Criminal Minds 1211: Surface Tension

A med student walks into an exam room, where another med student pranks her by lifting up a corpse and speaking in a creepy voice! Then their teacher comes in, and the dissection lesson begins! The prankster notices that the corpse has a stylized A tattoo on its bicep, which he thinks is a really strange place for one! I have no idea why he thinks this. As for tattoos, as long as it's not on the face or neck, anything goes!

The ME immediately recognizes it as the signature of a murderer, and calls the local homicide division!

Over in Quantico, Reid is back! That was fast! I guess I was worried for nothing! JJ asks if Reid's going to keep visiting his mother, but then he gets a call, and has to rush off - he says a water pipe burst in his apartment, but is that a lie? Has he finally, (after YEARS) decided to bring his mother to Virginia so he can help look after her?

Garcia lays out the facts of the case - two bodies of people who died of drug overdoses have turned up with the stylized A written in pen on their bicep! At least, most people think it's an A. JJ suggests it may be an 'incomplete triangle'. What, with an extra line drawn at the apex? You know what, JJ? Maybe don't talk for like a week? I don't want to have to rename the 'dumbest thing said by an FBI agent' award.

Then Emily tries to one-up Aaron yet again, announcing 'wheels up in 10'.

Except no, there's no way that's possible. Aaron didn't say 'wheels up in 30' because he was bad at his job, and Emily knows how to do it better. He said 'wheels up in 30' because that's how long it takes to get into the air. The show doesn't talk about this, but the FBI Academy doesn't have an airstrip. The team can only be flying out of Quantico MCAF - the Marine Airstrip south of the city. Here's the thing - we say that the FBI base is 'in Quantico', but it's actually ten miles west of the city, deep in the woods. It's a twenty minute drive. Aaron always said 'wheels up in 30' because he was giving them five minutes to grab their go-bags and get to the cars, twenty minutes to drive to the airfield, and five minutes to get settled into the plane, which was prepped for takeoff while they drove over.

You can't make twenty minutes of that go away through wishful thinking, Emily. Why must you be so awful at this?

While the team is flying, we see that Reid is cleaning up a spill - one caused by his mother, who he's made the insane decision to keep in his own apartment with him! Oh, and his mother attacked the nurse he hired, so the nurse immediately quits.

This is what's overcompensating, Reid - you neglected your mother for like fifteen years, and now you're trying too hard to make it better. Just put her in a nice facility with constant supervision and visit her frequently. Taking care of her at home when your job takes you out of state every single week is madness.

Hey, Jane Lynch is back! Yay! And she's in the midst of a full-on psychotic break! So nice to have her back! And yeah, their relationship is just as toxic as ever! It's really true to Reid's character the extent to which he wouldn't see that this was a bad idea, though.

Hey, Steven's in the opening credits! That's a surprise! I guess he's sticking around! Although it might just be for the rest of the season - it would be weird, given the overall theme of the year, if we didn't wrap things up with Scratch getting taken down.

On the plane, the team finds out what's going on with Reid, and they all agree that he's doing this terribly. Nice of them to have a basic understanding of the situation, huh?

Reid gets Jane settled, and then he joins them on the conference call with Garcia! We learn nothing of note - the old man was a homeless guy, the woman was a suburbanite, and there was no obvious connection between them suggesting why they would both have been targeted! Reid points out that if you closed the bottom of the A that has a way-too-long crossbar, it would be the alchemical symbol for Earth. But is that just a coincidence?

At the police station, JJ questions the victim's husband, who gives some interesting information - the wife was killed with an overdose of sleeping pills from a really old prescription, that he's sure she didn't carry with her. So how did the killer get them? The husband remembers that a couple of days ago, while they were at a dinner, their babysitter reported hearing noises upstairs, but then nothing was stolen, so they figured she was mistaken. That must have been when he grabbed the pills!

Aisha and Joe go to talk to the ME, who announces that she's confirmed that both As were written with the exact same pen. What does she base this on? The fact that pens, when used, gain characteristics that can be used to identify them just as clearly as markings on a bullet. Except this was a felt-tipped pen, writing on human skin. There's no way on earth you're getting markings detailed enough to make that kind of connection.

The ME does have two useful items to offer, though! First, neither victim showed signs of habitual drug use. Second, there were small burned hairs on the old man - which presumably came from the victim! How did they get there, though - was the killer burning himself while watching the people die?

