Criminal Minds 817: The Gathering

So, this episode probably isn't going to be about profiling Highlanders, despite the title, so I'll put my disappointment aside and get to the show!

We start with another 'previously on', which I guess means they're finally taking this copycat business seriously. Then it's an office scene where the team is wondering where the killer is getting all of his information from, since the press didn't know about key elements to many of the crimes that were recreated by the copycat. Plenty of people in the various police departments did, of course, but who could get to all of them without drawing suspicion on themselves? The FBI or Homeland security, probably.

Joe then wins one of the earliest Prentiss Awards ever, during this exchange:
"Why didn't he help his career out?"

I know that you're a money-grubbing creep who salivates at the idea of turning human tragedy into fat stacks, but there are other motivations, Joe. You're dealing with a guy with a monomaniacal obsession with mocking your efforts and ruining your lives, and you think that he'd try to get ahead in his hypothetical journalism career while also serial killing people? This says more about your priorities than it does the people you're chasing, and the fact that you're bringing them into your profile suggests that you're even worse at your job than I'd thought you were.

The guy probably isn't a real journalist, but Jeanne is half-right. As we learned from Se7en, and, you know, reality, there are plenty of people looking to bribe cops for juicy details about crimes, and plenty of cops happy to take that money. So while the law enforcement connection is more likely, you'd be smart to have each of those jurisdiction's cops check who might have been talking to reporters about the crimes.

Reid then offers a truly stupid observation, that if the killer was learning just by watching them he'd have to be in two places at once, since he was dropping a Ray Wise-copycat corpse in Pheonix while they were investigating the Matthew Lilliard crimes in Miami. Except you have no reason to think that, since the copycat hasn't tried to recreate those crimes. I don't think he's just following them around, of course, but they have no evidence to disprove that yet, despite Reid's assumption.

Update! It was pointed out to me that the dead woman at the end of the last episode was supposed to be a recreation of the Lilliard crimes, and I missed it because the show gave so little care to personalizing that victim. After all, the Lilliard crimes were about soliciting prostitutes, taking them into alleys, and smashing their heads in with hammers. This was a woman - whose identity is still a mystery to us - was brought to a warehouse and used as the centerpiece of a giant stalker evidence orgy. So I think it's understandable that I missed the connection.

Special thanks go to the commenter who pointed this out, because it made me rethink this entire scene, which made me notice something even more preposterous about the scene. This whole debate they're having is focused around 'who could possibly have the inside information about these crimes, when details weren't released to the public?'

The problem is that those details absolutely would have been released to the public, and the team (also the show's writers) should definitely know that. Here's the thing about 'withholding information'. It's done so that during an active investigation the police are able to gauge the veracity of confessions and tips they receive. If a woman is stabbed to death with scissors and a guy comes in and says he slit her throat with a straight razor, then there's a good chance he's not the killer. Details are likewise held back to prevent people from copycatting crimes.

Here's the thing, though - that's only during active investigations. Once the perpetrator has been caught or killed, the case is closed, and the information starts coming out in a great rush. The only reason to keep it secret at that point is to prevent a potential jury pool from being contaminated by the details of the crime. Which is precisely why all of the crime's gruesome details will definitely come out - Prosecutor's offices have an obvious incentive to ensure that potential jurors walk into a courtroom already disgusted with the defendant.

And if the killer is dead, there's flat-out no reason not to start talking about all of the disgusting details immediately.

So really, this entire scene is a giant waste of the team's (and our!) time, and if the show later has them determine who the copycat is based on their access to this 'restricted' information, it will be hilarious.

Conversely, if this whole line of inquiry gets dropped, and the show never again mentions how the copycat found out the details of the crime, I pledge to not criticize them for doing so. Also, if they have the copycat be like 'I just read about all the details on a true crime blog' I will compliment the hell out of them.

Then things get just so dumb, as Garcia offers up a photo from their softball championship game:
 Yes, the show doesn't know how reflections work. Unless, of course, the copycat was taking that shot from about ten feet away. Which would have been hard to miss. Also, if I was the killer and I'd wound up with a photo where my subjects were out of focus but a reflection of me was sharply visible, I probably wouldn't have printed it out. Unless it's all part of leading them into a trap?

