Criminal Minds 1013: Nelson's Sparrow

It's late at night and an old-timey car rolls slowly down a dirt road. Is this a flashback? More Killbillies? A wealthy car collector about to get murdered by a serial killer who also collects antique cars? I can't wait to find out!

It's Reid, who apparently bought an old car because he doesn't have anything else in his life to spend money on! He's looking rough! But why?

We get a brief cut over to the team standing around a body of a black-haired man as a sheet is pulled over it. Did Mandy kill himself? That would be terrible. Would it be better if he'd been murdered, and they have to catch the guy?

Well, since Reid walks into the room and starts crying immediately, yeah, I guess that's exactly what happened. Ugh. Rough.

Garcia and Derek arrive, and Greg confirms what we'd all figured out. Mandy is dead! But was it suicide, as suggested by the gun next to the body, or murder? Let's find out together, after the credits!

The next morning, the body is being carted away, and we catch Greg saying something very strange on the phone - 'He's got a three hour head start and a high powered rifle' - he's letting them know where to set up the roadblocks, and warning them, which is good, but doesn't he only have a three-hour head start because you're only calling this in now?

When they found the body is was pitch black out, and in this scene we're at least an hour into morning. Is there a reason they didn't set all the alarms off last night when they found the body? Also, I guess this confirms that it's murder.

Some shade gets thrown by Greg and Joe, as they discuss how they hadn't talked to Mandy in years. Joe wonders if they were ever actually close in the first place. You were, but the job drove him insane, so he didn't stay in touch, because a lot of you guys live the job.

Love and JJ chat about Mandy for a couple of moments, and we see a picture of Mandy's rarely-mentioned son holding a baby! Mandy had a grandchild!

Outside, Greg and Joe note that the killer had a rifle and could have just executed Mandy from outside the window, but he was cruel and cowardly enough to wound and incapacitate him, then moved inside for the coup de gras. Or, alternatively, he's a bad shot, and hit Mandy in the shoulder instead of the heard, causing Mandy to fall to the floor of the cabin, making further shots from outside impossible. I'm saying that there are multiple ways to interpret the tiny number of facts you have, and you shouldn't be jumping to conclusions.

Also, the shots were at 3AM - why was he walking around his cabin at 3AM? Also, sunrise is at 7:15 at this time of year in Virginia, making this scene easily 8:30 or 9 AM - meaning the killer probably has something like a 5-6 hour head start, and could already be in Georgia by the time Greg told the state police to be on the lookout.

Also, Mandy's son arrives to talk to the team!

Then we see Garcia poring over Mandy's laptop, hoping to find a clue as to what he's been up to lately! For some reason a jpg of his driver's license is sitting on his desktop, but her open window is covering it so as to obscure Mandy's face, so they won't have to ask him about using his likeness rights.

It seems Mandy's been driving up and down the eastern seaboard over the last three months, all the way from Maine to Florida - is he tracking a nomadic serial killer, and the hunter became the hunted became the hunter?

Unrelated note - Garcia co-wrote this episode!

Greg and Mandy's son chat about him for a moment, but the son has no leads to offer.

Garcia, Love, and JJ are puzzled as to why Mandy had taken his time driving down to Florida, but then, just a couple of days earlier, sped all the way back up to Roanoke, which is well past his house! Reid thinks the only thing that could have motivated him to do that is if he fell in love again! Seems like a stretch, considering they still have no idea what he was doing traveling, but sure, Reid knew him best, so let's go with that and start searching phone records!

Greg and Derek break down the crime scene - despite being injured, Mandy fired a bunch of bullets at the front door as the guy went through it - but there's also a bullethole in the wall six feet away from the door. The bullet went right through a picture of a couple of feasting hawks. Was that act a secret message to the team?

Or, did a shot go wild because the killer fired another round into his torso to incapacitate him, the way you already established that he did. Joe thinks it's a lead, though, so he drags Reid off to a library!

Somewhere nearby, character actor Ayre Gross is in a wheelchair, trying to work a payphone. A woman comes up to attempt o help him - is the wheelchair just a ruse? He asks to borrow her phone, since the payphone is 'broken', and because he's in a wheelchair, she feels guilted into trying to help him!

Don't let this happen, ladies. Guilt is for suckers and serial killer's victims. The guy claims that his dog is sick, and he's calling a vet service because his van is broken down. Seriously? The sick dog ruse? The lady goes over to pet the dog, giving Ayre a chance to stop pretending to be crippled and club the lady over the head! If this is the guy who killed Gideon, it's kind of weird to murder a lady while he's still on the run. Then again, it could be a Peter Woodcock situation, and literally the moment he's out of prison he has to murder that day - the difference being that instead of 'out of prison', in this case it's 'the threat of Mandy catching him' that was hanging over him like a sort of Damoclean sword.

