Criminal Minds 516: Moseley Lane

This week's episode opens with a flat-out hilarious title card:

It seems the producers of Criminal Minds and I have very different definitions of the word 'Winter'. Couldn't you have set this in Texas or something, guys?

Anyhow, opening at a carnival means one thing, and one thing only: children are in danger! The episode doesn't disappoint, as a woman goes running through the crowd, demanding to know where her daughter 'Lindsay' is. It's a misdirect, though - the hysterical woman was just one of the abductors, distracting this woman:

While her daughter is grabbed from right next to her! Twist, right? Well, except for the fact that the woman and her daughter had spoken parts in a Criminal Minds episode. That almost never goes well for anyone.

You know, while this whole 'make a sound to distract the woman' thing seems clever for a moment, it only actually works on television, where there's just 2-3 real, actual people being simulated. If you scream your head off yes, the woman you want to distract is going to turn to face you, but so is everyone else. So while the people between you and her are going to be facing the wrong way to notice the abduction, you've ensured that everyone on the other side of her are going to be looking directly at your partner as (I assume) he grabs a little girl, covers her mouth so she can't scream, and hauls her violently away through the crowd. And since they've already been made aware of the prospect of a missing child, your little grab is going to come under more scrutiny, rather than less.

Really, the only way this could possibly work is if nothing at all existed behind the camera, and the size of the whole world was defined by its lens. Luckily for the kidnappers, because this is a poorly-conceived and executed television program, this is the case.

The team shows up and begins working the case - oh, so that's why this is set (preposterously) in Virginia, it had to be easy driving distance for the team. They scramble to get on top of related kidnappings and other crimes that fit the MO, because, as Derek says in the Prentiss Award-Winning line of the night:

Um.. wow. You know that kidnappers don't have a stopwatch, right? And they don't throttle children the moment a beeper goes off. The whole 'most abducted children are killed in the first 24 hours' isn't a time limit, it's acknowledging the fact that the kind of people who abduct children are largely doing it because they want to molest them, and then they kill the victim to keep them from talking. The only time consideration is how long it takes the killer to get the child to their secluded location of choice. Sometimes that's a shack deep in the woods, sometimes it's a van in the parking lot. Depressing as it may be, they should really be saying 'let's hope it's a long-term molester who's taken her, rather than a murderer', because that's the only hope you've got of finding an abducted kid alive.

Naturally, because this isn't a show where children get dragged into vans and murdered, we next see the little girl being taken into some kind of an underground containment warren. So she'll be find, as will, presumably, be the child of the woman who shows up at the office, telling Emily that the same kidnappers are responsible for her son's abduction. JJ announces that this woman is a nut who comes in every time there's an abduction, but I'm pretty sure she's right. After all, she's in the episode. Besides which, that was a really big containment warren.

My theories are confirmed before the credits roll, when the latest victim sees a group of kids in the next room. One of them tries to communicate with the newest victim, but then the evil kidnapping woman turns up, and murders him, which seems like an overreaction over saying 'hello' to someone in the next room. Although maybe he was just the most disobedient one and this was going to happen anyway.

Then it's off to the crematorium, where the witch pops her victim into an oven!

Okay, so they're going to be playing up the fairy tale thing this week. Good for them. Too bad it's just us in the audience who know that the villains own a funeral home - I wonder how long it will take the team to figure it out? Let's find out after the opening credits!

There's a quick interlude with the parents, who seem overly dismayed that the FBI agents are leaving their house. I'm not sure why, though - your daughter's not in he house, is she? So wouldn't their time be better spent searching literally anywhere else? Then we spend some more time with the latest victim, who meets the teenage boy who's the all-grown-up version of the first abducted child. It seems that the villains have put together a makeshift family - and the oldest son is so brainwashed that he's actually helping with the kidnapping!

The team debates whether to investigate this as a one-time or serial thing based on the original mother's claim, and Derek - in a remarkably sexist bit of prejudice - announces that JJ, the main proponent of the theory, probably only believe that the original child is still alive because she has a child now as well. This whole conflict is a a bit of a bit of a puzzler - I'm not sure why this is the central point of debate. Regardless of the mother's belief that her son is alive, these two cases obviously have the exact same MO and should be investigated as such. Luckily the Greg sees the angles, and has them at least check out all similarly-themed abductions over the past decade.

There's an interval with the kidnappers in which we're introduced to the witch's evil husband, but nothing else of consequence happens. Oh, except that the original kidnapee, who the villains have renamed 'David', seems not entirely cool with them menacing the little girl. Will he turn on the witch and push her into the oven at an opportune moment to save his 'sister' to complete the fairy-tale theme? God, I hope so. Sure, that would make the team largely irrelevant, but who wouldn't love that ending anyway?

