Criminal Minds 607: Middle Man

The episode opens with what I thought for a moment was a flashback to the time a crazed Minuteman was chasing immigrants through the desert on an ATV, but it just turns out to be a group of killers chasing a woman through a corn field with a 4WD. Can't imagine how I got those mixed up... Anyhow, they catch her, and that's that.

I seriously hope these guys own this cornfield, or they're straight-up leaving tons of evidence about their type of truck and where they came from literally everywhere. What are the odds that some guy's livelihood being trampled by thugs never really comes up are?

Back at the office, Garcia gives everyone tablet PCs to receive their briefings from - will product placement be the order of the day on Criminal Minds from now on? Let's stay turned to find out! Also, Reid balks at the idea of going computer, and Garcia hands him a stack of papers. Which raises a question - is it easier to speed read from a piece of paper or a computer screen? That's worth looking into. In this case I'd imagine it would be faster with the paper, since turning a page is generally more efficient than faffing about with touchscreen controls, and a piece of paper is considerably larger and holds more information than a tablet screen. Still, this is a topic where I'd like to hear from an actual speed reader.

The facts of the case are simple - strippers are being kidnapped on Friday nights, tortured for a weekend, and then murdered on Sunday nights! It's happened three times so far, and the latest woman was just kidnapped, meaning they've got one heck of a ticking clock to work against! In this case Derek actually underestimates the deadline, as he claims they have 'less than two days' to save this woman (which they presumably will, since in cases where a victim can be psychologically tortured the show often goes off the 'teaser kill - mid-show kill - rescued' model), but that's underplaying the desperation of this victim's plight. We know this is Saturday because she was kidnapped the night before, and since her file has already reached the FBI, we can assume that this isn't super-early in the morning at Quantico. By the time they actually fly out to Indiana and start working the case it's already going to be mid-afternoon, leaving them with 30 hours tops to deal with the situation. Which is roughly as implausible as it gets.

Hopefully some plot development will contrive to keep this woman around for an extra couple of days. Either that or, contrary to my predictions, she'll get killed, and they'll rescue the next one.

Oh, and they did bring up the fields that the women were found in. Each one belonged to a different farmer, and was torn up by the killers'  activities, with a dead body left in the middle of it. So we're expected to believe that on three separate occasions no one noticed a giant 4x4 zipping around their fields in the middle of the night, giant floodlights flashing every which way. Got some sound sleepers down there in Indiana, don't they?

Hey, I wonder if they used the 4X4 to abduct their victims? It seems like they would, and since the cops definitely know what kind of vehicle they're looking for, checking the parking lot and ATM cameras at the various strip clubs, looking for the same vehicle seems like a good avenue of investigation. Maybe they'll even do that after the opening credits!

As Greg arrives at the police station he sees the local sheriff bullying and berating a subordinate, then the lout talks about all the dead prostitutes he saw when he worked in the big city. His opinion? They were basically asking to be brutally murdered. You know, if we hadn't already seen all three killers, this guy would obviously be in on it.

Speaking of the killers, two of them meet at a bar to discuss the revelation that the girls are dead! Yup, somehow at least one of the killers didn't think the girls were being killed at the end of their weekend of rape and torture. The other one claims he didn't know either, but he's not exactly a convincing sort.

More importantly, though, how can even one of these guys possibly be just finding out about these murders? The show tries to cover for this by including that scene in which the Sheriff yelled at his subordinate for talking to the press about the case, but the show seems to think that 'talking to the press' doesn't mean letting them know that the same killer is responsible for all the victims, but rather keeping the fact that these women are dead completely under wraps. Which is, you know, completely impossible. Let's set aside for a moment the fact that these dead bodies were being discovered by local farmers, who doubtless wouuld have told people, and consider that while all these women were found in one county, they were all abducted from different cities around the state, up to to hours away! How on earth could the local sheriff keep anyone in another city from even reporting these deaths? Is he keeping all these bodies in a freezer somewhere? It's been over a month since the first body turned up - does that woman's family have no idea that she's dead?

Seriously, though - there's absolutely no way that one of the participants could just now be finding out that he was a killer. I understand why the writers want this plot development to occur now - one of them freaks out and wants to go to the cops, winds up murdered by the other two - but if they wanted it to spin out that way, then they shouldn't have stacked up so many previous victims. The premise just completely defies belief.

Greg talks to the latest victim's father, who's unimpressed by Greg's assurance that they're working on a 'profile' - how is this going to help find his daughter? Hey - that's what I want to know, too! Do you think the dad has been reading these reviews?

