6.4.18

Criminal Minds 908: The Return

It's night, it's Chicago, it's a diner - are people about to be mass murdered? Hopefully not, since a little girl with a teddy bear just entered along with a woman who we'll assume she has some familial relationship to.

While the mother and daughter try to decide on a pie, the waitress pours coffee for a brooding man by the window, who does little more than stare at his middle-of-the-night breakfast plate. Is it just a coincidence that another man enters and takes a seat from which he can watch hoodie man?

Maybe it is, because the new man is a cop, and the hoodie guy gets super-nervous when he hears the waitress reveal that information! So nervous, in fact, that he starts shooting the place up!

Yeah, it's not often a crime show starts in a diner without the place getting shot up.

Chicago containing the scene of the crime means we'll be getting a lot of Derek this week, so it's right over to him, waking up at his girlfriend's place! She's headed in to work for a doctor emergency, leaving him to walk her dog! They're a cute couple.

Then he gets a text from Penelope saying that they have a prefile meeting in thirty minutes. Which is just crazy, because it's 2AM. She didn't even call, yet she expects him to be up and looking at his phone? Maybe she would have called if he didn't immediately text back, but it's a weird assumption to make, thinking that someone who works a 9-6 job is going to be awake at 2AM.

Also, he's got to shower, get dressed, and drive onto a military base. That's probably going to take more than an hour. Why does the show keep pretending that these cases are important enough to wake them up in the middle of the night? It's a mass shooting - yes, it's important, but what are they going to accomplish at six in the morning that they can't accomplish at noon?

One last point - if it's such a vital thing that they've got to get on top of it immediately, why are they going into the office at all? Why aren't they meeting on the plane? They've got a three-hour flight waiting for them, can't they get the briefing there?

On the way into the office, Derek complains that his lady rushed in to work in the middle of the night, and Penelope points out that it's a hilarious thing for him to complain about, given that he's at work at 2:30AM. It really is, and it kind of makes him look like an idiot or a jerk for not realizing it himself.

Here's the twist: The killer is already dead! The cop shot him moments after he shot the waitress, so he wasn't able to kill everyone! Why is the team being brought in? Because the killer was a 16-year-old who'd been missing for four years, and security cameras caught someone dropping him off at the diner just before the shooting! Could it have been an assignment from the creepy cult leader who abducted him?

Probably, given the show we're watching, but it's a weird leap to make, and doesn't seem high-profile enough to warrant a middle-of-the-night wake up. Think about it - as far as the cops are concerned, there is not a killer on the loose. There's a dead mass shooter on the floor of a diner. Yes, they have footage of someone dropping him off, but who knows what that's about? Maybe it's a friend giving him a ride who didn't know about the crime. Absolutely you should want to talk to him, but given the facts in evidence, is this something you'd want to bother the FBI with?

Now, if the camera had picked up the guy handing the kid the gun, then yes, you'd know he had a partner in crime, and that he was probably following orders, and a massive threat was still out there. But they don't have that.

These are the kinds of problems you can solve at the script stage, people. Your show doesn't have to be this bad.

We then cut to Chicago, where the mother and child are being interviewed by the press. Watching them from the crowd is... A black guy in a hoodie!

Are we supposed to be terrified? I mean, I guess it's probably the driver of the car, but since the cops already know that the driver is a black guy in a hoodie, shouldn't they be singling this guy out to ask some questions of? Really stupid for him to hang around the scene of the crime just now, isn't it?

Maybe they'll have caught him by the time we get back from the credits!

Quick update on said credits - they've eliminated that embarrassing shot of Greg firing/not firing a pistol from his montage, and upgraded their explosion again-

This time it's Mark Hamill's farmhouse!

So yeah, they didn't solve anything between the start and end of the credits, but I do have a question about his establishing shot of the jet:

What time is it, and what direction are they flying in? Maryland-Chicago is ENE, but the sun is low in the sky and north of them. But this episode is set in November (which I know not because I looked up the air date, but because the Halloween episode was two weeks ago), so it shouldn't even be up yet. They had their meeting at 2:30, and were presumably in the air less than an hour later - the sun shouldn't even be up by the time they're landing in Chicago.

Yet this shot looks like people flying north as the sun rises, or south as it sets. Weird thing to quibble about, I know, but is there any reason they couldn't have used a 'night jet' establishing shot?

Wait, I forgot that no one who works on the show cares about doing a good job. My bad.

On the plane, they circle around the idea that the crime could be gang-related. Because gangs generally publically massacre civilians as part of an initiation. No, wait, they would never do that, because then the police would care and actually investigate and arrest them.

Joe and Jeanne go to the diner and talk to the local police gang expert, and have to tell him that the crime probably isn't gang-related, since gangs generally don't gun down stores full of civilians. Weird that he didn't know that already. And they didn't know it literally one scene earlier.

Reid and Derek visit the morgue, and find out that the killer was in weirdly good health, like he'd been well-taken-care-of. He does have mysterious burns on his temples, though, like he'd been given electro-shock treatments, although that's my guess, and not theirs. Reid picks up an early Prentiss Award for his reaction to finding out that the killer's arms had been twisted until they'd broken around six months earlier.

