Criminal Minds 819: Pay It Forward

Another week, another lack of 'previously on' copycat clips, suggesting a lack of progress on the copycat case. At least with Frank and the fake Zodiac killer you could believe the team would stop chasing them, since they stopped killing once they disappeared. At least until they reappeared. They know for a fact that the copycat is out there scheming for another kill. Erin said he's gone 'dormant', but in serial killer terms that means years without a kill, not weeks.

Although everything is a little skewed in a world where every serial killer is a spree killer, of course.

The episode begins with a Mayor in 'Bronson Springs Colorado' giving a speech about how it's the best town in America, past, present, or future! This scene is set in 1988, 25 years before the episode airs, so presumably we would have heard about Bronson Springs at some point if that were true.

Hey, are they going to seal up a time capsule with a person in it? That would be great.

Literally the next shot was them installing a time capsule. I watch too much television. It's too small to have a body in it, though, so that's a relief. Maybe the killer wrote a confession detailing his plan to kill one person a year over the next twenty-five years?

The workman drag the capsule out in the present day, and it's in pristine condition, as if it's only been underground for three hours! Wink.

They pop it open and find a mummified head inside! This is a lesson - go with your first instincts, people. As the fuss begins, this man-
Walks off into the crowd! Could he be the killer? Why is he so familiar to me?

Then it's over to Quantico, where Garcia is explaining the details of the crime! A young blonde guy had been decapitated years ago, it seems - although it's unclear from her description whether people knew that he'd had his head cut off back when he was first killed, or if he simply disappeared. Seems like that would be important.

Then, just a day after the head was discovered, a retired sheriff's deputy (who - possibly importantly - was already on the job 25 years ago) had his head cut off at the side of the road just outside of town. That's right, there's a Highlander on the loose!

Jeanne points out that it was an unusually long time between kills. Reid suggests that such a long dormancy period isn't unheard of, mentioning that BTK, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Keystone Killer, Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer.

Okay, so let's address those one at a time.

BTK didn't have a long gap between kills - he stopped killing, but then wanted attention again, and got caught when he asked for it. Maybe he was going to kill that next woman, maybe not, there's no real way to know.

Jeffrey Dahmer stopped killing for a couple of years.

The Keystone Killer was the show's version of BTK, so it isn't worth mentioning.

Jack the Ripper should never be brought up, since nothing about the case is useful in the study of modern criminology.

The Zodiac Killer did stop. So Reid is 1/5 for this information dump. Although it's questionable how relevant a guy who stopped killing is in a discussion about a guy who didn't.

They raise the possibility that it could be a copycat, since over a million people saw the video of the severed head rolling out when it was posted to - well, probably not YouTube, given the subject matter, but somewhere online. True, but that wouldn't make much of an episode, would it?

We then drop by the guy from the crowd's garage, and watch him put the cop's severed head in his freezer! Also, I'm pretty sure that he's the evil prison guard from Prison Break, although the fact that we've just seen him in profile twice isn't helping me identify him.


On the plane they mention that the beheading wasn't the cause of death - the cop was shot to death and then his head was cut off. Possibly useful information, although did anyone really suspect beheading was the cause of death? That's a really difficult thing to arrange, unless you've got like four guys killing one person.

They're disappointed to discover that the file on the previous victim is pretty thin. Garcia explains that there was no real investigation because no one suspected foul play. Really? A 21-year-old comes home from college, goes to work at his family carpet store, and then soon after disappears from the face of the Earth? No one thought that was suspicious enough to warrant an investigation, promising young man with everything to live for is suddenly gone?

The sheriff welcomes Greg and Jeanne into the station, and he's just a super-weird guy. Maybe he's just upset because the dead guy was like a father to him, but he gets super-cagey about why the victim was out in the middle of nowhere. If we didn't already know that the killer was that profile-only guy, I'd be suspicious of the cop.

