Criminal Minds 522: The Internet is Forever

Apparently this week, the internet is forever! Ooooooh! Spoooooky! I know that's a childish way to mock it, but come on, that's such a silly thing to say. It's like saying books are forever or an idea is forever. The internet, like all things, is there until it's not. It's bigger than most, but no less ephemeral. So, now, with all that depressingness out of the way, let's talk about serial killers!

A murderer has broken into someone's house and set up cameras so that there can be classy black and white footage of them creeping inside and murdering them, Michael Myers-style.

Hopefully this will be distinct from the time James Van Der Beek was using cameras in people's houses to case the joint before murdering them.

Okay, there's a twist - we don't know if there are killings yet, because according to JJ none of the three bodies haven't turned up, nor has footage of the crimes showed up on youtube. Let's pause though, for a moment, to consider Reid's new haircut.

Is it just me, or has his personal appearance reached a point where his supervisor needs to talk to him? I know this is a poorly-disciplined team, with Derek too-often wearing Ts, while JJ and Emily keep shirts untucked, making it impossible to wear a holster on their hip, but this is just beyond the pale. Reid now officially looks like an armed homeless man who's just following the team around.

Garcia has already cracked part of the killer's MO - none of the victims were reported until three days after they were kidnapped, and the killer covered for this by leaving messages on each of their Facebook pages that they were going to be out of town for the weekend - so only when they didn't show up for work Monday were they missed. Here's the thing, though - two of the three women were in committed relationships, even though they weren't married. While it's true that an 'I'm away' Facebook status might keep casual friends or even family from being suspicious when they call your house and you don't answer all weekend, can you imagine a boyfriend who would be so accepting if his girlfriend mysteriously disappeared, both flaking on weekend plans and then being completely unreachable?

Because I can't.

We also get a stupid, but not Prentiss Award-winning line of the night right away, as Joe lays out the situation:

How can you assume that? You have no bodies. Why would you think he only has three days with them? Yes, it was a whole weekend before they were reported missing, but why would that report change anything if he's got them locked in a cellar somewhere? Also, even if he's killing them immediately, don't killers benefit simply by there being as long a time as possible between the abduction and the police finding out about it? A person who noticed a mysterious van on the street while getting a late-night snack Friday would have a way better memory of its description Sunday morning than they would on Tuesday.

So the killer is finding people on facebook and picking women who are especially active, listing everything about their lives - sadly they announce that there's no way to track who was checking out their profiles, so that's a dead end. Obviously the killer had to know about the layout of the houses to disable alarms and get in and out so cleanly, but JJ explains that the police already checked into it, and every person with access to the house - repair people, dog walkers, etc... had already been checked out and cleared.

The team talks to the friends and relatives of the victims, looking for any clue to how the killer might have found them. None are forthcoming, but the last victim's boyfriend does pick up something in the crime scene photos: pictures that have been rearranged! Checking the walls the team notices stickypad reside where cameras had been placed and then removed. Now they have a basic idea of how the killer operates. Talks his way inside to put in a single camera, uses the information gleaned from it to figure out both the keycode to the security system and when it's going to be safe to sneak around the house. Of course, that doesn't explain why you'd need to plant eight other cameras around the house, so the team decides to scour the internet for signs that the villain has been putting his work out there.

Reid has his own trail of clues to follow - he thinks that all the victims actually look alike, despite the fact that they don't! Yeah, I'm not being glib here, either.

Different jawline, cheekbones, eye shape, brow, nose... what is he supposedly seeing?

Speaking of seeing things, Garcia is able to track down what she describes as 'what the cameras were streaming' on the night of the murder. Which is an odd description, since what they then watch is not the raw footage of the crime, but rather a fully-edited video, complete with youtube-style title:

In addition to the fact that the victims were murdered in bed and then removed, we learn that the killer doesn't wear gloves for the crime - but he's probably so meticulous that he doesn't leave prints!

There's actually a more promising lead, however - even though we're watching the finished, edited content, the team continues talking about it as if it was a record off the live feed. Which is important, since, according to the code Garcia finds, that live feed was being watched by a group of fans! This is both a disturbing development, since it means we're dealing with snuff films, but also a positive one, since more complicit people means they'll be way easier to find!

The team goes over their spate of unproductive leads. They're sure that anyone this familiar with computers would have gotten into the homes by offering tech support, but all those people check out as clean! So how is he doing it? Garcia has another lead, though - if the killer doesn't think he's being hunted, he'll likely conceal his streaming the same way, meaning that she'll be able to track him! And since the killer streams using the victim's own wireless network, they'll be able to get a fix on her address! But will it be fast enough to save her? Of course not! She's the mid-episode victim.

This little conversation does lead to the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night, however:

How do you know that, Greg? You just watched a video of a man walking into a house and strangling a woman to death. It took about ninety seconds. Then you paused the video. You have no idea how long he spent in the house afterwards.

