Criminal Minds 714: Closing Time

In King's Beach California some graduating high school students are partying on the beach to celebrate the end of classes. A couple wanders off to be alone, and has the bad luck of heading towards the lifeguard shack from which a shadowy figure had been observing the proceedings. As they make out underneath the shack the couple notices blood dripping down through the floorboards. The man of the couple heads in to check out the source alone - because it's not like there's twenty teens armed with cell phones fifty feet away - and discovers a corpse with a mutilated groin, and what might be another two wrapped in plastic. It's kind of hard to tell.

In Virginia Greg has running with that athletic woman, and finally gets around to asking her out on a date! Good for him! Joe is encouraging, and promises to wrap their case up in time to get him back for his date, even if that means framing an innocent person for the crime! Okay, I made that last part up - but how else can you explain a 100% clearance rate and an average solve time of 30 hours after wheels down? Sounds like railroading to me!

Garcia lays out the details of the case - three dead guys, all shot in the head, genitals removed. And, as we learn in a cutaway, the killer's already murdered number 4! They talk a little about the possibility that the guy is recently out of prison, and that the lifeguard tower wasn't due to open for a month, which may well be important. I think the shack deserves a little more attention - you've got a presumably lone guy going to the trouble of lugging ~200 pound corpses into a small building with absolutely no cover around it. And it's an LA-adjacent beach, meaning that there's no time of day when you can be sure that no one's going to be wandering by. All of this conspires to make a lifeguard shack essentially the worst possible place to hide bodies, meaning they must hold some special significance to the killer. Or, you know, bad writing.

Also, and I know I say this all the time, but couldn't they be doing this on the plane? It's not like they're debating whether or not to go on the trip. Are they just shooting in the conference room so that they can justify the cost of the set?


The Hundred-Nineteenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

Can you solve this brain-teaser? If not, you can find the answer in the comments. If I remember what it was when this thing finally goes live. Apparently you cannot pre-post comments.


Criminal Minds 713: Snake Eyes

The episode opens with footage of a flurry of activity inside a casino! Will there be a murder inside one of the most-surveilled places on Earth? That would certainly be an easy one to solve, wouldn't it? So probably not. Maybe I spoke too soon - we cut to an office were a blurry man who may or may not be Dean Cain-

Beats a man to death with an award! Then he walks out onto the casino floor, using his jacket to obscure the bloodstains that cover his shirt. Irony rears its ugly head when maybe-Dean tries to hide from security guard attention by playing a slot machine, only to wind up winning! Although it's a strangely small amount. Check it-

He scored three 'Triple Stars', and according to the machine-

That combination gives a 10000-1 payoff. Wouldn't a quarter bet mean a $2500 payoff, rather than just five hundred?

We don't see how possibleDean deals with the attention, because the show immediately cuts to Penelope, who's woken by the sound of her bedazzled phone ringing off the hook. Excellent work, prop people. It's JJ on the phone, calling Penelope in on a Sunday - meanwhile, Xander is showering in the next room. Garcia explains that she's super hung over since she drank an entire bottle of wine after a fight with Xander the night before, and doesn't remember the rest of the night. Things then take a turn for the 'Penelope is a horrible person' when Xander shows up at the door, bearing flowers he bought in hopes of apologizing for the fight they had.

Garcia slams the door on his face in hopes of keeping him from seeing the shower occupant, who turns out to be Derek! This means that Penelope isn't awful after all, she's just going through another one of those wacky Three's Company-style misunderstandings that this show so rarely does. When will these crazy kids stop with all the hilarious shenanigans and just tie the knot? I'm asking only because that would theoretically give Xander more to do on the show, since he was already robbed of a spin-off. But I promised I wouldn't mention Suspect Behaviour until the end of the season, so let's move on.

The team runs down the case - a mob-connected floor manager was beaten to death in his office, and an 8 of Hearts along with 8 one-dollar bills were left around his body. The team has been called in because of the mob connection. No one mentions the fact that there's doubtless video footage of every second the killer spent in the casino, including entering and leaving the victim's office. There's plenty of time for a super-early Prentiss Award-winning line, though!

