Criminal Minds 903: Final Shot

The episode opens in a business park at lunch, where a huge crowd of people are milling about. Considering how expensive that is to stage, and the title of the episode, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that there's about to be a mass shooting of some kind. Another sniper? That would be the show's third, if you don't count mercenaries!

A blonde lady walks over to ask a cute co-worker to lunch, then is shocked when he gets sniped! The sniping then begins in earnest, with people running and screaming and, in some cases, falling to the ground, badly injured or killed. Blonde lady survives, though, by hiding behind a garbage can! Good for her.

The killer, who's pretending to be a painter in an under-renovation office across the street, quickly disassembles his sniper rifle and dumps the pieces into a paint can. He's also wearing a ski mask, for reasons that elude me.

Seriously, the gloves make sense to me, because he wants to leave no evidence, but the face mask would be uncomfortable in the warm September in Dallas weather, making him sweat and risk leaving more DNA at the crime scene. I could see wearing a knit cap or something to guard against losing hairs, but the ski mask is just a terrible choice. It's not like there's a risk of someone seeing him while he's shooting. He stuck a rifle out a window and fired for ten seconds, then fled. No one was watching the rifle barrel.

Over at Quantico, the team rushes out of the office to respond to the mass shooting, while name-checking a bunch of real-world terrorist attacks that happened in recent months, which seems a little distasteful, actually. Greg tries to remind everyone to keep every possibility on the table, but it's clear that the rest of the team is going in assuming that it's an act of 'domestic terrorism'. Which is always a weird phrase to me, as if it makes a huge difference whether a terrorist is from the country they're attacking. Yes, knowing motivation can help you solve a crime, but do we really need a separate word for if an American fires into a crowd of Americans people than if a Libyan does?

Then we get a recap of things we already know, as footage plays of the crime scene investigation while news broadcasters question whether it was the act of domestic terrorism, or the work of a lone madman. As if those things are mutually exclusive.

Then it's time for the credits, which seems a little quick, since we're just three minutes into the episode, but sure, let's get this party started!

The team heads to the local FBI office, where a female agent is checking the footage in the middle of a conference room, using a wireless mouse and a TV like fifteen feet away from her. I know they needed to introduce the character quickly, but these are not ideal working conditions. They also say that eyewitness testimony is going to be useless, since no one saw anything. Which, in a sniper attack sounds pretty accurate.

The local agent in charge runs them through the five victims, who he's said are all over the map when it comes to age, race, and gender. Notably, the second victim is an assistant DA, and if the movie Jack Reacher is correct, he's the target. The first guy to be shot was sitting on a bench, which would be the shot the sniper took to make sure that he'd correctly zeroed his scope, then you'd immediately go to the person you absolutely need to kill before the whole place becomes bedlam, and after that person is dead, you'd just start shooting everyone.

So... is Jack Reacher correct about the M.O. of snipers? Or was the social worker or computer programmer or loan officer the target?

Perhaps it really was a guy targeting no one? Although that doesn't make for a satisfying episode. Or, you know, a crime that's solvable.

Joe's theory? A killer might be trying to recreate the Kennedy Assassination by shooting random people in a business park months before the fiftieth anniversary! It's not a great theory.

Then we cut to the killer, who's walking down to his van holding a paint can that presumably has his gun parts in it. Which seems like a stretch - I really thought he'd just leave the gun there, since any police department worth its salt walk have all of the buildings the killer could have shot from locked down and thoroughly searched - which would include stopping anyone trying to leave the building and checking any container that could possibly have had a weapon in it. Remember how Lee Harvey Oswald was able to walk right past cops and out of the book depository? Imagine how poorly that would have gone if he'd been carrying a violin case.

The killer then looks at a folded over picture of a black woman. We immediately cut over to her in a parking lot - she''s approached by Luke Cage, who announces that there's been a mass shooting, and 'they're closing in', and he drags her away, leaving both her car and keys in the underground parking lot. So... is it about a homegrown terrorist group?

