Criminal Minds 816: Carbon Copy

Alright, between the title of this episode and the fact that it's starting with a 'previously on' means that it's time to finally get to the copycat killer episode that they've been promising for months! The clips reminded me that the copycat killer went back to the cities that the original murder took place to kill in. I feel like that's going to make them a little easier to catch if they have to criss-cross the country looking for victims.

Also, kidnapping a woman to marionette should have been pretty hard in that tiny town where the Brad Dourif episode took place. You'd think the people would be on edge and observant.

Then we get a flashback to the Reid's Girlfriend's Stalker episodes, which is weird. Are they saying the two stalkers were working together, or did they just want to get the Zugzwang line in there? Fun fact: Despite what the show says, 'Zugzwang' isn't the moment that a player knows that they're going to lose. It's actually a term roughly meaning 'forced move'. It's the moment in chess when it's your turn, and whatever move you make will put you at a disadvantage, but you have to make a move anyway, because there's no 'pass' in chess. It's not a situation that you necessarily can't fight your way back from, but it is dire.

But I'm getting way, way off track. Let's get into the actual episode!

The copycat (I'm assuming) has a woman tied up in a basement and he's planning to fillet her with some knives. She doesn't want to be killed, obviously, and begs for her life, but he's having none of that, and tapes her mouth shut so he can murder in peace.

Over at the office, the boss comes by to apologize to Jeanne for damaging her career some years earlier, and offers to make amends. Jeanne doesn't seem too psyched about it. I look forward to hearing more of this backstory soon!

Or immediately! The very next set of lines involves JJ explaining that a bust went bad and the wrong guy was arrested, and the boss made sure Jeanne took the fall! Is that why the copycat is after her now?

Then JJ gets some flowers with a "ZugZwang" card, and I guess that means he's copycatting something that wasn't really one of their cases now? Was the girl in the basement supposed to be a stand-in for Reid's lady friend? Okay, she can't be, because then the copycat would be committing suicide and killing her at the same time, which wouldn't be much of an ending to this storyline.

Although it would be hilarious.

They address the possibility that the ZugZwang call had been the copycat all along, which makes a lot of sense, while raising a huge number of questions! Also they're calling him 'The Replicator', but I won't, both because 'the copycat' has three fewer keystrokes in it, and because the FBI isn't supposed to be naming serial killers, dummies. Or is it just female agents who aren't allowed to do that, Joe?

We finally get some details on the Dourif copycat killing. It's a woman who was murdered and turned into a 'human marionette'. Except no, her limps were just dislocated and she was stuffed in a dumpster:
Do you think that's the same contortionist/dancer who played the victim in the previous episode? Maybe they just slapped a wig on her and figured that was good enough. I think we can see the edge of her hairnet there in the dumpster shot...

Anyhoo, the boss gives them the go-ahead to fully devote themselves to the copycat case now that he's in contact with them. They immediately find out about a new case! The basement lady has been drained of blood and had her eyelids cut off - but they effectively answer the 'same city' question by letting us know that this death was in Philly, far from San Francisco where those crimes took place. Not for nothing, it's also where the flowers were sent from!

Then it's over to the killer, who's printing more photos of the team! Hopefully we'll find out why after the opening credits!

The team notes how strange it is that the rest of the kills were in the original cities/areas, but this one is across the country. Good, I was worried I was going crazy. They ramble about possible motives, but since they have literally no information other than that someone is stalking them, it doesn't go anywhere.

Then Garcia shows up with some news! There's a second eyeless victim! Which... yikes. He's switched from copycatting to spree killing, as all Criminal Minds villains must at some point.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this was an ABC murders type of situation, and the guy was doing all of this copycatting just to hide the murder of his wife for insurance money? Although he probably doesn't need money since, as the characters mention, he's flying all over the country at a moment's notice and murdering people.

Derek, JJ and Reid get to the crime scene at a park, and the detective is surprised to find them there. Which he really should be, since this murder only happened today, and there can't have been enough time for someone to request the FBI's help. They're definitely showing up uninvited, and totally disinterested in explaining why they're working the case. I know you guys are tense, but a base level of professionalism wouldn't hurt anyone, would it?

