Criminal Minds 801: The Silencer

Okay, I've been out of the game for a little while, so I'm not entirely sure what it means when the season of Criminal Minds opens at a Texas prison in the middle of the night. Are we starting with an execution? A prison break? An execution turning into a prison break? Maybe someone's last words before being executed creates a new case? In any event, people aren't here for my guessing, so let's get on with the story!

In the prison infirmary a shaking man is strapped to a gurney so that he can be brought out to an ambulance for transfer. During this sequence somebody attached a GoPro to the leg of the gurney, solely because they wanted to play with one, and had to justify buying it using the show's money. Seriously, look at this shot, and tell me what it's doing there-

The shaking man is loaded into an ambulance, where it's established that he has no history of epilepsy. The guard seems weirdly bored by the whole process. Either the guy's got a serious medical condition to be suddenly be having seizures with no history of epilepsy, or he's faking to try and screw with you/escape. In either event, boredom should not be your response.

Out on the road, the paramedic diagnoses the villain's problem as a severe allergic reaction, which the guard thinks was self-induced. They have a debate over whether they should bother saving a mass-murderer's life, but before they can come to a conclusion a deer steps into the road-

 And the ambulance driver decides to risk all of their lives in the hopes of saving it. Is this his fist time driving a car? I know it's sad, but the first rule of animals in the road is that their lives are worth less than yours. He drives professionally along rural highways and somehow does not know this.

So off the road the ambulance goes, freeing the killer like Michael Myers in Halloween 4. I'm going to assume that the gurney was damaged in the crash, since the killer is able to just wrestle the bars that he's handcuffed to loose without much effort. Everyone but the guard is dead from the crash, and when he sees that the killer has gotten loose and grabbed his gun, he tries to talk the guy out of doing anything crazy. Amazingly, it looks like this is going to work for a second when the killer puts the gun down, but then it just turns out that he wanted to kill the guard with his bare hands. Hilarious.

Over at Quantico, Garcia and Derek are returning from a trip to England to consult on cases/visit with Emily. And they brought presents for everyone! As she and Derek debate who gets what, we learn that she's not talking to Xander right now, which is crazy! Didn't they get along really well when they were stopping that mad bomber together? Why can't those two crazy kids make things work?

Everyone talks about the new woman on the team (Jeanne Tripplehorn!), including Garcia dumping a huge amount of exposition about the character's backstory. None of it is important, but I'll point out two hilarious bits anyhow. 1 - She wonders if because the new agent is a Linguistics Professor she'll have to call her 'doctor'. Which is hilarious because Reid already does that, and it would be great if there were two low-self-esteem headcases on the team. 2 - She refers to the new agent as the star of the Unabomber case, which I suppose means that she was the one who was working the phone bank when the Unabomber's brother phoned to tell them who the killer was?

Then something amazing happens while the show is doing the whole 'person they're talking about is behind them' bit. It's so great that I'm just going to put it here - a second video before the credits!

That's right, she's a linguistics prof who can spout the etymology of 'nice', but has no idea how to say the word 'adjective'. Priceless.

Also, the character's name is 'Alex Blake', which I'm going to be using from now on, because it's a shorter word to write than 'Jeanne'.

Is every line of dialogue going to be this bad? Derek asks Alex about the Seattle case they're returning from, and she responds that he made 'Ridgeway look like a saint'. I know she's trying to be colourful, but we're really supposed to believe that the killer was on the scale of someone with 50 bodies to his name?

Time for the new case! Greg breaks it down for them - the killer is on the run with an EMT uniform and a guard's gun! So why is this a case for the BSU rather than Federal Marshals? This photo-

It seems that sewing a guy's mouth shut is the 'signature' of the 'Silencer', a serial killer who went dormant back in 2004 - he was caught by police on an unrelated charge, and has been in jail, refusing to talk ever since! So all through police processing, killing people in jail, he never said a word. Strange. Reid suggests it could be something he was trained to do, which is a decent theory. Perhaps they could look into child abuse cases with eerily silent children from 30-40 years earlier?

