30.11.19

Criminal Minds 1020: A Place at the Table

The episode opens with an old-time recording of Jingle Bells being played as the camera takes in a well-appointed house full of antiques, ending on a push into a family portrait where pointedly zero people are smiling.

We then see that the furniture has been upset by a struggle! The cops enter, are startled by a cat, and then notice the blood trail that the cat left on the carpet! They follow it into the dining room, where the family's mother, grandmother, and two of the children have been tied up and slaughtered at the dining room table!

Then it's over to Greg's house, where he's thanking his sister-in-law for looking after a field trip after his day off was canceled by this brutal mass murder! He notices that she's troubled by something, but is too preoccupied to do anything about it! Has she finally decided - after five years - that being a live-in nanny to her nephew isn't a fulfilling life, or is something else going on?

In the briefing room, they do a virtual walkthrough of the crime scene for some reason. Like, I have no idea why they're doing this. Bethesda is a one hour drive from Quantico if you have the ability to run sirens, which they do. What could possibly be so time-sensitive that they need a video feed right now?

It's not like they're deciding whether or not to take the case - the mother of the family was an heiress, obviously they've been called in. Why aren't they already there? Unless they want to do a jump scare where they see something surprising through the video feed? Of course, that can't happen, because they'd have secured the house before phoning the FBI.

Oh my god, that's exactly what happens. The other son runs through the back of the frame and is tackled by the cops, so they can do a found footage thing where the camera is kicked and suddenly we go to a snowy screen! Because that's a thing that still exists.

So, anyhow - family murdered at a dinner table, son as a suspect, Holiday music in the background - I'm calling it now, this is an adaptation of the book Scavenger, which I have a very complicated relationship with. Seriously... it's... troubling. Then again, this could be a complete coincidence, because the father wasn't also killed, and I was so traumatized by Scavenger that I'm seeing it everywhere!

Let's find out if it's a rip-off, after the credits!

Hey, with that horror-movie opening and interesting use of music, could this be a Matt Gubler episode? I'll have to check as the credits start! If so, it would be the least dramatic opening to one of his episodes ever, but it would at least have a single horror cinema trope. The real question is if a horror celebrity shows up.

It turns out that the guy they arrested wasn't the other son after all, just some guy who lives locally! But what was he doing inside the house, covered in blood? So the father and other son are missing, and notably, everyone was shot in the head except for the mother, who was strangled. Wait, those are all murders where you're not likely to get blood on you, and the random guy is absolutely covered in blood. What's the deal here?

The bloody guy says that he's the son's boyfriend, and that despite the father's disapproval of his son's sexuality, he was being brought over for the mother's birthday party! This led to a fight downstairs, so the boyfriend went upstairs to smoke some pot until the heat died down. Then, when he woke up, everyone was dead, and he panicked and hid!

It's not a great story, of course, but they can test him for drugs and check his hands for gunpowder residue - not that that's the most reliable test, what with automatics and gloves and whatnot. Joe doesn't know what to think!

You know, it just occurred to me that they already kind of did a Scavenger episode on Criminal Minds - the book is about a psychopath who organizes an elaborate scavenger hunt full of clues based on a guy's life, with the life of a kidnapped woman at stake. So maybe this is the second time they've been influenced by it?

Or, again, maybe the book and show are equally clich├ęd!

At the house, Reid and JJ notice something strange - the killer put all of the used dishes in the sink! And he had four place settings for the murdered family members, but there was also a fifth glass of wine so he could share a toast with them! Well, their corpses, anyhow. There's blood spatter under the plates, so the whole dinner performance was after they were already dead!

In the lounge, the team thinks that the broken furniture looks like someone was just breaking furniture, rather than actually involved in a fight, but it seems like that would be something difficult to glean with just a glance. Then they notice some blood on the record albums!

Greg and Love are still at the office - there's no sign of the father or other son at the son's apartment, and their credit card transactions have revealed nothing! Also, the daughter's boyfriend was supposedly at the house on the night of the murder - so that's a third person to go looking for! Joe and Derek enter the room - turns out they did all of the tests I suggested, and the lack of gunshot residue and the fact that he's still extremely high suggests to them that he couldn't have been involved in the crimes!

Garcia finds a possible motive! The eldest son has been given a monthly stipend of five thousand dollars to live the high life, but it recently stopped - could being cut off have driven him to murder? Before Greg can question her further about her findings, he gets a call about something shocking at the museum field trip! Has his sister-in-law collapsed, and she was hiding a severe illness?

The daughter's boyfriend claims not to have been at the party! He says that he was working at one of those terrible delivery companies that makes people use their personal cars but doesn't pay a fair rate for gas! Ah, capitalism. He tells them that the family's father was a creep, who bullied everyone and was unhealthily obsessed with his children's sex lives. Also he had some kind of a serious problem with the older - still missing - son, but it was a family secret that he didn't know anything about!

