Criminal Minds 513: Risky Business

In Evanston, Wyoming, something terrible is afoot. That something? A suicide club! Just like the movie! Except this time it presumably won't be the fault of (SPOILER ALERT) a pop band feeding people subliminal messages. Or who knows? There's certainly a sad song on the soundtrack as two teens on opposite sides of town prepare to slot themselves through a regimen of hanging. Perhaps the music is meant to be diagenic, and driving them to this fate?

I'm kidding of course, although this is certainly weird. Especially since the key detail focused on in each scene is that just after they die a monitor in their room goes dark.

Is someone taping their deaths?

The team is on top of things! JJ finds out about the case, then meaningfully puts on a necklace. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Hopefully one of the victims wasn't another one of her acquaintances. They know it's a situation worthy of their attention because this two deaths are just the latest in a series - the week previous two kids in the next town over had also killed themselves! And none of these kids fit their 'profile' for suicide - depression, drugs, trouble in school or with the police - it's got to be murder... but how?

Also, thanks for waiting until the Wednesday before the next deaths to bring in the team, local cops. They only have 48 hours to stop the next murders/suicides! Although, given the weird setup this week, we may not get any new victims - we definitely have a killer, though-

That's him - clearly an adult male based on the hands - burning a DVD of his latest killings - I assume we'll find out what his game is after the credits!

On the plane the team goes over the case - but it's basically information we already have, so yawn. Two notes - one, JJ knows a suspiciously large amount about the MO of teen suicides, so she's doubtless lost a family member or friend to this tragic circumstance. Also, Garcia is there for no reason. They say she's there because they need her to examine the kids' 'net footprint', but there's literally no reason she couldn't do that from Quantico. Hell, by the time the rest of the team gets packed and on the plane the cops could have couriered all of the dead kids' computer equipment to her.

Okay, is Criminal Minds set in a world where global warming has ravaged the natural environment? Because here's their extremely optimistic view of Wyoming on January 15th, 2010.

(Yes. This wasn't shot in California in November. The trees must be lying.)

Now let's take a look at the real world's Wyoming on January 15th, 2009 (and how amazing is the internet that it found me this?).

So, Criminal Minds - dystopian post-apocalyptic hellscape, or the victim of script editors who are too lazy to change the word 'Wyoming' in a script to the word 'Georgia'?

They warn the police about letting the press know too much about the case - there's a risk of copycat suicides, obviously, so it's important to manage information. Then it's off to talk to the grieving parents, who of course feel that they didn't know enough about their childrens' lives, and wish they could have seen the signs that could have prevented this. Of course, since this was somehow a murder (and possibly a cult), I doubt there's much they could have done.

The parents react in varying ways to the FBI's presence - one set is shocked to hear that their daughter's death could be anything other than suicide, while the other is pleased to discover their suspicions are right - their son couldn't have killed himself, after all, the FBI doesn't investigate suicides! This supposition leads to the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night, delivered by Reid.

Even if that were plausible - an investigation into type of death wouldn't require eight people and a private plane (with pilot on standby - I still want an episode about that guy). This is obviously something more, and there's no reason not to give the parents that impression, since you need to find out anything suspicious they might have noticed.

There's nothing useful in either child's room - other than the fact that both were making plans for the future, and showed no signs of despondence. Garcia finally locates the big clue we saw at the end of the teaser - one of their computers have been wiped completely! Of course, she's too good at her job to let something like that stand, a few key strokes later, and she's recovered everything - especially the fact that the kids were playing something called 'the choking game' the night they died, which, from their description, sounds like a tame version of auto-erotic asphixiation.

Hey, speaking of keystrokes, check this out-

Pretty standard clickity-clack sound effects, right? Now check out this picture-

Yup, she's using a rollable gel keyboard. Which shouldn't be making any sound at all, let alone the standard keyboard SFX. Oh, foley artists - sometimes you don't pay enough attention to the show! It makes perfect sense that she be using the gel rollup for two reasons - A: she`s on the road. B: From a production standpoint, the noise of a real keyboard might interfere with sound recording. I totally get the gel keyboard - but why dub in that loud clicking?

