Criminal Minds 709: Self-fulfilling Prophecy

This week's murderfest begins - as so many do - somewhere deep in the mostly-charted wilderness of America. The Commandant of a military school drives his ATG (all-terrain-Golf Cart) out to a camp where some teens were supposed to be roughing it, only to discover this-

No, I was not prepared for it either. I'll give Criminal Minds this - from time to time they can still surprise me with a singularly unpleasant opening kill!

Over at Quantico Greg is called in to talk with his boss Strauss (who's back - no mention of the absence that was supposed to take her off the field and shift Greg into upper management this year) about the deaths. It looks like a mass suicide, but Greg won't sign off on that analysis without actually visiting the campus. This could be tricky, since the school is in the running for a prestigious grant, and the director of the FBI (Richard Schiff! Not that he'll be in the episode or anything.) went there!

It seems one teen had hung himself some weeks prior, and the rest are thought to be part of a suicide pact whose motivation and details are as yet unexplained. They talk about how the kids probably waited until the heat was off from the last death, then killed themselves when they were unsupervised. Although bringing bedsheets on a camping trip to hang yourself with seems like a lot of work to go to - couldn't they have all just synchronized hanging themselves in their rooms? And what does the 'we're sorry' message that they left carved into a piece of wood mean? Mysteries abound this week!

Also, there were six teens out in the woods, but only five were hanged - everyone wonders what happened to the sixth teen, but the audience is let in on the secret: He's taken to the trees like John Rambo, stalking animals with a pointy stick!

On the plane we learn a few details about the school - it's incredibly low-tech, training soldiers for the wars of yesteryear, and clinging to tradition like rats fighting over a piece of cork floating in a rainbarrel. The current headmaster has been there essentially forever! Oh, and it's Rene Auberjonois, whose name I may have misspelled.

He informs them that Josh, the Rambo teen was in charge of the underclassmen, and took the suicide of one 13-year-old especially hard. Could he have murdered the other students, blaming them for the child's suicide? And why were people still sent out on a wilderness retreat just two weeks after a tragedy? Checking out the camp site they discover one tent has been taken down - obviously Josh's. It was notably set apart from the others - why did he feel like an outsider? His parents have a theory on that one. He was a misbehaving teen who was thrown into military school as punishment - could this resentment have boiled over into violence?

We get another detail of the suicide - one that suggests it was massively under-investigated. It seems the kid hanged himself in the bunkhouse, where's there's no privacy at all. Except, of course, for Josh's room, which is where the hanging took place. Look, guys, whether or not you tihnk Josh was involved in the death, the best case scenario is that he woke up in his private room to see one of his charge's lifeless corpses dangling from a rafter. Maybe the rest of the school can get back to normal, but is a kid who went through that the kind of guy you want to send out on a week-long unsupervised outward bound trip? That just seems like bad management.

Joe and Emily puzzle over the 'We're sorry' theoretical suicide note, and discuss how odd it is for mass suicides to leave one. I've got to ask - isn't mass co-ordinated suicide so incredibly rare that you can't really make any judgments about what is or isn't normal in it? Outside of religious cults this basically never happens, does it?

Rene shows Greg around the camp, letting him know what the first suicide kid was up to on the last day of his life. They also discuss Josh, who had tried to run away in his first year, and was never the most reliable student - he was only just beginning to come around. Which brings up an important question: if this guy was a bad student who didn't play well with others, why was he put in charge of a bunkhouse full of impressionable youths? Oddly, Greg never asks this question.

So, about the suicide kid - he worked in the laundry, and was late leaving the building for curfew. He was yelled at, and later hung himself. Rene doesn't see any connection between the two occurrences.  Greg poses what's supposed to be a 'gotcha' kind of question, which is tonight's Prentiss Award-Winning line.

Well, Greg, you're operating under the theory that they wanted to keep their plan to commit suicide a secret. How would leaving all their mattresses bare help that plan along? In your current theory of the tragedy (crime?) wouldn't they most likely have grabbed five sheets from the laundry on their way out? It's not like the precise number of sheets is being monitored, after all.

The team all meet in the library where Garcia has set up her computer uplink and go over the information we've just seen them gather. They agree that there's enough bizarre unanswered questions to warrant further investigation, and suggest that Josh could be a killer responsible for the five (or six) deaths! This theory is bolstered a little as we see Josh assembling a makeshift spike pit that very night. Which seems like a weird thing to do - after all, the only way to ensure someone would fall into it would be by personally luring them, and it's unlikely that person would be alone in a search like this, so wouldn't the relatively unarmed Josh just wind up immediately caught by his other pursuers? Ah, maybe he's not thinking straight from a lack of vitamin C.

