Criminal Minds 824: The Replicator

 The episode picks up just where the last one left off, offering us the fate of Erin! It's dumb! Instead of one of the more visually interesting crimes from earlier in the season, Mark just gave her an overdose of MDMA, or possibly the super-poisonous PMMA, although I'm not sure where he would have gotten that.

While she wanders down the street in a daze, Mark walks along with her, talking about how disappointing her life has been. God, Mark Hamill's a wonderful screen presence, isn't he? So glad to see him taunting people murderously - it's the role he was born to play!

Then we cut over to Derek and JJ - like a genius, she's calling Josh to warn him about Mark Hamill coming after them more directly (although they don't know about Erin yet - Joe called to check on her, but Mark didn't answer) - when Garcia calls to apologize for screwing up and getting people killed. Which she absolutely did.

Funny story - as Xander works on the computers, he points out that the kind of access Mark has can't be gained remotely. You have to be on a hardline - a physical cable leading into the FBI mainframe. And since they're assuming that he's not an FBI agent - which they absolutely should not be, but whatever - there's only one other place he could have gotten access: Penelope's apartment!

Yes, that's right, a random apartment outside of DC has a direct access terminal into the FBI mainframe, because sometimes Garcia likes to work from home. Your terrible security practices just got people killed, Penelope. You should feel so much worse than Greg's brother Hotch did last week. Seriously, retire and let Xander take over your job. He's obviously more reliable.

Wouldn't it be neat if the guy Xander was jealous of had been paid by Mark to get access to the computer? That's probably not it, but it would have been a nice multi-stage reveal, with different episodes setting up that she could work from home and that she was still comfortable inviting strange men without security clearance into her apartment.

While Reid and Greg head over to grab Jeanne from her hotel, Joe rushes to Erin's place - why were they not all staying in the same hotel? Does the Bureau not get a bulk rate somewhere when agents have to stay in town? He finds that her room has been tossed, and sees suspicious mini liquor bottles lying all over the floor! Greg runs into the room, and asks if she could have wandered off, drunk. Which is the last thing you'd think when a serial killer just sent you a text message saying he was back. But whatever, Joe needs to explain that she's doing well, I guess.

Okay, Mark Hamill just became my favorite guest star ever. Why? Because when he calls Greg from Erin's phone, his first question is whether people get confused by one character being named Erin, and another being named Aaron. Yes, Mark, it absolutely does, and the writers should be ashamed of themselves for giving two different characters the same-sounding name. He then explains that he's calling because Erin's almost dead, and points out that this is just like that whole Reaper situation, where he failed to save his wife's life. The big difference being that Erin's dying because she didn't put a security chain or bolt on her door, and Greg's wife died because, upon hearing the Reaper was coming for her, obeyed an insane instruction to go to her home, rather than just driving to the nearest police station or federal building.

Up on the roof, Joe and Derek find no evidence, and wonder why Mark left the window open, unless he wanted them to find something. It turns out that the something he wanted them to find was Erin, who's by the bench just a block down the street. I'm not sure why they had to come up to the roof to find her. Just sending people running down the street in both directions would have gotten the job done in a fraction of the time.

Hilariously, this immediately proves true, since by the time Joe takes out his phone to report on Erin's whereabouts, Greg is already calling him to announce that he's found Erin. Also to ask him to call an ambulance. Great idea, but maybe you could have just called the ambulance yourself, and informed Joe later?

Erin has some news to report! Mark threatened her family, said he'd be 'racing them home', and forced her to get super-drunk at gunpoint. What about the PMMA? Did he spike one of the mini-bar bottles? Then Greg hugs her and she dies, without any of the blood from the eyes, and just a tiny bit coming out of her nose. Not a great copycatting, there, Mark.

Out on the street, the team goes over the total lack of evidence they have. Because Mark is a super-hacker, he, as we figured he would, shut down the building's security camera, as well as all of the building and traffic cameras for blocks around. While I don't think that's impossible, I feel like it's impossible that no one would have noticed it as it was happening.

Greg announces that they have a timeline - now that the team is being attacked directly, they have just twenty-four hours to solve the case, or it'll be handed off to other agents! Wouldn't it make more sense to allow the team to continue to pretend to work on the case, but have a flood of agents following them around, doing counter-surveillance? Essentially using them as bait? If they'd been doing that already, Mark would have been caught the minute he got near Erin's hotel room.