That's the opposite of true. Collateral damage is basically the worst thing that can happen to the mob, because it attracts police attention. You'd think Joe Mantegna, of all actors, would know this. Couldn't he have passed that terrible line off to someone else? Why was the line in the episode at all? Are the producers afraid that if only mobsters are in danger there will be no stakes? Wait, why am I asking that? The show already massively adjusts reality so that hookers are almost never the victims for that exact reason.

Then we cut to Dean Cain - turns out it was him, after all, calling his wife to announce that he's parlayed that five hundred dollars from the slot machine into an epic gambling run! He's leaving a message on her phone, though, so it's possible that she's dead, and that was the 'stressor' that led to the floor boss getting killed. Things then get weird when Dean - who's planning to leave the casino with his 30K - is taunted by his reflection in a bathroom mirror-

His worse nature convincing him to keep gambling? Looks like it! Also, did you notice the mistake in the picture? If not, the answer will be at the end of the review!

You know, this might be the most screenshots and video I've ever had before the opening credits of an episode. Also, is this scene set earlier? Because it's not clear if he's been gambling this whole time, and this is supposed to be happening on Sunday morning - if it is, he's going to have a hard time leaving the casino, since the cops have doubtless locked the place down, just in case the killer is still inside the building.

I guess we'll find out after the opening credits!


The Hundred-Eighteenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

How much did our comic book characters hate Nazis? They were willing to team up with full-on racist cannibal caricatures in order to deal with them!


Coming Soon - A New Novel from Count Vardulon!

That's right, there's a new novel on the way from me, the guy who writes extensively about Criminal Minds. I've taken a break from that to put together a delicious eBook, though, and in the coming weeks you can watch this space for more information about the book's release!

For now I've got two things to offer you - the cover art:

And the title - which until this moment has been a closely guarded secret:

"King of the Ching Chong Chinamen*"
(*A literary response to Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian')

That's right, it's a satirical fantasy western! What's not to love about that? Other than the hugely offensive title, of course.

Anyhoo, stay tuned for more news about this upcoming literary event, including how to get your own copy, and be sure to click the Cow whenever you want to find out what's going on with the book!


Wow, was the film ATM stupid.

Here, broken down into categories, are things that are wrong with the film ATM.

Reality problems:

No one parks that far from an ATM. Especially at 1AM.
If it's cold enough that their lives are in danger, why can I see no one's breath?
If it's so cold, why aren't your hands in your pockets all of the time?
Why is the water so terrifying? By virtue of it not being ice it must logically be warmer than the air you've been complaining about all night. Yes, water can suck the heat right out of you, but it's less scary than -15 degree weather.
And if it's less cold than that outside, what are you complaining about?

Stupid things people do:
You saw the killer get into your car and sabotage it - how do you think you're going to be able to drive away? Just grab the purse and get out of there.
Okay, so you made your friend walk a hundred feet to the ATM just to be a dick - when you also have to go to the ATM, why aren't you driving up to it, rather than also walking 100 feet?
What woman leaves her purse in an unlocked car at 1AM? I don't care how empty the parking lot is.
How did that janitor make it past all the dead bodies and wrecked cars without becoming alarmed?
If he was alarmed, why did he lunge into the ATM kiosk without saying anything or yelling? Why didn't he say or yell anything while he was being held on the ground?
Why wasn't someone always watching for the killer? Isn't knowing where he is priority 1?
When the security guard sees a car with broken windows and people waving from inside an ATM, why does he not radio it in? Isn't the broken window alone worth a police report?
How did he miss the body lying in that pool of light?
After becoming alarmed, why does the security guard get out of his car rather than driving up to the ATM? Is this parking lot mined or something?
Why didn't the characters run out to the security guard? He has a working car, at least a club, and possibly a taser. Wouldn't running to him, waving your arms the second you see him, be your only sane choice?
The ceiling of that kiosk is not so high that you can't simply hold the burning trash can over your head. Why are you messing around with this 'climbing on shoulders' nonsense?

