On the one hand, Criminal Minds gets to stay close to home in season 12 episode 4. On the other hand, they’re looking for a serial killer whose hunting ground is the Appalachian Trail, and they’ve already had a case in the area (season 6 episode 9 “Into the Woods”) in which they never caught the UnSub. You don’t really want to kick off a case by remembering one where the killer got away.
“Keeper” also begins with Reid getting some good news about his mother, but things go downhill from there, unfortunately. But in happier news, Luke brings Roxy, his dog, to work with him, and I really want to see more of Roxy.
Oh, and Hotch is still on TDY (temporary duty) and available to consult if needed, so we have no idea how they’re planning to write him out, but temporary duty has to end sometime or lead to a job change, right? In the meantime, it seems like Rossi has taken over as team leader without that really being addressed, which makes sense, given his seniority.
Plus, Garcia finds out that Luke’s Roxy is his dog, and he explains that he knew she didn’t want to like him at first, so he made it easier on her. I like that they didn’t draw that out, and Garcia really stands no chance once she meets Roxy.
If You’re Going to Go Hiking, Be Smart, Safe and Avoid Body Parts
A trooper investigating a homeless man who has been stealing dog food from a shop along the trail probably regrets looking into it once he finds the man’s camp because there’s a bag dripping with blood. I don’t think he needed to look in the bag to know there were body parts inside. But they’re not the only body parts the man has on him; he’s throwing ones from his backpack along the trail as he runs through the woods.
Upon receiving the case, the team immediately begins to speculate as to why the man had these body parts. Trophies? Forensic countermeasure? Found the bodies and is collecting the limbs? The preliminary ME reports says that the body parts are from at least five different victims.
But is this man the UnSub? “Keeper” clearly wants the audience to think so, since we see him standing over a man who is tied up and has a muzzle on and later shows him standing over the dead body, muzzle off, holding an axe, but I’m not so sure.
They find a muzzle among the homeless man’s belongings, and they know what he looks like (thanks to security footage of him in the shop) stealing the dog food. Why didn’t he take anything to eat for himself? J.J.’s brain immediately goes to the bag of body parts.
The ME reports that four of the victims were men between 40-50, while the sole female victim was in her early to mid 20s. That suggests he’s only looking for victims of opportunity. One of the male victims was killed almost a year and a half ago, while the other three were killed eight months, five months and two months ago. The female victim was the most recent, killed a week ago. The rate of his kills is accelerating.
Luke arrives at the Trail with the search dogs, and they find the man’s backpack (with the initials KF on it) as well as more remains in the woods. Throwing away the body parts, which they assume the UnSub collects like trophies, suggests he knows where to get more.
Abducting, killing and disposing of this many victims suggests a level of skill and sophistication that the man in the video doesn’t seem to have, so does he have periods of intense focus? Working with someone else would mean being able to plan and coordinate, and again, that’s not what they’ve seen with this man. Maybe he did stumble upon a mass burial ground and just took body parts?
Garcia finds a text from a Kylie Fleming (hence the KF on the backpack) to her parents saying that she accidentally saw something creepy on the trail and was going to get off it as soon as she could. That suggests that their initial assumption that the UnSub was taking victims of opportunity is incorrect; he does have a victim selection preference, and he only killed Kylie because she was a witness.
While the police may have cleared the area of other hikers, Prentiss knows that won’t stop the UnSub. He’ll just look for his victims elsewhere. That’s exactly what he does, taking his next victim as he’s getting into a car while picking up dinner for his family.
And the Real UnSub Is …
While following a possible trail the UnSub took to head into town, Tara finds a plate with dog food (and the can) and is tackled by the homeless man. She manages to kick him off, then Luke punches him and cuffs him. But where’s the latest victim? He’s tied up and muzzled in a barn.
All Tara manages to get out of the homeless man in interrogation is that his name is Todd and he was stealing the dog food to lure his lost dog back. He’s fixated on the dog, as Prentiss soon learns when she tries to talk to him. Dogs can’t take care of themselves, he tells her. They need food and water, and he wants them to let him go. What’s his dog’s name? Cormac, Todd says, but he didn’t name him. It’s always been his name. He was small at first, then big and he’s “younger” than Todd.
The missing victim is Howard Walker, pretty far from where Luke and Tara found Todd without a vehicle. DNA from the muzzle matches one of the original five victims, suggesting the UnSub makes his victims wear it, a way of dehumanizing them; it’s easier to kill an animal than a human.
