Criminal Minds 715: A Thin Line

In a San Berdoo suburban housing development a woman is having trouble sleeping. Between a crying baby and snoring husband, will she ever get the rest she needs. Perhaps... eternal rest? She checks the baby monitor to see how serious the situation is, but is shocked when the camera on it (they have cameras on those now? Neat!) goes dark. It turns out power in the whole house is dead, and there's someone banging around downstairs!

The family then turns stupid, with the parents splitting up - mom hiding in the bathroom with the baby, and dad going to the older daughter's room to snag her cell phone (his is downstairs, where the thumping is coming from). Then, rather than just all heading to the bathroom to hide together, he leaves his 10-year-old daughter alone, hiding under the bed, with the responsibility to call 911 all on her while he goes off to check on his wife and other child. Even worse? He's had a gun the whole time! So why not just bring the whole family into the daughter's room and secure the door? Morons.

While the daughter is on the phone there are some screams and gunshots, then the killer enters the room, looking for another victim. Then the operator hears a gunshot and the phone goes dead. So yeah, parents? It's your fault that your whole family is dead because you couldn't be bothered to stay together and shove a dresser in front of a door.

Then, some time later, for reasons which confuse the hell out of me, we immediately cut to Derek running an FBI training exercise, letting the new people know that they're not taking their training seriously enough. Emily thinks he's being a little hard on the troops, but Derek thinks that toughness is what's going to save their lives out in the field!

Garcia then runs down the case details, and they're confusing as hell - this was the second home invasion in four days in which the entire family was killed, and the previous one happened just one block away! Wow, were those parents not vigilant enough if there had been a massacre that close just days earlier. Here's the confusing part - the killers broke in and cut the power and phone in both houses, but while one house had an old security system with bypassable wires, the other had a modern cell-based one, the service on which just happened to have to have gone into arrears, so the company wasn't listening for their signal. Of course, the killers must have known that, which is one heck of a lead.

Even more puzzling - at each house one of the criminals was killed, then the body left behind by his partner. The cops are assuming that the families killed one guy in a shootout in each case, but that seems like a hell of a coincidence - so the killer must be doing it, which means he also has to ensure that he's going into a house where the families have guns. That's a lot of research. How is he pulling this off? I'm guessing we'll find out after the opening credits!

On the plane they get IDs on the dead crooks - one a gangbanger, the other an honor student, both black. Here's the really weird thing - both were drugged with Oxycodone when shot. The team finds this incredibly suspicious, since criminals normally don't get stoned before home invasions, but don't theorize that the two guys might really be additional victims.

The team heads to the latest crime scene and looks around - they're able to figure out that the gunfight was staged because the dad was shot once in the head while the 'crook' was shot eleven times all about the body. Their basis for this conclusion? The 'shootout' happened in the middle of a room, so how could one of the killers have gotten close enough for an execution? Oh, I don't know - maybe because the dad was busy shooting his partner 11 times in a dark room, rendering Dad temporarily blind and deaf? I mean, I know that's not what happened, but it's at least a possibility.

Here's an important question - how did the cops not catch any sight of this guy? The operator got the news about a home invasion out immediately while the little girl was still alive. So the killer takes another minute to kill her, say two minutes to get his 'partner' downstairs and shoot him eleven times, another 3-4 minutes to carry (can't drag, that would leave evidence) a 200 pound man to the living room and stage the 'shootout' before he can get out the door. That's 6-7 minutes minimum after the police were called that he can be out the door. And wouldn't there be patrols close by in the area after that brutal massacre one block down just a few nights earlier? Yeah, the whole 911 aspect really hurts the plausibility of this storyline.

Anyhoo, Greg is over at the police station interviewing one of the gangbanger's relatives. He feels the kid was too much of an ignorant layabout and petty criminal to get into this kind of nonsense. Likewise the good kid's mother is sure her son had no gang affiliation or familiarity with the other killer. Yup, the black kids weren't involved - meaning that someone is trying to start a race war by framing inner-city blacks for murdering suburban whites! But who?


Probably this guy, who's way too excited watching a mayoral debate in which one 'Preston' (whose button the guy is wearing) is loudly inveighing against the threat that minorities pose to good white cities like San Bernadino.