JJ and Derek meet the female FBI agent down at the crime scene, and immediately announce that the killer probably wasn't a trained sniper, because they only hit 50 percent of the time at relatively close range, and professionals hit 98% of the time. Which doesn't sound like a real figure, unless you're talking about situations where the sniper has a relatively immobile target and a guy sitting next to them, using a laser to get an exact range and windspeed. In that case, sure. But firing into a crowd of people scrambling in random directions, moving left-to-right? While wearing a ski mask? Maybe a pro would get higher than fifty percent, but I wouldn't assume a lot higher.

They notice that the injured-but-still-alive victim was shot while facing the direction that the sniper was in - so maybe he saw something!

Then another check-in with Luke and the black lady. She asks if he's sure this mass killing is about them, and he says if they don't run, they're dead! So they do run, up a parking lot ramp! Which seems designed to attract as much attention as possible.

Did Luke Cage just shoot a bunch of people to convince a lady to run away with him? That seems like a lot of work if it's what he did.

Jeanne and Reid talk to the blonde lady and her friend from the beginning! She doesn't have any information to offer, but her friend does! She saw a white bald guy in one of the building windows! Except the shooter was two football fields away, and behind a window which likely would have been reflecting the daylight. Also the killer was wearing a ski mask, so... no, that's not a great lead. Although the team doesn't know that yet, of course.

Then Reid gets the bad news - the final victim died, so won't be of any help!

Penelope calls them up with news about their theories! She confirms that Joe's was silly, and there's no connection to the Kennedy Assassination. Then she goes into more real-life murders - the Fort Hood shooting, the Colorado prison chief who was gunned down by a white supremacist (who may have been hired by Middle-Eastern royalty! That's not in the episode, it's just there's an amazing conspiracy theory around this case that you should look up if you like that sort of thing). Then she gets to the fictional tragedy that the show created - a black city councilman was killed, and a nazi is 'being prosecuted' for the crime, while he's in jail on unrelated charges.

Yeah, that wasn't clear to me either. If he's been charged with the murder, even if he's in jail for something else, he's also in jail awaiting that trial. I don't know why they would differentiate these two charges. It's not like if he finishes his sentence for the first thing they'll let him out when he's awaiting trial for the second.

Wait, a white supremacist killing a guy and about to go to trial? Wasn't the second victim an assistant DA? Is that important? And if it is, how long will it take the team to notice? You'd think instantaneously, given that Garcia just handed them the Nazi.

Derek, JJ, and the FBI agent find the sniper's perch, complete with circle cut into the window where he sniped from. Fun fact: Derek is the worst at evidence collection! He found that a scaffold had been used to obscure the sniper's nest, and he grabbed it and pulled it aside with his bare hands!

Despite the fact that its placement means that it's the only thing in the area that the sniper is guaranteed to have touched! Fantastic work, Derek. Joe and Greg then call with an update - the rifle used in the mass shooting is the same type that killed the councilman, and the ADA who was shot was the one prosecuting the case!

Score one for Jack Reacher! Or at least, you know, writers who watched the movie Jack Reacher.

JJ and Derek go to talk to the Nazi, who claims that he's out of the hate game, and even had his tattoos removed! Then they provoke him into revealing his racism by having Derek keep touching JJ and giving her orders! Devious!

Although since all they accomplish is to make him angry and get no additional information, maybe it wasn't the best tactic. Unless the goal of the visit was to make a Nazi uncomfortable, in which case mission accomplished!

The team decides that the ADA couldn't have been the target, because the Nazi was surprised to hear about the killing. Because it's impossible that the other Nazis did it on their own? The guy in jail not knowing every detail about club attempts to free him seems to be a weird reason to drop the lead. Also, it would be a coincidence beyond all reason and logic to suggest that the ADA would randomly get shot at a mass killing using the same weapon employed in the case he was investigating.

