Criminal Minds 916: Gabby

The episode opens with a few shots of abandoned businesses and rotted out homes to establish that this episode is set amidst an environment of urban squalor. Then they cut to a perfectly nice low-end suburban street, because the show shoots in Los Angeles, and they don't have access to the kind of wrecks you can find in Mississippi there.

A woman is dropping her daughter off to stay with her sister for a week. They offer some exposition about how the mother won a raffle for a week-long cruise, and it's her first real vacation away since the daughter (who's like 5-6, something along those lines) was born! The aunt has prepared a child's playhouse for the front yard, so the visit should go great! Unless a killer shows up, murders her, and steals the daughter. That would be less great.

Later that week, we see the aunt pile the kid into a car to go for a nighttime drive. She explains to the neighbour that going out for rides helps the little girl get to sleep, then as they're driving off, the little girl and the neighbour lady exchange some sign language! Which they know for some reason? Is one of these characters deaf and I somehow didn't notice?

We cut to the aunt sitting in her car at a gas station, waiting for there to be no witnesses before she runs into the store to buy some food. Maybe we're supposed to think that she's waiting for the guy to drive away because she finds him creepy and doesn't want to leave the niece alone in the car with him at the pumps, but then again, the niece is sleeping, lying across the back seats, so there's no reason to think that anyone even knows she's in the car.

So while the aunt is in the store, a minivan drives up, presumably grabs the kid, and then drives off. Did the Aunt sell the child to someone? Because it's kind of crazy to imagine that a kidnapper would have been been following them this whole time and managed to land on this incredibly lucky moment.

Seeing the empty back seat, the aunt starts screaming for help, and the guys inside call 911!

The team immediately jumps on the plane and flies there - like, immediately. Preposterously immediately.
That's the sun just coming up to the front right of the plane - which is a little weird, considering that they're flying west, but whatever, let's just assume that they mean it to be like 7AM when this scene is happening.

Assuming they're almost in Mississippi, that's like a two-hour flight, meaning they had to get on the plane at 5AM. So let's figure the abduction happened around 10PM, that means that the cops showed up, took statements, decided they couldn't handle the case, called the local FBI, who kicked it upstairs to Washington, and someone there decided that the serial killer people should be working on it - even though it's just a missing girl, not a beheaded little girl - and then called Greg and woke him up at like 3AM, and then he told everyone else to get moving, all so they could be on a plane at 5AM.

This is just so far from how the police actually work. Would it have killed the show to have them arriving at noon the next day? A plausible amount of time later?

Oh my god, it's so much worse than I thought. All of that figuring I did above? Yeah, it's even worse - it's been just three hours since the abduction during the plane scene. I don't know how far they are into the flight, but that means the idea that they were all gathered up and put on a plane happened even faster than I'd calculated. Also, how can the sun be coming up? Was that abduction at like 2AM? Damn, this show is crazy.

In their pre-file they point out that the abductor would have had to have been stalking the little girl - and perhaps even gotten the mother sent away on that trip! Although that might be a stretch, since it's my own interjection. Bigger issue, though, is that they talk about having 24 hours to find the girl before it's too late!

Weird that they would still be saying that, since just six episodes they did a story about how that was a meaningless rule of thumb.

We catch up with the minivan driving down a rural road and dumping something body-shaped but wrapped in black plastic into a river! Has he already murdered the little girl? Was the little girl already dead, killed by the aunt (who's actually the girl's cousin, it seems) and this is a friend helping make it look like an abduction/murder? It's not like we actually saw the little girl moving in the back seat during the convenience store scene.

Hopefully we'll find out after the opening credits!

Seriously, though - does Mississippi not have any FBI agents of its own? How is this case worth dragging a whole team of profilers out of bed for? Aren't they worried about all of the people getting serial killed while they're off running this errand?

The team gets to the abduction site, which has been turned into a crisis HQ - apparently the shot of the sun in the opening really was just an error, since it's still pitch black out by the time they get there. They go through the standard theories - it could be the kids father, a long-haul trucker, or a paedophile who just happened to be in the area. The big takeaway of the scene is 'chase all leads' which, you know, I feel like they were doing before the FBI got there?

Derek and JJ go to the cousin's house to interview her - there are cops inside, just in case. So yeah, she is the cousin, but she was raised in the mother's house, hence all the 'aunt' stuff. She has no information to offer.

The mother and her boyfriend also have very little information to offer, other than to mention how sweet and nice the little girl is. Almost wrote 'was' there, but that seemed too dark. The mother has two cell phone numbers for the father, one his personal cell, the other the work phone he got from his company. I feel like Garcia should already have both of these, but still, a lead is a lead.

JJ goes to talk to the neighbour who saw the car leave - she remembers seeing a dark van in the neighbourhood - probably a plumber, she doesn't remember the name. Of course, it was actually a minivan, which has plenty of windows and is visually distinct from work vans, but hopefully Garcia can find something.

Garcia discovers that there are just four plumbers in the area, and the only one who drives a dark minivan is owned by a guy who recently got out of jail for drug dealing! Which doesn't really make him a likely candidate for snatching little girls, but from their point of view, a scumbag is a scumbag.

