Criminal Minds 1004: The Itch

On a highway in Atlanta, a guy does some comedy texting-and-driving, then gets just distracted enough to almost hit a guy wandering out in the middle of the road, grabbing at his head! The almost-manslaughterer stops his car and - rather than immediately call 911, runs across a busy highway to try and get the guy out of danger! Because they're called Good Samaritans, not Smart Samaritans.

So the guy, who's scratching at his skin, demanding that something get off him, wanders into traffic again and gets hit! Presumably fatally, but who knows?

Then it's over to Quantico, which is again introduced using a shot of Washington D.C., because it's as if the showrunners are teasing me with how little they care at this point.
You can't even say that Quantico is supposed to be off in the distance of the shot, because it's due south of Washington, and the view from the Capitol to the Washington Monument is facing due west.

Garcia introduces the case - the man was a reporter who disappeared a couple of days ago, and the local cops want FBI help determining why a person with no history of mental problems would suddenly go insane and throw himself into traffic! I don't know if that's a problem big enough to scramble the whole team, but maybe it's a slow week in serial killering?

My question is how did he get out into the highway? Did someone drop him off? Did he wander away from where he was being held? Inquiring minds want to know!

Then it's time for a super-disgusting interlude, as we see the presumptive killer watching a video of him interrogating the reporter, while at the same time he has a bizarre fantasy about catching a bug moving under his skin and sucking fluids out of it!

Ick! I guess that's what the reporter was talking about before his suicide!

Garcia phones while the team is on the plane - she has no facts to offer, but something weird did happen: the dead reporter's editor filed an injunction to keep the police from performing an autopsy on him! The big question is why, of course, and they're going to head over and ask, but I'd like 'how' to come to the forefront. Why would the editor or their lawyer have any say in the matter? Don't they do autopsies on most people who die in suspicious circumstances? Unless there's a religious objection, this seems like a weird way to waste the M.E.'s time!

At the police station, the witness tells Joe and Derek about the scratching and the way the guy yelled 'get them off me', so they'll doubtless get to the fantasy insects pretty quickly.

At the paper, the editor explains to Jennifer and Greg that the reporter was using illegal drugs to deal with back pain, and he didn't want anyone to know about it! Which is actually a pretty nice thing to do, even if the result would be to screw up a police investigation. Oh, and the reporter was working on a story about 'vaccines'.

Then Garcia, plinking away on her gel keyboard while the foley artist puts in mechanical keyboard sounds-

(Why isn't this pink, BTW?)

Finds another lead! The reporter received a call from a prepaid cell phone shortly before disappearing - and that same prepaid cell phone just recently made a call to an entomologist! Which is what's going to help the team put the 'bugs under skin' thing together.

It should also let the team know roughly where the killer is located, since they know what cell phone tower the call was routed through - and if it's the same tower as the call from four days ago, they'll know his home base is most likely in that area! That doesn't get mentioned, though.

It seems that the selfsame doctor was abducted from his office soon after the call! Which the police had  written on their case board as a 'robbery/assault', although I don't know how they could have gotten it that wrong. Someone heard the doctor being attacked, and then called the police, but then when the cops got there, and the doctor was missing, why would you call it in as a robbery/assault before you'd determined the victim's condition or location?

Speaking of his location, the doctor is tied to a chair, while the killer tries to convince him about something they'd previously discussed! We're not given any details, of course, because it's too early in the show for that - just a snippet of the killer claiming that something is turning his blood black while he looks at a vial of normal blood.

The doctor tries to explain to the killer that he's got mental problems. It doesn't go great, and the killer grabs a knife!

Over at the morgue, we discover that the reporter had deep scratch marks all over his body! Also he was going through heroin withdrawal while kidnapped, so he'd obviously be more prone to suggestions of insect-based itchiness. Reid also notices some weird welts behind his ears! Which are so puffy that I'm not sure how the doctor could have missed them.

In the killer's lair, he puts the doctor in a section of pipe and dumps roaches all over him! If this guy survives, he'll probably need a new specialty.

He doesn't survive. The doctor's body shows up in an alley a few hours later, shot in the head. The assumption? He wouldn't play along with the bug theory, so the killer just shot him. They figure that part out because there was a roach inside the victim's nose!

Just all kinds of ick this week, folks.

Time for the profile! Do you think that it will include mention of the fact that the killer repeatedly contacted the doctor with theories about the bugs under his skin, and the doctor's office will no doubt have records of that?

Of course not, because that would be useful information to the police!

The long and short of it is that they identify him as the kind of person who thinks they have bugs under their skin, so they should check with doctors and scientists who work in the field, since he likely wouldn't have jumped right to kidnapping and executing people!

The scene with the doctor already confirmed that, of course, since the doctor was acting like the guy had come to him a bunch of times with crazy theories before the kidnapping, but that might have just been inartful scripting.

Oh, hey - I just realized that the guy walked into a university research lab, had a fight loud enough to get the cops called, and then dragged a man out, presumably at gunpoint. So there's definitely security footage of the killer, right? Plenty of it?