Coincidence, or terrible writing, that is.

Reid and Jeanne bring news from the hospital - all of the dead people were killed with perfect vital shots, suggesting that the sniper was an expert, and missed six times just to pretend that he wasn't! Um... what? Why would you do that? Let's say you're a well-trained sniper, and want to shoot a bunch of people and get away with it. Do you really think that when the police start asking the military if there were any trained snipers in the area, the military will respond 'No, it couldn't have been Steve, Steve wouldn't have missed that many times!' In this example, the sniper was named Steve.

Of course that wouldn't happen. No actual investigation will rule out a suspect based on accuracy, because far too many factors play into that. I believe that the vital hits could make someone suspect a trained sniper, but I can't imagine a set of factors that would cause you to rule one out.

If you wanted to pretend you weren't a good shot, why kill six people? Shoot the first person in the head, because it's believable that you would have had time to aim that one (even if it s a 'cold shot'), shoot the second person - presumably your target - in the heart, and then start firing wildly into the crowd. Hit a guy in the knee, hit a lady in the shoulder, fire a couple of rounds into trees! You can't both want to pretend to be a bad shot by missing half the time and also go out of your way to execute six other people with utter precision. It's almost like he only killed the four unnecessary people because the writers wanted the episode to be about a bloodbath, no matter how little sense that made!

They also suggest that if the sniper was super-well trained, he must have been shooting a specific person in the crowd... but who could it have been? Here's the thing, though - it still kind of has to be the computer programmer or the ADA. You can get one free shot in this type of situation before everyone freaks out. People maybe don't know what they heard, or perhaps think it's a car or a firecracker - there are innocent explanations. After that second shot, though, people realize what's happening, and they freak out. People run, they hide, a crowd of people becomes a frantic mass of bodies, and your ability to pick your speficic target out of a crowd goes down to near-zero. I can believe the guy zeroes in on the lawyer, then sweeps his aim over to a guy on a bench, shoots him, then sweeps right back to the lawyer, who won't be far from where he was two seconds earlier. But the third-through-sixths targets? With the gunman firing off extra bullets between kills? It's just crazy to imaging that he could keep track of who he meant to kill in that kind of a mess.

Then it's over to a gas station, where a woman gets a text message telling her to keep quiet. She then calls the person and asks if her family's safe - she told the police just what they wanted her to. Then the killer starts shooting up the place, and hits her in the neck! It's a bigger conspiracy than we imagined!

The team gets to the crime scene, and notices that the best possible shooting position would be from across the street in a parking lot, firing out of a trunk. Which isn't actually accurate - a rolled-down window would be way more reliable - it looks way less suspicious than a half-popped trunk. I'm assuming the killer didn't have a special shooting port the way Tim Omundsen did in that D.C. sniper episode. Which the characters should have referenced instead of the D.C. sniper, because it's something that happened to them, rather than something they just read about.

Their conclusion based on the crime scene? The killer must be an exceptional sniper to have been able to shoot across a busy street without hitting any of the traffic. Perhaps even a Perfect Machine of Snipe!

Then it's back to Luke and the lady - they've arrived at a safe house, which means he's not the sniper, since they've been together the whole time! He gives her a gun and keeps one for himself, announcing that a contact of his is coming to extract them! So I guess Luke is being set up for the murders? But how, and why? Also, I just noticed that Luke is doing an African accent, and since he makes reference to 'his line of work', I guess he's a spy or mercenary, and has reason to believe a sniper would be after him?

It turns out that she's the target! She did something, and now powerful people are after her, with Luke operating as a bodyguard!

Then it's time for the profile, which is just a crazy thing to do in this case. Here's a precis: "You're looking for a trained sniper, probably with army experience. We're hoping to find a connection between deaths at the first and second crime scene to generate a lead on him."

