Criminal Minds 1413: Chameleon

The episode opens as Joe is starting his day. Notably he has a band-aid on his head! No wonder dramatic music is playing over an innocuous scene! He grabs his gun from a secret panel that opens up when you put a magnetic card against a table. That's just a weird thing to have. You live alone dude, it's find if you have a gun safe.

This is the second time we've seen the team having this kind of secret gun safe - the weird part? No one had a secret gun safe until the Roswell episode. It's almost like the prop team had so much fun building the secret gun safes for that episode that they just decided that all of the team members should have them as an excuse to keep building the things.

Joe sits on the bed for a second, trying to get his head together, then goes down to leave, when he's intercepted by Crystal. She wants to know why he won't talk about 'this', and they're both really oblique about what's troubling him. Hey, what does Joe do on his birthday now that the Womb Raider has been dead for two years? Just curious.

When Joe gets to the office, we see that Eric's arm is bandaged and in a sling - apparently something bad happened to everyone? Also Reid has spent all weekend at the office, working on a case! What's going on here? Reid's mad it himself for not seeing something that should have been obvious. Apparently a case went horribly awry, just like the arson from last year - so... when do the flashbacks start?

From Joe's conversation with Emily we learn that a killer escaped and the investigation is still ongoing - Joe blames himself for what happened, and can't ask anyone for help, because that's the kind of person he is! So Emily sends him home to talk to Crystal, which is where the flashbacks will happen. So yeah, I guess this is a redo of that JJ and Jr. episode.

We get our first flashback scene - Joe is working his way through the woods completely on his own when the killer tackles him, knocks his gun out of his hand, and tries to choke him to death! So, is this the first time Joe's had a near-death experience while working for the team? I can't remember any others, but maybe I'll check later on!

At the breakfast table, Crystal gets a text from Portia with today's literary quote! Yup, that's how they're getting one of those in. That's... awkward.

At the briefing we learn some weirdly contradictory information. A woman was choked to death, stabbed, and then had her face removed and stolen. Then the killer poured acid on a gas pipe to corrode it, hoping to make a house fire look like an accident. But the woman was barely burned at all. Maybe the firefighters just happened to drive by the house at exactly the right moment? This kind of half-countermeasure doesn't really make sense to me. If you want to burn down a house to destroy evidence, just do it - trying to make it look like an accident won't work, because even if they just have a charred skeleton, they're still going to know that it was stabbed a bunch and the face was removed.

On the plane, they talk about victimology, the lack of a forced entry, all of the normal stuff that they might use to narrow down their suspect pool, but almost certainly won't. At the police station, they talk about how the cuts to the face were crude and amateurish - clearly not the work of someone with medical training. Then they discover that the dead woman has a son, so Emily suggests that they bring him in - maybe he'll know the woman's friends well enough that he can identify who might be the killer!

Have you checked his alibi, though? He could have easily gotten into the house, and because this isn't a serial murder yet, shouldn't you be focusing on traditional motives, as well as the esoteric?

Eric interviews the on, who claims that Matthew, his mother's boyfriend, is the likely killer. He claims that he heard the guy call someone 'honey' on the phone, and then the guy claimed that it was just his mother! The dead lady backs this up - apparently he talks to his mother on the phone a lot, often in front of her! Then the boyfriend proposes to the mother, and she accepts!

The son is not psyched about that, and says that the boyfriend must have murdered the mother right after he left! Um... what? So he goes to the trouble of proposing in front of you, and your mother accepts, then the minute you leave he strangles her, stabs her, and steals her face? Is he the least effective killer in history?

Apparently he's got some minor skills - she didn't know about his real home address, and he used a disposable cell phone to talk with her. Still, as conmen or serial killers go, he's not a very good one - they've got tons of pictures of him. Of course, he's also wearing a hilariously fake moustache, so maybe he's not worried about being recognized without it? Garcia does some digging and can't get a facial recognition match on the boyfriend - but she does discover that he'd been stealing all of the dead lady's money. So he was, in fact, a conman - just one who's never been arrested ever or had any kind of driver's license or photo ID!

Weirdly, they keep referring to him as 'the Unsub' in all of these scenes, but he's not unknown to you. You're looking at pictures of him.

Joe talks about how the conman has escaped to another state and changed his look, and we see a montage of him doing that, and I'm still not sure why they've eliminated the son as a suspect. Yeah, the conman is a bad guy, but this is an extravagantly over-the-top murder, so it's a little weird that they assume a conman could be successful with that concentration of crazy running through his veins.