The mother of the first victim explains why there was no investigation - his father was a controlling monster, and the son wasn't using his electrical engineering degree selling carpet for a living. So everyone thought he just went looking for greener pastures. And then, you know, never sent word to his family for a quarter-century. She also said that the father wanted to keep the victim 'close', but when Derek asks what that means, she refuses to answer.

So many suspicious people this week!

A conversation between Reid, Joe, and the old Mayor reveals that the time capsule wasn't guarded between the 'filling it up' ceremony and the next day when it was put in the ground, so anyone could have put the head in. Well, anyone psyched to be creeping around City Hall in the middle of the night, anyhow.

The local newspaper editor isn't psyched to have the FBI in town, afraid that it will spook people. That seems like a deeply stupid thing to worry about - it's so obviously silly that Joe even points out that it's the decapitator that has people on edge.

After she leaves, the Mayor, Reid, and Joe develop a theory of the crime - back in the day, the editor was instrumental in helping the city with the 'town of the future' prize that was being celebrated with the time capsule. The way she did so was by publishing the names of everyone arrested in town in the morning paper every day, hoping that public shaming would turn the town into a Utopia! The theory? Someone was annoyed that their dirty laundry was made public, so in order to shame the town, he killed someone and put a severed head in the time capsule, so that everyone would know that the town wasn't a great place to live after all.

Or at least they'd know it twenty-five years later.

It's kind of a reach, but if the killer is super-insane, maybe?

Garcia digs up some background on the first victim - he was a notorious drunk, and even ran someone over with his car! Don't worry, they survived, but still. That's why the father was so overbearing, the son was a complete screw-up. Seems like they should have gotten the info out of the mother, but whatever. Hey, think they're going to check into the person he hit with his car? Probably not, right?

Then things get so, so stupid, as Greg wins the Prentiss award for the night.

That's right, it's not the same type of saw, not the same size or brand of saw. But the Same Saw. And there's just no way they'd be able to tell that.

Tool mark identification is accomplished by looking for imperfections - if someone got stabbed with a screwdriver, say, and the was an edge missing, they'd be looking for a screwdriver with chip in the head. For tools actually used to cut metal or wood, it's possible that on a microscopic level the police can match up imperfections in, for example, wire cutters and the wire they cut.

But this is a saw, cutting flesh and bone. Sawing back and forth, with every part of the neck being touched by 60-70% of the saw's teeth. There's no tool marks being made, there's just flesh being rent and bone being pulverized. Even if there was a recognizable tool mark on the body from '88, what are the odds that the saw would be exactly the same 25 years later? For a wood saw, a quarter century of even light use would change the angle of the blades, making it leave completely different tool marks. If it was a hacksaw, the blade would have been changed a few times, and it literally wouldn't be the same saw doing the cutting.

The most any scientist would confirm here is that - based on the kind of damage - it's plausible that the same type of saw was used in both cases. Unless you find a saw that actually had both sets of DNA in it, no reputable forensic scientist would ever testify that it was the same saw.

Anyway, the sheriff wants to cancel the town hall, since the killer will probably be there, and people might be in danger, but the team wants it to go forward, because they think they'll be able to spot the villain in the crowd.

Meanwhile, we see the presumed killer fiddling with a small, fold-out saw in his garage.
My god, that thing is like four inches long. That can't be the murder weapon. It would take forever to do the job. Also, it looks too new to be 25 years old. Although maybe he just takes great care of his tools.

As the team is waiting for the town to gather, a local jerk brings in a burlap sack full of raw meat as a 'joke'? Is this town made up of unbelievable jerks? I don't say this much, but I hope he becomes a victim of police brutality.

The team is mad at the sheriff for stopping the guy, since cops leading him away might scare the killer off. Really? What was the other option, letting the buy throw a bunch of raw meat on the stage, making a fuss? Would that have convinced the killer to stick around? Or are they convinced that they could have picked out the killer based on his reaction to a jerk throwing meat at them?

