Criminal Minds 1314: Miasma

The episode opens where the last one left off - JJ meeting with Barnes about replacing Emily! Apparently the FBI is a little unsettled by the team's treatment of the whole Scratch/Aubrey situation, so Emily's handling of it is going to be scrutinized! She also tries to rile JJ up by asking why she thinks she didn't get the team lead job when Aaron left.

As JJ walks to her car she gets a phone call from Emily! They've got a case tonight. JJ immediately warns Emily that people are coming for her - which she was specifically told not to do. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have told her, JJ, but at least wait until it's face to face!

There's an emergency case briefing, but it doesn't seem like anything that couldn't have waited until the morning. Cops in New Orleans found a crypt with ten bodies stacked inside and then burned. Is that really a 'overnight flight' type of situation, though? Even if the victims were drained of blood?

There plenty of voodoo markings around the crypt in question, but apparently they were preexisting, so the killer might have liked them for some reason, but they're not an actual message. Then Emily announces that she's not going to be going along on the trip because of the performance review! I'd point out that this means Barnes lied to Emily, since she said she wasn't going to tell Emily until the morning, but it's more likely that Barnes found out about the mission, and told Emily early to make sure she didn't skip town.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the killer is draining a corpse's blood! Also, the killer is wearing a strange, long-nosed mask.

I often joke about the team rarely deals with cases important enough to warrant them leaving in the middle of the night, but there's a reason I mention it. I like to call focus to the show's weird obsession keeping a straight timeline. Other than specifically frames flashbacks, the shows are always told in strict chronological order - and since they always want to end the episode's cold open with a murder, so they can be at a daytime murder scene right after they land. If the briefing took place during the day, then the death is at night, that means that chronologically they couldn't do the plane conversation scene, which the producers feel the show couldn't do without.

And that's why they're always getting called to work in the middle of the night.

On the plane, the team doesn't care at all about the murders, and spends minutes talking about their work drama. Matt goes over how Barnes destroyed his unit, and warns everyone to stick together! They observe that she's good at her job (that being destroying careers) and Reid says 'We're better'. Which might be true, but is wholly irrelevant to the situation - your job is catching serial killers. Hers is destroying careers. Your skills will not defend you from her.

We move to the police station, where I'm distracted by this reflection in the briefing room window-

I can't tell exactly what's going on there, but it sure looks like someone was shopping Amazon for water bottles on set, and didn't bother closing their laptop when the filming started.

In the scene, we discover that five of the bodies have been identified. Three homeless people, two 'citizens'. They talk a little about figuring out where the killer would have enough space to do some blood draining, and Reid talks about doing a geographic profile, but warns that he'll need more information about the victims' final movements. Which should be pretty hard, given that three were homeless.

Then the chief gets a letter about the newest victim - he was found right away because he was burned in a less-secluded place! JJ has to be reminded that she's the one in charge of assignments, but then she does them just fine!

Barnes brings Emily into the office, and Emily lies and says JJ didn't tell her about the reason for the performance review. I agree with Barnes on this - not off to a great start. She announces that she's looked into the team since Emily took over, and is disturbed by what she's found! My god, are we going to be spending the whole episode going over all the team's mistakes? This should be good!

Or maybe it won't be, since Barnes starts off by saying she puts team loyalty over FBI policy. I don't know when she did that, other than I guess pulling strings to transfer Reid. That's not really against FBI policy, though. They cover up for the agents all the time. She was acting in the best traditions of the agency, even if they don't admit it publicly.

JJ, Eric, and Matt head to the newest tomb, and note that the killer must be pretty bold to be burning people in public. Isn't there a good chance he'd have been caught? Actually, why hasn't he been caught? He had to drag a corpse and a can into a cemetery at night, then light a large fire to torch the body. How, exactly, did no one notice that?

Eric also observes that the killer must have used an 'accellerant' during the burning due to the scorch marks on the inside of the tomb. Here's a better sign that accellerant was used: The body was burned to charcoal. Do you think that would happen if a guy just put a lighter to the man's clothes and left?

Apparently the victim left work complaining of an illness, but then went to a basketball court instead of home. Did the killer lure him there? Are there security cameras around that basketball court? Inquiring minds want to know!

JJ notices that there's no voodoo markings on the tomb, even though there are plenty around, so the killer wasn't picking dump sites that were voodoo-related. So what is motivating him, then? Hilariously, the tombs all around the one they're looking at don't have any voodoo markings on them, so I don't know what JJ thinks she was talking about there.

Then, on the street, we see the killer stalking his next victim - a fat guy waiting for a bus! Once he's alone, the killer parks in front of the bus stop, and waves the victim over to look inside his van. Which he does, without hesitation, perhaps because he's excited to die?

Yeah, there's not even a ruse or a gun or anything. The guy just walks right up to an open door and allows himself to be dragged inside.

Back to Barnes' office! She thinks the team has been going rogue too much, and Roswell is a great example of it! Well, if you mean that having the big meeting at the legion hall was a mistake that got someone killed, then yes, you're making a good point.