Um... the cult leader who dropped him off to commit the crime? You know, the guy you're trying to find? The whole reason you're in this city? Did you somehow forget about him on the flight?

JJ interviews the cop to find out if he remembers anything he didn't put in the report. Turns out he doesn't, other than that the kid seemed like he was cool with dying after being shot in the chest. So a religious fanatic, then.

The Chicago cop actually has a lead to offer! The gun used in the crime was an army-issued Beretta, and they're running the serial number! Greg and Joe think it was probably stolen at some point, since most crime guns are, but hey, why not check anyways?

Reid and Derek watch the video of the cult leader dropping the killer off, and note that he immediately drove away once the killer was out of the car. The completely logical assumption they make is that the killer never planned on getting away, and the cop just saved him the effort of shooting himself. Which tracks with what JJ found out.

All great insight, but sadly it's all about a dead guy, and none of it is useful in helping them find the cult leader, who may or may not be the hoodie guy. I say that because hoodie guy is young enough that it's possible that he's just another cultist.

Speaking of, the hoodie guy gets frustrated in traffic waiting for construction, so he drives up on a sidewalk and nearly kills a bunch of people. Then he stops in the middle of an intersection, and waits to be arrested! Is this one of those plans where he turns himself in so he can taunt the cops about his human time bombs scattered around the city, ready to start murdering people?

When Joe gets a look at the victim's burns, he identifies them as muzzle burns, from someone firing blanks next to his head. The explanation? He was made to rehearse his own suicide over and over again until he was ready to be unleashed!

Garcia identifies the killer as another abducted kid-turned-cultist, and yeah, he's just a year older than the first one, and was abducted around the same time! The cop comes in to announce that they've found the guy, and he's barricaded himself inside a car, and the cops are calling for a tow truck.

Do cops really do that? Just let a guy sit inside a car after he tried to run a bunch of people over? Wouldn't they break the window and drag him out? Because right now there's nothing stopping the kid from putting the car back in gear and running more people over.

Greg, now aware that the kids are in a suicide cult, tells the cop to get all of his men away from the car, because it probably has a bomb in it.

It does! And the cop got a warning about the threat literally three seconds before the bomb went off, so he didn't have time to act on it in any meaningful way! If only they could have profiled faster!

Or, you know, if they had dragged the attempted murderer out of his car, possibly keeping him from triggering the bomb, that might have worked, too.

Greg, Joe, and the cop talk about how the cult leader has trained child soldiers at his command, and I try to pay attention, but it's obvious we're just marking time until the profile. Which, as usual, turns out to be functionally useless for the assembled cops. It boils down to 'he kidnaps kids and trains them to be terrorists over a few years. We don't know what he wants or how he's picking targets. He was probably in the police or military.' As always, I'll congratulate them on wasting the time of a couple of dozen officers.

Garcia, being the one who solves cases, turns up another pair of kids who were kidnapped at roughly the same time sixth months before the current soldiers - the twist is that they were immediately tortured to death and/or executed and dumped together. Garcia is weirdly vague about the details. The team figures that the cult leader got rid of them because they were too old and resistant to programming (which is kind of crazy - they actually mention Patty Hearst, who was much older than these kids and the programming worked fine) which is why he moved on to younger kids. Then she finds another pair kidnapped just a day apart, one of whom was executed and dumped. There's still one unaccounted for - a fifteen-year-old who must be the next human bomb!

Reid thinks that since he's a teenager, the best way to get to the new child soldier is by using the media. After all, the cult leader probably trusts him, and lets him watch TV and use the internet, right?

Why would you think that? This guy kidnaps kids and keeps them locked in cages, then tortures and brainwashes them until they have no fear of death, then sends them out to commit acts of mass murder. And your plan is based on the assumption that he gives them time to themselves in which they can just do whatever, surf YouTube or watch some TV?

Are you people crazy?

The last bomb's mother goes on the news to talk about how she wants her son back, and how he's a victim. In an amazing coincidence, the kid is listening to the radio in his suicide car, and is so touched by hearing his mother's voice that he calls the police on his Blackberry, which the cult leader let him have. The mother is waiting to try and talk him out of mass murder, but she's not great at it - luckily Garcia traces the cell phone. He's at a park where a fair is currently going on!

Luckily it wasn't a suicide car after all, or a whole bunch of kids would be dead right now - instead the human bomb puts on his backpack and heads into the crowd. On the upside, it's not a big backpack, so there can't be much of a bomb in there.

I guess he was calling from literally right across from the police station, because the kid isn't twenty feet into the park before Derek and the cop are on him! They chase him into an alley, then Derek talks him into giving up his backpack - then it turns out they didn't have to talk him down at all, because the backpack just had guns in it, so Derek could have walked up and punched him without being in any real danger.

