29.9.17

Criminal Minds 809: Magnificent Light


We open on a flame flickering in a brazier, as a voice talks about the inevitability of death and how it can motivate people to do exceptional things. Like join a serial killing cult, presumably? I found the voice distractingly familiar, and wonder if it's Chuck's law partner from Better Call Saul. I can't wait to find out!

Turns out that the 'cult speech' was the opening of a motivational seminar, and it absolutely was Hamlin from Better Call Saul.



Hamlin goes into his patter about how everyone has something inside of them that they can share with the world in order to fully actualize themselves. So, is he a serial killer, or is he just to inspire a serial killer to go out and become his best self? By, you know, serial killing. I don't feel like there's any other options for this story.

After the show, Hamlin glad-hands a fan from the audience, then avoids autograph seekers in hopes of having some private time. We follow the fan home to her humble abode, where she's immediately murdered! That was quick. Was Hamlin the killer, since he left the building right after her, or did he simply inspire the killer to start living in the now?

I kind of hope it's the second, because then this would be essentially the exact same episode as the Vampire Rock episode, in which people think that a celebrity committed a crime but it was really just a deranged fan.

At Quantico, Derek gets an invitation to some sort of ceremony at the British Consulate, but he doesn't want to go - Penelope wants to find out why, so it's presumably snooping time! Penelope then announces the case - two people dead in Seattle, with the same message plastered on the wall: Hear Your Evil, See Your Evil.

Its obvious similarity to another famous saying gives Jeanne a chance to show off her complete useless linguistic profiling skills, suggesting that the 'mistake' could be the result of someone being a non-native speaker of English. Sadly, the form that the mistake took offers no clues as to what the person's first language might be. Jeanne essentially used two sentences to say that she has no information to offer. So... I guess that was a useful ten seconds for all involved?

The team tries to figure out what the message might mean - I wonder if anyone bothered Googling it... Then use some of the widely-discredited 'organized/disorganized' jargon to talk about how weird it is that the killer was able to break into the apartments so expertly, but then seemingly went nuts, stabbing his victims dozens of times. I don't see any real contradiction there - vicious overkill stabbing is what the guy is into, and he broke into the house carefully because he didn't want to get caught. It's not like you found evidence of random, mindless carnage - destroyed rooms, fingerprints everywhere, defiled bodies. There was a lot of stabbing, but then careful drawing on the wall in blood, and a general lack of evidence. What seems disorganized about this to them?

We then get a look at the killer's hidey-hole, where he's writing notes about his latest murder!



So apparently the victim said 'oh god, it's you!' which suggests that she recognized her killer. That might seem like it's pointing to Hamlin, she obviously extensively talked with someone else working at the show in a pre-interview, because Hamlin was able to single her out from the stage and talk about her most profound dreams. He's not pretending to be a psychic, so there's at least one person who's more likely to know where she lives than Hamlin is.

I'm weirdly invested in him not being the killer. Huh.

Also, in a possibly related note, when we see the flashback to her attack, she said 'oh my god, what are you-', as opposed to what's written on the note. Will that be significant? Let's find out after the Credits!
On the plane, the team is baffled by the fact that the two victims had so little in common. Black man, white woman, living in different parts of the city, working in unrelated industries - how could the killer have chosen them both? What's the commonality? Also, the first victim lived on the fourth floor of a building with only stairs, and the second lived in a secure building that needed a RFID keyfob to get into. Which makes it kind of crazy that there were no witnesses. Especially in the second case - wouldn't a building like that necessarily have a callbox so visitors can get into the building? And if that's the case, it would also certainly have security cameras - so where's the footage?

At the morgue, Reid and Joe discover that the killer used some kind of bizarre, half-moon shaped blade. Does that mean the killings are part of an occult ceremony? That might be a bit of a stretch... I mean, we know that the killer is obsessed with the occult based on sketches of demons in his lair, but I don't see profilers getting there based on knife shape. Unless it was one of those Kris blades, but that's a gimmie.

Over at the apartment, we learn that the messages weren't written in blood at all, but rather in red paint that the killer brought with him! This leads to a series of weird and kind of dumb conclusions, culminating in Greg and Jeanne sharing tonight's Prentiss Award!



Okay, so much to unpack there. 'If he brought the paint then the message was probably premeditated'? Was that up or debate? Did you think that he'd planned an elaborate and brutal murder, then, when he was done, thought 'hey, maybe I should write something on the wall?' And about it being a misdirect, fun fact: You can only 'misdirect' if you're 'directing' it's right there in the title. That nonsense message isn't obviously leading anywhere, so it can't be leading away from the most likely killer - because there isn't one.

In the MacDonald case, the idea is that the most obvious suspect, the husband and father of the victims, had to aim suspicion elsewhere, so he wrote Manson-style messages on the wall. Here, there's no suspect, and the messages seemingly mean nothing, so what purpose could that serve?

Also, not for nothing, it's kind of weird that you're saying Jeffrey MacDonald is definitely guilty. It's a super-shaky case and always has been - to the point that when you guys did a MacDonald episode, Kyle Secor was innocent.