On the drive to the library, Reid talks about how he wished he had seen Mandy again, and laments that he'll never have the chance to again. Hate to say it, dude, but that's on you. Yeah, Mandy went on walkabout for a couple of months after quitting his job, but for the last eight years he's been living at his home, the cabin you knew the location of. At literally any moment you could have just driven over there and said 'hey, let's play some chess'. But you decided not to.

This is on you, Reid.

The library they were referring to is the old file lockers of the BSU down in the basement. Joe remembers a case from Roanoke county back in '78! Time for a flashback! The guy who plays young Joe in the Vietnam flashbacks is now in a suit, gabbing about his plans to get famous off the books he'll write to exploit human tragedy!

Young Mandy (BEN SAVAGE!) is looking at pictures of birds on a microfilm viewer. For some reason, none of the overhead lights are on. Mandy's got a case where the killer strangles women and drops them in shallow graves with a dead bird dropped in their hands! Is this the start of his obsession with birds? Do they represent the innocence that is destroyed by these killers?

Back in the present, we discover that they never caught the killer, and Joe assumes that when Mandy was in Florida he saw something that gave him a clue about the Roanoke case, which is why he rushed back. But what could it have been?

Joe calls the rest of the team, and lets them know that his theory is that Mandy shot the bird to let them know that he was looking into the 1978 case! That's just a ridiculous leap. Garcia goes a google search for Roanoke crimes, and discovers that a woman was found in a shallow grave two weeks ago! No foul play, no bird in the hand. Weird.

Did Mandy's investigation convince Ayre to stop murdering, and when his last targeted victim died of natural causes, he went back to his old crimes, starting by killing Mandy?

Then it's over to Ayre, who has the lady tied up to his wheelchair. He lowers her into a basement using a clever lift apparatus! There are birds all around the room!

The team sees that Mandy must have made the connection between the body in the shallow grave and those old crimes. Although that would be a stretch, since I doubt the body in the shallow grave in Roanoke would have been national news, and also it didn't match the signature at all - no strangling, no bird, different age.

The team has a guess for that, though - maybe this is a Collector situation, and he held a woman captive for 36 years, then only went hunting again when she died of natural causes! Not a bad guess, although it's a bit of a leap to assume that. I'd want to get an ME report that mentions a series of decades-old injuries that went untreated before they jumped to that conclusion.

On the drive, Joe hears that the deceased woman had red hair, which triggers another flashback!

Ben and Young Joe talk to a woman who thinks that her daughter was kidnapped - but no one else believes her! Young Joe explains that they only work with local law enforcement, so unless she can convince the cops to file it as a kidnapping, they can't do anything!

I'm not sure how the FBI got involved in kidnapping cases in the '70s, but wasn't it a federal jurisdiction crime even then? Could they not just swoop in if they wanted to?

They're really going hard on the 'Collector' comparisons here - when Joe and Reid go to talk to the victim's mother, they ask if she had a butterfly ankle tattoo, and she did! We immediately cut to Derek, who's looking at that very tattoo in the morgue. Isn't it a bit weird that her body is still there? She was found two weeks ago - does this place have oodles of morgue space so they can just keep unidentified bodies indefinitely?

Derek talks to the ME, who, coincidentally, was the ME from the original case! Convenient! He says that the woman died of cancer, but also that her legs were dislocated multiple times - he injures the women so that they can only move around on their hands and knees, turning them into pets! Because he's the worst!

Love and Greg head out to the crime scene, where the killer built a makeshift nest of twigs around the body - I guess that's why he didn't leave a dead bird in her hand, because she was supposed to attract them on her own now? Or maybe she had become the bird?

Then it's over to Ayre gross, who tries to feed his captive grubs, then dislocates her leg! It's quite unpleasant and unnecessary! Then he pops open his scrapbook and opens to the page with the photos of Gideon's dead body - he tapes some rings to the page! Was Gideon married and his wife died? I'd completely forgotten that if so.

Hey, how did this guy find Gideon? He lived off the grid in a shack in the middle of nowhere, and there's absolutely no way that his name or address would be searchable in any database. Remember what a big deal it was that someone actually managed to find out his address by hacking into the FBI because Penelope was terrible at her job back in season one?

Maybe they're going to claim that he was following Gideon, but he's clearly the kind of guy who wouldn't allow himself to be tailed - also, it's incredibly difficult to tail someone on dirt roads in the thick woods. If you're far enough back that they won't see you, you'll definitely lose them.

JJ and Garcia have some of Gideon's ice cream and reminisce, then an alert comes through about the missing woman! They go to the library where the woman works, and discover that it's a possible hub of the killer's activity. Each of the previous victims was kidnapped within a mile of it! Reid thinks it might be because libraries are havens for the lonely and misunderstood! He goes inside to ask around about the killer.

Also, they make the assumption that Mandy would only have wanted to call in the FBI after he confirmed his theory, but that's not how Mandy worked at all, this is the show just trying to justify stupid writing. He profoundly was not the type of guy to run off on his own, except for that one time with Frank, which was an extreme circumstance!