Meanwhile, the other half of the team just found the same lead! The father's truck was parked at the edge of town, in a vacant lot with a bunch of videocameras! They have footage of him dropping it off and being picked up by the plumber!

The mother sees the drug dealer being brought into the police station, and recognizes him as the father's old drug dealer! Also, his face is covered in burns, so it's possible he was making drugs at some point, botched the job and the river disposal has nothing to do with the abduction.

Garcia finds that the father's phone pinged off of three different towers during the last three nights - the point at the overlap of the extreme edge of their ranges is the farm where the father grew up! And was also severely abused, and saw his father kill his mother with a shotgun. Ick.

Greg goes in to talk to the drug dealer, and announces that his facial burns are most likely caused by a gasoline fire - did he try to burn the corpse of the little girl? The drug dealer isn't saying! Weirdly, no one mentions that the burns couldn't have been from trying to torch the little girl. Joe actually points out that they're recent, but obviously not fresh, and look like they're starting to get infected from not being treated. The girl was only abducted six hours ago. He would still be smouldering.

Out at a river, the cops have stumbled on the plastic-wrapped body, and in the light of day, it looks way bigger than it did the night before - it takes four of the cops to carry it. Either I'm very mistaken about the size of that little girl, or maybe it's the father's body in the plastic wrap?

They tear open the bag and are shocked to find the father inside the bag. More shocked than they should be, really. The show tries to cut around the bag so we won't see its size, but the characters on the show can clearly see that the wrapped-up body is like 400% larger than the little girl they're looking for, and should be sure it's not her before they rip it open.

Wait, are we supposed to believe that the drug dealer was moving the father's body in that earlier scene? Because that would be a stretch, given that he's smaller than the father, and in that scene had no trouble lifting the bag. Also, I'm not sure why he's not spending all his time screaming in agony, considering that his face is covered in second degree burns.

Looking over the farm, they find the pit where the drug dealer tried to burn the father after clubbing him to death, but then he gave up and dumped him in a river. Rather than just burying him in the pit he'd already dug. Also, here's the body in the bag:
Please note that, despite being dropped in a pit, covered in gasoline, and then set on fire, he shows zero signs of having been burned. Maybe the small holes on his sleeve. By comparison, the man who was standing a little close to the fire - that this corpse was inside! - looks like this:
That seems puzzling, huh? Also, let's refocus on how spindly this guy is, and how easily he was able to cart around that body earlier in the show:
Picked it up lifting with his back, tossed it over the side without any effort. Unless there's a second bag with a tiny body in it somewhere, that whole scene was a filthy lie!

Back at the police station, the mother offers to go and talk to the drug dealer, since they're old friends, and will likely tell her what's really going on. Jeanne says that the drug dealer isn't speaking to anyone but a lawyer. Which, I don't know if she's lying or if she's an idiot, but the drug dealer just refused to answer Greg's questions and asked for a lawyer. Who knows what he'd say if you put the mother in the room with him? It's possible that anything he said to the mother couldn't be used against him in court, but that's not the explanation Jeanne offers, she just says it's not happening.

Then the cousin comes in and hugs the mother, crying. Because she feels bad, or is pretending to. You're still not off my list, cousin/aunt.

Greg then brings a blanket into the interrogation room to show the drug dealer. He demands to know where the girl is - they found her blanket on the interstate! He's still not talking, though.

In the family room, the mother is yelling at her cousin about losing the kid, which is a pretty understandable reaction, really. JJ says that yelling doesn't help, and they need to focus on getting the kid back. But how can they do that? Do either of them have any more information to offer?

Finally they find some evidence that the cousin was in on the abduction - on the surveillance camera footage, she's visible walking up to the front doors of the store, then going back to the car for ten minutes before finally heading in. So she chickened out, then went back to the plan!

Garcia checks out the drug dealer's phone records, and discovers that yes, he's been talking to the cousin a lot. I'm not sure why they didn't search through the drug dealer's phone records while they were still looking for the father, but whatever, sure.

Joe and Jeanne interview the cousin, and confront her with the phone records. She says that she's been dating the drug dealer, and that's it, but she's really, really shifty about it. Also, she's got a big cut on the palm of her hand. She says the the little girl broke a glass, but it's nothing to worry about.

They confront the drug dealer with the facts, and offer to charge him with accessory after the fact rather than murder, and he admits that the cousin killed the father while he was trying to abduct the daughter, and the drug dealer just tried to cover it up afterwards.

Derek and JJ find some evidence at the crime scene, which leads to this Prentiss Award-Winning line of the night:
Really? Are you sure it's not just bad writing? Because I feel like if you've got three whole days to dump a glass candleholder you would just do that, and not keep it as a trophy of your crimes, especially when you're already having someone take care of the body for you. Or, you know, if you wanted to keep it, at least run it through the dishwasher.

Greg then gets in the cousin's face and insults her, calling her a failure until she lashes out and tries to attack him! Their diagnosis? She's a psycho who lashes out violently when attacked or frustrated! Which is great to know, but not super relevant since you've already got her on a manslaughter charge at least. Also, what about the abduction? Now that drug dealer has made a deal and is talking, will he not tell you about the minivan grabbing of the little girl?

