Criminal Minds 514: Parasite

There's a dark side to Miami, it seems... Hey, is it weird that I'm able to identify a show as being set in Miami entirely based on this one shot of a street?

I'm pretty sure this means I watch far too many movies.

Anyhoo, a man beats a woman to death with his bare hands, then goes out to dinner at a fancy club. All eyes are on him due to his improbable handsomness, and he quickly reveals himself to be a con man, as he flirts with his dining companion before turning over an investment 'prospectus', which is apparently a word the propmaster didn't know.

Or at least assumed meant the same thing as 'brochure'.

The most notable thing about this killer? He's haunted by the murder he committed, suggesting that it may have been the first one! Also, he's being hunted by Steve, from Sex in the City! It seems he's been chasing this guy for five years, but only two nights ago did it become a serious case - a woman caught on to the killer's scam and called the FBI, but then also wanted to confront him herself. Alone. In her own home, which was presumably set far enough back from the curb that no one could hear her screams.

Okay, one last time, writers - if you're afraid of the person you're meeting with, you meet in public. If you're afraid of a third party, you meet in private. Also, you never tell a criminal that you're going to call the cops on them if you live through the night. Who does that?

Not that I'm blaming this woman for her own death, but come on.

On the way to Miami, they discuss the guy's MO, which was earlier described as 'like a smaller Madoff'. This couldn't be less accurate. I'm sure the explanation was just an attempt to help the audience understand what was being discussed, but wow, was that not accurate at all. Madoff ran a classic Ponzi scheme - get one guy to invest, then pay him a decent return that you pretended to 'invest' - he tells two people more to invest, and you use the new funds to keep paying off the old people, creating a pyramid of investment, where you are free to skim off as much as you like, or just run off at some point.

This con man, by comparison, uses a series of fake names and businesses to get people to exist in funds that flat-out don't exist, then just leaves with the money. There's nothing complex or long-term about it, and it relies entirely on his ability to personally deceive people - because he's constantly using fake names and businesses, it's not like he's having his victims refer new victims to him, the way a Madoff would.

When presented with the evidence of the killer's crimes, the team balks at actually having to sit down and do some reading - including Joe, who, in being incredibly dickish, has the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night while insulting Steve:

Not to inject a little too much reality into the situation, Joe, but in a sane world (or, you know, the real world), your job would be sitting at a desk, reading witness reports and crime scene descriptions. Isn't 99 percent of FBI work sitting at a desk, accumulating paper evidence?

Also, why are characters other than Reid following the paper trail? With his speed reading and photographic memory, couldn't he handle this on his own, freeing up Derek to chase people on foot?

At the victim's house, they puzzle why he would have targeted a modestly-successful woman who couldn't invest much money, but dealt in high-end real estate. Um... to get a look at her client list? Morons. More to the point, if she was his entry point into the world of Miami wheelers and dealers, why didn't he just Ponzi some of her money back to her when she asked? We see the guy grabbing a hundred-thousand dollar cheque at the dinner meeting, and since the victim had invested so little money (comparatively speaking), how much of a hassle could it have been to simply say 'okay, there's some penalties for early withdrawal, but here's your thirty thousand, because I'm a good guy who you should continue talking up to your clients'?

Also, Derek finds a fake website with the killer's pseudonym on it:

Steve is shocked that the 'locals' didn't find it, but Emily hand-waves that away by saying they wouldn't know to look. Really? They wouldn't know to look at the screen of the computer that was sitting open on the table of a murder victim? Also, Steve has been hunting a conman who pretends to be an investment guru, and it's only just now occurring to him to search for the internet presence of some of his fake personas?

Steve, you are terrible at your job.

Sure, they explain that this is a 'new trick' to try and explain it away, but that raises the question: how was he faking reliability in the past? Also, does the FBI not google search the known aliases of criminals as a matter of course?

So the killer is having trouble keeping his head together after the murder, but Joe's theory is that the real problem is trying to keep ten different identities straight in his head. A theory that is borne out in the next scene, when the killer accidentally uses the wrong name when telling the mark who to write the cheque to, and is then forced to kill the man when the meeting takes a dark turn.

