Criminal Minds Episode 807: The Fallen

We're back in LA, as the episode opens at the Santa Monica pier! I'd make a snarky comment about the producers getting lazy about trying to make LA look like other places, but A: They never actually tried that hard in the first place, and B: LA actually does have more than its fair share of serial killers, so this is fine. The episode opens with a street musician busking while a well-to-do gent gets himself dolled up for a night of murder. Their stories dovetail quickly, with the gent giving her an extravagant tip and then taking her out for a nice dinner

At least, that's what he says he's going to do - too late she notices that she's climbed onto a leather seat with a deeply out-of-place plastic slipcover on it.

That seems like a sensible precaution to keep from damaging the leather on his seats, but then his method of murder - stabbing her over and over again in the stomach, would likely get blood all over the place, so it seems like a half-measure at best.

Then it's over to Joe, who's being called by his agent to compliment him on his new book of gossipy stories about all the serial killers he catches in his day job! At least I assume that's what it's about - the killers the agent mentions - The Butcher, The Piano Man, and The Queen of Diamonds seem to refer to to the father-son murder team, the rapesong afficionado, and the Royal Flush gang episodes - I've got to say, I would read the hell out of this book if they actually published it. Much like they transformed episodes of Yes, Minister into a collection of cabinet diaries, it would be fantastic if they hired a writer to do a John Douglas-style case dry-yet-angry breakdown of the cases from the show. Consider at least one copy sold, producers!

The Agent is happy with the manuscript, but annoyed that Joe hasn't added a dedication page, and he's under a lot of pressure, since they're ready to go to print! They need those dedications by the end of the day, but Joe says week, since there's a new murder to investigate.

Um, no, they are absolutely not ready to go to print. Even if it's his publisher, and not agent, as I'd previously assumed, she's talking like she just finished reading the book. Maybe junior editors had handled the entire rewrite and proofread process with Joe, and she's reading it incredibly late, there's no way the final text of  that book wouldn't have to go through an exhaustive revision by lawyers. He's writing about real cases in which actual people died, as recently as a year earlier. They would have to be incredibly careful to avoid lawsuits with a book like this, and that whole endeavour would absolutely not happen before his publisher had gotten her hands on the book.

But hey, compressed time, stupid arbitrary deadlines to add faux character-relationship tension, I get what they're doing. It's just jaw-droppingly inaccurate.

To the briefing! It seems that the gent has been burning his victims and dumping them around the beach in Santa Monica - on the benches, under piers, in super-public places, really.

So, I know that the whole beach area is popular enough that he couldn't be burning them where they're found, even in the middle of the night, but is it ever so empty that a guy would be able to drive up to a parking lot in the middle of the night, drag a charred corpse out of his car, carry it all the way down to the beach, prop it up against a pier, and then leave without anyone seeing him? That seems like a stretch, doesn't it?

The team goes over some standard guesses - the victims were assorted gender, so they rule out sexual assault as a likely motive, as if there'd ever been such a thing as a rapist who attacks both sexes! Crazy talk, am I right? Of course I'm not, and neither are they. Garcia also mentions that the ME hasn't figured out cause of death for any of the victims yet, but she (Garcia) guesses that the fire probably did it. The team doesn't mention it, but that's super-unlikely based on the position of the body. I've watched enough Forensic Files to know that people burned alive have their arms and legs curl up, putting them in the 'pugilist' pose, where the two bodies we've seen photos just look like someone poured gas on a corpse and then lit a match.

Also, these three corpses have turned up in the past WEEK! What? How are the corpse not swarming the pier at all hours? How was the busker so stupid as to say 'yeah, I'll go for a meal with you, complete stranger! After all, nothing bad ever happened to beach bums, right? Except for the two who were killed, had their corpses burned and then dumped withing a mile of here in the past week! You know, other than that! So, where do you want to go?' Unless Santa Monica has no government of any kind and is ruled by feral dogs, this lack of a police crackdown is insane. Sure, one body turns up, maybe you don't lock down the beach, but after two in the same week? I'm guessing there would be a 1:1 tourist:plainclothes cop ratio until they caught the gent.

