Criminal Minds 608: Reflection of Desire

The episode begins with Penelope reading pretentious dialogue while doing her makeup in front of a vanity! Is she getting ready for a play? We don't find out right away, since Robert Knepper is busy murdering a blonde woman while another woman watches from the shadows. He's dressed as if this is a flashback set in the 40s, and the fact that he's making his victim watch an ancient film on a projector only serves to complete the theme.

He makes the victim re-enact the scene, but she's too freaked out to get her lines right. An old woman who can only be Robert's mother jumps out and finishes the scene with him, but luckily they're interrupted before the kiss. Sadly for the victim, the interruption comes in the form of her begging for her life, which only serves to set Robert off. He drugs her with chloroform, drives her to an alley in his Mercedes, then patiently waits for her to wake up before killing her with a plastic bag held over her head.

Yes, it turns out Penelope was in a play, something about her being a rape victim who now murders a rapist/killer. The most fun thing about the scene?

The detail that when she fake shot the guy with her starter pistol, she cheated it off to the side so that it would look good for the audience without being potentially dangerous for her co-star. That's a great observation, and suggests that people working on the scene had a theatre background, or at least believed in research. I'm kidding, of course, this could only mean a theatre background. Of course, that theatre background should have led someone to prevent Garcia from whispering her last line to her victim at a level that no one in an audience could possibly hear.

Still, the audience loves it, and gives a mostly-standing ovation. I can't spot Xander in the crowd, though, which is strange, since he seems like he'd be super-supportive of this kind of thing. She also hasn't told the team about her involvement, but she tries to let them know in a passive-agressive attention grab 'accidentally' letting some playbills slip out of a while running down the victim's details.

Speaking of the victim, post-death the killer cut up her face, removing her lips, and he also sent a glamour shot of her to the papers, dressed up like a star from the Golden age of Hollywood. At least the guy's embracing his theme, right?

After the credits, the team heads over to the police station and talk about how this killer is desperate for attention - they warn that withholding it as much as possible at this point is probably the best course of action. They also talk about how this killer is completely unique, as if they haven't ever dealt with murderers who mutilate corpses and then contact the press about it. Weird.

Robert is spending time down at the train station with his mother, trying to teach a random little girl how to walk with grace while waiting for his next victim to climb off a steamer from Indiana, looking for a shot at the big time. You know, this story would make more sense if this episode was set in LA or New York, rather than Georgetown. The scene still plays quite humourously, largely because Robert is a talented enough actor to sell his character's mannered oddities. Especially when he spots his next victim and dismisses the little girl he'd been helping moments earlier.

The team splits up as usual, with Reid and Joe goes to check out the corpse, while Derek and Emily head back to the crime scene - the theory is that the killer must live in the area, and an attention-seeker will probably be the type to hang around the crime scene, checking out the investigation. Then they come across a homeless guy living in the alley where the girl was discovered. The twist? He's a different homeless guy than the one who found the body and called the cops - and this homeless guy says no one else hangs out in the area! That, and the fact that the killer wrote a note in blood on the wall behind a homeless shelter points to one conclusion - it was Robert in disguise! Also, it seems weird that the cops didn't keep the guy who discovered the body around for the FBI to talk to. After all, isn't the guy who finds the corpse generally your first suspect? A scene where Robert acts under makeup and convinces  Derek and Emily to send him on his way would have been good villain-establishing.

In a fun bit, the show lets us see a piece of the terribly-written screenplay Robert is obsessed with. How do I know it's terrible?

"Robert hangs in the shadows just as his life now hangs in the balance. But life without love is no life at all." Okay, but what am I seeing onscreen there? Hack.

Oh, and the killer stuffed a piece of the same screenplay down the victim's throat.

Robert is busy at home, putting lipstick on the lips he cut off from the dead woman in the alley. His mother arrives, demanding that he come upstairs and read 'Scene 43' with her, which I'm going to go ahead and assume is the bit we saw from the projector. She doesn't seem upset at all by the pieces of flesh.