As everyone else leaves the room Strauss, whose presence in the scene puzzled me until just now, sidelines Alex to talk about her joining the team. Apparently they have some history, although the nature of it is going to be nebulous for now.

And then it's time for the opening credits? That's really the note you're ending the act on? Weird.

Check it out! New awkwardly-photoshopped group shot!

I know I've asked this before, but why aren't the women carrying guns? Greg and Joe both have jacket lumps at their right hips, and Derek's gun is probably just out of sight, but we've got full-waistline shots of both JJ and Alex, and neither one has a gun. Why?

They have a breakdown of the case on the plane, and it's just full of nonsense. Jeanne asks why they didn't look into this case eight years ago when the killer was running wild in Texas - she points out that he had a classic kill pattern, three victims in four months. Apparently no one has told her that this team only looks for killers who kill someone every single day. It's spree killers only for Greg's team!

Then they talk about how crazy it is that the victimology has completely changed in this new murder, as if that needs to be said. Yes, it's a male guard and not a woman, because that's who was there. It's called a victim of opportunity. Duh. They also puzzle over why the killer only sewed the mouth of the guard shut, but left the other two bodies alone. No one suggests that this could have something to do with the fact that he only killed the guard, and the other two were already dead.

The team splits up when they land, with Greg and Alex going to talk to the local Marshal's office-

Which is in a hallway I swear we've seen before. Do they just use the same hallway and put different logos on the doors in the background?

They discuss their attempts to close down the area, which actually has a good chance of being effective, since he crashed in the middle of nowhere, and they can just set up roadblocks to keep him from escaping in a stolen car. Walking in the desert sun wouldn't get him far, so he's probably hiding until nightfall. They also mention that they're trying to keep the press from knowing about this, which Greg thinks is a good idea.

I have no idea why that is. There's an escaped serial killer wandering through the desert, presumably headed towards the nearest town. Why wouldn't they get every eye they possibly could on the case?

Joe and Reid head off to the killer's cell, where they find that among all his books the favorite was a french copy of the Count of Monte Cristo. Could that mean he wants revenge for wrongful imprisonment? Is the fact that he speaks french a clue? Then, in an hilarious bit of dialogue, they chat back and forth about how the villain only has two speeds, silence and murder - and they think maybe reading his dozen notepads of handwritten text can help them figure out why!

That's right, the show thinks it needs to justify the characters reading the killer's prison diary. As if its existence wasn't reason enough.

Then we head over to the morgue, where they confirm that it's the same exact MO as the previous murders. Except for the note the killer shoved in to the guy's mouth before sewing it up - for some reason the Texans waited until the FBI arrived before opening the stitches. Who can say why? The not reads "Gazing Through To The Other Side". They can't figure out what the message means, or who it might be directed at. They overlook the most likely possibility, that the killer is a Doors fan with bad hearing.

Greg and Alex look over the original crime scene photos - apparently all police departments have lucite  boards for taping photos to?

They offer some decent insight into the case - if he sews up mouths in rage it's probably something that was done to him when he was young. He may well have been voluntarily mute because of a stutter or stammer! And since the women he killed were all middle-aged or close to it, maybe it's a maternal figure he's angry with!

Then all of their smart work goes down the drain when Joe and Reid arrive, carrying the killer's notepads. They announce that the killer is a 'reader', and then stupidity comes fast and furious - Reid points out that he reads in French, but writes in English. Except he just had the one French book, the rest of the books on the shelf were in English. Then Alex takes a look at his notepad, and wonders why, if his reading comprehension was so high, his writing is so basic. Except she has no idea what his reading comprehension level is, since no one has told her the books that were on his shelf. For all she knows the French books could have been the collected adventures of Asterix and Barbapappa. They weren't, of course - but she has no way of knowing this, and is making statements based on information she doesn't have.

Actually, is her specialty going to come up on the show very often? Serial killers almost never leave notes or taunt the police, so how is having a linguistics specialist on the team going to make things easier? That being said, I have no idea what Reid is a doctor of, and his specialty basically never comes up on the show. Hell, he never even uses his photographic memory!

