Criminal Minds 910: The Caller

A woman is woken from her rest by a phone call. On the line is a child-like voice saying 'I'm gonna get you', It's obviously been happening a lot lately, so she hangs up the phone in anger. Her husband enters the bedroom, asking about the call. She says that it's frustrating that cops wouldn't investigate the calls. Would you have to investigate them? Couldn't you just check your call display? Also, making harassing phone calls is a crime, and there's no reason they wouldn't be able to file a police report, especially if this has been going on for some time.

The wife asks the husband to talk to the retired cop at his workplace and see if there's anything that can be done. Although I don't know what that would be, if they live in a place where cops won't charge people with crimes.

Anyway, the husband says it's not worth worrying about, and that the kid will get bored of calling. I don't doubt that the guy would be this much of a jerk about his wife's concerns, but it's still rough to watch. Also, maybe he made the call? He walked into the room immediately after it ended, so that's not impossible. Like how in Scream they wanted you to think Dewey might be the killer by having him be unreachable in his room while the killer was calling Sydney at Tatum's house.

The next day when the couple wakes up and preps breakfast, they're dealt two nasty surprises! 1: Their son is missing, and 2: their front door is covered in blood!
The only conclusion? Their son has been kidnapped by people who are very bad at reading the bible! It's the people with blood on their doors who don't lose their kids, dummies.

Moments after the discovery of the door, the child voice calls back to claim responsibility for the crime! The dad is standing right there, though, so obviously he's not the one making the calls.

We cut immediately to the briefing room, where Garcia is running down the case. Has she gotten a raise now that she does twice as much work? I certainly hope so.

They try to explain the police's non-response by saying that they had determined no laws had been broken. Which is just wrong. It's absolutely a crime to phone people and threaten them, even if you're just a child. The problem is that there's no way for the writers to get around this problem - for the story there need to have been a bunch of calls, but if the cops had looked into it they'd have either found out who the criminal was, or that they were using extreme measures to disguise the call's origin.

Of course, if the second was true, they'd have escalated the case, because a child wouldn't have the ability to mask a call, and an adult making these calls while pretending to be a child is immediately more threatening.

So the show just gives bad advice to the audience, telling them that if they're getting days worth of creepy and intimidating phone calls, there's nothing they can do about it.

Thanks, show.

Then we get an interesting reveal - Mandy dealt with a case just like this fifteen years ago! Creepy calls, abducted kid, the whole thing.

Joe and Greg then win a Prentiss Award for this exchange:

Um, if that's the case, you don't need to rush. He's already dead. Here's the timeline - the parents notice the child is missing, and call the police. The cops show up, talk to them, realize how serious the situation is, decide to call in the FBI. That goes through proper channels until it gets to Garcia, who approves the case, and calls the team together.

That whole process had to have taken at least two hours - especially since Garcia has had time to put together a visual presentation including a photo of the kid and the bloody door:
So even if, miraculously, the child was abducted one second before the parents woke up, it's still been more than two hours since the abduction, since the parents had to spend at least half an hour getting dressed and ready for the day.

Also, the team is now going to spend more than two hours on a plane heading for St. Louis, where this all happened. So yeah, if the killer is known for killing kids within two hours, you haven't got a prayer.

Then the show cuts to some footage of the investigation, for no reason that I can think of.


On the plane, they do some random rambling. The kid liked video games, so Garcia will search a list of everyone he played with online in hopes of finding a pedophile! They also suggest that the phone voice must be a new kid, since the original one would be all grown up by now! Or, you know, it's just the killer doing a voice. They're relieved to discover that the blood on the door was from a pig, rather than the child, but still no one mentions the possible religious connotations of the act.

Joe and Derek talk to the parents, and something weird comes up - apparently the dad is so paranoid about his son having bad influences in his life that he runs background checks on the parents of his friends! Yet he doesn't have decent locks on his doors and windows, or a security system? That's weird, right?

Joe and Derek also feel that was super-weird (although they don't mention the lack of security for such a controlling guy), but before they can get into it, the mother runs out and asks if her kid will be find if they find him in the first 24 hours, like they say on television. They have her a provisional yes, and she seems happy with that, even though it's already been between 6-12 hours and they have no leads.