They go to the diner across the street - knowing about his love of pie! Turns out that Mandy had figured out about the library, and spent all day in his booth, staking out the front steps, hoping to see a creep walk onto the scene. Joe and Greg have a different theory - Mandy hung out in public all day so it would seem weird that a stranger was in town, hoping that the killer would notice him! Wait, they think he was trying to draw the killer's attention? Why would he do that?

Over to Ayre, who shows his victim a vision board about how he wants to turn her into a bird! Yuck!

Oof, the team tries to further justify Mandy's actions, announcing that this relatively small-time killer was his 'white whale' and he wanted to catch him on his own. Except the plan was to hang out in public, hoping to attract the killer's attention, which is a plan you literally can't do on your own, since you need at least one extra person to spot the person watching you.

This is becoming a deeply stupid way for Mandy to have gone out - he's done some silly things in the past, but would never have engaged in a plan this ridiculous.

Time for another flashback! They talk about the possible symbolism of the birds dropped in the hands, and Mandy talks about what a timid creature the hand birds are. They then theorize that the killer was targeting women with such low self-esteem that they didn't have a fight or flight response, and instead just cowed when attacked by the killer. This is contradicted by the fact that he clubbed the latest woman into unconsciousness, and she ran from him and fought him when she woke in his dungeon.

Oh, then they invent the term 'signature' to describe that element of a killer's MO, because they had to sign a check while talking about it. Oy.

The team all agree that the bird must have symbolized the women - even though they have no reason to believe that Mandy's random comment about bird behaviour being similar to victim behaviour being correct, and search for Audobon societies. When that draws a blank, they decide to check on where the previous victim worked, thinking that the killer might have been a co-worker who was obsessed with her. If that was the case, why kill the other women? Wouldn't she have been his first target?

Covet the thing you see every day, and all that?

One of the co-workers at the victim's workplace was the nephew of the local Audobon society co-founder, and he owns a farm and buys huge amounts of birdseed! He must be the killer!

Wait, there had been two bird-themed murders in town, then this woman disappeared, and no one thought to check in with the creepy guy at her work who stared at her all the time and was obsessed with birds? How was this case not solved 40 years ago? That's right, I want it to have been solved three years before it happened. That's how obvious this crime was.

More psychological torture with the killer and his victim, but really, who cares?

The team shows up, the woman is rescued, and the killer caught by Joe! He's a stumbling, stoop-backed weirdo, and I don't believe that he would have been able to follow Mandy home and kill him, especially since that's exactly what Mandy thought was going to happen.

As the team checks on the victim, Joe puts his gun down, so he can trick Ayre into going for his own, giving him an excuse to execute the pathetic villain! While no one is watching, Joe murders Ayre.

Then it's time for another flashback - Ben is guilty about failing to catch the killer, and then the chat about each of them having kids on the way! It turns out that Mandy named his son after Joe's middle name! They really did love one another, and that's why Joe had to murder the guy!

For the record, that's two different suspects that Joe has murdered for personal revenge, and he still has his job. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on JJ?

Actually, yes, I should, she also has severe PTSD, while Joe is a cold-hearted murderer. Like Derek!


Other than a scene of Reid being sad at the sight of a chessboard, while Greg and Joe reminisce outside. Joe earns himself a Prentiss Award!

Seasons change? Snowed in? Is this a joke? This episode is set in February, and all of the trees are green.

They tell a fun story, and Joe worries that he wasn't a good enough friend to Mandy. He absolutely wasn't - you could have driven out to see him at any point in the last eight years, and you didn't. You're a bad friend.

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

They chatted a lot about the guy's obsession with birds, and what birds might symbolize, but it didn't have much of anything to do with catching the killer.

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

They looked at who was in the victim's life, and they immediately found a creepy guy who was into birds. How was this not solved already? And don't tell me it's because the local cops didn't think it was a kidnapping - the two of them could have wrapped this up with an afternoon's interviews.

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

2/10 - This episode is a mess - mostly because of the Gideon stuff, as we're expected to believe that his plan to catch the killer was to just show up in Roanoke and hang out in public until the killer took a shot at him. But he didn't tell anyone this plan, or have any backup, or even the slightest idea about what he was going to do when the killer arrived.

What a terrible way for the character to go out. Unearned in every respect.

More importantly, however, it's troubling just how little thought is given to the victim who died two weeks earlier. While Jason was flitting around the country, yelling at people, that woman spend 36 years hobbling around a basement, hopeless and in agony. At any point he could have gone back to Roanoke and solved the case almost immediately. But he never did.

He gave her as much respect and care as the episode did, which is none at all. Even for a show entirely built around the brutalization of women, this is an extreme, disgusting example of objectification and misogyny. It's not worthy of the character, and it's not worthy of this show.

Long story short, this episode was terrible.

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