Criminal Minds 602: JJ

It seems this season proper is going to open with a 'torn from the headlines' kind of a case - a coed is missing! The cops think they know who might be responsible, but there's no evidence? Sound familiar? Well, not to me, but I'm assured by friends that this all relates to the Natalee Holloway case somehow. I'm not going to talk about it very much, though, largely because my word processor tells me I'm spelling her name wrong.

Before we get started, though, I'd like to quickly point out how weird it seems that this missing woman is getting so much attention given that she disappeared inside America, without any particular narrative that could be used to promote the case. People made a big deal about Natalee Holloway because the racist undertones of a white coed going missing in a foreign country served a xenophobic narrative that certain media outlets enjoy pushing. This character went missing in Maryland. Does this show not realize how many coeds go missing in the world of Criminal Minds without anyone in the media caring?

Spoiler Alert: It's a lot.

Maybe we're not supposed to pay too much attention to the case of the week, however, since the main focus of the opening sequence is that JJ is having a high-level meeting with AD Strauss, the evil woman who hates Greg. Who is also in the meeting.

Why the important pow-wow? The Department of Defence wants JJ to transfer over there, but she's refusing because she loves her job too much. Greg thinks she should consider taking the job of being the PR liason for the Pentagon, but she's not so sure. Here's where I demonstrate my utter ignorance about how the American government works - can people seriously get transferred from the FBI to another, utterly unrelated government agency? Is that a thing that happens?

"Hey, you seem to be doing a great job investigating the mob, agent - how'd you like a job at the department of Agriculture?" That doesn't sound right, does it? Also, I'm not sure exactly why JJ would be such a 'get' for the DoD - her job consists of two things: picking which cases to investigate (which has no use to Defense) and getting the press to report more or less information, depending on the case, buying their co-operation with promises of more comprehensive access to the casefile once the baddie is in jail. Again - not hugely useful over at the Pentagon.

Also, how many Prentiss Awards is she going to win over there?

As opposed to all the other murderers you interview, where you get endless bites at the old interview apple, right?

Anyhoo, case time! A lady is missing! And two evil pals did it! But the cops can't get them to turn on one another, and the clock is running out on charging them. How can the team help out? And can they do it before the rich one of the pair escapes into the aether? Let's find out after the opening credits!

What, seriously? The missing woman isn't dead? Why would you tell me that just seconds into the show proper, Criminal Minds?

Is there anything else that quotation could possibly mean? Well, it could strictly be referring to JJ leaving the team, although having an opening quote referring solely to that seems like overkill.

The missing coed was last seen with two scummy guys, who claim they dropped her off at her hotel, but somehow there were no security cameras to confirm or disprove the story. In a hotel. In a tourist town. With no leads, they need to psychologically break down the suspects to save the day. Normally I wouldn't bet on them, since the team is generally terrible at that sort of thing, but since the opening quote told us this ends without a murder, I'm sure conversation mill somehow work to let the team figure out what hole this woman is buried in.

They do some simple interrogation tricks - get food for one so that the other will think that he's being betrayed. But will it work?

Meanwhile Joe and Reid swing by the place that the coed was abducted from. Everyone seems to think that she was too cautious to get into a stranger's car, yet there she is on the tape, walking right up to the guys - the only possible conclusion? She must have known them prior to that night! Well, if that's true, it should be easy enough to check - but more importantly, why would the killers lie about it? Their story is that they took her away from the bar, had sex with her, then brought her back to her hotel - it's a scummy, but legal, story as is, if they met her earlier in the day and that's why she was comfortable leaving with them, why would they not mention that to the police? Doesn't lying about something inconsequential just make them look super-guilty?

Back at the office JJ tries to negotiate the depressing family dynamics of parents blaming each other for their child's death. Also, we learn that the coed's brother died of leukemia and that they were both excellent swimmers. Which of these two facts seems more likely to be important later? Spoiler alter - in case I didn't mention it earlier, the place she was abducted from is on an island.

After getting the villains' criminal histories, the team starts the interrogations. Derek confronts the leader about his failure to get into a good college (he cheated on the SATs), while Emily awkwardly contrives to let the follower see the lunch being brought to his buddy. Luckily the subject of her investigations is such a dope he doesn't understand he's being set up. I'm not sure why neither of these guys have asked for a lawyer. The rich one announces that he's innocent, and doesn't need a lawyer. Which is just crazy.

In fact, if anyone reading this is ever brought in for questioning for a crime they didn't commit, get a lawyer right away - here's a tip: cops think you did it, that's why you're there. Not having a lawyer just makes it easier for them to get a confession. Which they probably will, whether you did it or not.

