Criminal Minds 820: Alchemy

The episode opens as a man in a vest has a staring contest with an owl. This looks as strange as it sounds. Then he hears the yelling of a child from the hallway, and sees a wall bulge outwards as if Jake Busey were hiding behind it. So I guess he's got a mental disorder? Or perhaps this is a dream?

He tears down the wallpaper and finds that behind it is a wall of meat, which promptly swallows his arm-
Well, this is certainly unusual for an episode of Criminal Minds. Are we sure I didn't accidentally turn on an episode of Supernatural? Or did Matthew Gubler just direct two episodes this year?

It turns out to have just been a bad dream, as the man, looking quite different with a flannel shirt and messy hair, wakes up coated in sweat. He rushes to a nearby phone to call for a doctor, and the voice on the phone announces that there's a doctor in room 209. Which seems like a weird thing for an operator to do. Is she just another figment of his imagination?

Then things get still stranger, as the show cuts immediately from him walking through the suspiciously ajar door 209 to a bunch of police officers running through the woods at night with pistols and flashlights. Their dogs lead them to an arm, which proves to have no body attached to it! It does, however have the same ring that its middle finger that the confused man was wearing in the last scene!

There's another hard cut, this one to Reid, who's presenting Joe with his theory of the case - people are being abducted in small towns around Rapid City, South Dakota, and then being cut up and having their body parts strewn about the woods! Apparently local police didn't know about the connection because one of the bodies was dumped inside a reservation, which is a completely different jurisdiction.

Since the brutal reservation murder is and FBI matter it should have been investigated already, but the characters note that the FBI doesn't really care what happens on reservations ever since two FBI agents were murdered in one back in the 70s. Which is true, and kind of super-unprofessional of them.

When listing the things that they 'know', Garcia mentions that there was no evidence of robbery or sexual assault. Um... the two bodies were stripped of their clothes, dismembered, and the pieces dropped in the woods. Did the killer also leave their full-of-cash wallets next to the bodies? It seems like you're basing the 'no robbery' on the fact that one of them was still wearing a single ring, but there's any number of reasons a killer could have left that on. Not the least of which being how singularly weird it looks to see a hand with just one ring on the middle finger.

The team notices that it was strange that the bodies weren't stripped by animals. It seems that they were full of poison, which explain the rough night the guy was having at the start of the episode! There's also strange welts all over the most recent victim's back, which resemble something called 'cupping' from holistic medicine. I'll just take their word for it, since it sounds like something I don't want to look up.

Meanwhile, over in Rapid city, a guy is about to leave a bar when a woman in a creepy old-timey dress asks him to walk her to her car, so as to avoid her abusive ex-boyfriend. Is he the next to be abducted by her evil cult? I don't have any proof that she's a strange cultist of course, but she did go into a bar in this dress-
Wearing minimal makeup and no jewelry but a picture locket. It's weird. Also, considering this episode is set in April in South Dakota, they seem badly underdressed.

She flirts with the guy a little, and notices that he's driving a rental car. She invites him to stay at her motel rather than the dump he's currently at, since that's where all of her murder supplies are. Naturally she doesn't say that part, but we know it's true, since she clearly has the same voice as the woman from the phone.

Over at the lodge she comes on to him while her partner watches through a hole in the wall! Is this going to be an adaptation of that true-life story of the motel owner who built an entire motel just so he could spy on people? Only now he's also a serial killer?

I guess we'll find out after the credits!

While on the plane, the team notices that both the victims look quite similar, although since they were both in the logging industry in South Dakota, maybe it's not strange that they're both fit white guys. Also the credits show me that the evil lady is played by Angela Bettis, star of terrible film May! So the episode is casting another horror notable!

Oh, and Reid is half-asleep on the plane, because he hasn't been able to sleep since his girlfriend got murdered that one time. Fair enough.

Joe and Reid go to meet the local detective on the case (Claudia Christian!), and Reid criticizes her for not having done more work on the case already. Um... yesterday they found the pieces of a man strewn about the woods, today they found out he was the second victim of a serial killer. This has been a serious case for less than 24 hours, how many files and pictures were you expecting?