That's all the information they have. How is any of that actionable? Why would you call cops in to listen to that? You just said one thing they already knew and then said you were still looking for clues. This is bad even by Criminal Minds Profiling standards.

Also, let's not forget that the 'he has a specific target' thing is a complete guess at this point. They have zero evidence of that. All they know is that he put a lot of planning and practice into the shooting, but so did the Las Vegas shooter, and no one thinks he was trying to kill a specific person. Their entire reasoning behind 'he had a specific target' is that he also fired six random shots to pretend he was bad at sniping. Which, as we've already discussed, is ridiculous.

We get more with Luke and his charge! He gives her a lesson in situational awareness, and it seems she's not great at it!

Then it's over to the team, struggling to figure out the connection because they 'know' the killer had a target. Again, they don't know that, it's still just a guess. I'm sure it's correct, but it's just a guess.

Reid tries to reprofile the scene, claiming that the third person could have been the target, since she was hit within two seconds of the first sound, and wouldn't have had a chance to start running, meaning the killer could have targeted her! Even if that was true, I don't agree with his timing, and believe only the second person is a viable target. Here's the thing, though - the version of events he's basing his profile on isn't what happened.

This is the woman Reid thinks must have been the target, since the killer would have lost track of people after everyone started running;

Now let's watch the video of the shooting, shall we?

That's her getting shot by the fifth bullet, a full eight seconds after the shooting started, while she was running through a crowd of people. Also, we saw people already running as the third shot killed the ADA, blowing Reid's theory all to hell. So no, there's no way that, given everything we know about Sniping - even what Reid's theory about it was - that the third person could have been the target.

But let's see where they go with this, anyhow.

The woman's boss reveals that she works in the high-risk field of hiding women from their abusive spouses! Considering the amount of spousal abuse in the special forces community, that's not a bad lead. They also hear about a harrowing event where a murderer broke into their computers to locate his girlfriend, then killed her and the person she was hiding with. So yeah, it's a dangerous field.

JJ reacts strangely to the story, and Reid asks he what's wrong, but she doesn't respond! Then they send the victim's phone over to Garcia, hoping that she can find all of the social worker's files that were deleted for purposes of client confidentiality.

As always, the sound editor dubs in loud 'clackity' typing noises, even though Penelope uses a silent, rollable rubber keyboard:

This is years of making this mistake, people.

It seems that the social worker had been stressed on the day of her death, but told her husband it was about work and work that it was about a family thing! Also, Garcia can only recover the last text she sent - the name of the woman killed in the second shooting: Rebecca!

They make the logical leap - that Rebecca was one of the people that abused spouses stay with, and that the social worker gave up her identity before being murdered, then Rebecca also played along and got shot for her trouble! They also suggest that the killer made sure to hit Rebecca's phone to destroy the evidence connecting the two of them. Which is just a crazy thing to do, because any texts he sent or calls he made would have records on a server - and putting a single bullet through a phone is no guarantee of destroying the phone's memory card, since it's comparatively tine when you consider the size of a phone. Also, when sniping someone at a gas station from across the street you'd have to reason to believe that you'd get a chance to shoot their phone after shooting them. What are the odds that they'd fall in such a way that it was held up at the perfect angle to be visible and be able to be shot?

Unbelievably long.

Anyhow, we get a closeup of the sniper's eye, and it's a black guy! I'd suggest that Luke could somehow be the sniper, trying to play a trick on his charge for some sick reason, but he's been with her the whole time, so that's not possible.

Speaking of, Luke finally thinks that his charge is ready to work as a lookout. She takes over at the window, and they discuss families, but nothing much comes of it. Then the charge thinks she sees someone outside, and Luke announces that 'they've found us'. Not sure who the 'they' are, since they were talking about her 'unrelenting' husband a minute ago, and besides, she couldn't be talking about the sniper as the person she saw, because we know he's sitting on a stool inside a dark room, preparing to snipe through a window.