It's possible - we check in on the killer, and see that he stands in front of a powerful heat lamp until his skin bubbles for fun! Yowch. Then he grabs two guns and consults a map with circles on it, presumably planning the next act of his madness. What form will it take, though? More fake suicides, or is he going to burn things, like the two flaming houses he has pictures of!

In Quantico, Reid tries to comfort his mother with her scrapbook, then goes and prepares a suspicious drug cocktail for her and puts it in some orange juice! Is Reid doing his own experimental treatment, and that's why he can't put her in a hospital? Jane's not happy about being held prisoner by her son, BTW.

Emily and JJ go over the evidence they know about - in addition to the stolen pills, a stuffed animal was found in the car. Could the killer have coerced the mother into taking the pills by threatening her daughter. Makes sense, although not super-useful. Eric enters, and announces that the homeless guy was someone who was loved by the community, just like the first victim. So is the killer angry at likable people for some reason?

Their big takeaway is - why is it important for the killer that his victims kill themselves? They assume that if they figure that out, they'll have a good chance of catching him! Maybe - but then again, it could be a really good forensic countermeasure. After all, beyond providing the means, he literally didn't kill the people, meaning he'll leave less evidence of himself at the scene.

Speaking of scenes, a guy shoots himself in the head in front of his wife, because the killer was holding a gun to the wife's head. Then the killer shoots the wife anyways, which you had to have known was going to happen. Seriously, dude, whatever the killer said, he's obviously not going to let your wife live. Trying to shoot him is the only way this might not result in both of you dying.

Then it's over to a dump site - that's right, the killer dragged the victim out into the woods for some reason! Oh, and the A is getting even weirder and more stylized. Eric and Aisha wonder why the killer has moved up to guns from more delicate methods of murder. Could it represent the fact that he's getting closer to the target of his rage? Perhaps - it could also be that he's just cycling through classic forms of suicide, and hanging is next, then car-based suffocation.

I wonder why they haven't already asked Garcia to check into the family members of anyone who committed suicide in the months before the killing. I don't know if that's where they're going with this, but it seems like the kind of thing they'd do after they found out about the two fake suicides, right?

More with Reid and Jane. He's called a new caretaker over to meet her. She interviews Reid to find out more about their relationship, since that will be central to figuring out how to best care for Jane! Finally, a professional! (Unless she's another MPD case working for Scratch.)

Interesting note about the victimology. While the three suiciders were beloved figures, the last guy's wife had a history with alcohol and drunk driving, and only recently cleaned up her act! Could that be why she wasn't marked with the symbol? Then Garcia phones up to tell them that she's bad at her background checks - she's just now found out that the suburbanite volunteered at a soup kitchen that the homeless guy frequented! Seems like something you could have found right away, Garcia. What were you doing during their three-hour flight?

Oh, and the latest victim did an annual food drive for local shelters, including the one in question. This couldn't be a better lead, could it?

We get a scene with Reid and the nurse, who thinks that Jane should absolutely be in a home. Reid thinks he knows better, and his mother has a better chance of feeling better if she moves into his run-down hovel. The nurse asks Reid which drugs his mother is on, and he hands over a bunch of pill bottles, not mentioning the mystery liquid he's been feeding her!

Back in Florida, Eric thinks that there's a connection between all of the places where the bodies were found. If it was just that they were all killed in out-of-the-way places, that would be one thing, but the killer actively brought a body to a dump site in the latest case, so it must mean something! But what?

Profile time! They think the killer might be homeless, based on the connection between all of the victims. He's got resources to get guns, though, so that seems like a bit of a leap. They also think that the fact that the victims are dumped near vacant lots suggests that they're each a 'sacrifice' for the way humanity is butchering the natural world! Will any of this information be of any help to the cops? That would be a first!

We see the killer at a food line, eyeing the woman giving out the meat. So, I wonder if they told the cops to immediately canvas all nearby homeless shelters and food pantries - because if they do, this lady's going to have quite a story to tell about a deranged burn victim staring at her balefully while waiting for a meal.

Eric's theory puts a new twist on things - all of the places that the bodies were left happen to be where sinkholes had recently been repaired! So his obsession could be about preventing sinkholes - or perhaps causing more, since he's dropping bodies where they were fixed? They call Garcia and ask for a list of sinkholes, which she sends over to Reid - hopefully there's a connection between the type of sinkhole, or the location they formed that will give them a clue about the killer's next targeted area!

