Criminal Minds 1508: Family Tree

The episode begins on a sidestreet as a man in a sports car negotiates with a sex worker. What kind of sports car? I don't know! The logo on the front is vaguely shield-shaped, is that Porsche? Just checked - Porsche does, in fact, have a shield-shaped emblem, but so do Ferarri and Lambourghini, so I've got nothing. I'll lock in my guess as Porsche, but it's 1/3 and I'm only sticking with it because it was my first thought.

I would do terribly on The Price is Right.

The woman shoos the john away - apparently he tried to pay for sex with stamps! Now, depending on the size, a roll of stamps can easily be worth 50$, but I agree with her - this isn't a barter system we're living in. A creepy guy watches her from across the street in a pickup. Does he have evil intentions? Have you ever seen an episode of Criminal Minds?

He walks over to the second sex worker and asks her if she'd like someone to help her escape her life of depravity, which is a deeply condescending question to pose. He imagines her saying yes, but of course she doesn't, which presumably has marked her for death! Oh, and the killer has a gimpy leg, and the first sex worker full-on saw him and his car. So they've got leads!

We cut to the killer dragging the sex worker's body through the woods to a cabin, where he prepares it somehow with a knife, then buries it in a shallow grave. All the while he rambles in voice over about how he's really a good person, and he's only doing this because he has to. But who cares? He's a murderer.

Then it's over to Quantico, which is introduced with an establishing shot of DC! They've got just three more chances to get this wrong, are they going to take every one of them? On one level, I hope that they do! On another, it would be nice to finally see a part of Quantico that isn't the Marine base!

Turns out I was wrong, and for the first time in ages, they're in DC! Emily is meeting with someone about possibly becoming the director of the FBI! Yes, the woman who used to murder people for Interpol and faked her own death. That's exactly who you want in charge of the famously scandal-averse FBI.

The crazy part is, if they'd offered it to Hotch, this would have made total sense, but Emily? Not at all! Wow, is this going to screw up her relationship if she takes the job! At actual Quantico, a way more important job opportunity has sprung up! JJ might be moving to New Orleans for a field office job! It's a huge step down in her career trajectory, of course, but it would doubtless be way better for her marriage. Garcia and Reid are both upset by the news, obvs.

Time for a rundown of the case! The killer has the MO of murdering a 'respectable' man, then killing a sex worker soon after! Also he disfigures the corpses. It's not important how.

Then things get super disgusting, as the killer records a 'please catch me' message onto a tape and prepares to mail it - then starts making an ear necklace! Is he going to send that along with the tape? Maybe! Am I sad that I had to tell you a detail about the mutilation? Definintely!

Got to say, when I heard the title of the episode I thought it was going to be about the Face/Off killer - what with his whole psychosis being about his relationship with his mother. But no, I guess they're going to wrap that up in one episode next week?

Guess we'll find out after the opening credits!

On the plane we get one interesting detail - the men he kills are tossed in the trash, while the women are buried in shallow graves. Why does he give the sex workers more car in the disposal? More importantly, how are these bodies being found so quickly? Is he burying them in the middle of jogging tracks in public parks? In the set of woods where cops go to train their corpse hounds?

No real news at the police department - the men were well-respected, the women were known to the police. Then the envelope with the message and ear turns up - it was left on the windshield of a squadcar! I wonder how long the killer had to walk around before he found an unattended cop car? More importantly, do cop cars' dash cameras run constantly, or just when the car is turned on? If it's constantly, they've probably got useful footage of the killer! Oh, and it was just a bloody earring in the envelope with the rape, not an entire ear. Thankfully.

At the ME there are more interesting details! The mutilation is done post-mortem, and the different genders are killed differently! Women are strangled and men are stabbed! Also the men were clubbed in the back of the head before being stabbed in order to subdue them, while the women were just choked. Why the different method of killing for men? If they were stunned by the blow to the head, couldn't he have strangled them as well? Is that meaningful?

Also, where were these guys abducted from? We're told that they're upper-class dudes - how was this guy able to club them, stab them to death, and drag them to his car without drawing attention to himself. Were they into something shady?

Oh, and the women were buried in a shroud, facing down. Is the facing down part of a specific religious rite I'm not familiar with? They don't seem to find it that odd.

Turns out sex worker 1 has provided them with a sketch of the killer that looks exactly like him! No details about his car, though, which you think she would have noticed if she'd gotten that good a look at his face.

