Criminal Minds 1003: A Thousand Suns

The episode opens on a plane, which is weirdly full of actors with speaking parts! Seriously, like six different people get lines! It's amazing! Anyhow, the plane's wifi goes out and it starts shaking like a leaf - will a killer cause a plane crash this week, immediately jumping to the second-highest body count of all of their quarries other than Frank?

The answer is yes! There's a plane crash out in a field in Colorado! It's such an important case that when JJ and Jennifer get a call from Penelope, they're told to head straight to the plane, rather than into the office! Which is something you'd think they would do more often, considering how frequently they call people at 2AM with a case. It's nice to see them belatedly smartening up, though.

So, why on earth would the team need to work on this case? Aren't crashes the NTSB's bailiwick? Well, it seems that someone on the ground thought they saw a streak of light going towards the plane, which might have been a surface-to-air missile, and the team is supposed to profile the mass-murderer!

Yeah, that's pretty tenuous. If someone had immediately claimed credit for the attack, I'd see getting the FBI and BSU involved immediately, but a witness seeing light? Such a stretch. What are they going to do, stand in a field and check to see if the light is still there?

Miraculously, one of the pilots has survived the crash! So that gives the team someone to interview after the credits! Again, that's the kind of thing that might have been of interest to them, but they shouldn't have been called in until he showed up.
Greg and Joe get to the command center that the NTSB and military have set up - just in case it's terrorism-related. It seems that the plane was hundreds of miles off course when it crashed/was shot down! Also key systems were deactivated in flight - so it was either hacked or one of the pilots was in on it! Hacked is the more likely options, given that we saw everyone on board having wi-fi issues before the plane went down. Also, there generally isn't a lot of turbulence before a missile hit, so that part seems like a reach as well.

Over at the crash site, Jennifer and Reid discover that the plane wreck is scattered over a mile, meaning that it broke up in mid-air, so a missile is back in the running! Oh, and Jennifer's sister and brother-in-law were killed on 9/11, so that girl in her house is her niece, who she's raised since she was a baby.

Also, and I'm not sure why this is relevant, but there's vomit around, suggesting that passengers were sick before the crash... but why?

The local crazy who saw the light describes a green trail and a blinding flash of light. Is that what SAMs look like? Like a small burner to get the missile airborne, and then a flash as the afterburners kick in to chase down the plane? Is that a thing? He also claims that he knows who was responsible for the attack, but before we can hear his thoughts, we cut over to some militia guys out in the woods, stashing their rocket launchers, grabbing some rifles, and asking where 'Cole', one of their missing guys is!

Could these guys be the domestic terrorists responsible for the crash, or are they just paranoid that after the crash the government is coming for them? We notably don't see a missile launcher in their stash, just a bunch of smaller rocket launchers. Is that significant, or just bad propsmanship?

At the hospital, the co-pilot is too freaked out to offer much information - he does mention severe turbulence before the crash. Could it have been the missile hitting the wing? You'd think an explosion from a missile would be more impressive than a thump followed by severe turbulence - wouldn't you have heard/felt the explosion as the wing was torn apart?

Greg goes to talk to the witness without the military officer in tow - the guy claims that the military was behind the attack, just like TWA 800 and Flight 93! Greg assumes he's just a crank, but then the guy volunteers that he's seen militia guys creeping around his property, which he thinks is proof of a Black-Ops situation!

Joe and Reid look over the map of where the plane went down, and try to calculate where a missile launcher might have been. Oddly, they don't use the location of the old crank's house when putting together their calculations. The big problem? Shoulder-mounted missile launchers can't hit targets that high in the air! Could someone on the plane have caused it to dive so that the missile could reach it? Unlikely, since if you could cause the plane to dive precipitously, why bother with a missile? Why not just crash the plane?

The vomit turns out to be a useful clue! It seems that the thing most likely to cause that is rapid up and down movement, which could only be caused by opening the climb slats in mid-flight, which isn't supposed to be possible if you're not in take-off!

Oh, and the co-pilot's wife has made it to the control center! Which seems incredibly suspicious - it was a flight going from Philadelphia, PA to Phoenix, AZ. Even if she lives in Phoenix, isn't that something like a six-hour drive? There's no way six hours is meant to have passed at this point in the story. Or maybe it has? This show is so garbage at timelines.

