14.9.12

Criminal Minds 716: A Family Affair


The episode opens with a 'previously on' clip package reminding us the Greg is dating someone, so we can expect to see more o that plotline. But not before we see a couple attempting to get it on in a bedroom somewhere. Attempting because the guy is in a wheelchair, and is unable to achieve an erection, which doesn't impress his prostitute. So he murders her. Yikes.

Then a breakfast date with Greg and his girlfriend, whose name I have yet to learn - nothing plotty here, so let's move on to the briefing,  where we discover that two prostitutes have been murdered recently in Atlanta! The weird part? No rapes and the bodies were clothed when dumped. So he's angry at the women, but isn't disgusted by their gender. Why could this be? Wheelchair sexual dysfunction, obviously - but the team doesn't know that yet.

On the plane they discover the that bodies were dumped on opposite sides of town in relatively nice parks, but then they gloss over something incredibly important - both bodies had exactly 250 dollars on them. This is mentioned in passing as a character revealing bit of info about the killer - why not rob them? - but no one mentions how puzzling it is that both women had the exact same amount of money on them. Isn't that a strange enough coincidence to be worth mentioning? Could it be that this is the price the killer is willing to pay for prostitutes? Oh, and the third body turns up, so the team is going to split up when they hit the ground.

Then it's time for breakfast at the killer's house, where his parents - beloved character actors Kathy Baker and William Russ(!) - have an incredibly strained relationship. So which one of them is dumping the bodies for their son, the killer? Or is it both? In a weird note, Kathy announces that she was going to make the killer scrambled eggs for breakfast, but after 'the recall' she figured pancakes were a safer choice. Does she have some kind of a magic pancake recipe that doesn't require eggs? I'm kidding, of course, but given how awful that must taste, it's no surprise when the killer storms off from the table, refusing to take his drugs.

 I wonder what all those are?

Greg and Joe stop by the local FBI office-

Which is for some reason situated inside of a police station?

This scene isn't really important - other than the local agent in charge referencing the bizarre lack of a 'cooling-off' period with this killer. As if there's ever a cooling-off period on this show. The strange thing about all this is not the fact that the show didn't simply use a picture of Atlanta's actual FBI office-

(Thanks, Google Streetview!)
But rather that the Agent in charge acts like she's haggard from trying to run down this crazed killer, and is happy to have the team's help. What's strange about this? Killing prostitutes is not a federal crime. While it's totally reasonable that the BAU specialists would be called in to consult, why was the Atlanta FBI already working on the case? Why isn't this scene just set in the police station they showed us in the establishing shot?

More family drama with William and Kathy. He's trying to hide his drinking, and she wants him to help get the killer to take his medication, lest the guy get even worse! And start killing more than one prostitute a day? Because that's already what you're helping him do, genius.

At the latest dump site Derek and Reid chat about the killer's habits. They think it's strange that a killer would drive all the way out of the city to dump the body. The alternate theory? He's picking them up in the city, killing them outside, then dumping them near the kill site! Which would be a great theory, except for one thing - we were told that the parks the bodies were dumped at were fifty miles apart - which is roughly the distance of one end of the greater Atlanta area to the other. Maybe this third dump site will be between the two, thus helping narrow down the geographical profile, but as of right now, the conclusion that the killer lives the 'burbs is completely unsupportable.

Meanwhile, in the killer's suburban home, he's working out with his personal trainer, who's also trying to offer some personal advice about how to deal with the social problems created by parapelegia. Kathy looms nearby, waiting with lemonade for the two of them - she's desperate for her son to get a girlfriend, perhaps in hopes that he stop murdering prostitutes. Then she heads to the kitchen to tell William to go out and get another prostitute for their son to murder. Perhaps I've misread her intentions. It seems that since the killer has been doing great in his physical training lately, Kathy has come to the conclusion that it's the murdering that is raising his spirits! So if she's on board with the murdering, exactly what kind of bad behaviour is she trying to curb with drugs?

Emily and JJ interview the latest victim's fellow prostitute, and ask about the significance of the two hundred and fifty dollars. Which was apparently on the third victim as well. The prostitute explains that with that kind of money a customer could expect to have a girl for the whole night! They then ask her to try and remember who was near the latest victim right before she disappeared. The prostitute remembers her walking towards a grey van which was parking in a permit-only loading zone. Which would be a great clue, if those kinds of parking restrictions were enforced at all after regular business hours. Given that this is a stretch of road where prostitutes are comfortable brazenly presenting their wares, something tells me there aren't a lot of meter maids coming by.

Joe talks with the ME about the corpses - still no sexual assault, and some very excessive and forceful stabbing. The only possible conclusion? That the killer has microscopic, non-functional penis! That's not Joe's conclusion, I'm just making a call-back to another episode - are you a big enough Criminal Minds fan that you can tell me which episode it was? Oh, and all of the victims have strange bruises on the inside of their thighs - mysterious for now, but the audience knows that it's from climbing onto a wheelchair. Because it makes total sense for a woman to awkwardly try to have sex with a guy in wheelchair rather than just lying him down on the bed.