The killer then drives down to the local home depot parking lot and hires a manual laborer to do two hours work for fifty dollars. It seems like a good deal, so the guy gets into the car. Little does he know that it's the last job he'll ever go on! The killer drugs him and then drives off, prepping for his next massacre!

Which happens that very night - the team is at the death house in the very next scene, but they don't go into how close this residence is to the others, so I guess it's possible that the increased police patrols didn't notice the killer skulking around and dragging a drugged body into the house. Hey, that's right - now that we know that the guys were out cold, that means the killer also has to drag them into the house to set up the shootout, and that must be happening after the family is dead, because carrying a body inside would be incredibly noisy, conspicuous, and allow the gun-toting husbands to easily get a drop on the assassin. That means he'd have to spend ten minutes in the house, easy, after the 911 call. So no way.

Seriously, how is some random guy getting the drop on all these people defending their homes? After the first family was killed the rest know what's going on - why are the husbands going charging downstairs, guns drawn, when they're in fear for their lives?

It's profile time! The team outlines the fact that a white racist is doing the killing to start off a race war. The whole thing is fairly generic - look for people with access to drugs and ties to white power organizations - exactly the kind of level-headed police work that never seems to solve cases on this show.

Then we cut to the killer, and discover that he spends all of his time (when he's not killing families, of course) caring for his invalid, bedridden mother. Then Preston comes on the TV and gets the killer riled-up with all his racist rhetoric, which triggers a fit from his mother, requiring her to be sedated. Does she not approve of her son's actions, or is it unrelated pain? Well, at least we know where he's getting the drugs.

Derek finds footage of one of Preston's racist speeches, and suggests to Greg that he may be inciting the killer's rage. So they drag in Preston for a conversation, hoping that he'll be able to identify one of his biggest fans. Well, that's what they should do - ask for his help. Instead they announce that they're concerned that the content of his speeches is inciting racial violence. How are they this bad at interviewing people? Do they want to put the guy on edge? He agrees to appear in public less for a little while, but they never get around to asking for access to fan letters or his staff. Oh, they're eventually going to do that investigation, but asking for his help would certainly speed things up - or if he's weirdly reticent about assisting, give them another clue about his possible involvement.

Speaking of that involvement, the killer is being hassled by various collection agencies when Preston drops by with some flowers for his mother's birthday (which is next week). The killer is super-solicitous and tries to get Preston to stay, but he announces that he has to go, but if the killer wouldn't mind, could he dial back on the murders? The killer is confused, since Preston is still behind in the polls, but Preston assures him that it's all part of a greater strategy! He then leaves without offering any money to help out with the bills. I hope this guy isn't the killer's illegitimate father, because then he'd be really, really bad at it.

Garcia calls the team with news about Preston - he's a shady millionaire who made money in real estate during the depression (but how?) and is now hiding it offshore. This alone convinces Derek that his bad feeling about the guy is accurate, and that he's behind the murders somehow.

Murders which continue that very night, as the killer shoots yet another family to death before heading out to his car to grab his patsy. I knew it. Ten minutes. No way the cops don't get there in time. Well, maybe tonight it makes sense, since the killer screwed up - the patsy wasn't drugged well enough, and he assaults the killer as the trunk is opened, then flees off into the night. Oh, killer, can't you get anything right? This kind of work ethic isn't going to impress your surrogate dad any.

At the latest crime scene Joe and Greg find something odd - the teenage son has been placed in a closet. Is that where he was told to stay while is mother had 'friends' over? Probably not, since this show has had enough episodes about the children of prostitutes turning into serial killers. Joe then announces that he must be selecting his victims based on the fact that they have guns - better propaganda for his race war! How is this news - weren't you already operating on that assumption? Here's a better question - how does he know they have guns, and how can he be so confident that he'll be able to get the drop on the hyper-alert victims? What, no theories there? Thought not.

Emily interviews the spanish-speaking patsy. He remembers two stops while in the trunk - a set of train tracks and a train going by at one of them, and then music and laughter at the other. But will this be enough to give them a location? In any event, he can describe both the killer and the killer`s car, so that should be sufficient clues to track him down.

Now back to Preston, who's upset to see the killer walk into his campaign office. The killer is obviously distraught, but Preston ushers him out the door because he can't risk them being seen together. And the time bomb ticks one minute closer to midnight.

