19.10.12

Criminal Minds Episode 721: Divining Rod

As the episode opens a man is being put to death via a firing squad. At that same moment, a woman is tied to a bed, adjacent to a mysterious figure in a cap. What do these two settings have to do with one another? I don't know yet, but I'm eager to find out! Once the firing squad has completed its work the killer decides it's time to murder his hostage - which he does with an icepick! Which seems like it would take a while. So automatic sadistic personality disorder diagnosis, right?

Over at Quantico the team is discussing Emily's plans to buy a house while walking into the meeting room - the meeting itself once again proves to be one of those get-togethers so brief that it would make more sense to have it on the way to the airstrip. It turns out the icepick stabbing of a blonde woman was the executed man (a serial killer - shocker, right?)'s M.O., so they likely have a copycat on their hands. Will they make it to Oklahoma in time to stop him from killing again?

Of course not, this is Criminal Minds, and we're only one kill in.

Man, they're not wasting any time this week - the very next scene is another blonde woman being stabbed to death, maybe a day after the last one. How can they catch a man killing so rapidly?

Let's find out together, after the opening credits!

On the plane things get a little crazy - first we learn that the killer's last words were quoting the Arabian Nights, which isn't that odd, other than the killer's lack of sophistication... Wait, if this guy was so unsophisticated, how did he managed to murder 25(!) low-risk victims before being caught? I say low-risk because the new victim was a clean-living college student, which the team announces fits the original killer's profile.

Here's the crazier part - the next kill happened at noon OK time, just six hours after the last murder. So the killer ran right from one victim to the next? More importantly, how is the team already on this case? I'd assumed we were dealing with a time jump here, but no, apparently the cops found the first victim's body at like 7AM (8AM Quantico time), and managed to:

1) Secure the scene.
2) Take extensive crime scene photos.
3) Write up a report on the crime.
4) Get permission from their superiors to contact the FBI.
5) Contact the FBI and get routed to Greg.

All before noon. Wrap your head around that one.

Greg and Derek stop by the prison to get some background on the killer - he never contacted anyone but his wife, who was the only person that visited him. Which was darn nice of her, considering all the young girls that her husband murdered. For her part, the wife explains that because the dead guy stood by her when she had cancer, it was her duty to stand by him until his death. Her next plan? Skip the state to live down the shame of her association with a monster.

JJ and Reid swing by the latest victim's abode, giving the good doctor a chance to be needlessly dickish in his refusal to shake the hand of the detective in charge of the case.

So packing your gun to subconsciously threaten people isn't a strong enough move any more? Now you're just openly insulting them?

There's a little more information from the prison and wife - people visiting prisoners are shuttled in on a bus, then searched before entering, so it would be nearly impossible to get a message in. And the dead guy's wife was so devoted she was out there on every single visiting day! Good thing her employers were so flexible with her hours, huh? For her part, she can't point to any people obsessed with the dead guy, but she's happy to share the letters that people wrote to the killer over the years.

Examining the dead girl's body JJ notices that the corpse's hair is strangely uneven - and a check of her phone reveals that the hair was much longer last night! So the killer is cutting the womens hair to make them conform to the copycat victimology? Weird.

Oh, and then the killer murders a third woman in the same day. Making him one of the worst spree killers in American history. A fact that I'm sure will be mentioned soon!

Back at the base, we learn that there isn't anything useful in the letters yet, but at least some expansion on the MO reveals that yes, the low-risk victims are a departure from the previous killer's methodology. Which is a nice detail that closes one plot hole, but the show has yet to explain something vitally important - how has this killer entered and left the homes and apartments of two different women in broad daylight without anyone noticing anything - especially since he's wearing what looks like a boiler suit and rubber gloves to keep from leaving any evidence. That wouldn't stand out in a residential area?

I've got to say, this killer's plan is going suspiciously well - amazing that all of the women he's planned to kill happen to be exactly where he needs them to be exactly when. Imagine if one of them had stopped after work or their jog to do something else before heading home - did he have backups to go to? This kind of precision is almost... superhuman...

Emily finally finds something useful in the letters - the same Arabian Nights quote as the killer's last words! And it was sent by the same person who'd crafted a generic 'fan letter'! Emily and Joe go to talk to the widow about it, but other than offering the information that it was one of his favorite letters, she doesn't have anything useful to offer.