Reid makes a good observation - the kid's running shoes are missing from his closet, and his window is unlocked! He must have left on his own to meet someone! Weird that they didn't already know this, though - isn't one of the first things you do in this kind of abduction case is to have the parents check on what's missing from the kid's room so they can figure out how the missing kid might be dressed?

Garcia phones in with an update on the online gaming - the kid was only allowed to play with school friends, and none of them are missing, so that might be a dead end.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Greg and Jeanne are interviewing the father of the dead kid from 15 years ago, because I guess the Memphis FBI office is full of losers? The dad of the first victim reveals that he was in an asylum for some time after the death of his child, and the killer called him there to taunt him! So the killer continued stalking him even after the murder! Unfortunately, because Mandy and the cops had suspected him of the murder, he didn't bother telling the cops about that call, robbing them of an additional data point.

Speaking of mysterious calls, Garcia discovers that the call the night before came from the father's phone! What about the one that morning? And the ones for the past week? No info on those?

Still, that's enough information for Greg and Derek to confront the father with their suspicions - apparently they don't think it's a little coincidental that in the first case evidence was also planted to suggest the father was guilty - almost as if that was part of the killer's signature!

Still, they try to play this ridiculous plot point out, by having the mother admit that there was only ever one of them in the room when the calls arrived. Which isn't true - the phone was ringing while the husband was still in the room with her, although he ran out by the time she answered it. Still, he didn't have time to make the morning call.

Joe and Derek observe that if you call home from the cell phone, it says 'private number', just like the call from the killer! There's no call home on the phone, of course, but Joe thinks he could have erased the call from his logs.

Well, yes, he could have, but the phone company would still have records of it, which Garcia could easily check. It's not like there's not a computerized record of every single phone call that a cell phone makes, after all. You can smash your phone and burn the sim card, there's still a record.

Reid answers the front door, where an FBI agent delivers the call recordings from the first crime! He also apologizes for it taking so long, since they had to dig it out of storage. Couple of things here - first, they got it here from Memphis in around five hours, assuming that you guys called them for it right after the case meeting. It's a four hour drive, which means they definitely flew the tape here, which still would have taken over an hour. That's four hours to find a tape somewhere in storage, arrange a flight, get it to the airport, fly it one state over, arrange transport from the airport, and drive it out to the crime scene.

Why apologize? That's amazing time. Especially considering it would have been infinitely faster to digitize the tape and just send it to Garcia. Does the family at the house even have a tape deck for them to play it on?

Also, couldn't they have sent the tape back with Greg and Jeanne? They were flying back from Memphis after seeing the other dad, right? Seems like you could have saved some jet fuel.

One other thing - the guy refers to Reid as 'Doctor Reid', which, because he's a local agent, means that someone had to tell him that Reid must be referred to by that title, which looks all the more silly with each passing year. Especially since it started because they wanted people to take him seriously despite how young he was - it's ten years later, and now the agents that he insists call him 'doctor' are now his age or younger:
Get a haircut, Reid, and start acting your age. You're not good enough at your job to be this eccentric.

In any event, when the mother hears the tape, it's clear that it's the exact same voice, right down to the weird screaming in the background. So this must be the same killer, because he (or she) is using the same tape!

Garcia finally traces the call - it was made from a park half a kilometer east of the house! They head out there with the father, hoping he can lead them to somewhere significant to their son, and he mentions an abandoned well they found!

Back at the house, they coach the mother to try and start a dialogue with the killer. She's understandably skeptical, since all the killer does is dial a phone and play a recording. He may not even be listening to her responses.

The episode decides to screw with us by having the dogs find something next to a log - is it the kid, or just his jacket? The father runs over to find out, but then we cut back to the ringing phone! But then the call is the same one that the first father got at the asylum, so obviously the kid is dead, because it's the 'gloating' call. There's a 'trace the call' screen running during the five seconds he's on the phone, but I'm not sure why. Again, this phone call is being routed through computers, and you can just ask the computers where it's coming from.

Also, we get a bit of the dad freaking out before the commercial.

I hate to be the 'I told you so' guy, but the ME confirms that the kid was already dead during the night. Given the known MO of the killer, this shouldn't be a surprise to them, and while I can understand keeping the parents in the dark to keep them communicating, the team should have already been operating under this theory.