Emily defends her actions, saying the the truthers would only have met them in a giant location all together, and would not have spoken to them at a police station. Of course, you didn't try to see if they would, you just assumed they wouldn't, and your sloppiness got a man killed. And the sloppiness of a police department not bothering to test their metal detectors.

Then Barnes announces that she wants to talk about Steven dying, since it's the first time the team has ever lost an agent on duty. Weird that it's taken them five months to want to have this conversation, but sure. Let's go for it.

At the morgue, Joe gets some bad information from the ME - he explains that the bodies were set on fire using rubbing alcohol, which sparks incredibly easily, but burns out right away, so he must have used a BUNCH of it. Here's the bad info - the doctor explains that the people were killed with an overdose of ketamine, a club drug, and then exsanguinated after death. Except there's no way he could know that. Testing residual blood and tissue could get the drug results, sure, but how would you know whether the throats were slashed when they were alive or dead? The only way to tell would be the behaviour of the tissue around the wound - but all of the wounds have been burned to charcoal, so that kind of subtle determination would be completely beyond the ME's ability to detect.

When the team hears that the murder was via an overdoes of ketamine, they think that this means the killer wouldn't even have to have a ruse, he could just walk up and inject someone. Except that's not how injections work. If you're not going to hit a vein - which you probably won't, just running up and grabbing someone, it would take a huge amount of ketamine to give them an overdose, and one would think the natural reaction to flinch and pull away from the attack would screw up the plan.

Or is this a fantasy Dexter-style world where it's incredibly easy to grab someone and perfectly inject drugs into their veins?

Emily says that no one could have foreseen Scratch ambushing them on the road, so it's not her fault that Steven died! Except it absolutely was. You were specifically rushing towards what you knew to be a trap. You thought it was just a trap for Derek, but you should have anticipated it could have been a trap for all of you as well, the way Scratch's last trap was.

You could have brought along a SWAT escort. You could have had helicopter support - you could have followed the basic rules of the road and left a good amount of following distance between the two SUVs, so that only one of them would have hit the spikes. You failed to do any of that, and Steven died as a result. Barnes says she's shocked Steven's wife hasn't sued, and she's right - they absolutely should have been sued over their performance.

Then we get the bombshell - the Mexican cop put it in his file that Emily destroyed the recording of Reid confessing to murdering the doctor last year. Which Emily actually did. This performance review is going really, really badly for her, isn't it?

JJ runs an all-team meeting at the police station - they've identified two more victims, one a runaway, one a professional! They still have no idea why he's targeting these people, so they focus on what they can investigate - try to figure out where he's getting the huge amounts of drugs he uses, and have more patrols around the graveyards, hoping that he'll bring the new victim to one!

I know it's a stretch, but maybe look into the rubbing alcohol as well? I know you can buy it at any drug store, but someone buying gallons of the stuff might well have been noticed.

At the killer's lair, his victim wakes up, smashes him over the head, grabs his keys, steals his van, and speeds off into the night! Go, fat guy! I have to assume that because of his weight the killer completely misjudged the amount of ketamine he needed. That's why it's just so important to consult with an anaesthesiologist before starting you killing spree, people. Anyhoo, one block away from the lair the guy crashes the van, because he's still under the influence of powerful drugs.

At the hospital, JJ interviews the victim, who isn't able to identify the victim, and has no good idea where he was! So they haven't found the lair yet? He drove like a block and a half, and a bunch of cars saw him weaving out into the street. At the crash site, we learn that the van in question was stolen eight years ago, so they may not be able to get any clues from it!

Finally they get an idea of where the lair is from Reid's geographic profile. By which I mean they just follow the trail of destruction backwards, because the victim kept ramming into things while he was driving. I mean, the show claims Reid's involved, but we know what actually happened.

In the lair, Reid finds the killer's mask, which turns out to be a costume version of one of those plague doctor things. Immediately they decide that the killer targets people because he sees them acting sick in public, and is trying to purge the infected from the city!

Joe and Emily chat on the phone, and he tells her not to worry, because she's earned her job, and all of her choices have been the right ones! So is he lying, or is this a shared delusion?

The team gives the profile, and it's pretty basic - the guy is obsessed with old-timey medicine, and now that he's lost his van and lair, he'll probably go on some kind of a spree! No word on his fingerprints yet, which is weird, since they've got both the guy's home/van and his lair that had all of his tools in it.

We flash back to the killer's childhood - his mother got sick after Katrina because of an infection, so now he thinks the whole city is at risk of falling to a plague! He then screams that it was the fault of the doctors who didn't help her, so maybe that's who he's targeting next?

Emily goes to Barnes' office and threatens her! She says the BSU won't be another one of Barnes' stepping stones on the way to becoming director, and she plans to use every favor she's banked to destroy Barnes if she tries anything. I'm not super-sure why Barnes doesn't fire her on the spot, since that is gross insubordination that she just witnessed.