Garcia checks into everyone who lives in the area, trying to figure out who could be involved in a terrorist cell - the two options: 1: A guy who donated money to a mosque. 2: An army missile operator that was dishonourably discharged for being grossly insubordinate.

It's crazy that in America, being a Muslim makes you seem exactly as threatening as being a disgruntled ex-soldier.

Although, it seems that being dishonourably discharged is enough of a reason for a Judge to sign a search warrant, because in the very next scene the team is arresting all of the militia guys at their base! Oh, and 'Cole' is still AWOL, BTW.

The militia guys won't talk, and they didn't have any SAMs on their property, just plenty of illegal guns they'll be charged over. Everyone's concerned about the missing Cole, though - could he have done this on his own? Oh, and the Muslim guy was cleared off-camera.

Reid has a report on how the plane broke up! It happened along all of the weld lines, meaning that it was likely broken apart by the severe up and down motion mentioned earlier! It's kind of weird that Reid is explaining this, since the NTSB guys are the ones trained to know about that sort of thing. But they want the team to seem useful, I suppose.

The point is, the flaps were messed with - probably by hackers - until the plane cracked up and crashed!

They don't know about the wifi issues, of course, so the team discusses the possibility that either the pilot or co-pilot crashed the plane manually in order to commit suicide in the most awful way possible! Which has happened, so I can see why they'd think that.

In the hospital, the wife confirms that the co-pilot was grounded because of severe depression years ago - which is a little weird, since we were told just a few minutes ago that both pilots 'passed their background checks', and depression severe enough to take a guy's wings would be one hell of a red flag on any check Garcia was doing. Oh, and the guy went off of his mood stabilizers a few months ago, so there's that.

He's pretty sure he didn't crash the plane, though. He remembers arguing with the pilot about something, and turning off the communication system, but he doesn't know why! His wife thinks that the pilot was the problem - the guy rented a room to a foreign student who was supposedly very strange and obsessed with planes!

Oh, and Cole turns up at the base. He was hunting squirrels. Disappointed.

They finally turn up the black box, which has the cockpit recorder! As we assumed, the controls started going nuts without the pilots doing anything, and that's what they were arguing about! The communications system was shut down because they attempted a full system reboot!

The team gathers around to talk about plane hacking! This leads to Reid getting the Prentiss Award-winning line of the night:

How can you possibly know that, Reid? Wouldn't terrorists love to be able to crash planes remotely? Nothing about the fact that it was a hacker rather than a bomber suggests the type of person you're looking for, other than a different set of technical skills.

That being said, if you sketched out the general traits of serial killers and terrorists - religious mania, sociopathy, hatred of women - there would be a lot of overlap. Let's be honest here, any distinction you want to make between terrorist and serial killer is cosmetic at best.

Then we cut over to the killer's Unabomber shack, where he's got a bunch of wooden furniture and a huge computer setup for crashing planes!

Back at base, we learn that the co-pilot's wife has been getting death threats, since people aren't psyched about him surviving. Because people suck, I guess. Also the team is sure that the killer didn't pick this flight randomly, and that he'll have a connection to someone on board that he was trying to kill. Which is, you know, nonsense - that's like saying an arsonist would only burn down buildings if he wanted to kill a specific person living inside of them, which is just not how that kind of compulsion works. Since they probably won't be able to find him if this wasn't the case, though, I guess we'll just let them have it for now.

The killer hears the news that the co-pilot survived, and it prompts him to decide on his next target!

Which, how does he have one of those? Even if the president doesn't ground all flights the way they want him to, they're operating under the theory that he's using some kind of a transmitter to directly target the plane's systems - so wouldn't airlines at least give this part of Colorado a couple-hundred-mile berth?

This is a perfect example of the way the show always requires a 'ticking clock', even when it makes no sense in the narrative. Any normal person would see a story about a serial killer on the loose, and they'd agree that he needed to be caught and punished for his crimes, which would have the knock-on effect of also saving potential future victims. That's not good enough for the producers of Criminal Minds, though - for them, the team must always be - in addition to catching and punishing criminals - preventing an imminent death/rescuing a specific person. They truly feel that the audience won't care about the stakes unless someone is about to die when the team catches the killer.

They're so unwilling to deviate from this formula that you end up with an episode like this, where there's no way the killer could threaten another plane, but since the plot requires that he does, reality is bent in his favour.

Oh, and Garcia has spotted a person on the plane who was sent a death threat - it's the Oppenheimer 'I am become death' line from Hindu scripture.

