2.6.18

Criminal Minds 914: 200

Okay, if I'd known when I made that prediction about JJ's storyline that 914 was the 200th episode, I'd have guessed that it would be the place for all the secrets to come out. This is the downside of trying to go into episodes completely clean - you miss out on chances to make super-accurate predictions.

So let me make one more bad prediction before the episode starts - we'll get another visit from that background agent whose job is giving people rides home, last spotted being let in to the office by Mark Hamill last season!

Now, on with the episode!

Picking up soon after the last episode left off, JJ is dragged into a room with a bag over her head, shackled to a chair, and then drugged! Is this a chemical interrogation? We're finally going to get that backstory from the year she was off, though, since it's a middle-eastern guy doing the ejecting, and then pointedly middle-eastern music pipes up on the soundtrack and we cut to a view of one of those eight-sided towers I don't know the name of!

Back in 2010, JJ arrives in Iraq, where she's met by Erin, who is still alive in the past! She starts explaining that it's an incredibly secret job that she's taking on, but then the speech gets interrupted by the introduction of Esai and Helo from Battlestar, who are outside of a tent, arguing over who screwed up their attempt to interrogate a terrorist!

JJ meets Helo, who's not psyched that she's been brought on board to mediate interrogations - he'd prefer to just torture people to death, as he just got finished doing! In a great moment, it's acknowledged that JJ has no training in profiling or interrogation whatsoever, so it's not really clear what a media liaison/case manager is doing there.

They never did explain why she was able to start profiling when she got back, did they? I mean, other than Garcia having stolen her old job. Was it a subtle dig at the art of profiling, suggesting that if you just hang around these people for a couple of years, you'll become as good at faking it as they are?

As JJ is escorted out of the tent by Esai, she sees the wife of the dead guy, who she's supposed to interview, and then meets their interpreter... the guy who drugged her in the present!

Speaking of the present day, Josh arrives at the office, bringing their son, who's not named William the 3rd, as far as I can recall. Josh tells them to call Esai - he knows about the secret mission, of course, and JJ said to call Esai if she ever mysteriously disappeared! Naturally Esai has also mysteriously disappeared, information that is brought by Anderson, the chauffeur/agent who's rarely on the show!

So that's one prediction correct! I'd make more, but I have no idea where the episode is going, and won't pretend that I do.

Speaking of Esai, he's dragged into the torture dungeon as well, and they're both hung from pipes, as the translator gets ready to go to work! I hope this doesn't get too gruesome - I guess we'll find out after the credits!

I always ignore the quotes, because they're never really interesting, but this week the quote is read by Emily! So I guess she'll be dropping by for a visit? Maybe to win her eponymous award?

The team gathers up to talk about JJ's secret work. The long and short of it is that JJ's probably still working on secret jobs, which means she'd have to have some secure way of contacting the department of defense in the building - they feel they're going to have to work the case because the department of defense might not prioritize getting them back. But the subtext is that no one but the six of them are competent in the least.

Over in the torture dungeon, JJ is being waterboarded for 'access codes', but instead of offering information, she bites the interrogator's hand! Then we get a matching cut from her being slapped to the wife slapping the translator back in the past. She's obviously not psyched to have found out about her husband being tortured to death. She's comforted when Helo finds a doll she dropped outside, though. Which belongs to her sister, who is currently trapped in Pakistan! JJ offers to get the daughter back if she gives up all of her husband's contacts!

Helo points out that he can make that claim, but it won't happen, since the CIA isn't about to mount a rescue operation to grab a single child.

Joe and Jeanne go down to JJ's old office, which is stacked full of boxes. I guess since she quit no one has actually been checking over cases to decide which jobs for them to take, and what, Garcia just watches the news and throws darts at a board? All of the file crates suggest that there could be hundreds of cases that they'll never get around to working on because JJ didn't tell anyone about the files.