Luke brings Roxy in to see if that can help with Todd since he’s looking for a dog, but Todd insists she’s not Cormac. When Roxy goes up to him, however, he pointedly looks away. He clearly doesn’t want the dog near him, as the profilers note. Luke bets that they won’t find canine DNA on the leash they found with his stuff. Even though the dog may be a delusion, Prentiss still thinks Cormac is real, possibly a younger brother, based on how Todd talks about him.
And Prentiss is right. Todd and Cormac Burton lived out in the boonies, and while no one’s there now, there is a stockpile of canned food and bottled water. Todd could have holed up there. As Garcia discovers upon digging, their mother drank herself to death, and their father beat her and both boys and died of a heart attack a year ago. Todd stayed in the area, lived on the streets and did drugs, while Cormac, once he turned 18, moved to the other side of the state and kept to himself, working at a store. When their father died, Cormac returned to the area and then disappeared, last seen 14 months ago. It’s a classic case of transference: Cormac the dog and Cormac the brother.
They think that Cormac may have been Todd’s first victim (though considering how early in the episode they have Todd in custody and Howard still missing, I’m thinking Cormac’s actually the UnSub), since he disappeared around the time that the first victim was killed. They think that Cormac moving back to town was Todd’s trigger, but why keep killing after Cormac was dead?
Meanwhile, poor Howard is still tied up in the barn, but he does manage to get the muzzle off his face. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to hear him yelling for help.
Prentiss tries to talk to Todd since he seems as clear-headed as he’s been, but Todd doesn’t want to talk about Cormac anymore. When she takes the muzzle they found with his belongings out, Todd remembers his father putting them in the back of his truck and holding a muzzle. If they acted like animals, he was going to treat them like animals. He made them live like pigs, Todd reveals to Prentiss. He put muzzles on them and forced them to stay with the pigs until the slaughter, until he killed them.
As for the dog, it was his brother’s, but his father took it from him and made Todd accompany him when he let it out into the woods. Cormac was different after that, like something broke in his head. (Oh, it’s clear where this is going.)
Meanwhile, Rossi and Tara find out that Todd moved to the same area that his brother did because he couldn’t give up his role as his protector. That includes protecting him once he realized he was killing people. Cormac is the UnSub, and Todd cut up the bodies to hide the evidence. He failed his brother in childhood, but he wasn’t going to fail him again. Cormac is also with Howard, telling him that it’s almost time for the slaughter.
Fortunately for the BAU, the boys’ father’s cousin owned a farm where he raised and sold pigs, so they know exactly where to find Cormac, and just in time too, since they arrive when he has a blade to Howard’s throat, placing him in the role of his father. Know what they say about a cornered animal, Cormac asks when J.J. and Luke burst in. “He gives up.” Cormac surrenders.
Prentiss then tells Todd that they found Cormac and he’s safe and happy. “You saved his life,” she says. “He’s safe because of you,” because of the food he left out. It’s exactly what Todd needs to hear.
Good News … and Then Bad News for Reid and His Mother
Before getting the case, Rossi finds Reid celebrating at his desk. The director of the assisted care home where his mother lives told him that she’s going to be a participant in a groundbreaking clinical study on Alzheimer’s, Metabolic Enhancement for Neurodegeneration. Results from earlier testing are hopefully, not just to slow the disease, but to actually reverse it. This is better news than winning the lottery. So of course it’s too much to hope that it lasts.
During the case, Reid receives a call from the Las Vegas police because his mother was found wandering around a casino near the assisted care home, and she didn’t know who she was or how she got there. He spoke to her on the phone and she sounded normal, but embarrassed by all the fuss, he tells Rossi and J.J., who assure him that they’ll be fine without him and he can go spend time with his mother.
But just as he’s leaving work and planning to head to Vegas the next day, he gets another call. His mother was one of the ones randomly cut from the clinical trial due to budget constraints. Rather than go and see her, Reid wants to stay and try to find her something else. However, Rossi advises him to not lose sight of the bigger picture. He only has a finite amount of time left with his mother, and he shouldn’t waste that by being focused on trying to find a fix. The best medicine he can give his mother is being with her. After Rossi leaves, Reid calls a doctor about another clinical study.
Did you guess that Todd wasn’t the UnSub? What did you think of Roxy? What do you think is going to happen with Reid’s mother?
Criminal Minds season 12 airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Criminal Minds Facebook page.
(Image courtesy of CBS)