17.1.20

Criminal Minds 1503: Spectator Slowing

The episode opens with a mother and daughter arriving at home in rural Memphis! The mom finds a package sitting underneath her mailbox, and brings it into the house with them. I'd be a little annoyed at the mailman at this point, since the package looks to be book sized, and it only wrapped in brown paper. If any water gets on that it will wreck whatever's inside. Couldn't the mail carrier have at least dropped it off on the porch?

I guess since this place is rural all of the mail delivery is done out of the side of a truck, so that's not actually possible, but make an exception once in a while, people!

The family heads inside and it turns out that the package was a bomb, so you can just disregard everything I said about the mailman in the past two paragraphs. Weirdly, the bomb was disguised as a photo album, and it didn't blow up until the mother opened the cover and saw something sinister inside!

Let's think happy thoughts - it wasn't a very big bomb, so while the mother, who was standing next to it, is probably dead, the daughter who was at the end of the table is probably fine!

In whatever suburb of DC they live in, Matt and his wife talk about her being on bed rest due to the imminent birth of their fifth child! Wow. Lots of kids. Based on the size of the littlest one, maybe one of them was born during the first season of Beyond Borders? Something for me to find out at some point, anyhow. Looks like Matt's going to take a week off from the whole 'flying around the country' thing to look after his wife. Will we have a new kid by the end of the episode? Fingers crossed!

At the office we find that JJ is back at work. So I guess this is eight weeks after the last episode? I mean, she had a lung collapsed by a bullet, that's not something you bounce back from. What do you want to bet no one is going to mention the face off killer until - maybe - the end of the episode? I mean, a wanted serial killer did a mass shooting at the headquarters of the justice department then stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a rich, well-connected family, torturing the daughter of that family in the process. I feel like that's all anyone would talk about until he was in jail, you know?

Time for case details! The mother and daughter are both in the hospital, but might pull through! I guess they need the mother to tell them what was in the photo album? They confirm that the killer dropped off the packages himself, rather than actually mailing them, which Reid thinks is strange, because 'mail bombers' generally want to stay as far away from their victims as possible. This is a better of a stretch in describing the MO, though - many bombers drop off the bombs personally. The unabomber dropped off bombs himself (hence the sketch), the show's fake version of the mormon bomber (and the real guy) dropped bombs off himself - it's not as big a deviation from the profile as Reid would suggest.

Emily ends the scene by suggesting that Matt should consult by phone, since his military experience with explosives should be helpful. You know, Eric's sitting right there. He was also a special forces guy. Like, unless Matt's actual job in the military was bomb disposal I don't know why he would be especially good at this.

Oh, and she once again says 'Wheels up in 10, because after being in charge of the team for 4 (4!) years, she still doesn't know how long it takes to drive to the airfield'.

Then we get a disgusting scene of a guy buying a dead body so that he can see how a bomb destroys it. The question is, is this guy the bomber from the last three bombs, or is someone out there giving these bombs to people in order to let them settle scores of their own? The only reason I suggest such a crazy idea (that's certainly wrong) is that it's kind of strange for a guy to only now be testing what his bombs do to a dead body, three bombs in. Then again, maybe he was unsure of himself because the last two victims survived? Yeah, that makes way more sense.

Oh, and the killer was annoyed that the grave-robber wasn't able to get the body of a woman, so he puts the dead old man in the yellow dress that he'd bought for the occasion - that's how focused he is on he fantasy of blowing up a specific person.

So, who is the focus of this killer's rage? Let's find out together, after the credits!

The team spreads out all over the city to investigate, as they usually do, but weirdly no one mentions the dangers of putting all of their eggs in the 'Memphis' basket. What do I mean by that? Well, the previous two bombings happened in the very recent past in Ohio and Kentucky - this is the bomber's third state inside of a week. There's no reason (yet) to suspect that the killer lives in Kentucky, or is planning more attacks there - shouldn't they be doing the full-court investigative press in all of the cities, rather than just one?