The music and laughter proves a good lead - turns out that there's a bar between the train tracks and the murder site, and it's owned by Preston! Garcia also checks car registrations against donors to Preston's campaign, and discovers that the sick mother donates 750 dollars a month, while the son owns the car in question. The team elects to rush over to the house - without bothering to show the killer's picture to the one eyewitness they have. Way to get all your ducks in a row, guys.

While they're on the way they get the family's backstory - most of the family was killed in a home invasion ten years ago, mom was raped and beaten into a near-vegetative state, and the killer hid in the closet! Preston has been paying their bills ever since, making the son beholden to him! Garcia also has a shocking piece of news - but the scene ends before she gives it to us. Meanwhile the son is getting angry at the reformer candidate mayor, who's on TV talking about healing, so he might try to kill her next.

Arriving at the house and finding a suicide note, the team comes to the conclusion that the killer will likely go out in a blaze of glory. So it's off to the candidate and mayor's houses! Yes, they're going themselves. Because it's completely plausible that there would be no regular police in the entire city closer to either of those places. Morons.

Anyhoo, the team gets to the reformer's house and corner the killer, who's holding the candidate hostage. When faced with Derek the killer calls him a half-breed, because when you see Shemar Moore in a dark house at night pointing a gun at you the first thing you'd think is that he had at least one white parent. Seriously, killer? You're not even good at being a racist.

Derek confronts the killer with the fact that Preston is using him, but he won't hear it. Derek has another card to play - after his family was murdered, Preston bought his house and other ones in the newly depressed neighbourhood! Their theory is that he turns consistent profits not by exploiting tragedy, but rather by causing it! An interesting theory, even if the only proof is that the murderers claimed (with no evidence to back it up) that they'd been hired to kill the current killer's family. Possibly because of the utter lack of evidence, the killer won't believe the story, so Derek is forced to shoot him. Yay! Although it would be nice had he survived long enough to testify against Preston.

There's a scene of him being arrested anyway, even though there's absolutely no proof that he was involved other than voicemail messages of the killer asking him what to do next. So he'll be able to say that the kid was just crazy, and the kid's not alive to authenticate the messages. Will this thing even go to trial? At least he'll lose the election.


Then Derek and Emily talk on the plane, because she got shot during the raid on the candidate's house. Derek blames himself, and Emily tries to comfort him, which is good because getting shot was entirely her fault. She busted through the back door and then announced herself rather than just shooting this suspect, giving him time to wheel and fire before she could get a shot off. Not really a surprise, since she's never been good at her job.

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

God no. They had an eyewitness, and a super-racist political candidate who pissed them off by being insulting to the black guy on the team. All they had to do was connect the politician to a guy who matched the patsy's description. Garcia's legwork doesn't count as profiling.

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

Again, eyewitness, so yes. Also there's no way the cops wouldn't have responded to that 911 call in time - especially since the killer drove to the crime scene, and suburban developments like the one where the crimes happened tend to have single entrances that are easy to block off - he never could have gotten away, really.

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

1/10 - Here are some things left unexplained at the end of the episode:

- How did the killer find out who had guns in the house?
- How did the killer know where that political candidate lived?
- How did the killer know how to disengage alarm systems?
- How did the killer find houses whose alarms systems being disengaged wouldn't send off emergency cell signals, which the show explains is super-common now?
- How did the killer manage to keep getting the drop on people in their own houses, while they were armed and ready?
- Why did neighbours not call the cops when they heard a long series of gunshots - because the killer had to go outside to get the patsy in each case, there would have been more than enough time for the cops to get there in every instance.
- What was going on with the killer stopping at that bar. Was that where he met Preston to receive the details of his latest target? If so, that's information that really should have come up in the episode.

This might be the least-plausible Criminal Minds plot so far this season, although I'd have to go back and check my notes to be sure. Which I won't do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why didn't Derek shoot to wound/disarm, rather than kill? Admittedly, that'd be pretty hard in a dark house when someone's rushing you with a gun, but he's the expert.

How did he get the two black victims into his car? One was running late for class, and neither seem the type to have been standing on a corner, looking for work.

Why did JJ do such an awful job of interviewing the grieving mother, if she's the great family expert? She's really come back different - I think I preferred the old JJ.

If the kid had been stuffed into the closet, why was there blood spatter on the wall? How do they know he didn't just go in there to hide?