More importantly though - and I know this is a little cold - even if he kills the newest victim there's a good chance you could get there in time to catch him. Since the killer is running the stream from his van, he has to start it before walking up to the front door. So that's thirty seconds right there. Ninety for the murder, 2 minutes to carry the body downstairs, then another three (at least) to walk around the house collecting all the cameras and replacing the art in front of them to hide where they were. So that's seven minutes before the hard part - actually getting the body out to and inside of his vehicle without being noticed. Whatever the technique he's using, it's got to take at least a few more minutes, bringing us up around Garcia's 7-minute mark. While this sucks for the victim, it does give cops a good chance to get there in time to catch him. Just set up a cordon around the area and look for any vehicles driving around in the middle of the night, with a special eye towards anything large enough to hide a body as well as the computer equipment he must have in there.

Now it's time for Reid's reveal! Despite the fact that what I'm about to report isn't true, Reid feels that these three faces:

Are structurally identical, as seen in this computer mock-up.

How shoddy is even the computer mock-up? Greg announces that one of the similarities is that in all three the left eye is slightly lower than the right. Which isn't even slightly true. Check out the eye line drawn straight across the right eye in each picture - the left eye in each case has a different relationship to it.

So let's pretend all of this makes sense, how is it going to help them catch the killer? Well, the team thinks that since the kind of sociopath who would film his crimes must be a narcissist, he must share the same underlying facial structure!

It's a nice idea, although searching Boise's Facebook users for women with the same features would probably be the more useful play. Speaking of, the killer is stalking his latest victim at a cafe even while they're talking about him! As predicted, she also bears no real resemblance to the other women.

Check out how much higher her left eye is than the right. Half-wits.

Now it's profile time - they talk a little about how he's going to live on the web, but the most interesting thing is that they hand out a sketch, saying that they have a pretty good idea what he looks like.

Okay, let's noodle this one out for a second: according to Reid the killer was picking these women because of a way in which their faces were subconsciously similar to his own. Since the women look nothing alike, he's talking about bone structure and nose shape. Which is all well and good, but since those three women look completely different to the point that, even with the exact same hairstyle you'd never confuse them with each other, aren't there a similarly large number of faces that the killer could have based on the same underlying structure?

When JJ gets around to giving this information to the press, there's only two goals she wants to accomplish: talk the guy up to feed his ego, while warning potential victims not to post pictures of themselves. It's a nice idea, but it's immediately foiled when all the reporters want to ask questions about the 'facial symmetry' issue - specifically why a guy would want to kill women who look like him. This raises an important question: why was that in the public profile? That's information that they really didn't want to leak out because of the possibility that it would affect the killer's self-image and drive him to faster, sloppier murders. The second you tell anything to a roomful of people, though, it becomes exponentially more likely that it was going to leak.

Which brings me to my point - why did they tell all of this to the cops? Knowing how you got the sketch you're putting out won't help the cops with their investigations - this is definition of sensitive information. Why did the cops need to know it?

The killer is so annoyed by his methods being questioned that he runs in and strangles the latest victim immediately - leaving Garcia with two options: track the house, but they'll be too late to save her, or track the people watching, which will give them a lead. Greg orders her to do the second.

Here's the thing, though: is there anyone watching? Despite the way it's been presented, we're told that this 'murder as performance art' thing is shown only as a live feed. Which means his fans, whoever they are, have to be sitting at their computers, ready to watch it. This means that in one way or another, the killer has to be sending out a message to them, letting them know when the murder is going to take place, give or take a couple of hours. Up until now, all of the murders have taken place in the middle of the night, let's say around 2AM. This latest murder is happening at least six hours earlier, something like 8PM, since the woman is puttering around the kitchen, in normal street clothes. The guy was so agitated that he sprinted into the house and attacked a woman who was awake - even if he sent out a tweet letting his fan club know the kill had been moved up, how realistic is it to assume that any, let alone all, of them would have been sitting around, waiting to hear that message hours before they were expecting it?

They find a clue inside the house - the killer was in such a hurry this time that he left a piece of fiber-optic cable lying around! That's right, he brings in his own line, which makes sense, since he's streaming eight cameras simultaneously with no lag during the murders. Which raises a point - why did they have to find a piece of cable to figure this out? Shouldn't Garcia have known that this couldn't have been done through a regular home DSL line? Also, if he was using his own internet connection, why did it show up as belonging to the victims when she did her trace of the stream? God, this is a questionable week.

At least they've got a couple of leads - they figure that he got into the houses by offering to demo fiber-optic cable, that's why he didn't show up in their normal list of technicians and workmen who had access to the house. Which is all well and good, but why didn't the team already know about them, if that's the case? These are women so intenet-addicted that they take photos of every meal they eat and post it on their wall. If a guy showed them much faster internet service, isn't that something each of them would have mentioned in their updates, given how big a part of their lives revolves around the speed of their updates?