As predicted, the guys are confronted with their lie - the follower met the coed earlier in her vacation, when she rented a jetski from the place he works. Again, why would they lie about this? Also, why would they each ask for a polygraph at the same time?

While considering how the villains could have gotten to coeds' trust, the police chief expresses some doubt as to their guilt - a notion Greg immediately disabuses him of, referring to the villains as 'serial killers'. The chief questions this, and Greg offers some nonsense in response:

While the qualitative aspect is true, you literally cannot refer to someone with one victim as a serial killer. That's what serial means. A bunch of crimes in a SERIES. The best you've got is serial rapists, since they attacked someone last year. Hey, why haven't you gotten her on the phone to talk about their MO? Sure, she retracted her statement, but she might have some info to offer - and given that there's a missing coed in play, she could easily be guilted into helping out.

Well, at least now we know how they're going to catch these guys - one of them is an idiot. While the rich one lies pointlessly about having no previous history with the coed, the poor one tosses out a crazy lie about why he got home so late. Which involves admitting that he got home super-late, which he didn't have to admit to. His claim? That after the freaky group sex (that was totally consentual, of course), they drove the coed down to the docks to watch the middle-of-the-night catch come in before taking her back to her hotel. Or maybe the docks came first, and that's where they had the freaky group sex? This is the least clear narrative an accused killer has ever put forwards. The twist? He also passed his alarm polygraph test... but how?

I'm not saying these are the most inept attempted murderers ever, but the rich one actually tries to explain that he couldn't have hurt the coed because he has a picture of them together.

As if demonstrating that at some point in their night together the coed was smiling somehow proves that nothing happened afterwards. Derek and Joe try to push the rich into confessing, stopping just short of beating the guy up. The photos on the rich guy's phone offer something of a clue, though - while she seemed happy enough to be around rich guy, she had no interest in poor guy whatsoever. Could this rejection have driven him to kill?

Before we get to that, however, it's time for an interlude where Greg talks to Strauss about keeping JJ on the team. It seems that Greg tried to go over her head to keep JJ around, but it didn't work. Moving her is an 'executive decision'. Greg demands that something be done to stop the transfer, since JJ is a vital member of the team. Which, of course, she isn't, but now giving JJ something to do last week makes perfect sense: They wanted to both give her a big scene for her reel, and make the argument that she was vitally important to the show, even though she demonstrably never helps solve crimes.

Even more insultingly, Strauss announces that JJ has to go back to DC immediately - apparently there's some kind of really important press conference that the DoD absolutely needs her to organize.

As usual, the show falls apart when it's time to solve the case! After JJ spots the coed's phone in the back seat of the car in one of the villain's pictures, she wonders how it wound up in the coed's room for her parents to find. Wait, why did the parents have it? If everyone's looking for this girl would the police have found it while searching the room, and be holding onto it as evidence? Oh, that's right - the parents had it so that JJ could be the one to spot it, reinforcing the illusion that she has some value to the team. Gotcha.

Anyway, from this they surmise that the poor kid must have gone back and killed the coed without the rich kid knowing it. How did he get her away without a struggle? Super-great question that they don't have an answer to. They theorize that he might have lured her outside and drugged her somehow. Except the phone was in her room. Also the murder happened quickly, and must have been spur-of-the-moment. Did he have chlroform just lying around? It's not like she's going to accept a drink from a creepy guy in a hotel parking lot at 3AM.

What happened then? He dumped her in the ocean, which explains the passed polygraph. It seems that there are always a lot of sharks in the area when the catch comes in (instinctively I would question sharks in Maryland, but I've actually been to the Maryland shore once, and I saw an adorable baby sand shark, so I'll just tap out on this one), so he would have been able to throw her drugged body into the water and be sure she never turned up again.

But how could this result in him passing the polygraph? I'll let the team explain:

Again, I'm as far from a scientist as you can get, but I'm fairly sure that's not how polygraphs work. They're not semantic machines that allow you to carefully word answers. It's all yes and no. The fact is, this guy has been fidgety the whole time, always acting super-guilty. In his head, he knows that throwing someone to sharks is murder, so he feels like he killed her. In his head, he knows that her body is in the ocean, because he put it there. There's no way the polygraph isn't going to be spiking for most of that.

They don't actually use these theories to get a confession from the villians, instead they just send the coast guard out to look for her. Which they could have done the second they found out one of the villains had a boat, three days ago.

That would have saved her a lot of exposure and possibly hypothermia. Also, that is one super high-tech solar-powered buoy. You'd think with all the bells and whistles there would be an emergency beacon on there somewhere.

