Criminal Minds 808: The Wheels on the Bus

The episode opens on a schoolbus, in which a bunch of teenagers are preoccupied with teenage things. Flirting, video games, plans for the upcoming winter formal, because in America I guess there's like two proms a year?

The school bus is waved down by a red-haired gent next to a range rover, and I immediately have to stop and question this whole setup.

That a limited-access, six lane divided highway. The fact that there's a schoolbus full of kids on it means that this is either 7:45AM or 3:45PM. How on earth could there be a road that huge anywhere in America at those times of day so empty that a guy can literally stop in the middle of the road (he's not pulled over to the shoulder or anything) and no one has stopped or called the authorities? Did he get there and pull out just five seconds earlier? Wouldn't that mean he had to blast passed the bus at something like twice the speed limit? And if he did, how could he know that another car wouldn't pass the bus and spot him?

What I'm saying is, whatever he's planning to do, this is the worst possible way to start it off.

Because everyone's awful at their job, the bus driver and teacher (maybe it's a middle-of-the-day field trip? In any case, there's still no excuse for the empty road.) decide not to call roadside assistance, or find it suspicious that a guy who possibly ran out of gas stopped in the middle of the road. The bus driver thinks it might be a flat tire, and says they shouldn't call the cops, but that's insane, because a car in the middle of the road is a huge safety hazard that has to be dealt with immediately. Also, you can tell if a car has a flat tire by looking at it.

Once the bus driver opens the door - are they not told that they should never do this? You can just have the guy come around to the window if you want to talk to him - a second guy runs out of the woods and shoots the driver in the leg, then threatens the passengers to not use their cell phones. Ominously, both men are now wearing gas masks! Although the shooter has long, unkempt hair that suggests that he's pretty young.

Of to Quantico, where Penelope runs into Xander, then avoids some kind of an awkward conversation with him by dragging him into the war room! They need all the help they can get to deal with this abduction!

The team is running down the facts for a couple of featured extras-

And before I get to the actual briefing, can we just comment on how weirdly lazy the costuming has gotten on the show? Why does that guy have a badge and gun on his hip? The badge type suggests that he's a DC cop, so it's odd that he's here for a briefing, and why on earth does he have his gun on him? They don't let you keep those in federal buildings. If he works there it would be locked away with his stuff, if he's a visitor it would be downstairs in the gun lockers. Were they that afraid we wouldn't know he was law enforcement just based on context?

So, the abduction happened in the DC area at 1PM, so yeah, the lack of traffic is completely insane/inexcusable. The bus has disappeared completely, with helicopters and patrol cars being completely unable to find it! Also, they've apparently called every phone on the bus and nobody answered... shouldn't they have found out that all of the phones had their batteries removed? Because unless the villains took that step, wouldn't they have been found already?

They also mention that the kids dropped off at the first two stops got home just fine, so I guess this was the regular bus home? At 1PM? I mean, I know I've been out of high school for a long time, but do teens normally go home at 1PM?


We get a fill-in for the standard plane briefing as the team races to the scene in their SUVs! Which means the briefing has to happen over cell phones with speakers on them, because apparently their FBI SUVs can't sync phones? Maybe it's a data security thing.

They try to guess why a particular bus was targeted, but it's just random theorizing at this point, since they have no information. All of the cell phones are accounted for, though, tossed out a window in a backpack, it seems. No one mentions how weird it is that a bus was stopped long enough for a bunch of criminals to subdue a bunch of teens and two adults, but I think that's mostly because the writers were hoping we wouldn't notice. It's honestly weird that they couldn't find a rural road to set this scene on. Would have made so much more sense.

Turns out the bus driver had a record of altercations with teens, and the lady on the bus was a monitor assigned to that particular route... but why? We'll find out soon, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, the teens have been shoved into a panel truck, and had tracking necklaces put on. Weird.

Over at the high school, the team is spending their incredibly valuable time interviewing the parents of the missing kids. Which seems like something the local police could do. Although, at this point I'm not sure what the team really has to offer. They have zero evidence to start basing their wild jumps to conclusion on.