Garcia, on the other hand, does! It seems that there were two attempts on the dead guy's life - and each one came one day after one of his scheduled execution dates was postponed! Which raises a question - if his attackers were, in fact, being prompted by an attacker on the outside, why would that someone only attempt to have him killed directly after the state failed to? Did someone really hate the guy? But if so, why would he be copycatting the killer's crimes? Unless these are unrelated? No, that wouldn't make any sense.

Profile time! The team lays out some useless information - the killer might be competing with the dead guy, since he's killing lower-risk women, but making them look like the other victims. Then they finally get to the gold stuff - a curfew is in place to try and stop the killer from finding another victim! In fact, a curfew and patrols are so useful that I'm wondering why they bothered with the rest of the profile.

It's a step that works great - a woman and her boyfriend stop by her home to grab some things, and the presence of a guy foils the killer's scheme! He winds up having to kidnap the woman instead of killing her, driving quickly away from the scene in a vehicle that goes undescribed in the 911 call that a neighbour makes. Moments later Derek and Emily see a car speeding down the street and give chase, only to discover that it's the boyfriend, who was chasing the killer! I'm not sure how Derek and Emily missed that car, though.

I'm also not clear on how the killer is able to drive around the city with impunity - every cop is out at once, and the city is under 'voluntary curfew' with only vital vehicles allowed out. Since that's the case, shouldn't the cops be pulling over anyone just driving around? Shouldn't helicopters be tracking the guy right now? And since the boyfriend can no doubt describe the killer's car - he was chasing it, after all - shouldn't the cops be able to lock it down in short order?

After failing to catch the killer, Derek and Emily head back to the latest victim's house for no discernible reason. What possible evidence could you hope to find there? If you're just looking for a description of the car the killer drove, I'm pretty sure that canvassing the neighbours could be handled by uniforms. Is there not some better use of your time out there?

Sorry, I was wrong, it was important that Emily and Derek be there - because the killer someone (despite being the ONLY CAR ON THE ROAD THAT'S NOT A COP) managed to dodge the hundred police cars out looking for him in the area, circle back, and dump his latest victim in an alley literally one hundred feet from her front door.

(Obligatory comment about how it's nice Emily chose shoes it's impossible to run in)

Then drove away without anyone noticing. While a curfew is happening and no one is allowed on the street. Is this week's killer a wizard?

Also, Garcia has been working the 'how did the killer find his victims' angle, and hasn't found a thing that connects them beyond age, hair colour, sex, and the fact that they all live in the same city. Come on, lady, they expect you to solve these cases for them! Get on the ball!

Now it's time for the Prentiss Award-winning line of the week, as Joe discusses the situation with JJ:



He's already killed four women with a 24-hour period. In what way is he not a spree killer? You might answer that now he won't be targeting specific people, but rather just killing anyone he comes across, but practically, how does that affect the pursuit of him? After all, you have no idea what criteria he's using to select victims, so for all you know, he already is a spree killer by your definition, and he's just lucked into finding four blonde women to murder without being seen over a single day. Yes, that's incredibly preposterous, but still more likely than his ability to avoid being caught driving around during a dragnet.

Now the sun has risen, and the team is sitting around the police station, wondering why they haven't heard about another body turning up yet. If the killer murdered someone at 6AM as they'd predicted he would, then he must have left the front door closed, and authorities haven't found it yet. Or, you know, no one has noticed the open door, since the city is basically shut down and people are afraid to go outside. It could always be that. Joe has more idiotic sentiments to share, suggesting that the killer's cycle has ended, since for the first time the sun rose on a world without the original killer in it. That actually happened yesterday, Joe. The guy was executed at 12:01, as is policy.

Then we get a look at a map of the crime scenes, and it leads to another head-slapping moment.



According to Emily, victim 4 lives at the opposite end of the city from the other victims, so the killer can't possibly be targeting them based on everyone living in his vicinity. Except look at that map. Victim 2 lives essentially the exact same distance from victim 4 as victim 1 does from 3 - none of this invalidates the 'local killer' theory.