The next day the mother is berating Robert about his failures as a man - he's panicking because the cops are investigating him, and she thinks he should 'man up'. Robert points out that if he wasn't a 'real man', could he have abducted the woman from the train station, who's in the next room at this very moment? She doesn't have a good answer for that, although I've got to ask - if he was worried about being caught, why specifically try to bring himself to police attention?

Garcia talks to Greg about having trouble locating the movie the script is from, but based on the glamour photo, it's obviously from the 50s, which they tweak to right away. Then some flat-out nonsense happens, with Garcia and Greg co-winning our Prentiss Award of the night!

Let's set aside the madness it takes to assume - even given the film-related details of the case - that the killer is keeping his victim for a number of days equal to the act structure of the script he likes (even though nothing in their case - the nor parts of the show that only the audience is privvy to - suggests this), how on Earth can you get away with saying 'most' stories have three acts? You're in a story with five, for god's sake!

The team has - based on absolutely nothing, mind you - connected the disappearance of the train station woman with Robert's murder spree, and hold their profiling session, announcing that she likely has less than two days left to live. There's actually some practical advice being offered this time, however - since they have a physical description of him they can stake out the newspaper he dropped the picture off at last time (although covering the other ones in the area would probably be a good idea too), and they guess that he probably has a classic car, given that he's clearly obsessed with the 50s.

By the way, over at Robert's house he's doing the whole makeup/photo thing, which counts as psychologicallly torturing his victim onscreen, meaning that she's probably going to make it to the end of the episode, rather than using the standard 3-kill structure.

Feeling sensible, the team heads over to the train station, then wastes time trying to 'profile' where he might have been sitting, rather than simply getting the camera footage, and checking to see who followed the victim out of the building. Which they'd actually have a pretty good idea of, really - they know when she got on the train, which means they'd have an exact record of when she got off, and should know within about five minutes (if she stopped to talk or buy something) when she was walking through the main concourse.

This goes incredibly well, as the team learns what Robert looks like, and we learn that Robert's mother is a figment of his imagination. It's only onscreen for a second, but check out their video footage of Bob-

Versus what the scene looked like to us-

So he's taking care of his mother's corpse? This isn't just Sunset Boulevard, it's also Psycho!

Greg makes a good catch when he notices that Robert was sitting at the train station for three hours - the parking meters outside only allow for one! So he must have a parking permit, which is apparently a thing in Georgetown. Although, since they know he's driving around, I'm not sure why they're not just going through driver's license photos with the images they have of his face until they find someone who lives in the area and has a 50s-era car. Seems like that would be a better use of Garcia's time than anything she's currently working on.

Also, if he doesn't really have a partner, how is he managing these abductions? They tell us that he's chloroforming women in broad daylight and then driving them away. I'd assumed that he was using his mother as part of a ruse, but since she's not real, how is he knocking women out on the street and then getting them back to his parked car without anyone making a fuss?

We're just going to have to chalk this one up to bad writing, aren't we?

Okay, over at Robert's house the latest victim is proving far better at playing along with his madness than the last one was, meaning that she's got a great chance of surviving this ordeal! Good for her!

She then messes up her chance by headbutting Robert during their dramatic reading and then trying to escape rather than pressing her advantage. As punishment, he cuts off her toes so that they'll fit into a pair of costume shoes. Ick.

The team tries to connect Robert to a parking permit, but they've got a problem - one kidnapping alley was in one zone, and one was in another! The only permit that covers all zones is a handicapped parking permit! So they start cross-referencing that with trucks/vans/SUVs for some reason, and hopefully they'll find their man! I have no idea why they're going truck/van/SUV - didn't they just establish that he'd be driving a well-maintained vintage car?

Robert drops the latest photo off with the newspaper, and Greg decides it's time to draw the killer out by having Garcia hold a press conference! But what will the substance of her comments be?

Hopefully they'll come in time to save the victim, who freaks out when she discovers Mom's corpse - although the show doesn't reveal that's what she saw, as if they didn't already reveal the surprise.

