Criminal Minds 1002: Burn

The episode opens with a 'previously on' about the time Reid almost got killed in a hospital room and Garcia shot the guy who was going to kill him! Is it time for her to start PTSDing? Probably. I'm more interested in whether we're going to be checking in on the Matchmaker this week, or if they'll make us wait a few episodes.

The episode opens with a Green Mile situation, as a killer is being brought to the death chamber while a priest gives her the last rites! I say her, because of the way she's walking. It turns out Derek is there in the audience to watch the execution - but who is being strapped into the electric chair? Her head is hooded, so we have no idea! Then the audience starts chanting that they should just kill the guy already rather than, you know, strapping him into the chair so that his body doesn't flop around, and I realize that this must be a dream sequence, which is proven when the hood comes off and it's Penelope!

Yeah, PTSDing pretty hard. So Greg tells her to go take some vacation while Xander covers for her, but doesn't mention the pretty vital suggestion that she get some therapy. Although maybe she's already in mandatory therapy, so it's not worth mentioning. I mean, she killed a guy while getting a government paycheck, I don't know how you'd avoid therapy after that.

Okay, it turns out that she didn't kill the guy, just injured him. She's obsessed with Death Row because that's what the guy got sentenced to! It seems that after being arrested for attempted murder, he confessed to all the other murders he committed for the cop conspiracy, and now he's going to be executed!

It seems Penelope blames herself, and is super-guilty about being responsible for a man's death! A man she shot to save her friend's life, remember. Yup, she's been trying to get him off death row, and now she's going to go to Texas to apologize to the guy in person for getting him killed.

Yes, this is a storyline about Garcia feeling guilty about a paid assassin being sentenced to death because of the murders he committed. Oy.

Xander shows up to present the case! Two guys were killed in Seattle! One strangled, the other run over by a car - but the same killer may be involved, since they had mouth injuries unrelated to their deaths! The team wonders if it could be multiple killers, since the guys were different races, or if it's a case of a guy just figuring out the best method for murder! Greg assumes that if the guy is finding himself, that could mean another murder is imminent - because the concept of a cooling-off period doesn't exist in this world, and all killers are spree killers.

Then it's over to Seattle, where the killer - an Asian man wearing crazy goggles, drowns a black guy in a tub, to reinforce the 'crosses racial lines' thing! Also, the killer is hearing voices, but I can't make out what they're saying.

Maybe it's in a foreign language? In any event, I'm sure we'll find out what's going on after the credits!

Things get dumb on the plane, as they talk about the inconsistent details in the killer's M.O. Derek suggests that the killer's random methods and sloppy executions suggest that he's young and inexperienced, but then Jennifer responds with tonight's Prentiss Award-winning line.

Does this character believe that people get stronger as they get older? Does she assume that everyone is stronger at twenty-five than they were at eighteen, and that by forty they can kick down brick walls? Because if you don't think that, then you said a crazily stupid thing for no reason.

Then they find out about the new victim, who I guess was killed and dumped and found during the flight? Which is pretty quick work by the killer. Maybe he doesn't have a day job? Joe suggests that a spree is starting, so I'll just remind everyone that the concept of a spree shouldn't exist in their world.

Oh, and Reid goes to ask Derek what's going on with Garcia, but Derek doesn't want to talk about it.

Speaking of Garcia, we see her hanging out at the bus stop with all of the women and children heading up to the prison for visitor's day! I get the dramatic opportunities this scene provides, but would Garcia not just rent a car and drive to the prison? It's not like she doesn't have money. She's got a good government job and lives a modest life with no dependents.

Maybe she doesn't know how to drive? That's why god invented cabs, Penelope. Or, again, you have money, hire a car service.

I hope this plotline goes somewhere interesting, but unless it ties in with the Matchmaker somehow (the cops were involved in human trafficking, after all) that probably won't happen. Also, he's apparently being executed tomorrow, which means that Garcia was really leaving this until the last minute.

At the morgue, Derek and Reid discover an amazing clue! The killer has cut the numbers 3, 4, and 5 in to the roof of his victims' mouths. I'm not sure why it took them to come up with this clue, however - here's what the injuries looked like-

Yeah, there's no way even a barely competent M.E. could have looked at those and thought they were just 'random slashes'. Why not just have the M.E. tell them about the Roman numerals, and have them check for themselves?