With the meeting called off (really? They called off the meeting designed to reassure the town populace because a jerk made a fuss before it started? Are these people idiots?) the newspaper editor goes home, where she's murdered by the killer.

The sheriff thinks that the world has gone crazy because of the headless corpse, but Greg assures him that her death wasn't random, she was targeted and stalked just like the other victims.

Um... while I don't think you're wrong, necessarily, what are you basing that assumption on? You have no idea about the circumstances of the college kid's death, so you don't know that stalking factored in at all. Your working theory of the cop's death is that someone was pretending to have car trouble by the side of the road, and when the cop pulled over the killer shot him and cut off his head. There's no reason to assume that stalking was involved - the cop could have just been the first person to stop after the ruse was set up, like in "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer."

Even this woman could have been picked at random - the killer might have just decided to murder the first person who left the meeting, so he followed her home and did just that.

Obviously we, the audience, knows that's not what's happening, because the killer specifically referred to the editor by name before shooting her, but the characters have zero evidence to back up their theory that the killer is targeting specific people for a specific reason.

Until ten seconds later, when JJ finds a bunch of marijuana in the editor's back yard. She mentions that since the editor was an anti-drug crusader (how did she know that? Shouldn't that have been the sheriff's line?) this seems like hypocrisy, as well as a dark secret! Not unlike the hit-and-run that the kid had covered up! See, now that's a connection you could build the stalking theory around, Greg.

I wonder what the cop's dark secret was?
Now that we get a better look at the killer (finally, I can confirm it's not the guy from Prison Break, but he's still familiar, and I hope to figure out why). The killer's wife pops into his garage to remind him to eat breakfast, and she asks if he knew the victim, what with them being the same age and all.

You know, if it turns out that this is all about the hit and run, with the killer's relative being killed, and the cop covering it up, and the editor killing the story, then the show will be cheating a little if they didn't mention earlier that it was a fatal hit-and-run. Hell, just the fact that he was involved in any kind of a drunken hit-and-run makes him a likely target for some kind of revenge action.

Greg then busts into the Sheriff's office, and demands to know why he wasn't told about the dead cop's secret second family! The Sheriff thought it wasn't relevant to the crime, which is a pretty fair thing for him to think. It's not like Greg and the team had previously asked him to reveal the cop's dirty secrets in hopes of finding a motive.

The team announces that the killer is motivated by the hypocrisy of the town being named a perfect city while it was full of scumbags. Which seems like a stretch. That's a pretty esoteric idea to motivate someone to behead a guy. It seems like they should focus a little more closely on the first murder. The only useful piece of info that's offered is when Jeanne points out that a guy this patient and dedicated my be an artist or craftsperson, since he's good with planning, details, and working on his own.

JJ also says something deeply stupid, saying that the cop's hypocrisy was breaking the law he was sworn to uphold by maintaining a secret second family two towns over. Here's the thing, though, is that a crime? If he actually married the other woman, sure, he's a bigamist, but is that what happened? Seems like a weird risk to take for very little reward. Maybe his second wife was not at all understanding of the situation?

There's a scene with the killer and his wife - he surprises her with flowers to celebrate the day they met, twenty-two years ago! So three years after the first murder. But then he goes out of his way to mention that they grew up in the same town, but only met after they both moved to Pueblo! That seems like a weird detail to leave out.

Then we get another scene with the killer. He stops by a lake where he sees someone fishing. Apparently the guy is a catch and release person, because he likes the sport, and doesn't want to deplete the stock of fish! Nice! The killer threatens the guy with fish euphemisms for a while, then shoots him.

He was weirdly sure that the public lake was going to be completely uninhabited, because guns are very loud, and broad daylight is a bad time to spend half an hour cutting someone's head off.

Okay, we're finally getting some info about the connection between the murder victims. It seems a young woman was sexually assaulted (presumably the killer's wife), and the cop and editor were bribed to keep it quiet! But what does the old man have to do with all of this?

