the reliability of information derived, I find this whole storyline just utterly fantastical and ludicrous.

Hannah said...

I did love Reids speech about how he was going to prove that the doctor molested his daughter. It was very passionate.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand, either, why she specifically had to have petite women of a particular size and body shape.

They had to resemble her dolls, which were all of same size characteristics

Hanna said...

When Prentiss and Morgan interview the family members, they both shove a photo of the victims' corpses into their families face. Isn't that just cruel? Seeing the corpse of a family member posed like that?
They ask "Would she have worn anything like that?" but honestly, the clothes are taken off of them anyways, couldn't you have just showed them a picture of the dress?
Or you know, at least given them any kind of warning that they are going to show them a picture of a corpse?
I wouldn't want to see what a serial killer does to my family, even if it not gruesome but just putting them in a fancy dress, doing their hair and make-up. Pictures like that could haunt you.
Do they want to traumatize the families?

Macobb1982 said...

I was thinking the same thing. They just unapologetically traumatise the families with pictures of their ,oved ones dead.