Not that Reid's looking to be much help - he's too busy checking in on his mother, who has gone into the bathroom to flush all of Reid's miracle drugs down the toilet! I don't want to judge here, but why was he keeping the drugs in her room? Seems like that's asking for trouble - especially since he's the one who serves it to her.

Reid wrestles the drugs away from Jane, who slaps him and announces that she'd rather be back in her old facility! Or maybe her house in Vegas - she's not really clear. An hour later she wakes up, having forgotten the abusive episode! Then she makes a comment about how Reid used to be 'so clumsy' as a kid, always winding up with bruises. Dear lord, so they're finally confirming that Jane used to beat Reid as a child, and he always covered for her, because she never remembered doing it when her episodes were over? I mean, that's been my theory about Reid for a while, but it's weird for the show to confirm it!

Then we're back to the killer, who has somehow gotten the lunch line lady back to his hovel? How did that happen? It's the middle of the afternoon, and she was in public, and super creeped-out by him! Apparently she's dead, because he's drawing the symbol on her arm!

Steven shows up with some news! The DNA from the burned skin and hair at the crime scene matches that of a serial killer that Tampa police had been looking for anyway! I guess it wasn't worth calling the team in when a guy was raping and murdering women and tossing them in ditches, but this is flashy enough to merit some attention? He stopped killing ten months ago, and recently began the 'suicide/symbol' shtick - but why the change in MO?

Before they can think about it too much, the lunch lady is reported missing! Huh. So yeah, looks like the cops didn't bother telling the homeless shelters about the creepy murderer targeting people who work there.

More reminiscing with Jane and Reid about how he's always been too sure of his ability to figure out literally any problem he was faced with. Naturally, this is one he won't be able to.

At base, the team tries to figure out why the killer's MO changed, and these new elements got into his pattern. Could he have fallen into a burning sinkhole, or is that too on-the-nose? Garcia calls with some info - she's found a couple whose house was destroyed in a sinkhole! Their adult son - who was a victim of sexual abuse at their hands - managed to escape, and I guess now is making offerings to sinkholes to thank them for killing his hated parents?

Garcia goes to look for more info on the off-the-grid killer, but will the team do the most basic thing possible and just show his photo around the homeless community in Tampa?

Then it's back to the killer, who didn't murder the old lady, just knocked her out! She wakes up, and the first thing she does is check out the mark under her arm. As if she could feel it there, and wanted to know what was wrong with her arm right away. Seriously, this is a test you can do at home - write a message on your arm with a felt-tipped pen. You may be shocked by how quickly you don't feel a thing.

My guess on the timeline: The moment the pen is no longer touching your skin. Although for the very sensitive, it might take three seconds for the ink to finish drying.

More Reid and Jane - it's night now, so she's 'sundowning' and no longer remembers who he is. Yikes. Hopefully this will convince Reid that he's not ready to have her in the house with him. Then Reid looks at a sinkhole in a book, and leaps to an amazing conclusion - sinkholes can represent hell, so the killer probably imagines that he's sending people there! Also, the pattern the killer has drawn coincides really poorly with the 'satan' constellation. Like, unbelievably poorly. There isn't even any corollary of the crossed A on the constellation - no one could possibly make this connection.

Let's just let him have it, though, and move on to the fact that even though there's 20 stars in the constellation, Reid is sure that only a handful of them could be the next dump site. Emily just accepts his information, and scrambles the team! They'll split up and go to the different sites, hoping to get lucky - what they won't do, though, is call the police so that they have backup and a decent amount of coverage while doing this!

When they get to the crime scene, the lunch lady won't jump into the hole, so the killer is going to shoot her, but then Eric and JJ shoot him instead. Non-fatally, though, so they can have the fun of arresting him while he's trying to crawl into the sinkhole himself.


Joe and JJ talk about what Reid's up to, and how they think he's massively overextending himself. They're right to be worried! Seriously, Reid's sleepping in a chair next to his mother, with a scarf tied between their wrists so he'll wake up if she starts freaking out.

This is too much for you, Reid. Just admit that. There are homes she could be in near your work and office.

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

I want to say yes, but the idea that they were able to match the symbol to a constellation that looks nothing like it, and that led them to the crime in progress is so utterly outlandish that I can't credit them with any kind of a win.

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

The minute they knew he was a burn victim targeting people who worked in homeless shelters, they should have put the word out. Normal cops would have done that, and caught the guy fairly quickly.

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

2/10 - It's really looking like this is going to be the worst season of Criminal Minds yet, isn't it?

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