Then their boss comes in and tells them to stop working on the copycat case, because he's 'dormant' and there are more important cases to work on. Which is, you know, crazy. A guy is stalking FBI agents, actively recruiting other serial killers, and slaughtering people all over the country, and the FBI's reaction is 'well, he's not a spree killer, so it's not worth our time'? What is wrong with the world of Criminal Minds?

This leads to some amazing looping by Joe, as the producers attempt to justify the team failing to do their job.
Yeah, Joe. That'll cover it.

Then it's over to the land of fake snow, as we see people running out of a bar in Minnesota! A drunken boyfriend tries to accost his girlfriend in a parking lot, when a stranger walks up and punches him, then runs him off. The woman isn't particularly concerned that the stranger knows the boyfriend's name, but gets creeped out when he proves to know her name as well!

Proving that bystanders and security cameras don't exist in this world, the stranger is able to club her into submission and then throw her into her own car. Wow, lucky for him that she's completely alone in a well-lit, highly-trafficked parking lot, huh?

Time for Garcia relationship drama! In a coffee shop in downtown Washington DC (which is like 40 miles from where she works) Penelope runs into a guy she's casually dating! Amazing that the guy turned up at this random coffee shop she goes to during her 90 minute commute to work? You know, half an hour downtown during rush hour for coffee, then an hour to the FBI headquarters, which apparently doesn't have coffee?

I know she calls the coffee shop her 'hood', but isn't the idea of her living in downtown Washington DC even though she works an hour outside of town a little crazy? It's not like she's from there, after all, she was recruited into the FBI for her hacking skills, and she what, decided that two hours of commuting time and a much higher rent to live in a crime-riddled city was a fantastic idea?

Anyhow, Xander is miraculously also there (did they go together? I'm so confused!) and is freaked out to discover that Penelope is dating some guy!

Then it's time for their case briefing! In the past two days two women have been brutally stabbed to death and had their tongues ripped out! The team discusses the possible symbolic importance of the act - were they liars? Did the killer want to silence them? And then it's off to the plane.

Where this briefing could have taken place. Seriously, why not just meet at the airport? It's a half-hour drive from their offices, so aren't they wasting time driving all the way in just to get two minutes of exposition before getting back in their cars?

Then it's over to the killer, who apparently writes books about his murders? Many of which feature hilarious pun titles?
Why is the Nicole one in a different font, and underlined? Does he do a new edition when he's actually killed someone?

Maybe, because he then reads from a book about a woman whose house he broke into through an open window. He killed a guy there, then dragged her off so she could be his forever! I guess this happened a while ago? Because the cops haven't connected it to the two current murders, and, more importantly, no a lot of people are leaving open windows in Minnesota from November through April.

Okay, the case gets a little crazy from here. We get some details about the murder - they were clubbed into submission and then stabbed, he didn't rape them, no explanation was given for how he could have spent five minutes stabbing a woman and tearing out her tongue in public without anyone noticing. Seriously, the stabbing and tongue-ripping happened in her car in that parking lot.

Then it turns out that the 'open window' scene happened the same night as the parking lot! Yup, despite all logic and reason, the killer was able to find a house with an open window in February. They notice that the new woman's tongue was cut out as well, but her dead brother's mouth was left untouched?

Jeanne then asks why a spree killer would continue taking souvenirs, apparently forgetting that the show only deals in spree killers. Do you know how rare it is that there's an episode where the murderer isn't killing at least one person every day?

Reid and Derek go to the crime scene, and ask why the alarm didn't go off when the window was opened. Reid's suggestion? "Maybe he knew what he was doing." But that doesn't really make sense. It's the dead of winter and the house has a security system. That's two reason for a window to be locked. So did the killer disarm the system earlier and break the window lock? Would they really not notice that?

Also, how did the killer plan this? Obviously he couldn't know that the woman would be alone in the bar parking lot, so that was a crime of opportunity. Was the original plan to follow her home and kill her there? If it was, could he really have planned to hit a second house on the same night?