At the city garage, they look over the van. They're upset that the killer scrubbed it clean after each victim, so they don't have any large amount of DNA. Fingerprints once again go unmentioned. They find a bag of his mother's medication, and hope they can use it to track down the killer! I don't know why that would be particularly difficult, what with a bunch of those drugs being prescription-only. You'd think Garcia could just run the numbers and get a name almost immediately.

I know that we're told that there's no 'identifying information' on the drugs, but that's just not believable - pharmacists slap those labels right onto the bottles and puffers, so unless the killer was scrubbing them off, and there's no reason for him to do that, they'd have a name right away. I'm not sure why the show is making it seem like this guy is so difficult to identify - even if they have his name and face, he's still a crazy homeless murderer that's not easy to find, so the rest of the episode would still happen the same way if this was written believably.

The end result is, since they think the guy is attacking sick people, they suggest posting guards at pharmacies and hospitals, since that's where the largest concentration of sick people are.

But can guards help the woman the killer sees coughing while pushing her baby around, though? Turns out they won't have to - instead of focusing his rage on the sick woman, he heads into the health clinic to attack the doctor, who, for some reason, is completely alone in the clinic! He immediately murders her, obvs. Also, the doctot sucks at staying alive - there was a crazy man in front of her, but instead of barricading herself in an office and calling the police, she tries to attack him with scissors. So this one's largely on her.

JJ and Matt talk about ways to possibly identify who the killer is, but I'm too distracted by their bad empty coffee cup acting to pay much attention to the scene. They're both really bad at pretending that empty coffee cups have anything in them. So terrible at miming that you wonder why the prop people don't just fill the cups up with water and be done with it.

Anyway, they decide to look into the guy's first victim, guessing that he may have started with someone he encountered in his day-to-day life. For some reason they treat this as if it's a revelation, rather than one of the foundational concepts of behavioural analysis.

Barnes suggests that Emily find a scapegoat to take the blame for her team's failings. She suggests Joe, who's too busy writing books to care about his job, or Reid, who'd be happier just teaching. Obviously Reid in a classroom is a terrible idea, but yeah, fire Joe. That's not a bad idea. Emily, naturally, sees her whole team as being indispensable. Even though, you know, they all have completely interchangeable opinions, and any time one of them takes a week off we don't even notice that they've gone.

At the station, JJ announces that because they can't find any connection between the first victim and the killer, maybe the killer had an earlier first victim! That's a strange bit of circular reasoning, but let's move on to what she wants to do about it - use Penelope to try and track down who bought a withered bouquet that was found in the back of the van! I don't mean to nitpick*, but shouldn't you be trying to track down a preserved bouquet whether you think it has anything to do with an earlier victim or not? It's obviously significant, or he wouldn't have kept it.

(*I do, actually)

Garcia immediately tracks down the woman who sent the flowers. She tells them that the mother lived in an apartment, then got sick, came into some money, moved in next door, and then died. Was the illness a post-Katrina mold situation? It was! She got black mold from the apartment she lived in, and sued the owner. Oh, and she died just a couple of weeks ago, which is why the murders started.

Joe and JJ go over to the landlord's office in a local bar, but because they didn't bother telling the cops or bringing backup, they wind up trapped inside when the killer arrives to douse the place in gasoline. He takes a worker hostage and demands to see the landlord!

JJ goes downstairs to talk to the killer while Joe sneaks around the building behind him. The killer closes his lighter to talk to JJ, but for some reason she doesn't immediately pull her gun and demand her surrender. Well, I say 'some reason', it's because Joe thinks that gasoline fumes could ignite if you shoot!

Not that that's bothered JJ in the past. Hey, remember when she murdered that guy? Seems like that should have been part of the team's assessment.

More importantly, though, gunshots would have a hard time igniting even the most powerful fumes, and gasoline fumes are barely dangerous at all. Seriously, you can throw a lit cigarette into a pool of gasoline, and there's a good chance it will just go out. So the idea that someone standing ten feet away from the pool of gasoline, firing at gun five feet above the ground, is in any danger of setting off an explosion is just laughable.

Joe then walks in and announces that the killer murdered his own mother to save her from her chronic bronchial infections! This freaks him out so much that they're able to arrest him without incident!


On the way back, the team worries about what's going to happen to Emily! Speaking of, Emily is wary as the team returns! She's been suspended, and Barnes is going to be watching over the team to see if they screw up!

So they're just redoing the exact Erin plot from season 3, where Aaron was suspended for letting the team run wild, and then a Erin came in to investigate them? I know it's been a decade, but wow, is this the exact same story and it's weird to see it being reused.

Though it's certainly warranted - Aaron's only mistake was not reigning in Mandy better - Emily's managing an entire team of murderers. Except for Matt, who I'm still not sure has killed anyone.

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


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

They checked who ordered some flowers they found in the killer's van. The person who sent the flowers told them who the killer was.

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

1/10 - I don't get the guy's obsession with plague medicine. He only killed his mother three weeks ago, which they indicate is the stressor that led to this rampage. How did he go from what he thought was a mercy killing that to this elaborate masked blootletting and corpse burning ritual?

None of what we learn about this killer matches up with anything about the MO.

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