Jeanne pops up with a particularly bad bit of profiling, offering that burning someone to death means that the killer is patient as well as sadistic. Nope, he's just sadistic. Burning people does not take much time at all, just some gasoline and a match. Any of the torture or medical research-themed killers you've dealt with have spent way more time with their victims than a burning would take, yet no one has every talked about how 'patient' they would have to be as if it was a useful bit of psychological insight.

Reid does much better with the concrete suggestion that the killer needs both private transportation and a out-of-the-way burn sight where a suspicious bacon-smelling fire wouldn't draw attention. So not a homeless guy, then. Not great, but still more useful than Jeanne. Seriously, though, when have they ever faced a killer who didn't have a car? Rambo, the rail-rider... isn't that about it? And Rambo actually had a car, he was just too crazy to use it.

They also note that he's gone from a 4-day cool off between the first two victims to a 2-day between the second and third - Greg wants to stop him before he he gets to one! Which they absolutely won't do, becuase it's already like 7AM PST while they're having this meeting - hour to get to the airport, five hour flight, hour to get to the police station/morgue/wherever they split up and go to. They're not actually going to start investigating the case until 1PM Santa Monica local time. They're good at their jobs, almost unbelievably good, actually, but I don't see them solving this thing in eight hours.

On the plane, the team tries to figure out why the killer keeps dropping bodies around the pier. Is it somehow important to him? Is he just showing off? None of it means anything or is in any way useful, so it's a relief to all when Garcia video-chats in with some actual clues!

The woman killed in the opening turns out to be from out of state - and there's a pile of contradictions! She doesn't have a job, but has a nice place, and even though she moved to LA months ago, she's only been in communication with people from back home - no new friends! Does this mean that she wasn't a random victim? Is the gent grooming his victims by supporting them financially until they're ready to be murdered? More importantly, they assume that the killer is super-efficient because the victim was texting right up until 7PM, and her body was found the next morning, so the kidnap/murder/incineration all had to happen inside twelve hours.

First off, it's not a super-useful clue, considering that, if you imagine that she was killed right when the signals stopped at 7, that would give the gent an hour to drive to a secure location, eight hours to superficially burn the body, and then another hour to drive back to the pier to easily have the body on a bench by dawn. That's not a tight schedule in the least, since we're talking about minutes of burning time, rather than hours.

More importantly - why do you think the fact that she was texting is proof that she was alive? You still haven't placed her on the pier during the last day of her life. It's not like this would be the first time someone was faking that the victim was alive by continuing to text their friends and loved ones. I mean, we the audience knows she only died right at 7, but they shouldn't be jumping to this conclusion without proof.

Derek and JJ go straight to the latest dump site, and wonder what the killer was trying to accomplish by putting the body in such a public place. They mention that the cops increased patrols after the first two charred corpses were dumped on the beach, but somehow the gent still managed to get past them. Could 'first responders' (ugh, can't get over how much I hate that term) be responsible?

I wonder if the show will never satisfactorily explain this body relocation? If the show's history is anything to go by, probably not.

They also note that because the bodies are all getting found and removed well before rush hour the gent may not be placing the bodies as an attempt to scare off tourists. But who could the message be meant for the, wonders Derek?

I'm going to say joggers. Joggers are the only ones up that early, right? Here are some joggers finding the body!

So what does the gent have against joggers?

Now it's over to Greg, who gets a phone call from Garcia with even more information! Apparently they don't know where the latest victim lived after all - the address her mother had for her was actually a PO Box! Interestingly, she only ran the address after she noticed that there weren't any utility accounts under the victim's name, which she found suspicious. Um... shouldn't you have run the address the second you got it? How is the lack of utility accounts in any way relevant? She's been in town for two months. Wouldn't it be way more likely that she's living with a roommate?