So anyhow the coed is rescued and the day is saved!


Except for some bizarre aftermath scenes, where they keep talking about how the coed 'hung on' in the middle of the ocean using unimaginable 'strength'. Um... did they shoot all this before the insert of her lying on top of a buoy? Because wrapping your arm around a buoy and holding onto it while floating in the cold ocean for days - yeah, that takes a lot of strength. Lying on top of one for a couple of days - while terrible, only takes slightly more strength than allowing yourself to drown, which takes none. And is no one's first choice.

Unless, of course, they mean it in a more generic 'baby Jessica is a hero for falling down that well' sort of a way.

Oh, and JJ leaves to work for the DoD. How will the team ever cope? Exactly the same as ever, I'd assume, since JJ never really contributed to the show. What's even stranger? They're basically admitting this by not replacing the character. Although it's nice to hear that Greg plans to get her back! Somehow.

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

Psychology was not an element in this case. In the least.

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

They found concrete evidence that one of the villains had gone back to the room, then extrapolated from there based on his boat ownership. Straight-line policing.

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

1/10 - This episode has one of the clearest meta-narratives I've ever seen. Check out this scene from the end of the episode, when JJ is saying goodbye to the team.

This isn't something that the writers and producers seemed to be planning on, this is something that was forced upon them, and so they paused to have every character announce what a raw deal the actress was  getting. I have no idea what the behind-the-scenes story was around her departure, but man, everyone who worked on the seemed pissed about it. Combine that with the endless references to it being out of Greg's hands and you wind up with a clear picture that someone at the network had some kind of a problem with AJ Cook.

At some point I'll have to go to internet gossip sites and find out what it was. The strange part is, whoever had a problem can't be so powerful that they were able to keep the final quote off the air - a line that is literally the actress, not the character, talking about being fired from the show.

I'll give this to Criminal Minds - that's like nothing else I've ever seen on television. Other than the last episode of Cop Rock, of course.

FactCheck: The Natalee Holloway disappearance!

The obvious point of origin for this week's episode, the show remained fairly true to the source material, with a coed disappearing while on vacation, and being last seen in the company of some local dirtbags. Sadly the real case didn't have such a neat wrapup, with the likely killer, one Joran Van der Sloot, never being convicted of the murder. Heck, they still haven't even confirmed that Natalee is dead.

Although it's not much of a consolation, at least the public can be largely sure that Sloot was, in fact, the killer - he's currently jailed in Peru for a different murder. Committing subsequent murders isn't something that innocent people tend to do. Also, in a particularly scumbaggy note, he offered to tell the Holloways where their daughter's body was in exchange for a quarter of a million dollars. He would later claim that this was just his way of getting revenge on the people who had hounded him for so many years, but let's be super-judgemental here for a second: what kind of a person would do that? Someone who's comfortable using a couple's crushing emotional agony to make himself money.

So, a sociopath.


Perpetual Beginner said...

To the best of my recollection, the issue was that at the beginning of the season the network, citing budget reasons, announced that both AJ Cook and Paget Brewster (JJ & Emily) would be let go, and that they would be hiring a new, younger actress to play a novice FBI agent. So ditching two of the three female roles and replacing them with one younger subordinate role. To put it mildly, this did not go over well with the fans.

I suspect the strength of the fan reaction was what gave the writers some leeway to express themselves somewhat more frankly than would be usual.

Anonymous said...

Another thing was that they announced over the summer hiatus with no warning that AJ Cook wasn't renewed and originally, they weren't even going to bring her back for the 2 episodes she did appear in. So...she was just going to disappear in the Tim case? Good plan, PTBs!

Vicendum said...

Surprised you didn't call out the writers for having the team fail to actually solve the case. Unless my memory is betraying me, I don't think the team ever got the pair of suspects to mention where, exactly, they dumped the body- if I recall correctly, they were still pressing the suspects on that subject after the Coast Guard was sent out.

(in fact, I don't think the team sent out the Coast Guard...they were already out looking...makes you wonder why they needed that much time to find the lady)

"JJ" was so unsatisfying in so many ways. I disagree that the team never broke anyone- I think they broke a lot of people prior to this episode, but this was their first episode where they'd focus solely on the interrogation...and they solved, what, exactly? They got lucky (something the show relies on too much), because the Coast Guard showed them up at the end rendering their whole experiment useless. I respect that perhaps they had to hastily rewrite the episode to give JJ a proper departure but it was still very unsatisfying and made the team more useless than it ever was before.