Criminal Minds 609: Into the Woods

There's a full moon in the opening shot of this week's episode, which can mean only one thing: They're taunting us with yet another case in which the killer isn't a werewolf. Come on guys, would it kill you to do a Halloween fantasy episode? Goth rockers and vampirists just aren't cutting it!

See what I did there?

Okay, moving right along, a family is out walking in the woods, being watched by a nefarious figure in the trees. Turns out the figure is a black bear, and they come very, very close to being its dinner. In a happy turn of events (that quickly turns gruesome) the bear wanders off. Why? Because it's already had its fill of human!
 Oh desiccated corpses. You never look great.

It seems the child was abducted while camping a year earlier, then dumped along the Appalachian trail some two states over! The team rushes out of the office just moments after hearing about the case (seriously, why aren't they doing this on the plane?), but they're too late - two children have already been targeted, watched from the brush as they happily caper about on their family's camping trip!

Don't worry too much, though - except for that one time in the episode Reid directed, this show has never killed off a child we actually met. And that time we really only heard him talking through a wall.

There's a weird costuming choice when we see the team on the plane. Although at the end of the briefing Greg announced that they'd be at the ranger station within the hour (including trips to and from the airports? How short a flight is this? Could you not just be driving?), when they're on the plane everyone has taken the time to obtain and dress in sweaters and fleeces:

I'm confused - did they stop at the FBI gift shop on the way out of the building? I know they keep 'go-bags' at the office, but don't those generally just have a change of clothes and sundry needables? Why would they have clothes for a variety of different weather conditions? How big are these bags?

When they get to the Ranger station they immediately visit with the father of the dead boy, played by Justified's Johnny Crowder, sans wheelchair! In a suspicious coincidence, it turns out that Johnny stopped desperately searching for his son right around the time the ME says that the boy must have died. Johnny's explanation for this? The psychic connection he had with his child was suddenly cut off, making him sure the boy was dead. That's seriously all the explanation offered, and Greg accepts it.

Again, this is the same show that refuses to do a werewolf episode.

Joe and Reid talk over the facts of the case with the head ranger - it's unlikely this would have been the killer's first victim, so they suggest checking for other children who've disappeared along the trail over the past few years. Meanwhile Derek and Emily are searching the dump site, and discover a marking on the tree under which the body was buried! This means he wanted to be able to find the body, suggesting a deep familiarity with the area. Also, another marked tree means that they haven't found a grave, they've found a graveyard.

Greg walks Johnny through the events of his son's disappearance, hoping some detail will reveal a vital clue to the killer's identity. Sadly, all Johnny has to offer is guilt over not protecting his son. With a possible suspect cleared, it's just a matter of finding out who the new victim is! Turns out it's a kid who disappeared two years ago in the same area and time of year. So the killer grabs a young boy in the fall, molests them all winter, and then kills them in the spring. Ick. So yeah, obviously the two kids who are grabbed in the next scene are going to be fine. This isn't that kind of show.

And yes, both children are stolen. Why? The show needs a ticking clock, and five months of brutal molestation won't cut it, sadly. They need the threat of immediate murder hanging over the little girl's head for the threat to be real. Also sadly.

By looking over all the various cases Reid has managed to pinpoint a dozen that seem to fit the 'profile' of the guy they're looking for. His M.O. involves walking the entire trail back and forth, grabbing victims as he goes. No one knew about it because they were grabbed from across state lines, and no bodies have been found. It's only the killer's decision to spend the last couple of winters hidden in one place that created a clear pattern they could follow!

They're still faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, however: whatever this hovel is, it's probably well camouflaged, since no hikers have reported it! Or, you know, nobody though an old utility tunnel or whatever was worth 'reporting'. It could be that, too. There's a brief interlude in said bunker with the locked-up kids, but no new information is given, so let's move on.

The next day everyone finds out about the latest abduction, but the response seems to just be a couple of rangers, hikers, and dogs. Would this guy really be so hard to find? Now that they know his MO and the fact that he's going to bed down in the area for the winter, how many places could he possibly be? The team notes that he can't be traveling more than two miles per hour with kids, giving them a super-small search area. And since he has to be hiding in an established structure rather than a makeshift lean-to (harsh winters are namechecked), don't they at least have a list to be working from?

Instead, all we hear about are bloodhounds and Johnny offering to help look. An offer that Greg rejects, because he can't have an expert on the area interfering with the case. It's more important to give the profile before the search and rescue teams head out. Because a profile of the killer is completely useful to people searching for footprints in the dirt.

Oh, and the killer is holding them in a cage in a place whose supposed origins are unclear. Take a look at this screenshot:

Is that wall supposed to be rough, painted concrete, or is it a poorly-built set that's meant to represent the uneven stone walls of a mine?