Things aren't great for William, either, who looks sadly at the son and father playing catch across the street, knowing full well that he'll never get that kind of simple fun with his son again. Then a woman shows up, having been called to help with his son's treatment somehow. This can't be another prostitute because she asks about whether they're going through insurance, but she can't be a physical trainer because she shows up in a suit and heels. So I guess we'll just have to see where this is going.

Then it's time for an info dump at the office, where Reid thinks he's found where the killer lives-

Isn't it great how there's no consistency or logic to the size and placement of the circles Reid draws on the map? It seems that the guy just can't be bothered to buy a compass. Or even put in a requisition - I feel like the FBI would pay for that if he asked. More importantly, though, the meeting point of the circles isn't far into the suburbs the way the characters had guessed, but just a few kilometers south of the city core, near Pittsburgh, which is apparently the name of an Atlanta suburb.

Then Derek gives us the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night, when he offers a piece of utterly useless information-



Note that Derek said his line before the women arrived to announce what kind of vehicle they think they should be looking for - which means he was literally just saying that the killer would have 'a vehicle' would blend into both places. Can you think of a part of Atlanta where a vehicle wouldn't blend in? Unless the killer was driving the Wienermobile, I can't imagine this is a useful statement.

Speaking of the van, they're still acting like that's a big clue, as if a guy sitting in the front seat of his grey van for hours at night would be a magnet for tickets unless it had a permit to be there. This is the part of town where men go to pick up whores - if the guy in the van saw a cop coming wouldn't he have just driven away?

The team puzzles over the dichotomy in the killers' m.o. - why the brutal treatment of the victims and then the nice treatment of the body, going so far as to leave them with the cash? They guess that it's likely a team, but no one brings up the possibility of fingerprinting the money, since they're operating under the assumption that the killer/s gives it to the victims.


Meanwhile, at the murder house, the woman from earlier comes stumbling out of the killer's room, brutally stabbed, but the parents don't let her get away. I'm still confused as to who, exactly, she was. Neither William nor Kathy went out to pick her up, so she drove/was driven to the house - and she was expecting to go through insurance. So there's obviously a paper trail leading directly from her disappearance to the killer's front door. How long will it take the team to find it? And will they do it in time to save that personal trainer, or is she just an unimportant side character?

The team finds the body the next day, assuming that she's some kind of high-class call girl. If that's the case, she definitely wouldn't have driven out to a house in the suburbs without letting someone know where she was going. Derek suggests that the more they find out about this victim, the faster they'll find the killer. For once, he's right.

The family is cleaning up the blood on the floor of the killer's bedroom. The important part of the sequence is that William is not down with the murdering, but Kathy thinks it will cure her son. So she's crazy, he's weak. Gotcha. Why are they only wiping up the blood now? The murder was more than twelve hours ago. Couldn't Kathy have handled this while William dumped the body?

The them gives the profile to the assembled team, assuming it's a dominant/submissive team of white males. They then offer the idea that in those kinds of teams invariably involve a submissive who procures victims and disposes of their corpses, with the dominant just doing the killing. This isn't true at all, of course- Lake and Ng, Leopold and Loeb, Bernardo and Homolka, the Hillside Stranglers - none of them fit that profile closely, and they're the most famous pairs of killers around.

At the casa di muerto, the killer demands another victim, and his parents suggest that he take his medication instead. Obviously the killer isn't down for this, and plays the 'I'd rather be dead' card. What a whiner.

Finally the team finds out about the 'insurance' aspect - the latest victim was a licensed sex therapist. Yet they're not able to immediately find out who her last client was. Yes, we're expected to believe that this woman went alone to have a sex therapy appointment with a client for the first time and didn't leave some clear statement as to where she was going. The 'therapy' aspect gives the team all the clue they need, though - she'd only have gone to see someone actually disabled, so that plus the leg bruises and easy parking probably means a wheelchair! And who would snag whores for a wheelchair guy and get rid of the bodies? Only his family, obviously! Their basis for this is that while a regular submissive would grab victims, only a close relation would attempt to get the killer 'help' in the form of therapy.

Except they knew (or at least had a reasonable belief) that he was going to kill her, so it really wasn't any more an attempt at 'help' than the whores were. Also, how did they think they weren't going to get caught? Therapists keep records, morons. Also, and I don't know the physical explanation behind this for sure, but couldn't they have just gotten him some viagra instead of whores in the first place?

The team thinks that by having a press conference they can get the parents to turn on their son. Let's see how that goes! Maybe it will be convincing to Kathy, who's busy trying to sneak medicine into her son's tuna salad sandwich when he rolls up and menaces her with a kitchen knife. Yup, this might be a good time to turn on the guy. Also, is it really that easy to sneak up in people in a wheelchair? I haven't been around a lot of them, but the ones I've seen have never had very quiet wheels. It's William who happens to be watching the press conference, though, and it drives him to pull out his revolver and consider just ending things, once and for all. And who's going to be around for that ending? The physical therapist, who shows up for the murder - sorry - shows up for the 'dinner' she was invited to.

