23.3.18

Criminal Minds 906: In The Blood

As the episode begins, a modern-day Sisyphus is carrying a boulder up a mountain so that he can add it to the pile. What's under the pile? A woman begging for her life, of course! This is an episode of Criminal Minds, after all. I'd wonder if he considered himself a modern-day witch hunter pressing an evil woman to death with stones, but then he just smashes her head with a rock, so no, I guess not.

Naturally, it's time for a comedy scene, because why wouldn't you follow a woman getting her head smashed in while she begged for her life with some light wackiness? The scene concerns Garcia prepping a Day of the Dead party, and finding out that no one takes her seriously enough to find her attempts to be scary very frightening. More importantly, though, why is she trying to make a Day of the Dead party scary? It's not Halloween.

Then, Reid does his Dirty Harry impression, which involves a man with a supposedly perfect memory botching one of the most famous quotes in film history:

Seriously, who got this wrong? The writer? The actor? The character?

Greg's back from the hospital in time for a rundown! They throw out some random guesses based on the fact that the woman was extensively tortured, and wearing a ceremonial robe. Joe thinks that the stone cairn over the body looks like a tomb, but that's only because no one working on the show knows the word 'cairn'.

They ask how Greg convinced the brass to fly them all out for a single murder. Dudes, last week you traveled cross-country for parental kidnapping. You guys do whatever you want, basically.

Then it's over to the killer's hideout, and I guess I was wrong to dismiss the witchcraft angle, because the dude's got an evil book stand with pentagrams hanging off of it, and a roaring fire going in the fireplace, even though it's morning. The killer tosses his victim's clothes into the fire, and then whips himself severely. So maybe it is a witchfinder general. This is the Halloween episode, after all!

Let's find out after the credits!

On the plane, Garcia pipes in with dental records on the victim, identifying her as a school teacher! Wait, if she teaches in schools in America, shouldn't her fingerprints be on record? Shouldn't they have identified her right away?

Anyhow, it turns out she used to be in a cult, and Reid remembers that the selfsame cult was accused of stoning a woman to death in an 'honor killing' a few years back! They see the obvious connection, and decide it's worth investigating! Will the leader of the cult be played by a guest star of some note?

Just for the record, I'm not giving Reid credit for his memory being useful in this situation - that's information Garcia would have come up with in just five more seconds.

Reid and Derek head out to the crime scene, and Reid notices that all the rocks used in the cairn weren't local to the area, so the killer must have brought them! Which means he has to own a truck, although they don't mention that. And given that this is Utah, that can't narrow things down much. Although, those were an awful lot of rocks:

It might be worth checking the weight of the rocks against the kind of truck that can carry that load over rough terrain.

Then it's time for JJ and Greg to interview the cult leader! It seems that back after the stoning incident, the cult leader (who is not a cameoing celebrity, sigh) didn't help the cops, and Greg is having none of that this time! We also learn that the stoning was supposedly committed by a single person, who is currently in jail. So maybe that's it on that front?

Interesting news from the M.E. - the victim lost a lot of blood, and there was none at the crime scene. Meaning that she was stabbed and tortured elsewhere, then drugged and brought to the hill to be crushed! This really is sounding more and more like a trial by ordeal, isn't it? Especially since the killer apparently crudely removed the victim's red nail polish before killing her!

Then Reid wins the Prentiss Award while trying to sound smart about salt!

Yeah... Reid... that in no way contradicts what the cop said. Let's say they've pulled a hundred tons of salt out of that mountain. That would mean 6 tons of food-use salt.  Now let's say that 90% of that food-use salt is going to industrial scale food production, preserving meats and flavouring soups and snacks. That would leave 600 kilograms of salt for home use. If an average salt shaker takes 60 grams of salt, those mountains would have filled ten thousand salt shakers. Which, to confirm the cop's opinion, is a hell of a lot.

Then Derek stumbles on another woman's body, this one fully clothed, and also a blonde. Proximity to an incredibly tall rock makes it seem like she might have been through (or jumped) off of it. The cop told us in an earlier scene that they'd checked everything within a 200 meter radius of the body, looking for evidence - which doesn't seem like enough, really - but I've got to wonder how long they've been wandering around, looking for this body. More importantly, why don't they have corpse-trained dogs helping them? Seems like that would have saved a lot of time.

A mother and her daughter are in a library, looking for spooky books to use for Halloween purposes, as the killer watches from behind the stacks. Then, later, from an out-of-focus position in the background of the frame.

They find out that the creepy tome is a reference book, and can't be checked out, then the creepy guy from the edge of frame comes in and tries to help, offering to buy it from the library. The mother and child flee, because who wouldn't - is he the killer, or just a super-intense red herring?

Probably the second, because his rail-thin tweaker vibe doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who could move two thousand pounds of rocks up a steep incline. Or, you know, own a vehicle. Still, he could be the killer, and it would be the least preposterous thing to have happened this season.

Then it's time for a weird scene, where Greg gets on the phone with Joe and Jeanne for the sole purpose of them catching each other up. The only new information is that the latest body is that of a college student who'd been missing for a week. The rest of the scene is just characters repeating information we already know. A weird scene to leave in - was the show short in the edit this week?