I know this show is based on a compressed timeline, but at the end of Greg's conversation with Garcia she announces that the victim's mother is about to arrive at LAX, and she's being sent to the police station where Greg is for an interview. That's... um... crazy. The body was found at 6AM. Considering how much investigation would have necessarily been done around the crime scene, I can't imagine the body getting to the morgue much before noon. Then you've got to do the dental exam and file away the records - they only got an ID when the plane was most of the way to LA, say 2PM LA time. Did the person who notified the mother of her daughter's death do so during the drive to the airport? How awkward must that have been?

At the morgue, Jeanne and Reid are checking in on the latest corpse - we get our first plot-hole-esque statement here, when the coroner announces that there was no soot in the lungs, so the victim was dead when burned 'just like the other victims'. Of course, the team, which had access to the previous two autopsies on the flight, was still operating under the possibility that the victims had been burned to death. Are they not doing the reading? Getting cocky, team?

They immediately jump to the fire being a forensic countermeasure designed to throw off investigators. Which seems like a dangerous conclusion - why fire? Why not bleach? Why not the ocean? It's right there - it feels like the burning should still be considered a relevant element for psychological profile.

Then we're back to Greg and Jet-Set Mom, who has no helpful information except for the fact that the victim played guitar on the pier, and that's a good connection to draw. But where was she living? Also, it feels like this could have been done over the phone. Or Skype. Or by Minnesota cops or FBI agents. Flying her two hours for a quick conversation the same day she found out her daughter died seems needlessly cruel.

Joe and Greg head to a homeless shelter near the pier, hoping that was where the latest victim was staying, and what's best termed a baffling scene plays out.

Lady, this is the world of Criminal Minds. They call the FBI in over strangled dogs. This is three people brutally murdered, burnt to a crisp, and then strategically placed in public locations. You cannot be surprised that the FBI is here. Why aren't you terrified about this absurdly horrific situation?

If the FBI was here to investigate a series of drug dealers shot to death in alleys, I would understand your skepticism, but this is the writers being so disconnected from human experience they have no idea how shocking this would be.   

While Greg is busy hearing about how great the victim was, Joe notices someone with a military patch on his arm. Since the gent obviously isn't a homeless guy, I'm guessing this is going to relate to Joe's previously unmentioned (or has it been?) military history, and tie in with the book dedication subplot.

Wow, was I right. The show immediately goes into the most generic NAM scene of all time, right down to CCR playing on the soundtrack. It's so cliched I would call it a  parody if I thought the show was capable of doing such a thing.

Okay, that's too mean - obviously if Matthew Gubler wanted to do an incisive parody of the show with one of his episodes, he would be capable of it, but I don't think that's within the mandate they give him.

Point is, Joe was in the military, and his old Sergeant is now homeless. It's Criminal Minds trying to be topical! Fun fact - the man Joe is partially based on, John Douglas, wasn't in Vietnam! He dodged the draft by enlisting in the Air Force, because he didn't want to fight and was pretty damn smart about it! Seriously, he had a university degree in physical education, and said to himself 'You know what I bet they don't need in Vietnam? Air Force Gym teachers.' And he was 100% right.

The best part? His former is Sargeant is none other than Mannequin's Meschach Taylor!

Who I feel like is too young for the part, but maybe that's only because I grew up watching him on Designing Women and have no idea how old he is. A quick trip to IMDB proved me wrong - he was born in '47, well within the 'Nam window. Also he died in 2014 and it wasn't widely reported by the media, so now I'm sad.

Oh well, let's get back to the show!

The scene plays out in a standard way - Joe wants to help, but Meschach is too proud, but then it ends with a crazily stupid contrivance-

I know they wanted him to disappear while Joe was turned away, but that's not believable for a second. Joe is an FBI Agent who is also a famous author. There's no way he has to go to the glove compartment of a borrowed vehicle to get a card. How would that have even gotten there? He gets off the plane, climbs into the SUV, and then empties out his pockets into the glove compartment? Who would do that?

