Criminal Minds 904: To Bear Witness

The episode opens in a garbage and broken-glass strewn hallway where a man in bare feet stumbles along, almost stepping on a rat as he presses himself against the wall. He squints his eyes against a relatively moderate amount of light from the overhead bulbs, so perhaps he's been drugged? He chases a mysterious figure out of the building into the blinding light of day, yelling at the person to stop!

The figure doesn't listen, though, driving off in a van while the stumbling man yells after him. Then a garbage truck arrives, and the stumbling man begs for help catching the van driver before he gets away! Intriguing!

Then it's over to JJ, who's jogging in the park with Esai Morales, who mentions that they have things to discuss. Is he the new boss who's been hinted at for a couple of weeks now? Why else would the old lieutenant from NYPD Blue suddenly be on Criminal Minds?

Over at home base, Reid and Jeanne are doing crossword puzzles to prove how smart they are, and Reid thinks it might be possible to do one without looking at the clues. Which is, of course, the stupidest thing that anyone could ever say, because of course you could - it's called creating a crossword. As someone who does a crossword puzzle or two every day, I'm quite aware that in a standard 15x15 grid, there's only so many ways that the black spaces can be arranged while maintaining the standard letter length and overall number of clues. Any number of crossword puzzles can be built in a normal puzzle grid - without the specific clues, you'd just be building a pattern of interlocking words, with no way of knowing whether it was what the puzzle author intended, making it almost impossible to be right. This is only not the Prentiss Award because it has nothing to do with the case.

Wow, I guess I take this 'crossword as shorthand for smart' thing kind of seriously, don't I?

Joe then asks the standard question 'do you really do those in pen?' which is supposed to be a 'smart person' thing, but I've never really understood it. In this day and age, who has a pencil?

Time for the rundown! The opening incident happened in Baltimore, and involed the stumbling guy having a dual lobotomy! The team talks a little about the history of the procedure, and how it was used to 'cure' people of mental disorders. The guy has a neat little spike hole next to each eye, so the lobotomy was probably done with one of those old-fashioned spike and hammer kits! Which... ugh.

Esai then arrives and introduces himself. JJ pretends not to know him already, so there's a story there, and he invites himself along to work the case with them as a way for everyone to get to know each other! Weird move, since going on a case got the last person who had this job killed, but whatever, it's his life.

JJ stops to chat with Esai after everyone else has left, asking why he didn't warn her he was the new boss! Esai claims that he only found out after arriving at work that very day, which seems hugely preposterous, since this is a fairly major reassignment, and after they decided they weren't giving the job to Greg two weeks ago, they doubtless would have talked to candidates. But why is he lying to JJ?

We then drop by the hospital to check in with the lobotomized man, who's apparently suffering from locked-in syndrome! He tries to talk to the doctors, but doesn't realize that he isn't saying anything!

A horrific image to leave us with before the credits, show!

During the drive in, they talk a little about how they don't have any information about the victim, and about how Dahmer wanted to use acid lobotomies to create sex slaves. Not really relevant, but some nice disgusting colour! In the other car, Derek, Joe, and JJ talk about Esai, and JJ claims she's never met him! So the lies keep snowballing - did they work together when she was off the team for that year, or does it go back further?

Derek then goes to visit the victim in the hospital, and the show keeps giving us his inner monologue, which is an attempt to cue us in on how frustrating the situation is. It also serves as a shortcut for the audience, so that's convenient.

After confirming that the victim can respond with blinks, Derek goes right into the questions about whether he knows who the killer is. Derek kind of botches the blink-code setup, only asking him to blink for when he says something true. But what if he just has to blink, Derek? Here's an easy to remember pattern that should help - ignore single blinks, twice for yes, three times for no, and make sure you get a response to every questions. Finally the victim gets frustrated and wiggles his fingers, hoping that he can write down the information about where he was attacked.

Which you'd think they'd know already, since that's where he was found by the garbage man directly outside the building, but whatever.

It turns out the pen thing doesn't work, since the language part of his brain has been destroyed! He could just blink out information in code, you know. Entire books have been written that way.

Instead of doing that, though, Derek just uses his phone to show the victim how messed-up his face is. Weird counseling technique there, D.

At the police station (or FBI office? It's not clear, since we haven't met any locals), they offer some theories about the killer based on very little. They think he butchered the victim in an abandoned warehouse because the desolate environment reinforced his feelings of control, not because, you know, there's no one around to call the cops, and if you do the operation here, rather than at your house, you don't have to drop the victim off somewhere, you can just leave.

Then Greg suggests that the killer 'doesn't leave anything to chance' - a statement with no basis whatsoever. They don't know how he chose the victim or location, but you're already suggesting he's a perfect mastermind who times things down to the millisecond? That's right, Greg thinks that the killer wanted the garbageman to find the victim, and timed everything perfectly. Except all we saw the killer do was walk out of a building and leave in a van. He had no reason to believe that the victim was in good enough shape to follow him out onto the street, and couldn't have possibly predicted that he'd be out in time for the garbageman to see him.

