Criminal Minds 520: A Thousand Words

A 911 center receives a disturbing phone call - the man on the line wants people do find a dead body in a warehouse. The body? His own! That's right, he kills himself while on the phone. Solid. When the cops get there, they discover a shrine to the man's crimes. Yes, unsurprisingly, he was a serial killer. But why did he slot himself? It wasn't to conceal his crimes-

There's a little shrine to all his victims lying in one corner, and tattoos of their faces on his torso. So the only possible explanation is that h was about to be captured, and he wanted to cut to the chase. There's got to be more to it than that, though - the last victim in the shrine hasn't been discovered yet, and she's only been missing three weeks! So it's a race against time for the team to rescue her from a hole in the ground or possibly a partner. Which will it be?

There's a silly moment where JJ hands over a comprehensive file on the case to Greg so quickly that he's able to send back word that they should 'leave the body where it is', as if it hadn't been moved yet. How on earth could they get photographers to document the entire scene, decide to send it to the FBI, get clearance to do so, and have Greg choose to look at it all in the same night? When the cops found the body it was explicitly stated to be post-dinner, but hours later when the investigation is underway the team is all still at the FBI, even though they're not visible working on a case? Kind of a stretch, that one.

Anyhoo, let's see if keeping the body around was somehow important after the opening credits!

When they arrive at the scene they meet the detective in charge of the latest abduction (Breaking Bad's Dean Norris!), who runs down the details of the case. The girls are missing from all over so no one knew there was a serial killer working the area. His MO? Kidnap a woman, rape and torture her for a full year, then murder her and find someone new. So... ick.

Among the killer's possessions are a set of journals detailing his crimes - in one of them Reid finds a reference to a partner. Now it's just a question of finding her in time! The partner, I mean, not the victim. That's the twist, you see - his partner is his pregnant significant other!

It seems Juliette, the partner, didn't know about his plans to kill himself, and instead sent her a letter to fill her in on the situation. It's a thoughtful enough move - not killing your partner because she's going to have your child, but the other part, leaving a pregnant woman to kill a woman and dispose of her body - not cool, murderer. I know he didn't want to worry her by dragging their latest victim off and then disappearing, but which is the less traumatic solution for her? I guess the killer was just too much of a coward to just have a conversation about his  impending suicide with his wife. Not a huge shock, that.

While discussing the events of the case, Derek and Emily share the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night, in a question and response that make no sense.

Also, Greg gets an honorable mention for not speaking up.

Um, guys, in both the Leonard Lake case, and your fake version of it, Season 3's "Identity", dominant partners in a killing team committed suicide when faced with capture, in part to protect their submissive partner. So not only have you heard of it, you investigated a case of it.

Morons. And I'm including Ed Bernero in that - the showrunner wrote this episode, so if anyone should know about what cases these people worked on, it should be him.

The news is going to go wide with news of the death at six, so the team has a self-imposed timeline, assuming that if the partner doesn't know about the suicide, and if the victim is still alive, they'll kill her the second the suicide is reported on the news. Of course, the team is wrong about that, but it doesn't stop them from rushing through the journals and tracking down tattoo artists, looking for a clue to follow.

The actual plan is for the partner to kill the victim whenever, and toss her into the river for a gator to eat. Which seems like a stretch for a pregnant woman who's still smaller than the victim to manage. Maybe we'll get lucky and the victim will be ale to fight her off?

Meanwhile the body is finally wheeled away (for the record, no insight was gained by keeping it at the crime scene - they could have just looked at the tattoos down at the morgue) and Dean pauses to consider the awfulness of the situation. The clippings, the journals, the suicides - he asks the team if they've ever seen anything so awful. Derek responds that no one has. Which, of course, is a lie. They've had dozens of cases where killers kept clippings, plenty of examples of journals or extensive torture record-keeping, and even a few suicides. Just three episodes back, for example. Maybe there's some novelty in them all happening together, but it's not unique by any stretch.

The tattoo artist they visit has some news to offer - under one of the fancy tattoos there's a cruder, prison-style tattoo. The team acts as if this is a huge clue - they can use the biometrics that people take in prison, keeping track of ink, in order to identify this guy!

Um... hold on a second there... you haven't identified him yet? I mean, I guess I didn't hear a name or anything, but I'd just assumed. Especially when the characters announce that he's probably been in prison, based on the tattoo - and being in prison would explain why a serial killer would only have started serial killing just ten years earlier! That's great and all, but why wasn't checking this guy's fingerprints the absolute first thing you did when finding the body? He may not have a face but his fingers are fine - wouldn't checking them be faster than trying to find every guy who has a prison tattoo of a cross? Spoiler Alert: There's a lot of them.

You know, if you wanted to write a story about needing to use the biometric database in order to identify someone, come up with a reason for the guys fingerprints to be damaged or missing. Or have the tattoo being the only thing that a witness saw.

Meanwhile, the victim tries to beg her way out of danger, and Juliette responds by beating her up a little. All the stress leads to a pregnancy complication, as she starts bleeding! Will the victim be able to deliver this baby? Maybe, who cares. Will she be able to get Juliette close enough that she can throttle her with the chain? I hope so!

Reid has found another clue in the notebook - he was planning to get his 'last tattoos', but there were two spaces left on his torso, one for the new victim, and a mystery spot on his back! We know it's for his baby, but Reid's going to have to figure it out on his own. Also, Garcia used the ridiculous tattoo-tracker in order to find the guy. Turns out Dean was on to him, and had him scheduled to come down for a DNA swab and interview. That's why he killed himself. Um... hey, if this guy was in jail as late as 1999, his DNA should be in the sex offender database already. If there was something on a previous victim to test him against, how was he not already found?

