15.7.18

Criminal Minds 917: Persuasion

In a dark room, a woman is crying.

You know, I feel like that sentence is Criminal Minds' entire raison d'etre. That's every episode of the show in just eight words.

A man enters the room, and the woman asks what the doctor wants - she's willing to do anything! His response? To club her with a pipe and drag her into the darkness. Because this is Criminal Minds.

Then we're in a diner in Las Vegas (will Reid's Mom show up?) when a backpacker enters! He asks for a job, but the waitress says they're not hiring! We notice that the waitress seems to be dressed in the same outfit as the woman from the beginning, so that explains why we're here now! The connection is confirmed when the waitress mentions to one of her regulars that 'Frieda' is late for her shift.

The customer heads out to talk to the backpacker, and accuses him of trying to pick the wallet of someone in the diner, and then offers help! It seems the customer is a magician, one with an oddly generic business card!
Will they become some kind of a criminal team? Only time will tell!

Some ATVrs find the corpse of the waitress and another woman dumped in a field, then it's over to Quantico for the briefing! The women haven't been identified, and they were killed via drowning after being tied up and clubbed! There's no leads yet, but as the team points out, Las Vegas is the most surveilled city in America, so hopefully they'll get some evidence soon!

Hey, can you tell that a corpse has been drowned after it's spent nearly a month being turned into a mummy by the sun?
Her soft tissue has all been transformed into jerky, but they already have a cause of death they're sure of? Doesn't that seem like a stretch? Or are they just assuming she was also drowned because she was found near the other body? Wouldn't it be hilarious if it was an unrelated victim of a different killer, and they've just made some bad assumptions?

I don't know a lot about fabrics, but that print looks pretty colourful - am I crazy, or would three weeks in the Nevada sun bleach that pattern out a little? I mean, look what's happened to her skin, wouldn' the pattern on the shirt show a little more wear than that?

Oh, and speaking of Vegas, we cut back there and see people walking happily along the sidewalk while someone - maybe the backpacker, it's hard to tell - screams for help underneath the street's drainage grate, before being dragged away! Was it the pickpocketing backpacker who got killed? Hopefully we'll find out after the credits!

On the plane, they discuss the possible motivations for dumping the bodies in the desert next to a 'land for sale' sign. Did the killer want the bodies found, or didn't they? Well, they probably did, since they're next to a sign. If they didn't want them found they could have driven another half-kilometer into the desert and dropped them there. Or, you know, just dug a hole.

It seems that the dead waitress was a former drug user, so the diner owner didn't think it was strange and report her missing when she was gone for three days. I guess that means the scene with the pickpocket and the magician was three days ago? Because the other waitress was expecting her to arrive in a way she wouldn't have if she'd already missed two days of work.

Except that no, this is all supposed to be the same day, because the waitress, when being interviewed by Joe, says that she joked about the dead lady getting fired quite recently. You don't know how people think, do you, Criminal Minds writers? Which would seem to be a prerequisite.

JJ and Reid go out to the desert sign - a local cop explains that it's a popular site for young people to drink, because the real estate sign acts as an easy rallying point! They notice that the sign has had 2/10 written on it. Is it a date? A fraction? A reference to the two bodies, suggesting there are eight more victims to come? No one has any idea.

Turns out it wasn't the pickpocket in the teaser, since we next see him walking with the magician! The magician wants to know all about him so he can determine whether the kid will be a useful tool. According to the pickpocket, he's in Vegas looking for his missing sister, and he's wanted for the police due to a bar fight! But is any of that the truth?

It seems that the magician lives as part of a community of mole people in the tunnel system beneath the streets, along with all of his criminal buddies! He invites the pickpocket to take the bed that the waitress used to sleep in before her untimely death, but goon rushes up and suggests that 'the doctor' wouldn't like that! The magician vouches for the pickpocket, though, and the goon goes away. The magician explains that the goon ran off all of the jerks in the tunnel at the behest of 'The Doctor', and it's been a good place to live since, if you consider the world of Terminator's future to be a baseline for comfortable communal living.