Garcia checks into the last woman Rebecca was working with, and it turns out her husband is the Vice President of fake Blackwater, and is even named Eric, lest we miss the connection. So did she leave him, or does she actually have some incriminating information on him? Her husband is a white guy, by the way, so I guess the sniper is just one of his mercenaries.

Talking to Rebecca's neighbor reveals that a courier van would regularly pull into her garage and stay for half an hour - which must be how battered women are moved in and out! Perhaps the team can get a lead to Luke and his charge!

Speaking of them, it now sees we're being asked to believe they are scared of the sniper having found them, which means the woman spotted a guy behind a window, looking through a single slightly turned slat in a set of vertical blinds, at night.

Um... no. Unless she's lying, just... no.

Derek and JJ go to Eric's office, and when he sees them waiting for him, he flees! Which seems like a weird move, I mean, do they have any evidence against him at this point? If he's this squirrelly, why go into the office at all?

He flees, firing shots at them as he goes, before getting run over by a bus because he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings. Um... what? Why is this guy doing any of this? Does he not have lawyers? Anyhow, he dies before he can reveal the sniper's identity.

Back at the field station, they explain that Eric had an alibi for the last day, so he had no reason to run. Which... of course he did. He specifically arranged to get himself an alibi, so that when the cops turned up, they'd have nothing on him. So why did he run and shoot when that actually happened? The show tries to get away with it by having the characters point out that he had no reason to run, but acknowledging your bad writing isn't the same as not writing badly.

Eventually the team figures out that he must have hired a sniper, which, you know, duh. Garcia goes looking for any mercenary he's been talking to a lot, while Joe, Reid, and Jeanne go to talk to the delivery driver who's been working the 'saving ladies' side job. He gives them the address he took her to yesterday - the parking garage where her car was waiting for her, I guess?

Okay, now things get a little crazy. The team finds out the address that Maya (that's the charge's name!) is supposedly at, and they want to rush over there to catch the sniper. But when we met Maya, she wasn't in an apartment building. She was in a parking lot, getting to a car, one that Luke insisted they leave before going to a safe house he knew about. So the driver of the delivery van wouldn't know where she is. They're rushing off to the wrong place?

Then Luke gets a call, and finds out that Maya's ride is there, and she just has to meet it out front. What? She's understandably skeptical - isn't there a sniper outside? Luke has a plan, though - he'll distract the sniper! How? By opening the window? You think that's going to keep the sniper from noticing a car out front of the building and his target walking up to it?

Also, don't buildings have four sides? Couldn't she just leave by one of the (at least) two sides that the sniper doesn't have covered? Everyone's operating on the theory that this is a lone guy, so that seems like a pretty safe idea, right? Is Luke setting her up to get killed? Also, how did the two of them meet, and how is he connected to the battered women's underground railroad?

Okay, things just got stupid. Luke's the killer, as we figured way back at the beginning. It turns out all of that nonsense about hanging out with her was a visualization exercise he was doing to help stay awake while waiting to murder her. So a third of this episode just didn't happen, and was a waste of our time. Thanks, show.

Also, the explanation makes zero sense, because they explain that snipers do the visualization trick in order to help them stay focused while waiting for a target for hours on end. But the 'visualization exercises' started long before he'd even killed the second group of people - so there would be no reason for him to already have this fantasy. God, this show loves to cheat, doesn't it?

We finally cut to the real Maya, who's across the street from Luke, walking around next to a set of sliding glass doors, playing with the vertical blinds. Because she's terrible at not being murdered. Seriously, you knew that your evil husband runs a mercenary army. Why be this cavalier?

They find Luke in Eric's call logs - he's an African sniper who was brought over just for this job. They figure the plan was to make the whole thing look like an act of domestic terrorism that went unsolved. Because that's a thing that happens a lot. You know, how people in America are getting mass shot all the time by mysterious figures and then the country and government just let it go? If there's one thing this show constantly underestimates, it's the scale of police response to the situations their episodes depict. Three people were killed in the Boston Bombing. They shut down an entire city until the guys were wrapped up.