Meanwhile, the killer is drinking in a bar somewhere! The bartender is having trouble with her family, and this causes him to freak out and yell about how important family is! She is understandably weirded out and steps away to deal with another customer.

The killer is also looking for a new car, and he stops on an ad for a '93 Dodge Ram Pickup, which costs 10K, apparently! That seems high for a 28-year-old vehicle, doesn't it? I looked it up, and apparently it depends entirely on the condition of the truck - fully restored to like-new condition they go for 10-15K, while a regular old car version is down around 2500. So let's assume this is a really nice used vehicle.

Less nice? The work by the prop people! Who've been phoning it in for like years now. Here's the killer flipping through a full-colour flyer booklet of car ads:

Here's the closeup of the ad in question:

That's right - the prop people have taken a colour printout and stuffed in between the pages. Would it really have cost so much to actually print up the whole booklet? Yes, this kind of thing happened on Hannibal, but it was  

At the office, the team listens to the tape and believes that the guy's voice is so distinctive that someone might recognize it! It really isn't, but since they've got a good picture of him to go with it, it might spark something! More notable is his complete lack of any kind of Texas accent. Which is far from impossible, but it seems weird not to mention, since they're just an hour east of Houston.

The killer goes to the truck lot and we get a window into his delusion! He goes to men and fantasizes about identifying them as his long-lost father, and imagines that it will go well! It doesn't, though, and he kills them. Does he actually suggest that they're his father to the men, or does he just kill them? Perhaps we'll find out in a scene or two, since he drives off with the car lot owner for a test drive!

The team spends a little time wondering what the significance of the victimology might be, but their navel-gazing is rendered irrelevant when they discover that the killer has kidnapped the car lot owner! They rush out to talk to people at the lot - and hopefully grab some surveillance footage!

More self-important rambling from the killer. Once again, who cares?

The next day JJ and Matt are at the car lot, getting info. That's right - they didn't bother going to the lot until at least 12 hours after getting the call. Because... They thought they needed a good night's sleep? I'm at a loss here.

JJ notices that all of the male victims were from well-established area families. Could the killer be focusing his rage on people with 'deep roots' in the community? Turns out this isn't as big a clue as it could be, since the new tape has the killer going on and on about trees and roots. It's a little frustrating because the show is being incredibly oblique about exactly which parts of his monologues are being recorded and sent to the police, and which are just for us, the audience. Like, when he full-on talks about how the car guy wasn't his dad, are they going to hear that? And is the tape that Emily is listening to the one from yesterday, or has he sent a new one along?

Because the killer used the word 'altar' to describe the trees that the women were buried in front of, and they were wrapped in a white sheet, the team assumes that he must think of them as brides! It seems like a leap, even considering that he cuts off the left hand of the victims, and that's where wedding rings go. Then Reid wins a Prentiss Award for this attempt to justify the tongue removal:

It couldn't, though. Why would it? And if he's 'unbriding' them by cutting out tongues and removing hands, why put them in white and bury them at an altar? You see how none of this tracks at all?

Also, sorry about giving you the other mutilation detail. I was really trying to avoid that. I promise that's the last one.

The team does the profile, telling the public information that won't help identify the guy at all - hey, remember the one time that actually worked? The Halloween episode from season 10, I think? That was fun, right?

Somehow they get through the whole briefing without mentioning that they have a sketch of the guy, and definitely have video footage from the car lot.

Eric and Aisha call Penelope to ask her to help tracking down the killer's parents. She sarcastically responds that it should be no trouble at all, given that 1.2 million people live in the area! Fun fact: This is ten times the population of Beaumont, TX! Are the people who work on this show so utterly checked out that they can't spend ten seconds on google getting the basic facts of the place where their episode is set?

The killer rushes into the bar and tries to get the bartender to come with him to see the tree under which he was conceived. Unsurprisingly, he is thrown out by a bouncer, because that's a crazy thing to do. Somehow no one notices that he looks exactly like the sketch of that crazed murderer who's killed five people in the past week, including a prominent local businessman.

Operating under the assumption that the killer is the son of a sex worker - the first female victim having been much older than the second - Garcia tracks down a woman who had a kid when she was a teenager, and then got child support from the unnamed father's rich family! She passes the info about the sex worker along so the team can track her down! Turns out she died a couple of months ago, and they don't have any good leads on the son. Which is odd, since if you know his mother's name, and know when and where he was born, then you also have his name. Even if he was 'off the grid' as you suggest, you still know the guy's name.