Then we see the killer at a support group for people with undiagnosable (read: psychosomatic) conditions! A woman talks about illnesses that science can't help with, and the killer seems fascinated! Is this about to turn into an adaptation of "BUG"?

While the team eats dinner, Reid recognizes that there's a lot of crossover between people who think they have insects under their skin and people who believe in 'morgellons', sinister threads that appear as if from nowhere in people's flesh! Garcia tracks down the support group, but they find that they just missed it!

The killer goes on a date with the sick lady! They hit it off because they have complimentary psychoses! Seriously, just watch BUG, people.

Oh, and the support group leader doesn't want to help the FBI, because of conspiracy theories, and they can't even convince her with pictures of corpses! She's a tough one, that's for sure! So Garcia checks on her financial records, and discovers that after the meeting, she went out and bought a bunch of diaper rash cream!

Solving crimes is simple when you don't have to worry about warrants, right?

The next morning, the group leader goes to check on her friend, the sick lady - and the killer interprets her arrival as part of the conspiracy! Which is a little strange, actually. Everything we know about his psychosis would suggest that he reacts violently to people who don't believe him, but both of these women are 100% on his side. So why would he suddenly decide that she's a threat?

In a startling coincidence, she gets a phone call from the team while she's knocking on the door, meaning the crazy couple are able to hear that she's working with the feds! Uh-oh. She manages to leave without incident, though.

At the office, Greg 'profiles' that the group leader had a baby die, based on the fact that she uses diaper rash cream to sooth her imaginary itching. Of course, this is obviously a con - if they looked enough into her to check all of her financial transactions, they obviously found enough biographical information to manipulate her in the interview!

She lets them know about how creepy the killer is, and that he might have been at sick lady's place! In the next scene, Joe and Jennifer are kicking that door down, because while it's important to catch this guy, it's obviously not important enough to let one of the cops, who was 15 minutes closer, handle the arrest.

By the time they arrive sick lady is alone, and announces that they'll never find the killer!

That's not the case, of course - the killer has gone to the one place they possibly could find him: the group leader's house! Which the cops return her to, since no one has any reason to believe she's under threat.

They ask the sick lady where the killer is, but she won't talk, and claims that the government tried to kill him with a vaccination! They ask her where the vaccination was, and using the assumption that she'd scratch herself whenever they were right, eventually figure out that he worked at the CDC, where the workers get injections all the time!

Then the killer abducts the group leader, so the episode can have a ticking clock.

Joe and JJ go to talk to the CDC scientist - one Jules-Pierre Mao (!) - who explains that the killer had shingles, and they gave him an injections that deadened the nerves in his arm, but he developed psychosomatic itching that he assumed was roach larvae! Jules explains that they tried almost everything to convince him that he wasn't sick, but it didn't work! Joe wants to know what they didn't try, but the show doesn't let us in. Is it 'pretend that it's real and that you have a cure'? Or is that way too obvious?

In the killer's lair, the killer starts torturing the group leader with spiders, the thing she's most scared of! In another amazing coincidence, he had a briefcase full of spiders ready to go for just such an occasion-

Seriously, why does he have a custom spider case? What is going on here?

The team rushes into his lair, which is:

That same house from Blood and Bone and the Suspect Behaviour episode 'Strays'!

It's a genuinely creepy location, that's for sure.

Anyway, they do the 'we have a trick to make them go away' thing, and then Joe punches him out when they get close enough!


Except for a scene where JJ tries to explain to the sick lady that everything can have a happy ending now! Because she's crazy, the lady doesn't believe it.

The group leader has given up her craziness, though! It seems that spider treatment and having a gun shoved in her face was all it took to get her over the loss of her daughter!

So... that was some lazy psychology, huh?

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

Yup! They identified the scratching as bug-psychosis-related, then extrapolated from there until they had some decent leads! It's a good example of using their familiarity with mental disorders to provide actionable information!

I'm not sure how they found the killer's lair, though. It was a condemned wreck that he obviously didn't live in before going insane, so what led them to it? Literally the moment they found out the guy's name they rushed there with zero explanation for how that happened.

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

Well, they doubtless had security footage from the university of the murderer kidnapping that guy, and once they publicized it he would have been identified and caught fairly quickly! Honestly, probably faster than the team managed it.

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

6/10 - Hey, how did the reporter end up in the middle of a freeway? The guy was hiding out in a house in the middle of a run-down industrial area. How does a guy get from there to a 4-lane divided freeway on the outskirts of town?

Did the killer put him there? If so, why? He wanted a reporter to write about his condition, and he had obtained a reporter who believed his condition was real (at least as long as he was going through heroin withdrawal, anyhow). Why not get that guy back home so he could write about it?

Also, the idea that the reporter didn't have any notes about his work is just absurd. No one relies entirely on their memory, and a guy used to working on super-dangerous cases, as this guy was, doesn't go to meet a possible source who's ranting about government conspiracies without letting someone know.

They never did get around to mentioning the cell tower information, either. Just a ton of sloppy work this week, cops.

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