Garcia phones with info! The security system was just recently put in, and her brother had only flown into town days earlier! Obviously she knew she was being stalked, and wanted to protect herself! They wonder how the killer could have gotten information about three different women living completely separate lives!

Which is the writers forgetting that the characters don't have certain information yet. There's no reason for Derek to think that the killer had any specific knowledge of the other two victims. We know that he was stalking them and writing Gerald Schaeffer-style fiction about killing them, but as far as the team knows, the guy just stumbled on and brutally stabbed two of the four victims. Obviously bypassing the security system was planned.

So is the killer a cop or a security system expert?

Then it's over to the morgue, where we learn that the victims' tongue were cut out while they were alive! Thanks, show.

JJ talks to the drunken boyfriend. They were having a fight about money, which isn't relevant, but he reveals the 'killer knew their names' info, which is important considering the stalker angle!

Garcia finds out the connection between the women! They all had active online lives, facebook, blogging, dating sites - they would have been simple to track down!

We then get a glimpse of the killer, who's talking with a woman online and fantasizing about killing one of his coworkers. Charming!

By studying the women's posts, the team notices them describing fantasy situations that mirror their deaths! One wanted to be rescued from her bad relationship, another liked the park where her body was dumped, and the third fantasized about being assaulted by someone sneaking in through a window.

Which just makes the double event all the more preposterous - if his plan for the night was to follow the woman in the bad relationship around, hoping to rescue her from her scumbag boyfriend, how could he possibly assume he'd have time to get to the other woman, which is the one that required the most planning?

They start talking about a profile, while we see footage of the killer hanging out at a public pool, creepily staring at a young woman. Seriously, how has no one kicked this guy out yet? The team blathers on a bit about how the women could have been interacting with this man online without knowing anything about what he looks like, so they never knew they were talking to a creepy who was already in the fringes of their lives!

That, the guy kills a woman who lives in his apartment building. And is a different woman than the one who was doing laps.

Seriously, he beats, strangles, and tears the tongue out of a woman in what's apparently his own building's laundry room without getting blood all over the area and himself. Is he a ghost? Okay, maybe it's not his apartment building, but if it's not, how did he get in without being caught on security cameras? Even if he does work for a security company, but you can't remotely turn off cameras. And if it is his own building, wouldn't he get caught fast?

The team delivers their profile, which is 'he's a guy in his late 30s' (which is based on nothing), and that he enjoys turning womens' fantasies into nightmares, and then tearing out their tongues! Which, thanks. That should help the detectives track him down. They'll just go to the place in the files where cops keep records on men who interact with women online!

Now we get to the twist! The stalker, who we'd been following all this time, isn't the killer at all, just a guy who writes stories about killing women! The killer is actually a fan of his! Will he immediately go to the cops to help them catch the guy? He could save a lot of lives that way, since he's got bios on the rest of the targets, after all.

At the office, Xander wants to know how serious Penelope's relationship with the coffee shop guy is, and she rebuffs him, saying that her love life is not his business any more. Which... didn't you break up with him, Garcia? If so, that's cold. If not, I'm remembering it wrong.

Then Garcia heads back to her office with info! The latest victim had no online presence or fantasies! Which makes sense, because the story we heard about her was the killer talking about passing her all the time but her never noticing him. So she lives in the stalker's building, not the killer's. Although I feel like when the cops canvassed his building he'd be so freaked out at discovering she was killed in the exact method he wrote about that he'd have immediately given himself away. He doesn't seem like a stable sort.

Okay, things get even more peculiar, when it turns out that it wasn't the stalker's apartment building at all! No, this latest victim was stalked by a different scumbag, who's currently institutionalized! It seems that there's a website where men publish fantasies about killing women, and now the killer is making them all real! At least the ones set in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Meanwhile Jeanne and Joe talk to the guy who runs the asylum! He promotes having violent offenders write about their fantasies so get them out, so that they can address the root of the problem! Only some facilities have been having people write out their fantasies without doing any related therapy, which only encourages killers to become obsessed with their hypothetical crimes! So is this killer someone who went through one of those faulty therapy sessions? Maybe not, since he's living out other people's fantasies. Maybe he's a would-be serial killer who was just really bad at writing, so has to live vicariously through others?