Here are things that had to happen for his plan to work (and why they couldn't have):
More than one person had to stop at an out-of-the-way ATM in the middle of the night - had just one person stopped, the plan falls apart. (Already a stretch.)
All of the people in the car have to go into the ATM kiosk. (This doesn't happen - people wait in the car with the motor running while someone runs in.)
Despite it being winter and freezing, none of the victims can be dressed for the weather. (Which... how?)
None of his victims can have a cell phone. Or a lighter. (As if.)
His victims have to be unwilling to physically assault him, despite the fact that he's alone and unarmed to begin with. (Why don't they do this?)
His victims have to be unwilling to simply run away since, as is established time and again, he's alone, and could only chase one of them - catching that person is not guaranteed. (Yes, one of them would have hit the tripwire, but the rest would have escaped.)
He must have laid the tripwire after the victims arrived, an activity that would have taken some time and been plainly obvious, since it necessitated standing directly under street lamps to wrap the wire around their bases. (So why didn't they see him do it?)
It has to be believable that one of the victims could have spent a half hour breaking into the back of the kiosk. (But the characters were on the ATM camera for all four hours, other than a couple of 90-second gaps when only one of them ran outside, and a thirty-second gap when one ran out to rescue another injured victim.)
For the end of the plan to work, he had to crash a car into an ATM kiosk and somehow be sure that the remaining victim inside wouldn't be hurt. (Which he absolutely couldn't be sure of.)
The police have to be immediately certain that the sole survivor they find in the kiosk is the killer, and be completely unwilling to listen to his story about the real killer, who's just a few feet away. (The cops have no evidence of his guilt, and no reason to jump to that conclusion.)

Criminal Minds 712: Unknown Subject

In Texas a woman returns home and shuts off her security system. So she cares about her safety - thought not enough to have a large dog and one of those guns that telescopes out from under your sleeve, Red Heat-style. This being Criminal Minds, those are oversights she's going to be paying for in the near future.

After she's put down her belongings and downed a glass of wine, the woman notices her vision begin to blur - she's been drugged! As maybe the smartest person to ever appear on this show, she takes immediate action: fill a glass with salt water and swallow it all, immediately inducing vomiting! It was a clever play, but apparently the drug had already taken effect, and the woman is helpless to do anything but lie on the floor and scream while a masked figure-

Enters the house, cranks some tunes, and then looms over her menacingly.

I've got to say, though - that can't be a very good security system if having a glass door shattered didn't set it off. What would be the point of even having one if someone can just put a brick through your door and steal all of your possessions? Who knows, maybe the killer is some kind of expert in disarming the things? I'm just confused about why, if he already defeated the alarm system to poison the wine, he then went back outside. Odd duck, this one.

Over in Virginia, Emily is visiting her therapist. It seems she's been having nightmares and chewing her nails since she got back on the job, and they've been working together to sort out her problems. The  therapist feels some of the residual stress might come from the fact that Emily never mourned the life she lost by faking her death. Which is a possibility, but why is she only mentioning it now, during Emily's last session? What have they been talking about for the past six months?

Garcia lays out the case - a serial rapist (not killer - yet) in Houston that they consulted on six months ago has upped his game, and they're needed on the ground to work the case. So remember, everyone, the BSU's 'profiles' don't help you catch anyone, they're only helpful actually in-town, talking to suspects.

How has the threat increased? The rapist - who scars women by binding their wrists with piano wire while keeping them so drugged they don't remember him or their attack - has begun attacking his early victims a second time! Oh, so that's how she knew to induce vomiting. It doesn't explain the lack of a large dog or wrist-gun, though. Pretty sure the Texas authorities would be cool with a rape victim having a concealed weapon. The compromised security system goes unmentioned, which is odd, since that seems like a good lead.