Penelope is nervous about the press conference, since she's not exactly sure about what it's supposed to accomplish. Derek explains that if they make the missing girl famous, the killer will 'make a move'. Although, since that move up until this point has been 'dump her corpse', I'm not sure why they think this will help. Let's see how it plays out.

They wait until they have the press at a fervor, and then announce that people in the M street area should reduce their movements, because they have an address on the killer!

Somehow this works to convince Robert that the cops are coming to get him, so he drugs his victim and drags her out the front door, hoping to get her body safely dumped before the cops come knocking. So they're going to catch him because he's an idiot - that he would believe that the FBI would announce that they were on the way to arrest someone on a live news broadcast? Also, are they idiots? Let's say this works, in what world does their scheme not immediately result in Robert killing his victim and skipping town?

Even if you believe the scene in which Joe and Greg figure out that the victim was killed in Robert's car (I don't - they base their conclusion on the fact that the ME said the body was killed less than a half hour before being dumped - which she couldn't know since they didn't find the body immediately), they only come up with this realization after the press conference plan is already in place. Meaning that when they came up with the plan it was with the full knowledge that implementing it would almost certainly result in the victim's death.

Classy work, guys.

Tucked away in an alley, Robert prepares to murder his victim, but at the last possible moment Joe and Greg spot his car, saving her life! Robert runs off, but they have a trail of blood to follow and his car registration, so it's only a matter of time before he's arrested. We get a little backstory - mom was in a movie, the co-star knocked her up, having Robert ruined her life, and she had him dote on her forever, turning him into a madman. How they can afford to live in a Georgetown mansion if she only ever made the one movie is left unexplained.

The cops show up at his house and Robert surrenders, showing off the twist on his way out the door.

Which would be a more effective surprise if she hadn't been established as fake in that earlier scene.

Also, that corpse has been dead for years. Don't you have to get handicapped parking permits renewed fairly regularly? And if the stressor was her death, why had he just started killing now?

Oh, I get it, the stressor wasn't Mom's death, it was when the corpse's had finally rotted off, and he could no longer kiss her, so he had to harvest a new set. Now I understand. And also wish I didn't.


Except for a coda about the team supporting Penelope in her theatrical ambitions. How sweet! Still no Xander there, oddly.

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

I wish I could say yes, but the main play for the team was figuring that if they put out a press conference the killer would off his victim and dump the body. Which is exactly what would have occurred if Greg and Joe hadn't miraculously been driving by the exact random alley where that was happening the exact moment it happened. They were right, but the way in which they were right was designed to kill the victim, so I can't really applaud them for it.

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

They had video of his face, and the knowledge that he had a parking permit. I'm not sure why they needed the press conference at all.

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

1/10 - I can't stress enough that they actually tried to get the victim killed. Also, they abandoned a perfectly good theory about the classic car halfway through the case, shifting their focus to vans and SUVs for no reason, and doing it so completely that when Greg actually saw a classic Mercedes parked in an alley he dismissed it until he realized that there were people inside.

Not your finest hour, team.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite episodes. But only because Robert Knepper is in it, I LOVE Robert Knepper.

Vardulon said...

Yeah, Knepper's pretty amazing this week - but then, he's just generally great.

Liz said...

I didn't realise that the mother was dead, just assumed that her not being on the CCTV footage was a mistake! So for me the reveal was pretty shocking. Not that it was worth the goriness of the rest of the episode.

I've been binge-watching CM for the past couple of weeks and reading your reviews after each episode definitely adds to the experience - I love guessing which line will get the Prentiss Award!

slaget said...

Where did the whole bleaching Penelope's hair become useful? And did she just duck into a restroom and magically transform. Stripping out hair color is a really messy process! When Emily handed her the paper bag I was so hoping it was a blond wig. That would have made more sense. And Robert Knepper was great! What was he in before...

The Hidden Object Guru said...

Robert Knepper was the star of a little movie called DOA! In that he plays the guy who gets killed at the start, kicking off the plot.

Also he was in Prison Break.