It turns out that flights have been grounded, but too late to stop a plane from flying over the threat zone - it's out of contact... but why? Seriously, though - even before the grounding order, there shouldn't have been a plane with a flight path going over Colorado - while they didn't know about the hacking until just recently, 12 hours ago they thought people in Colorado were shooting down planes with missiles. That's more than enough reason to give the state a wide berth.

Yeah, it's not hard to catch the killer at all! As usual, Garcia does all of the hard work. The lady from the plane went on a terrible blind date with the killer eight years ago, and then he withdrew completely from society, popping his head up only to talk about how awesome Robert Oppenheimer was. They assume he's going to keep killing people, since Oppenheimer had a bunch of bombs go off, but we're left with a puzzling question: a woman he disliked just happened to get on a plane to go to a sorority reunion that had a flight path that just happened to cross over the relatively small radius within which he can crash planes? That's a coincidence too far, show.

We get a scene inside the new plane - it's being piloted by Lyta Alexander, of all people! They have trouble with their controls, because that's the whole premise of the episode.

The team discusses how hard it's going to be to track the killer down - since the predicted radius of his control setup is 28 square miles! Also, NORAD is planning to shoot down the latest plane if the team can't find the killer and shut down his control, because they're afraid that the killer will crash it into a populated area!

Which is just so dumb - first off, as far as we can tell, he can't control the plane outside of his radius, and there isn't a city within it - but more importantly, even if he could keep flying the plane outside of his transmitter ranger, there's no way he could aim it accurately at anything, even a city. He's making it crash by wobbling it in the air, and he doesn't have access to real-time data about exactly where the plane is, so how could he possibly bring it down at just the right moment?

At the control center, they realize that there's a big football game happening at that very moment! Which, again, there's no way he could accurately aim the plane into. Hell, he just destabilized the whole thing by putting down its landing gear at cruising altitude - this is not exactly a guided missile.

Luckily the killer was one of the people who called to threaten the co-pilot, and despite the fact that he's some kind of super-genius, he left the GPS active in the phone he called from, so Garcia is able to immediately send the team his location! Convenient!

Okay, things just got even crazier - the show is now saying that yes, once he's taken control of a plane via his transmitter, he can fly it indefinitely - and he's just turned it towards Washington D.C.! Which gives them like 2 hours to kill before they have to shoot it down. Thanks, killer!

More importantly, the people in the plane are just kind of hanging out, and things seem to be going smoothly even though a couple of scenes ago the landing gear were lowered, which should completely screw with its aerodynamics.

There's also a guy on the plane who is shocked to discover a news story on his laptop about planes being grounded after the crash in Colorado! Which is kind of silly, since the plane crash was like 30 hours ago and would have been international news all day yesterday - and it's actually a little strange that there's anyone on this flight at all. I'm no psychologist, but when you hear about a plane mysteriously going down over Colorado, and they have no idea what caused it, would you be psyched to fly over that same stretch of land?

Next up, the team attacks the Unabomber cabin where the guy is controlling the plane with a standard RC rig with some extra circuit boards attached, and they try to negotiate with him - but have no luck! He tries to crash the plane, so they shoot him, which destroys the controller as he falls! They've brought no electronic or flight specialists with them, so they just have to hope that breaking the controller was all they needed to do!

And it was!


It's that abrupt, by the way. The plane makes an emergency landing literally twenty seconds after the killer was shot. The only way that could have happened is if the killer's random turns and dips had - in another amazing coincidence - aligned the plane perfectly with a miraculously clear runway long enough to service a giant passenger jet!

Come on, Criminal Minds. Is there anything you can't ruin with your compressed timelines? Why not just have Lyta come on the radio and say 'we've regained control of the airplane and we're heading for airport X, eta 17 minutes'? Would that somehow be less of a satisfying climax?

Then they drop by the crash site, where everyone is sad about the dead people, and Jennifer is especially so, due to the 9/11 connection.

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

God no. One of the people on the plane had a direct connection to someone who A: had an obsession with the death-cult aspects of Robert Oppenheimer, and B: the skills necessary to pull off this mass murder. Their efforts were largely irrelevant.

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

They just checked into the backgrounds of the people on the plane. Standard operating procedure. Also the killer phoned one of his victims. So there's that.

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

1/10 - Gosh, very little of this made sense!

1 comment:

Ethan said...

Very thooughtful blog