Then Reid wins himself a Prentiss Award for misusing the concepts of ritual and signature, which he's supposed to be pretty familiar with.

How could anyone have looked at three people who were beaten to death, then left with their mouths sewn shut, and thought 'You know what the important thing to focus on is? The beating.' Damn it, Reid.

The whole team pauses to puzzle over the words put in the guy's mouth, and they can't figure out what it could possibly mean. It's not an anagram, it's not in his journals, and it's not a well-known literary reference - why is it significant to him? Despite half the team being the correct age to notice it, no one mentions that it's just two words away from being the title and chorus of one of the most famous songs of the 1960s.

It's finally night again, and time for the killer to move! Continuing the character's connection to Halloween 4 (which I really did not see coming), Michael arrives at a garage and service station out in the middle of nowhere, and kills the guy working there when he starts yelling. Michael even holds his ear, both establishing that he has a physical problem with noise, and giving him a Myers-style head tilt.

Hey, isn't it lucky that the cops didn't go to the press with any of this information, so the garage attendant had literally no idea that there was a crazed serial killer roaming the area within walking distance of his business!

These people are terrible at their jobs.

The team shows up at the kill site that same night, which seems like an amazingly lucky break, so the show tries to explain it by having the Marshal ask Greg how they new to look at the service station. Greg responds that the service station is just the kind of place that an isolated weirdo would gravitate to, since it's out of the way, and he has less chance of being discovered.

Good point, Greg. Maybe if you'd have shared that insight twelve hours ago there could have been cops in the area, and you'd have caught the guy instead of letting him kill someone! They even establish that the service station was just six miles from the accident site! You essentially got this guy killed by not warning him he was right inside the killer's area of operation. Great work, guys.

They find a list of customers, but lament that they don't know what vehicle the killer was driving because they don't know what was in the shop when he arrived! Okay, let's pretend for a second that there exists a service station that doesn't log the make, model, license and VIN of every car that gets brought in for service - I mean, that's an impossibility, I can't get my oil changed without someone taking down the VIN and license plate, but let's just say - why aren't they just calling the customers/going by their houses to find out which car is missing?

Hell, there's a good chance that the killer has the address of one of those people written down in the car he's driving. He probably won't go after them, but just to be safe, shouldn't you be finding out what car he's driving right now?

Then it's time for the next note, which reads 'Waiting on the taste of honey, the smell of summer.' JJ embarrasses herself by suggesting it's the killer lamenting things he was deprived of while in prison. Maybe it's just the first one forcing me to look at this a certain way, but these still sound like lyrics.

Derek then calls Garcia and finds out that she's super nervous that Alex is going to replace her on the team. Which is weird. Sure, she's super-smart, but it's not like she's going to be checking video surveillance footage and illegally searching confidential medical records, i.e. the things that actually solve cases. I'm sure this is just her way of missing Emily, but that's a weird way of having it expressed.

Alex and Reid get the new note, and notice that he's now addressed two more senses, and think that he could be talking about a place. More importantly, though, if these are really his thoughts, and not quotes, it kind of flies in the face of her earlier statement that he had notably poor writing abilities.

While they try to figure out what place he's referring to, I take a moment to notice the map.

First off, that's a neat choice, taping the map on the back of the lucite so you can write on the front and erase it easily. More importantly, though, what the hell is going on with those stickers? According to this map of the greater Abilene area, the prison is on the outskirts of Hawley, TX, which is around ten miles from Abilene, and its many hospitals, one of which Michael was presumably being brought to. If that's the case, though, why did the ambulance apparently take a detour around Abilene and drive another ten miles - most of the way to Merkel, TX, before getting into an accident? Where could they possibly have been going?

Also, it's nice to notice that geographic profiling would have been essentially useless in this case, because, according to the body dump locations on that map, the killer's comfort zone is the entirety of Abilene.

Proflie time! Greg and the team outline what they know about the killer, which is approximately nothing. Except that he uses the International Phonetic Alphabet in his writing. Which feels like it should have come up way, way earlier. In fact, the bizarre nonsense symbols covering his notepads should have been the first thing they noticed.