They look at the body and decide that because she's fully clothed and posed it means copycat feels remorse. Which is a weird leap to make. Isn't it far more likely that this lady was just posed to exactly match the way they found that park victim in the art killer episode?
Isn't that the whole point of copycatting?

Then they suggest that this might not even be the work of the copycat, because he's not doing it in the same city, and also because the corpses weren't placed facing works of art. Yeah, and the marionette girl wasn't put in a presentation box either, but you didn't question that divergence, did you?

There's a trip to the morgue, where they find out that the killer sedated his victims before killing them. Joe suggests that he might be mission-oriented rather than sadistic! Um... how is that up for debate? He's killing these people to specifically taunt you. Could there be a more obvious version of a mission-based killer?

They also theorize that because the victim was last seen leaving her yoga studio, the killer must have had a clever ruse or used a threat of violence to abduct her. Which sounds clever, but it's actually just a painfully obvious statement. There are basically just three ways for a single killer to get someone to come along with you:

1 - Ruse (including hiring a sex worker)
2 - Threat of violence (this one's hard because you probably have to let them drive)
3 - Knock them out and drag them off.

They're saying that because the woman had no signs of being clubbed or choked out it had to be one of the other two. But they said she was heavily drugged before being cut up. So maybe he just waited by her car in the parking garage and jabbed her with a needle? I'm saying nothing is off the table.

Although it could be a ruse situation, since in the next scene we see one of the stars of ER accosting a woman in a busy grocery store parking lot! So he could easily be the copycat, or at least a guy the copycat has convinced to do some killing for him to confuse the team further.

 Maybe he's starting franchises?
ER pulls a gun on the woman and forces her into her car. He already knows her name and all about her son! So these aren't victims of opportunity at all, but instead specific women that he's targeting! So yeah, maybe he's just been recruited by the copycat? Or even better, he's a wanna-be serial killer who has people he wants to murder, but was waiting for inspiration to strike, and his interest was coincidentally piqued by the San Francisco art killings.

But that's obviously not it.

At the police station they're having a standoff about the jerk cop, who doesn't like feds horning in on his territory. Joe thinks they're wasting time talking about it when they could be out there finding the guy! Except you have no leads at all, so I have not idea what you'd be out there doing. Are you going to personally canvas the shops around the yoga studio, trying to get security camera footage tracking the victim's path until her disappearance? If not, then being yelled at by a detective seems like a perfectly good use of your time.

Also, I'm kind of on the detective's side here. Yes, he's being a jerk, but I really don't know what the team has to offer.

The team heads out to find the grocery store victim, who was kidnapped and killed and dumped all within about three hours. Which seems crazy to me. He killed her, drained her blood, dressed her, wrapped her in plastic, then found a park and carried her to a tree, all in broad daylight?

As Greg and Joe walk up to the dead woman, they get sour looks from the cops. Did the copycat leave their pictures on the body to make his point clear?
Nope, just Greg's.

So either ER is the copycat, or he's working with him. Probably the former, although I'd be delighted if it was a huge conspiracy.

Back at the morgue, Joe goes through the victim's personal effects and discovers that she's a nurse, just like the first drained victim! So there's your connection! Although I don't know why you had to go to the morgue to find that out. Seeing as they knew the victim's name before leaving the captain's office two scenes back, shouldn't Garcia have already done a complete rundown on her?

Garcia finally does get back in the game, discovering that even the second victim was a retired nurse! Although I don't know why she needed to be told to look this up. When did she stop doing a complete rundown of each victim as they're identified? Since there's no other information to process, what is she doing between phone calls?

There's a quick check-in with the killer, who's mopping up after his latest victim. I guess he spilled one of the blood buckets while carrying her out? Then he takes some drugs, because he's unbalanced. Which, you know, duh. It's shot in such a way to highlight his wedding ring! Did he lose his wife and now he's blaming nurses for her death?

That would once again suggest that this is a subcontractor to the real copycat.

The team has a sit-down meeting teleconference with their boss, and I get confused for a moment, because her name is "Erin Strauss". Damn it, producers, you knew you already had a character on the show named 'Aaron', and even if people almost never call him that, don't you see the problem in adding a recurring character whose name is a homonym!?

It seems the higher-ups want them taken off the case, since they're the targets of it. Which is a pretty reasonable position, actually. Can't argue with that logic. They do anyway, arrogantly assuming that they're the only ones who can solve the case. Even though they have zero clues and zero theories at this point.