I know they needed a second murder for the format of the show, but two problems here - I don't really understand why he's got all these different websites and names - if he's convinced a dozen people to invest with him, doesn't it make more sense to have one fake persona collecting all the money and reassuring potential clients based on the fact that plenty of other people are working with him? Every time he tries to con someone he goes in without a client list - what kind of sense does that make? Also, the show makes it look as if he'd have a hard time keeping all his 'personas' straight. Except he doesn't have multiple 'personas', he has multiple NAMES. Every single 'character' he's playing all have the same job, backstory, car, clothes, etc. Literally all he's doing is switching out business cards. The fact that he can't even manage to keep those straight doesn't exactly paint him as an impressive villain, and it makes me wonder how he kept the scam going this long.

Oh, and as usual, the con man was sleeping with the wife of the dead guy. Because that's his MO, sleep with women to get their confidence, then steal their money.

Next we see the con man at home with his wife and son, where he's living under his own name, which gives the audience the answer to a question the team asks in the next scene: why, when he normally works a city for just one year, did he stay in San Diego for three years starting nine years ago? Well, because he got married and had a kid. Way to play up that mystery, show! Seriously, though, the killer is worried that they're going to have to leave Miami because of all the murdering, but his wife doesn't want to uproot the kid. So obviously she doesn't know where the money really comes from. That's going to be an awkward conversation.

Things get a whole lot more complicated when we see him with his latest mark. She starts talking about wanting to leave her husband for him! If that wasn't bad enough, he gets a call from another Mark and his wife at the same time! The kicker - the newest mark is pregnant! Yikes, this is just going to be a mess. Also, he totally murders the woman he had dinner with in the opening sequence. Why? Well, it seems he has a new plan - he's going to kill all of his current victims so that no one in town will be able to identify him!

Luckily, the team has a theory that they're going to use to catch him - con men traditionally hide money under their wives' names! Wait, what? Why wouldn't he keep money in his own real name, since he never gives it to any of his victims? Not like any of his clients are coming back to the mansion he lives in with his family. At least they tweaked to the 'wife' thing, although the way they did it makes Steve look like an idiot for not catching on - after Sand Diego he went from driving sports cars to SUVs, and living in houses rather than condos. So yeah, family. Which, since they know where he's lived for the past few years, should actually make the wife super-easy to find. According to the big board they moved from California to Colorado to Texas to (two other states that aren't visible) to Florida, each one year apart. Emily tells Garcia to search for high end women in Florida with a connection to San Francisco, but since the wife presumably got a driver's license updated in each state with her new address, shouldn't it be dead easy to find the person who got a driver's license in each of those states in each of those years? There's no way that could amount to more than one person, could it?

Ready for some nonsense? The team is told by the bank manager that the latest victim sold a house, which finally lets them figure out the importance of the first victim being a real estate agent - he was using her list of rich leads to find victims! Okay, that's not the stupid part - at the same time Garcia has found a dozen well-to-do women who used to live in San Diego, but here's how she focused on the important one:

Okay, first off, no she doesn't. In an earlier scene she offered to get a job so that they could afford to stay in Miami, and the killer refused. Secondly, why was Garcia focusing on real estate at all? The rest of the team only just now discovered the real estate connection, and it has nothing at all to do with the killer's wife. This development makes no sense to me.

Things get even more awkward for the killer - his wife has found his recent behaviour suspicious, and followed him to the home of the mother of his latest child! Finally the awkwardness is about to peak!

The team split up to cover all of his potential victims as well as the killer's house and school. This sequence includes a questionable shot in which the killer keeps from driving home when he sees a police car waiting outside, and two cops standing around. Which is great, but shouldn't they be a little more alert? I mean, they know the general appearance and kind of car the guy they're looking for his driving, and he just rolled by suspiciously slow. Are Miami cops terrible at their jobs?

Tracking the family cell phones, they discover two in the wife's name - one for each of them. Then something amazing happens: they discover that one of the phones is in the house with the last remaining unsecured victim, and the other is driving around the general area. What's amazing about this? Check out Joe's response:

Um... Joe... why are you assuming the wife is there? You just established that both phones are in her name, and you know that the killer probably wants to kill this woman - why on earth wouldn't he be the one in the house? I mean, it is the wife, but you not only don't know that, but there's no way you'd assume that. Unless you've read the script. Did you read the script?

