Criminal Minds 704: Painless

This week's adventure into questionable crime-solving techniques opens in the aftermath of a school massacre, in which a deranged student shot a bunch of people and then detonated a bomb contained in his backpack. There's some artistic shots of the dead students' faces and the empty school, all apparently from the POV of one middle-aged man, who walks out of the building one night, ten years after the incident.

The man returns home and finds a bomb waiting for him in his bedroom! If that weren't bad enough, the killer also shoots him in the leg before he can escape the poorly-timed explosive!  The gunman demands to be looked in the eye before walking way, leaving the principal to be blown up on the floor of his bedroom! Although, who knows? He may have survived - the bomb was small enough that it could be stuffed into a clock-radio, so it was tiny by bomb standards. Let's keep out fingers crossed, huh?

Then next day Greg is at an elementary school having a parent/teacher conference, where he discovers that his son is being bullied by an a-hole. Will this tie in with the new spate of school shootings? One can only hope!

The team gets started working on the principal's death by offering a little backstory: Joe claims that he and Greg were at the school shooting, and had to drag the principal to safety - that's how dedicated the victim was! Which is some nice colour, but it raises an important question: how were you two at the school shooting? The guy shot up his school at lunchtime and then blew himself up - that can't have taken long enough for you to get on a plane, can it? Did you just happen to be in Boise? I mean, the whole Columbine thing was over in less than two hours.

Then something weird happens - this isn't Prentiss award territory, but rather an entirely new category. I wish I had an award to give for 'most inappropriate line reading'. Behold:

Seriously, JJ, why are you so happy about this?

Since the principal was killed by a bomb which supposedly matched the design of the original, the team fairly assumes that the killer is looking to relive the tragedy on its ten-year anniversary! And this is the perfect time to do it, since the school is about to have a four-day remembrance ceremony, which will be a perfect time for this killer to strike!

Except that there's no way that the ceremony is going forwards. The principal of a school blown up to commemorate the anniversary of a mass murder? Yeah, that school's doors are going to be chain-locked until the killer is rotting away in a maximum-security prison.

Although maybe the cops won't have to bother, since this killer doesn't seem to be particularly careful when it comes to bomb-assembly.

In case the picture isn't clear enough, that's the killer using a block of high-explosives as a steady surface for him to do some soldering on top of. I hope this kid enjoyed having all of his cells touching one another, since apparently that's not going to be happening for much longer.

On the plane the team goes over the facts of the original case - no one ever figured out how the original killer got ahold of industrial explosive 'Sem-Tex', which made them suspect that a partner that they never found may have been involved. Seriously? You went home without discovering where the guy got his explosives? That seems like a stretch. The bigger point of concern is that the new killer didn't attack the memorial with bombs, but rather tipped his hand a day early. This suggests a bigger endgame - but what?

A visit to the local police chief's office yields two important points. 1: The younger brother of the original killer now goes to the same high school. This seems incredibly contrived, but the show tries to explain it away by stating that the family were such pariahs after the massacre that they couldn't move anywhere else. The writers of the episode don't seem to understand that there are different levels of being pariahs - and going to high school literally anywhere else on earth would be better than sticking around Boise. Also you can just change your last name. B: While school has been closed, the planned candlelight vigil is going ahead. The cop tries to explain that people said they were going to go through with it no matter what, but that seems like a stretch - couldn't you ask them to defer it until the murder of that local hero is solved?

Greg and Emily head to the brother's house, and talk their way past his reticent mother. She's understandably shell-shocked by the horde of reporters camped out on her lawn. Derek pawns off all press enquiries to Reid, while Joe heads in to talk to the brother. He suggests that the constant bullying the kid suffered (for, you know, being the brother of the WORST MASS MURDERER IN BOISE HISTORY) might have driven him to blame the principal who failed to stop it. I'd be more likely to blame the mother who forced me to go to the same school where my brother had coldly executed a dozen people, but hey, that's just me.

At the same time Greg takes a moment to interview the mother about the disappearing dad. Unless mom or dad winds up being the killer, this doesn't seem like the best use of the show's time. Joe, on the other hand, manages to goad the brother into revealing that he knew that the original killer had wanted the principal dead, and therefore this new killer must be trying to complete unfinished business. Joe pushes him farther - the FBI was never able to figure out why the original killer targeted the people he did - does the brother have access to some kind of a kill list? The brother, understandably, decides to answer no further questions without first consulting a lawyer.