The boss decides to give them the benefit of the doubt, and announces they'll stay on the case unless she's fired or killed! Which could be some very silly foreshadowing.

Garcia finds a lead! Fifteen years ago a guy was killing nurses in Philly, and Mandy caught him! Then, five months ago, that guy was put to death! Could the copycat blame them for that death, and now he wants revenge?

It's time for the profile, which is weird, since they have zero information to offer. I'm actually kind of excited!

The profile is just as silly as usual. They announce that it's a white male in his 40s-50s, which is based on nothing. The race profile is always based on victimology, but since this guy is a copycat, that tells you nothing, since he's killing people of the same race that the original murderers did.

Then they start talking about the connection to the earlier murder, but that's not really psychological profiling, that's just a lead that should be investigated. There's barely anything that qualifies as profiling in this scene. And that's going by the show's own standards.

ER is hanging out in his basement, looking at a photo of his wife and daughters when he gets a phone call! It's all worded nebulously, which is quite frustrating. Damn it, show, just tell me if he's a subcontractor or not! Given his wobbliness and sloppiness, it seems like he would have to be, but who knows?

We cut back to the team after they've eliminated the possibility that anyone related to the original case is the killer. All of the family/friends of the killer and the victims are accounted for in a preposterously quick fashion!

Except for one: ER Doctor was a suspect in the original dead nurses case! It seems that Mandy thought he was the killer and had him arrested, but DNA cleared him! The accusation ruined his life, though, and he's been a wreck ever since!

They immediately raid his house, somehow getting an arrest/search warrant based on zero evidence of any kind.

Then it turns out they suck at clearing houses and arresting suspects, because they don't notice a closet during their search, and don't have anyone stationed at the back door. So the moment they let their guard down, he fires off some shots at the jerk cop - who maybe still doesn't have a name - and flees into the back yard. He doesn't get far, though, as cop cars manage to trap him in an alley!

Well, I guess he's going to jail for a while. What with the blood-soaked cot in his basement. Unless that was a second location. Well, there's plenty of time to find evidence while he's doing fifteen years for attempting to murder a cop.

At the police station, jerk cop apologizes for his attitude. It seems that his partner was killed five years ago while helping on an FBI case, and he's been angry about it since. Fair enough, really.

We get a little more backstory about the subcontractor (I'm still guessing it's that) - it seems that he was attacked fifteen years ago and got a head injury because people thought he was the one who killed all those nurses! Now he has seizures, making his life even more miserable!

Joe tries to talk ER into confessing by essentially apologizing for the time Mandy framed him for murder. The killer is pretty upset about the situation, which makes me wonder why he didn't sue the police for wrongful arrest and slander - for publicly accusing him of a heinous crime he was innocent of. Richard Jewel made a hell of a lot of money for a much less accusation.

There's some more info from ER's backstory - he was keeping a scrapbook about his case as well as the real killer! Then Garcia calls with info - ER's wife (who is a nurse!) divorced him five months ago, right when the serial killer was executed. So I guess he had a double stressor leading him to become the copycat? Which he definitely isn't.

This scene also wins a Prentiss Award for this exchange-
I know it's not case related, but come on. That cell phone is completely bedazzled, it's obviously her personal phone. Given the hours they work, there's no way on earth that her home phone number isn't programmed into his phone.

Also, weird that Anderson got mentioned again. In case you don't remember, he's the guy who left Elle alone to be almost murdered way back in season 1, and then showed up again for no reason in the hundredth episode! Apparently giving people rides is most of what he does at the BAU?

Finally, 'sold in a machine'? The FBI campus at Quantico is HUGE. There's no way they don't have places to buy decent, or even acceptable food.

Oh, and they find stalker photos and eyelids inside the guy's house. It's still not clear whether he's actually doing the killing himself, or the copycat just has him grabbing the victims, but I'm sure we'll get there. The team notices that the guy definitely doesn't have the resources to pull off any of these murders. They try to suggest that his sporadic work schedule and car with a 100K miles on it mean he could have physically accomplished them, but they're leaving out that he'd need to find the resources to get kill sites, find victims, clean up evidence, and disappear - that's just not easy to do on an unemployed contractor's budget.

