Criminal Minds 912: The Black Queen

It's 2004, and we open in a interrogation room inside the San Diego field office of the FBI. There's gothed-out lady sitting at the table. We don't see her face right away, but it's obviously Penelope, right? This is when she got caught for hacking? I don't know why, but I guess I always assumed it had happened earlier. Had she really only been working with the team for a month or two when the first episode started?

Greg enters the room to chat with Penelope about her crimes, and they don't do a very good job of making either of them look a decade younger. That takes more expensive computers than are available to the people at Criminal Minds.

Greg immediately offers her a job because someone talented at hacking into pharmaceutical companies would naturally have the skills and temperament necessary to hunt serial killers. Preferring a job to jail, Penelope signs up. Then Derek comes in, and wow, did they not bother at all to try younging him down:

That's some preposterous facial hair for you to have had back in 2004, Derek. I know Shemar Moore wouldn't want to shave it and grow it back for continuity reasons, but wow, should he have been written up for looking unprofessional. On the other hand, it's nice to know that at some point in his life, he was capable of dressing like a professional!

In a super-cute scene, we then cut to Quantico in the present day, where they're having a sexual harassment seminar because of Penelope and Derek's incredibly unprofessional behaviour! Greg then pulls Garcia out of the meeting to go and visit the attorney general - I guess something from Garcia's days as 'The Black Queen' (of course she'd be a big X-Men fan) have come back to haunt her!

It seems that when Garcia was recruited, the team was also in town to arrest a super-hacker who also killed a bunch of sex workers! And now the Justice Department website has been hacked to demand justice for the guy! It seems that a bunch of online would-be sleuths have decided that he's innocent, and are making a fuss until the case is reopened. So the team is going to do just that!

Because they're known for giving in to the demands of extremists, I guess?

Let's find out after the credits!

On the flight, they go over the details of the old case. The guy was arrested because he was known to local sex workers as a creep, and then in the interview he confessed to all the murders. Interestingly, some victims were stabbed, and others were strangled - could there have been more than one killer? But why would he confess to everything?

Greg and JJ drop by the prison to talk to the killer. He claims that he was high on Ritalin for the better part of a year, just hacking non-stop, and so the cop on the case kept him high so that he could trick the hacker into thinking he was a killer, going so far as to feed him all the details of the cases! That's pretty plausible, actually. Cops are generally just happy when they can say a crime has been solved, and if they can put a guy in jail who they think is a villain anyway, all the better! They want him to turn over the hackers who are helping him, but he points out that this is a crazy thing to do, since they're helping him.

Which is another good point. Solid work, potential killer.

In a weird note, the potential killer keeps a rosary with him all the time. He says he made it himself, out of his own hair - but it's like a foot long and clearly brown, and he has super-short grey hair. Did he have ultra-long hair at one point in his imprisonment, and now he's cut it? If not, that's a super-suspicious thing to have.

Joe, Jeanne, and Reid go to the cop's house to get the truth out of him, and there's a pretty funny exchange where he's willing to swear 'on a stack of bibles' that he didn't drug the guy, but then they point out that he's got a whole lot of atheism books, so that phrase means nothing to him! I'd focus less on his reading material, and more on the fact that he had no evidence against the guy other than his confession, and he's acting incredibly defensive.

Garcia and Derek look over the computer system that the hackers broke into, and Garcia says that she's got a slight chance of getting the case files back, since the tools the hackers built are based on some code she wrote a decade earlier, but she's not sure! Also she thinks Derek and her should cut it out with the super-unprofessional work talk. Which, yeah, you should have done that years ago.

Has Garcia given them the names and any lead information she might have on all of her contacts from her days in the San Diego hacker scene? Seems like if they're using her tools, there's a good chance she's got a lead on some of them, right?

Then Garcia sees a 'meow meow' message in the trojan horse code, and runs to find Greg! Really, she runs to find him. She doesn't just, you know, call him on his phone, since she has no idea where he is in the building.

Meanwhile, the real killer has hire two sex workers to come to his murder loft! And based on his voice as he says the word 'welcome', I discover that he's played by genre superstar Jeffrey Combs!

I'm going to be embarrassed if that turns out to be wrong, but I feel like I'm right, just like when I identified Ray Wise by his eyes at the start of last season.

He gives them two glasses of wine to drink, and they readily accept them, even though he's not drinking. Are they not worried about being drugged? I feel like accepting a drink from a client you've never met before is a major no-no in the sex worker world, although that's just a guess.

