Just when you think you have things figured out, the plot of “Criminal Minds” takes a detour and you realize you’re not as smart as you thought you were. Writers did it again in season 8 with “The Gathering”, which aired on CBS Wednesday, March 20.
In episode 17, the BAU is called to St. Paul, Minn. to investigate a case about women who are being killed seemingly at random, with no common tie to each other. Establishing the unsub’s signature is difficult because the method of killing changes, the only thing common among all of them is that their tongues had been cut out – while they were still alive.
With some digging, the team realizes that all of the victims have been sharing personal information about themselves in online chat rooms and social networking sites, and someone is using that information to target them.
We see a man looking at binders that appear to contain stories he’s written based on information he’s gathered about his victims. One woman mentions that she wished someone would rescue her from relationship problems. Another shares that she sleeps with her bedroom window open and makes references to bondage and S&M. Both of these women are later killed in a situation that bears resemblance to the personal details that they’ve shared. Without realizing it, they were describing their own murder scenes in what amounted to self-fulfilling prophecies.
A news report on TV describes the women who were killed and the unsub is outraged, destroying photos, information on a bulletin board that outlined their stories, etc. He screams “No, these are my girls, these are my stories”, then types “Betrayed” as the start of another tale.
Building the killer’s profile, the BAU determines that he’s socially awkward and likely in his mid to late 30s.
Only one of the victims wasn’t active in any online communities, and didn’t even have a computer or email address. Investigating further, the BAU finds that someone did have a blog that was dedicated to Kayla, written by a young man who was institutionalized for attacking his own mother. When Dr. Spencer Reid interviews him, he finds that Kayla was killed in the way described in this man’s writing, but he couldn’t have killed her because he was locked up. Someone else took his story and made it real. They learn that he is active on a site where people upload their stories for others to read, some about murder, others about rape and torture.
Discussion with a doctor at the facility uncovers that this writing is a form of treatment for some. There are two phases, the first being the patient typing the fantasy, and the second is supposed to be acknowledgement, but not all therapists push patients to work on phase two, yet allowing patients to discuss their fantasies without getting to the root of their problem.
We see the unsub taking part in a group that meets to share their stories, with the group leader reading them aloud and critiquing.
The team widens the net searching for leads, and a search of VICAP brought up three women in other cities who had tongues removed. A suspect named Mark had gone missing, but Garcia discovers that he is now living in St. Paul.
Back to the group sharing stories, Paul, who was our original unsub, is angry because he realizes that Mark, the group leader, has been stealing his stories. Paul wrote the fantasies, but had never acted them out. They argue after the rest of the group leaves, and we learn that the original fantasies made no mention of tongues being cut out, so that was a detail that Mark added to all of the murders.
SWAT and the BAU arrive at Mark’s house, but he’s not there. In the other scene, we see bloody footsteps leading from the group room, but have no idea who killed whom.
Mark worked for a hotline called “Call First”, and the team determines that the last call he took was an hour before, from someone named Peter Harper. That information leads them to an indoor community swimming pool where Peter has Tammy, who he tied up and then pushed into the pool. The BAU arrives and Morgan jumps into the pool to save her, while Spencer tries to talk him down. Dr. Reid’s choice of words backfires, and Peter slits his own throat. While Peter was not the original unsub, the team solves the case and ultimately rids the world of two killers.