Where was I? Right - apparently the killer is daring kids to choke themselves online, and they're doing it, for no reason I can think of. Maybe I'm a little naive here, but aren't kids who have no history of any kind of trouble in their lives unlikely to start choking themselves because an anonymous website told them to?

The show explains that since the website has been set up as a game, where one high school competes with others, that teenage competitiveness overrode their saner instincts. Here's the thing, though - the next sequence shows that at least eight different kids are in on the latest game, and they're all told to get as many friends as possible to take part in the next day's festivities. Which suggests that at least as many kids were playing in the previous weeks when the four deaths occurred. Which raises the question - why didn't any of the kids who didn't die mention it to anyone?

Sure, on one level they've got to be afraid of being implicated in deaths, but somewhere in the dozen children who survived there's got to be one who feels concerned enough about the dead kids to come forwards, right?

Then again, this is an episode designed to scare parents by saying that even good kids are into suicidal thrill dares, so maybe in the world of Criminal Minds all teenagers are sociopaths.

Oh, and here's a shot of evil moving through modem lines straight out of The Net.

Profile time! The team announces that it's a teenager, a loner and loser. So they go to the school, looking for one!

So yeah, my suspicions about the intent of this episode were dead on. In the next scene, when the team is talking to a class of kids, essentially telling them that a murderer created this whole 'competition' in order to kill as many teens as possible, one of the teens actually laughs it off, suggesting that an FBI Agent flew from Washington just to keep them from winning a game of choke yourself. Oy.

Instead of just laying out the murderer's ID clearly, Reid tries to scare the kids out of playing by describing the gruesome details of the last victim's death. Notably unmoved by all this awfulness is this guy-

Who we'll call Red Herrington. He flees the classroom to avoid being questioned - which is incredibly suspicious, but we're too early in the show, and he's not an adult. After being caught the team discovers that he's a long-term choker, with all sorts of bruises around his neck. Naturally this makes him a suspect, and they intend to interview him after he's checked out in the hospital.

It's while he's in the hospital that the killer arrives on the scene-

It's Red Herrington's dad! How do I know he's the killer? Well, given the strangulation Red's suffered he has to be involved, but we were already shown an adult being responsible. So it has to be the only person connected to Red. I wonder what his motive could possibly be?

The father, hoping to implicate his son as the villain, turns over Red's computer. Will it be attached to the websites that Garcia is tracking? Probably - how good a frame would it be otherwise? Hey, do you think the dad's going to try to go through with Friday's mass suicide, or will he pull it down because he's not an idiot and the cops are too close?

I'm guessing he is, in fact, an idiot.

Also, these are some terrible cops. They take the laptop and absolutely nothing else. What about the pile of disks right there on the desk?

Isn't that the same pile of disks from the opening, where all the snuff films are kept? The episode sure lingers on the image of them long enough. That's right - if the Sheriff had done her job, and given the room even a cursory glance, she'd have noticed that either Red or his dad has a pile of DVDs with all the deaths recorded on them.


The team starts interviewing Red, who doesn't engage, frustrating their attempts. Meanwhile, Emily has some nearly Prentiss-Award level stupidity to offer, acting as if there's a ticking clock until Friday when the kids play 'the game' again. If she doesn't want that to happen, why not just shut down the website? After all, they were only keeping it up in order to track the killer - but now they're sure they have the killer in custody, so therefore he won't be able to put it back up if they shut it down. Isn't leaving it up just super-dangerous?

Yes, it is! In the next scene, as Garcia tries to unlock Red's computer and find what all the security is protecting, people start sending videos to the site, bragging about their self-choking.

Okay, Red is in custody and the killer is hanging out with the Sheriff, so all the kids are engaged solely with the existing website and no actual people. A website that the FBI could have shut down any time they wanted to. If anyone dies, doesn't that make it the team's fault? Shouldn't they have put up a card saying 'instead of the choking game, the FBI has logged your IP address, and we're going to be coming to talk to you!' Wouldn't that have scared everyone away from playing this weekend?