We then check in on the writer's group that the killer runs! The stalker is one of the members, and he gives the killer a story entitled 'betrayed'. Because instead of going to the police he's decided to confront the killer himself? That's quite the move.

After the writing group breaks up, the stalker stays behind for a conversation. But what will they talk about?

Before we get there, Garcia calls Derek with some info - it seems the killer worked at a call centre where the 'dealing with crime through fantasy writing' psychologist gave a speech! Shortly after the talk three women had their tongues cut out, and then he moved to Minnesota and started a writing group!

Wow, Garcia solved the hell out of the crime this week, didn't she? Seriously, she was able to get a list of everyone who was at one of the guy's speeches nationwide, indexed that against cities with tongue-removal deaths, and then checked that list against people who moved to Minnesota? That's some amazing big data-style accomplishment, G! The team heads off to his house on a tongue hunt! No mention is made of getting a warrant.

At the writers' group, the stalker is confronting the killer about plagiarism. So he's just super-crazy! I guess he's jealous that he's not the one doing the killing? He asks the killer not to kill the pool lady, presumably so he can do it himself, and then locks the door. So he's going to attack the killer and hope to win in a fight against a taller, stronger opponent? Okay, sure.

Half the team searches the killer's house and finds nothing of note, and by the time the other half of the team gets to the writer's circle, he's already dead! Seriously, how? The stalker had better be beaten all to hell when they catch up with him, because there's just no way.


So apparently we're asked to believe that this guy got all the way home completely covered in blood without anyone noticing him? Every door or railing he touched left bloody handprints, anyone who saw him would have thought he'd been in an accident (or just killed someone). How?

The team offers some backstory on the killer - he was molested as a kid, his mom covered up for the abuser, and now he thinks women should be silenced via tongue extraction. Um... great?

Jeanne then uses her expert linguistic analysis skills to notice that the various stories from the writer's group were written by different people! Um... great? That's not really a surprise, you know, what with the guy running a writers' group and all.

She can't be talking about the three central victims, right? We know who wrote those stories, and it was all the same guy.

Speaking of, the stalker calls a crisis hotline! He's got a small bruise on his face, BTW. He wants to know if he should start serial killing, but before he gets any advice, pool lady messages him online! That's his sign!

Jeanne finally finds the stories documenting the central kills, and sees that they were written by one 'Peter'. Then things get strange. They remember that the killer used to work for a crisis hotline, so they check to see if he'd fielded calls from anyone with that name! I guess the theory is he talked to a would-be serial killer and invited him to join his writing group, in the hopes of getting some inspiration?

Um... no.

The killer worked at a call center in Tampa, and he stopped working there two years ago. Even if it was a national call center, are we expected to believe that he talked to the stalker two years ago, and was so taken with him that he decided to move to Minnesota and start a writing group just to exploit him?

I feel like the producers ordered some rewrites and nobody wanted to go back and read the script before doing them. Seriously, how hard would it be for the killer to have had a list of the people in his writing group? This whole nonsense about the stalker calling a crisis hotline makes the story convoluted for no real reason except to give Penelope a little more to do.

Preposterous stuff - we're expected to believe that she can, with a few keystrokes, find out every shift the killer worked at the call center, and immediately get the names of every single person he talked to during those shifts.

Ah, convolution for convolution's sake. The one of the many hallmarks of a bad episode.

Since the next story of Peter's is about a woman drowning in a lake, Garcia lets them know where the closest pool is to where he lives! Although it's just as likely - probably moreso - that he'd be going to the pool closest to where his victim lives. Let's just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's the same pool.

Oh, and speaking of, we see the pool lady in her house updating her profile, when the stalker looms over her and puts a bag over her head.

How did he get into her house? You know what, I'll save this for final thoughts.

At the pool, Peter asks the pool lady to talk him into not killing her. He doesn't give her a chance, though, instead bothering her with his terrible writing. Then he pushes her into the pool as the police arrive, and he puts a knife to his throat. For some reason they try to talk him out of killing himself. Reid gives him essentially the same speech he gave to Anton Yelchin way back when - "You're always going to want to kill people, but maybe you can stop yourself if you just want it enough!" - It goes exactly as well here as it did back then, with the guy immediately slashing his throat and falling into the pool.