This weird digression gives Alex her fist chance to be a pretentious dick to local cops, mentioning in passing that Michael uses the IPA in passing, thereby forcing the head Marshal to ask what that means. I'm with that guy - I had to look it up. Turns out that it's the jumbled mess you see in a dictionary before the word definition, where every sound in a language has a specific symbol, teaching us the correct pronunciation of things.

So we're being asked to believe that Alex can, at a glance, read the Phoenetic Alphabet, but doesn't know how to pronounce adjective? Amazing.

In case you're wondering, the team offers zero actionable information in the profile, other than the fact that the killer probably isn't planning to leave town, because he didn't steal money from the service station. Great. Still no ID on the car, though, despite this being at least an hour later. Half-wits.

Meanwhile, the killer has parked down a side-street, and tapes his lazy eye shut so he can get some rest - but then he pauses when he sees a woman drive up to a rest stop. Also, why is she arriving at the rest stop at like 3AM? Shouldn't she be a little more worried what with the escaped serial killer working the area? Oh, wait - the cops are still keeping that a secret. My bad.

After the profile, Derek criticizes Alex for not letting the cops into their thoughts about the messages the killer is leaving. Although I'm not sure what he would have had her say. "He's leaving messages to us. We have no idea what they mean. Do with that what you will." And since a local cop has never used their profile to catch anyone, ever, isn't getting into debates about its content academic at best, and an utter waste of time at worst?

The team wonders about the scar under the killer's left ear - could it have been self-inflected? Is it related to his droopy eye? They also eventually come to the conclusion that Michael could have gotten into all of those fights in order to be thrown into solitary, where it's quiet. Perhaps he had a deaf mother who beat him up whenever he spoke? Wait, that makes zero sense.

Oh, right, the young woman. She drives off from the rest stop while the killer watches, then a young man arrives, with a baby in the car, and Michael moves in to kill the dad, spend some time looking after the baby, and then leaves. Weird.

The team finds no note in the dad's mouth, and figures that taking care of the baby was some kind of a message. Also, he leaves all the surgical tools behind, suggesting that he won't be sewing any more mouths shut. The team is basically nowhere at this point.

Having stolen the dead dad's station wagon, Michael finally encounters a road block, and flees into the woods to avoid having to deal with it. Somehow a guy pulling out of the line and abandoning his car isn't notably curious to the state troopers manning the roadblock, or the drivers directly in front of or behind the killer, so he's able to get away.

Back at the Marshal's office, the team goes over the facts again. The finally get around to checking on the sons of the original victims, figuring that if he's been killing mother figures, isn't it possible that one of them was his actual mother? You'd think the original cops would have been on top of that eight years ago, but whatever, let's keep going. They keep obsessing about the scar under his ear, and wonder why he'd have inflicted it on himself. Could he have been trying to deafen himself? Perhaps he had a malfunctioning implant that makes all sound painfully loud? I'm still not sure how he could have this new, nasty scar under his ear without the prison hospital noticing it. After all, even if he didn't get it in a fight, wouldn't there be a lot of blood and bandaging needed? How could he have possibly kept it a complete secret in prison?

Turns out one of the kids was deaf and had a bad implant put into his head that been torturing him his whole life. No wonder he murdered his mother, and a bunch of other women and men! So now they know the killer's name and face, but have no idea how to find him. Despite the fact that he's a maladjusted freak with zero resources or social skills. They decide to focus on his notes, assuming they refer to a happy place - someone finally points out how unnatural they sound, although Alex doesn't go with lyrics, but rather 'human speech specific to campfire tales'. Yikes, that's just...

Anyhow, it turns out the killer is extremely unlucky, since the exact time he broke out of prison is when the honey stand he had fond memories of-

Is being torn down! By the loud machines he hates most! Poor guy. Now it's time for a leap! Alex announces that the term 'waiting on' is specific to a 6-block area of Texas, where Michael wasn't from! So why would he be obsessing over it? They check on people who were his immediate neighbors in solitary, and find one from that part of Texas - and it turns out the part of Texas he was from had a famous honey dealership! Which is currently being demolished! The team immediately figures out that Michael would have already made it to the honey dealership, discovered that it was destroyed, and become angry enough at his prison neighbour to seek him out at his nearby house that Michael somehow knows the location of!