Matt gets on the phone with Joe to talk him through bomb construction - it seems there's no sign of an integral trigger or timer within the various fragments, which leads Matt to guess that the bomber is setting them off himself (which we saw him do in the end of that corpse blowing up scene). I feel like it's going to be fairly significant to the profile that this guy needs to see the bomb go off. Also, I feel like there should have been clear evidence of an antenna in with the bomb fragments if the guy was able to set the bombs off with a car door unlocker.

In a nice note, the show briefly remembers that Joe plays video games, and suggests Matt distracts his kids with one of those, rather than a board game, which most kids would be bored by! Smart man, that Joe.

Joe and Emily look over the shredded books from the crime scenes, and it seems they were all photo albums - the last one contained a photo of the house where the victims live! Emily thinks there must be a clue in the picture beyond it being simple intimidation, but we don't get a good enough look at the photo to figure out what that might be.

Matt does a terrible job of finding an activity for the kids - he suggests they cook something they've never had before as a surprise for mommy! You know she's probably pretty careful about what she's eating at the moment, don't you, Matt? Also, and I can't stress this enough kids fussy eaters at the best of times (they have much stronger taste buds than adults, so everything tastes too intense or weird), so maybe it's not the best idea to challenge them with a strange meal when your only job is to keep them busy on a day off of school?

Especially when the random book they choose is Moroccan food, and Matt randomly suggests a recipe full of ginger and Tumeric. Dude, just quit while you're way behind and order a pizza.

Which, thankfully, is exactly what he does!

At the hospital Reid and JJ meet with the parents/grandparents of the latest victim. Apparently the mother's ex (not the father, no mention of him) is a total scumbag who needs to be looked at! That gets unwound in the next scene, however, when it turns out that he had an alibi for all of the crimes. Oh well.

The team still hasn't been able to find any connection between the three victims, at least anything that could have sparked the killer's interest. Reid is apparently working up a geograhphic profile, but that's going to be even less useful here than it normally is-
As you can see, the killer has travelled over a thousand miles to commit these crimes, which makes his 'zone of comfort' roughly 60% of the united states. But no, Reid, go ahead and draw some circles on a map, I'm sure that will help.

Then it's over to the killer, who watches someone drive away from their house before approaching it with a bomb!

In a funny scene, Reid essentially admits that a geographic profile is probably useless in this case, but extrapolates - based on nothing - that the killer is from another part of the country and isn't familiar with this territory at all! There's no reason to suspect this is the case. Luke suggests that him not being from around there could be the reason he doesn't mail his packages, which is the opposite of logic, I think? You think that because a guy doesn't know his way around, he's more likely to want to expose himself by driving through a strange neighbourhood and planting a bomb himself, rather than trusting a courier service? What kind of sense does that make?

JJ points out the more sane justification - that the killer is only planting them himself because he wants the thrill of pushing a button and watching someone blow up. Then the grandmother arrives with a letter from the victim's mail - it's a taunting card gloating about the murder along with a stalker photo of the victim! Everyone is super-comfortable touching these things with their hands, getting their sweat and fingerprints all over them, because they couldn't care less about evidence collection, I guess.

Then the bomber kills his next victim, and it's confirmed that he waits for his victims to see the stalker photo before pushing the button! Also I guess he takes photos of it as it's happening, because he's watching the whole thing through the lens of a camera.

More bomb info from Matt! It seems that the bomb from the teaser was specifically built to ensure the best possible chance of the victims surviving - with less charge and less shrapnel! They decide that this means the guy was 'more sadistic' since he wanted people to live on, suffering. This is, of course, a ridiculous idea, since there's no way of knowing what bomb pieces are going to do - and no one who survives a bomb blast is going to be sad they weren't killed. Unless you found a way to, I don't know, maybe ensure someone was blinded and deafened by a blast, the whole idea of a guy being 'more cruel' by not killing someone with a bomb is just absurd.

The team finds out about the new bomb - which was set off just an hour south of town. That's right, their decision to go all-in on Tennessee for no reason has proven fruitful! Then it's over to the bomber, who's prepping his next bomb while having memories of watching his mother get beaten by his father!