Okay, I was completely wrong - apparently the sister-in-law was upset because her father (ED ASNER!) has been suffering from dementia! He went to the store he used to run and shattered the window because he didn't know that he didn't own it anymore, and he had to vent his rage somehow!

Wow, things just got so confusing that I had to rewind twice just to check the facts. Reid and JJ walk into the room and drop the bombshell - the fingerprints on the fifth glass belonged to Lance! This baffled me, because why would that be a surprise? The missing people are Frank, the father, and Dylan, the n'er-do-well son, the four bodies at the table were grandmother, mother, daughter, and Lance, the gay son. Yet they're acting shocked that he would have had a glass. Why is that weird?

I went back and watched the scene where they find the five glasses in the sink, and sure enough, they assume that the fourth glass is Frank's not Lance's - but why would they, when Lance is one of the bodies left in the room at the dinner tableau? This is one of the things that I'm sure made sense inside the writer's head, but is just incoherent outside of it, and they make the show so quickly that no one bothered to ask.

As the team debates possible motives, Garcia enters with news - Dylan has appeared, turning himself into the local cops!

Over at Greg's house, he talks to the sister-in-law about Ed's Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but until any of this becomes relevant to the case, I'm just going to skim past it.

In the interrogation room, we learn that Dylan was supposedly hiking for the past week, and only just now discovered that his family was dead! According the boyfriend he wasn't at the murder dinner, so who knows if that's true?

Dylan has a bunch of stories to offer that completely conflict with everything we know about the case! His father is a dirtbag, Lance's boyfriend is violent, his sister was trampy, and her boyfriend was a secret gay who was just using her to get close to Lance! Damn, that's a lot of extra suspects! Also, he says that his dad is definitely the killer, but while he's badmouthing everyone else, he doesn't give a good reason why he thinks that. Which is strange, given all of the badmouthing.

Okay, it's possible that the father has a secret extra child? Garcia discovers that he's been paying 40K per year in 'consulting' fees to a non-existent company. The payments happen twice a year on the same date each time, and one of those dates is Christmas Eve, possibly explaining the music! Oh, and the show tries to get away with saying that the payments stopped 'ten months ago', right at the same time that he stopped paying money to Dylan!

The show wants us to draw a connection between these two things, but that's not possible to do. Why? Because there wasn't a payment due 10 months ago. The payments went out at the beginning of May and the end of December - this episode was set in April, 2015, and 10 months ago was June, 2014. Garcia's list of payments clearly shows that the May 2014 payment went through, however, so even if the guy had decided to make any more payments, no one would have noticed their absence until December!

How can you get this so wrong, people?

Then we get some leaps - one weird, one not so much. Despite being cut off and in debt, Dylan was looking for DC condos a week earlier! Also, they confirm Dylan's story about Lance's BF kicking a dent into the father's car. Which Joe chooses to assume means Dylan is telling the truth about everything! Also, I'm not the only one having trouble keeping all of these characters straight, because Joe also refers to Lance's BF as being 'the odd man out in a love triangle', which he wasn't. He was Lance's BF - it's the daughter's BF who Dylan said wanted to be with Lance but hadn't done anything about it.

How are the people making the show worse at keeping track of this plot than I am? Literally nothing Joe heard in any way impugns Lance's BF's testimony, but Joe is acting like he has a silver bullet! Also, JJ? Why do you keep confronting Dylan while he's telling his story? It's like interrogation 101 to let the suspect tell their version of events from beginning to end so that you have locked-in testimony which you can then tear to pieces.

Garcia gets us a little more info - Dylan used his car to buy a bunch of gas the previous day - enough to get him to New York and back! Or, you know, Scranton, or a bunch of places west. The camera focuses on the New York part of the map, though, even though there's no obvious reason to do so.

Joe goes back to Lance's BF - who's still covered in blood, by the way. Couldn't you have let him wash off after you did all of the evidence collection? This seems pretty cruel, at this point. Joe starts off by lying to Lance's BF (Ezra, from here on), and claiming that he has info that the daughter's BF (Mark), and Lance were together a bunch! That's not what Dylan said, of course, this is just an incredibly risky interrogation technique. Ezra says that Mark was straight, and was cheating on the daughter all the time, and Lance confronted him about it! It's just twist after twist after twist this week!

Wait, was Mark the secret fourth child, and he was trying to get close to the family but wouldn't sleep with the daughter because she was his half-sister? Or is that too soap-opera-y for this show?

Oh, and according to Ezra, the parents were about to get divorced, so it's just a melange of motives this time!

