Criminal Minds 611: 25 to Life

The episode opens with bad news, as we learn that Greg is taking the week off. We learn this is the oddest way, too, with Joe on the phone and no Thomas Gibson voiceover providing the other half of the call. Is Greg being edged out?

Also, Rachel Nichols is going to be joining the team, because why? Apparently they're going to be training her on the job. Which makes complete sense, since they already have one team member who's not comfortable putting on a vest and kicking down doors, why not get a second one in there?

And yes, since watching last episode, I discovered that the reason Clarice reminded me so much of Rachel Nichols on 'The Inside' is because the actress playing her was, in fact, Rachel Nichols, essentially reprising her role from 'The Inside'. Because why?

Seriously, though, this is the weirdest bit of rerun casting since Tyron Leitso on Being Erica/Wonderfalls.

Alright, on to the actual plot! They're sending Derek to a prison to interview a man who's been in jail for twenty-five years! His parole hearing is tomorrow, so they need an assessment of the likelihood that he'll kill again today! Which, you know, makes absolutely no sense. It's not like the board is forced to give their ruling on the same day as the hearing, is it? I don't know how things run in Virginia, but it seems like they'd hear all the evidence, take some time, and then send in a ruling. After all, it's not like the parole board decides to let you out and you get sprung the next day, right?

So Derek heads over to the prison to meet... Kyle Secor! Yay! A doctor who apparently murdered his wife and child some years earlier - that's right, he's playing the Gary Cole part from 'Fatal Vision', which was, of course, based on a real case we'll get to later.

Derek interviews Kyle and discusses his imprisonment. Apparently he's been a model prisoner, other than one incident where Heroin was found in his cell. They talk about his sad circumstances, and Kyle cries a little about never getting to see the son who survived his supposed murders. All throughout he maintains his innocence, which is something I've heard you're not supposed to do at parole hearings.

Nevertheless, Derek feels that Kyle is no longer a threat, and suggests that not only should he be sprung, but that he probably didn't do it in the first place! This proves convincing, and Kyle gets his parole! Man, is it going to be embarrassing when he kills somebody, isn't it?

After a few shots of Kyle wandering around town, getting used to his freedom, then we head back to the office, where Derek is given the news that Kyle's killed someone! Dahn Dahn Duhn!

Before moving onto the credits, let's consider something - in the scene before Derek met Kyle, Emily reported that Rachel was going to be continuing on with the unit, and Joe said it was cool, so long as Emily took responsibility for her. In this scene, Rachel has brought Emily coffee as a way of saying thanks for 'watching her back', suggesting that this literally the next day. Also suggesting this is the fact that Greg still isn't back at the office yet.

So Derek psychologically examined Kyle, gave his report, the board made its decision, Kyle was released from prison, and then he killed a guy all within less than 24 hours? Come on, show! Maybe that wasn't the intent, but the way the show is edited clearly makes a clear implication. If it wasn't their intent, this is another problem a quick dialogue change could fix. Just mention that 'it's been a week already, when is Greg getting back?' and you establish the time lapse that (I hope) you meant.

One last note: at ten minutes, this is probably the longest teaser the show's ever done.

Oh, and apparently Rachel's just here for a short arc, since they didn't add her to the opening credits. A quick doom for Clarice, perhaps?

Kyle was caught immediately by the police, so obviously he didn't do it, or if he did, he's just done the morally justifiable thing of killing the guy who murdered is family. Actually, it's more complicated than that - Kyle claims that it was self-defense, and he even called an ambulance to save the guy's life!

In a super-unusual move, we're treated immediately to a flashback of what actually happened in great detail, with Kyle threatening the man with a gun, only to be attacked with a knife, and having to turn it back on his assailant. Oh, and the gun wasn't loaded.

Yeah, at least part of the timeline gets confirmed in this scene - he was out of jail for just two days. Man, was that not clear earlier.

While riding back to the FBI building, Kyle is weirdly tight-lipped about his motives. Joe tries to explain this away with a line of dialogue announcing that 'I know you don't trust anyone right now', but that doesn't really track, especially since Derek, the other guy in the car, just sprung him from the hoosegow. At this point there is no reason to not simply tell them why he did it.

Since Kyle isn't talking, the team go over the facts of his case, trying to decide whether he committed the original crime or not, and hopefully using his background to figure out his connection to the new victim. I'm actually curious about how he found this guy - if he knew who did it all along, why not mention it? Is there actually a giant conspiracy to get him?