Do the writers seriously not remember what D.C. was like before the snipers were caught? And they killed far fewer people than Luke did. This is the kind of crime that would shut down a city until the perpetrators were caught, as well as capture the imagination of the entire country.

The team arrives on the scene and, armed with the knowledge of where Maya's apartment is, assume that the killer has to be in one of the units facing it. Which, great job at finding an empty unit directly across from hers on literally zero notice, Luke.

Luke hesitates before pulling the trigger - because of all the fantasies, you see - giving Greg just enough time to shoot him from inside the apartment! Which he does without Maya even having known he was there. Which is kind of incredible, really. How did he even get into the apartment without making a sound? It's not like he had time to go and get a passkey from the building manager, right?

Anyhow, the sniper's dead, so happy ending!

Now, let's get to how awful this episode was, shall we?

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

Dear lord, no. They checked if two groups of people who were killed had any connections, and quickly found one. Trying to figure out a motivation or characteristics of a sniper had absolutely nothing to do with the resolution of the case.

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

Totally standard policework this time, on every front.

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

1 - I feel like it would have actually been way easier to catch this guy than the show suggests. When that guy shot up the naval base, they locked down the whole neighbourhood within minutes, and scoured the place until everything was accounted before. Realistically, unless he'd dumped the gun, there's no way Luke gets out of that building without being identified, and even then, it's a stretch, since the cops would talk to everyone attempting to leave after a suspected terrorist attack, and not for nothing, the black guy with the heavy African accent who just came to the country is going to invite some additional scrutiny.

Can we talk about how crazy Eric's fate was? Everything went exactly the way he planned it to, so when the completely expected police visit happens, he freaks out and starts trying to murder FBI agents? Why create an alibi if you don't plan on using it?

Did we ever find out why JJ was so freaked out by the stories of murdered girlfriends and the tragically killed people who were trying to help them?

Here's the biggest problem, though - how did Luke find Maya? Eric obviously tracked his wife to the battered women organization, and then Luke threatened to murder the social worker unless she revealed where Maya went. Then he threatened to kill Rebecca unless she told what happened to Maya next. Then he killed both of them.

Here's the thing, though - neither of those women knew where Maya was. The whole point of the underground railroad was to insulate every step. Rebecca would not be useful as a cutout if she knew where Maya was going - unless this was the worst-run underground railroad in history, her part of it would end when she handed Maya over to the courier, along with an envelope that has an address on it that she never looked at.

This is just a needlessly convoluted plan. Eric already had deniability. Why not just get the info from the two women, not kill them, then have mercenaries make his wife disappear? Obviously people would suspect his involvement, but he would have an alibi, and the mercenaries would be back in another country immediately after sinking the wife's body in a lake somewhere. No body, no leads on the killers, no way to prove Eric's involvement.

Seriously, did they think the cops wouldn't have figured it out when the third mass shooting within two days happened not at a public square or gas station, but at an apartment building, with the killer firing into windows? And the second the cops found Maya's body, they'd look into her background and say 'hey, her estranged, murderous husband runs a mercenary army! He'd probably know a sniper or two, right?'

Instead, his plan was to commit a far worse crime that attracted huge public attention and made it inevitable that he would be caught. Wow, Criminal Minds. Just wow.

Also, can we take one more moment to recognize how unbelievably contrived it was that the sniper randomly shot an ADA with the exact same type of rifle that was used in the murder that the ADA was prosecuting, and the fact that that murder was high-profile enough that it would be worth killing a DA in the hopes of making it go away?

There's contrived, and then there's nonsense.


Anonymous said...

No Prentiss award?

Bedazzled Crone said...

Perhaps "Reid is no Jack Reacher"?????????????? is the Prentiss Award?