They do find at least one piece of evidence, though - the victim's ticket to Hamlin's show!

So Derek and JJ rush over to the theatre, which is kind of weird... Why wouldn't Greg and Jeanne go? They found the clue, the fact that the victim seemingly walked home suggests that it's super-close... More importantly, where were Derek and JJ until they got the call about this new location? Just hanging out at the police station? Normally in episodes when they get off the plane they'll break into three pairs and go to three different sites related to the investigation, but this time there were only two, so that left Derek and JJ hanging until something came up. Which creates the impression that they were just kind of hanging in null-space until they were needed for a scene.

Hamlin's manager explains that people who attend the show fill out questionnaires, and that's how he's able to pick people from the audience out during the show and invite them up for 1-on-1 counseling sessions. It's also obviously how the killer knew where they lived, although nobody mentions that just yet. The manager doesn't know where Hamlin is - on show days he ditches his phone and just shows up right before the performance, then disappears right after!

We know where he is, though - at a bar, looking to pick up a guy! Which is what happens.

Penelope offers background on Hamlin: he had a humdrum life until he threw away the rat race, got a divorce, and fled to the desert, where he meditated until he came back a self-help guru! The team ponders if he could be the killer - after all, celebrities and politicians are often psycopaths, according to Reid. Jeanne offers the suggestion that, since Hamlin is a native English speaker, the phrases on the wall might not be gibberish, they might mean something!

I know I say this every episode, but why are you here?

Then we cut back to Hamlin, who's handcuffed to a bed in the killer's lair! Just to be clear, the killer is not the guy who picked him up in the bar. Just some random guy:



The team find Hamlin's car in the parking lot of the bar, along with blood and his personal alarm! He must have been abducted! They try to figure out the significance of the other kills - was he working up to Hamlin? Were the other people just in the way? They also point out that there are plenty of volunteers helping out at his events, so a stalker/killer could have gotten close to Hamlin without much trouble. Still no one questions who had access to the questionnaires with the addresses on them, which is odd, considering what a great lead that is.

At the hovel, the killer wants to talk to Hamlin about how the self-help tapes and seminars turned him from a go-nowhere loser into a fully actualized serial killer! Hamlin is, understandably, unenthused about the prospect.

Time for the profile, which proves to be one of the most useless ever in the show's history! They believe that the killer has an obsession with Hamlin (duh) and that he killed the other people because of how jealous he was that they'd gotten one-on-one time with the object of his psychosis. Which is great, but not super-useful when it comes to finding the guy. Rather absurdly, they announce that the sophistication and patience required by his crimes means that he must be in his mid-30s to mid-40s. Which is just nonsense. He hid in houses and stabbed people to death. There are 20 year olds who could do that, and there are 60 year olds who can't. M.O. tells you nothing about age, the writers just wanted to make the team seem impressive.

Really, given how incredibly efficiently he killed people without being noticed or tracking blood all over the place, their profile should assume that these aren't his first two kills - there's no hesitation or practicing evident - just expertly-executed brutal crimes. They should be scouring the local records for crimes with a similar weapon or wounds, because the idea that these are this guy's first two crimes goes against literally everything the show has ever had to say about serial killers.

Also, I'm still unclear on how he got into the victims' houses. The show has seemingly suggested that he was waiting for them when they got home, but now they're saying he's just a stalker, who wouldn't have had access to their information. But if he followed them, how did he get past their apartments' security features! I'm so confused!

How did no one notice this creepy weirdo lingering around the apartments:



There's another scene with the killer and Howard, in which the killer talks about his brain damage birth defect that has given him a kind of synesthesia - he sees words when people talk.


He describes it as seeing 'the truth', because he's crazy, but I feel like if they wanted to demonstrate that, the should have had the words and the dialogue be in some way different, or even at odds. Maybe that will come up later?

The team questions how a socially maladjusted misfit could have gotten Howard out of the bar with him, so they figure he must have had a partner. The guy was paid to pick up Howard! Of course! Then again, I don't really like how they got there - the conclusion is based on the idea that all stalkers are socially maladjusted weirdos, which isn't accurate at all. I'm sure some of them are, maybe even a majority, but at this point they just know that he's a stalker, and have no other information, so poor social skills are a weird thing to jump to.

A much more logical way to get to this plot point is to just have the bartender notice the guy leaving with Howard. More believable, too.

Garcia starts to search for people who attended the seminar and have anger management issues, which is a great idea that they should have already been doing. She also badgers Derek some more about why he wants to avoid the party, and this is so profoundly not the time for that.

The killer drops by his old workplace (he was recently fired, natch) to steal some data! Then he's confronted by his old boss, who tries to be nice, but admits that the killer is just way too creepy to work anywhere around other human beings. Partially because, you know, he reads the things they say by glancing around their heads. There's another scene of that, and once again, it's just exactly what the guy says. Weird oversight.