Instead of asking Garcia to simply shut down the website, they have her go in and talk to Red, hoping her story of childhood tragedy will get through to him. Comparing their black fingernails convinces him to open up to her, then she questions him about his computer security. The killer intervenes, demanding a lawyer swoop in and protect his son, but not before Garcia notices that he knows absolutely nothing about computer security, meaning that it can't be his computer the murders are being run through!

Which leaves them with just one suspect - the dad! Also, we get a little background on the mother's death - she was poisoned time and again, then got better, until one time she didn't! Also the son has long-term damage to his torso from being choked to death and then resuscitated over and over again. Since the dad is a paramedic, obviously he'd no how to do that sort of thing. So he's a Munchausen by Proxy freak who's gotten bored just doing it to his own family, and started murdering other children!

Reid, Derek, and Emily also figure out that it's the dad at the same time by noticing that two different people were clearly posting under the son's AIM account. By the way, for someone who's supposedly smart enough to be great with computer encryption, the dad didn't even bother trying to write like his son, using complete sentences, punctuation, and no L337 speak.

The team also announces that since the dad's shift is on Friday night, he's making the kids kill themselves just when he'll get to go out and try to rescue them! Which means Munchausen has turned into hero homicide? That seems like an odd jump. Also, he was torturing his son in a way that didn't bring sympathy and attention to him, so that doesn't track psychologically either. At his house they find the DVDs I mentioned earlier, and the sheriff chides herself for not noticing them. The team tells her not to worry - it isn't her fault since they didn't have a warrant to search the house. Um... you care about warrants now? In the previous scene didn't you illegally search a suspect's medical records to find the history of abuse?

Okay, so now they've got to find Red and the killer, who are driving out of town somewhere. The team figures that Red will try to kill himself, since he gave Garcia an earring before leaving the station, a classic sign of 'giving up'. Of course, that doesn't actually find them, so Garcia also does something practical, and watches the website in case the killer tries to download the new videos.

The team make the out-of-nowhere leap that 'this is all about the mother' (it isn't - it`s all about the father`s narcissistic need for attention), and figure the dad will go to where she's buried. The team rushes over there, and captures the killer without incident.


Except we finally hear JJ's tragic backstory. Her sister killed herself. Happy now?

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

I'll say kind of... although it's a stretch. The main reveal was that they figured out where the killer was headed - but the way they did it was so preposterous that I couldn't really buy it at all.

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

They went to a school to warn children not to choke themselves, and a guy essentially stood up and announced 'I'm involved in this murder'. Not exactly brain surgery this week.

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

2/10 - How were they able to get to the mother's grave so easily? When they go over Red Herrington's file, we discover that in the 2+ years since his mother died, the family has moved three times - he's gone to three different schools in three years! So why would the mother be buried within an easy driving distance?

'But wait', you may say, 'maybe he just moved around the area, and was simply transferred to different schools within the same town!' Excellent point - except the show makes it clear that the high school he currently goes to has around 2000 students, and services all the townships in the County - meaning that when they moved into town, it was from somewhere relatively distant. So why on earth would the mother be buried in what the Sheriff acknowledges as the city's graveyard?

Do they even read these scripts before shooting them?


slaget said...

Red Herrington. I love it.

woodchuck2004 said...

A school is not necessarily in the geographic center of its district- there are schools with thousands of students that are located within a few minutes of a cemetary that does not fall into that school's district. However, this episode was shot in Wyoming, which is one of the least densely populated states- a school of over 2000 kids probably covers a ten mile radius. If this episode was shot in New Jersey or Rhode Island where there is a huge population density, I would say your argument against the quick distance to the graveyard is obsolete. But since it's Wyoming, I'll give you a pass.

Esh said...

There are some logical errors in the show, I agree. But, most of the time, you are able to guess stuff only because of the format. The show is 40 minutes and they have a standard format and each actor we see on screen has a role. Your guesses are based on that fact. But that doesn’t apply to the cast. They have to work based on what information they have. Don’t be rude. For someone who thinks they’re very smart and would do a better job, take some time to check your spellings and grammar before you post