Also, I guess the killer was already in love with his wife from afar, and killed the first victim to avenge her, then arranged their meeting three years later?

Joe and Reid head out to the newest crime scene, and discuss how weird it is that the guy manages to get away with shooting off guns and cutting off heads in quiet neighbourhoods, well-traveled roads, and popular fishing spots.

Reid suggests that he's either lucky or good. I'll just weigh in here - he's lucky. There's no skill involved in hoping that no one hears your gunshots in public places. If he was using a homemade silencer and dragging people out of sight before cutting their heads off, that would be one thing, but this guy obviously doesn't much care if he gets caught, because he believes he's doing the right thing.

Which probably should have been in the profile. And no, believing that he's 'punishing hypocrisy' (their theory) is by no means the same thing as believing that you're righting a specific wrong, which is what's happening here.

The wife heads into the garage - will she find the heads? Yup. Because the killer didn't bother locking his freezer. And he gets home just as she's looking in the freezer! See what I was saying? Lucky.

Although the setup for this scene is kind of ridiculous - she opens the door calling him for dinner, then starts looking around the garage. Except she knows that he drove off to run errands, and presumably she knows that his vehicle isn't back yet. So why would she think he was home and needing to be called for dinner?

Garcia manages to explain the old fisherman's death. He's the one who called the police about the rape that the first victim committed, then didn't pursue it because the kid's father gave him a job. Now they know everything that's going on! If only they could figure out that the wife is the victim, they'd have the killer!

The killer locks his wife in a closet, announcing that he's going to teach the town a lesson, and needs her to stay out of the way! I don't know how this is the town's fault, really. Wasn't it just one awful family corrupting the people that you killed?

Speaking of corrupt, Garcia then tells the team about a payout the evil father made, and it turns out that it was to the wife's parents, also to keep them quiet! Is the killer going to come for them, or go after the first victim's mother? Or is he going straight to his 'revenge on the town' plan, whatever that might be?

Garcia announces that she can't track the wife, because after working at the diner where she met the killer, she falls off the map again. Um... did she never file another tax return in her life, or work another job? You've got her social security number now, how hard could it possibly be to track her down? Even if she changed her name, she'd still be filing government paperwork (a marriage license, for example) as the same person.

At the police station, Greg is confused about one thing - how did the killer know who to kill? Since only the dead people (and three others who were in the station that night and are also dead now) knew about the crime, and they presumably didn't tell anyone, how could the killer possibly have all the details?

The conclusion they come to is that someone was in the holding cell that night, and overheard everything. Which is a good theory and all, but why are they overlooking the far more obvious answer? That the rape victim either did the murders herself or put someone up to it? I mean, we know that's not what happened, but since they still have zero information about the killer other than 'they are avenging a rape that was covered up by a corrupt town', why isn't the victim of that rape and/or an accomplice anywhere on their list of possible suspects?

Armed with the name of the killer, the team busts into his house, guns drawn. Even though all they have on him is that he was in a jail cell the night a conspiracy happened, and there's no way any judge on earth would have given them a warrant based on that.

The killer and his wife are long gone, of course. Driving to the town so he can get his final revenge on the town! But then the wife confesses that it was all a false accusation of rape! They'd been dating, and got into a fight, when the police were called by the witness! She was afraid that her father was going to beat her for having a much older boyfriend (she was 16, he was 22), so she made up a story!

I don't really know why the show thought it needed a twist at this point. Especially one that makes no sense. But we'll get back to that later.

Then the wife mentions that her parents took bribe money, and the killer decides that they have to die as well!

The team, who have also figured out that it was a false accusation based on the wife's witness statement, look over the killer's house, and notice a lot of engraving equipment in the killer's woodshop. But why would a furniture maker have that? Because, you know, it's not like people have ever purchased furniture with plaques on it. That's a completely alien concept, right?