Over at the local police station/FBI office, the agent in charge asks Joe how effective press conferences are at getting submissives to turn on their masters. His answer? "Incredibly!" Not that he can name any time it actually worked off the top of his head, of course. It's important to keep the mystique going, though. The team continues puzzling their way through the profile - it's only women who take really good care of corpses, but a man's strength would be required to hoist the bodies around. Could it be parents? One thing's for certain, according to the team - they must have covered for him before! How can they know this? Because they obviously wouldn't just start getting rid of bodies for a wheelchair-bound son. Obviously they would have had to have done it for an able-bodied son first to get them into the habit. Um... why?

After Kathy takes a moment to fantasize about her son regaining the ability to walk there's a scene of super-awkward dinner conversation where Kathy lets us know that her obsession with her son's well-being has been a lifelong thing.

Then the team gets a lucky break in the form of Garcia finding a case five years earlier that matches the details of this one exactly - right down to the inner-thigh bruises from the coed giving the killer a super-uncomfortable and profoundly unsexy wheelchair lapdance. Knowing that the killer was in a wheelchair even then, they look for handicapped students at the college where the dead coed went. Extrapolating that the parents would likely have pulled him out of school soon after in order to protect him, they get one name - the killer's!

The team rushes over to the house, where the killer and his date are just finishing watching a movie. Then, in a preposterous series of contrivances, she goes into his bedroom to get his pills, and manages to knock them onto the floor next to a bloody piece of jewelry the clean-up crew missed. Uh-oh - if she weren't the third victim this could go very badly for her!

Things all come to a head at once. As Kathy menaces the date with a gun, William kills himself in a car accident because he can't stand the guilt any more. Then we get some more bizarre looping to cover up a plot hole. This time it's Reid doing the heavy lifting!



I understand you received the call, but why did you stop? You were on the way to the house where a serial killer lives - while that killer's father being involved in a car accident surely factors into the case, is it important enough to delay arresting the actual murderer?

I'd question William's decision to take the credit for all the murders (which he does in a suicide note), since his son is obviously going to go on killing, making the sacrifice moot, but the character is guilty enough to kill himself, so I don't expect his thought processes to be anything close to clear.

The team rushes to the house, triggering a hostage situation. Kathy tries to shoot the killer to keep him from having to go to jail, but the team manages to shoot her to keep that from happening.

THE END

Was this seriously an episode about a guy who killed a bunch of women because his doctors couldn't be bothered to prescribe him Viagra? If so, I can't believe what I just watched.

More character stuff before the credits roll. Greg runs in a triathalon, the ladies go for a night of drinking, and Reid babysits because Jr. is out of town! Then Greg's girlfriend meets his son, because this show is super-sweet sometimes. Unless she turns out to be a murderer. Which she won't.

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

I want to give them partial credit for sussing out the family dynamics based on the killer being 'cared for' by his partners, but that was based on two contrivances so incredibly huge that they invalidate the rest of the plot. 1 - All of his women would have spent enough time trying awkwardly squat over the arms of a wheelchair that it left deep bruises on their legs. 2 - That they were able to get a sex surrogate to come to the house without any paper trail whatsoever. Without those two clues the team had nothing to base their conclusions on, and neither of those things could have happened.

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

They killed a sex surrogate. You don't just call one of those and get her to drop by. She's a medical professional who works on referrals. Someone gave them her number, and she had some reason to think that she would be perfectly safe in treating this guy. There's no way people didn't know where she was going, because her job isn't a secret, just like homecare nurses. Which makes this the most easily solvable crime in history.

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

1/10 - This episode is almost a textbook example of why I write these things about Criminal Minds. My initial supposition was that when it comes to serial killers, psychological profiling is such a useless endeavor that not only does it not help to catch them in real life, but that it's essentially impossible to write fiction where it does. Not that the writers don't put in an effort, it's just that in order for their team to start coming up with insights the writers have to give them so many clues that they could have solved the case simply by following standard channels.

1 comment:

Dylan said...

Two little details: In at least some scenes (but not all?) the unsub is shown using a cheap push wheelchair, not the kind you'd use if you were a strong, fit person who was self-propelling. The wheels are too small and there are armrests and push handles on the back.

His house has stairs and no ramp... how does he get out of there? Does he get out of there? Besides paralysis of his lower body (and obvious mental issues) he should be far more independent than he is.

The scene with Rossi cuffing him at the end- You can see Rossi is trying to cuff his hands behind the back of his wheelchair. This seems borderline impossible, and indeed it is - you can see at some point Joe Mantegna has given up and is basically just jiggling the unsub's left arm around.