Oh, and the bartender gets kidnapped, because even six hours later, no one has made the connection about the crazed murderer who looks exactly like the crazy man who was harassing her. The bouncer comes in to talk to the team after the abduction, and mentions that the killer talked about the tree where he was conceived, and said that he needed a new truck because his couldn't handle mud. Wow... this guy had a LOT of useful information to offer!

The killer takes the bartender out to the woods to see his tree that has severed hands and whatnot hanging from it! It's not shot artistically at all, because people are trying to wrap the show up in a hurry.

Using the lead about mud, the local cops circle all of the bayous in the area, and try to figure where the killer could be hiding out. They assume that the place the killer was conceived would definitely have been owned by the family of the important person who fathered him, which is kind of a leap, but let's let them have this one so we can move on.

Unfortunately the bartender doesn't know to play along with the ravings of madmen, and she keeps saying he's crazy and has to let her go. This proves to be upsetting for him, as one might expect it would be.

The team finds a guy who was shipped off to boarding school right when the killer was conceived, and his family owns a ranch outside of town, so he must be the guy! They drive over there and give chase - during which he manages to shoot Joe! Non-fatally, of course.

Then it's time for a showdown with the cops. The bartender finally learns to play along with the killer - only no, she doesn't, the shooting Joe and everything after was just another fantasy he had after being shot to death by Joe. Because one more pointless fake-out is exactly what the episode needed.

On the plane ride home we learn that there were more body parts on the tree than were missing from the victims they know about. But wouldn't upper-class men from old families have been reported missing? Or were all of the body parts from other sex workers?

Then Emily and JJ talk about their various job offers - the twist? Emily wants JJ to take over the unit if she becomes head of the FBI! This is a terrible choice, of course, but since the show has run out of characters with any kind of leadership skills, I guess the best move is to just give it to the person who's been on the team the longest?

This, by the way, is a terrible way to manage a team. Just FYI.

Back at the office, Aisha is transcribing the tapes, and finds it puzzling how the guy flitted back and forth between a fantasy of an ideal life with his parents, and the bleak existence he lived in. She acts like this is super-strange, but it's the most common thing in the world for serial killers to have elaborate fantasy lives. Like, it's an assumed fact about them that they are devoted fantasists who imagine themselves as powerful creatures and endlessly imagine how their crimes will go before committing them. I don't know where this is going, but I find it extremely strange that she's acting like having an absurdly detailed fantasy life is anything but completely normal for killers like this guy.

Matt goes to chat with Joe about their day - Joe's weirded out because someone took a shot at him! It might finally be time to retire for real! Once he's dealt with the face/off killer, of course. He obsesses over why F/O 'let him live'. Um... because the cops were right on his heels, and he didn't have time to stab you the way he loves to. Why are you pretending that this is all part of a bigger plan of his?

Wait, is it all going to be part of a bigger plan of his? Come on, Criminal Minds, that would be just ridiculous.

Then we cut over to F/O, who's hanging out with his latest mark! Again, this is the most wanted criminal in America, and he's not wearing a disguise of any kind:
How on earth is this woman unaware that he's a famous serial killer? This scene isn't set in Chile, is it?

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

Sort of? I'm honestly a little confused about how to score this, because it's not clear what info was on the tapes they got. Given the stack Aisha was working through it seems like every bit of VO was from one of the tapes, which means they got handed the father fixation on a platter, which makes the rest of their deductions pretty facile. Still, the unrealistic leap about the mother being a sex worker paid off, so I'll give them partial credit!

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

They had a perfect sketch of the dude, a description of his car, and video footage of him. He should have been picked up the second he returned to the bar.

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

3/10 - It's really saying something about how weak this season has been that this is one of the high points of using psychology to assist them in solving crimes. The episode is also a perfect example of how much the show's reduced budget is making things more preposterous. Rather than making this ridiculous leap that the father would have taken a woman to his family farm, this episode could have been perfectly logical had they just identified and gone to talk to the father, who could have explained the significance of the tree that the killer mentioned, and directed them to the farm.

But that would have required hiring another actor, and that's one thing the show absolutely refuses to do. No matter how much it would have helped the script.

Hey, why didn't the killer bury all the women on the property he was squatting on? Right, so that the cops would find the bodies. How did that happen again?

Wow, so they're really going to wrap up the Face/Off killer thing next week! I hope it's satisfying! It probably won't be, but hopefully it'll be a fun ride!

So, will that be their last killer story, or will they catch someone in the final episode? It's only a week away and already I'm unbelievably excited!

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