While I'm busy trying to figure out what's going on with the walls, the killer drags the boy off to be molested, while the little girl is left stuck in the cage. Then we cut over to the profile scene, which is one of the biggest wastes of time in the show's history. Search parties don't need background. Here's the vital info - he's got two victims. The girl's going to die soon. Go find them in a building, cave, or underground shelter! I think orders under twenty-five letters are the most effective, aren't they?

Johnny swings by the ranger office to help out, letting Reid interview him about the places in the woods he's already checked. Before they can get anywhere, we cut back to the cage, where the freshly-brutalized boy is returned to captivity. Although traumatized, he's got a plan - next time the killer comes to get him, his little sister should run! You know what? I've heard worse plans.

It immediately goes wrong soon after, when the killer returns with firewood, as the little boy is able to wound the killer by smashing a pipe into the man's injured leg. Sounds great, right? Except they little boy doesn't keep hitting the man, creating a situation in which they could both escape, rather he just yells for his sister to leave. She does manage to get away, however, and almost immediately she's spotted by Emily and Derek, who happened to be in the area.

But will she be able to explain where she was being held? No, the direction is lost on her. Somehow the authorities miss the next most important question: how long had she been running? Even if they don't know the absolute direction, a radius based on their current location would narrow their search from thousands of square miles to just a handful.

Not that it's going to do the little boy much good, as he's already being dragged through the woods by the killer, who knows that his position has been compromised. Because the little boy doesn't have the wherewithal to stomp on the killer's foot or struggle free, the rescuers who get within fifty feet of him don't get a chance to save the day.

The team manages to find the abandoned mine that the killer's been using, and turn up some food and flowers used to treat joint pain. That, combined with the knowledge that the guy's a limper (provided by the little girl), lets the team know that he'll need some kind of pain medication soon once he's gotten to civilization!

Speaking of civilization, while looking at the records, Reid notices that the killer's first abduction off the trail was in Jonestown, PA - maybe that's his home town? It's a great theory and all, except for one thing - how do you know that this is his abduction? Children being kidnapped isn't exactly a rare thing in the real world, and in the world of Criminal Minds it's essentially commonplace. You didn't know this guy existed until yesterday, and the one thing you know for sure about him is that he likes kidnapping children on the Appalachian Trail - so, with no witnesses or physical evidence (and certainly no body), how can you possibly have assigned this random kidnapping in a PA town to him?

Of course, this baseless guess turns out to be right - the killer goes to a transient hotel, dragging the kid along behind. His plan? Trade the child to another paedophile in exchange for a bag of painkillers! Wow, this is just the most unpleasant episode of Criminal Minds in ages, isn't it?

Luckily Garcia's on the case, checking the local list of sex offenders for people who disappeared from 'the grid' around the time he started murdering people along the Appalachian Trail. She discovers that the transient hotel is the only place in the area where local sex offenders can safely live without violating school zones - making it a good place to start a search. After all, if you were a criminal on the run from the police, wouldn't it make sense to go to the last place that your Parole Officer knew that you lived? I kid, of course, he needed the drugs, and because the paedophile he's loaning the child to doesn't like him very much, it makes perfect sense that he couldn't call and set up a meeting somewhere.

The team rushes to the hotel, the exterior shots of which don't do a stellar job of hiding the fact that this was clearly shot in a major metropolitan area, as opposed to a town of roughly a thousand people. There's a close call in which the paedophile injures the little boy while chasing him around the room, then flees with the kid's unconscious form, but the guy never gets out of the building, and he's arrested without any further incident.

Unfortunately, all the police attention around the building tips off the killer that the police are looking for him, allowing him to flee into the woods with his bag of pain pills. All that's left is for Reid to give Johnny a bit of his son's property that was found in the mine.


Oh, except for the Prentiss Award-Winning line of the week.

Every week, Derek and Joe. It happens every week.

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

There were definitely profile-y kinds of things going on, with them intuiting his needs for shelter over the winter based on his crimes, and that he would be familiar with the area as a result.

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

I'm pretty sure it could have, although that's just because I'm shocked at how surprised everyone seemed to find where his hideout was. When a kid goes missing in the woods, aren't abandoned mineshafts the first place you check, whether someone kidnapped them or not?

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

4/10 - I'd love to give them a little more credit this week, but the lack of psychological insight when it was called for really played against them. I'm talking specifically about judging where he lived based on a kill 'off the trail' that they couldn't link to him in a million years. Wouldn't it make far more sense to simply say 'when his health deteriorated to the point that he needed a winter shelter, he'd probably pick a location that he was most familiar with - maybe he's from here!'

Also, it's great that when they've got a list of sex offenders in the area they don't simply show their pictures to the little girl and ask which of them is the killer. Because knowing for sure as quickly as possible wouldn't be of any use, would it?


Unknown said...

Why do you call Hotch Greg? And why do you call Rossi by his first name?

Anonymous said...

Google 'Greg and Dharma'