Unless this character is a ghost haunting Joe's subconscious, just have him take the card and walk away.

Down by the Pier, the gent is accosted by a busker - a portraitist this time! He's drawn a helpful outline of the gent's face-

Which doesn't look anything like a character we've met yet, but that means nothing, since we've only met three ladies and an old black guy.

The show immediately cuts to the gent drowning somebody in bleach.

It might be the busker, we're not shown enough of him to be sure. But wow, he must have quite a patter to be able to get that guy to come with him from a crowded beach.

Yet he pulled it off, apparently within just a few minutes, because check this out-

That's the busker, chemical burned to death on a sidewalk. Yikes. Also, I guess I was wrong about fire being significant - he's fine mixing it up with the bleach I suggested. Or a fire would be noticed during the day, and he super-just-had-to kill this guy right away.

The show is being incredibly unhelpful when it comes to timeline - Joe, JJ, and Derek are all standing around the new body, which was dumped in front of a homeless shelter by a guy who now seems to have a pretty big grudge against that population. How did he do that unnoticed? Aren't homeless shelters pretty popular places at any time of the day? Is this the same day? If so, how did he drop a body off in broad daylight? If not, how did the show fail so badly as to offer no visual signifier that time had passed?

Thankfully, Meschach isn't a spectre of Joe's haunted soul, because he turns up to ID the newest victim! Then Joe and Meschach talk about their shared tragic war stories, while mentioning in passing that it's the next day. So at least that's one mystery solved. Seriously, Criminal Minds, would it have been that hard to give us a single shot of the gent pulling the busker out of his car in the middle of the night?

Profile time! It's a montage of the team going around, telling cops and homeless people to be on the lookout for someone who's comfortable in the area and blends in well! Gosh, that should be useful! They talk about how the homeless people should be sleeping in groups and keeping an eye out for each other, but they weirdly don't seem to ask if anyone has been trying to get homeless people to go places with them - given that the bodies are burned/bleached in a secondary location, he's either clubbing people over the head and throwing them in a trunk, or they're traveling with him willingly (at first) because he's able to convince them to. Most likely by offering them money. So why isn't that part of your profile, team?

The profile actually features the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night, this time from Jeanne!

That's what you're getting from the bodies being dumped during the day? That he has a day job? So if he didn't have a day job he'd just cart charred corpses around at high noon? Are you an idiot? The fact that he's kidnapping, brutalizing, burning, and dumping bodies over the course of a few hours every night actually suggests that he doesn't have a day job - he's been amazingly busy from dusk to dawn for the past week, so when is he sleeping, if not during regular business hours?

What are you even doing, Jeanne? It's not like the guy is leaving notes for you to interpret.

Afterwards, Joe and Meschach spend some time reminiscing about how without Meschach's help Joe wouldn't have made it out of The Nam, and it's all pretty cliched, as I mentioned previously. So instead of covering it, let me share an example of how stupid the writers think the audience is. In trying to make it seem like Joe was always destined to hunt serial killers, Meschach reminsces about the time they found a guy who the VC had tortured by cutting him to pieces, but then left him alive for them to find. According to Meschach, only Joe figured out that the reason they'd done it was to scare the other soldiers.

Yes, that's something that needed to be 'figured out'. Because any other soldier would have found a guy with no hands or face and said 'Huh, I guess the VC was just bored' then shrug and go on his way. How stupid was this squad? Did they know which end of the helmets to put their heads in?

More profiling! They mull over the significance of stabbing and burning versus drowning people in bleach. One conclusion? That he's learning to enjoy the kills, and drowning is more torturous and satisfying than a brutal stabbing. Is that really true? Is watching people thrashing around really more satisfying than seeing them terrified as they bleed to death?

Also, not for nothing, none of you have mentioned tracking down bulk purchases of bleach. Spoiler alert - it takes a lot of bleach to fill a bathtub, and they're operating under the (correct) theory that he was submerged.