This seems a little odd to me - the show previously established that the original killer posted all of his plans for murder online before the rampage - how could there have been no suggestion of a motive anywhere in his plans? They specifically refer to him as a psychopathic narcissist who gleefully claimed all the credit for his actions - how could someone that self-obsessed have not left a message about why he did it?

News of a 'kill list' shocks the mother's conscience, and she allows them to tear apart the house looking for it, much to her son's protestations.

Meanwhile, we're fifteen minutes in, so it's time for someone else to die!

We've never seen this  woman before, but she's packing up her motel room for some reason!   When a creepily intense guy arrives at her door, we discover the cause - she was one of the survivors of the first massacre, and she wants to skip town before she winds up dead! The intense guy isn't having any of it - as a survivor, people need to hear her story! She resolutely defends her common sense cowardice, and tosses him out of the room. It's too late, however, since just seconds after he leaves there's another knock on the door - she opens it, assuming it's the intense guy (and really, given the short timespan, who else could it be? He claims to have just gotten into town on a flight, but there's no confirmation on that yet.) - and is punched out by the killer before she can make a sound. Well, at least this proves conclusively it's not the brother. Not that we needed that proved.

I'm not saying she had this coming, but if she was so freaked out, why did she wait until nighttime to leave town? She must have heard about the explosion just moments after waking up - that's twelve good fleeing hours she missed out on!

Emily and Derek search the brother's room, and come up with a note from the original killer. It's a list of all the people he wanted dead! And the dead woman from the hotel room was on it!

It's profile time! Greg and co are now sure they're looking for the unknown partner, and it's simply a matter of discovering who the freakiest kid in high school was. When the sheriff protests that they talked to all the outcasts a decade ago, the team responds that they're looking for an outcast that even other outcasts wouldn't associate with - someone that no one would even remember going to school with! Yeah, the other students might not notice him, but there's no way the teachers wouldn't have been away of that kind of outcast/loser, and his name should have come up the first time around.

The team hopes that talking with the survivors from the lunchroom massacre might remember something that the killer said or did that could lead to the partner, so Emily gathers everyone on the kill list in one location still within the city limits to do a cognitive interview. That's right, she has them all come to the high school, rather than literally any other location out of the range of the killer. God, they'd better not get anyone killed this week by not protecting them adequately.

Before we continue, though, I've got to ask - we're now sixteen minutes (and two days) past a bomb going off - no one is looking at who had access to Sem-Tex? Given how tightly the ATF controls that sort of thing, and what a huge stack of explosives the killer has amassed, you'd think it would be a pretty viable lead.

One of the women says nuts to the whole thing and storms off, pointedly mentioning that 'Jerry' both wasn't on the kill list, and was the guy that the original killer had lock the doors to make sure that no one could escape the cafeteria. I don't know... maybe look into that guy? Just a guess?

Garcia's attempting to work her magic on the kill list. It seems there were two columns - one full of popular kids, from the original killer's social circle, and another full of losers and burnout, which is presumably the group of people that the partner wanted dead. So Garcia checks the list of the most troublemaking kids in school, narrows it down to people who came back to town for the memorial, and then subtracts all the names from the kill list, assuming that he wouldn't put his own name on it! The only name left? Creepily intense guy!

Um... why are you assuming he wouldn't put his own name on the kill list? I mean, it seems like he didn't, since the show is implying that Jerry might be the killer, but since the first plan was to have the original killer take all the credit and do all the killings himself, why not put the partner's name on the kill list to absolve himself of all possible theories of involvement? Sure, one could argue that the killer never intended anyone to find the list, but that theory doesn't really hold water. Since it turned up stuffed into a child's digest belonging to his brother, the original killer would have no expectation that the cops wouldn't find it, or that he brother wouldn't tell people about it if he found it first.

Anyway, on to the persecution of an innocent man! The cops catch up with intense guy at the hotel bar as he's drowning his sorrows. Before we get  any more of the story, the show cuts to Jerry talking about the massacre, complete with overexposed flashback footage! In a weird, hyper-specific detail, Jerry mentions that the original killer was talking to his mother on the phone, which seems like it would have been hard to hear, given the circumstances. There's also something weird about the story - why did the original killer detonate his bomb after only shooting three people? Then Jerry mentions that the detonator was in the original killer's hand when the bomb went off, but Emily corrects him - the phone Jerry described was the one he talked to his mother on - the bomb was detonated with a different phone! Jerry corrects himself, but we're left with questions - did the partner detonate the bomb earlier than the plan, surprising the original killer? Was that Jerry's (or the real partner's) secret scheme?