Garcia rounds everyone up for a conversation about the hack! It turns out that the hacker used her old signature for the crime, since he was ticked at her for joining the FBI. She thinks that the only person who would do that is her old boyfriend/hacking partner Pablo Costanzo! I'd say that it's kind of stupid of him to include code that would specifically call out the FBI's main anti-hacker force, but maybe he's just a prideful idiot.

Then we cut back to Jeffrey, who has drugged the two sex workers into paralysis, and cuts them up as they beg for their lives, terrified! See, that's why you don't drink things given to you by new clients.

So, how did this guy not kill anyone for ten years, and why is he starting again now?

Although, I guess it's just as likely the Jeffrey is just a buddy of the real killer, who's still in jail, and wants to make it look like the killer is still out there to help his case. If that's not the answer, though, they'll need a good explanation for why he's back.

I'm sure this will be explained, but did they already find the loft where the women were murdered? After all, they came to his address, so obviously other people know about it. Or is this going to be like that ridiculous painter episode where he hired and killed a model, and everyone was like 'how could we possibly figure out where he lives?!?' as if she didn't tell anyone where she was going?

Back at the prison, they ask the inmate how to get in touch with Pablo, and he responds that the guy will only talk to Penelope, and they have to set up a meeting online. Greg gets this info by telling the inmate that he thinks he's innocent, which he most certainly doesn't, but the guy's easy to deceive.

Time for the profile! They tell the assembled cops that either this is the original killer back, or a copycat trying to spring the real killer! They offer zero insight to personality or possible age/race of the killer, and end the profile having given no actionable information to the cops. At least it's a short profile scene this week.

Garcia gets a big character scene, where she talks about her screwed-up relationship with Pablo, but it's not relevant to the case, so let's move on.

Garcia goes to meet Pablo at his workplace, a gaming center, and shows off by shutting down their internet on a whim, then turning it back on just as quickly. Wait, if this guy publicly works at a job under his own name, why did you have to go to the killer and IRC to find him?

Garcia plays head games by kissing a nerd instead of Pablo, then agrees that they need to talk about things. To explain the nerd thing - Pablo thinks she still has feelings for him, and asks her to prove she doesn't by kissing him. She kisses a nerd instead, proving... what? The only thing that proves is that she's so daunted by the prospect of kissing Pablo that she'd kiss a stranger to avoid doing it. Which is kind of the opposite of the point she was trying to make.

Over at HQ, we learn that the two sex workers were contacted and hired online by Jeffrey, but then he used his hacking skills to erase their correspondence! Except he couldn't erase them having told people where they were going, which they absolutely would have done, since they were both going to see him for the first time, as established by the fact that they thought the place he lived (converted loft in an industrial building) was strange. So yeah, he should be caught already.

More character stuff with Pablo and Garcia - he thinks she's infantilized herself with all of the 'baby girl' nonsense, and he's shocked that she's no longer the strong, confident woman he loved. He may actually have a point here, Garcia, for all of her good characteristics, is kind of a spineless squish who has trouble sticking up for herself. Also he thinks that there might have been two killers, and that one of them could be a cop! His theory gets glossed over, however, as she wants to focus on relationship stuff, and he accuses her of purposefully getting herself caught to get out of her relationship with him.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey offers some wine to another sex worker in his pad (which, again, should be crawling with cops by now), but she refuses, because she's not an idiot. She tries to text someone from the bathroom about what a creep Jeffrey is, but there's no signal because he's tricked-out his apartment! So Jeffrey storms in and slaps her, then injects her with a needle, because it's important for his method to drug the women so that they're awake but helpless while being murdered. Weird.

The next day the team is adding the newest victim to the crime board, and we discover that she, like the other sex workers, had moved her business online. Greg theorizes that because this is the third victim in a row whose business info they can't locate, maybe Jeffrey isn't hacking their online presence, maybe they're just good at hiding from cops! Well, if that's the case, then there's definitely people who should know where they are and who they were with.

Also, how incredibly lucky is Jeffrey that none of these women have drivers? I'm not familiar with how out-call-girls work in San Diego, but I've heard that it's a common practice for them to have a driver to take them to jobs, and function as a scary guy downstairs in case something goes wrong. The one time I noticed a sex worker in my building I was able to identify her because she was accompanied by a guy with the look of a bouncer, so I feel like it's not an unusual occurrence.

Jeanne brings in one of the latest victim's clients, and she explains that - in an amazing coincidence, she helped set up the app-based scheduling system that the sex worker used after quitting her agency! That's going to save us some time! It seems that her account erases itself if she doesn't log in every 12 hours, to keep the cops from being able to find her black book. Isn't it a little weird that this show is positing a bizarre alternate dimension where sex workers are only concerned about being arrested, and are utterly naive about the threat posed to them by clients?