Everyone rushes to the house at once, leading to more preposterousness. The team surrounds him outside the house, then after his son has safely tun into the house, he reaches into his pockets quickly so that the cops will shoot him, which will prove difficult, since not one of them has their finger on the trigger of their pistols:

Then Steve somehow manages it, even though, half-a-second after shooting the killer, we see that his finger is also not on the trigger of his pistol.

Then the show goes all slo-mo and plays sad music, as if we're supposed to care that a murderer is dead. Yeah, it's a little sad that his son was there, but not to the point where we need sad piano music and, wait a minute-

A crane shot as paramedics work on him? You know this is the bad guy, right? Also, who called the paramedics? Did they just happen to be driving by and hear a gunshot, or is this fifteen minutes later?


Oh, except for Steve lamenting that they never ever found out the guy's real name. Is that plausible? I mean, now that you can put his face on the news, shouldn't it be really easy to track the first driver's license he ever got? Also, what are the odds that a guy who chose a career as a con artist wasn't arrested at some point early in his life? I'll tell you the odds - not good.

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

There was a little bit of psychology involved, only insofar as being able to judge that the only reason a guy would go from having a sports car to having an SUV is because he now has a family. Although you don't really need a psychologist to tell you that, you could just ask anyone who sells cars for a living.

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

This one's a bit more difficult - I mean, the guy leaves fingerprints literally everywhere, and he's constantly going out in public with his victims, then walking into banks to deposit their cheques. I feel like, had they looked a little harder, they could have found a picture of this guy.

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

3/10 - Not a stellar showing, but better than most of the year.


Anonymous said...

It was pretty unbelievable that "Steve" had never thought to look for the websites - and when Garcia discovered ten of them, he said that they were all new aliases. Really? All ten of them? The team then work on the basis that the guy has ten aliases. Which means that apparently "Steve" didn't know a single other alias the guy was working under. Except he did. He said he did. And he'd been tracking the guy for five years.

And, call me ignorant on such matters, but if they didn't know who the guy was, only what cities he'd been operating in, how did they know what style car he drove or what size house he lived in? I suppose the victims could have seen the cars, and apparently he made a habit of telling them all about where he lived, which seems strange for an undercover conman. But why did he drive an SUV to visit his clients? Given that his wife also had a car, and did the bulk of the childcare, why was his car also a family vehicle? Wouldn't he have wanted to impress his clients - and not let on that he was a family man, given that he was trying to seduce them?

And really, who was stupid enough to believe that guy was pulling a gun out of his pocket? 1. That was not a very big pocket. I'll concede that, not being American, I don't know much about guns, but do they generally fit inside trouser pockets? 2. The guy had killed three people, all in different ways (strangely, never mentioned), and it was clear that he was just using whatever weapon came to hand, resorting to his bare hands out of necessity. If he'd had a gun, don't you think he would have used it by now?

This leads into a personal gripe - why do American police officers, if TV is to believed, always shoot to kill? Shouldn't they be well enough trained to disarm/disable a suspect without shooting him through the heart/head? Shooting him in the shoulder would have stopped him reaching for his pocket. If American TV shows are an accurate representation of how real US cops behave, they must lose more suspects to police shootings than ever make it to court.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the wife updating her license: I've lived in Florida over a year and haven't. As much as they moved, seems like a hassle.

As for Garcia narrowing down the women...it's possible his wife could have been a real estate agent in San Diego and he used her for her client list there.

US cops- just trying to keep the prison population down to have room for the real threats - drug dealers, because that's going so well.

Anonymous said...

The first anonymous probably won't come back here, but, by now, you probably know that, yes, cops in the US are trained to shoot to kill no matter what. It's because heart is the easiest way to hit the target (most amount of mass) so they're less likely to miss. But the biggest problem is lack of less-lethal means to subdue. So they don't carry tasers or pepper spray like in other countries, but they carry lethal guns.

Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of these reviews at this point, and I'd like to point out that even though yes, these are killers, they're still people. So other people, uh, have the right to react to their deaths and we're allowed sad music over their deaths now and then? Sir reviewer just seems a little cold-hearted to me every time he complains about that.