30.3.18

Criminal Minds 907: Gatekeeper

It's early in the morning, and a guy is woken up by his alarm! This upsets his bedmate, who is not on a London-based work schedule the way he is. They make plans to see each other again soon, and notably, there's an open window next to the woman's ground-floor bedroom. Who does this? There's not even a screen on it to keep bugs out.

That's a misdirect, of course, because as the guy is walking away, calling his friend to talk about the nice girl he met, he's strangled by the stalker who was watching him leave the building! The killer steals the guy's wallet, takes some photos, and we're out!

And over to a karaoke bar, where 'As Time Goes By' is being sung. Joe and Reid are talking about how this is the bar where Joe met his wife. It's a charming little story about how his wife, who presumably worked at the bar, would constantly write letters to the Beatles to encourage them to come to this tiny dive, and then Ringo eventually did! It's cute and all, but did the producers really think the fans needed an explanation for why Joe had a picture with Ringo Starr in his office in the season-ender? Because they profoundly didn't - Joe's a famous author, it's not crazy that he would meet other famous people at events.

They get a call to come in to work - in the middle of the night, on their day off. Was the dead guy the governor's son or something? Then Joe finds out that his bar is closing, because other bars nearby had siphoned away all the marine traffic! Damn them!

We get the introduction, and discover that three men were killed over some kind of recent time period (they don't specify), but the stolen wallets had nothing to do with robbery, they think, because the killer didn't try to charge anything to their credit cards! Their preliminary pre-file then just gets into some serious nonsense, announcing that it's significant that the killer was well-planned enough to be lying in wait for a victim, but not smart enough to deal with him being on the phone.

Except they have no idea that he was lying in wait. He could have passed the guy on the street, taken out his garrotte, and strangled him, then pulled him into some nearby bushes. Also, how would he have 'adapted' to the phone call? Waited until the guy wasn't talking any more? Used a ruse to get him to hang up? They have no reason to believe that he cared about being heard killing the guy, so why would he? They also assume that he's 'mission-oriented' and has to kill the victims, rather than wanting to. Again, all of this is based on nothing more than three dead guys who were strangled while walking alone at night.

Then it's time to overthink stealing the wallets - is he stripping the men of identity, because he feels he doesn't have one himself? Is he desperate for recognition? They certainly think so, but can't explain why that would matter to the investigation!

Then it's over to the killer, who's making a murder scrapbook while 'itsy bitsy spider' plays on the soundtrack, because someone told the producers that children singing nursery rhymes over awful imagery was effective. Significantly, the killer has stalker scrapbooks of his victims, revealing that they weren't random at all! And the next two pages have some guy with shaggy hair and then a pregnant woman!

But how is he selecting his victims, and why?

I suppose we'll find out after the credits!

On the way to Boston, the team continues wondering just how the killer is targeting his victims. Do they represent someone else? Do they have qualities that remind him of himself? Is there a point in wondering about this with the information they have?

We also hear that the dead guy's roommate is waiting at the place where he died, which everyone thinks is really strange. Apparently he won't leave until he's talked to the FBI! Is there something significant about this, or is the show trying to save money by shooting the interview scene at a location they'd already paid for?

Also, how does the roommate know where the death scene is? His friend was at the apartment of a lady he met in a bar. Then the phone call was disconnected, and an hour later the body was found with no ID and a shattered, unusable phone. It seems like they wouldn't have found out the guy's contact info until at least an hour after his death, and then did they call his roommate? If so, why? Is he the emergency contact or something? And why would you have the guy come down to the crime scene, which he has no connection to?

I know I'm obsessing a weird amount about this one detail in the episode, but it's strange.

Then the show does that thing from the first season, where they show photo of the crime scene, and then they zoom into a scene at that location. You remember, it was going to be the signature element of the show's staging, but then they gave up on it weirdly quickly? That thing.

Although it's actually pretty artless here, since they use this camera angle-

Which is a shot no crime scene photographer would have ever taken. It's a shot of some police tape and a walkway, with no element of the crime depicted.
Also, how are they getting there when it's still dark? In the plane the sun was already up-
And they were flying north-east to Boston. Seriously, this scene really was shot here to save time on the schedule, wasn't it?

Also, are they seriously on the scene of the crime like four hours after it happened? How? Why?