But they're wrong a lot, so let's move on.

We then cut over to skid row, where the killer is busy putting locks on a door and nailing up some foam soundproofing, all to better muffle the screams when he attacks the woman he's got wrapped in a tarp on the floor! Wait... he lobotomized the other guy, what, five hours ago? And he's already got another victim into a kill room? Even by Criminal Minds spree standards, that's a little much.

That seeming contrivance is explained in the next scene, where Derek's questioning eventually gets to the reveal - the victim was held captive with a woman named Dana, and the killer took her away when he left! Which makes the 'timing' thing even more preposterous, since if the garbage truck driver had seen a guy walking out of a building, loading a human-shaped tarp into a van, he likely would have called the cops or at least made note of the vehicle, and he came within a second of that happening.

Back at base, the team is trying to figure out why the two victims haven't been missed yet! Of course, they have no idea how long the killer held the two people, so I'm not sure why they think it's weird that they haven't been reported missing yet. Also, if Derek would just take out a Ouija board and let the guy do some pointing, they'd already have the victims' names.

Garcia's had no luck in identifying the victim either, but she phoned Emily to ask if Interpol had any information about a lobotomy killer, and they did - in Germany! When victim hears Derek mention Germany on the phone he freaks out and demands attention, but before they can get information about him, his doctor notices that the piece of metal in his eye - assumed to be leftover from the tool used for surgery - is actually a camera! And the killer is looking out his eye hole right now!

Also, the killer is David Anders, Sark from Alias.

Oh, and I didn't mention it, but Derek finally got around to asking for a communication board (you know, a medical Ouija) so they can actually get some information. Of course, he should have done that when writing didn't work, and you'd already have everyone's names, but whatever, better late than ever, I guess.

The team gets some background on the tech from Esai - they're special cameras with lenses the size of a pinhead! They're not widely available, but a rich person could find them on the black market! Seems like something for Emily to work on! Also, the German victim had the operation, but was later shot in the head, because, the team guesses, he was just a test run to make sure the operation worked as planned.

We get a look at an X-ray of the implant-
And I've got a question: how is that thing broadcasting? I'll give them the existence of tiny cameras, no problem. But how is something literally a fraction the size of a pin both taking pictures and broadcasting the images over wifi in HD? Where is its transmitter? Its antenna? Its power supply? This is the most preposterous camera technology since the film Blair Witch.

Without any leads, other than the access to future technology and the victim who could tell you a lot of things if you'd just given him some alpha-bits, the team figures the only way they'll be able to catch the killer is if they can figure out his motive! Of course, they don't really know where to start there, either... which means it must be time for a profile!

Here's what they've got: he's smart and talented, and may see himself in the victims! Also, he's spent time in Germany, because he killed someone there! And he has some connection to old-timey mental institutions!

So that's just stuff we already knew, and absolutely nothing that the assembled police could use to help find him. Good use of everyone's time!

At the hospital, Derek and JJ talk a little about the camera technology, which she's also suspiciously familiar with - I guess she knew Esai when she was at the department of defense? Then Derek gets the victim to blink at the word board, even though they've established that he can both point at the letters and tap to select things, which would be way more precise and reliable than blinking.

Which actually becomes an issue, when Derek winds up thinking that the woman in captivity is named 'Dani' rather than 'Dana'. Oh, Derek, you're just bad at this, aren't you?

Derek writes a sign saying 'we know who you are' up to Sam's eye, hoping to bluff the killer into... I don't know... killing his hostage and fleeing? It's not clear what they want to accomplish with this. Also it's a terrible bluff - if they knew who he was, wouldn't they mention his name?

Garcia then gets a call from Xander - only I really don't think that's him on the phone. Or maybe he just had a cold? In any event, it doesn't sound like him. Point is, the killer is broadcasting the eye footage over the web in order to make some kind of a point! Which gives them a second direction to track him from, so that's good.

Now that they know the killer is broadcasting footage of Derek everywhere around the world, they have Sam shut his eyes, killing the signal. Not really sure why, though - the longer he leaves the signal up, the more likely you'll be able to track him, right?

Then Greg wins the Prentiss award for the night, with this line:
I'm still not sure how this is a bluff. You obviously didn't know who he was, and I don't understand how broadcasting the feed counts as 'calling' it. He'd always planned to broadcast the feed, since he started doing it the moment Derek held up the sign - so it had to be ready to go at the touch of a single button. This is garden-variety public taunting of the cops, and has nothing to do with your terrible poker skills.

Oh, then the killer injects his hostage with something. I guess he's knocking her out so she'll be still during the operation, maybe?

Nope, it turns out he was injecting the new camera, which he immediately starts broadcasting from as well, showing the entire internet what he looks like! Now that's how you call a bluff, people. The cops claim they know who you are? Just show your face to the whole world. Pay attention, Greg, this is how you play poker.

The killer makes them watch as he brings in the lobotomy tools, and the team is on the ball enough to notice the weird glass bricks in the ceiling, suggesting that they're in a basement somewhere. They also notice that there are six locks on the door, although I'm not really clear why him barricading them into the room is of vital importance. It's obvious the killer doesn't plan on getting away with his crime, so it makes sense that he'd want to go out on his own terms.