They find her safe, which has a digital keypad - the code is the year her son was born, which is just a terrible passcode. Maybe they don't need to torture JJ to get her access codes. Have they tried '1234'?

Inside the safe is a file full of redacted information, with the word 'integrity' being one of the few readable sections. Is that the name of the operation?

Greg goes to talk to the secretary of state, asking about JJ's super-secret spy work. Which... how did she get that, again? Why would they recruit a person who's job it was to talk to the families of victims to go to Iraq and negotiate with terrorists? Before you say 'she's talking to that wife of the dead terrorist, isn't she?' remember that the guy only died as she was arriving - it's not like she was recruited because a specific wife of a dead terrorist needed a sympathetic lade to talk to.

Reid almost gets a win for his memory, because he remembers that 'integrity' has something to do with Bin laden, and has Garcia search for that, but simultaneously the secretary is explaining to Greg that 'integrity' is the name of the huge information database created during the Bin Laden hunt. So close, but no donut, Reid.

Esai and JJ both have the necessary access codes to get into the system, which is why they've been taken! Which seems like a terrible plan, since now that the state department knows they've been taken, can't they just change the codes, or more specifically, close of Esai and JJ's access? Doesn't this scheme only work if you don't know that someone has been taken for interrogation? After all, in order to get into this kind of file you need credentials, codes, and access to a secure data station - and kidnapping the people who have those three things will trigger a secure lockdown, won't they?

Unless, like in Die Hard, that secure lockdown is exactly what Helo is counting on!

That's right, I think Helo is the villain. I've decided to make predictions again. Although this is structured so differently from their normal episodes, I'm kind of just firing blindly.

Back in 2010, the various characters debate whether or not to rescue the daughter, since the wife has already given them two leads that panned out, and there's no reason to think that she's got a lead on OBL.

Yes, you read that right, the people who made this episode didn't know that the US government intelligence agencies all harmonized on 'UBL' do refer to Bin Laden. I know this is an awful show, but can't they do even the most basic amount of research?

Oh, and for the record, yes, I was wrong in my assumption they were in Iraq - when I watch the first ten minutes of an episode I keep the lower third of the episode off the bottom of my screen so that I won't find out who wrote/directed/starred in the episode. As a result, I missed the title setting the location/date. All of this talk of Pakistan and UBL means that this is obviously Afghanistan.

Hint! While they're making plans, the translator is twenty feet away, snapping pictures of the four of them through a fence! There's terrible security on this base, huh?

The pictures the translator took are the same ones Garcia found on the server, so they get Xander to run Helo through facial recognition, hoping for a lead. After all, the other three people in the photo are the two missing people and Erin, who's dead. It's basically the only lead they've got.

Supposedly Helo was killed in action back in 2011 - Joe wonders where the photo came from, since the CIA doesn't take photos while planning illegal raids into allied countries. Jeanne's assumption - it must have been taken by the same people who killed Helo! Which we know is a stretch, since the photo was taken in 2010 and he was killed a year later, but they're just taking completely unfounded guesses at this point, which is their whole brand, really.

The secretary of state tells Greg that after the base was attacked they figured out the translator was betraying them, and they figure he's the one behind this current attack! She also says that they're currently involved in negotiations to get the two of them back, and want Greg's team to stay out of it!

That'll be the day. Greg wins himself a Prentiss Award for this line, attempting to establish the stakes of the episode-

Why are they both acting like taking Esai and JJ will somehow give people access to the secret Integrity database? When my car got stolen because the keys fell out of my pocket next to it, I changed the locks in my apartment, because my house keys were on the keychain. Are you telling me the CIA's most secure database is easier to penetrate than my front door?

Greg calls Emily, who's currently working at Interpol! Will they correctly depict Interpol as just an information clearinghouse, or will they pretend it has agents that go places and do things?

Emily takes the call and heads straight for the airport, saying she'll get all the relevant information during the flight! So that's like six hours of torture JJ and Esai have to look forward to before Emily can help out. Yikes.