The Next Day: ATM Edition

For the entire length of the film ATM, the killer remains maddeningly outside of the ATM kiosk where he has trapped three yuppies on a supposedly-cold Christmas night. For most of the film this is a puzzling decision, as it seems to be born of his desire to avoid being caught on a security camera. Which is normally an understandable thing for criminals to avoid, but in this case it doesn't make the most sense, as the killer's wearing both a hooded parka and a ski mask, ensuring that his identity is well-secured.

Finally the meaning behind his baffling decision is revealed when the film asks us to believe that the killer could have successfully framed one of his surviving victims for all of his crimes. Which include three murders, a negligent homicide (at least), and extensive acts of vandalism. The film implies that the killer will get away with this solely because he never actually appears on the ATM's security camera footage.

So, what would happen the next day?

Examining the footage and listening to the survivor's story, the police would conclude that yes, they're obviously looking at video of three people who are besieged by a maniac who trapped them with a car and then tried to cause them to freeze to death by flooding the kiosk with water from a nearby firehose. There's nothing in the tapes that supports any other interpretation of the evidence, especially because the three victims are constantly looking and yelling out the windows, desperately trying to figure out what's happening to them. Not to mention the fact that none of the implements used in the film's murders have fingerprints on them, since the killer - unlike any of the three main victims - was wearing gloves.

Which would a cop more likely believe - that an unknown madman killed a bunch of people at an ATM, or that some random banker hung out in an ATM kiosk for three hours with his co-workers for no reason, then tried to flood the place before driving two separate cars into it?

Yes, the survivor would be on the hook for that janitor that the two of them killed, but given the situation (a man dressed like a murderer barged into an ATM kiosk without warning, then said nothing in his defense while being attacked in response) the most he could realistically be charged with is involuntary manslaughter, and he likely wouldn't serve any time (assuming no prior convictions).


The Hundred-Seventeenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

Getting defeated by a Nazi? Bad - Getting defeated by a female Nazi? The kind of humiliation that makes you reconsider the life choices that brought you into the field of freedom-fighting.


Criminal Minds 711: True Genius

In the San Francisco of the past, two adults are making out in a car on a ridge overlooking the Golden Gate bridge. Well, it's the past, or these are some very dedicated cosplayers, since the car is late-50s/early-60s-era and the woman is dressed to suggest the summer of love.
Is that the Zodiac killer they hear pulling up in a pickup truck behind them? Nope - red herring. The actual killer is huddled behind a bush nearby!

Okay, I was being facetious about the actual Zodiac killer showing up, but that's apparently what's happening this week! Is the team going to catch the Zodiac killer? How will that work when they've already caught their universe's Zodiac killer, the Reaper?

Also, by doing an episode about the Zodiac killer returning in the modern day, you're going to risk comparisons to 'The Mikado', probably the finest hour of television ever produced about a cop hunting a serial killer. Criminal Minds already tried to top it once, and it did not go well.

But hey, maybe second time's the charm?

Oh, and as the killer grabs some blood to paint a symbol on the car's windscreen, the radio announcer reveals that these were just committed cosplayers, since they're listening to an 'oldies' station. So is the Zodiac killer back, or is this another copycat episode?

Then we cut over to a seminar, where famous real-life author Patricia Cornwell passes the microphone over to Reid, one of the real-life 'heroes' who actually solves the kind of crime she writes about. (I had to go to Google to confirm that this was a real person - I suspected it because there's no reason to write a character/pay an actor just to introduce Reid from a podium.) Reid, Emily, and a third guy I don't recognize (the killer?!?!) are there to talk about the details of violent crime! Reid is - naturally - a terrible public speaker, and tries to start off with a joke that doesn't go at all well. He's humiliated, and leaves the auditorium in shame when he realizes that he'll never be able to talk to people easily the way Emily does, or have a large number of people adore him, the way Patricia Cornwell does. She's on the show plugging her book 'Red Mist', apparently.