Reid and Emily puzzle out why there's no connection between the victims, and Reid eventually has an idea - what if the funeral notices being sent are a sign that the killer is really mad at the families of the victims, and the connection might be between them! Wait... Garcia wasn't already checking into the families of the victims? You know those people are suspects, right? What is she doing with her time? Also, that doesn't explain the powered-down bomb.

Seriously, though - the other two families each got a card in the mail with a stalker photo of the victim and a gloating message, and we're only just now hearing about it? That should have been your main piece of evidence after the first bombing!

More with Matt and his wife. Apparently the board game is a disaster, because instead of simply playing Monopoly and teaching the kids why capitalism sucks, he bought some nonsense over the internet, and the instructions are in a foreign language! Oh Matt, you're terrible at this. Let the kids go back to Smash Brothers. No, his solution is to just throw blank dice and let everyone pretend what the numbers are, so that the youngest kids can win! And everyone's fine with that, I guess?

Wow... they find the connection between the families almost immediately. The grandparents were on a cruise on the St. Lawrence recently, and five people decided to rent a car and drive around Quebec for a day! Now their families are being bombed! But why?

They talk about bringing the grandparents in for protective custody because they're obviously still targets - but if that was a possibility, why did you let them leave the building? Oh, and they find out that the corpse was dressed as a woman, and the team thinks that this means the killer has a specific target in mind, and what with the overkill, Aisha suggests it might be time for 'endgame'. Except, you know, he already killed someone with a less powerful bomb than that after the corpse test, and we saw him putting the latest bomb together.

Then the killer drops by the hospital and chats with the grandmother. He's got a box in his hands! Is there a bomb in it? He asks what doctor is treating the family members, and walks off! We already saw him making a book bomb, though, and this box is too small for that. Maybe he has two on the go? Also, why aren't the victims already being protected? Other than the two of them, the guy has a perfect record of killing everyone - why aren't they figuring he might be coming back? Or maybe they are - it's not like we've seen that the victims don't have a guard, after all.

Eric arrives to lock down the hospital, and it turns out that no, there was no guard on the victims and a bomb has been left in their room! Luckily he's there in time to get everyone out before it goes off - but instead of fleeing himself and waiting for the bomb disposal people to arrive, he pops the lid off the package, not understanding that this could be the trigger - it's not, there's a timer, but there's no reason for him to have suspected that.

It was a fake bomb, though - just another step in the guy's war of terror against his victims! Somehow they don't have a clear image of the guy, despite the cameras all over the place! So, why is he focused on this family - does it have something to do with how he described his mother as having been in an accident? More importantly, how is the killer finding these people? Actually, maybe that's not so hard - he would just have to know the names of one or two of them and then he could probably search instagram for the rest if they were all tourists together.

Joe and Emily interview the grandfather to find out what happened on their Quebec trip - no mention is made of talking to the other victims' families, probably because of the tight budgetary restrictions the show is operating under. It's only after going through the whole trip that the grandfather remembers that 'oh yeah, BTW one of the people I went on a drive with insisted that we stop and take a picture of a murder house'. How is this not the headline! You don't forget being asked to take a detour to go to a house covered in yellow police tape. That's the most interesting thing that happened to you this year before your daughter and granddaughter got blown up!

Joe and Emily immediately recognize the importance of it - a guy in Montreal had been killing old people to steal their pension checks and then when he was caught he blew himself up! And that was the house they visited!

In maybe the dumbest thing that has happened in the episode, the grandmother gets a phone call from the doctor who demands she come back to the hospital immediately. Let's recall that the killer knows the doctor's name, since she told it to him. She's not suspicious, though, and immediately leaves without telling anyone that she's going, even though she's the target of a serial killer, and the grandfather is in the next room, and would probably also like to know about whatever the doctor told her!

Seriously, this episode is just absurdly stupid, even by Criminal Minds' own standards.

