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.

On the plane ride the team goes over the Zodiac's M.O., and how strange it is that it hasn't changed in 40 years. That doesn't explain the evidence, of course. Related to the Zodiac? More importantly, when Garcia is listing the Zodiac's copycats, she names only two, completely leaving out the Reaper, who was an incredibly famous Zodiac copycat in the world of Criminal Minds. Although that lack of a mention might just be out of sensitivity to Greg, what with him murdering the guy's wife and all.

We then cut to a park, where an intense looking guy is playing chess against a bearded old coot at one of those public park tables. Intense guy wins the game quickly, letting us know he's a genius - one whose gifts are underappreciated, since he's interrupted by his supervisor, who tells him to get back to work picking up trash from the public park. Then he calls the 'Harvey' who was mentioned in the engagement notice, but doesn't get an answer. So that makes this guy the killer, I guess?

Greg, Emily, Reid and JJ head out to the crime scene and look over the uncannily similar evidence, but Reid immediately announces that it can't be the actual Zodiac. Why? He just gets feelings sometimes. Which is kind of a dickish thing to say, when what he should really be saying is that real serial killers develop as the go, they don't meticulously recreate their greatest hits. You know, like Frank Black said that time. And he actually was a psychic. Oh, and Reid asks for a printout of the newspaper's online comments section, but won't explain why. Again, just to be a dick - how hard would it be to simply say 'I think that the killer will be reading about his crimes and involving himself in the discussion'? Man, they should never let this guy out into the field.

Derek and Joe head over to see a cop who worked on the case - just like in the Reaper episode! While going through his stuff, they find more pictures from the same set as the one left in the car. So that's the last piece of copycat proof they need to prove their theory. Sadly, the cop has Parkinsons, and can barely communicate - so he can't help with any theories about who might have taken the missing photo. The guy's wife says that plenty of people came by in the past to discuss the case, and Joe asks her to make a list.

Next Reid interrupts a camera crew in order to humiliate an attention-seeker who's trying to implicate his own cousin in the crimes, then goes on the camera to request that cranks stop hurting the investigation. This broadcast (was it live? If so, how was this important enough for a live remote? If not, why would you air that? It's pretty far from news.) is seen by the killer, who's at a pre-wedding party, looking pained in the crowd while people talk about the happy couple.

Ticking time bomb, that one.

In the killer's speech, he talks about how he and the groom first bonded over chess, then crime journalism, then...ominous pause...other things. Also he claims that they both had a crush on the bride in Junior High, but then goes on to not-at-all-subtly refer to himself as the groom's 'soul mate' a few seconds later. So yeah, a lot going on with this guy. Was the Zodiac killer their shared obsession? Could they be killing together? That would certainly be strange.

Things get even weirder when the killer announces that he and the groom will be heading to Vegas for a bachelor party weekend. Ah, Vegas, where people go to commit murder on the DL.

At the FBI office the team gets some bad news - no one was following either of the victims, the shirt doesn't match the original, and the detective's wife could hardly remember any visitors. Can't these guys catch a break?

They can, it seems, when Reid finds a message on the newspaper's website using the same characters that the Zodiac did for his cipher!

Okay, a couple of things about this sequence. First off, you have to type messages into comment sections using the typefaces that the website offers you. If the newspaper's chosen font doesn't have the Zodiac characters as part of its alphabet (and why on earth would it?), the killer can't use it. More importantly, there's no way Reid could decipher it that fast. The only way that would be possible would be if the killer didn't make his own cipher using the same symbols, but rather just spelled out a message using the same letter/symbol equivalencies. Which he didn't. How can I tell? Check out the message Reid finds-

Now look at what it translates as.

That's not what that cipher said. They specifically say that the code being used was the same one as in the first Zodiac letter, and how was that cracked? An amateur puzzle enthusiast noticed that the same symbol was doubled a few times. He knew that the most common double letter found in English words is 'LL', and then extrapolated that the Zodiac killer would probably be using the word "KILL" and its various forms quite frequently. The enthusiast figured the rest of it out from there. But look at the cipher we're presented with. No double symbol on the word that's supposed to be 'KILLING'. The 3rd and 4th letters should be twin filled boxes, boxes half-filled triangularly, or capital Bs - or some combination of the three. But they're not.

Bad research, Criminal Minds.