Finally Greg and Joe get to the blood on the door - considering that they're both good Catholics, you'd think that would have happened a long time ago. They point out that it's backwards, but maybe that was the point? Maybe the killer thought he was sparing the kid from a fate worse than death? That seems like a reach. I don't know how you'd make that determination based on the bible imagery.

The grieving parents are brought back to the police station - and the guy from Memphis is ther as well, and wants to talk to them, since he's been where they are. Did he fly back on the plane with Greg and Jeanne? Why would they bring him? They specifically thought he had no useful information.

Time for the profile! The baby voice on the phone means the killer identifies with the kids, and may be mercy-killing them! So he's technically skilled, from the phone spoofing, and probably a white guy, since the kids are white. Nothing really helpful there, folks.

Maybe Jeanne's having more luck with the recording? They strip out the kid's voice, and focus on the background. It turns out she has, and it's completely ridiculous! Here's the audio breakdown she's made:

Apparently the background screaming is dozens of audio clips layered together to be a wall of noise that the boy's voice plays over it. The show is asking us to believe that you could take the audio file of the call and extract all of the separate tracks. That's not how audio works, people. Once you've flattened it down, it's flattened, and can't be unflattened. Mix three primary colours of paint into a brown mess, and then try to get the green back out. That's what they're asking us to believe they've managed here. It's absurd. Yes, you could isolate little bits of noise, but hearing one of the tracks that was used to make the wall of noise, completely clean? No way.

Anyhoo, the audio Jeanne picks is of a woman speaking Portuguese being whipped and asking for more money. So maybe a sex worker?

Reid and Jeanne go down to threaten a local pimp until he has some information to offer - he did know a Brazilian sex worker back in the day, who retired and married a customer! Wait, is this all happening in St. Louis? Shouldn't the connection be closer to the first victim in Memphis?

They track down the sex worker, who remembers being tortured by one customer! A guy with an eastern european wife! He wanted to whip both of them, and the sex worker remembers the woman seeming pretty frightened! It's important to note, at this point, that the mother of the dead boy does have a thick eastern-european accent. This is probably relevant.

Then, in maybe the stupidest scene yet in this show, we see the father and mother have a fight in a motel room - they're understandably stressed, you see - and then she goes out to get toothpaste! The father then gets a call from the killer, and runs outside - the mother has been kidnapped!

Where were the police? This is a killer obsessed with tormenting his victims. Why would you not keep an eye on the parents? Especially within the first twenty-four hours. You have every reason to think that he'll call again, but you just let them go off to a motel, all alone? Man, this should be a lawsuit.

The team tries to figure out why the mother would have stopped her car and opened her door for someone - could it have been a cop? Someone she knew? Then they wonder why the fathers are specifically being targeted for suffering. Is there some connection between the two men?

Turns out the mother of the first victim was also Eastern-European! Also the calls to the first family started right around the anniversary of the mother's death! So, what's the connection? Derek confuses things with a hilariously-dubbed line:
Your first guess is that the woman being whipped was the killer's mother? Wouldn't it be way more likely that it was either her, her husband, or both of them? Why would the whipped woman's child have audio tape of her being tortured along with a sex worker? I'm not saying it's not possible, but why would it be your first guess, which you're certain is true?

They figure that the killer's mother was also Eastern European, killed herself, and then he was so traumatized that he found another family with an eastern-european mother that killed herself, then killed the child to keep them from suffering through what he experienced!

What? Not a word of that makes... you know what, let's just move on.

Then it's over to the Eastern Orthodox church, where a man with a bald spot is watching a ceremony! I guess he's the killer?

More horrible looping as Garcia gives us the killer's backstory! They really had to change this guy's origin story right before the show went out. I wonder why?

Turns out the killer is the computer science teacher at school! He was the son's favorite, and all the kids loved him because he let them play games in class. So, you know, classic paedophile behaviour. Just to be clear - when they did a background check on everyone the child interacted with, they didn't notice that one of the teachers at his school was using a fake ID? What's wrong with Garcia this week?

Okay, so it seems that the killer was forced to watch the demeaning sex acts between his father, mother, and sex workers, so that screwed him up. Then, the mother drove her and her son into a lake to protect them from his father! Now, whenever he sees a guy with an eastern-european wife and a single son, he assumes that the mother and child need to be 'rescued via murder' so he does that! Seems weird that he's not killing the dads, but whatever.

