Criminal Minds 613: The Thirteenth Step

The episode begins with a young couple heading into a gas station mini-mart, debating the value of conventional marriage. The guy certainly isn't Ziggy from The Wire, but he's that general type, and that's who I thought of when I first saw him. The old man who runs the place makes the mistake of badmouthing the institution of marriage, which immediately leads the couple to gun everyone in the place down. Which, you know, huh.

Over at the office, Penelope is giving Emily a message from mysterious Scottish man! I hope that comes up later! Also Rachel is going to be sitting this week out, which, along with Greg's absence a couple of weeks back leads me to suspect that they're trying to parcel out the cast carefully because of budgetary issues. Hey, let's see if we miss her presence the way we missed Greg's! I'm kidding, of course, I can't even guess what I would miss, since she hasn't made any kind of impression or demonstrated any particular facility for crime-solving.

Wait, was she even in last week's episode?

Oh, right, there's a new episode, let's move on, shall we? The team gets the news about the six people being murdered at the gas station, which has been 'all over the news'. Actually, this raises the question of why they aren't already in the air. It's not like this is a 'let's decide whether to take the case' kind of meeting. After all, as the characters flat-out state, there's a ticking clock before these crazy kids do it again - so why isn't the team hearing about it on the plane?

Speaking of those crazy kids, they get married and then shoot up another gas station, this one in Billings, Montana. Since it's night when this happens, we've got to assume that it's later that same day - no one in the office mentioned being called in late, after all - so what, exactly, was the team doing all day? Hopefully we'll find out after the opening credits!

The team arrives at the scene of the latest crime where, for some reason, a fireman is still hosing down the building. Ten hours after the fire.

I have no idea why he's doing this. Or really why there's still a fire engine there at all. If there was any danger of re-ignition would the FBI and local cops all be huddled around the pumps?

In a motel some distance away, the killers are relaxing with some booze. The whole sequence is shot with extremely jittery camerawork and strange slightly blurry vision. Also, instead of the characters simply talking to each other, we hear their honeymoon plans in voiceover while footage of them lounging about their hotel room plays. It's a strangely artistic touch for this show, but unlike the creepy music in Reid's episode from last season, I don't particularly like it. Perhaps they're trying to show these sequences from the killers' point of view, but if that's the case, just go all the way with it and show people the scene from the POV of one of the cameras that the newlyweds are using to document their crime spree. This just comes off as half-assed sloppiness.

Also, a witness mentioned that it was a male-female team, but no one seems to know that the woman was wearing a wedding dress. Which is odd. The team gets there anyway based on the rice thrown all over the scene, so that's something. Garcia looks into recent marriage licenses, and focuses on the people with criminal records. When they hear that the store owner was excessively brutalized, even by the standards of a slaughter-spree, the team decides he must have been the focus, and looks into other gas-station clerk murders in the past few days. They uncover a trail of them leading back to North Dakota - which must be their killers' point of origin!

Also, and I can't stress this enough, the timeline of the episode is confusing the hell out of me. On the evening of day 1 the couple kills a bunch of people. The morning of day 2 the team hears about the case. The night of day 2 the couple kills still more people. The morning of day 3 the team arrives at the scene of the second murder spree. So what was the team doing during all of day 2? Also, if they got to Montana on the morning of day 3, why do they only come to their conclusions about marriage and clerks twelve hours later? This is the outside of the gas station after the 'rice' discovery.

How long does it take to walk around a gas station while Emily is off looking at corpses?

Also, in someone's little Simpsons-related joke, check out the name of the first murder victim:

Does that make the man of the couple 'Snake' and his wife 'Shoshanna'?

Speaking of the killers, a long-haired criminal type makes the mistake of coming on to the wife as she's drinking alone in her car. Why is she alone? Her man is inside a church, attending an AA meeting! There he talks about dealing with his lifetime of brutal rape at the hands of his father by drinking! Which would be sad and all, if he and his wife didn't shoot up the place because he's unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions.