More importantly, though, I'd like to know how the following, Prentiss Award-Winning line of dialogue made it into the show:

That's right, according to Rachel (who wins her first Prentiss Award tonight!), after Kyle was thrown in jail, there was never another home-invasion murder in Virginia. Apparently it's been a beautiful, peaceful, stabbing-free quarter-century since Kyle Secor's been in jail.

God damn it, show.

The team settles on two possibilities: Either Kyle just went after one of the real killers, or he killed a guy for no reason. No one mentions that literally every part of this is pointless intellectual thumb-twiddling until they actually hear what Kyle has to say.

They completely let Derek go in and interview Kyle, showing all of his hostility and righteous fury. Maybe they should have saved something until after Kyle proved a reticent suspect? After all, it's not like someone nice just sat down and asked him what happened.

In the next scene, we get an odd bit of prop selection, as we're told that they've brought 'everything' from the victim's house into the office for examination. That 'everything'?
Two cardboard boxes. Huh.

While running down the old case, the team notes just how stacked against Kyle the facts are. The house had no signs of break-in, the only possible way inside was a basement window with broken security bars. Which actually seems like a pretty good way in. Reid explains that the cops dismissed it as a possibility, though, since it's not likely a random person would know about that. After all, why look into the neighbours and previous owners of the house when you've got a perfectly good victim bleeding upstairs, right?

The sad part is, this isn't even bad writing - immediately deciding who probably did it and then excluding all other possibilities and pretending all other evidence doesn't exist is a disturbingly common practice in American police departments. Just ask the Innocence Project.

Kyle finally gets around to explaining the situation - he knew that his victim was involved in the deaths of his family, and that guy was supposed to lead him to the guy who did the stabbing. How did he know who the killer was? Well, it turns out that 'Tommy', the victim, used to deliver groceries to their house, and would creep around the wife with his thuggish friend. Kyle had the wife shoo them away for good, and then, shortly after, murders!

He claims that he didn't remember this until years later, but it seems like a stretch that he couldn't have come up with 'that creepy kid from the market' when the cops asked who might have done it. Also, he claims that there is a conspiracy, since the week after he used the internet to find his victim's address, the Heroin was planted!

So how are they going to prove he was right? By taking him back to the murder house, of course!

Wait, what? There's no other way to confirm his story? How about this - look into the victim's backstory and try to find out who the thug he used to hang with was! Check his school, family, friends, literally anyone he ever crossed paths with, and then cross-reference it with people who have enough money or authority that they could get prison guards to monitor Kyle's internet usage and then plant drugs on him. Seems like that's a better path to a closed case than jogging Kyle's memory, doesn't it?

Luckily the house isn't occupied, so the team is able to wander around and take all the time they need. Kyle remembers that the thug was a complete psycho, the girl wanted to take the youngest child, and Tommy, the dead guy, tried to keep a lid on things. None of this is super-useful.

None of this is particularly useful, however, since it's a simple check by Garcia into people arrested along with Tommy that finds them the identity of the woman. Kyle confirms it, but by the time they get to the lady's house, she's been stabbed! The killer runs away on foot, and despite Derek's best efforts, he makes a clean getaway. You know, for the guy whose job it is to chase people down, he rarely catches them.

With their only lead dead, now they're left trying to figure out who the killer is based on almost nothing. Which will be the more useful tool: A profile of their killer, or the videotape they find in the woman's apartment, showing the crime being committed?

Don't have to wait for your answer, do I?

Garcia cues up the tape and gets a shadowed face of the killer. They also hear his voice, talking about how much he dislikes the way the smug family looks down on everyone. So he obviously had a grudge against them, but what could it be?

Now it's profile time! They announce that the guy would have loved the thrill of murder, but since he didn't keep doing it, he must have turned his fancy towards legal ways of screwing people over - like business! Which would also explain how he had the money to pay off the (newly-dead) woman all these years. Garcia pares the list down based on people who were poor growing up (because he hung out with scumbags), and who lived in the same general area where the crimes were committed.

Supposedly this gets them down to just 36 names, which seems like a miraculously small list, considering the size of Washington and its surrounding suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. Still, Derek announces that the list is far too big to be useful.

I guess no one ever mentioned to him how they interviewed thousands of people looking for Son of Sam and the Boston strangler, right? You could manage 36 interviews in a couple of days, moron.