As he leaves he's stopped by a student who loved his speech. Reid offers to get the student into an internship program, but the guy defers - in addition to being a student he's got a company that a pharma giant has invested a hundred million dollars into! Perhaps this young man is a genius who's turned his gifts to evil (profit, serial killing) rather than good! Although I sincerely hope he's not the killer, since that would mean the show was just going back to the Chekov/Jason Alexander well. I've had enough of killers coming up to them after seminars.

In Quantico the team gets briefed about the new Zodiac killings - they don't think it's a copycat since he left two souvenirs at the crime scene: a photo of a dead woman who may have been one of the Zodiac's victims (taken at the crime scene before the police arrived, apparently), and a piece of shirt that superficially matches the one the Zodiac killer mailed to the police after killing that cab driver! I'm with the team on this one - that's difficult stuff to fake. No wonder they're on their way to SF immediately!

The next scene reveals that it can't be the real guy, however, since this killer - in addition to keeping an elaborate Zodiac notebook, seems to have been motivated to go on a rampage by the recent engagement (or breaking of same) of one Marisa Devon to Harvey Morell. This could be a rough week for those kids - unless Harvey's the killer, of course.


The Hundred-Sixteenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

This is your warning, bullies - never pick on those 98-pound weaklings. Best-case scenario - they hook up with Charles Atlas and you wind up getting decked. Worst-case? They meet a pair of mad scientists who transforms them into a bifurcated monstrosity.


Criminal Minds 710: The Bittersweet Science

Uh-oh, looks like we're in for another tragic week! A dumb guy calls his friend (Charles S Dutton, TV's Roc!) to share his worries. It seems the dumb guy took a kid to the hospital - possibly his son - and then stumbled outside, no longer capable of discerning fantasy from reality. The dumb guy's rantings involve him maybe beating someone to death in an alley, but he doesn't express them clearly enough to raise Dutton's concern. So Dutton merely tells the dumb guy to get some sleep since he'd had such a brutal fight earlier in the night. It seems Dutton should have listened, as right after hanging up the phone dumb guy notices that he's covered in blood! Not that he calls the police about it or anything sensible like that.

The next morning Greg is out jogging when a woman decides to hit on him! Greg is a little uncertain about calling her, but later that morning he tells Joe about the situation, so despite his reticence he must subconsciously he must feel he's ready to start dating again. After all, why else would he tell someone who would no doubt push him into calling the woman? You know, for a minute there, I was going to hypothesize what reaction he would have been subconsciously hoping for had he confided in another member of the team, but then I realized that all of them are generically super-supportive of one another, so it really wouldn't have mattered.

On to the briefing, where the team is told that tow men were beaten to death with pipes, then propped up on crates, and had their faces covered with cloths. The circumstances are bizarre enough that even with just a single clustered violent act, the team already thinks they need to be there. Which is more of an explanation than the show generally gives - remember those kidnappings they just leaped at the chance to help out with? We also get our first cheat of the night, as it's explained that the killer will likely escalate because he's clearly had a break from reality.

Based on what? He beat some people to death with pipes, then - presumably wracked with remorse - he cleaned them up and put them in seated positions. How do you get completely psychotic and degrading from that? There are fugue states, he could have done it while high on a drug and then regretted decision - it could even be a gang with a strange initiation rite. At this point there's no way you can authoritatively guess that you're dealing with a killer whose mental state is rapidly failing.

That is what they're dealing with, of course, as we learn in the next scene, where the killer contemplates his disturbing memories, showing in the form of flashbacks to a cap-and-glove wearing man beating someone do death with a pipe. But is he, in fact, the killer? We don't see any faces in the flashback, but he's obviously wearing the same clothes, so it would be a stretch if the show tried to pull a twist on us.


The Hundred-Fifteenth Greatest Panel in the History of Comics

You're right, Uncle Sam - two ape-monsters fighting each other overtop of a corpse they want to eat is just like World War 2. Brilliant observation.