Oof. We cut back to the torture dungeon, where one of the villains sets up a laptop - it has a window asking for two passwords on it! That's right, he's logged into the integrity server. Over wifi. From a torture basement. This is like a child's understanding of how computer security works.

More importantly, why would Esai and JJ still have access to this server at all? I'm sure they'd maintain their super-high clearance levels even after leaving the ultra-important unit, but why would they still have access codes to a spy database that JJ hasn't needed to use in two years - Esai in who knows how long?

Then back to Afghanistan, where it's 2011 - I guess it took a while to prep the mission? Wouldn't it be great if Helo died heroically, and then the wife proved to have in info that got them Bin Laden? I mean, this episode is set in February, so the timing works out perfectly. It would foil my prediction, but be way more entertaining!

Unfortunately, that's not the case, since the team sent in to grab the daughter gets killed in an ambush, presumably the one the interrogator set up. JJ, naturally, blames herself, because she doesn't know about the mole, and the plan was her idea.

Emily joins the team for a confab from the plane - which is a private jet with great communications facilities. Kind of an amazing coincidence that she has access to one of those that can be used for her private business at a moment's notice. Did Emily get rich while we weren't looking?

They look over the translator's files - he was a torturer with the Iraqi national guard, and apparently he has a course of torture designed to last exactly 24 hours, which he feels can break anyone. During the speech, we see him electrocuting them with water buckets and electro-sponges!

Emily offers an interesting note - the dead terrorist from the start was killed using the translator's MO - as was his wife, the only difference being that she was raped as well, which he never does! Why the change? They think he might have just gotten frustrated, so they think the same fate could befall JJ if they don't hurry up and find her!

Or the translator could have a partner? Just saying... did we see Helo's body?

In the torture dungeon, they drag Esai into another room, and the translator says JJ has five seconds to give up her code or he gets shot. Of course, there's no reason to drag someone into another room to do that, or, to quote my spirit animal 'why would you shoot a man before throwing him off a plane'?

I can't help but smile when thinking about that scene. You know, Josh Stewart is in the scene directly before that one. Just saying.

Where was I? Right, JJ points out that if they kill Esai it won't accomplish anything, since they need two codes to get into the Integrity database. That, plus the dragging into another room makes it look like a pretty weak fake-out. Wouldn't it be weird if Esai was the villain all along? What other reason can there be for this terrible an attempt to fake his death? You can't kill him before getting his code, right?

Okay, back in the past, we see them going to give the wife the news about her dead daughter, and when they get to her cell she's already dead!

Huh - that doesn't comport at all with what we learned from Emily in the previous scene. She absolutely was not tortured using a variety of methods including dangling from a ceiling, waterboarding, freezing, and electrocution for 24 hours and then raped. Emily says that the MO of her death matches all of his other victims, which is just obviously not true. Especially since he'd have needed a full day of private access to her, which he couldn't possibly have had.

Also, did the CIA regularly hire former Iraqi special forces torturers to be their translators? That seems like a stretch. Did they not do background checks?

Derek - amazingly - asks the exact question I just did! Garcia's answer? He was personally recruited by Esai! Naturally this makes everyone assume Esai is secretly the villain.

Then we cut back to 2011, when JJ has discovered that she's pregnant, just before getting the call about the whole Emily/Ian Doyle thing! Damn, I miss Ian Doyle. He was so much fun.

Then JJ hallucinates that Emily has come to tell her to give up her codes, but of course, it's just Esai, who yes, was evil, or just trying to keep her from being tortured. But probably evil. Turns out that JJ is considerably less observant than Bane! Of course, I didn't think it was Esai either, so I'm not much better.

The team starts to look into Cruz, and Reid announces that he never actually put his name in for section chief. Which was what he said earlier in the season - that he just got tapped and he didn't know why. They assume he had a higher-up contact pull the strings so that he could get closer to JJ.