More stuff with Greg and Ed - obviously he blames Greg for his daughter's death, and it's sad! But again, not really relevant to the case yet, so let's move on!

JJ and Derek go to confront Dylan about his lying - turns out he's been working as a chauffeur for call girls, because he's broke! He'd been blackmailing his father because he knew about his father's affair, but the father stopped paying him, because he ended the affair and told the mother! Naturally he cut off the child support at the same time, precipitating Mark's murderous rage!

I'm all-in on this crazy theory, huh?

The team goes over some theories about how a 50-year-old woman could have killed everyone. Well, she had a gun, so I'm going to say... easily? They raise the possibility that the father could have been in on it, and they planned to kill the family so that he could inherit the wife's money and the two of them could flee. Except, you know, you can't inherit money when you're the prime suspect in a mass murder.

Garcia tracks down the mistress - as predicted, she'd been living well above her means until ten months ago! Which, again, should have been five months ago, just before Christmas, but who cares if the show lacks even the most basic ability to follow a timeline?

Reid and Joe go to arrest the mistress, but she runs away and trips - a gun falls out of her purse! Her hand touches it, and they threaten to shoot her, then later, in the interrogation room, they accuse her of 'pointing' a gun at FBI agents. Which is only accurate if you define 'pointing' as 'one finger grazing a gun that's lying on the ground'. She claims that she'd been the husband's exclusive mistress for 26 years, and mentions that they met when she was a single mother of a two-year-old son. Except later in the conversation, she mentions that her son graduated high school 'six years ago'. So unless she had a second son, with Frank, then this math makes no sense - the child she mentions would be 28, and someone who graduated high school six years ago would be 23 or 24. Mistake, or lie?

At Greg's house, there's a heartbreaking conversation about putting Ed in a home! The only thing I learned from it is that, no, the sister-in-law doesn't live at Greg's place, she's just there all the time.

The entire point of the next scene is just to have Reid notice the math I mentioned above. He's supposed to be a genius, but he didn't notice it at the time? Was he blinded by how awkward it was the way that she mentioned her son graduating high school for no good reason? Because I wasn't!

Garcia can find no records of the mistress' son - suggesting that he was home-schooled, home-doctored, specifically to hide his existence so that Frank's family wouldn't find out? How would they, though? Like, as long as she didn't put the father's name on the birth certificate, couldn't she have had a perfectly normal life with the kid without anyone finding out? How did she get the kid his vaccinations if he didn't have any record of his existence?

Why isn't this kid dead from mumps?

Greg suggests that the Christmas and May payment dates might have been centered around Christmas and the kid's birthday! So Garcia starts checking - then they finally get around to my deduction of ages ago, that Mark was refusing to have sex with his half-sister! Well, thank god they got there eventually! Weird that they didn't do a background check of any kind on Mark when they brought him in for questioning, or they would have figured this out right away, because we learn that the mistress did, in fact, put a fake father's name on the birth certificate, and there was a record of his birth.

Why would this have given them the solution immediately? Because the mother listed on the birth certificate has the same name as the corporation that Frank had been paying money to for 25 years! So yeah, Garcia not doing the most basic background check of Mark when they pulled him in caused this case to drag out for another twenty minutes. Thanks, show!

Oh, and the mistress goes back to her old house, where Mark is waiting with Frank's dead body so that he can confront his mother with her lies! We have to watch a whole recreation of the murders, because this show loves to wallow in misery! Then the FBI shows up and arrests him without incident.

THE END

Except for one more scene where the sister-in-law suddenly announces that she actually does have enough money to get a two-bedroom apartment so that Ed can live with her. Obviously it's a lie and Greg's paying the extra rent, and Ed knows that immediately. They have a sad detente, and the episode ends!

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

Um... no? They just interviewed people until they caught them in obvious lies, and it still took them way too long to catch the guy.

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

The team didn't check Mark's alibi. I have to assume that actual police officers would have, and solved the thing immediately.

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

1/10 - How could I give them any more than that?

Seriously, this case went unsolved for hours because the team didn't bother looking into one of the suspects at all. The daughter had posted that her boyfriend was coming to dinner. He said that he didn't, but couldn't provide an alibi, and they didn't look into the background that would have revealed his identity.

You're all terrible at your jobs. Oh, and the scummy blackmailer son is inheriting all the money, I guess?

As for the final judgment on whether this was an intentional reference to/rip off of Scavenger, which I waffled about for so long? Yeah, there was a piece of evidence I held back the whole time, just like Scavenger author Tom Savage, which should reveal everything: The killer in the book Scavenger murdered his whole family and posed them at a dinner table while the song 'Jingle Bells' played on an endless loop?

His name was Mark, too.

Boom! Savaged! Tom Savaged!

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