The team notices that ER is kind of twitchy, reserved, and cagey to be the kind of guy who could generate this kind of elaborate murder scheme. So they try to make him sad about his kids so he'll confess. Although they don't really need a confession. He shot at a cop. And, you know, the eyelids. Confessions simplify things, sure, but it's not a priority.

He actually winds up confessing really easily. All they have to do is admit responsibility for his arrest, and it all comes pouring out. Although I'm not sure why he never sued over the false arrest. Or, you know, left town/changed his name to avoid the bad press. I can't imagine that his arrest was anything more than local news.

Then they ask him about all the other copycat killings, and he clams up, realizing that he'd just been subcontracting for someone else. He does ask for a lawyer, though, maybe hoping to offer what he knows about the copycat to cut a better deal?

Over at the house, Greg and Reid get an update, and announce that he's probably not the copycat, because his house is messy. Which is just silly.

In jail, ER calls the copycat, whose number apparently he had memorized. I guess the copycat tells him to keep his mouth shut or his children will be killed. Or maybe he's supposed to kill himself?

Yup, it's kill himself. He downs all his pills, and dies on the way to the hospital.

The team struggles to figure out what's going on - could all of the evidence have been planted in his house? Probably not, since he actually did kill those women. Garcia gets to work figuring out how ER's been in touch with the copycat (the number he called was a burner, sadly), while the team sit and wait around for leads.

Meanwhile, the copycat is driving into Pittsburgh with a still-living woman in the back of his van. Presumably this is ER's ex-wife, but we don't get a good enough look at her for me to say for sure.

Garcia tracks down the phone that the copycat used to call ER - she knows because it was bought with the same credit card used to buy the flowers at the start of the episode!

Even though the killer is on the move, the team asks the Pittsburgh FBI and police to wait an hour for them to fly there, putting their own egos above the lives of potential victims. Seriously, why do they have to go on the takedown? What can they possibly offer? They know nothing about the killer, and have no actionable intelligence. Yet somehow it's worth giving the killer an hour's headstart - when he has to know that they're coming, given that ER is captured - just so they can put the cuffs on themselves?

I'm almost willing to give these people's egos a pass when they're in the same city and just have to drive a few minutes to arrest someone. But flying an hour away? That's just madness.

They raid the building that the phone is in, and find a classic track playing on a boom box, a dead woman with her head smashed in with a hammer, and some stalker boards hung from the ceiling.

I guess I was wrong about it being the ex-wife? Or maybe I wasn't. The show doesn't go into the identity of the victim at all, because to the producers, the women who get killed every weak are just disposable meat to be tortured and discarded without care.

If that sounds harsh, remember they're not my sentiments, but rather the opinions of Mandy Patinkin, who claims that's the reason he quit the show.

On that note-

The End

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

No. Not in the least. Here's the thing - ER was killing nurses in Philly. So they looked into similar crimes, and found someone who needed to be interviewed, and that guy started shooting at them when they showed up.

Yes, the characters spent a lot of time coming up with psychological reasons to backfill why the ER Doc would have targeted them specifically with copycat killings, but that has nothing to do with catching him.

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

Again, it's a standard move (especially in serial killer cases) to check for related crimes. The cops would have gotten to ER Doc incredibly quickly.

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


Not a great showing this week, guys. And hey, was the copycat feeding his subcontractor targets, or just giving him an MO? Because he didn't seem like the kind of guy to extensively stalk his targets and find out about their families' names.

Maybe this will be explained next week?

Let's hope!


Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Hahaha, I love the little details you pick up on that I don't even hear (bc that's the way I have to watch this show). Like the "sold in a machine" line. I work for the CDC in Atlanta, where we have 7 campuses, one of which is shared with the FBI. Can confirm that even at that janky leased campus, we have three cafeterias serving reasonably edible hot food, all within 10 min walk of each other.

J Edgar Hoover building in DC has very nice cafeteria with embedded cafes.

Unknown said...

This is awful. You keep switching between character names and actor names, as well as throwing out random names I have no reference for. Who is Greg? Did you mean Thomas Gibson/Aaron Hotchner, since you used that name with his photo? If so, where did "Greg" come from?
Also took me way too long to realize you were referencing Mandy Patinkin with "Mandy", considering his character left 5 seasons ago. Horribly confusing to read.