JJ visits the bereaved mother, who has made a map of all the possible abductions almost exactly like the one Gracia and Reid are looking over, outlining all the children who have been abducted in Virginia  and are still missing. In a nice touch that the show usually wouldn't manage, the missing children weren't all eight years old when they disappeared - there are some 7s in there as well, and presumably some 9s as well. This makes sense, of course, since when monsters grab random children from a crowd based on their appearance they have no way of knowing how old the children are - but it's not the kind of detail I'd expect this show to remember most weeks.

Greg and Emily profile the crime scene, and there's quite a bit of hand-waving nonsense. Apparently an adult who grabbed a child and ran off carrying her while she kicks, screams, and struggles in his arms would look 'just like any other' parent with a screaming child. Especially once he was stashing her in the back of a windowless van. They specifically state that no one can hear her cries for help because her face is pressed against the guy's chest- which requires one hand, leaving him just one other hand to control all of the little girl's struggling. How would that work? Honestly, this worked better when they simply glossed over it. Also ridiculous is Greg's statement that if they can figure out how the villains are hiding the children, it will lead them straight to the victims. How on earth would knowing that the villains have a large basement help the team find them?

The important clue comes from David's mother, who finally offers the reason for her belief that her son is alive: she actually saw the grown-up version of him just two years ago. They put together a sketch of what the teen David looks like, then bring in the parents of the other missing children, hoping to get more information about the woman who distracted them. Especially helpful in this respect is the family of the second-oldest boy. The bad part? Given the age of their son, he's almost certainly the kid who wound up in the oven at the beginning of the episode. So while we're going to get a happy ending, it's going to be an incredibly conditional one this week.

There's another mini-profiling sequence where they start to run down the elements of the villains' MO, which the drunk mother finds hard to listen to, given that her son is now a participant in the crimes. Actually, I'm not exactly sure why she was in the meeting room for this part. Beyond the sketch, what, exactly, does she have to offer? The team reasons that if there are a bunch of children in a house it would have to be isolated, since the killers couldn't explain where they got them, but then continue with a suggestion that they should look into calls to social services, since they might have had trouble controlling the kids, and the authorities could have been called. Well, team, which is it? Do they have kids in the middle of nowhere, or are they being watched by concerned neighbours?

A couple of scenes follow concerning the other parents blaming David's mother, and the horrible conditions of the witch's den, but since this isn't really an episode about exploring the psychology of long-term imprisonment and its effect on those left behind, I'll just skip ahead to how they find the kids.

Garcia comes in announcing that 107 families have been investigated by social services in Northern Virginia in the past 10 years. What, seriously? Only ten families a year get investigated by social services for the whole area around Richmond? That sounds all kinds of wrong. As do the caveats they put in about it necessarily being a single-income family because 'someone had to stay home with the kids'. As if chains and locking doors hadn't been invented.

Going door-to-door leads them to a series of creepy child abusers, eventually getting to the witch's house, where she keeps the kids silent in the basement while her husband tries to get rid of the FBI agents. He's not going to have much luck with that, however, since there's a picture of David right on their mantle.

Okay, this is confusing the hell out of me, but I'm going to defer my comments to the end. Let's just power through the last of the plot right now, shall we?

While the cops run to the scene with tracking dogs, the witch sneaks the kids out the back door, move them into a hearse, and then drive to the crematorium they run! Dear lord, she's planning to burn the latest victim alive, thereby destroying an incredibly small amount of the evidence against them! The witch wants David to toss the latest victim into the oven, but he's profoundly not cool with that.

The team finds out about the crematorium and rushes over to save the day. Not that they have to, since, when faced with the prospect of burning a little girl alive, David rebels, grabs a gun, and shoots the witch! Yay! He didn't push her into the  oven, though, which is a profound disappointment.

In other good news, the witch's husband killed himself, saving the state the cost of a pricey trial!


Except for a brief interlude where we deal with the aftermath of the rescue, as introed by Reid's questionable logic:

So, first off, you rescue people from serial killers literally every week, so don't make such a big deal about this one. This isn't even the most children you've saved at once - five kids were rescued from Jason Alexander that one time, remember? More importantly, let's take a look at the polariods JJ found in the dungeon:

That's 16 pictures, each one of a different child. Not counting David, who wasn't in the pictures because, as their first victim, he was the one taking them, that's 17 children. You rescued three, and know the parents of five more. Leaving nine dead children whose parents profoundly don't have closure - or even know there was a chance someone was looking into their child's disappearance.

Those are going to be some awful bleak phone calls, Reid.

Oh, and as predicted, the parents of the kid who was burned don't take it great that their child was alive until just 24 hours ago. David tries to cushion the blow by explaining that he died 'protecting that little girl', but that's not entirely true. Really, he was just meddling and asking her what her real name was. If he'd just kept his mouth shut, they'd have both been alive. Although, from a narrative standpoint, the crematorium wouldn't have been established as a threat. So I guess that's as good a reason to get murdered as anything else.