Penelope and Xander work the tech angle, and find a photo taken during the kidnapping! It's just of the girl's face, though, so I don't know how much help it's going to be. Maybe a reflection in her eye?

6:50 case reference

Over at the crime scene, Reid and Jeanne try to do a little backfill, explaining that this is the best part of the highway to abduct people, since there's no buildings at the sides of the road to notice them. Of course, it's still a highway, and presumably other cars than school buses drive on it. More importantly, why are they out here at all? They're not at the place where the bus was stopped - they've stated that they have no good idea where that is, so what's this random bit of highway they've chosen to get out and walk around on? The place where the cell phones were found?

Or maybe they've just gone to the place where the bus was when its GPS shut off, which would be a pretty logical move, although I have no idea what profilers could possibly do out there. It's not like they're good at picking up traces of tire tracks or identifying leaking vehicle fluids.

Greg interviews a school functionary about the bus driver, and she assures him that there's nothing suspicious about him driving even after getting a reprimand - after all, he'd completed behaviour classes! Then before Greg can finish asking if the driver is the one who was being monitored, or if it was a troublesome student (how was that not his first question?) a cop comes in and announces that they've found a body!

So who is it, the driver or the monitor? Probably the driver, right? He's already been shot, and all.

It is the bus driver, of course. Joe starts off the scene with some nonsense dialogue about him being shot twice, a 'clean' shot in the leg, and another in the chest. The cop wonders they they didn't go for the 'kill shot' first, and Greg explains that they probably still needed him to drive the bus.

Um... okay, first off, I'm not sure what a 'clean' shot is, as opposed to a 'dirty' one, that just sounds like nonsense. More importantly, though, shooting someone in the leg and then asking them to keep driving a bus is a terrible idea. Legs bleed a lot, and both of them are vitally necessary to drive a bus of that size. Honestly, the leg shot makes no sense whatsover, except for adding drama to the opening scene.

Then they discuss the possibility that the two unsubs split duties - with one keeping a gun on the driver so he'd take them where they wanted to go, while another managed the kids. No one's asking the big question, though: what happened to the killers' car? They couldn't have walked out there - it's the middle of nowhere, and a bus driver wouldn't have stopped without radioing it in had a couple of teens in masks just been standing out in the middle of the road. If both killers were in the bus, as they're assuming, where's the third member of the gang who got rid of the car, and why isn't that a priority?

Then Penelope pops in with new info - the truck's GPS wasn't turned off, just masked! And she descrambled it! Now they can find the barn where the truck has been hidden? Gotta ask, though, the killers had the expertise necessary to 'scramble' a GPS signal, but not the skills to just cut the wires going to it?

The team goes in along with SWAT to check out the barn, because they want to make the SWAT people feel redundant, and then bloodhounds track most of the teens to an outbuilding! They're all fine, but ten are still missing! Joe and Greg wonder why so many were left behind. Joe exclaims that if it were a 'child trafficking ring' they would have taken everyone, no matter the risk!

So, fun fact, that's not a thing that exists. Are children trafficked? Sure, absolutely. Are entire busloads of kids from middle-class suburban America stolen to be enslaved? No, and that's such an insane suggestion it shouldn't have even been mentioned.

I have a question before we move on, though - why did they dump the bus driver before they got to the barn? That's when they were taking everyone out of the bus anyway, right? So why not just wait and do it then? Maybe he died from blood loss while still in the bus, but isn't pulling over to dump out the body a huge risk while you're on a timeline? Especially since they didn't just kick him out into a ditch, but instead dragged him off the road into a copse of trees. There's not even a clear story reason for this, as finding the body didn't give the team any clues or lead them anywhere.

Over to the remaining kindapees, who are being brought into a bunker! They're the necklace ones, BTW. The two young kidnappers - who now have their masks off, and they never actually used gas, so that was a weird choice on their parts - rough one of the teens up and toss everyone into a dark room.