JJ's insight? This could be about socioeconomic cleansing! Literal, rather than the Rudy Guliani kind! Then Greg pipes in with 'he's trying to get rid of the homeless!' Which, you know, thanks Greg, that's been the obvious plot of the episode for the last ten minutes.

Hey, remember when I said the big hole in their profile was they didn't warn people about strangers showing up and trying to get homeless people to come with them, offering help? Yeah, seems like a huge oversight, because that very night the gent accosts the woman who runs the homeless shelter, thinking that she's one of the very people she helps. In an amazing coincidence this all happens just ten feet from where war hero Meschach is getting drunk between two dumpsters! They get into a fight, but Meschach is way off his game, so he gets stabbed and left for dead while the woman is abducted!

Damn, Meschach. Damn.

Joe then lectures Meschach about how alcoholism ruined his life, and now kept him from winning a fight against a practiced murderer forty years his junior. Yeah, Joe, that might not have been the booze. Anyhow, now there's a witness to interview!

Now that they know it's a young white guy driving an incredibly recognizable car (classic Mustang) with a partial plate, it should be just a matter of time!

Garcia runs the info, for some reason restricting it to a two-mile radius rather than the entire county. I have no idea why, but whatever. It turns out one of the Mustangs is owned by a firefighter who had saved a bunch of homeless people when their squat burned down, only to be fired a few months later!

The team rushes over to the guy's house, getting there just in time to save the homeless helper lady! Um... how? He abducted her in the middle of the night. It's now at least six hours later-

And he's just now getting around to sewing up the wound on his head and murdering his hostage? Did he take a nap with her in the trunk of his car? Everyone else he's dragged off, killed, and then dumped the same night. Why the change, other than to allow for a rescue?

Oh, that's the only reason? Okay.

Then the team goes running around the neighbourhood looking for the gent, because they didn't bother to surround his house before busting in. Maybe if they involved the local police a little more this sort of thing wouldn't happen.

So the team's incompetence means that the gent is able to just run away, steal a car, and zip over to the alley where Meschach sleeps-

Because Meschach immediately went back to the alley to get drunk? Joe didn't have him stay at the FBI office to wait on photos of possible suspects to identify? This is the most preposterous thing yet in this entirely terrible episode of Criminal Minds.

While searching the gent's house, the team discovers OCD-levels of cleanliness, and plenty of hospital-strength disinfectants. Their conclusion? His OCD must have driven him to see the homeless themselves as an infection that he was going to clean the streets of!

Hilariously, their psychological guesswork turns out to be completely wrong, as Garcia reveals that the reason the gent lost his job is that he was disabilitied-out after he caught TB from two of the homeless people he rescued from that fire. So no, he doesn't see the homeless as a metaphorical plague that he has to clean away, he sees the actual diseases that the homeless people actually carry as an actual plague that he can deal with. They just couldn't be more wrong this week, could they?

They make a random guess that literally the only possible place he could take Meschach is the warehouse where he caught TB, and it turns out that they're right, and make it there just as he's about to kill Meschach and himself in an immolation murder-suicide.

The team tries to profile the gent into surrendering, with Derek saying that it's his own fault that he caught TB, since he ran into the warehouse fire without protective gear. Except that from the photos of that incident-

He clearly just happened across the fire while he was off-duty, perhaps even out jogging, given that he's wearing shorts and running shoes. He managed to save six out of a possible fifteen people, which is pretty damn miraculous for an off-duty firefighter in civilian clothes. If the fire was that bad, waiting the ten minutes it would have taken to get his protective gear and a firetruck would have meant everyone would have died.

Of course, then he wouldn't have TB, and four other homeless people wouldn't be dead... it's a tough call, but weirdly, the guy is still two homeless people up, so I think Derek's probably wrong on this one, too.

Meschach tells the team to leave, since they can't shoot the gent without him dropping the lighter and setting the whole building on fire - and Meschach doesn't want the team to risk getting burned. Not that they're really in any danger. Fire isn't the Flash, and they're all standing next to the door.