Significantly (?) no one has ever met the doctor, according to the magician. Could it all be a scam that the goon is running, because the goon likes killing women? Also, the team thought that the first victim must be a tourist because she had a fanny pack, which would suggest that the victims aren't all being killed by the goon to resolve mole people disputes.

At the office, casino footage has arrived, and the fanny-pack woman has already been spotted! How? All they had was a skeleton with hair bleached white by the sun. They had to find a woman based on height and clothes - and that's operating under the assumption that she wore the clothes she was found in into a casino at some point. Also, they had no idea which of the casinos she'd been to, or when, other than 'more than three weeks ago, because that's when she was murdered'. So you're giving every hotel in vegas a picture of a shirt, and telling them to search the footage starting three weeks ago and going backwards in the hopes of catching a glimpse of her?

Would that not take weeks of work to accomplish? How could they possibly have this footage already?

Anyways, the woman was a mole person as well, who went to hotels with a partner - both dressed as tourists - and stole loose chips from distracted players as a way to make a living. They have the face of her partner on the video, and they're putting out an APB!

The magician shows off a mentalist trick at a party, hypnotizing someone for the delight of a small crowd! Then he becomes disgusted when he sees popular magician 'Romeo' make a woman disappear through the 'magic' of video editing!

We get some important backstory, though - the magician says that Romeo is just another hack who happened to get lucky, and reveals that the goon used to work security for him! Also the pickpocket's sister applied for a job to be his assistant! Could he be The Doctor, or is that way too much of a coincidence?

Reid chats with JJ about family drama - his mother went on an asylum-supervised field trip and didn't tell him! Was Jane Lynch busy? Then Joe and Derek briefly talk about con artists, and I'm forced to think about House of Games again, and feel sad about Joe's career trajectory. Even though he's currently more famous than he's ever been.

Garcia then calls with actual evidence. Facial recognition has identified the dead lady's partner as a small time drug dealer who moved to Las Vegas seven years ago and doesn't have an address. They still don't figure out the mole person connection, even though all three of their identified people didn't have permanent addresses.

This is especially odd, because in the scene where they talked to the waitress about the dead lady, the waitress specifically mentioned that the dead lady had been saving up to finally get an apartment - but they don't ask where she was currently staying. Even though checking out the victim's home is a completely normal thing to do, since there's every chance of finding a lead there. This is the characters refusing to ask important questions just so they can 'figure things out' later. It makes them look horribly unprofessional.

Time to check in with the mole people! Pickpocket wants to ask Romeo about his sister, but magician doesn't want to talk to that jerk. He just wants to save up all of his money so he can rent a stage and show off his mentalist talents, finally finding the success he feels he deserves! Then they hear some screaming from further in the tunnels, but the magician says it's just the goon sorting out trouble.

That trouble is a guy tied to a chain link fence! He accuses the guy of hiding money, but the guy pleads innocence! Then the goon goes to the hallway and gets orders from the doctor to kill the guy, but then we're shown a reverse angle... and there is no doctor!
Just like in that comic book! Or is that too obscure a reference?

What's going on with the goon, though? Is he simply crazy, or has he been programmed for murder by a master hypnotist? You know, like the one we've spent a third of the episode with?

The body is dumped in an alley, which Reid and Jeanne think is strange, because the goon could have easily been seen lugging the corpse around. In fact, why wasn't he? The 2/10 graffiti shows up again - Reid remembers a book he read about hobo codes from the depression - that could be a reference to their adage to look out for thieves! Thieves were particularly hated by hoboes, since they carried all of their possessions on them at all times.