They also mention that it's weird that the laundry is set so far away from the other buildings. Odd thing to bring up. Could the first suicide have actually been killed there, and the 'suicide' thing was a cover-up?

Greg and Derek confront Rene about the suspicions concerning Josh, and Rene - only with their prodding - finally becomes suspicious of the fact that Josh supposedly slept through a brutal, elaborate suicide in his small room. The rest of the team discuss victimology, hoping to find out who was killed when, and why. The 'We're sorry' was placed under one guy's tree, so they imagine he's the focus. Likewise, he's the only one with a 'hangman's fracture' which suggests he's the only one to have actually fallen from a tree. So the other ones were killed first and then hoisted up? Even before the autopsy, wouldn't signs of that have shown up on the rope, and their uniforms should obviously look like they've been dragged across the ground?

And how did he kill five equally strong young men while (relatively) unarmed? He only had a knife on him, and apparently none of them were cut. Weird.

Joe and Emily go to interview people who know Josh. The random guy they find explains that Josh had no friends, and that he never let the school 'break' or 'civilize' him. Again, why was this guy in charge of thirty underclassmen?

Greg and JJ harass Josh's parents further, trying to get them to admit that their son was fed up with the 13-year-olds in his charge, and would likely have murdered one of them. They won't bite, explaining that he was so good about the kids that he even packed up the suicide's belongings for his parents, who couldn't bear to see where their son had died. Seems like a real square G, unless, of course, that was his form of serial killer gloating.

Finally a useful clue comes up - the dead guy who was actually hanged was a major-league a-hole, and also the possessor of more 'leadership points' than anyone else on campus. Those are points that Rene gives out for exceptional acts of bullying. Wow, does this episode have a problem with military schools. I'm not saying I'm in favour of them or anything, but they're not even pretending that this is anything but a hugely psychologically corrosive environment. Not one positive thing has been said about the experience to date. Now they need an explanation for how Josh ended up on the suicide trip when he wasn't a big enough bully to earn a slot. Had he been sent along so that the other guys could haze him severely, A Few Good Men-style, only he turned the tables on them? At this point I'm ready to believe anything from that nefarious Rene!

Speaking of Rene, Derek gets him to call the suicide kid's dad, hoping that he can shed some light on Josh's state of mind before the trip. One problem-

Suicide Dad wound up in the spike pit. How the hell did that happen? It wasn't even covered by anything!

Okay, maybe it was - Joe and Emily discover Josh's pancho at the bottom, which presumably had some leaves on it or something. Still, that's an incredibly risky play. Oh, and the suicide dad had a bunch of torn sheets in his backpack, so he's probably the killer. Although that still doesn't explain how he was able to kill five strapping lads with so little fuss that none of them had a defensive wound on them. The new working theory? Josh is on the run from suicide dad! But how did suicide dad find him to wind up impaled? Could someone have tipped him off? If so, how would that person have known where Josh was?

Greg goes to confront Rene with their newest evidence, but the director chooses to film it from an angle that suggests they're less out in the middle of the woods, and more on a hill overlooking a sprawling urban area.

Rene is super-defensive about Greg's questions. When all the bunkhouse kids claim that Josh wasn't in his room on suicide night, he calls them liars. Which makes it plainly obvious he's covering something up. He also claims that he sent Josh on the trip because he 'needed the challenge'. So now it's looking like the suicide kid died in the laundry room, and Rene orchestrated a coverup to protect the lead a-hole and his school's reputation. Not that Greg can prove it just yet.

Reid and Garcia find some proof, though - it seems that despite Rene's protestations of ludditry there is a cell phone on the premises - one registered to Tawes, the Commandant from the beginning! The web of lies is beginning to unravel! Wait, can webs unravel? Now that I think about it they kind of just fall apart. Like a poorly-constructed alibi!

The coroner has some interesting evidence to offer: the dead boys all had long-term lung and neck scarring, as if they've been abused over a long period of time! If it was just suicide kid, then his dad could be the bad apple, but since it's all of them, it must be someone at the school!

Derek doesn't have that information when he confronts Rene about how preposterous it is that suicide dad could have found Josh in the woods without any help, so he just has to wing it - a process that is ankled when Strauss just starts yelling at Rene. Why? Because she's been drinking! Will Greg be getting that promotion after all? With his boss getting thrown out of interrogations for inappropriate behaviour, how long can she last? It seems that this is, in fact, the personal problem she had to deal with last year, and Derek isn't happy that Greg didn't let him in on it before partnering them up. Hey, if she's such a chronic drunk, why is her liquor of choice something that can easily be smelled on her breath?