Or was that not him, and it was just a complete coincidence that she got a helper with a minivan that looked just like the drug dealer's?

They send the mother in to talk to the cousin, and the cousin explains that she was molested by the mother's father her entire childhood, which is what has turned her into a rage monster, and why she resents the mother, who was oblivious to the crimes going on in the next room.

The team tries to figure out where the little girl could be hidden - they figure that she can't just be dead, since if a body turned up then the mother's torment would be partially resolved. No, the cousin would have had to make the daughter disappear somehow! Not sure what that means, but I'm hoping I was right and she sold the kid to someone.

Operating on the theory that the person who grabbed the girl wasn't the drug dealer, but coincidentally drove the exact same kind of car, the team tries to figure out how the cousin - who lived a tech-free life - could have been in touch with the kidnappers, since her phone logs are clean. Since the internet is the easiest way for people without computers to get online, Garcia searches with a codeword that the cousin is likely to have used 'lightbug' instead of 'light' for the light in the car. Why she thinks that would have come up in a conversation with kidnappers is beyond me, but here we are.

Garcia finds the conversation where the cousin was finding a family to abduct the child - they must be pretty sketchy people if they were willing to go along with a fake abduction, right?

We then see what they look like - giant fat lady, flat-nosed husband, camper-van full of stolen children. Real low-class dirtbags, it would seem.

Garcia finds that one of the families that the cousin talked to owns a blue minivan, but the photo isn't of a giant fat lady, so the audience already knows that it's not her before the team even finds her hiding in a shed on her property. Was she just a go-between?

It seems she was! Upon finding out on the news that she was involved in a fake kidnapping, she panicked and got rid of the child, but she won't say who she gave her to! Garcia checks the other people who asked after the kid in the chatroom, and decides that the giant fat lady must be the new mother, because she owns a van!

Except you already tracked down the van that was used in the abduction. The woman who owns it was just led away in cuffs, although I'm not sure why, because you just had a whole scene explaining that these informal adoptions were legal - although I guess not calling the cops when she found out about the fake abduction might have been some kind of a crime. I'm still not sure why she didn't call the cops. She was deceived as well, wasn't she?

Point is, whether or not the next lady owns a van is wholly irrelevant to whether she could be the woman they're looking for, since the van portion of the story is over. Yet they act like the van is all the information they need to justify running this lady down!

They find a photo online of the child molester that the fat lady hangs out with, get his address, and drive over there, where everyone is arrested without incident. Puzzlingly, Greg arrests the fat lady for 'staging a child abduction', which she wasn't involved with. She just took the kid off the hands of the woman who actually did that. How have you forgotten so much of the plot?

Anyway, the kid is reunited with her mother, so happy ending! Except the other two kids they rescue don't have families to go back to, so sad ending for them. But they were getting a sad ending either way, so...

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

Not really. You might want to give them points for the chain of assumptions that led them to the idea that that the cousin wanted to find something worse than murder to do to the daughter, but it's not really relevant to the arrest. Whatever she was thinking, or feeling, or said, the fact is they knew she got someone else to take the kid out of the car, and following that line of investigation is what got them to the abductor.

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

Probably, and for one simple reason - the people taking the kid thought they were doing something legal. The moment that the TV started announcing that a nationwide search was going to start for this little girl, they would have realized the kind of severe trouble they would be in if they didn't immediately go to the police and explain the situation. Yes, there's a chance that they'd be so paranoid or already criminal that they'd avoid the cops, but the odds are massively in favor of the fake abductors either calling the police or just dropping the little girl off at a hospital or church.

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

1 - Seriously, the cousin's plan makes little to no sense. It's entirely dependent on the rehoming community not just turning her in the moment they found out what she did, and that she's framed them for kidnapping, one of the few crimes other than murder that you can get the death penalty for. Although maybe not in Mississippi. I'd have to check that.

Also, the show is weirdly dismissive of the cousin's claims of years of rape at the hands of her foster parent. The mother and her boyfriend both act like that's a crazy accusation, and the authorities just say the cousin is trying to hurt her, but let's look at the facts. This woman - raised in the same house as her cousin, ended up a psychopathic rage monster with an absurdly deep resentment for the woman who treated her like a sister.

Do they think that all came from nowhere? Or are those the kind of personality flaws you'd be completely unsurprised to see in a victim of long-term child molestation?

For an episode that then goes on to talk about how frequently foster parents take in children just so they'll have someone to molest, it's weird to be so dismissive of the cousin's claims. Although consistency has never been one of this show's strengths.


Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time commenter - I just wanted to say thank you for your posts! I enjoy Criminal Minds and your comments are so accurate they make me laugh! They're amazing!

Just a note: I'm not sure if you're aware, but these newer posts don't seem to be linked to the main season list page. I actually wasn't aware that you'd started season nine until I stumbled upon these posts by accident.

Thanks again!

Vardulon said...

Thanks for the heads up - because I prepost a bunch at once, I often forget to update the season page! I'll get on that now that I'm back from vacation!