I'm sure this is going to be explained later, but how have the statewide roadblocks not caught these two? What's that? There are no statewide roadblocks? The state is unconcerned about the two dozen people brutally murdered within a 48-hour period? Oh, okay.

The team gets to the church on the morning of day 4, and surmise that since the shooting went down towards the end of the meeting, the killers must have actually been taking part in it! This leads them to the utterly unfounded assumption that the killers must have met in AA, and been driven to kill by the stress of the most difficult steps, i.e. the ones about facing up to your problems and making amends. Naturally, this is completely right, but there's no way they could have jumped to that conclusion. Especially since the husband's claim that he's on the seventh step is largely undercut by the fact that he's been drinking in literally every scene he's appeared in.

Wifey has her own suggestion for moving up the wellness ladder, namely getting 'closure', which is of course code for killing their abusive parents. Seems like a fair enough plan.

Now it's time for the profile, where the team wastes precious minutes giving the local cops information about the killers' background and likely pathology. As if that would be of any use to a police officer trying to find them by driving a patrol car down a country highway.

A far more sensible method of tracking down the killers comes right after says something incredibly stupid, but not quite award-worthy.

Yes, that's certainly information your two colleagues didn't have, Greg. Good that you mentioned it!

Seriously, though, someone asks the smartest possible question - how did the couple find the AA meeting if they're in the middle of a multi-state crime spree? After all, it's not like this is their regular church. Garcia checks into it, and finds that the AA group's website was accessed from the cell phone of a guy from North Dakota! The killer!

Emily then wins the Prentiss Award with her misuse of a popular term.

No, Emily, if a bad guy comes from Badguyville, it's not ironic. It's the opposite of irony. That's like saying it's ironic that a new yorker comes from New York. Moron.

Armed with the husband's name, they desperately search for who the wife might be - he had a frequently-abused girlfriend, but she OD'd a year earlier, so it can't be her...

Meanwhile, the couple has arrived at the husband's parents' place, where it's time to psychologically torture his father with a game of Russian roulette! The game is almost interrupted by the team calling to check up on them, but everyone decides to let it go to the machine. The mother has the classic 'cover up for abuser' thing of claiming that the kid was put into foster care because of his own drug problems, rather than molestation at the hands of his father. Which I'm guessing is not actually how that works. If I've got a 13-year-old who's drinking all the time for 'no reason' can I have the state just grab him and pop him in a house with a bunch of other kids?

If so, the children's services system in America is way worse-off than I'd thought.

The scene drags on and on with its headache-inducing camerawork until the wife just executes the father when he refuses to confess to the abuse. The show then immediately cuts to the team looking over the scene, trying to figure out what happened. Left unexplained is just what the couple did to the mother, but who no one actually shot.

Ahd, I guess it's not left unexplained at all, since the mom is alive, outside, telling the story to Greg and Reid. Wait, if that's the case, why are Emily and Derek inside, trying to reconstruct the scene based on evidence? Aren't they dealing with a ticking clock here? Isn't it just faster to have the mom tell them what happened?

Also, Emily gets a phone call from the Scottish guy, but she doesn't answer it.

Back on the road the couple is fighting about the wife killing the molesting father. The whole thing plays into violence-as-arousal, and I'm not sure why it's included. After all, seeing them fight doesn't really add to the plot - we already knew they were at odds based on his reaction to her killing the dad - is this just unpleasant filler designed to remind us of Natural Born Killers even more than the episode already did?

Now that the team has gotten the wife's name from her mother-in-law, they get a little backstory. It seems she's from Washington state, and she got into rehab after being arrested for possession of herion! Which, not-at-all-coincidentally, is what the husband's last girlfriend OD'd on! The team immediatley jumps to the conclusion that it was a case of murder, which is actually one of their more reasonable leaps, come to think of it.