Anyhoo, the message says that something will happen related to President Garfield at 98 minutes 'past the horizon' in Magic City. Apparently Magic City can only refer to Birmingham, Alabama (that'll teach the producers of 'Magic City' to set their show in Florida!), so they calculate based on Birmingham's sunset of 6:22 that something will happen at 8PM in Golden Gate park - where there's a statue of Garfield!

So the team rushes to the park to stake it out, hoping that the killer will go for the bait couple on a bench by the statue. This scene puzzles me a little, because it's probably going to be a way for the killer to show off how smart he is to the police, by exploiting the fact that they did exactly what he wanted them to do. There's a problem with that, though - there's no way the killer could have thought that they would crack the code and be waiting for him in the park. Think about it logically - the murder happened last night. The public at large didn't find out about it until the morning, so they wouldn't have started posting messages on a newspaper article about it until like 10AM. It's not like the killer called anyone to let them know the importance of the comment - it was nonsense hidden in the middle of spam, the kind of thing that a moderator would catch and delete in any well-regulated forum - so the killer would be assuming that someone in the police would 1: Find the message. 2: Realize its importance. 3: Decode it. All within ten hours. That's an absurd premise on its face. You want to establish that Reid is a genius by having him accomplish an absurd feat in record time? Fine, even if you didn't present it right. But you can't make the killer's plan revolve around that absurd thing happening.

Also, how do they know that the murder wasn't going to go down at 6PM? After all, 98 minutes past the horizon in Magic City is 8PM Central Time, and they're in San Francisco.

Okay, where was I? Right, the park. The team is huddled around, waiting for something to happen. I assume there are cops about as well, but none are in evidence. They're alarmed when an SUV drives up, and they rush to confront the driver, who turns out to be a messenger! He presents Reid with a letter telling him that he's 'not as smart as (he) thinks (he is)'. Meanwhile, another couple is stabbed to death in a different park.

So yes, the criminal set up the park clue assuming that they'd figure it out (which is impossible), and another couple - after knowing full well that a would-be Zodiac killer had returned to San Francisco - went for a walk in a dark park in late at night with no one else around. Christ, at least the Reaper mixed up his MO to keep the public guessing.

Is the killer living out fantasies that he and the Groom had years ago as a way of maintaining his connection to the guy, or is the Groom the killer? That would be quite an unbelievable twist, since it was the killer who saw Reid on television and decided to taunt him. After all, Groom is certainly too busy with wedding stuff to go around crafting ciphers.

The team considers the fact that both women have been massively overkilled compared to the men, and add that to the fact that the women were brunettes to extrapolate that the killer must have a fixation on a particular brown-haired woman. Which is a nice guess, but they seem to be forgetting two things: 1) In the original versions of these crimes the women the focus of the attacks - the men actually survived them. So the killer could just be were recreating the crimes with a relatively high degree of faithfulness. B) The killer was desperate to find a couple parked in a car making out, and then another couple willing to hang out in a park after dark when a mad killer is on the loose. There's no way he could wait around in hopes of finding a woman with the correct hair colour. Still, they're jumping to the correct conclusion.

They talk briefly about how the cipher was easy to solve, and they fell for the trap. Except he didn't actually send it anywhere important, and if Reid hadn't seen it, the 'plan' would have failed, so that doesn't really make sense. Also, they figure out that he must be following the news, since that's the only way he could have known Reid was on the case. Unless the killer is a cop, which they don't consider. Then we get kind of a groaner, as the team comes to the conclusion that since the killer is operating on a faster timeline than the actual Zodiac (killing every day, rather than weeks-months apart) there must be a pressure on his killing that's outside of his control. Of course there is - he's on the show Criminal Minds, where every killer is a spree killer.

The profile focuses on the 'obsession with specific brown-haired woman' thing, which they can't be sure of, and while the team is giving it, Reid is busy working on something, trying to figure out who the killer is by poring over the ciper. They're completely overlooking a huge number of leads they actually have, though. The message from the killer was sent from a web cafe and the time paid for with a pre-paid 'untraceable' credit card, but that's not a dead-end. When and where was the credit card charged up? Were there security cameras in the web cafe? The street outside? You know the exact moment that the killer was sitting in the cafe - and exactly what computer he was sitting at - have you not canvassed everyone who was at the cafe at the time to see if they remember anything? They can't all have paid with untraceable throwaway cards, can they have?