Intense guy is being interviewed by Derek and Greg, and he admits that he was in on the original kill-list making! Also, that he provided the Sem-Tex for the original bomb from his dad's construction site!

Okay, hold on there a second - one of the kids at the high school had access to the kind of explosives which were used, and explosives went missing from that site right before the massacre - and you still couldn't catch the partner a decade ago? Were you even trying?

Intense guy claims he's spent the past decade feeling guilty for his part in things, and that he'd recently gotten sober! Yup, he was only ABOUT to drown his sorrows when Derek arrived and saved his sobriety! He claims that he was going to admit to everything at the vigil, and was willing to go to jail!

The team believes his story, and Emily mentions that Jerry was obviously lying in his statement about the phones. But why - and if no one else had access to the kill list, could these people's deaths just be coincidental? It seems like we'll find out soon enough, when the killer (who we haven't really seen before) shows up to brutally beat Jerry in the high school for nebulous reasons.

Okay, now things get a little weird. Emily announces that the killer had to be in the survivor group, since no one else knew about the trip to the school. The possibility that the killer was lying in wait is brought up - but no one brings up the fact that Emily left a potential target of the killer's rage alone in the location that serves as the focus of the killer's anger.

Great work, Emily.

Then Reid wins this week's Prentiss Award, announcing the basis for his conclusion that the killer must have a rare genetic disorder that leaves him incapable of feeling pain! What is this based on? They didn't see anyone with a cast after brutally beating a woman to death, and he seems to have broken a glass with his bare hands during the attack on Jerry. According to Reid-

Or, you know, he was on drugs. Or so amped up on hate that adrenalin left him incapable of feeling anything until the murder was over. But no, the super-rare medical disorder is by far the likeliest choice.

The team then tries to figure out who might be next on the list, so they look for connections between the two teen victims. It seems that their yearbook lists them both as members of the 'top ten', the group of survivors who went on talk shows and travelled to other schools to discuss the massacre. They figure the killer must be another survivor who's motivated by jealousy that he didn't make the cut! Also, he would have blamed the principal for not choosing him, as if that's how the press works.

Wait, if the only part of the story Jerry was lying about was who stared down the killer, that means that the guy literally walked into the lunch room, shot a couple of people, then blew himself up a few minutes later - the entire 'school massacre' was over in like five minutes.

How did Greg and Joe get there again?

Meanwhile the killer has approached another member of the top ten, but only to ferret out where she and her other survivor friends are meeting. Amazingly she's completely alone in a parking garage during this encounter, as the police are wholly unconcerned with looking out for the most likely targets of the killer's rage.

Garcia then finds the name of a loser-y survivor with a head injury, and discover via credit card records that he's tailed the top-ten to their hangout! This revelation doesn't come fast enough to save the innocent bystanders killed when the murderer blows up a bomb outside the restaurant's front door.

The murderer shows up and menaces the top ten with his gun, demanding that people tell the truth about him, whatever that means. The team heads in to talk to him, because Emily has figured out why Jerry had the details of the story wrong - it was actually the murderer who managed to stare the killer down, and Jerry had merely taken credit for it, robbing him of his recognition!

So why kill all those other people? It's not like they remembered who did what.

Offered the chance to take credit for his feat, the murderer releases his hostages and then runs to the boiler room so that he can get someone to kill him, since he doesn't have the guts to kill himself. Greg does everyone a favour and guns him down!


Then, on the way back, Emily chats with Greg about his son's bullying situation. I'm unconcerned, but it's always nice when Greg gets character moments.

Then we check out the vigil, where there are seriously just a dozen people - and the brother is declasse enough to mention the original killer's name when everyone else is being sad about the victims. Christ, what a dick. No wonder people beat him up all the time.