But why would he want to do that? Wouldn't that just make him more suspicious? Why not just grab her the minute your pieces were all in place? Faking your own kidnapping would only make people look into you as well - doesn't it make more sense to do this at a time when you couldn't be suspected of involvement?

I guess they would have connected it to Esai once they found out he recruited the torturer, but then again, I'm not sure how they figured out the torturer is involved in any of this. They know that he killed Helo, but what evidence do they have that he's involved this time? I'd be comforted if there was security footage or some kind of a tip-off, but their entire theory of the crime is 'there was a bad guy in Afghanistan - maybe he's back!' In Emily's case, that was true, but there was also a lot of evidence pointing to Doyle (her team members being killed, the tip-off, and such), here they've laid absolutely no groundwork.

Emily remembers a conversation she had with JJ when she was faking her death. JJ came to the conclusion that maybe the wife was killed to keep her from exposing a double agent!

Finally they get around to realizing that JJ's codes would be useless now that she's been kidnapped. Also they should be useless because she hasn't worked there in years, but whatever.

Garcia explains that if a traitor knew what they were doing, they could reroute access to the Integrity system he could 'reroute the updates to render their security codes useless'! That's right, they're saying that Esai is so deep in the system that he's able to keep them from canceling their access to the system. But if you're that deep in, would you really need codes at all?

Also, that's completely ridiculous. Again, this kind of system has to be accessed from specific hardlines, and they would have complete control over who had the ability to get into it. The whole threat this week is just crazy - especially since they actually showed Garcia and Reid having to go to an ultra-secure hardline to access the system.

The team assumes that they've hacked a hardline, and now have remote access to the server from a laptop. So apparently these hardlines aren't monitored or protected at all? Also, even if he'd arranged it so her access didn't get taken away, can't they just go in and fix that manually? Or just, you know, shut down all the local access terminals until this kidnapping has been resolved?

After JJ has put in her code, the translator goes to shoot her, but Esai says they won't get his code if they do. He's hanging from a chain again, for some reason.

In the flashback, JJ announces that the higher-ups agree with her mole theory, and all of the members of her team are going to be given enhanced interrogations until they find out who it is! They're attacked on the way there, because the mole set the up. Which of course he did. Why would JJ warn the mole that she's on to them, and then announce 'tomorrow we'll all get into a convoy and drive to the place where we'll be tortured until one of us is revealed to be the mole'? Aren't you just giving the villain a chance to plan something like this?

The torturer gets away in the melee, and the audience's ears are hurt because the soundtrack plays that loud whine sound that occurs after explosions!

Garcia tries to track which hardline is being used, but for some reason none of them are able to be pinged! Luckily there are only six in the area, so it will be easy enough to mobilize the FBI and DCPD to... what's that, they're going to go on their own without telling anyone? Sure, why not.

More JJ flashback - she lost her second baby after the explosion, and that's the trauma that sent her out of special spy services and back to profiling! Also, apparently Helo was taken by the attackers, not just killed in the explosion as it first seemed. So do they have a body or not? They were talking like he was definitely dead. If not followed by a beheading video, 'dragged off' is code for 'is still alive and was the bad guy the whole time.'

Then, in the torture chamber, the translator says that if Esai doesn't give up his code JJ will lose more than a baby. JJ asks Esai if he ever mentioned the baby to anyone, and he says he didn't, which means Helo is the villain after all, and the show was just lying when they said he was dead?

JJ figures this out, because of the terrible 'villain reveals too much' thing, and I feel betrayed, because yeah, the show lied to us. The fact that I guessed right was not a salve to my disappointment at all.

As I predicted, Helo was the rapist, and he threatens to rape JJ if Esai doesn't give up the code. Classy, show. Also, I'm still not sure why Emily's file suggested the wife was killed using the translator's MO, since she was just raped and murdered. Should have been a pretty big clue, actually.