It still proves to be a good lead, as the phone company immediately gives them the name of a guy who was hired to install fiber-optic lines, but was fired for stealing a bunch of the cable himself. The problem? It's not his real name!

Garcia claims she'll only be able to track down the guy if she finds out his online handle, which the team gets from the perverts who were watching the feed. A couple of them were, against all odds, local, and they're happy to trade the guy's info for a deal. And man, do they need the deal - part of the killer's MO is that he sends people child porn that they have to keep on their computers in order to watch the show. That way no one can go to the police! Unless, of course, the person simply deletes the illegal content.

The one puzzling point is the seemingly innocuous old man who streamed the murders - he didn't have any porn on his computers, so how was he involved? Well, he works as a refrigeration technician, and you guys think the villain is preserving the bodies. Are these dots really so hard to connect?

The team does see it, so they have to rush to the house of the killer's next likely victim - a woman whose home network was hacked, and shares the ridiculous facial qualities. She's already been kidnapped, though - it's important the killer change his MO, you see, because using his established one, the team wouldn't get to rescue someone, and they have to rescue someone literally every week.

In a move that is sure to lead to his downfall, the killer sends the team footage of the victim tied up - but still alive - in a meat locker. Between Garcia's expertise and the fact that the old man works in refrigeration, it's a simple enough matter to find out where the killer's lair is located. The team rushes over there and captures him without incident.

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

Does pattern recognition count as profiling? No? Especially when it makes no sense? Oh, okay.

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

Man, this wasn't a hard one to solve, they just made it look at way through incompetence. A couple of months before being killed each woman would have tweeted about their Fiber-optic demo. Like ten people in the whole city install that stuff. One of them was a creep who was fired for stealing. Not exactly a hard one to crack, once you get tech-savvy people tracking him down.

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

1/10 - Even I, someone without a fantastic grasp of computers, can see how rough this week's plot was.


Reesa said...

I just watched this. I LOVE your blog a I am going through this series, it makes me happy.

So, my "favorite" part about this is how Garcia says she can "buy them some time" by shutting down his internet... And by time apparently that means the extra 30 seconds it takes him to decide that he's too frustrated to re-log on after the connection was lost...

Alison said...

I love the show, and try to suspend disbelief while watching, but I can't resist reading your reviews afterwards, because they're so funny. I discovered CM a few weeks ago and am here in my bingeathon (yes, I have too much time on my hands). I'm concerned that your last review is only in season 8, but there has been no mention of you quitting in disgust so I still hope you will continue.

I've been watching CM because I love to see media representations of 'genius' (Reid, but apparently everyone else too since typically he's only right due the same superpower they all have - deus ex machina). I know it's hard to make him look smart without making everyone else look like dunces, but I'd hoped they would do that by raising the bar on his contributions.

I'm prompted to comment for the first time because of the 'facial similarity' nonsense.

1) The image they posted is just an overlay of a 2d mesh that any hobbyist could create, and the 'structure' is mostly provided by the arbitrary topology used to subdivide the mesh. Unless their heads were in a vise and the same camera (FOV, location, etc.) was used, the images aren't comparable. The outlines superimposed have more to do with head angle, camera angle, lighting and fleeting expression than bone structure. Aren't some of these people filmmakers?

2) The angle of the eyes could easily be explained by a slight head tilt (shown a few frames before, where the center line of the middle image connects the middle of the nose with the left eyebrow). Also, this representation completely ignores the fact that we see in 3-d.

3) Even though we get a cool animation of the eye lines tilting, in the final image the tilt is so subtle I could only tell it was there by the slight anti-aliasing of the lines (good thing they were using 1980's resolutions for the rendering). Compare this to the much larger differences in relative symmetry, ratios (e.g., distance between eye centers / distance from eyeline to lipline), etc. I get that we are ignoring coloring and feature shape in order to give Reid something brilliant to do, but the execution is pretty pathetic. Did they really tell the casting director to get actresses with a droopy eye line?

4) The computer analysis of faces via biometrics idea was pretty cool, though. Apparently the FBI thinks so too, since it introduced its own facial recognition system (NGI) in 2014. My 3 second google on the topic turned up this page: http://www.theverge.com/2014/7/7/5878069/why-facebook-is-beating-the-fbi-at-facial-recognition. Social media wins again!

Also, am I wrong in thinking there was some implied 'I want to be a woman, so I'm killing women who look like me'. Or least some 'I hate myself/my mother' angle that they failed to follow up in any profiling? I could be mistaken, I sometimes fast forward so I can focus on the scenes where Reid is talking.

Anyway, the amount of time and effort I just spent making this comment gives me even more appreciation for your body of works. Thank you again for all the reviews!

Paula said...

Thanks for this post. I have just watched this episode and I totally missed the correlation between the old man and the unsub! Thanks for the explanation as I didn't want to rewind to see what I had missed. And yes, definitely a very weak plot in this episode.