They try to earn their cost-saving measure by having the characters talk about the bizarre staging of this scene, but it's not convincing at all. Then the characters try to puzzle out how the killer knew which way the victim was going to walk, which is kind of a strange thing to worry about, since it assumes that he was specifically targeted, and that the killer was lying in wait - the team knows neither of these things at this point. For all they know, the killer could have been out walking, seen a guy talking on the phone, glanced around to make sure no one was watching, and then strangled him while he was distracted.

Reid and JJ figure that the killer must have been waiting outside of the door of the lady he was with, but the friend doesn't know her name or anything like that. They ask where he picked her up - the bar the two of them were at, or would the victim have gone somewhere else? These conversations suggest that the team thinks they're going to have to go to a bar to identify the woman, but I'm not sure why they haven't found her already. The roommate would have told them that the victim said he was phoning just as he walked out of the lady's building, which means he couldn't have been more than a hundred feet from the door when he died. Even if he didn't, though, the police would have canvassed the buildings around the murder site, and given that she lives less than a hundred feet away, she would have been one of the first people they talked to.

This should have been handled by the time the team arrived.

The team gets some background of the victims, all of whom were described as super-nice guys who all had a single, easily quantifiable flaw - one was a womanizer, one a pothead, and one was always borrowing money. Could the killer be choosing them because they all fit that incredibly broad character description? Maybe, but how would he find out that they did?

Then Jeanne wins a Prentiss Award for this:

Where to even start? Like half of your killers stalk people they don't know. Stalking is an integral part of a giant percentage of serial killer. Then Greg says it's a type he's focused on, and Derek identifies the type as 'too good to be true men'. Of course, you could only identify that they were too good to be true after already stalking them for a while, so is he just stalking hundreds of men until character flaws reveal themselves? Don't act like this is a revelation, you're talking nonsense.

Then it's over to the killer, who's using a hidden stalking camera setup to watch the pregnant lady from his photo. His displeased to see the pregnant lady's man walk into frame. Why must he ruin everything? I guess the guy isn't a good husband, so this weirdo is killing men similar to him in some way?

The killer rubs his head, allowing us to see that his glasses are very real and very thick.
That's a rarity on television! He stalks the bad teenagers in the courtyard under his window some, then the blonde lady who lives across the way. Just general creeper stuff.

The timeline of this episode is so baffling to me. So the guy gets his alarm because he has to get home to change before work, which is on London time because he works for an international company. He's in Boston, and the London workday starts at roughly 4AM local time, so this scene is set at... 2AM? Then the body is body is discovered an hour later. 3AM. Which means Joe and Reid were out very, very late at that sad bar.

The team is instantaneously put on the case, and fly Boston as the sun is rising, yet JJ and Derek meet the guy at the crime scene, where somehow it's still dark? Did they wait until night to talk to him? What were they doing all day? It can't be the same night, can it?

Then it's over to Garcia, who's desperately trying to find the victim's lady friend based on the name Ashley and the fact that she likes bunnies! Are these people allergic to knocking on doors or something? Why are you making this so much harder than it needs to be? She forwards the victim's phone to them in case she calls or texts him, and promises to try and guy his contact info off of the damaged phone as soon as they can courier it to her.

Okay, things just got nuts. It's back to the killer, and he's watching people outside his window, and we cut in on them - are you ready for this? The blonde lady across the walkway from him? That's the lady friend from the beginning of the episode. The killer murdered a guy something like fifty feet from his own front door. The lady friend is talking about how sad she is that the victim didn't call her - so this must be the next day - and the friend talks about how there's a killer running around. The lady friend says she heard something about that!

You think? One of his victims was found right next to where you live! How have the police not talked to you about it yet? One time a guy was killed in a parking lot near my house, and the police knocked on every door in every apartment building and home within a multi-block radius. And that was just a crime-related shooting they didn't expect to solve, not a serial killer that the police are desperate enough to catch that they called the FBI in!

How is any of this happening?

Then the killer murders one of the bad teens he's been watching, presumably because he smoked cigarettes, and resented his parents punishing him over misbehaviour. So there goes their profile, because this kid seemed like an all-around jerk.

Greg, Reid, and Joe go to the house of the dead teen, and try to puzzle out why he was killed in his own home, while the others were killed out on the street. Could he be concerned about increased police presence in the area? They even mention canvassing, which somehow hasn't turned up the lady friend in a day and a half!