Finally security systems kick in - it seems JJ typed in her access code backwards, which makes the system appear as if it works, but actually locks down access and sends out a notification that a terminal is being improperly used. Since that's the case, you'd think a bunch of State Department goons would be on the way to the server already, since JJ gave the message a half an hour ago, but no, it's up to the team to deal with this!

Also, DC cops bust into the FBI building to arrest Garcia for breaking into the server access monitoring system. Would the FBI really just let two cops bust in and start arresting agents without a warrant or anything like that?

In the car, Reid recognizes the address as belonging to Kramer Industries, and I'd love to give him credit for this, but it's not like that information is more helpful than the address, which they already had.

Finally Esai gives up his code, and they're in! Wait, did the distress code shut down access or not? If it didn't, it's a terrible system, if it did, then what are they downloading?

Before Helo can execute anyone the power is shut off, and the team starts rushing towards the torture dungeon! As a fun nod to the fans out there, he calls for "helo extraction". Always nice to have a shout-out after a threatened rape and before he orders the torturer to slash the third villain's throat.

There's a shootout in the warehouse, and downstairs the torturer stabs Esai, but is shot before he can also stab JJ! Will Esai make it? He was stabbed in the side, just above the hip, so maybe, since it avoided his lungs.

There's a chase to the roof, where JJ and Emily manage to throw Helo off of it before he can upload any of the files he stole. Which, again, shouldn't be real files.

Then everyone gets together for a drink at the local bar, and there's a line about how nice it is for Jeanne to finally meet Emily, since they'd normally never encounter each other, what with one being the replacement for the other.

The End.

Hey, is Josh Stewart getting his own show? I should really get around to watching season two of Shooter, which he's in. Is he playing the evil sniper who killed Ryan Phillipe's friend? Or did that get resolved in the first season?

Yeah, you know I've completely checked out of an episode when I start thinking about the show Shooter.

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

Not at all. The secretary of state told them it was about the Bin Laden database, and then, despite all of the tsuris and flashbacks, all they did was hang around until someone tried to access it, then they drove there and shot a bunch of people.

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

Um, yes? With this kind of incredibly secret government information, there would absolutely be oversight to how/when it was accessed. Why didn't JJ putting in a distress code trigger an armed response? What are distress codes for, if not that?

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

1

Wait, if Esai wasn't evil, why did he hire an Iraqi special forces torturer to work as a translator in Afghanistan? Couldn't you have found someone local who wasn't, you know, a guy who tortured American soldiers for fun?

Why was Helo listed as dead? The last anyone knew he was dragged - still alive - from a convoy and taken away by a bunch of terrorists of unknown affiliation. Shouldn't that be missing in action, rather than dead? Oh, right, they wanted us to be surprised. Only we weren't, because it was kind of obvious.

Gosh, this episode wasn't good, and was not much of a payoff after a season of waiting for JJ's backstory. Especially because, you know, the whole premise is that she was recruited for a super-secret CIA/FBI/Army terrorist-targeting operation that she had no capability to help with?

Can we all take a moment to appreciate that a prisoner was raped and murdered in the middle of a secret CIA base, and no one seemed particularly interested in figuring out who did it? Doesn't that seem kind of preposterous to anyone else? It's not like she accidentally died during torture or something. She was a prisoner who was working with them, and then - in the middle of the base, someone went into her cell and raped and murdered her. How was this not looked into at the time?

And one more time, when you think there's a mole, how is your response to that to tell all of the suspects 'we think one of you is a mole, now just go do whatever you want, completely unsupervised, then we'll go on a long road trip tomorrow to the mole torture facility'. That would only make sense if it was part of a plan to make the mole show themselves by making contact with their people to set up an ambush. But instead it really was just a terrible plan?

Can people please stop the Criminal Minds people from ever attempting to write spy fiction ever again?

I can't believe I've reviewed 200 episodes of this show.

And there's like a hundred more to go.

And counting.

Oy.

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