Now they just need to find the lake that he's doubtless going to be driving into with the mother - luckily he calls the father again for more gloating, allowing them to get a GPS lock on his phone.

At the killer's house, they find a video of him as a child in a video his mother made, saying the things from the call! Did they really feel that this was a part of the show that needed to be explained? He also had all of the VHS tapes of his dad's sex sessions, so that's where all the audio came from!

Then it turns out that the killer made the last call from a phone he tossed out of the woods! He's really back at his house, where half the team is! Um... you tried to distract them by running out into the woods, but then you hid... in your own house, the only other place they were guaranteed to go?

What is wrong with you, killer?

Joe and Reid find the killer's secret passage and use it to murder him as he sneaks up on Jeanne. You know, she wouldn't have been in danger if there were a bunch of cops here, the way there obviously should have been.

So he's dead, and the mother is rescued!

Happy ending!

Except for a check-in with the family, who've been through a lot. The team says that they can call if they need anything, but don't bother apologizing for being so horrible to the father.


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

Kind of? I mean, the assumption they made about the connection between the Eastern European mothers and kid seeing himself in the children was a decent one, but the trip to get there was just so ludicrous. Finding audio of a Brazilian sex worker? What?

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

One of the first things cops do is check into the background of dead kids' teachers and people in the neighbourhood. I can't imagine the killer's ID would have held up very long. Also, they probably would have kept an eye on the parents of the victim for more than five minutes after their son's body was found.

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


It's the best showing in a while, and it was still terrible!

I think the biggest problem with this episode is how preposterous the triggering incident was. We're asked to believe that in order for this guy to kill someone, he had to find a family with a controlling dad and an Eastern-European mother who killed himself? What is the likelihood he would have ever stumbled onto that if he wasn't specifically looking for it?

Also, is it just me, or did the team's 'expertise' actually delay catching the killer? Think about it - if the cops hadn't called the FBI and found out about the earlier case, they would have investigated in the normal way - asked the kid's friends and teachers who he spent the most time with. The cops would have heard about how his favorite teacher was the one who spoiled kids by letting them play  video games, and immediately thought 'hey, that sounds like something a child molester would do to groom his victims!' One quick background check later and the guy's in prison.

Finding out about the other crime just slowed the whole process down - in this case the most obvious suspect actually was the killer, but the team went and overthought everything, sending themselves and the rest of the authorities on a convoluted journey that ended up in the same place as just asking around the school.


Unknown said...

I watched this episode years ago. Enjoying your blog posts.

Anonymous said...

You must be a hoot at parties. And movie dates.

Anonymous said...

Oh and Spencer Reid IS a damn doctor.

Anonymous said...

Hey love your posts! I do contest one point that you always bring up about Reid. Yes he's kind of a strange character with his gun and his hair but he's likely socially awkward or on the spectrum, so he's supposed to not fit in right. As for the doctor thing, I notice people get very up in arms about referring to others as Dr., especially to those who have non-medical doctorates. People invest a huge amount of time, effort, and money into earning a degree like that, and I think it's only right that they go by their title. I'm sure that Reid gets introduced as Dr. Reid which is why people call him that. Even when he corrects someone, the title is an important part of his identity, and his social awkwardness probably keeps him from realizing that he sounds pretentious. He's simply correcting an error. I do laugh at your jokes about him, I just think that people who earn doctorates deserve to be pretentious and use their $300k title.

Anonymous said...

I am here for OP's saltiness RE: Reid! Bc he's not good at his job, hahaha, in fact most of his practical decisions actively hinder whatever he's trying to achieve.

e.g. Not being knowledgeable about guns, I had no thoughts on the non-standard gun Reid carried until OP mentioned it. Then, within 3 minutes of googling, I found out that revolvers have been retired by all the major law enforcement agencies (even the US Forest Service doesn't use them!). Why? Bc there have been multiple, literal, actual cases of police officers getting killed in gun battles WHILE RELOADING THEIR 6 SHOT REVOLVERS.

The fact that Reid is supposed to be this walking fount of all knowledge while not being conscientious of the super good reasons why he should not be carrying a revolver is in the category of REASONS REID IS TERRIBLE AT HIS JOB.