Also, there's a bit of comedy where she assumes that Joe, the older man is the one who should be called 'Doctor', but Joe corrects her. Once again reinforcing the idea that Reid's need to set himself apart from the team is an immature affectation that's actively damaging the first impression he makes on people.

Claudia points out that since the reservation is outside of her jurisdiction, she hasn't been able to get anyone to talk yet. Which would be a point, if she didn't find out the victim existed like four hours ago. Seriously, you don't have to make excuses, Claudia - you found about this victim in the same phone call where you learned that the FBI was coming to buffalo you out of the investigation - what work were you supposed to do in that amount of time?

Greg and Derek are out at the body disposal site, asking about people who are ticked off at loggers, wondering who might know about the wolf den that the corpse was left near. Seems like a stretch to suggest that the killer planned to have the body dealt with by wolves. That's an incredibly inconvenient way to try to dispose of a corpse.

Then it's over to the motel, where the guy has survived his night of passion with Angela! He's out on the patio, in fact, being served breakfast! Oh, and the credit confirms that this was a Gubler joint, which makes me hope that the music gets way better soon, since up until this point it's been completely generic Criminal Minds stuff.

The guy gets questioned by a solicitous maid/waitress, given advice by the creepy guy with bad teeth at the next table, and there's weird-looking old man gathering dirty dishes inside the restaurant area. Who could the voyeur be? We get a clue in the dialogue between waitress and bus boy - apparently Angela is married to some kind of an invalid! Could they be a seduce and murder team?

At the station we get an update on the poison - they were given black nightshade, a toxic hallucinogen! Also they were held captive alive for at least 48 hours, if one compares when they were last seen to when they apparently died. Derek and Joe arrive with the wolf den hypothesis - which wins the night's Prentiss Award!
So your theory is that in order to protect wolf habitats, a group of people kidnapped some loggers, poisoned them until they were dead, cut up their corpses, then left the corpses next to the wolf den in the hopes of poisoning the wolves?


Also, only one of the victims was found anywhere near the wolf den. This feels like your most tenuous theory ever. Even Derek thinks it's silly - if you want to make a point out of killing people, why hide the bodies?

That night at the lodge, Angela comes to see her guy, but he's feeling woozy - he was poisoned at breakfast! So perhaps the waitress or cook are in on it? Maybe not the waitress, she's only been their a month. Although, that's when the murders started...

Angela 'treats' his poisoning, and the next morning gives him a suspicious liquid to drink. While she's offering him the cup, he notices a giant burn on the inside of her right arm, and suggests that she should leave town if her ex-boyfriend is such a monster. She explains that her boy is buried in town, and that she could never leave him.

It's a nice reveal and all, but not really logical - at this point in the story these characters have had sex twice. He's only just now noticing the monstrous scar covering up the entire underside of her forearm? Just tweak the dialogue so that he's finally asking her about it. This isn't that hard, people.

The guy tries to get a start on the day by opening the drapes, but Angela explains that her auto-immune disease has damaged her eyes, which is why she only works nights. She also starts to talk about how she deserves pain because she failed to save her son. It's at this point that the megadose of poison she gave the guy kicks in, causing him to fall through a glass coffee table.

Say what you will, Gubler episodes are always way more interesting than the rest. When is he going to make a movie?

Greg, Derek and Jeanne are out at the logging camp, just finishing their inquiries (they found nothing!) when Garcia calls! She found a local naturopath who was charged with poisoning people using the same drug that killed the victims! It happened eight years ago - could the victim have been the son that Angela failed to protect and heal?

The other detective on the case (why are there two? Seems like Claudia could have just had this guy's lines) tells them about the fact that the guy has disappeared. He was supposed to arrive for a climb this morning, but didn't show!

They have the voicemail he left his friend, complete with bar noise in the background, so it's a simple matter to track him to the place where Angela approached him!

At the bar, Joe talks to a woman that approached the army guy (he was in the army!) and was turned down. Joe wonders why - could he be gay? JJ assures Joe that he wasn't, because his sister and best friend would have known about it. Seems like a stretch, though - while Don't Ask, Don't Tell was over by the time this episode was made, the guy had been in the army more than three years, so he could have been closeted when joining, and wanted to protect his career by keeping the secret.