There's a sad scene at the airport, where they establish that Greg's son will be hiding with Greg's girlfriend in Manhattan, and Joe talks about how Mark took away Erin's dignity by getting her drunk when she'd been sober for a year. He wonders if he'll be able to convince her kids that she didn't start drinking again, since her body smells of alcohol. Here's a tip - don't let them see the body. Why would they want to? Just tell them that she has to be rushed to the morgue for autopsy in the hopes of finding clues. By the time it's ready for the funeral, it won't be smelling of alcohol any more.

As the team arrives at the office, they realize that Greg's misadventures with the Reaper were kept quiet, and he never put all of the details in the official report - the only way Mark could have known about it is if he had a connection deep within the FBI. Or was in the FBI himself, which remains a possibility that I don't know why they haven't considered yet.

Meanwhile, Mark is in his murder lair, preparing a letter for Joe! He doesn't seem particularly worried about fingerprints, since he handles everything with his bare hands! Also, he's left-handed, which I didn't know Mark Hamill was!

Taking some good advice, Joe fills Erin's kids in about her death, but keeps them out of the morgue room. Classy! Hopefully the M.E. will tell us how she died, since I'm still not clear on that. Was it not a copycat crime at all? Did he actually arrange alcohol poisoning? That can't be right, since there's no way there's enough booze in a hotel room to kill someone, and he didn't bring any with him.

In the meeting room, they try to figure out why Mark would attack Erin on this specific day. Could it be an anniversary? I'm not sure, isn't it way more likely that she was attacked because this was the easiest time to get to her? She certainly had better security precautions at home, right? Like a door that didn't just open because you had the right keycard?

Greg then announces that they're going to track Mark's movement - they assume he lives in or around DC, for ease of stalking them. Since they have concrete dates when he was in other cities, dropping bodies, it's just a matter of checking every single public or private transportation record covering the routes to and from those locations in the days around the murders!

Yes, that sounds insane, but the thing is, if Mark was flying around the country, that kind of search might actually be doable. If he used any other mode of transportation, however - and remember, we saw him carting a woman around in a van - and it would be completely impossible.

They also put Xander on picture patrol, hoping he can dig out some detail they've missed in the photos! Anything that gets us more Xander, I'm in favour of!

Joe talks with the M.E., who announces that Erin was, in fact, given PMMA, but that it didn't boil her organs, like the other people. Joe wonders if that's because it was a lower dose, or because it was formulated differently. I wonder why she's dead. If her organs didn't boil, why would it have killed her? They established in the previous episode that smaller, non-organ-boiling doses are completely survivable. She also has a figure 8 (or infinity sign!) carved into her wrist. The team debates what it could mean, but have no good ideas.

When looking at the pictures again, they notice that Mark got one of Derek at the embassy event where he hijacked the ceremony to talk about his dad. Considering the security at that event, they're finally willing to consider the possibility that Mark is in the FBI, or at least the government.

A theory that is confirmed in the next scene, as that guy who drives people home is questioning Xander about Mark's break-in, and the two of them are so busy talking that they don't even notice that it's Mark who holds open the door for them as they walk into the offices!

Not that they'd understand the significance of what Mark looks like, but still, it's a fun reveal.

Mark, looking shockingly doughy (I guess after years of just voice-acting you forget why you weren't supposed to eat bagels - he's dropped all the weight for Flash and Star Wars, though, so happy ending!), heads into Joe's office and looks over his desk. He finds, among the other pictures, a real-life shot of Joe Mantegna meeting Ringo Starr!

Joe must have been pretty psyched about getting to use this as a prop on the show, huh? It does say great things about the character that the photos are family, friends, Marine Unit, Beatle.

He leaves the letter on the desk, and makes his exit, without anyone questioning him! Which actually raises a point - did he shut down the cameras inside the FBI as well? Because the moment they see that envelope they can ask 'hey, how did that get in there?' and immediately check the footage.

The next morning the team still has nothing! Erin said she didn't recognize Mark, but Greg thinks that it's possible the reason that she took them off the case was so that she could make it seem like they were essentially giving up, which would give her a chance to hunt for him inside the FBI! Perhaps the eight on her wrist is a reference to how she was attempting to catch him?

That's a lot of theorizing for zero evidence, Greg.

Greg has Xander break into Erin's laptop, and we find the trap she laid for the killer!