Profile time! The team thinks the killer must be a cult leader, murdering people who he thinks are stealing from him! They say that the warning against stealing was important to put next to the bodies, because the corpses were meant to be a threat against anyone else stepping out of line. But the threat was written out in the desert where the mole people wouldn't have any occasion to go. So that seems like a stretch. Really, there's no concrete evidence at this point that the victims knew each other or were part of a community, let alone a cult-like group of mole people. Had they just found out from the waitress in the first interview that the dead woman was homeless I could see this connection, but they didn't, so it's a stretch.

Down in mole country, the goon is collecting a tax - it seems to be like half of everything the people steal. When he worries that an old man is holding out on him, he mentions the dead people - although he only claims to have run them off, not killed them. Then a new woman shows up, and pickpocket vouches for her to keep the goon from beating her to death!

What's going on with all the money goon is stealing? Is this the next egg for the magician's big show? Because it seems like it would be hard to put that kind of money together if you've got to give half of all your cash to the goon every few days.

Over at the autopsy, they discover that the new victim was strangled, rather than drowned! They also get a report back on the water from the first two victims' lungs! Again, I feel like only one of them would still have water in her lungs, but let's move on. It was full of pollutants, as if it was from the storm drains!

In moletown, the magician meets the new woman, and points out that she's super-clean for someone ready to sleep in a tunnel. He also notices that she has a nice watch, which one presumes that she could have just sold to help pay for her ticket home to Nebraska. How much can a bus ticket possibly cost? Two hundred dollars?

Then we get some info on the mole situation in Vegas - as many as 1500 people live in the 400 miles of tunnel! JJ suggests searching them, but I'm not sure for what. Their operating theory is that the killer tied up his victims in places where he knew that floodwater would kill them, then strangled the last guy because it didn't rain. What, exactly, would they be looking for? If you'd said you needed to start questioning mole people, sure, but what part about these murders suggests that a physical search would reveal anything?

Oh, and it turns out that the new lady in moletown is a reporter going undercover for a story! She stupidly talks about this loudly on her cell phone, allowing the goon to overhear that she's up to something, motivating him to club her in the head! Or possibly he was sent by the magician to club her in the head because the watch tipped him off to her being an undercover something.

We come back to the police station, where Reid wins the Prentiss Award for perhaps his worst attempt at geographical profiling ever:

Okay, two things: first, you've done zero investigation into these people's lives, so I don't know how you have a 'last location they were seen alive'. Secondly, and far more importantly, 22 miles apart? At its widest measurement, from the absolute north-western corner all the way down to Henderson in the south-east, Las Vegas is less than thirty miles wide. Most places it's less than twenty. Somehow Reid came up with a geographical profile so broad that he thinks the people could be living at opposite ends of the city. So, functionally useless, then. What did the points of data look like to create this result?

Oh, then they get a call about the missing reporter. Somehow she didn't tell her paper which specific tunnel she was investigating, so all they have to go on is where her cell phone was dumped, a site Reid announces is 30 miles away from the other two!

How are they getting the distances for Las Vegas so completely wrong? Also, how is the goon getting around the city so fast?

Garcia phones with some more information! The earliest victim was planning to leave the tunnels! Which is something all the other victims wanted! Yes, including the man! Who, in case I didn't mention it earlier, was the boyfriend of the first victim, who stuck around for nearly a month after his girlfriend was murdered. Honestly, at that point you're kind of asking to be murdered, really.

In the tunnels, pickpocket goes looking for the reporter, and finds her tied up and unconscious, ready to be flooded to death! Pickpocket isn't psyched about this, and grabs the pipe, but before a fight can break out, the magician appears, hoping to resolve the situation! His solution: have the pickpocket murder her, since he's the one who vouched for her.

So yeah, he's the doctor, it would seem.

JJ and Derek enter their tunnel - without any police backup - and immediately find a guy who can direct them to the goon! They arrest him, but will the goon lead them to the reporter in time? I guess that depends on whether it's rained recently.

Back at the station, the goon explains that the doctor can manipulate people into doing anything, but he's so freaked out he can't offer a clear description of the man. I'm not sure how they haven't found the reporter yet, though. We saw that she was behind a door like twenty feet from the main stretch where JJ and Derek just were, so unless the magician took her on a long journey, it seems crazy that she hasn't been rescued.