The team tries to figure out why the killer would bother bringing his latest victim back to her house, when he would have almost certainly have been caught attempting to do so (why wasn't he, again?) - so they figure body placement must have been important, and Reid draw a line linking all of the crime scenes-


Which he decides should be an arrow. Derek immediately notices that it's pointing right at the police station, and suggests that they all get out of there immediately! Seriously, though, how can you immediately decide that it was meant to be an arrow? Couldn't it just as easily have been a Y? In any event, the idea that he wanted his victims to make a shape on a map brings this episode's contrivance to unheard-of levels. So the killer managed to find four blonde women who exactly matched his profile, lived exactly where he needed them to, and would be vulnerable at exactly the right moment? That's shifted into the realm of hilarity.

Then JJ has an epiphany - what if it's not an arrow at all - if you add rounded lines, doesn't it become...


A poorly-drawn heart!

Before we move on with the team interpreting what that heart means (the killer just wants to be loved, is that so wrong?), let's take a brief peek at a fun continuity lapse! See where JJ drew that heart above? Now let's zoom in on Reid drawing the straight lines from earlier-



Note the mostly-erased heartlines on the map and the not-erased heartlines on the arrow. It seems that this was nowhere near their first take.

Actually, one last quesiton about the map - what's going on with the stickers vs. numbers? Logic would dictate that the stickers were where bodies were found, and the numbers were just there to label the order of death. But everybody drew the important lines from the numbers, as if they were the death sites. If that's the case, then what are the stickers for? I don't think they'd make as even a symbol - although that's largely because when someone was erasing the lines they removed the #4 sticker and then put it back in the wrong place.

Okay, back to wild guesswork!

What. Okay, while the team is trying to guess symbolism, Greg notices that the original killer's widow lives smack in the middle of the heart symbol. Which makes her the target! And makes the preposterousness of the victim selection even more absurd - not only did he have to find women fitting his criteria living in that pattern, he had to find them based on a fixed central location? "No" is not a big enough word to use here.

The team rushes over to the widow's house - since there were no cops closer, somehow - but she's already gone. Garcia quickly finds out where: The prison, to get her husband's things! Apparently she's already left, though, so while half the team goes to track her down, Greg, Joe, and JJ search the house. They discover that the widow wears wigs - so the killer must be taking the hair to make a blonde wig for her? Beyond that, they extrapolate out that the killer must have a romantic obsession with the widow (based on the heart, naturally), and the only person she spent enough time with in the past decade for that kind of obsession to build would be the bus driver who takes her to prison every week!

He also fits the criteria of having prison connections to arrange the attempted hits on the original killer's life - actually, why didn't they pursue that lead? Early on they figured the attempts on the guy's life were connected, shouldn't 'who paid for that' have been a vitally important area of inquiry?

So it's the bus driver, who's currently driving around with the widow. However will they catch him? They search his house and find nothing, but since they figure he's making a wig, Garcia searches his credit cards against wig-making supplies, and discovers that he had them delivered not to his home, but rather to his murder hovel! Wow, that's just incredibly convenient, isn't it? Especially since he spends almost no time in that murder hovel to accept said delivery.

There's a quick scene of wig fetishizing, and then the team shows up. The killer immediately does the hostage-taking thing, but Greg shoots him (tragically non-fatally), and the case is solved!

THE END

Then a scene on the plane in which the team talks about Emily's new house, and then wonders why two serial killers ended up with the same woman. The question is answered by an epilogue in which the widow goes to visit the new killer in jail - she gets off by being around violent men, you see, and now she's going to devote her life to hanging around this new creep, and since serial killer groupies rarely get the treat of having someone actually kill for them, it should be quite satisfying for her.

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

Well, they figured out that the map sign was a heart (not really profiling) and that a heart meant love (so kind of?), so I've got to give them the slightest bit of partial credit.

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

There is literally zero chance that the killer could have driven around town killing all those women without getting caught. It couldn't have happened.

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

2/10

No offense, team, but you didn't find that woman's willingness to stand by her man strange enough. That's the kind of freak you want to look into. Maybe she's harmless, but man, how could the widow of a serial killer who's now being copycatted not be a central player in the case?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was a ridiculous episode. To add insult to injury, the divining rod was used symbolically to suggest that the widow had an ability to discover evil in men and to cause it to spring forth. Thus making both sets of serial killings all her fault. Absurd.

mekei said...

What about the ending that she asks him if he ever read the Arabian night boom and then starts with the part that her husband uttered before being killed. But the new killer having written it to the dead husband was what tipped the team off in the first place. Right???