The mother from the library scene steps into the alley behind her workplace for a smoke (it's a bar - you can't smoke in bars in Utah now? Is it a health thing, or a Mormon thing?) and is accosted by the creep again. She's appropriately alarmed that he followed her to work, and threatens to call the cops if he doesn't scram. I'd say 'just call the cops now, because he's already harassing you', but calling the cops and having to deal with this at work is the kind of thing that can get you fired, so I get why she wouldn't want to.

More back at the office - the first victim had similar wounds, but they weren't as severe. Also they think it's significant that she wasn't wearing the specific robe. Could the killer be evolving with each new kill in order to perfect his fantasy? I mean, probably. That's what they do in every other episode, right? With such frequency and reliability that it's weird you're even mentioning it. Especially since it has nothing to do with identifying the killer.

Twist! The librarian hangs the creep, because he thinks the creep is a demon! Which, you know, not a bad judge of character, now that you mention it.

Then he hallucinates a bunch of monks getting ready for a witch-burning-

So yup, I guess we're doing witchfinder general this week.

JJ and Joe show up at the crime scene, and we learn that he murdered this latest person in a downtown park. Which seems like a huge risk. How did he get the guy into the middle of the park, tie a noose to a tree, set up a chair, and get the guy to stand on it without anyone noticing? I know the creep was a spindly meth-head, but the librarian cuts a slight figure and doesn't look like he'd be up for carrying unconscious people around.

They talk about the change in M.O., but I've got to ask, how has no one noticed the significance of the deaths? Throwing off of cliffs, crushing with stones, and hanging are all common ways of killing witches. Honestly, Reid should have mentioned it after the first two bodies - his mother's a doctor of medieval literature, isn't she? This is absolutely his field of expertise.

We're sixteen and a half minutes into the episode - they'd better get to the witch thing by minute 21.

Garcia offers background on the creep - twisted sexual predator, obvs. The more relevant clue comes from looking at the body. This time the neck brand wasn't left on as long, so instead of completely destroying the skin, it just left a pattern. That pattern? A cross!

So... does this guy only kill scumbags? Is it going to turn out the cult lady was in on that stoning or something weird like that?

Yup, as the team tries to figure out what the creep had in common with the other victim, they discover that the cliff victim had cocaine in her system when she died! Which means it's profile time!

The profile is the standard from the team: mid-20s to mid-30s, white, physically fit. Then they extrapolate that he probably has a menial job because his inability to function in social situations means he couldn't rise high in any organization. I'm not sure where they're getting that part from, though - it seems to be an outgrowth of the idea that he's a 'moral vigilante', who wants to kill people who commit perceived sins. Drugs, sexual assault, or in the case of the cult lady, they think it's 'moved in with her boyfriend without getting married' rather than, you know, the cult stuff.

Note that we're on the other side of the profile, and they still haven't noticed that it's a witchfinder. Come on people, he's not that subtle.

We get a quick check-in with the killer, who copies something out of the old creepy book, and has some visions about pentagrams and witches being burned. Also a subliminal frame of what might be a werewolf. It probably wasn't, of course, but I want to believe it was, so I won't go back and check.

The team almost gets to the witch thing, when the cop compares branding to 'The Scarlet Letter', and they tell him that's silly, because the brands weren't supposed to bring public shame the way the A was. Of course, brands are, by their very definition, supposed to make a public statement about the thing that they're branding, so the cop was actually closer than they were.

Instead, JJ and Derek go off on a weird tangent about the fact that the schoolteacher's watch and glasses weren't found with her body. Which is a weird thing to focus on, considering that she was stripped down, tortured, then forced to wear a ceremonial robe. She didn't have her shoes either, do you want to read something into that? No, they extrapolate that he was trying to transport the victim back to an earlier time, which is just a crazy stretch.

Then it's over to Reid, who stays up all night reading a variety of books! Because you'd have to do a crazily large amount of research to know about witchfinders, right?

The killer brings his sinister book back to work, and it turns out he's so obsessed with it he doesn't even want to leave it alone long enough to go and get a parking permit from the office, as his co-worker insists he must!

Reid's research turns up something interesting - the brand was the family crest of the lead prosecutor in the Salem witch trials! Which means no burning, I guess, because witches were never burned in America. Also, this is a long reach to go to in order to figure out the witch connection, rather than just looking at the M.O.

For the record, they were a minute late to figuring it out.

By the time the killer gets back upstairs, the mother has already come up and snatched the book away from him! It wasn't a reference book, after all! Actually, it's more complex than that, since the co-worker says that she 'logged the book into the system', suggesting that it wasn't already library property. Does it belong to the killer? Did he bring it into work with him so he'd never be far away from it? If so, then his co-worker just lent out his private property, and probably deserves to be his next target. Although the mother is much more likely.

Luckily for the killer, the mother and daughter stopped across the street for a snack, allowing him to have a hallucination that they're old-timey witches! Target: Acquired!