After all, even if the dead woman's friends and relatives had sworn up and down that she'd never used cocaine in her life, ODs really aren't something that cops look into too closely unless there's additional evidence suggesting a second party's involvement.

Oh, and somehow, despite the fact that it's a four-hour drive from this crime scene to Spokane, where their next victim (father of the bride) lives, the killers are able to get there completely unmolested. Possibly because the team didn't bother calling the state or local cops to let them know the killers were coming. Which is pretty much their MO, come to think of it.

This gives the killers ample time for another tedious scene of taunting their victim. It's not especially interesting, since it's psychopaths planning to kill a child molester. There's not a lot of drama over whether the guy dies or not. Sure he claims to have found god, but naturally that doesn't matter.

What does matter, though, is when the wife's half-sister shows up! Dum-dum-dum!

Oh, and remember how I said the murderers were helped by the team not bothering to tell anyone they were coming? Yeah, turns out that wasn't just a joke on my part. In the next scene Derek and Emily swing by the evil father's house to let him know that he's on a hit list. His new wife is there, and she gives them the location of the gas station he owns.

This is intercut with the discovery of the half-sister back at said gas station, which confirms that these events are supposed to be happening at the same time. Meaning that the team - hoping to stop another set of murders - took no steps to get ahead of the would-be killers. Even if they flew and then drove from the Spokane airport (although I'm wagering that they show up at the gas station in the same SUVs they've been travelling in this whole time), there's no plane on earth faster than a phone call.

Which means had the team bothered to make that phone call, every cop in the greater Spokane area could have been waiting around the gas station for - at the very least - an hour before the killers got there. I guess it's more important that the team gets to take credit, though.

Before we get to the action, let's take another moment to single out Criminal Minds' incredibly bad choice of location, given the time of year that the episode is set. Here's a photo of a house in Spokane, WA, on the day the episode was set:

Not super-cold, to be sure, but slushy and miserable, as January afternoons tend to be. Now let's look at the team's visit to the molester's wife:

Would it have killed the show to set this one in Kentucky?

While the wife comforts her half-sister about the situation, husband drags his father-in-law into the backroom and executes him. They're then prevented from making a clean getaway when Emily and Derek show up on-scene - deciding that it was better, once again, to drive to the scene themselves rather than let one of Spokane's thousand cops (many of whom must have been closer and wearing bulletproof vests) take care of the situation. A brief shootout ensues, in which wife is injured and the family has to flee back inside the gas station.

That's right, it's siege time, which means the show is over except for the specific method in which the situation is resolved. We know that the half-sister is fine, since this show doesn't kill off children we've met, so I'm thinking murder/suicide after the team lets husband know about wife killing his girlfriend last year. Let's see how it plays out!

Hours drag by as the couple demands medical supplies, booze, and plane tickets out of the country. Derek brings the liquor inside, because someone assumed that it was a good idea to send in the agent that shot the guy's wife to deal with him. Sure, it's what the husband asked for, but isn't the whole point of these situations to get through with as little risk as possible? These killers happily shoot people for no reason at all, so why put them just a few feet away from someone they actually have a grudge against? The last time that happened a guy wound up dead in the back room of the same building they're holed-up in now.

Now that they're a little off-balance from drinking whiskey, Derek phones the gas station and gives husband the info about wife murdering his previous girlfriend. Naturally she denies it, but she does so in the way that Derek predicted she would, driving him insane with fury. So he strangles her to death. Meanwhile, the cops are passively waiting outside even though at any moment they could have burst through the door, rescued the girl, and shot him. Naturally husband immediately regrets his decision, so he stands and starts pacing around the gas station, angry with himself. Again, despite the fact that he's standing in the sight line of a dozen armed cops, no one bothers to shoot him. I'm not sure why, since that would completely save his hostage.