All of the teens are placed into a giant cage, with earpieces on. Time for some kind of social experiment, I guess, where they're forced to compete in order to survive? Although the show already did that way, way back in one of their SAW episodes with the kidnapped cheerleaders, and then again in the kidnapped family who fail to be perfect episode, so it would be a weird well to go back to a third time.

After shocking them to prove dominance, the killers send a boy and a girl out to 'play a game', because apparently these guys are gamers who've grown bored torturing virtual victims? What form will these games take, I wonder?

Back at the farm, Jeanne is trying to interview a girl about the abduction, getting the details we already saw. One new detail? When all the teens were lined up, the killers each picked five, like they were building teams!

Note that in no part of this sequence does Jeanne use her doctorate of linguistics to figure out anything about the killers. She doesn't even ask what they sounded like. Thanks, Jeanne.

The two teens who've been picked to be the first players are led into a dark tunnel, where they find a set of flashlights! Um... good? Each killer is 'controlling' a different teen, ordering them to do things via earpiece, and after leading them down a tunnel and promising they're going to be set free if they can get through, the killers split them up.

Back at the school some parents are happy, some are sad, and they're still not following up on why that monitor was on the bus. Was she really just their for the driver? That would be incredibly anticlimactic.

While the team is talking about the details of the case, trying to figure out the significance of kidnapping a select group, Joe realizes something - the details of the case are eerily similar to a video game he's familiar with: Gods of Combat! Joe explains the rules of the game - players kidnap people from public transportation, then make teams of five and have them fight to the death.

This sounds like a terrible video game.

The real-life version of it isn't proving to be very compelling, either, as one of the teens gets freaked out by a rat, and then stumbles across the monitor's body. Isn't this supposed to be a battle royale type of situation?

Over at the school, Greg wins this week's Prentiss award for stupidest thing said by an FBI agent:

You're worried that there will be copycats? You're worried that other people obsessed with a videogame will go on a high-tech kidnapping and murder spree in the most preposterous way possible? What is wrong with you, Greg?

Then we get a scene of the team blaming video games for the crime, so let's not bother recapping that, okay?

In a great moment where the people who make Criminal Minds reveal that their knowledge of videogames is largely superficial, Penelope announces that she just got off the phone with the people who 'produce' Gods of Combat. No, Penelope, TV shows are produced. Video games are developed, published, or if neither of those sound right to you, 'made'. Nice try, though.

They do make one solid observation, though - anyone crazy enough to murder a bunch of people to get their game going in real life were probably big enough jerks to be banned from the actual game online. Nice catch, team!

The teens are led into a room where they're told to find guns and shoot the other one if they want to escape. In a massively unfair twist, the boy has to actually assemble a stripped gun, while the girl just has to load hers. Again, this seems like a pretty bad game.

So with one guy dead, the next player is brought into the killing field! It's girl! A guy tries to do the decent thing and volunteer to take her place, so the killer whose player won the last round shoots her? Um... what? The other player is understandably upset, since his opponent has just stolen twenty percent of his roster, but they keep playing anyway, instead of the annoyed killer doing the only logical thing and demanding to have one of the cheating killer's players reassigned.

Back at base, Xander and Penelope have tracked down two guys who were banned on the same day! And they have the same IP address, so they're probably roommates or related! Also, they should be able to get IDs on these guys like right away. Gods of Combat is an Xbox game, so that means they had easily checkable XBL accounts with credit cards and physical addresses attached to them! Looks like Penelope is going to get the job done again this week!

Yup, she immediately finds out who they are, although weirdly they pretend like it's necessary to gain some insight into their personality to do so. There's a spiel about how at different times of the year they'd be playing at one IP address, but at other times they'd be on opposite sides of the country. Apparently guessing that their parents were divorced was all it took for Penelope to find their names - although, again, their Microsoft Gamertags should have handled that without any trouble at all. But hey, we've got to pretend that the rest of the team is there for a reason, right?

There's more tsuris with the teens being forced to shoot each other, but I don't care, so let's move on.