The male escort who lured Howard out of the bar comes to the police, and tells them that the killer was a crazy weirdo who kept babbling on about a 'magnificent light'. Which is what's written on the van that the killer has Howard tied up in! That was a jarring cut, huh? Anyhow, the killer has printed out a list of every customer who was ever mean to him, and now he wants Howard to help him kill those people! So just a run-of-the-mill postal guy, I guess?

Hey, do you think they're going to show the escort security footage from the seminar until he points out which one is the killer? I suspect they won't!

While chatting about the details of the massacred people, Reid makes the observation that the overkill might have something to do with the fact that the killer legitimately thought the people were monsters. Well, the painting on the wall did seem to call them 'evil', so that's not too much of a stretch. But is it a useful observation? You already know that the guy is super-crazy, after all.

Then we get another kill, as the killer manages to both teleport into a woman's house and drag the bound-and-gagged Howard along with him to witness the crime. Seriously, how is he doing this? Do people not lock their doors in Seattle?

The team makes it to the crime scene the next day and tries to figure out why the woman was targeted by the killer. The word 'evil' in his message has been replaced by the word 'red', which is weird, but not helpful. It does give Jeanne another chance to be of no help whatsoever, so that's something! They find a credit card from the company the killer was fired from, and a phone bill revealing that she'd called their customer service line a bunch in the last month! Pretty convenient thing to leave lying around the crime scene, I'd say.

Cross-referencing the bank with histories of violence and people who went to the seminar turns up the killer, so once again Penelope (really her database) has solved the case! The team rushes to his office and finds out about the stolen kill list. The boss also mentions that the killer was clearly hallucinating all the time, and a recording of him prominently features the line 'I can see your words', so now they know about the synesthesia as well! Although that's probably going to be of less use in finding him than the addresses that he downloaded from the computers.

Speaking of, the killer and Howard go to the next person on the list, but it turns out that a new family has rented the house and the guy he's looking for is nowhere to be found! But the killer doesn't believe the father of the family when he says that he won't call the cops, so they all have to die anyways. Howard tries to save the day by asking for the gun, but that makes the killer think he's evil as well! Which, you know, excellent judge of character there, killer, he was obviously going to immediately betray you.

The team goes over the list of potential victims, and is daunted by its length - 150 names! Of course Seattle has more than a thousand cops, so it really shouldn't be that hard to track them all down. They don't bother doing that, though, since it's super-obvious who he's going after. His previous victim was the last person he talked to at his job, so they can make a pretty solid assumption that the next person on the list is where they should go.

Instead of just trusting that instinct, though, they find out who is both near him on the list, and lives closest to the previous victims. Um... why? He killed that woman 12 hours ago. He could be in San Francisco by now. Why would you possibly assume he's staying in the neighborhood?

Howard tries to talk the killer down, and winds up stabbed for his trouble. Then the team busts in, and saves the day by pointing out to the killer that he's not infallible! Which he immediately believes them about, for some reason? There's some backstory about him calling the police to tell them that he was sure he knew who killed a mother and her baby, but then he was wrong about it, and the right guy wound up in prison. I'm not sure why any of this convinces him, but it does, and he's taken into custody.

Howard gets the medical attention he needs, and lends Derek a sports car as a way of thanking him for saving his life! It's just the push Derek needs to go to the event celebrating his deceased father's old partner!

Happy Ending!

Except, you know, he goes to the even and makes the whole thing about his dead father. He tries to offer an excuse for this, but really it's not a good speech.

More importantly, though, a person pretending to be a waiter steals Derek's glass, netting his fingerprints and DNA! Then the glass is brought back to a stalker lair, where in addition to stalker photos of the team, there are shots of a couple of the victims of Ray Wise and Michael Myers from earlier in the season! hich I'm pretty happy about, actually, since it's been enough episodes without movement on this storyline that I was starting to wonder whatever happened with that stalker who was taking pictures of the team, and the housebound woman Reid was talking to on the phone. Maybe she's the one pretending to be a waiter?

I'll probably have to wait three more episodes before we get any more, right?

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

Kind of? They caught him by running a list of attendees to the seminar against a list of people with anger management issues. I'd say it took some special amount of insight to figure out he had an anger problem, but the dude stabbed people like 80 times, so that's not really impressive. I guess psychology came in when they were talking him out of killing Howard, but then again, they could have just shot him.

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

They had an eyewitness who met and talked to the killer. They could have just shown the guy pictures of everyone who was at the seminar and had an ID way earlier. Had they done it this way, they may have even kept Howard from being stabbed!

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

4/10 - Pedestrian observations and lots of bad guesses. But I have to give them credit for using the guy's disability to effectively manipulate him.

Hey, we never learned how the guy managed to teleport into houses silently. Why make a point to mention how high-security the places were unless you're going to actually explain how he defeated those systems? Especially since we're supposed to believe he just followed people home. Both of them lived in apartments - how did he know which units they were in?

Shoddy work, everybody.

But hey, here's some profoundly not-shoddy work: remember that picture above of the killer looking super-creepy at the seminar? If you go back to the first scene and check out the crowd, he's clearly visible waiting for an autograph!



Great work, everybody!

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