Wow. All of that. Wow.

Over at the neighbour's house, neighbour discovers that his family is being held hostage by Michael. So Michael ties up the neighbour and starts sewing his mouth shut, but the team gets there in time to save the day, sadly by not shooting Michael to death. Michael signs some self-pitying nonsense about how there's no good places in the world, and that he's not going back to jail. In a happy coincidence, Alex also knows sign language, and is able to sign back that there's no other way, which seems like she's daring him to shoot himself, which is what he does.

So... good work, Alex? Unless you didn't mean for him to shoot himself, in which case you're just bad at your job.


Back at Quantico we get more with Strauss and Alex. Strauss apologizes for hanging Alex out to dry when she accidentally arrested the wrong person in that famous Anthrax terrorism case. Remember, the one where a bunch of letters were sent to prominent people in America, and they never figured out who did it, but the FBI accused a guy and hounded him until he committed suicide even though they could never prove any involvement? Yeah, that was partially her fault, it seems. And it massively ankled her career, taking her a decade to recover. Wow, from answering the Unabomber phone call to screwing up the Anthrax attacks in just a few years, what an amazing biography! Weird that the utter failure of the last ten years of her career didn't make it into Garcia's bio, huh?

Alex takes a moment to herself at the end of the episode, which gives Garcia a chance to apologize for being a jerk and welcome her onto the team! Which is a sweet way to wrap up the episode.

Then it's time for a teaser for what's going to be a season-long arc, I'm assuming, as someone in a darkroom develops pictures... of the team!

Who could this crazed stalker be? Let's find out together, as the season progresses! Let's just hope it lasts longer than that Reaper mess.

Wouldn't it be weird if one of their old adversaries came back, though? Not that I'd be able to pick one I want to see again...

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

Partially, but in a ridiculous way. The killer left nonsensical notes for no other reason than so the team's brand-new linguist would be able to use linguistic profiling to figure out what specific part of Texas a guy who knew the killer for a couple of weeks many years ago came from. Based on everything we know about the killer there's no reason for him to leave the notes, or even kill anyone after he'd escaped the ambulance.

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

Had the search and roadblocks been handled in an even slightly competent way, he'd have been discovered almost immediately. Also, again, great work getting that guy killed by not warning the like hundred people in the immediate area of the crash that there was a killer on the loose.

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


Nothing the killer did really made sense this week. Okay, he wanted to punish people who yell at him, I get that - but why kill the guy with the baby? How did he know where the neighbour lived? How did he get across Texas during a manhunt?

It's just weird watching the show develop the most contrived killer backstory imaginable just so there'll be a guy that Alex can help them catch. They couldn't even do that right, though - since they ended up catching him by simply checking what the immediate relatives of the original victims were up to.

Hey, I just realized something... why weren't the notes written in the phonetic alphabet, if he's so fond of it? Why leave notes at all, if he had no interest - not even a subconscious one - in being caught?

Also, if they're so good at identifying people by their photo, why didn't they run the guy's booking photo against driver's licenses from the years before he went to prison? After all, the guy knows how to drive, he presumably has a license.


pernoctator said...

So glad you're back in the game. I really enjoy your [shredding of] take on the show.

It's kind of sad that it's not even worth mentioning that the killer turned into a spree killer immediately after his escape or that the team apparently didn't even try to call ahead and warn the family of the cell neighbour, because - of course.

For me though, the most ridiculous thing was that they were trouting his reading comprehension and language skills while flicking through what could only have been the Cliff Note's version of The Count of Monte Cristo. That book has a thousand pages minimum.

starstruckvideo said...

i know this is a really old post, but I was re-watching this episode on Netflix, and one of the more inane things I caught was that this guy was in prison for eight years - and was a very problematic prisoner - and nobody tried to find out who he was, just listing him as John Doe? I guess it's a good thing they didn't tell the press about the escape. What were they going to say, be on the lookout for John Doe?