Also, why is no one mentioning that two of the victims were killed - about 24 hours apart - across the street from one another? Doesn't that mean that the killer is unusually comfortable in the area, and probably lives there as well? After all, people would be hyper-vigilant the day after a serial killer murdered someone on their doorstep, and be super-suspicious of everyone in the neighbourhood - yet this guy was able to walk right into someone's house and murder them? Seems like he'd have to be a local to not draw suspicion - that or have one hell of a cover, like being one of the nonexistent cops doing the supposed canvassing.

Joe mentions that the kills are speeding up - are they? You never established the timeline of the first three, so this is a weird line to drop in. He announces that the killer isn't getting any more pleasure from the murders, so why speed up? Perhaps he's up against a timeline of some sort?

We know it probably has something to do with the very pregnant lady, but they have no reason to think this. Speeding up is a common escalation when a guy is getting tired of normal murders, as is changing the M.O. from attacking people on the street to breaking into their homes. Both of these clearly suggest that the guy is going more nuts, not that he's up against an artificial timeline.

"He's not taking any more pleasure in it"? How could you possibly know that? What if he likes the additional thrill of breaking into people's homes, and that's how he's escalating?

Also, how did the killer get away? It must have taken him a couple of minutes to strangle the teen to death, photograph his dead body, cut a sample of his hair, and leave - and the kid's friend saw the murder start over videochat, and would have immediately called 911 - what's the Boston PD response time in a neighbourhood where there was a serial killing less than 24 hours earlier?

JJ goes to talk to the teen's friend, who says that the teen seemed to know the killer, and thinks that he was shot. Why? He saw the flash from the camera, because the killer also took pictures before the murder this time, just so this kid could witness them!

The team correctly identifies the killer as a voyeur, then goes off on a weird tangent about how he must be working in a job that lets him see people without being noticed - they show footage of him working as a hotel desk clerk. That's all well and good, but somehow the team neglects to mention that the fact that the killer knew that the teen was home alone suggests that he definitely lives/works in the area, which would cut down the work of the various assembled cops by a whole lot.

Who am I kidding? They're not going to do anything.

Then we see the lady friend looking for the contact information of the victim from the beginning, and things get so much crazier. She doesn't live in just any apartment building, she lives in one of those more secure ones where there's a front desk person who manages the mail and makes sure all visitors sign in. Which means the cops found a guy strangled to death less than fifty feet from the front door of a secure apartment building, and they didn't bother talking to anyone at that building about the dead guy.

Nothing about this episode makes sense.

Also, why does she think she's going to find information on the guy on the sign-in sheet? She was there when he signed in, and it's not like it's a government building, he definitely didn't put his cell phone number on that sheet. Nevertheless, the desk clerk gives her the key to the attic storage space where the files are stored, and which is presumably also the killer's lair, given that he's stalking people from there. I guess it's a huge U-shaped complex, and the blonde lady lives across the way from his nest?

Just as she goes to get the files, Garcia finds her number in a preposterous scene. Penelope explains that the victim used nicknames for women, so there was no 'Ashley', but there was a 'bunny'! Hey, instead of doing that, couldn't you have just checked the last name he put in, since he met her just that night? Wouldn't that have gone a lot faster?

Anyhow, can they call her before the killer gets to her? She goes into the killer's nest, and finds the murder scrapbook! Then the killer throws her down the staircase, killing her! God, this episode is almost inconceivably stupid. Anyhow, he moves the body somewhere else, which he's able to do without any trouble, even though there have been multiple murders in and around the building he works in, and the police should be everywhere, all the time.

The team then figures it out - the killer is targeting people with connections to people who live in the building! The lady friend brought home a womanizer, so the victim had to go! But if his only experience is working as the night clerk in the apartment, how did he know the guy was a womanizer? Also, what were the other guys' connections to the building?

How was this building not already on lockdown?

Derek and Reid get to the building, and the day Clerk is there (the night guy had a murder emergency) and he takes them up to the storage room where the log she was interested in was kept. This is how they enter the room:

Okay, that may not look strange, but remember the information they were operating on - the day clerk gave her a key and told her to go look for a sign-in sheet. At some point in the next five hours, she was murdered. The team has no reason to believe that A: her death has any relation to the sign-in sheet, or B: the storage room is being used as anything but a storage room. Yet they enter and clear the room guns out like it's a training exercise.