Over at the strip club where the latest victim works the team is trying to figure out how a killer could have gotten one of the dancers alone. One of the dancers remembers two guys inviting dancers to a 'party'. They check the security cameras, but there are two many 'blind spots', and apparently no cameras in the parking lot, somehow. Meanwhile, over at the field where the body was found, Joe and Derek figure out that there must have been at least three killers, since two couldn't be assured that they'd be able to successfully chase a woman through a cornfield. They're right, of course, but it's kind of an unsubstantiated jump in logic - these are women who've been tortured for a weekend and then heavily drugged before being tossed out in the field - how far were they really going to get?

The two other killers swing by the frat house where the prime villain lives, and confront him about murdering the other women. He admits to it, and seems unphased by the news that the FBI has arrived. In fact, the prime killer thinks that nothing about their weekend plans should change, since they've been so good at covering their tracks.

Meanwhile, it's conference time back at the police station! They go over the known facts of the case - explaining that the killers always went to the clubs on 'theme nights' to ensure that they wouldn't be spotted by the cameras in the huge crowds. Which seems like a little more writing than necessary, since it's already been established that the women were abducted on Friday nights - wouldn't that be the most popular night at a strip club whether there was a promotion or not? Hell, aren't promotions generally not on the weekend in order to keep the club jumping on traditionally non-popular nights? Oh, and they also see the guys in the private booths signaling a third person across the club, confirming the 'three killer' theory.

They're doing a nationwide DNA search against the samples they found under the last victim's fingernails, but Joe warns that since there were only two samples from three killers, it's likely that one of them didn't know about the murders, and will now have to be taken care of! Which is both exactly right, and impossible to guess. Once again, there's no way these deaths wouldn't have been covered on the news, so this whole part of the storyline utterly preposterous, especially Joe managing to guess its existence.

We then cut to the murder hovel, where two of the killers are discussing whether or not to kill the third. The younger doesn't really want to, but the older one is clearly going to go through with it no matter what. Later on, the third killer tries being kind to his victim as a prelude to maybe letting her go, but obviously that's not going to work out, especially since the other killers show up. You know, this plot would work just fine if the least vicious killer was growing more and more uncomfortable with his crimes, and freaking out because the FBI has shown up. This whole 'secret murders' plotline just unnecissarly adds a layer of 'this could never happen' to an otherwise serviceable plotline.

Now it's time for the profile, where they reveal their theory that the killers are most likely college students. Their basis for this announcement? 1: Murders started after the summer. 2: They're only killing on the weekends. 3: They don't appear to have a lot of money.

I'm going to debate the third point for a second. They've got a car, they've clearly got a secondary location where they're keeping the women - there has been no sign that they're low on resources. The only proof they offer to back this up is the fact that the guys go to strip clubs on the 'cheapest nights' (you know, the mythical Friday theme nights - one of which was 'ladies night', which wouldn't have been any cheaper for them) - except you already said that they went on those busy nights so that they could blend in with a large crowd. You're not allowed to use the same piece of information to draw two completely different conclusion without any other evidence. Since you don't have any, this is a stretch.

Nonetheless, the team apparently heads out to canvas the various universities, hoping to find a lead. University campuses which, as you know-

Tend to be incredibly busy on Sunday afternoons:

Come on, Criminal Minds - I know you never want an episode to take place over more than a couple of days, but this is just lazy.

The team's plan? Get as many cops out and about, increasing pressure on the 'pack' of killers, hoping that the weakest among them will turn himself in. The plan is surprisingly effective, since the entire pack seems uneasy when they see the cops all over their campus. The campus that they're all going to on a Sunday afternoon. Seriously, Criminal Minds, what the hell?

The youngest gang member tries to quit, but he doesn't run right to the police, so this can't possibly go well for him. Speaking of bad news for criminals, the DNA found on the victim matched a series of rapes and murders from a Louisiana college town - the police closed in and two locals disappeared, leading the cops to assume they were the killers and stop looking. Hold on... couldn't they have gotten DNA from those guys' apartment and checked DNA to confirm their theory? Also, why did they stop looking? Shouldn't they have put out an interstate search for those guys? Hell, they have names and photos of them, so why isn't Garcia searching for them specifically at the local colleges, rather than just 'any student from Louisiana'? I mean, we're pretty sure that the lead killer murdered his partners and skipped, but why is the team so certain that's what happened? Shouldn't they be covering all bases?