Still, they jump right to the conclusion that the unsub is a woman, even though they have no reason to believe that the woman he left with (if, in fact, he did leave with a woman) is in any way connected with his disappearance. They could have been making out at a lover's lane when murderers accosted them, for all the team knows.

Despite this, they assume that he would go for someone he could protect, since, as a military guy, he would want a woman whose relative helplessness made him feel more masculine, reinforcing the cultural stereotypes they're assuming he hoped to live up to.

Derek and Jeanne go to see the Naturopath, who explains that he made an herbal pesticide for someone, and had no idea it was going to be used to murder a dog. He also offers to get them a list of anyone in the area who would be capable of making the poison.

Jeanne then notices the 'cupping' chart on the wall, and asks to see one of the large cups used in it. The Naturopath brings one out, and it convinces Jeanne that the whole thing is somehow about fertility. Which is kind of a screw-up on the prop-makers chart.
This is the chart - the green splotches are both the size and placement of the wounds on the victim's back. And the cups the doctor shows them-
Are clearly the 5cm ones mentioned on the chart.

Obviously the person doing the cupping could be going from a different idea of how cupping works, but since Jeanne is basing her conclusion entirely on this chart, she should be assuming that the treatment was 'vitality'-related, rather than focused on helping fertility. This is a prop mistake rather than a writing one, but still. Rookie error, peeps.

Time for a profile! The team announces that the killer is looking to replace a lost child, and probably blames the original father for the child's absence, which is why she's killing the replacement genetic donors! No one questions why the murders and abductions are so close together if she's trying to get pregnant. Shouldn't she be only abducting and killing people at certain times of the month when she's more likely to conceive?

They also say that she'll likely be feigning an illness to gain sympathy - this isn't really based on anything, so it counts as a cheat - and that she probably has a partner to help her dispose of the heavy body parts. They also guess that she's in her 30s, because of the sophistication of her scheme, but not older than 40, because she's trying to get pregnant. I take issue with the second half of that suggestion, since the woman is quite obviously crazy, and would likely be doing the same thing regardless of her ability to actually conceive.

Then things get a little weird, as Greg reminds everyone that there might be time to save the army guy, and Reid interjects with an observation that the need to hurry, because even though two people are already head, they should get closure to their families ASAP.

Um... what? There's still a guy alive as far as you know. Luckily all of the characters look at him like he's got two noses, so it's supposed to be as crazy as it sounds.

Over at the inn, the waitress wants an explanation for strange noises in room 209, but Angela assures her that it can't be army guy, since he checked out the night before. Speaking of, army guy is up in his room packing, then he hears someone out in the hallway and goes out to find a creepy kid walking backwards. So obviously this is the nightshade delusion we were told to expect more scenes of.

When he wakes he's tied to a bed, presumably in room 209! Also his face is completely free of scratches or bruises, despite having used it to break a glass table ten hours earlier. Perhaps he's a Wolverine?

At the police station, Joe decided that it's a better use of his time to give Reid a pep talk about his dead girlfriend than it is to look for women who've lost their children in the past ten years, or try to track down security footage that might have caught the bar or parking lot across the street.

The scene is a nice showcase for Gubler, addressing his grief over losing the love he never really got a chance to know. He's still no Shemar Moore, though, and it pales compared to the Derek showcase from two weeks ago.

Meanwhile Derek, JJ, an Jeanne are discussing how weird it is that someone would give up a hotel room for a one night stand when he was going to be in town for three more days. The only possible conclusion is that he was going to another hotel, since who shacks up with someone they just met?

At the motel, the maid/waitress gets curious about room 209 and goes to check on it. She grabs the key and unlocks the door, but once she steps inside she's grabbed by the killer! Um... if it was super-important that no one get into room 209, why was there a key for it just hanging on the wall?

The next day Derek and JJ are at the site where the maid's body has been discovered. Unfortunately she has no ID on her, so it's a challenge to figure out who she is, since no one has reported her missing. Presumably they'll put her face on the nightly news and on the local paper's website to speed up the identification?

Claudia then comes up with a lead! A guy named Roger was allowed to study herbs on the reservation more than a decade earlier, but was kicked out when he tried to poison someone with nightshade!

Then it's over to Angela and the army guy. She's rambling about loss and think he's her ex-, he pleads for his life. You know how this goes.