What?

They find the murder scrapbook, and the live feed from the pregnant lady's home! Then it's time for some background - the killer is sad because his son died in a roughhousing incident with another child, and his ex-wife is pregnant! Somehow this transformed into him strangling random people for no reason!

The show is trying to say it's because he's paternal and the people were bad influences, but we have no reason to think that he had the opportunity to get to know any of his victims other than the teen, because none of them lived in or around the victim. Like, full-stop, he did not know the first victim was a bad guy. There's just no way.

Anyhoo, the ex-wife is due any day now - and they only got divorced three months ago, so is it the killer's kid, or was she just cheating on him for a while? Probably the killer's, since when pregnant lady gets downstairs with her luggage, we find out the guy in her house is her brother, and that he's been strangled to death!

I'm not entirely sure why, there's no sign of a struggle, but I guess the show needed another body?

Despite the fact that there are doubtless hundreds of cops closer, the team rushes over to the house, as the pregnant lady begs to be taken to the hospital. She says he's too weak to be a father, which is an insane thing to say to the man who just murdered your brother and is clearly having a manic episode. He shows he's strong by bringing out the scrapbook - he explains that the first victim had slept with other women in the building before, so that's how he knew that the victim was a scumbag. The writers aren't able to justify the first two murders, of course, so they just elide over them, hoping we won't realize that if all of the victims had connections to the building he would have been caught right away, even though that's what the episode's plot depends on.

Anyhow, the team gets to the house, and they team aims guns at him while he holds scissors to his ex-wife's throat. Then Reid pretends to start delivering the child and says he needs something to cut the umbilical cord or the baby's going to die. It's a funny way of tricking the guy, but really they could have just shot him at any point, he wasn't seriously threatening her with the blade, and they were approximately four feet away from him.

Reid delivers the baby as the killer is dragged away, making this the fastest delivery in television history!

They all had back to Joe's bar to celebrate! They have a party, Joe sings Pianoman, it's cute and fun and a better ending than one of the stupidest episodes of Criminal Minds deserves.

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

Oh, dear lord, no. All of their profiling was absolutely useless. Reid had literally the easiest geographic profile of his life - one of the murders happened directly outside the apartment building, and the other at a house seemingly just across the street, based on how easily and quickly the killer gets there. And yet it takes them finding the body of a lady who actually lives in the building before they're able to realize the connection.

Whether or not they guessed right about motives/plans, it was finding a serial killer's lair during a standard investigation that solved the crime.

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

Well, police would have canvassed the area, and asked to see the building's security cameras, so yes, it would have been solved right away. Let's imagine a scene, shall we?

Police Officer: Excuse me Night Clerk, when this man walked out the front door of the building and was murdered literally ten seconds later, where were you?
Night Clerk: At my desk, being a Night Clerk.
Police Officer: Well, the security camera footage clearly shows that's not the case, so why are you lying to us?
Night Clerk: Okay, you got me.

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

1

Given that the killer was physically slight, and not moving bodies, how did he find and kill all those people? Were they only on his night off, previously? Or was he constantly leaving his desk and running out to murder people?

More importantly, and I can't stress this enough, and by god I've tried in this review - a guy was found dead fifty feet from the front door of this apartment building, and the next day a teen was murdered whose best friend/last person to see him alive lived in the same building. JJ even went to the building to talk to him, and wasn't like 'hey, wasn't I just here yesterday talking to a guy at a crime scene? I wonder if there's a connection...'

Has there been one episode so far this year that wasn't deliriously inept?

Fun fact: This episode was directed by Matt Gubler! It's the worst episode he's been involved in! Seriously, how did he make an episode this bland? I know that the writing of his episodes is no better than the rest, but at least he generally gets some interesting visual or musical choices. There's nothing about this episode that stands out in the least - he didn't even get some kind of genre luminary to play the killer!

Don't get me wrong - I will always love Jack Plotnick for his amazing work on The Mentalist and Action, and he's good in this episode, but it's not like he's a famous genre actor.

What happened, Mr. Gubler? Did you just want to phone in an episode for a change?

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