A search of the brothers' house reveals that the killers just left the game running on their console when they went out to murder people - which is a great way to brick your XB360, in case you're wondering. Then we get a patented 'jump to conclusion', where Greg asks why they'd have wireless headsets-

When they play the game sitting right next to each other on a couch. Joe comes back with 'it's what they're using to communicate with their players'.

So... yeah... first off, it's not, because they left them right there in the house. You're holding them in your hands, so obviously they're not using them for that. Also, they don't just play with each other. It's an online game, and those earpieces are the things you need in order to scream profanities at people over the internet. I thought you were a gamer, Joe, how do you not know that?

Armed with the supposition that they're using radio signals to contact their players, and that the game is being played in some kind of urban area, Penelope searches for low-frequency radio signals until she finds a bunch of them in an abandoned papermill!

Again, it's like there are six superfluous people on the team, and all of them are profilers.

Penelope hacks into the radio signal and starts talking to the one of the players, trying to get them to stop killing each other and wait for the authorities to arrive. In the killers' den, the losing killer pulls a gun on the cheater, assuming that his inability to talk to his player is another one of the cheater's underhanded tricks. Which is a pretty fair assumption, actually. I mean, he's wrong, but it's understandable how he got there.

Eventually they figure out that the cops are on the way, so the two killers grab assault rifles and prepare for their arrival. If by, prepare for their arrival, you mean go out into the maze and try to kill a specific one of the players, and then not do it when you have the chance, so that the team has time to come and rescue her.

So yeah, pretty bad at planning, these guys.

Then there's a ludicrous scene where the boy Penelope was communicating with comes across two armed guys in FBI vests and doesn't immediately fall on his knees and thank them for rescuing him.

It's especially preposterous because this guy knows that there are only two criminals, both of whom are white guys in their twenties, and Penelope has already specifically told him that the FBI about to bust in and save the day - but he's still dumb enough to suggest that this could all be 'part of the game'.

Um... the game is about making you and your friends kill each other. It's not about having two fake FBI
agents come in and - instead of just shooting you - ask you to put your gun down. Idiot.

But then Derek gets to shoot the other killer to death, so we ended up with half a happy ending!

Wrapup! Penelope asks Xander out for a drink so they can talk, but he's already got plans! Can't those two crazy kids just get back together already?

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

Kind of! Making the logical inference that people this mentally damaged would have been booted from the game was a good catch, and it helped them solve the case! Then again, the whole way they solved it was based on Joe coincidentally knowing about this terrible online shooter, which was pretty contrived, so I can only offer partial points.

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

Well, since the plan revolved around not being spotted on a highway in the middle of the day, I have to assume real cops would have been able to track them pretty damned easily. Honestly, they probably wouldn't have even made it to the farm drop-off point.

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


Um... I'm still not sure what happened to the car they drove out there in. There were only two of them, after all, and both of them were necessarily on the bus... so where's their other vehicle? Seems like that would have been a good way to track them, without all of the coincidences. The episode is actually pretty clear about their movements otherwise - they drove their car and a panel truck to the barn, drove their car to the highway, did the preposterous 'stop in the middle of the road' thing, then drove the bus back to the barn, stopping along the way to dump out the driver's body.

So where's their car?

Also, 'The Wheels on the Bus'? Not a great title, guys. The thing from which the teens were kidnapped had essentially nothing to do with the story, and is a strange thing to focus attention on. But now I'm just being petty. (Just now?)


busterggi said...

At least half those students probably would have been texting when the bus stopped - none of them thought anything was odd?

Tom from Detroit said...

I *guess* it's possible they were in cell dead zone. The US is a pretty big place. More likely we're to believe everyone's cell phone batteries were all dead after a hard day texting at school!

And believe in the Easter Bunny too.

And, Welcome back CV! I'd given up watching Criminal Minds, reading your reviews has been much more entertaining. Glad you have the time to take these shows apart.

-Tom from Detroit

Danny11 said...

The girl who was shot because his friend wanted to take her place... did she survive?