The grandfather remembers that when his wife took the picture of the guy in front of the house she stepped on a bouquet the killer left! Also she was wearing a yellow dress! And he now remembers that the killer was there, watching them desecrate what was I guess the place his mother died?

The team realizes that the grandmother must be the target, and suddenly notices that she's disappeared! We then cut to the family home, where a cop is standing! He hears someone struggling nearby, and goes to investigate - it's the grandmother tied up. The cop gets shocked with a stun gun, and the killer looms nearby, meancingly!

Um... what? How did the killer get her to the house that the cop was guarding without anyone noticing? They live in the middle of nowhere. There's no other houses anywhere around. Or streetlights. Or paved roads. You can hear a car coming literally a mile away in a place like that.

Also how did the killer kidnap the grandmother? Where did he tell her to go on the phone - if it was anywhere but the hospital wouldn't she have found that strange? But how could he have intercepted her?

After the commercial break, we learn that apparently she was summoned to the hospital to 'fill out forms' - and no cops went with her because it was a shift change? Except no, that's not what happened - she didn't tell anyone she was leaving. We know that, because we saw her get up and leave. This still doesn't explain how he intercepted her.

Garcia finds out that the son of the last victim of the Montreal serial killer is a crazy psycho himself, and decides he must be the killer! Then they find out that the cop who's guarding the house isn't answering calls, so that must be where he is!

Then it's over to the killer, who does a little monologue about how, in an incredible coincidence, his mother used to work a tour for people going to see the sites of disasters! Yeah, that's too big of a coincidence. Let's just dismiss this part of the plot entirely, shall we?

While he's making a speech the team arrives and points guns at him. He threatens to blow them all up, but Emily notices that the detonator is actually clipped to his camera's lanyard on a tripod ten feet away, so she knows he can't do it!

Rather than simply saying this, however, and telling him to get to the ground because she knows he doesn't have the detonator, or even shooting him in the leg to keep him from moving for it, she tells him to go ahead and press the trigger, daring him to do it. This inspires him to run for the tripod nad gives them an excuse to shoot him to death.

THE END

Oh, and the two victims from the start are going to be fine. We only see the granddaughter because the production couldn't afford the daughter actress for more than a half-day, but we're told that she's out of surgery and will be better soon.

Emily wins a last-minute Prentiss Award for this line:

Yeah, um, Emily? Whether he was planning on blowing himself up before you got there or not is irrelevant, what matters is what he was going to do when the choice was 'blow himself up or go to jail forever'. He wasn't normally suicidal, but he was ready to blow himself up - he didn't fail to kill you all because he was scared to die or anything like that, he failed to kill you because he didn't have the detonator in his hand when you pointed guns at him. If he did, you'd all be dead. How are you all so bad at this?

It's weird that the show now has two different examples of using the term 'bluff' wrong. He was bluffing - but the bluff was that he had the detonator. They're acting like the bluff was that he was willing to press the detonator. So... they just don't know what words mean?

Back in DC, more stuff with Matt and his family! They're all sweet!

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

Nope.

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

The killer continued targeting the family of his victims. This made him quite easy to catch.

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

1/10 - So... nothing made sense this week, right?

Why the test explosion with the corpse? You knew that making a bigger bomb would have the effect you want - why risk getting caught just to prove that?

How did the killer find out who the people in that car were? He wasn't on the cruise, it was a rented car - I can't think of any way he could have discovered these people's identities.

How did the killer ambush the grandmother and then get her out to the house? As far as we know she walked to the police station parking lot, where she couldn't have been attacked, and drove straight to the hospital, where she couldn't have been attacked. How did any of this happen?

Also, why did he take her out to the house? It seems like the only reason to do that is so that the team would have some way of finding them and so the production wouldn't have to pay for a new location. Which are two pretty good reasons, actually.

Is Garcia terrible at her job now? The first victim had a daughter and the second victim had a sister who'd both been on the same international cruise a couple of weeks earlier and she didn't find that while looking into the victims. That's a pretty huge connection to miss.

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