They do get a good clue about the magician, though - the name he's using as 'the doctor' is an anagram for the British doctor who invented therapeutic hypnosis! So it's time to de-hypnotize the goon!

Oh, and there's a check-in with the pickpocket and magician, explaining how they got away - the magician pretended to lead him to a hospital, but was actually leading him out into the desert for some private murdering! Although not yet, because it's still supposed to be a surprise that the magician is the bad guy?

Okay, things just got stupid. We intercut between the magician trying to talk pickpocket into killing the reporter and Reid trying to talk the goon into giving up his secrets. What's the dumb part? After they start racing towards the desert exit that the magician was headed for, we get a call from Garcia explaining pickpocket's backstory - although it's kind of strange that goon was ever aware of pickpocket's full name, since he only met the guy yesterday, and he's a jittery psycho.

The backstory - he went looking for his sister because she disappeared after not getting the Romeo job, and then called home leaving an incredibly troubling message, specifically mentioning the 'doctor'. That was an important enough detail that pickpocket made sure it got into the police report that he filed about his missing sister, which Garcia is now reading.

So pickpocket came to town with only two leads on his sister: 1 - she wanted a job with a magician. 2 - she was freaked out about a guy called 'the doctor'. Then, when the pickpocket ends up in moletown, the second person he meets talks about how 'the doctor' runs the place. Yet he shows no signs of alarm, or even hope now that he's got a lead on his sister. How is this possible?

It seems that it was possible because he'd been lying in wait all this time, hoping that the doctor would reveal himself, which he'd finally done! Seriously? He waited all this time? The second the goon started talking about the doctor, why not get the information out of him at gunpoint?

That's right, he has a gun. Which he points at the doctor just as the team arrives. They lie to the pickpocket and say that his sister died in another city, then take him away. Reid then asks the magician/doctor to confess, and he does, because there's no reason not to, since his goon is already testifying against him.

The End!

Except for a final scene where Reid gets a package from his mother, who didn't forget him after all!

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

I want to give them credit this time, but all they accomplished was to keep the magician from getting killed by the pickpocket, which would have been the optimal result. Also, they talked a lot about neuro-linguistic programming, which is advertising nonsense and shouldn't be coming out of the mouths of FBI agents.

Also, they wouldn't have had any trouble finding the killer and pickpocket as they walked slowly through the tunnels, had they just brought a sufficient number of police officers to back them up. The show even recognizes how ridiculous the setup is by having a looped line by Joe explaining that the cops are currently searching the tunnels.

So yes, the cops are already in the tunnels, but the team manages to get to the exit faster even though they have to drive from the police station to get there.

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

Maybe not the cops, but the pickpocket was going to shoot the guy to death, which would have been a better fate for the guy. I'm only surprised he didn't do it earlier.

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

3 - So what was the pickpocket's plan, exactly? He's been told that the doctor was a psychic manipulator, and if she disappeared, he was responsible. Then he met a psychic manipulator, and just kind of hung out with him for a couple of days, even going so far as to watch him psychically manipulate people at a party without feeling like that was enough evidence?

More importantly, was he targeting the magician specifically, or was he just wandering around and hoping to be recruited by the same mole people who murdered his sister? Or was he specifically showing off for the magician? If it's the first option, it's ridiculous to imagine that this would have worked, if it was the second, why did he wait so long to shoot the magician? He should have been on to him already, or almost immediately at least.

I still have no idea why the skeleton's boyfriend stuck around for three weeks after his lady mysteriously disappeared. That was the second woman to mysteriously disappear, and apparently he was just fine with it and kept being a mole person?

Most importantly, though, I have to ask about the reporter - this is a woman who was going to do an undercover story about tunnels crammed with dirt-poor individuals, low-end criminals, and sex offenders who can't live anywhere else... and no one knew exactly where she was? How? Huh?

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