No, the cops give him ample time to mourn for his dead wife - and for her half-sister to walk over to him before finally just leaving the gas station since no one is paying attention to her. Then something bizarre happens - husband loads wife's body into an SUV that was sitting in the repair bay, and tries to make a getaway, but winds up shot to death instead. I'm not sure why they didn't try escaping immediately, before the place was surrounded. Yes, the wife was injured, but getting out on the road with a hostage in the back seat gives them far more options. This doesn't really count as a flaw, per se - after all, these people were deeply stupid as criminals go.

Oh, and I called it wrong, it wasn't murder/suicide. Unless you count his car crash not as an escape attempt, but rather suicide-by-cop.


Except for an epilogue, where Emily finally goes to meet the guy who's been pestering her. And it's beloved Scottish actor Angus MacFayden! Yay! He hasn't arrived with good news, however - he's there to warn her that someone from their past has escaped from prison, and is likely out to get her! And him! And the rest of a nebulously group implied by the statement 'we('re) all (in danger.) are.'

Now that's how you do a teaser! Also, way to go finally giving Emily her own big storyline, show - it only took five years! So, does this have to do with her work for... um... the state department? No, that was her mother... what did she do before joining the team, exactly?

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

In a way - it didn't have anything to do with identifying or locating the killers, but they did mess with the killer's head until he murdered his partner in crime, so that's definitely partial credit.

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

Oh, god, yes. In so very many ways. Here's a ferinstance - they established that the killers have a web-enabled cell phone. It's how they found out about the AA meeting, and how Garcia found out the husband's identity, by checking the owner of that number. So why not log into said phone's GPS? Not like these kids were smart enough to ditch the thing. It was undoubtedly one of the cameras used to record all their sex and violence.

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

4/10 - Yes, I'm feeling especially generous today. Not that the episode deserved it, since it provided a demonstration of a major way in which the writers/producers have no idea how the world works. In that they're completely incapable of imagining just how severe the real-world ramifications would be of a crime like this. They acknowledge that there would be nation-wide coverage of the massacre, but don't understand that the area in which it occurred would be shut down until the culprits were rounded up. The moment the authorities figured out which direction the couple was traveling in there would be roadblocks, helicopters, and every police officer in four states on high alert - the newlyweds wouldn't get far. There are only a couple of roads that cross from Montana to Washington without incurring multi-hour delays from Missoula - how difficult could they be to monitor?

The problem here is that the producers want to 'up the stakes' by having this be a massacre, rather than just one or two people killed in each location, yet just like in the Reaper episodes, they don't want to take into account how the world would react to these crimes. This could have been an episode about a crazed couple murdering a few clerks while trying to get up the nerve to kill their respective abusive fathers, but instead it's an episode about a couple who kill twice as many people as were murdered at Columbine, yet no one in the larger world seems to care or worry about it.

Also, they killed two clerks in North Dakota before the show started - in an amazing coincidence those gas stations also didn't have security cameras? What? I can't remember the last gas station I was in that didn't have multiple security cameras, and I live in Canada. And since they stole a new car from someone they murdered each time, and left the rest of the victims' cars in the gas station parking lots, wouldn't the cops know exactly what car they were driving, down to the license plate?

God, this show.


feenix219 said...

The way that gas station exploded and how it was set off was the most unrealistic thing i've seen in a long time....

Hanna said...

Does anyone else feel it's weird that Derek takes part in the final shootout instead of getting the girl to safety, like somewhere stray bullets can't hit her.
It's not like they need the extra fire power.

Anonymous said...

Yeah the law enforcement in this show has their heads up their asses.

One thing you did get wrong, though. I'm no expert, but they cant just shoot the guy unless he actually is threatening the cops. Like if he turned his gun on the law enforcement or something.

Anonymous said...

If I remember the part you're talking about correctly, I checked to see what was happening when the girl left the store. Morgan actually snatches her out of the way of the killer's car when he crashes his way out of the store! I don't remember where he went to after that (is THAT the part youre talking about?)
but she's outta harm's way slightly.