We then see the conman with the next lady he's moved in on - she also has a child, this one a teenager slightly younger than the other kid. Then, when he goes to the bathroom to check his look, we find that he does, in fact, have a face in his briefcase! So I guess he is the weirdly extravagant killer? Then again, this is all in Joe's flashback, so who knows? The face he's got in his briefcase is almost unbelievably perfect-

How could someone with zero medical training do such a great job of protecting the lips, nose, and eyelids? Seems like that would be a challenge, doesn't it?

At the police station, the team wonders if this is necessarily the conman's first murder - could there be others they don't know about because the fire destroyed their bodies completely? Garcia looks through a list of accidental fires in the state where a middle-aged woman was killed. They narrow it down to people who are suffering from empty nest syndrome, after having a children move out. That leaves them with just one possible suspect!

They talk to the kids of the first dead woman, and find out something weird - maybe he's not a conman at all, in the traditional sense? He took no money from their mother, and she had over a million dollars just lying around!

The team is taken by how massively different the guy looked from pictures to picture - they assume that he's not just a normal conman changing his look, but rather a complete psychopath with no core personality! Their tip to the police: go through his cover stories - if there's any common elements between them, those might be true things about himself that he uses because they're easier to remember!

Talking to all of the families, they find a common thread - the conman came from Mississippi and had a daughter named Grace who died when she was a child - and he blames his mother for the death because she was neglectful! They search for a story like that in the town he mentioned, but it's such a small town that their newspapers and police files aren't online. So, instead of just calling the police department, they fly some people out there to search manually!

Meanwhile, the latest victim decides to propose to the conman before he gets the chance to. This screws up his whole timeline! So he attacks the woman at the dinner table by smashing a vase over her head. I guess he kills the daughter as well? Although if he did, then it would be incredibly dishonest for the show to have put up a bunch of scenes where only the killer and his victims were present, since this is Joe's story.

In Mississippi, Eric and Matt find records of a conwoman who did they exact same thing with men, and used her son as part of the grift. She's currently in jail for killing a boyfriend! Eric and Matt go to see her, and it's popular actress Sharon Lawrence! She talks about using her son in cons over the years, gradually turning him into a monster! They ask her about the drowned daughter, and she shuts up immediately!

At the police station, the team notices a pattern to the conman's crimes - he's specifically targeting women in the cities where his mother targeted men, and in the same order! It's almost like he wants to be caught! They have Garcia search for women in Little Rock who fit the profile of who the killer is looking for. It doesn't end up being a difficult search, because one of the women has a pircute of the conman on her facebook page!

It turns out the mother and daughter are fine! The conman just tied them up and tried to decide what to do next. Then he gets a call from Sharon's lawyer - he's passing along the message that the FBI is on to him!

When the team got to the house, they found that the killer had left severed faces all over the place - apparently he's killed bunches of women! So, wait, if that's the case, how did the 'following the mother's trail' thing become a lead?

Then we get to the twist - all of the scenes in the flashback with Joe, about the teenaged girl not trusting the conman? Yeah, those were all lies. She was secretly his daughter Grace! So yeah, this was a twist caused by the show just lying to us over and over again.

Just to be clear - the conman's plan was to wait with his daughter at the house, and try to kill every police officer that showed up. That was his plan. God, this episode just got terrible.

Anyway, after choking out Joe, the guy fled into the woods, and they didn't catch him! This is what happens when you don't bring backup, team.

Crystal tells Joe that he'll have to track down the conman the only way he can - no, not by flooding the media all across the country with his name and face, and trusting that he'll be spotted immediately. That would be too easy. No, he's going to go and talk to the daughter, and try to get her to turn her father in!

Will he manage it, or will we never hear about his case again?


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

They did not catch the killer, so no, it wasn't.

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

They had so many pictures of this guy's face. I'm not sure how he was this hard to find.

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

0/10 - If they catch this guy in the future based on talking to his daughter, then that episode will get a decent amount of points. But they didn't catch him, so they get none.

So, remember how that last episode using this format was a JJ&Jr. episode? Well, I guess she liked that experience so much that when it was time to do that exact same episode again, but with Joe, she wanted to direct it! That's right - this is AJ Cook's first episode as a director!

Other than all of the lies it told to cover for its twist, it was perfectly serviceable!

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