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

Is paying attention to internal story consistency profiling? No? Then it didn't help. While it's true that they identified him based on a series of eliminations, it didn't happen until after he'd killed a bunch of people and set off a bomb in an eatery - so they would have been at the scene whether they'd done any work or not. Also, Garcia finds out about the eatery because the murderer supposedly used his credit card there - but then we see him set off a bomb outside. Did he go in, buy a drink, pay for it, leave, and then detonate bomb? Why? Oh, so the team could be depicted as figuring out where he was before the blast, no matter how nonsensical that seems. God, this show.

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

Well, people called the cops because of the bomb, so yes. Also, where did he get all that Sem-Tex? Why was no one looking into that? What happened to the cops who were supposed to be following the top ten? Why didn't that woman he accosted connect the super-creepy guy who bothered her in the parking garage with the guy who was killing all her friends?

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

2/10 - They figured out who the killer was just as he was revealing himself, so all of their work was for naught. I'm still awarding them a point for putting in the effort, though.

Is it weird that this is two episodes in a row where the killer was motivated partially by a head injury that gave them a super-rare mental disorder?

More importantly, the whole premise of this episode doesn't hold water, as we'll cover in-


We're expected to believe that this guy was motivated to murder based entirely on the fact that his story was stolen and no one gave him any attention as a Columbine hero. But that makes no sense.

There's a slight factual basis for this - although no one in the true story was driven to murder. There was a story from the Columbine massacre in which one of the killers asked a praying victim if she believed in god - she says yes, and then he shoots her. Here's the thing, though - apparently that didn't happen. According to a number of reliable sources - including the woman herself, the killer found her praying and asked her if she believed in god. She said yes, they talked about it for a moment, then he wandered off to kill some other people.

Yes, her story was stolen and extensively marketed, but it all seems to have worked out in the end. I know it had to be heightened for fiction, but one bizarre decision by the producers to try and punch up the episode's drama utterly ruined all plausibility this story could have had. Had his life story just been stolen, that would have been one thing (although Jerry really should have been his main target), but in gilding the lily, the show invalidates its premise.

Let's say you're a producer/journalist/talent booker and you want to talk to one of the Columbine kids - you find out that in addition to surviving a bomb blast and shooting rampage, one of the victims is now unable to feel any pain because of his ordeal. How on earth is that not the guy you want to get in front of the camera! Ongoing tragedy is what sells tickets - this week's murderer would have not only been the most important survivor, he'd have been the ONLY one anyone was interested in hearing from, whether he got to tell his own life story or not!

Ah, Criminal Minds - even when you try to be clever you go too far by half, don't you?


Anonymous said...

God, this episode had so much wrong with it! Why is that teacher so unprofessional she doesn't try to find out the root cause of that child's bullying, and is happy to blame it entirely on one child, despite admitting she doesn't know what it's about? Because Hotch deliberately intimidates her by refusing to act like a normal human being?

Why doesn't JJ know the word 'alumnus'?

Why does Prentiss ask leading questions, then act surprised when people give unreliable answers?

The same point you picked up on re. Reid's crazy pain theory.

Is acting like a childish brat supposed to be a symptom of schizophrenia?

Why is Morgan disrupting a murder investigation by playing practical jokes?

Why did they assume the younger brother found the list 10 years ago? He could have inherited his brother's old books and found the list last week. Why was it hidden in a children's book?

And on a side note, why have Hotch and Morgan got so skinny? It's really aged Hotch. Has he been ill?

Anonymous said...

There's one thing you got wrong in your review : the medical condition Reid talks about is a genetic condition; as such, he was born with it. The massacre did not factor in his illness.

There's something that always bothered me with that episode, though, and it's the fact that the team says the Unsub never developped his sense of empathy because he can't feel pain. Um, what the hell ?

While I can believe that not being able to feel physical ain means that the Unsub has little to no response to other people's physical pain, there's more to empathy than that. This guy is not a sociopath, and if he were it would not be because of his illness, for f***'s sake ! Check your facts, Criminal Minds, because I'm growing tired of mental illnesses being handwaved as legitimate causes for becoming a serial killer (flash news : most schizophrenics are peaceful people, not violent monsters) or a victim no one will miss.

The show operates on the assumption we are surrounded by monsters yet does not have the guts to show an ordinary monster, with no "tragic" backstory or mental illness that's only there to justify his crimes.

Seriously, I'd love to see an episode about someone working on an execution team becoming a serial killer simply because he developped a taste for blood. And not because he was abused or molested or mentally deficient.