Oh, and in case I glossed over it with all my criticism just then, I'd like to remind everyone that Garcia is about to solve the case, just like always.

We then cut to Sunday night, where the killer's sidekick and the weak guy are out driving through a cornfield in the evil truck. The sidekick explains that the plan is to dump the truck and then leave town, although I'm not sure why the weak guy needs to go along for that - or why it would ever seem like a good idea for them to be together again. Not that anyone's motivation really matters at this point, since this scene exists only to confirm the team's (entirely baseless) suspicion that the team is going to kill off the weak link.

Why am I being so harsh on this theory of theirs? Because it's so profoundly coming out of left field - they talk about the idea of a pack killing off the weakest member as if it's a truism that shouldn't even be questioned, but two of the other times we've seen this happen - the Manson episode (with BLACKWOLF!) and Angry White Men - there was no dissent within the killer pack, and the time that there was - Last House on the Left - the team didn't see it coming.

Okay, so - weak link is dead - what's next? A thresher tears up the weak link's body on Monday morning, and the team rushes out to examine the scene. They've found the body four counties away from the usual dumping area - meaning that they must have some connection to the force! How do they jump to this conclusion? The team suggests that since the cop cars that were stationed around local cornfields were well-hidden, someone on the killing team must either be working for the police or received information about the plan from someone who was. Which would be a great theory, if the team hadn't blanketed every campus in a hundred miles with cops and FBI agents on Sunday. Doesn't it stand to reason that the exact same trigger that drove the team to kill would let them know that they should dump the body as far as possible from the cops that they now know are desperately searching for them?

Of course, the unfounded supposition turns out to be right, when we discover that the sidekick is... twist! - the Sheriff's son! Garcia discovers this by searching for cops with children who go to the college - and it turns out that he also has a history of violence! Greg confronts the Sheriff about his son's background, and flat-out accuses him of abusing his family. Because obviously violently confronting a bully is the best possible way of getting him to turn over his only son to you. Shockingly, the Sheriff helps them with the investigation, despite claiming that his son wasn't involved.

They then discover who the killer is in the most preposterous way possible. Naturally it's Garcia who does the job - why is it preposterous? Because it's accomplished by expanding her search from current college students to anyone who went to the college in the past couple of years... seriously? She didn't already do that? They knew the town that the killer lived in in Louisianna, and where he currently lives in Indiana - why not just search for people who moved from one place to the other within the time frame? Could there really be more than one or two guys?

Oh, and the killer was also thrown out of his frat on rape charges. Yet another thing Garcia didn't search for the first time around. She's really dropping the ball this week, isn't she?

Now that they have the killer's identity, it's simply a matter of driving over to his house and saving the day! There's one last stupid think on the way, though, and it's the Prentiss Award-Winning line of the night:

Yes, that's exactly what you want to do in a hostage situation: assign the negotiator who'll make the criminal the most uncomfortable, anxious and unpredictable! There's no way that could go wrong!

Anyhow, the team rushes to the house and shoots the killer. Emily does a predictably terrible job of negotiating, forcing them to shoot both the killer and his sidekick. Although the sidekick is shot non-fatally (by his father!), so it's not a completely happy ending.


Also, it seems the latest victim's dad is in a wheelchair, which I guess I missed in the last scene with him.

And there's a scene where the Sheriff realizes that all of the abuse he heaped on his son is responsible for turning the kid into a killer. Greg tries to comfort the man, explaining that it's not too late for him to be a father and for the son to turn his life around.

Greg is, of course, lying.

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

I actually liked some of the writing around intuiting group behaviours, but this episode was basically a textbook example of how profiling can be misused to improperly narrow down a suspect pool. They immediately jump to the conclusion that they've got three killers who are college students - based entirely on supposition. Of course, they turn out to be right, but what if they hadn't been? What if the 'pack leader' hadn't killed his teammates in Louisianna, but instead all three of them had moved to Indiana and started killing again while taking manual labour jobs and living off the grid? You'd have the exact same set of facts the team is working with - but their insistence on focusing on a single theory to the exclusion of all others would keep them from ever finding their killers.

Until, of course, Garcia solved the case the way she always does.

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

There was a DNA match, and a guy in town who went to colleges abutting murder sites in two different states. This was one of the most solvable cases I've ever come across.

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

3/10 - Despite the incredible solvability of the case, I have literally no idea how they got a warrant to head out to the killer's house at the end. They had no physical evidence, no witnesses, nothing but the knowledge that one guy with a history of violence had been hanging out with another guy with a history of violence. That's a textbook example of how to develop a person of interest that you interview/follow/investigate, but enough information to get a search/arrest warrant within fifteen minutes? Not in a million years.