In a hilarious attempt to make her skillset seem relevant, Jeanne announces that the step-by-step guide to setting up a secret online sex work business was written by the inmate! Because she - in the last 48 hours - became so familiar with his writing style that she's able to recognize it, even though here he's just written an instructional manual.


Penelope and Pablo get into a duel over an online card game and chat window. He points out that she used to believe in revolution, and this freaks her out, so Derek assures her that she can get the better of Pablo by playing his game and letting him think he's won. The theory being that he's still so broken up over her dumping him, that he'll do anything to come out of this with his ego repaired. Probably a good plan, actually.

Then they profile that Pablo is jealous of her and Derek, and she offers to publicly humiliate herself and Derek if the hackers find the killer first - but only if it's a fair fight, they have to trade info, the original casefile for the profile.

We know who's getting the better end of that deal, since the profile was 'we think he might be a hacker'.

Apparently the file showed plenty of evidence that the inmate had a hacking partner who handled money and equipment while inmate did the heavy code lifting - perhaps that guy was the killer, and let inmate take the fall for his crimes! So they figure that the two men are still working together, and the plan was to let one take the fall, then some time later commit copycat crimes and get the guy out!

Which is just a terrible plan, since, unless Jeffrey plans on turning himself in, it involves getting a court to let a guy off death row just because someone has starting killing people using his old M.O. - which would never happen. It's not like the guy is offering some proof that he's the killer, he's just stabbing and strangling prostitutes - not even using some special method that only the police and the killer knew about.

Greg and JJ confront the inmate, and things go a little nuts. They announce that they figured out a difference in the killers' MOs! It seems the original killer like to wrap the victims' hair around their necks as he strangled them, and even tore some out - but the new killer doesn't do that! JJ says that the rosary must be made of hair from victims that the killer has been sending the inmate, as a way of proving to him that the plan is still going strong.

So, wait - there's a bunch of victims they don't know about, then? That's the first we're hearing about this. Also, if the killer knew enough about the inmate's hair fetish to send him hair for a rosary, why wouldn't he have kept tearing hair out during these new crimes? He'd obviously done it in the unknown victims so he could send the locks of hair to the inmate, right? I say that he must have, because if those hair in the rosary don't have roots for DNA testing, they're useless as evidence, so why is Greg so quick to grab them and drop them in an evidence bag?

Then Greg wins the Prentiss Award of the night with this confusing line:

Hold everything, Greg, just stop it, please. I need this explained... your plan is to: withdraw the charges and halt the execution for the murders he actually committed, and then charge him for the 'other four' murders, that Jeffrey committed?

What? Huh? Wha?

Your operating theory originally was that Jeffrey committed all the murders, and this guy took the fall, secure that he'd be spring later. Then you said that there were two different killers, and the original four killings were done by a hair fetishist, which the inmate absolutely is. The second theory - which this whole scene is about establishing - states that the guy you're talking to is the original killer. And you want to let him skate on the murders he committed in the hopes that you can find some way to charge him as an accomplice in the new ones?

Also, what do you mean 'other four' cases? We only knew about three dead sex workers in this episode. Unless you're talking about the rosary hair donors, who would presumably push the total up way higher. And why are you calling it 'retrying' him, if these are new cases that no one has been charge with yet? If I steal a car, and go to jail, then get sprung, and steal another car, you're not 'retrying' me for the new car theft. It's a separate crime.

God, this show is a complete mess.

Then we cut back to Pablo at his workplace, looking at the profile of the inmate's partner. His co-worker at the store starts asking him how he got the file, and it's only at this moment that I notice that this character is played by Jeffrey Combs, and is the killer.

True, we only saw him in the background of scenes previously, but he did speak, and Combs is such a gifted chameleon that I didn't notice him at all.

It's weird - normally when a killer's face is pointedly not shown, I'd suspect that he would be one of the characters we're meeting, but because I immediately recognized the voice as Combs', I stopped looking for the killer and started waiting for Jeffrey Combs to arrive onscreen! Bravo, Jeffrey, this was quite a performance this week!

Pablo points out that the FBI has no leads other than that the killer is a hacker, and Jeffrey's all like 'great! So I can frame you and they'll be none the wiser!' Then Pablo falls over because his drink has been drugged. So, his plan was to make them think that the killer killed himself? That seems like even more of a stretch, especially since serial killers rarely do that until they're caught, and the FBI had zero leads as far as anyone knew.