Anyhow, Joe figures that the killer is probably headed down to the courthouse, where he saw a trophy case earlier in the show. Because sure, why not.

The killer confronts his wife with the severed heads, and then he announces that she's worse than all of them, because fake rape accusations are a crime far more serious than police corruption.

Then the team shows up, and the killer surrenders. He announces that because he cut the heads off people, he'll be thought of as crazy, which means he'll eventually get out of jail. A statement that represents a gross misunderstanding of how the criminal justice system works.

Then we have a musical montage, where we see the mother of the first victim getting a chance to give the wife a sour look, blaming her for everyone's deaths. Because it's absolutely her fault that a crazy man killed four people. Sure.

The End.

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

Not in the least. The team just waited until there were enough victims to reveal a concrete link between them, and then made a weird leap that a random guy in a cell must have been the killer, rather than the far more likely suspect the rape victim.

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

Anyone could have followed the trail of evidence, but regular police probably would have chased down the wife, rather than the guy from the cell. Although since they were married, they all would have ended up in the same place.

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


Turns out the killer was played by a guy named 'Rob Nagle', who, according to his IMDB page, has been in a ton of shows I've seen, so I guess I've seen him before, but nothing jumps out as a clear reason I thought he was so familiar. Huh.

Now, about the plot... why add a layer of 'false rape accusation' to the story? What does that accomplish, except to add in an idea that women are liars who destroy lives? It's horrible enough that the guy killed a bunch of people, why did the producers think it had to be for no reason for it to land?

I mean, it's not like the people weren't corrupt - they all wholeheartedly believed that they were taking money to cover up a rape - even the wife's family. So it's not like he killed a bunch of innocent people.

It's like they got to the end of this episode and thought 'hey, I feel like this week isn't bleak and hateful enough, what if, in addition to this woman's life being destroyed by the crazy man she was married to wrongheadedly trying to get revenge, we make it so that she's also a lying slut who was sleeping with a college graduate while in high school, and wouldn't tell people the truth during the months a guy spent paying people to cover up a non-existent crime, anyhow?

Seriously, why would her parents have found out about her dating the guy anyhow? How did that scene happen?

We know that the first victim's dad showed up at the police station to buy everyone off the night of the crime, since it wasn't mentioned in the police blotter the next morning. In all likelihood, the girl's parents wouldn't have been there yet. Because why would they be? She definitely wouldn't have called them, since she didn't want them to know about the situation.

And when the father gets there, the son would say 'she's lying, we're dating and we had a fight, but a guy called the cops when he heard us yelling and the police dragged us in.' Once he'd said that, why would she keep lying? The first victim's father would be in a position to make the arrest go away whether it was an actual rape or a misunderstanding, and since the wife's sole motive was to keep her parents from finding out about the fact that she was sleeping with the first victim, isn't telling the truth and letting the guy's dad cover it all up the best possible option?

So congratulations, writers! You managed to add a socially irresponsible twist that both makes people more likely to think rape accusations are lies, and also made the show dumber!

Good work?


Anonymous said...

Really flawed logic at the end there. You’re correct about the twist being pointless, but I don’t think it is harmful. False rape accusations do happen in real life, and more often than you might think. Also, the deaths are kind of her fault, seeing as her illegal actions are what modivated the killer. I mean, if she was a better person, then those people whouldn’t be dead.

Anonymous said...

Um, no. No matter how you feel about her actions (lying to the police is a much smaller crime than murdering a person, IMO), it is in no way her fault that anyone is dead. It IS the fault of the crazy guy who was obsessed with her enough to stalk her, marry her, and then kill four people using her history as a flimsy rationale that they are dead.

I agree with the Count that the "twist" made this episode really weak, and it adds a yucky layer of blaming her for something that is profoundly not her fault.

Anonymous said...

who's Greg? and Jeanne? 🤣