Did you see it? That's right, amidst all of the awkward writing, she added a line about the killer carving the infinity symbol into the wrists! The plan was obviously to track who the report was sent to, after first classifying it at the highest-level, and then when a body turned with the infinity symbol, she'd have a very small pool of suspects!

Except... Mark didn't stab her to death. Why would he use elements from two different criminals for one of his copycats? He's never done that before. Given the circumstances, the only reason he'd have for using the infinity symbol is because he knew it was a fake clue, and wanted to mock her by throwing it in her face.

It seems they're not going that way, though, because Greg rushes over to the Senator with oversight on the serial killing part of the justice department, and demands to know all the people who had access to the file Erin dummied up!

Then things get a little weird, as the rest of the team tries to figure out if there's some significance to the crimes that Mark is copycatting. I say weird, because they add a new never-before-mentioned killer that happened before the Michael Myers episode, a guy in Seattle who used his child to bait his victims.

So, like the Eddie Cibrian episode way back in season three? I'm on to you, producers.

They have Garcia check if that murder was also copycatted - her connections in Seattle finds the case, and they fax the info over! So yes, apparently the entire computer system is still down, and there won't be any security footage of Mark. I'm not a specialist at this kind of thing, but shouldn't they fully lock down the building until the computer and surveillance system is back and fully operational? This isn't the kind of place you want people to freely wander around.

They've invented a new case that Jeanne also worked on, but no one is pointing out the obvious - what is Mark's connection to Jeanne? After all, whether it was Michael Myers or Eddie 2.0, the copycatting only started after she joined the team.

Joe heads back to his office as everyone looks on, wondering if they should say something. Well, you're all trained psychologists, so yes? He finds the envelope and opens it, discovering the M.E.'s report on Erin. That's it? No message on the back? What was Mark writing?

Greg gathers everyone in the conference room with the names of the dozen people with direct access to the Senator's info. They also note that because all of the murders took place over the weekend, they should be looking for people who only work four-day weeks, so they'd have time to drive to the cities where they plan to kill people.

I seriously doubt the killer would be able to have a full-time job. Even with three day weekends, you're talking about more than two full days of driving to get to many of these locations, and after getting there Mark has to find a victim, arrange a location to kill them and alter their corpse in the way the original killer did, all without attracting any police attention whatsoever. That's a huge amount of work for a single day or less. No, Mark would have to make killing a full-time job, especially considering all of the extra stalking he's doing of the team when he's not arranging elaborate murder tributes.

Jeanne finally mentions how weird it is that the copycatting only started when she joined the team. Thanks, Jeanne. Only took you the better part of a year to notice that.

Derek goes to check on Joe, but Joe pulls a gun on him! When Greg comes in to break it up, Joe announces that Derek's DNA was on the glass that cut the 8 into Erin's wrist! Wow... is this a joke? She died like 12 hours ago. That's not enough time to do a DNA test. Also there's no way that, even if they've found and tagged the piece of glass that cut her risk, that information on it would be in the FBI lab. Her murder is an NYPD case, and they're probably combing the hotel room at the moment.

We can understand why Joe is willing to believe the letter, though - based on his nosebleed, he's been drugged by the same PMMA mixture Erin was given! I guess Mark altered the chemistry so it can be absorbed through the skin even when completely dried out on a piece of paper?

Greg diffuses the situation, but I've got to ask - do FBI agents normally have guns in their offices? Do they not have to check them in a locker somewhere, or is it a situation where you can have it in your office if it's in a locked drawer?

Then it's over to Mark, who's working on a way to do an aerosol delivery of his new drug cocktail! Just giving up on the copycat thing entirely at this point, huh?

JJ almost makes a good point as they discuss the elaborate chemistry that must have gone into creating a touchable version of the drug - Mark is a chemist, hacker, and inside the government! She ends the thought with 'Who is this guy?', though, when her capper really should have been - that mixture of skills and experience must be exceedingly rare, which should make him easy to catch!

They get around to checking the video cameras, and discover that Mark was very good at hiding his face from them. Except they only show him walking into the offices, where the cameras are all behind him. Based on the camera angles it's impossible that he would have been able to keep his face completely out of sight while leaving Joe's office. Oh, and while they're talking about this, Mark is using his bug to watch them from his murder lair.

Finally they talk their way into a clue - Jeanne and Erin butted heads over the post- 9-11 Anthrax fiasco, and now the killer isn't just poisoning Erin, but sending poison letters to government agents, a recreation of that significant crime! Could Mark be another federal agent whose career was ruined by Erin's mistakes, and this is his way-too-elaborate revenge?