Okay, back to the birthing. Victim says she'll help if she's unchained, but Juliette doesn't believe her. She'll only let the victim go after the birth! Meanwhile the team searches the killer's address, and doesn't come up with anything. There's a better lead at the morgue, where a simple black light examination reveals that the killer has an invisible-ink tattoo of his baby in utero! So now they now his partner is a woman, and it's just a matter of finding her!

Oh, and the partner dies right after childbirth, but the baby boy is fine. Not that Juliette is happy about that. She was hoping to give her lover another victim to oppress, not a competitor. Now the victim is in quite a bind - chained to a wall, stuck with a baby, and the house is set too far back from the street for anyone to hear her screams!

Well, she would have a problem except for one thing. When Juliette tossed the keys aside, they only went about six feet past the furthest the victim could stretch while staying on the chain, see?

The victim has access to two sheets, all her clothes, as well as Juliette's clothes and shoes. More than enough equipment necessary to tie together a rope to drag that key over to her. Will she think of it, or wait passively to be rescued?

The latter, I'd guess - luckily, the team is on top of it! Since he started the killing right after leaving jail, they assume he must have met Juliette there. After eliminating all the staff and vendors, they move on to people who were visiting other prisoners, then stopped after the killer was released. This leads to one name - Juliette!

The team rushes over to her house and rescues the victim without incident!


Yup, she was too incompetent to rescue herself. Although there is a nice moment where Greg reassures Dean about his usefulness in the case, reminding him that if he hadn't found a random traffic ticket, the case wouldn't have been solved. Which is a nice nod to the fact that it's generally complete chance that solves these things, rather than psychology.

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

Not at all. They had the corpse, which had literally all the evidence they needed to figure out who he was. Then it was simply a matter of figuring out where he would have met a woman.

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

I'm not sure how this wasn't solved years ago. The killer offed himself because he was going to be DNA swabbed and interviewed. This means that he left DNA on previous victims, since they didn't have the newest one. The thing is, since he was in jail in the late 90s for rape, there's no way his DNA isn't already in the system. So how wasn't he caught years ago?

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

1/10 - An incompetent victim, nonsensical investigative techniques - and this was written by the guy who actually runs the show! What the hell, Criminal Minds? This week the team seriously made the assumption that the guy had been in jail, but then instead of checking his fingerprints, they went to tattoos, a much less precise method of identification. Here's a bigger question, though - why didn't the journals mention his wife? She was an active partner in all the murdering, and a giant part of his life. It's not like when he was writing them over the course of a decade he was thinking 'ooh - someday I'll leave these hundreds of fake journals out for the cops, misleading them slightly!' he was just obsessively documenting his crimes, as that type does. If there's something in the journals that you don't want the cops to see, you don't have to leave them lying around. They have this thing called fire now - it's pretty good with evidence, is what I'm saying.

Come on, Criminal Minds. You're better than this. Well, okay, maybe you're not, but this is still egregious.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I wasn't sure about the journals. Towards the beginning, they were talking about him renting the place two weeks ago and setting it up for the police to find - so they'd think they had all the evidence and not think to look for a partner (though not leaving a live, missing victim would have helped with that). Emily then says, "he did all this in two weeks?" - all what? All that elaborate home decor? Or are we supposed to believe that he wrote (or rewrote?) the diaries to omit any mention of the partner (possibly then destroying the originals)? Could have been better explained.

Occasionally in Criminal Minds you do get the impression that something's been crudely cut during editing, without incising related content from neighbouring scenes. Case in point: when Rossi gets off the phone with Garcia having been discussing tattoo artists, he mutters to himself, "epidermartistry?" - well, I replayed that conversation, and at no point did Garcia mention that word.

And yeah, the girl really didn't do much to help herself. My thought was, if you can't reach the key with your hands, turn your body around and stretch out for it with your feet. She's only got a chain around her neck! Pathetic.

Oh, and good review as always!

Anonymous said...

Leave Hotch and his team alone. It is after all the best show on TV and is now going into it's 11th season.

Anonymous said...

Just saw this ep and Anon, in the version I saw, Garcia says is something like "I like epidermartistry as much as the next Gen Xer"

Anonymous said...

Two points: the guy in Identity didn't kill himself to protect the partner, he did it cuz cops were literally right behind him and "never let the bastards take you alive." There was no indication that he cared in the slightest about the partner, who I think was supposed to be an actual servant to the dominant one.
Other point is that they do talk about how they took DNA and fingerprints in the beginning of this episode; they say the results were taking awhile to get because he wasn't local and they had to expand to the national database. How plausible an explanation that is, I can't really say because I don't know a lot about that, but it was enough to earn suspension of belief from me.

Bonus point: I think guessing that the woman who loved him, likely having a history of violent men in her past, could have met him because through visits to another violent man in the same prison was pretty clever. They wouldn't have found her without that insight so I think it deserves a factor that into the score XD

Hanna said...

Am I the only one who is amazed that this killer is in fact NOT a spree killer? His existence in the world of Criminal Minds is almost mind-blowing

Bugmenot said...

@Anonymous of March 23, 2017, the point is not that they were taking a while to match the killer's DNA with the databases. The point is that Dean Norris was already on to the killer's DNA in connection with an earlier murder (which is why the killer committed suicide). Now instead of asking the killer to visit for a DNA swab, Dean could have got a warrant and arrested the killer already, since the DNA from the earlier murder would have matched the DNA from prison records.