How are you so bad at this, Reid?

Wouldn't it have been a better idea to have that conversation with him after shooting him with a beanbag shotgun?

Back at the office, Greg confronts Reid about how he played it with the stalker, and Reid explains that since lying to Dawn didn't stop her from killing herself, maybe telling the truth with this guy would? Greg thinks he's still upset about Dawn and Maeve, but Reid leaves in the middle of the conversation instead of addressing the issue, which is just crazy unprofessional.

Quick side note - this scene is taking place at night, creating the impression that this is happening the same day as the throat slash. But given that it was night out, that was happening post 5PM, so let's say like 7. Meaning 8PM Quantico time. It's not like they could have just left the crime scene and headed for the plane - there's obviously paperwork to be done, so even if they left the same night, they wouldn't have gotten back to Quantico until well after midnight - and they would seriously go into the office instead of heading home? That's strange.

The End.

Except for a scene where Xander calls Garcia to apologize! Garcia admits that she was horrible! They have a conversation about their friendship, and then she gets back to her date with the coffee shop guy, who let's just hope isn't the killer?

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

Um... no? Well, kind of, it's weird - psychology was instrumental to solving the crimes, but it wasn't really the team's insight. They had zero ideas until a woman was killed who'd been stalked, and when they talked to her stalker, they found out about writing therapy, and the writing therapy guy told them that people were using it recklessly, putting lives in danger. So psychology was at the heart of the trail they followed, but they weren't using it.

So I guess they don't get the credit. Maybe one extra point for figuring that since the fourth story was about killing they should check out the local pool? Sure, what the hell.

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 those clues. Literally anyone. They had nothing until a murderous stalker was dropped in their lap, and the guy's doctor led them right to the killer.

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


So, time for some final thoughts.

This episode was a wreck, huh?

- Why was that woman terrified of a stalker?
- How did the killer get through her alarm system?
- Why did no one spot his two public killings when he was super-sloppy about them?
- How did he get in and out of an apartment without being noticed when he did not, in fact, live there?
- When did Peter learn to silently break into houses?
- How did he take the killer in a fight with no injuries other than a small bruise on his cheek?
- Did the producers seriously not notice how little sense the 'crisis hotline' part of the story made?
- What was a crisis hotline having a seminar about using writing therapy to dissuade violent criminals from committing more crimes? This isn't a therapy hotline, they're just there to talk people through sudden desperate situations and then direct them to help.
- Did the producers not realize that the whole thing could have been cut, and the killer could have just been a guy who was in jail for assault, took part in one of those programs, and then moved to Minnesota after killing some women in his area?
- Why was the killer able to kill three women without any trouble back home, but in Minnesota he needed to steal fantasies? Wouldn't it make more sense if he'd been a guy who just really hated women, but didn't have a rich interior life to trigger his descent into madness, and was finally motivated to kill once he started reading the stalker's passionate tales of murder?
- What about that murder fantasy website? It feels like the show was supposed to be about that, but then someone noticed that the stalker wouldn't know who the site moderator was in real life, so at the last minute they changed it to a writer's group - you know, one of those mostly public writer's groups where people meet up once a week to read stories about their violent sexual fantasies - but then they still needed the online group to get them to the asylum, so they just left both parts to the story in and hoped no one noticed?
- Why was the episode called 'The Gathering'? Seems like that would have made sense if it was about an anonymous website full of wanna-be serial killers, but it doesn't really fit the final version of the episode.
- Shouldn't it have been called 'Muse', which would have a double meaning,  since the women were the stalker's muses, and the stalker was the killer's muse?

God, this was a sloppy episode, even by Criminal Minds standards. I know I say that a lot, but it's extremely true this time.


Anonymous said...

Good review, except for one thing. You said that the Replicator didn’t copy the Miami murders, but he did. Last episode, did you forget about that?

Vardulon said...

Thanks for the tip! I completely missed that, and have updated the review to reflect your note!

Also, rereading that scene made me realize how stupid the entire underlying concept of it was, so there's a couple more paragraphs about that as well!