The answer, of course, is yes - Garcia drops off the files of the other two agents who were caught up in Erin's mess - a dead guy and Mark. Now they've got their target, and it took a crazily small amount of work to get there! Seriously, if the connection to Jeanne was this obvious, why didn't they catch him six months ago?

Seeing that the team is on the way to arrest him, Mark packs up his various bomb-detonating equipment, and gets ready to make his big move! Then Garcia does the backstory thing - disturbed loner, only cared about working for the FBI, shattered by the demotion he got when Erin framed him, and so on, and so forth.

It turns out that, in addition to a bomb detonator, Mark also has a remote control rig that can trigger sabotage devices he planted on the FBI's helicopters! Luckily the pilot can just turn off the helicopter's wi-fi, and everyone's fine. Gosh, if you've got to go to the roof and wire into helicopters anyway, Mark, maybe a bomb is a better choice?

I spoke too soon! Turns out Mark can just switch to another device and shut down the helicopter entirely. It crashes, but since it contained cast members, I'm sure they're all fine. When the second helicopter arrives at the crash site, they discover that Jeanne is missing, and the aerosol can Mark was working on has been left in the cockpit! Of course, they don't understand the significance of that yet.

Wait, did Mark watch the crash, and then drive all the way over to it, betting that everyone would be unconscious long enough for him to grab Jeanne? That seems like a dangerous bet to take.

Turns out that yes, Jeanne is now tied up in Mark's truck! He drives her to his house and roughly drags her out!

Back at the office, Xander and Garcia get the computers back up, just as Joe arrives, none the worse for wear! Yay!

At the crash site, Reid explains that they were probably knocked out by whatever was in the canister after the crash, so he'd be able to take Jeanne with him. Here's the thing, though - this plan requires him to crash a helicopter, then, after it lands, get into his truck, drive the truck over to the crash site, get out, run over to the helicopter and toss a knockout grenade in - all before the people inside have regained consciousness. Doesn't that seem like a stretch? That none of them recovered from the crash in time to just shoot him?

Mark has Jeanne locked up in a basement. He talks to her about resenting the way his career's gone for the last decade, and admits that he was driven to action by seeing Erin promote Jeanne onto the profiling team. Why did Jeanne get a chance to excel once again, while he and the third (now dead) guy were robbed of it?

I'm a little confused, did he want to be a profiler? Because Garcia's background on him detailed a stellar career, and mentioned that he'd worked his way to the top of the department of Justice. Exactly what is he complaining about?

Also, if he had a super high-end job at the DoJ how on earth did he have time to arrange and commit all these murders?

The team searches the first of three houses, and finds his killer's lair, but when they get to Jeanne, he's long gone! She explains that he put eight locks on, but there are only six keys! Because there's only six different letters in zugzwang, you see. They Reid suggests that it is all 'too easy', and I can't help but notice that the team has put no effort in to searching for booby traps before attempting to free her.

JJ finally discovers one, hidden behind some rat poison! It's a timer with a little over three minutes left on it! Timers aside, Mark also had that hand-held detonator that we haven't seen since.

Meanwhile, Mark has blended in with the crowd by putting on a windbreaker and flak jacket.

I guess no one was shown pictures of his face? Because he's not really wearing a disguise. I mean, all of these people know that they're looking for an evil FBI agent, right? Why would an FBI agent be above scrutiny?

As they finish removing the locks, Reid again says that things are 'too easy', and offers a different translation for Zugzwang: when the best move is to not move at all.

God. How can you translate the same word wrong twice? I'll run through this one last time: Zugzwang is the state in chess where only bad moves are available, but you have to make a move anyway, because there's no 'pass' in chess. Despite Reid's awful mistransaltions, this is actually appropriate to their current situation - there are only bad moves. If Jeanne gets up, the door slams shut, trapping her, but if she stays put, she's still locked in a basement. But you have to make a move, because there's a timer counting down.

Right, the door - remember when I said they were idiots for not checking for traps? Yeah, there was a pressure plate under Jeanne, and when she got up the auto-door closed. I don't know how the characters missed there being an auto-sliding-door in the room, but apparently they're terrible at their jobs.