Jeanne and Reid try to figure out what could possibly motivate the killer, since his acts don't seem to have a sexual component. Nope, just a lot of injecting things into bodies and stabbing with needles. Nothing sexual there. They make the jump that it could be some kind of a familial connection, because who would deserve this kind of punishment other than a family member? I don't know, someone who grievously harmed you or someone you love, someone who spurned your advances, someone who set you back in a professional setting - there's plenty of things that motivate psychopaths to torture people.

Searching through Sam's phone records reveals Dana - who is from Germany, and whose father owns a warehouse near where one of the possible signal sources! Wow, that was an easy solve. Just think, if they'd just brought him the Ouiji Board to start with, she wouldn't have gotten lobotomized! I wonder if there's a lawsuit in there, somewhere?

They see Dana being put into the van, and go through her family history - her brother is a delinquent with a history of violent outbursts. They try to go through a psychological explanation of why he must be the killer, rather than, you know, just looking at his photograph, since they know what he looks like.

The team gets to the alley and finds Dana, but the killer is already gone! Largely because they felt the need to drive there themselves, rather than sending five of Balitmore's thousands of cops, hundreds of whom must have been closer.

They search the building, and Greg finds the killer downstairs in the torture room, just waiting for the authorities to arrive. Then things get so, so stupid, because the writers have put themselves in something of a bind, because the killer has completely won, and every part of his plan went perfectly, right down to him getting caught by the FBI. But they desperately need the team to get a 'win'. So here's what they do- they have Greg intuit that the reason the killer didn't put a camera in the eye of his victim in Germany is because he already had one in his own eye, because he's desperate for people to see things from his point of view.

Greg then says it doesn't matter what the killer wants, because Penelope shut down the stream, so no one is watching his camera eye. The killer shrugs, and says it doesn't matter, because people saw the rest of the footage (he knows, because he's been checking) and besides, he was really trying to get back at his sister and father, and, you know, mission accomplished.

The killer is led away in handcuffs, and Esai congratulates Greg on his brilliant bluff - Penelope didn't shut down the stream after all! But what did the bluff accomplish? Whether the footage was being streamed or not, the killer was ready to surrender. And once he's in custody, he'll find out that Greg was lying.

That's two bluffs this episode, one of which was so obviously a bluff that it was laughably stupid, and the other was designed to accomplish nothing.

If you ever get a chance to play poker against Erica Messer, writer of this episode, you absolutely have to take it.

Outside, Esai gets a call - they're bringing the killer back with them! Is his father such a bigwig that he'll be spirited off to Europe out of their reach, so that he can return as an arch-villain in that Criminal Minds: Europe spinoff I'm only dimly aware of?

At the hospital, Dana and Sam get to see each other, and it would be sweeter if Derek's absolute failure at communicating with Sam hadn't resulted in Dana getting brain damage.

They drag the killer back to Quantico, where his father shows up and gives him a disappointed look. Seriously, that's all he does. No wonder the guy was so pissed off at him.

Esai then gives Derek the news - the killer's dad wanted him extradited to Germany to go on trial for murder, but he pulled some strings and got him charged in Baltimore with kidnapping and assault. So yay, if we're going to be seeing David Anders again, it'll be on this show, rather than a spin-off!

One more scene with JJ and Esai - yes, they know each other from the year when she was fired, but for some reason (we'll have to wait until like episode 15 to find out) they're not allowed to reveal that they know each other! Does it have something to do with why JJ was so freaked out last weak over battered wives getting murdered? Probably not!

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

They didn't solve the crime, so no. For all of their guesswork, the crime was solved when one victim told them who the other victim was, and then the killer put his face on camera, and revealed that he was the other victim's brother.

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

Well, if someone who didn't suck at their job had just started with a communication board rather than wasting an hour on blinking nonsense, they might have even gotten a better result! Probably not, though - the six locks on the heavy door were probably there so if the cops did make it earlier than expected, he'd have time to do the brain damage before they stopped him.

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

0 - They didn't solve the case. David Anders had a plan, and it played out exactly how he'd hoped it would, right down to the FBI's role in things. The team accomplished absolutely nothing, except to reveal that they're just god-awful at bluffing.

Seriously, though, it would be nice to see David Anders back for another episode. He's the exact kind of grand schemer that the show both loves, and is absolutely terrible at writing, so I'd be intrigued to see what terrible plan they come up with next!

1 comment:

Tom from Detroit said...

I have a real problem with your review CV. Now I'm mad!

Is it Reid being a jerk? Nope.

Greg saying stupid things? Expected.

Derek working as slow as possible? Tackling the patient is more his style.


I do crossword puzzles in pencil.

It's a duel, CV. My weapon: Pentel P205 pencil. And in the famous words of Yosemite Sam:

"Say yer prayers, varmint! I'm gonna fill ya full of lead!"

-Tom from Detroit