Unrelated question - do they really keep dental mirrors around as part of a standard autopsy layout? This isn't a criticism, I really don't know, but thought it was a little weird.

Then it's over to the killer, who's building something out of wood, while the voices in his head count to nine! I guess they need four more victims?

By interviewing the three victims' families, Greg and JJ discover a connection - all of the victims had either sons or a 'little brother' who are in their early teens - could the killer be targeting stern paternal figures to teenage boys? If so, how?

Then it's over to the prison, where it turns out that doctor death doesn't want to see Garcia! Wow, she really did leave this right up until the last possible second, didn't she? She sends a note, hoping to change his mind!

Joe and Jennifer look at the abduction site for one of the victims - there was a small mark on the back of the guy's car. Their conclusion? The killer must have bumped into them, pretending it was an accident, then pulled over behind them and clubbed them over the head! There's some dialogue about how no one would have noticed this because of distracted driving, but man, does that seem like a stretch.

Jennifer mentions a case she worked on where a guy would bump into women's cars, then do a blitz attack and rape them right on the side of the road, which is horrifying and all, but why would she have been working that case? Was she formerly a regular cop? Did the guy go from state-to-state attacking women in the same way? Because the FBI generally doesn't work sexual assault cases.

Time for a Derek and Reid check in about Penelope! Reid explains that weird things happen the first time you kill someone, and he talks about killing the LDSK, Tim Omundsen way back in season 1! Here's the video:

I like the callback, but there's a couple of things wrong here. First, they shouldn't be calling him 'the LDSK', that was the team's internal code for snipers, not a press title. They've taken down a couple of snipers since, all of whom would have been classified as LDSK. So that's like Reid saying 'when I shot the UNSUB'. It's not useful information in a conversation with Derek - he should be using the guy's name, but the writers wanted to remind the audience, and they were worried that a character name wouldn't mean as much to them - even though they mention that he's a nurse.

The bigger problem, though, is the line 'all of the people that he killed'.

He killed two people. His whole thing was shooting to injure so that there would be a frantic mess just as he came on shift at the hospital. The first person he shot died, but after that he was careful to only injure people, except for the cop he murdered in one of the stupidest scenes the show has ever attempted.

If Reid had said 'pictures of all of his victims', that would have been fine, but saying 'all of the people he killed' suggests a number far, far larger than two. LDSK was so into not killing people that when he pulled his AR in the middle of a hospital and got the drop on a security guard, he not only didn't shoot him, he released the guy unharmed after briefly using him as a human shield.

I'm not saying that LDSK was a good guy, but it's kind of funny to discuss 'all the people he killed' when talking about a guy who steadfastly avoided killing people, and only injured people out of a desperate desire for appreciation and recognition. The only person he intentionally killed was a guy you provoked him into murdering by trying to take away credit for his crimes!

Kind of an amazing coincidence that I literally just rewatched this episode yesterday, isn't it? If he wanted to talk about shooting someone with a ton of bodies to his name, why not mention James Van Der Beek, who had at least six victims?

The team meets up to restate everything we've learned in the previous scene, so let's move on to the killer, who's busy murdering his next victim, who's begging for his life and apologizing for hitting a kid! This doesn't soften the killer's heart at all, and he seals the guy up in the wooden box he was building, then sets it on fire!

In Texas, Garcia calls Derek to ask for advice now that she's stranded in Texas, not able to even talk to the guy she's obsessed with! She's even staying in a crappy motel, which I would use as another example of 'you have money, idiot', except that it might be a well-observed point, since there are often crappy motels set up right near prisons in order to service the people who drive across the state for visiting day.

Suddenly Garcia gets a call from the prison! It's doctor death! He wants to see her!

Out at the new crime scene, Derek observes that the killer is 'definitely evolving' because he's switched to fire. Except he's already switched two other times, so you already knew about that. He also gets a text from Xander, who's found another two victims who match the M.O.! They were gassed and electrocuted before having Roman numerals carved in their mouths!

Wait, if there were already two people whose autopsies revealed Roman numerals carved into the roof of their mouths, why wasn't the team called in two weeks ago? That's not enough of a signifier that a serial killer is operating in the area?

Reid then notices that all of the punishments correspond loosely to the circles of hell in Dante's Inferno - and I don't know that well enough to predict the next two, but the final punishment is freezing, right? I guess Reid will fill us in.