The team finally notices the similarity of the executions to witch punishments, and suspect that the killer may have adopted the crest of the Salem prosecutor because he's a descendant, or at least thinks he is.

In the next scene, the mother and daughter are tied up and dressed in robes inside the killer's lair. How did he manage that? Seriously, how is this socially awkward nerd getting control of people in broad daylight in public areas? Does he have a gun? This needs explaining, show. Especially since they're both obviously groggy from being drugged. How did that happen?

Thankfully, the mother and daughter are wearing clothes under the robes, so they're not implying him stripping off a child's clothes.

The killer does his little witch pronouncement, then gets out his whip, so the torture can begin! Off-camera, mercifully.

The show acts like Reid has to stare at the whole family tree and use genius powers to figure out who the killer might be, but the tree we see isn't actually very complex:


Given that each sheet of paper has just a single name on it, and there bottom row is the only relevant one, there's a sum total of eight names they have to run down. So we can basically ignore Reid trying to figure out which one seems 'meaningful' - how many of them could possibly live in Utah?

For the record, though, he focuses on one because his parents died and there's no record of what happened to their son. Although, looking at the family tree, there's no record of what happened to anyone, just a bunch of names and birth dates, so I don't know what he's talking about.

They then figure that since Provo, Utah has the best genealogy library on earth, the killer probably found out about his connection to witchfinding there. They then figure the killer must have also found his victims there, because one was a college student, and the other did some research into genealogy many years earlier. That seems like a hell of a leap to make, but they decide to go with it, because there's fifteen minutes left in the episode, and we need to end with at least one aftermath scene at Garcia's party, right?

It's time for more torture with the killer, who wants them to confess their crimes, or face torture.

Garcia finds the family that adopted the son of the dead missionaries, and it turns out he volunteers at a library! So they bust down the door to his apartment - because, and I can't stress enough how insane this is - in the world of Criminal Minds, being the descendant of a witchfinder is enough probable cause to get a no-knock warrant for your home.

He's obviously not at his apartment (he has a lair, remember), but the place is full of Satanic imagery, which is all the confirmation they need. At his workplace, we find that he did, in fact, murder his co-worker! Good for him! I'm not sure how they're the ones to find the body, though. It's the middle of the afternoon, and we know that he must have taken at least a couple of hours to abduct the family, drug them, drag them out into the middle of nowhere, let them wake up on their own, and then start his torture.

Was the entirety of the library staff one worker and one volunteer? Has no one entered the library in two hours in the middle of the day?

Over at the lair, the mother offers to confess if it will keep her from being branded. The killer seems fine with that. Is that not something other people tried? If not, why not?

The team finds out about the missing witchcraft book, and naturally assumes the person who checked it out must be his target!

The mother does a great job of manipulating the killer's psychosis, convincing him that her daughter has an Angel's mark, and that she was actually very anti-witch! Never has a birthmark come more in handy!

Hey, in checking back with the cop, we discover that the mother and daughter's apartment 'showed signs of struggle'! Which means he followed them all the way home, and now we have to wonder how he subdued them inside their own home and got them down to a car without anyone noticing, which is even more preposterous.

As usual, Garcia saves the day, finding out about some family land that the killer has access to! The team rushes out there, arriving long after dark, just as the killer is about to kill the mother! Which is kind of weird, since he said he was going to do it at sundown, and he seems like the type of guy to sweat the details.

Also, the killer announces that he's going to burn both mother and daughter despite what he said earlier, which makes me wonder why he bothered to play along with the mother's pleas. Seems like that behaviour was just for our benefit, doesn't it?

Also, he's playing out a tribute to Salem, and no witches were burned in those trials, so maybe he just sucks at being a crazy witchfinder?

Anyhow, the team shows up as he starts the fire under the mother. But he didn't use gasoline or anything, so it's going to take like ten minutes for her to start burning. They try to arrest him, but he runs to set the daughter on fire, so Jeanne shoots him in the back.

Happy Ending!

Then we go to Garcia's party, where JJ is mentioning that the burning thing was anachronistic. So thank you for that, show. They all do a ceremony where they put up pictures of people they've lost. It's a nice character moment for everyone!

Except for Jeanne, who talks about how her mother got her into crossword puzzles, which led her to getting into linguistics - which just serves to remind us that her specialty never, ever, comes in handy when dealing with criminals.

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

Profiling? No. The ability to search for heraldry in books - yes. Although that's not really relevant to FBI training. Or profiling theory.

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

Basically, yes. Anyone would have done a search of the brand image to understand it's significance. Even if they didn't find it fast enough, the guy killed his co-worker, so he would have immediately been identified and picked up. Maybe not fast enough to save that family, but absolutely they would have gotten him.

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

1/10 - I was about to award additional points for the mother's use of psychological profiling in figuring out what the guy needed to hear to save her daughter. It wasn't the team, of course, but it was still psychological profiling. But then it didn't save her daughter, so I can't offer the points.

I still have no idea why the guy targeted the cult lady. I mean, I know he's just crazy, but what's going on with that?

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