Then, in a scene so poorly-blocked it's incoherent, Derek manages to sneak to the other side of the warehouse and point a gun at the gent, which causes the killer to, for some reason, walk away from Meschach, who he was using as a human shield, and towards the people pointing guns at him. It's baffling from a character standpoint, and happens only so Joe can run up and drag Meschach out of the building.

I know they want a happy ending, but Christ, writers, you've got to work for it a little.

So the gent sets himself on fire, saving the state of California a costly trial!

Happy Ending!

Except for America's homeless vets, who are still getting screwed by an indifferent nation. And Meschach, who tells Joe a new story about how they weren't really heroes, and how a kid sacrificed his life to save the two of them, but the government covered it up for nebulous reasons. But hey, at least now Joe has someone to dedicate his book to! Also they immediately get the government to give a posthumous medal to the guy who threw himself on a mine.

Seriously, the show ends with him making out that dedication, which, given the completely artificial deadline established at the beginning of the episode, makes it seem like they managed to get the US Army to give out a bronze star to a dead guy within two days.

Oh, Criminal Minds. (Shakes head sadly.)

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

Nope. They guessed wrong about almost everything, and the one time they did guess right (it was a first responder), they missed it because the firefighter doing the killing had been recently fired. They're so bad at using their own generalized criteria that it didn't even occur to them to look for first responders who had recently lost their jobs.

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

It absolutely was. A witness saw the killer and his car. Also, when actual cops went to arrest the gent, they presumably wouldn't be so disastrously bad at basic entry tactics, and would have caught him running out the back door while the front was being kicked in.

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


I'd have given them a 2, what with them guessing that he'd go back to the warehouse, but they never should have let him run off in the first place. And he was planning on killing himself along with Meschach, so it was pretty close to the final result. Honestly, their psychology was so bad this week that I can't even pity the fools.

Seriously, though - such bad guesses this week! Also, Jeanne continued not using her special skill for the sixth week in a row! Does anyone even remember what it was? I mean, I do, but I'm obsessive.

They missed so much! The bulk buying of bleach, the fact that he definitely didn't have a day job, the fact that he would be going around trying to be solicitous to the homeless, and would therefore stand out - literally all the things that should have brought him to their attention sooner, and they figured out none of them.

Where did he actually do the burning? It couldn't have been in his garage, since he lived in a well-populated area, and people would have smelled/seen something, but the only other place we see him have access to, the warehouse of the TB fire, is actually pretty public too - it's a condemned building with no doors or windows that's about to fall over. Black smoke pouring out of the roof would be super-obvious day or night, and would likely lead to someone calling the cops.

Also, the show never actually explained how he was able to carry burned corpses around without being noticed. Yes, they were in the trunk of his car, but at some point the man's got to stop the car on a street, walk to the trunk, put 150 pounds of meat over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, and waddle it anywhere from ten meters to a bench, to a hundred meters down to a pier. All the while suffering from tuberculosis so bad he should be coughing up a lung every few steps.

Not one plausible thing about this episode, guys. There wasn't one.


Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Vardulon! Also, thank you for pointing out all the inconsistencies, even the ones that skated past me. And grr! Jeanne! What is the point of you?!?! Is there just a contractual obligation for the show producers to hire one (1) brunette at all times?

Anonymous said...

I just think the writers of the show should hire you as their "beta reader", some episodes are very good in my opinion, but once you point out the plot holes, they seem to become weak... some episodes are weak anyway, and I don't like that they seem to forget things that happened in the past to characters, they change them or ignore them altogether!

Still, I love the show, I think what has made it last through all these years is the chemistry between the actors and actresses of the team.

Hurry up updating, they are already in Season 11, who would've thought that?

Anonymous said...

My theory about contractual obligation (I've only watched until this episode and seen pics of older ones, so maybe it changes in the future): Reid, Garcia, team leader, african american, grumpier older profiler, brunette, and blonde.