Outside, Mark tries to detonate the bomb early, but Garcia and Xander manage to block the signal! At least I think that's what's happening - Mark looks at his phone and it goes from 1 minute left to 'signal interrupted'. Is there not an actual timer on the bombs? Are they just set to explode when his phone tells them to? That's a weird way to build a trap, Mark. What if you dropped or sat on your phone?

Mark runs down into the basement to kill everyone with a gun, but finds that his trap room is open and Joe has sneaked up behind him! Knowing the game is up, Mark sits down in the trap chair and stands back up, locking him and Joe in the room, with just a minute left on the bomb counter!

How did any of this happen? I'm sure they'll explain how they got out, but why, after doing that, did they just let Mark and Joe walk in alone? Why did they leave the trap door active? Why doesn't any of this make sense?

While the team runs away, Derek says 'he just let us out, why would he go back in?' which makes even less sense! So Joe knew about the trap chair and auto-door? Why didn't they all just arrest Mark when he went back to the basement? What is wrong with this episode?

Then it turns out it was all part of Joe's plan! He put Erin's AA medal in the door jamb, knowing full well that the door was so weak that it would be able to crush the coin, and that he would be able to easily push it open with one hand while keeping a gun on Mark!

Um... if the door is that weak, how were any of them ever 'trapped' by it?

Then Joe wins the Prentiss Award for the night, with this:

You just locked a man in a room to die. There are no more moves. The word you're looking for is 'Checkmate', moron.

The bomb then goes off, but the producers didn't have the inclination or possibly ability to just reduce it to matchsticks, so there's just a blast from the basement, followed by instantaneous fire in all of the windows, as if he'd filled every room with gasoline.

Then it's off to Erin's funeral, before the team heads back to Joe's patio to chat! Isn't this where they ended up at the end of last season as well? They're telling stories about Erin and have a great time, but obviously they're all still sad. Which they should be - her scummy politicing got a lot of people killed!

Joe gets a final speech about how it's been a hard year, but it's important that families get through these things together!

Not just a hard year, but an incredibly badly-written one.

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

Dear lord, no. Mark just dumped a truckload of evidence on them. Even Erin's plan to set up a trap didn't end up working, because instead they just looked at who had a grudge against Erin and Jeanne, and came up with two names - one of whom was dead.

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

The team has solved literally hundreds of murders. The minute Jeanne signed on, someone started copycatting those murders to taunt the team. Anyone would have noticed that this revolved around her. Delving into her backstory might not have caught Mark right away, but it certainly would have led to him being grabbed sooner than they managed it.

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


It's a questionable end to a terrible season. I'll save the details for next week's 'Season in Review', but for now, let's just look at the episode. We're asked to believe that Mark, while being a high-flyer at the department of justice, would have time to organize a series of murders all across the country, while never missing a day of work? It's not like he had a lot of time to make his plans - he was reliably doing the copycat just a couple of weeks after the original murder. If he was an independently wealthy guy who devoted his entire life to pulling off these crimes, I'd call it a maybe. As something he did over three-day-weekends? That's just nuts.

Also, was his plan seriously to wait around until Erin went off on a mission before playing out his endgame? That could have taken years.

Why did he do the figure eight cut on her wrist, while copycatting a different crime? It seems like he would only do that if he was taunting her about the fact that he knew she'd put the figure 8 into a report to trap him, but there's no evidence in the episode that he suspected that for a second.

How did the drugs kill her if they didn't make her organs boil and bleed? We need details on his biochemical changes he made to the recipe, and how he got a sample of it to start with! Are we really supposed to believe that he found out about the chemicals from an in-the-moment report, and managed to make his own altered version of them within a single day?

Was Erin even sending preliminary reports back? You'd think she would be more careful about that, since she was trying to use the reports to catch Mark.

I know that she was hallucinating by the time they got to her, but before being drugged, Erin spent like ten minutes getting drunk in front of a guy she knew pretty well. How did she not recognize him? Or did she go nuts in an incredibly specific way from the poison that it made her forget only Mark's face?

How did Mark go to Jeanne's classroom without being recognized by her? They used to work together.

Joe murdered Mark Hamill, and the rest of the team is just cool with that? This is like when Derek murdered that guy a few episodes, and no one said a thing. Why did they need to fire Elle again?

Why did none of this make sense?


Anonymous said...

The seattle serial killer was mentioned very briefly in the season premiere.

Unknown said...

I am amazed by the fact you didn't keep calling Mark "Luke" xD