Okay, to be fair, there was a looped line in that tried to explain why the dead kid got burned (he wasn't willing to help with the kidnapping, which doesn't make sense since that's what David is for), but since it was both a clear afterthought and a question that goes unanswered, I'm not counting it.

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

Psychology might have been said to play a role if the manner in which they caught the killers made any sense whatsoever. It didn't, though, so this is going to be a hard one to judge. After all, the main clue to the villains' MO was just told to them by the mother who saw her adult son. The next step, assuming that social services had been called on them, was a huge leap that makes absolutely no sense.

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

Seriously, no sense is a ridiculous understatement. The only way the team found the killers is because they had already been found by social services. Who apparently found it in no way suspicious that a 60-year-old woman had a 14-year-old son, a 13-year-old son, a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old daughter. And that she had no documentation of the provenance of those children. How on earth did the social services not look into these people a little more closely?

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

1/10 - This is a prime case of writers having no idea how to resolve a mystery, then just throwing something at a wall and hoping no one will notice. It's utterly inept, and in a way, I find it even more contemptible than when CSI just makes up magical science to solve a case.

Final Note: You know, I've had a lot of fun this week, but to be serious for a moment, this episode was directed by Reid, and I can't say enough good things about his choice of music. In addition to the generic 'This is a TV thriller' nonsense that normally plays, most of the witch scenes are scored with a super-creepy scratchy dark fantasy theme. I loved it, and not just because it was nice to hear a change of music - this is just effective.

Great work, Matthew Grey Gubler! Or is it Gray? At this point, you'd think I would know...


Anonymous said...

It's Gray :)

The picture confused me a little too, though for a different reason. They're supposed to have abducted twelve children (17 according to your analysis) and killed all but four. If they were going to keep pictures of them up, they'd have to keep changing them as their family "changed". Wouldn't this confuse Social Services, if they were involved? The little girl in that picture obviously isn't around any more, and they've just killed the second boy, so why do they still have that picture there? (Also, the little girl in that picture looks very small for an eight-year-old).

In the picture, the children are properly dressed and outside. When Charlie's mother sees him (two years ago) he's out and about with his "family". Why do they risk this when they're abducting local children? And if they are letting them go outside and live relatively normal lives, why do we only see them filthy, dressed in nightgowns and living in a basement?

It was also never really explained why they wanted the children, when they were only going to keep them locked in a basement and terrified. There didn't seem to be much in the way of mothering instinct there...

Anonymous said...

There was one scene where the couple came to take the new girl, but the older girl said "take me instead" which sort of made it sound like some kind of sexual abuse might be happening.

I did like that the mother of the oldest boy was more involved than usual. The music and fairy-tale style costumes for the children did add to atmosphere and made the plot less relevant which is always helpful on this show.

Kalieka said...

Friendly little question: Where did you find stats for how long abductors keep a child alive, on average? Now I am going to have to go back to real life abductions and Amber alerts to see the outcomes. lol Dang you!

Also what is a "containment warren"? By now you must know I enjoy your writing and reviews. So, these questions are because I could not find anything off of Google for it. But since I am late to the party, you may not read this comment for quite sometime. :-) I will have to wonder in silence. lol

One HUGE question I have for you is, how are J.J.'s pupils always dilated when other actors are normal in the same lighting? J.J. always seems to have what the rest of us call "bedroom eyes." If I could figure out what she is doing, I think I could have fun with that. lol I may have to email you about this one because I desperately want to know. haha

BedazzledClone said...

Kalieka: I suspect that this is a construct that the Count made up to evoke what the children were being put through. Since a "warren" is the term for rabbits' homes, this would be a term to tell one how helpless these children were. (Mind you, it brought to mind Richard Adam's Watership Down - a book about rabbits under siege - not the episode, but the use of warren)

IG said...

I'm so sad that you belittle this amazing show. Especially this episode. It's one of my favorites because it's so emotional. My mom's a nurse but does she stop watching medical dramas because they have inaccurate practices?? No!! She may laugh but she gets sucked into the show! I only read some of your re-caps because they're more complete than others but this is really messed up. If I could rate your site, it would be low. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

IG, the purpose of these posts is to deconstruct the episodes and highlight the illogical parts. If you don't want to read that then don't, no one is forcing you too.

I enjoy watching the show partially because of how absurd it is and I even more enjoy reading these recaps. I'm clearly not the only one. The fact that you get sad that someone is critiquing a show is bizarre.

Cooper said...

While I don't want to make excuses for the show, the only "child" allowed out is David. Likely if social services got a call it was in reference to him. At least the age issue would be borderline okay (45 when pregnant is rare but not impossible. That said, I don't know how much paperwork they ask for during a call, I would think a birth certificate and or social security number would seem a requirement. This episode was very light on facts, but the cinematography and music was good and the emotional punch at the end sticks with me.