Okay, back to the killer, who goes to meet Bride for lunch. She was upset when she called him, so he assumes she's calling off the wedding! Of course not - she's simply planning a surprise renovation to be done as a gift for the Groom while they're on their honeymoon, and she's looking for the killer's input. He doesn't have any advice to offer, just super-creepy behaviour.

Emily finds Reid in a cafe, where he's worrying about the fact that he's accomplished nothing of note in his life. Which is a good point, actually - that genius he met at the beginning of the episode is becoming a millionaire by curing diseases, after all. Emily reverse-psychologies him into refocusing on the cipher, and Reid discovers that there was, in fact, a secret code in the message. If you reverse-engineer (certain parts?) of the message back into binary, you get a page number of the classified section of the 'China Post', a local bilingual paper. Since you'd have to be a genius to be able to do that kind of ciphering, Greg has Garcia search for super-smart people in the Bay area by checking school records and MENSA enrollment. For some reason they don't search for two geniuses with a connection - after all, the message was for someone, wasn't it?

Then Greg gets a call from Joe - the killer has struck again! He's shot a cabbie and abducted someone from the cab in broad daylight, leaving no witnesses. How the hell did he manage that? More importantly, how did he get the Bride and a cabbie to meet him in an isolated alley? Did he hitch a ride with her when she left for lunch? That can't be it, since he showed up hoping that she was breaking the engagement, which would mean that he wouldn't have to go through with his plans to kidnap (and kill?) her. Let's say he split the cab ride with her (although the way the scene ended suggests that she wouldn't have been psyched to do that, and he's obviously bad at talking people into things), how could  he be sure that she'd be going in the direction of where he parked his car? He couldn't have pulled a gun on both of them while in the back seat and forced the cabbie to drive - wouldn't the cabby have just hit the emergency button? Sorry if I'm rambling - none of this makes sense, is all.

We get a big clue as to the killer's backstory when he leaves a photograph at the crime scene - it's a dead little boy who disappeared eleven years ago. There were no suspects in the case! Oh, so this is more Leopold and Loeb, and all the Zodiac stuff was a misdirect! It also turns out that classified ads have to be made in person, and the killer set this one up a week ago - talk about planning! That's all the help they get, though, since all gwai-los look alike to the staff at the newspaper. They find out where the cabbie picked up his last fare - at the Marina, where Bride was having lunch and met the killer. No surprise there.

That night the killer picks up the Groom for their weekend of partying! They're not going to the airport, though - the killer has something far more sinister in mind. Presumably the two of them killing the Bride together in order to cement their sick love. The killer drives them out to where the couple was killed, and suggests that the two of them try to solve the new Zodiac killings together! Then he asks if the Groom still reads the Chronicle, as a cute way of checking to see if he read the cipher. The Groom doesn't, though, and even if he did, why would the killer think that in addition to reading that specific story he would have scanned through page after page of user comments?

While the killer and the Groom walk around, the second amateur profiling while the first not-so-subtly hits on him, Reid comes to a conclusion that everything in the case has meaning, so the killer didn't put an ad on page F4 because that's where the China Post puts its classifieds, he chose the China Post for his ad because they put their classifieds on F4! What could the significance of that co-ordinate be, though? Reid explains in the Prentiss Award-Winning line of the night.

How many times do I have to tell you - you're not allowed to rotate the map! By doing so you've thrown away any meaning in your conclusion. By picking the size of the map and then rotating it willy-nilly, you've placed the murder sites where you want them to be, not necessarily where the killer meant them to be. If he intended a chess map at all.

Spin that a little clockwise using F4 as the fulcrum and suddenly the other murders are in G8 and C3. Or a lot clockwise and they're in A8 and F1. And that's just if you maintain the (completely arbitrary) size. Enlarge the squares and the sky's the limit. Would any of those also match up to the most famous chess game of all time?

Still, the chess thing is a good lead, so they ask Garcia to find chess players who are also into the Zodiac killings. They come up with Groom and killer, best friends who were chess prodigies and Zodiac nuts! At the same time killer has led Groom to the cab driver's death site, and then 'finds' a piece of evidence that the fake Zodiac must have planted, leading them to his lair. For some reason Groom doesn't consider that maybe they should go to the police with this information, so he's led right into an abandoned restaurant where the killer is holding the Bride!