Rather than waste a bunch of time explaining it, I'll just show this video covering the fact that the punishments don't fit the pattern at all! Just the drowning and burning, and really only the burning.

So yeah, while I could see Reid making the connection - 6=fire, none of the others match at all except for drowning, which is just a little close.

Also, a guy was chained to a fence and electrocuted, then had a Roman numeral carved into the roof of his mouth. How was the team not already working on this?

Their theory? The killer must be trying to get revenge on his own father, probably because he had a sibling that was abused by a monstrous father! Are you thinking that this theory comes out of nowhere? You're right!

It's based on the idea that in Inferno, Virgil was Dante's guide, so the killer must logically have an imaginary guide leading him through his crimes. Sigh... the kind of guess only a fictional character could make.

Also, apparently the guy just drives around all day and parks places where he might see fathers and sons together, then stalks anyone he sees being a jerk to his son in public. So no day job, then?

Xander searches the internet for anyone talking about Dante's Inferno online but living in Seattle, and comes up with a college student! Could he be the theoretical Virgil that they have no reason to suspect exists?

Perhaps, because when we cut to him in his dorm room, he's building a bomb! Luckily the team shows up and arrests him without incident before he can use it!

Garcia goes to talk to doctor death, who accuses her of just trying to make herself feel better. Which, you know, is obviously true. She claims that she's on his side, though, and talks about his bad upbringing, and that he's a victim too! Wow, Garcia is just trying to get rid of all her guilt, huh?

Not that she should feel guilty - A: the guy tried to kill her and Reid. B: He volunteered to be killed. They only had him on attempted murder. He's dying because he chose to confess and plead guilty. Just get over it, woman.

The team interviews the college kid, who claims to be guilty, but is certainly just trying to buy time so the real killer can complete his task. Maybe if they dig into the kid's backstory they can find his partner in murder?

In the prison, Garcia finally gets an answer for why the guy called her: He wants a witness to his execution, because none of his family showed up! She balks, naturally, although I don't know what she was expecting - I mean, you came all the way down to Texas and you weren't going to go to the execution?

The team tries searching through the kid's life to find who the killer might be - and it doesn't prove to be difficult at all, since his copy of The Inferno is autographed by his high-school English teacher! We then cut to the killer, in his classroom, who has a student complain that his father 'will kill him' if he gets another bad grade! Another name for the list, I guess?

It turns out the killer had an older brother, and the two of them were obsessed with The Inferno, and the older brother killed himself because of the father's abuse! Oh, and the father died recently, triggering the killer's descent into madness.

The killer has already grabbed the latest victim, and he brings him to a hole in his backyard and is planning to bury the guy alive! So he's completely abandoned his own theme, then? Because the next guy was supposed to get 'boiled in blood'.

JJ and Derek arrive at the hole in time to save the guy - and they explain that he skipped seven because he was planning on doing it to himself, because it's the punishment for suicide! Except according to their chart, it's violence that is punished with boiling. Also eight is being flayed by demons for the sin of fraud, so any way you look at it he's completely botched his list.

Still, talking about the guy's father gets him to put his gun down, so they don't have to shoot him. So... sad ending?


More with Garcia! She calls Derek again for advice, but again he doesn't answer! But her pleas to him make her realize that she's got to witness the execution, so it all works out!

Then when she gets home Derek is waiting for her! At like 5AM! He's a good friend.

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

If by profiling, you mean random guesswork, then yes! It was a banner episode for coincidence, because even with the Dante's Inferno connection, they never would have found the guy unless someone he mentored had gone nuts and planned to blow up his school. Seriously, if the guy hadn't coincidentally signed a book that he gave to a violent psycho, the case doesn't get solved.

Also, the guess about him having a dead brother is total nonsense. Plenty of people get obsessed with Inferno without having a sibling.

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

That's a big maybe. Given how openly and publicly the killer did all of his stalking and abducting - he seemingly worked only in broad daylight? I have to imagine that there were witnesses out there that the cops just didn't bother looking for.

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

1/10 - I'd love to go higher, but when it's 100% coincidence that solved a case, it's hard to justify bigger numbers.

Again, why was the team not already on the case? How does two corpses with Roman numerals scratched into their upper palette not merit a call to the FBI?

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