Garcia then phones up with the identity of the killer - Angela's husband owns the motel, and her son died three years earlier! Also, the first victim was killed on the anniversary of the son's death. That's good enough for an FBI-style 'no warrant takedown' so the team rushes out!

It turns out that her partner is the busboy, who also considers himself to be a doctor. Naturally, he's the same guy who learned about poisons before being kicked out for general evil. Wait, so he knew that the maid was super curious about room 209, and he left the key out for her anyway? Was he just looking for an excuse to kill her?

Then we get some random theorizing from the team - Angela had sun-blindness because it was sunny when her son drowned, and the "doctor" "cured" her, so she fell in love and married him. Then he recruited her to start finding victims for him to kill, since he just loves murder so much!

Angela's going to kill army guy, but then discovers the maid's nametag. She tries to back out, mostly so the doc can explain the plot - he can't give her children, so he makes her take lovers who she has to then kill so it won't be like she was cheating on him.

I feel like anyone who would go along with that line of reasoning wouldn't be able to put up as stable a front as we've seen Angela do.

Finally Angela figures out that she's a victim of the doc as well, and they get into a fight. She runs off, he tries to stab army guy, but the team stops him. Reid then asks where Angela's son died, assuming that she'd go there to drown herself.

That seems like a stretch, given that he knows zero about her mental state or level of complicity in the crimes, but then again, the characters have taken to acting like they're watching the scenes they're not in, so I guess this is to be expected.

Even though the team drives down to the lake at full speed, and Angela was presumably on foot, she's already dead in the lake by the time they get there. Seriously, how did that happen? She darted out the back way in her murdering clothes without any possessions. What are the odds she had her car keys on her? Even if they were sitting in her unlocked car's glove compartment, I can't imagine that they wouldn't have heard her driving off and been able to follow her.

We're specifically told that the place she drowned herself was 'an hour outside the city'. Even if the relatively remote lodge was like 15 mintues closer, it's crazy to think that they couldn't have caught up with her before she got there. Especially since, as I mentioned above, she probably wasn't driving.

On the flight back, Joe and Reid chat more about Reid's bad dreams about his dead girlfriend, which transitions naturally into a dream sequence of him dancing with her while 'sleepwalk' plays on a phonograph.


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

Sort of! The leap from 'cupping marks on the back' to 'black widow killing impregnators' is a giant unbelievable one, but it at least exists within the realm of theoretical psychology, so I'll give them a couple of points!

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

They found a guy with a history of poisioning people with the same poison that was used on the murder victims. That same many changed his name and bought a hotel. But he still would have had the same social security number, and lived in the same town, so he wouldn't have been very hard to track down. They might not have saved army guy... although I don't know that the team actually did that. He was given a mega-dose of poison, and all we heard was that he still had a pulse, and that they should call for an ambulance. No closure on that front.

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


So, this is, by far, the least interesting Gubler episode ever. The madness of that first nightmare scene was great, but the rest of the episode didn't really live up to it. More importantly, the show never really managed to link up Reid's fear of dreaming about Maeve with the nightmares that the victims were having, which seems like it would have been an easy thing to do.

Also, where was the wonderful music? Gubler's episodes are known for their weird soundtracks and musical interludes. At least we had the genre actor casting showcase that tends to occur when he's behind the camera.

Finally, I kind of hope this is the last we see of Maeve. Not because I don't want the actor to have a job - she did just fine in the role, it's just every time I write about her I accidentally type Mauve.


starstruckvideo said...

"At the bar, Joe talks to a woman that approached the army guy (he was in the army!) and was turned down. Joe wonders why - could he be gay? JJ assures Joe that he wasn't, because his sister and best friend would have known about it."

I found JJ's comment really strange because, when she first met her future husband, it was a case where his best friend and partner was murdered and that was how Will found out he was gay. Now she suddenly thinks a gay man can't keep his sexual orientation secret?

Unknown said...

I really wasn't a fan of this episode. Being born and raised in SD I felt they did a piss poor job of capturing the essence of Rapid City. They always did a a good job with the other cities but they couldn't give RC the same attention.

nipee said...

You suck ass. Thankfully you have stopped writing this blog.

nipee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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