This is one of those situations where a little more evidence would have helped sell the whole thing. Let's say that someone on the street had seen three guys in a big black truck idling across the street from the strip club, but didn't get the plate number? Then llet's further say that they were able to match tire tracks from the parking lot to tracks out in the field, confirming that this same vehicle was being driven by the killer - then later, when it turned out that their suspect had the same model and colour of truck registered in his name, it would at least be believable that a judge might take the confluence of circumstantial evidence as being enough to justify a warrant.

Hell, you could have even made it that the guy was in violation of his parole in another state (like he was only allowed to leave Louisiana as long as he was going to college, and even though he'd dropped out his overworked P.O. hadn't caught it yet - but Garcia does!) giving the local cops the legal right to head over to his house, arrest him, and search the place for any sign of the woman. Either of these simple fixes would have gotten rid of any plot holes - but they simply didn't bother.

If the Criminal Minds writing room has an official mood, I'm fairly sure it must be "hope (that the audience isn't paying attention)".


Perpetual Beginner said...

No particular comment on the ep. On the speed reading front, I'm an extremely fast reader - not Reid fast, but up over 1000 wpm easily, and without attempting to "speed read" per se - that's just my normal reading speed. I have a much easier time with paper books than with electronic. I'm not even aware of turning pages, it's just smooth flow. With an e-book there's a noticeable time-lag from the moment of pushing the new page button and the appearance of the new page. I suspect that with enough time put in on any given electronic medium, I would adjust (pushing the button automatically just enough before I hit the bottom to give me a smooth flow, for example) eventually, but there's definitely a go-stop-go-stop feel to reading in an electronic format right now that is not present with paper. And it's quite annoying. I also think the faster the reader, the more annoying the phenomenon would be.

Unknown said...

I'm commenting over a year later and so I suppose it doesn't matter anymore but to answer the speed reading question, I find books easier than anything on a screen, type easier than print and books easier than loose leaf paper. I do not read as quickly as Reid, but am a very advanced speed reader, with an amazing memory (again not an eidetic memory like Reid, but I can recall almost every book I've ever read as far back as first grade). Mine however has a few faults unlike Reid, I cannot remember anything I have read that I wasn't interested in and sometimes I mix up things I have read with movies I have seen as they both play out the same way in my brain. My reading levels have always been like this, in Elementary School they brought in a special tutor to teach me college level speed reading.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose the Criminal Minds cast/crew are aware of the many flaws in the scripts, and that's why they talk so damn fast - to bamboozle the viewers? Does anyone else find they have to keep pausing and rewinding just to catch everything that's being said?

Jessica said...

Yay! We've reached the episode set in my hometown! Or home county, I guess, since they didn't bother to figure out that Johnson County actually has towns. Also that we're literally 20 minutes from downtown Indianapolis. But since they only know three cities in Indiana (Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Evansville, apparently), I guess it would be difficult to look at an actual map and figure out that we're really not that rural. Are there corn fields? Sure. But they're surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Exactly the type that is going to phone in a suspicious truck joyriding through the way-too-green-for-November corn fields. Also, Tippecanoe County is at least a two hour drive. And should I mention the stupid universities? We have a lot, I'll give them that. But there is literally a Johnson University in Johnson County. I always wonder where they get their info. It sure as hell isn't from Wikipedia, because that would be more useful than whatever they chose. I gave them a pass on the episode set in Indianapolis, though I really shouldn't have because we have exactly one space for carnivals. But there's a later episode that actually mentions a town in Johnson County - Franklin - and then says that 20 miles north is another corn field. Uh, no. 20 miles north is a football stadium. And a mall. And a drug company headquarters. I could go on. But I think this rant has served its purpose. Carry on!

Tasneem Chandra said...

Can anyone shed light on why the victims were women who worked as strippers? Or why the chasing before killing?

Jessica said...

Why? I assume because they are high risk individuals that the unsubs would have some familiarity with given their inability to court a woman the normal way. CM likes to use women in less 'civilized' professions as victims because they are eye candy for the screen. And also because they are statistically most likely to be victims of violent crime. As for the chasing, it's probably similar to the episode where the two boys were hunting people. They see it as amusing to terrorize the women before they murder them. It's the conceit chosen by CM for this particular episode to act as a hook and let people know that these are Bad Guys (TM). Because we wouldn't figure that out otherwise on a show about serial killers.