So, how will the team get their in time for their rescue? Simple - Greg asks Reid what the next move in the game would have been, had the loser not forfeited. There's only one possible play, which must be the map co-ordinate they need to go to! Luckily the restaurant is a place the killer was known to frequent earlier in life, so there's a paper trail connecting him to it!

The team rushes the place, capturing the killer and getting him to confess about killing that child, and revealing where his bones were buried! Which seems like quite a 'gotcha' ending, except that there's no real evidence to connect the Groom to the crime. Yes, the bones are buried in his childhood home's yard, and the dead kid was the little brother of someone who used to pick on Groom, but the killer is obviously romantically obsessed with Groom, so the idea that he killed the kid and brought the bones like a cat looking for approval by offering half a mouse to its owner shouldn't be too hard a sell. It's not like the killer will make a great witness in court. No, I doubt things will go too badly for Groom, beyond the obvious public humiliation and possible breakup of his engagement.

Although, who knows, if he can sell the idea that killer set all of it up as part of his twisted obsession, maybe she'll stick with him. Love conquers all, doesn't it?


Then there's a 30th birthday party for Reid. Maybe he can stop having people call him 'Doctor' like an insecure child now?

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

Not the solving part, but Reid did expertly use a profile of the dominant/submissive murdering partnership to get the killer to confess to a years-old murder, so that's easily a partial credit. I can't really credit 'profiling' for the totally unintuitive (and wholly cheating) leap that the whole thing was about a chessboard grid. Also, why would the game in question have been a famous Fischer game, rather than something more personal between the two guys? Oh, right, because it had to be solveable. Sorry.

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

Maybe, maybe not. I'm still completely baffled about what happened in the taxi driver murder, and how it possibly could have been arranged and pulled off without anyone noticing.

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

3/10 - Not the crime in the episode, but certainly an earlier one was solved by psychological profiling!

Criminal Minds FactCheck! - Leopold and Loeb

Like the killers in this week's episode, Leopold and Loeb were privileged kids who believed that their intellect entitled them to act outside the boundaries of normal human morality. Unlike the killers in this week's episode, who offered no framework to justify their actions, Leopold and Loeb claimed to be inspired by Neitzsche's philosophy of the superman - essentially claiming that their ability to commit crimes without being caught and punished proved that they were entitled to do so.

The problem was that they were really, really bad at committing crimes. The 'perfect murder' they staged involved kidnapping a cousin of Loeb's, who they stabbed to death, disfigured with acid, and then dumped in a ditch far outside of town. Then they were going to try and extract a ransom from the parents, or at least pretend to in order to cover their tracks/keep the game going. Before they could really get going, however, the body was discovered, and along with it a pair of eyeglasses. Strange eyeglasses with a hinge so unique that only a handful of people in the city had them. So when it turned out that Leopold, best friend of the victim's cousin, owned a pair, that was far too big a coincidence to overlook.

The police quickly interviewed the two men, and discovered that despite all of their presumptions about being able to commit a 'perfect crime', the guys had put basically zero effort into preparing an alibi in case they were questioned. Their flimsy stories fell apart, and the two men were jailed for life.

This sentence proved accurate for Loeb, who was brutally stabbed to death for refusing the advances of another inmate - although that inmate wasn't charged with murder because Loeb was still so unpopular after his 'Trail of the Century'.

Leopold, on the other hand, was paroled after 33 years in prison, and lived out the rest of his life without incident in Puerto Rico.


Liz said...

I thought that this would be the episode when CM finally overcame their hang-up about gay killers, but I was disappointed. Why did no one comment on the fact that the killer was in love with his best friend - it was obvious from the start! Reid worked out that it was Harvey who decided to kill the little kid, but he couldn't see the crush that the killer had? If Reid was looking for a way to knock them both off-kilter and admit to a crime, then outing the killer would have been the most effective. Leaving a note for the groom saying 'you can do so much better'? It's just glaringly obvious.

Love the review, as always!

Anonymous said...

Well, someone is taking CM a little to serious...

Anonymous said...

Oh the irony of this wannabe critic calling Reid an insecure little child when this whole review screams of "I want to look cool by nitpicking and putting everything down" type of insecurity. LMAO