In the next scene the FBI busts into Pablo's workplace, without offering any information about how or why they should be there. Seriously, in the last scene we saw them figuring out that a copycat friend of inmates was committing the crimes. How did they go from there to kicking down the door of a guy's business? In the scene directly after this one, they're still referring to Jeffrey as 'Unsub', so I guess they don't know who he is - but since they never thought Pablo was the killer, why kick down the door?

Anyhow, they find some drugs ordered in Pablo's name, and sent to the killer's apartment, so it's off to rescue Pablo as Jeffrey plans to murder him! They get there just as he's administering a lethal overdose of oxycodone. Luckily there was some epinephrine in the killer's drug kit for no reason, so he's brought halfway around - and Penelope gets him the rest of the way there by telling him that if he dies then she'll publicly say she beat him!

That, naturally, does the trick. Along with more epinephrine.

The End.

Except for more character stuff with Penelope and Pablo, and then Penelope and Derek!

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

I have literally no idea how they solved the crime this week. If there was a scene explaining it, it was left on the cutting room floor. They talked to the inmate, had as confusing a conversation I've ever seen, then stormed out of the room announcing that they were going to get him off the hook for murders he committed, and then charge him with ones he didn't.

Then they're busting down the door to Jeffrey and Pablo's shop because...

I have no idea. The inmate gave them nothing whatsoever. They could have been busting down the door to catch either Pablo or Jeffrey, but since they had no evidence pointing to either of them - they never even knew who Jeffrey was! I have zero idea how they got there.

This episode made no sense.

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

Yes. The killer invited sex workers to his home, then murdered them in his home. Either their drivers or the people they told about the job would have turned Jeffrey in rather quickly. This would have been so much more plausible if he'd just picked them up off the street, but they decided to go with a cyber twist that made everything more idiotic.

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


I know this is a slightly controversial score, since the team did catch the killer, but I can't give them any points because the show doesn't offer any reason for them to be kicking down that door at that moment. If they'd offered the slightest justification for that scene, fine, but they don't. So I have to give them zero points.

I seriously still have no idea what was happening in that final prison scene. Not just the rosary/charges stuff, also their theory that he wrote a FAQ about helping sex workers dodge the cops so that they would be easier victims for serial killers! How would you know that the victim you found was using your anonymizing steps and not keeping a log of where she was going and when? You wouldn't, because of course you couldn't! Also, again, drivers!

Also, a comment on this review made me realize something I hadn't considered - how on earth would they hope to get a conviction against the hacker this time? It's been ten years, they have no new evidence, the detective's story is super-shaky, and the public is far more aware of/less patient with shady things the cops do. I guess they could try to get Jeffrey Combs to try and testify against him, but why would he? Then who would be on the outside in ten years, killing people to try and spring him from jail?

Wow, this show is terrible.


Anonymous said...

Greg’s plan was to drop the charges for the murders he falsely confessed to (the stabbings) and retry him the murders he did commit 10 years prior (the stranglings).

Vardulon said...

That might be what he means, but it's not what he says - and it's especially confusing because he refers to the 'first murders' and the 'other murders'. Which would only make sense if Jeffrey Combs had stabbed four women, and then he'd strangled four women, but in fact they alternated. In any event, all Greg has achieved is getting a guy off death row, and making it more likely that he'll walk free.

Best case scenario, the guy dies in fifteen years, the government having spent another 300 million dollars.

Worst case scenario: Guy walks free, because there's still no evidence for 4 of the 8 original murder that they believe he committed. Can you imagine what a field day the defense attorney would they'd have in court over this? "He was drugged, kept awake for days, forced to sign a false confession, and then jailed for a decade. Now, they want to convict him again because what, a woman from the FBI said that he looked at her hair too long? (Prosecutor tries to bring up rosary, but fails to because it doesn't have hair from any of the women he's charged with killing.) This is the definition of prosecutorial overreach, and I demand a directed verdict of innocence, so that we can begin our state for wrongful prosecution!

Then, after he's out, the guy starts killing women in the hopes of cheering up Jeffrey Combs.

Thanks, Greg.

Cooper said...

"So Jeffrey storms in and slaps her, then injects her with a needle, because it's important for his method to drug the women so that they're awake but helpless while being murdered. Weird."

This is nearly the exact same MO as season 1/2's Frank, sans killing RV.

Anonymous said...

San Jose not San Diego

Anonymous said...

"I have literally no idea how they solved the crime this week"

"I have no idea"

Becuase you r an idiot.