Derek tries to interview him, but he'll only give name, rank, and serial number, which tellingly just has five digits. What could that mean? The mother goes in to talk to her human bomb, and talks about how much she's missed him, and suggests that he'd like to see his dog again! This works well enough, and he'll soon crack!

Meanwhile, the cult leader is building another bomb!

The team is trying to figure out victimology - what could be the cult leader's focus? Derek has a crazy theory: the first killer didn't start shooting until a cop came into the diner, the car bomber didn't blow up his car until the cops started clearing people away from it, and the last human bomb 'got a funny look in his eyes' when he saw cops cornering him in the alley.

Could the target be Chicago PD?

If it is, they're going about it in the stupidest possible way. The diner kid could have just walked into a police station and started shooting cops. The car bomb kid could have driven up to a police station and blown himself up. Or, you know, just detonated his car when the two cops were near it, rather than waiting until they'd walked away. And as for the last human bomb... well, he was going to shoot a bunch of kids at a fun fair, that obviously has nothing to do with the police.

Nope. There's no way they could have come to this conclusion given the facts in evidence.

1 - They don't know that the kid in the diner knew that the plainclothes guy was a cop.
2 - The car bomber made no attempt to blow up cops when he had the opportunity to do so.
3 - The last human bomb demonstrated no behaviour that it's possible to profile. All they know is that - when presented with cops, he fled, rather than trying to shoot them with his multiple guns.

No way do they get there.

The writers try to do some backfill, having the team wonder how the killer knew a cop was going to turn up at the diner, and then assume that because it's a diner near a police station, it was inevitable. It's a nice try, but since the cop wasn't in uniform and wasn't clearly the target, they never would have gotten here.

A far more natural route to the same conclusion occurs when Reid notices that Chicago police badges have five digits, just like the kid's 'serial number'. Could that be significant?

Okay, things just got real, real dumb. The cult leader gave the kids his own badge number to recite if caught. We literally saw a scene of him training them to resist even the most extreme methods of interrogation imaginable, so obviously keeping his identity secret was of value to him - but then he gave them his badge number to recite if caught. A number that any police officer would immediately understand the significance of - the only reason it took them this long to find out its meaning is that the FBI hogged the interview room.

Also, in an amazing coincidence, the random cop they're working with? Yeah, he's the one who got the cult leader fired for beating false confessions out of people. So that's neat and tidy.

While they're busy trying to figure out where the cult leader is holed up, the cult leader has sent his actual final weapon - a teenaged girl - into a police station, wearing a bomb vest!

Yes, an underage girl managed to get all the way into a police station wearing that, despite having no valid ID, keys, or anyone knowing who she was. I guess if anyone just puts on a police jacket over a suspiciously bulky vest they can just go anywhere they want, even if they look super-young?

She asks for the cop to come up, and he does, which gives the bomber the chance to make a speech about how the cult leader is a hero who was betrayed. So Derek shoots her and JJ grabs the deadman's switch to keep them from all being blown up.

With bomb vest girl being rushed to hospital, there's no lead on where the cult leader might be hiding! Except they remember that the bomb vest girl talked about the dead partner who was fired along with him, and also that the kidnappings started in earnest right after the partner died, so maybe check out where the partner lived?

I mean, the guy was dumb enough to use his own badge number as a code phrase, why wouldn't he be hiding in the second place people would look for him?

The cult leader drives out to his partner's house, and the team is already there waiting for him! Also, he had another kid in the trunk of his car. One he'd obviously recently kidnapped. So it's nice that they get the rescue they needed to make us feel good!

Except that he only ever kidnapped kids in pairs, so there's mostly likely a dead kid in a ditch somewhere they haven't found yet.

THE END

Except for a check-in back in Maryland, where Derek and his lady have a romantic night!

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

Um... no? It's tough to say, because they used psychology to get the human bomb to call his mother, but it's kind of preposterous that he would have been listening to the radio at the exact moment she was talking - so contrived, in fact, that we have to discount it. Then they failed to get any information out of him other than the ID of the killer, which wasn't through their skill, but rather the killer's idiocy. Then they failed to talk bomb vest girl out of blowing everyone up.

Not a great week for psychology.

Also the way they got to 'cops are the target' was completely unbelievable.

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

Probably not, to be honest. It would have either been incredibly easy or incredibly hard. Had the cop in the diner been suspicious of the nervous black kid in the hoodie, he probably could have disarmed him, so they might have taken that guy alive. Had the other cops just dragged the car bomber out of the car after he tried to kill people, he might have been taken alive as well. The mass shooter probably would have been shot to death, but maybe not...

So yeah, I guess at least one of them would have been taken alive, and the moment they were in custody, the cops would have solved the case, since the cultists would immediately start giving a number that the cops would run down.

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

1

Seriously, if they wanted to kill cops, why not just do that? I don't want to give crazy murderers any idea, but there's a number you can call that will deliver cops to wherever you want them to go. Seems like the cult leader went to a huge amount of trouble just to do his job a lot worse.

Just fail after fail this season. What's going on Criminal Minds? I mean, you're always bad, but this is just a terrible run.

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