When going over the injuries that the kids received, along with the torture methods available to them, the team comes to a logical conclusion - the young misbehaving kids are being punished by putting them in the dryer and setting it to spin! Okay, here's an important question - if the dead boy had massive scars on the inside of his throat (from inhaling super-hot air) and severe burns to his hands (from trying to brace himself against the inside of the drum) why on earth did the coroner ever call his death anything but incredibly suspicious? Was he in on the cover-up somehow - and if so, why didn't he alter his records to actually do some covering up?

So now they've got everything they need to come to a conclusion - Josh would have told other people about Rene's love of torturing kids after the suicide, so Rene told suicide dad that Josh drove the kid to suicide, and had his subordinate send suicide dad co-ordinates to where the camp site was, in hopes that he would murder Josh, tying up a loose end. Then suicide dad went hog-wild, and missed his actual target. Then kept missing him for like six more days of hiding in the woods. Although it's not entirely clear why Josh kept hiding in the woods - if he's innocent, as the team thinks, why not make his way into some town and call the authorities about the mad killer in the woods?

Anyhoo, the team needs to track Josh down to keep Rene's man from killing him. Since suicide dad didn't have any car keys on him they assume Josh stole them, and go out looking for where the truck might be parked. Meanwhile Josh and Rene's man have found the pickup at exactly the same time, which  leads to a brutal fight that's interrupted when Greg gets there and shoots the thug. Non-fatally, though, so he'll be able to testify against Rene.

Derek arrests Rene, and lets us know that everything will likely be fine with Josh-

Because everyone knows that building tiger traps is a totally acceptable form of self-defense when you're being chased by a grief-stricken madman.


Other than the FBI plot wrapup, wherein Greg and Derek confront Strauss about her drinking, and force her to get some help.

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

Not that I noticed. While they were trying to suss out the dynamics of copycat suicides physical evidence let them know that it was actually murder. Then Josh killed the killer, which gave them more physical evidence linking suicide dad to Rene's thug. Lots of regular policing this week.

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

It was, actually.

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

1/10 - In addition to an utter lack of profiling, this week's writing was sloppy even by Criminal Minds standards. Let's consider some of the huge plot holes, shall we?
- How did suicide dad, with no accomplices or weapons to speak of, keep control of five strong teens long enough that he was able to snap their necks one at a time?
- Why did Josh hang out in the woods for a week rather than going to the authorities?
- Why didn't the coroner think that fresh signs of torture on suicide kid was worth singling out as important?
- How did Josh get suicide dad to fall into that tiger pit?
- Why did suicide dad pursue Josh at all? Here's the thing - Rene tried to get suicide dad to kill Josh, blaming the lad for all suicide kid's problems. But why did suicide dad believe him? The fact that he singled out the worst of his son's tormentors for the most brutal punishment shows that - as the team suspects - suicide dad must have read his son's diary, identifying his worst tormentors. The diary also would have discussed the fact that Rene encouraged the torture, and that Josh wasn't mentioned in it at all. So why would suicide dad trust Rene and blame Josh?
- How did Josh miss that kid hanging himself? The other kids said he was out all night, but that was never explained.
- Why did Josh agree to go on the outward bound trip at all? The relationship between him and the bullies had gotten so bad that he was now engaging in full-on fistfights with their leader - who Rene was especially fond of. Then Rene sends him out with a bunch of guys who would presumably be looking to gang up on him - while Josh is the only person willing to testify that they drove a boy to suicide? Why would he be down for any part of that trip? Isn't it time to involve the authorities instead?
- Why was the team so concerned about the fact that the laundry was away from the other buildings? They kept acting like that was a major clue, but isn't its location incidental? It's not like the hazing was a secret - everyone knew it was going on, and everyone went through it. There's no reason to be secretive about where it's occurring.

This whole episode suffered from the writers' endless attempts to gild the lily, with each one creating huge story problems. Five dead kids in the woods where one would have sufficed. A super-clever method of hazing that couldn't have been overlooked by the authorities. Setting up red herring hints for Josh that never get explained. Just a weak effort all around this week, guys.

Conversely, someone from the Criminal Minds family put in a profoundly not-weak performance recently, and deserves a shout-out!

As the first review posted after the release of the Dark Knight Rises, I just want to say congratulations to Josh Stewart, who did a great job as Bane's unnamed mercenary friend! I'm most familiar with him as Criminal Minds' Jr., but his sunken eyes really give him a great villainous countenance. I look forward to seeing him in more movies in the future based on the career bump he'll no doubt get from standing next to Tom Hardy for all those weeks!


GG said...

I think this episode was filmed in the Presidio of San Francisco. We see the city in the scene you are talking about. There is a fast moving fog when Derek enter the office, exactly like the fog we have here in SF, near the Golden Gate bridge. Also, the light is very similar than light we have in California. And last, we see a lot of Eucalyptus trees in the woods around the barracks.

Anonymous said...

His name is Aaron not greg