Finally Derek suggests they check who knew the house, and it turns out that one of the previous inhabitants is on Garcia's list! Not the 36-person list, mind you, but the longer list, although I don't know which criteria she's dropping.  Since the established ones were 'rich, from the area, working in business', how did she expand it? Since the guy they find matches all three, why isn't he on the short list?

Now that they know who the killer is, we're obviously going to zip through endgame, but before we get there, I'd like to ask a question about their profiling. The whole list was entirely based on the assumption that he hadn't continued killing, and had instead moved his evil desires into the business world. So here's the question: How do they know he stopped killing? It's not like he had such a specific M.O. that it's traceable, and he didn't leave any physical evidence. His target was a woman, who he stabbed to death, and the other families were injured because they got in the way -they were not the focus of the attack, and we wouldn't necessarily expect to see whole families being stabbed in further crimes as his M.O. developed. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that plenty of women have been stabbed to death in the greater DC area over the past 25 years, with a lot of them going unsolved.

How could the team possibly assume - to an eliminative certainty - that he wasn't responsible for any of them?

Turns out the guy is running for Congress, and his campaign slogan is something that he said during the original murders. Cheeky! Derek wants to arrest him, but their evil boss is understandably skeptical, since he's not the kind of killer they usually chase. Derek and Joe point out that he probably gets off on firing people, like Roger Smith, satisfying himself by fantasizing about the awful lives and suicides of the people whose careers he destroyed.

Joe even points out that since the killer got into politics to be tough on crime, he'd have had the influence necessary to plant drugs on Kyle. Which would make sense, if he was already a congressman. But he's only now just running. The AD actually points out that they're sounding 'as paranoid as Kyle' by delineating this conspiracy. Somehow neither of them mentions that everything else Kyle said has proven to be true, to the point that they have a videotape backing it up, which would suggest that this last claim is probably on the level as well.

Anyhoo, the important part is that they've got the killer's DNA under the dead woman's fingernails, so it's just a matter of getting a warrant to get a sample from him. There's no way to get it, however, but Derek has a plan: go to the guy's house and make a fuss, publicly humiliating him and goading him into revealing his scratched arms!

Wow, this is a bad plan. Of course it completely works, and they guy is unable to keep from freaking out in front of a crowd of people. Also, he didn't cover up the wounds on the back of his hand in any way, shape, or form. Super-lazy writing, of course, but a plain-sight exemption is the only way to get the reveal in without bringing up the issue of how searching for wounds on him without a warrant would get the whole thing thrown out of court.

So now they've got their man!


Except for a brief epilogue where Kyle gets to meet his son.

Speaking of sons, wouldn't a way better way of finding/convicting the killer be to track down the son he shared with the female victim, testing the DNA against the paternal half of his own code, and then ask him who his father is? It seems like that would be plenty enough to get a warrant.

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

It was actually a fairly decent showing for profiling this week, in that they used what they knew about the killer's persona to get him to freak out in public, humiliating himself.

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

Not that had anything to do with catching/convicting him, though. No, they caught him by simply checking into who knew about the house and was the right age to be the killer. Also, they had his DNA. Also, there's no way the woman who'd been blackmailing him all these years didn't have his name written down in an envelope somewhere.

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

3/10 - That might seem overly harsh for an episode in which a lot of time was spent talking about psychology, but the simple fact is that really basic evidence-gathering was all it took to wrap this one up. The real villains of the piece are the police who didn't bother investigating all those years earlier.

And the killers, of course.

Criminal Minds FactCheck!

In the early morning hours of February 17th, 1970, Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald's family were brutally murdered, and he was stabbed considerably less fatally, but still badly. I have no idea whether he did it or not.

Here are two links if you'd like to read about the actual case.

The first is a conspiracy-themed website that thinks he's innocent.

The second is from the book by Joe McGinnis, which argued MacDonald's guilt.

It's one of those shocking real-life situations where there's no good answer. Did a doctor with no particular history of violence murder his family over petty grievances, then make the scene look like a Manson-style bloodbath? Or did a group of drug-crazed maniacs murder a family while looking for drugs and then the army cover it up because some higher-ups had been profiting from illegal pharmaceutical sales?

Sadly, in the real world, cases are very rarely resolved by convincing a maniac to bellow violently at a swanky society party.

One of the many reasons I prefer fiction.

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