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Criminal Minds - Neon Terror - Review: “Limelight”

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Hello again, all! Hope you enjoyed your holiday break.

It’s time to pick up where we last left the team, pre-Thanksgiving, with an episode that dealt with an unsub who used the media to bring attention to his crimes. An intriguing premise, to be sure, with so many possible avenues for the episode to take.

Unfortunately, many of those avenues were not taken, and we were left with an episode whose case was not only quite predictable, but gave me and likely many other viewers a strong sense of deja vu, It borrowed many elements from a decade-old episode (there’s a reason I picked the title I did for this review), and what’s more, those elements played out in extremely similar fashion to boot.

And that’s something of a shame, considering just a couple months or so ago, we had an episode like “Killer App” which provided some meaningful social commentary and brought a bit of a novel spin to a common sort of crime. The concept for this episode could have provided us with a similarly thought-provoking setup, and brought a whole new spin to, or updated, the issues that had been raised ten years prior.

Even with those complaints, however, I still like to try and note the positive aspects of an episode, too, and thankfully, there were a few good moments throughout worth highlighting as well. So let’s settle in, as usual, and tackle the ups and downs this episode brought.

The Case:

No opening scene with a possible victim this go-round, nor do we get our usual presentation from Garcia. Instead, the team learns about the case during a brief moment of downtime, during which they’re watching Rossi promoting a new book on a local news program. And how do they get the news? Via a mass text to their phones. Rossi, meanwhile, gets news of the case when the interviewer stops to share the breaking information. The team is down two this episode, as Tara and Reid are busy elsewhere (more on that later), and of course, Garcia stays back at the office, so the plane’s a little lighter this episode as a result, with only five people heading out to tackle this case.

And what a case it is, too. There’s been a string of murders in Miami. Three women have all been found shot to death in their cars. More specifically, they’ve been shot in the heart. The officers believe this is a string of robbery/homicides, and they know all the murders are connected because the ballistics from the bullets match. All the women look similar, too, so the unsub has a type. There’s no red flags in their pasts, and they all lived in the same area. And that’s about it regarding similarities.

As the team makes their way to Miami, we set up the scene with potential victim number four. A woman is on a date with a guy, but judging from the look on her face and the fact she’s not exactly cozying up against him, the date isn’t going very well. Apparently the guy took her to a restaurant that he’s gone to with his sister before, because that’s not awkward at all. The woman gently tries to end the date, telling the guy it’s late and she needs to get home. He offers to give her a ride – a sweet gesture, but no worries, she’s got her own car. With that, the two part, and the guy asks her to let him know that she made it home okay. Aw. That’s nice.

Once the woman’s inside her car, she starts venting to her friend about the guy and the crappy date, only to be surprised when he appears once more. Any sweet demeanor he had earlier is gone now. Instead, he’s ranting about her blowing him off, and asking why she doesn’t want to see him again. Talk about your lack of self-awareness. But anyway, he’s in full on rejected jerk mode, so clearly he’s our unsub for the episode, right?

Nope. As predicted, the woman does get shot in her car...but so does the guy. Ooh. Plot twist! It’s not long after this that the team arrives in Miami, and Luke and JJ head out to the couple’s crime scene. Their names are Natalie and Stephen, and since this is the first time a couple has been murdered in this spree, that, combined with all the women’s similar physical features, lead Luke and JJ to believe that the unsub is suffering from a broken heart. He may have started off just killing women, but perhaps seeing a woman with a man forced him to up his game.

There’s something else about all of these crime scenes that’s sticking out. The unsub is killing these people in public. And he’s not using a silencer when shooting people, either. Obviously this indicates he wants attention, but the question is, how is he managing to avoid being noticed? The police show up within mere minutes of the killings. Does he hang out to watch the reactions, the way arsonists do after setting fires?

The case gets even odder when Matt and Emily visit with the local officers. They picked up on a strange similarity with the victims as well. Each woman was wearing a giant colorful hair clip behind their left ear. When the officers interviewed the women’s families, they all confirmed that none of the hair clips belonged to the women. So apparently our unsub likes to dress up his victims a bit, which is always creepy. Matt and Emily also take note of how dated the hair clips look, implying the unsub is old enough to know somebody who wore them originally. Maybe his motive isn’t tied to romance. Maybe he had a mother who wore them.

Since the use of hair clips is something that only the unsub would know about, the team plans to keep that information to themselves. That plan falls apart very fast, however, when a local TV station discusses the hair clips in a news report. JJ and Rossi immediately head out to the station to find out how that information got leaked, and that’s when they meet the news director, Sandra.

We can tell right away that Sandra will not make a good impression on JJ and Rossi, because when they arrive to speak to her, she’s discussing possible cutesy nicknames for the unsub. The favorite seems to be “Neon Terror” (and thus explains the episode title). And we all know how the BAU feels about local media making up dumb nicknames for unsubs.

“I’m not answering any questions until there’s a lawyer on my side of the room, and a warrant on yours.”

After making their feelings on that matter known, JJ and Rossi learn how the station learned about the hair clips. That information is only in the official crime scene photos, after all, not the actual news footage. Sandra claims the photos came from a “protected source”, but she refuses to name them. She’s very dedicated to the work she does, you see, and the wall full of awards and articles about her adorning the hallway back that up. The dedication is indeed admirable, but the problem is, Sandra also gives off a heavy duty, “I like the attention and fame” vibe, too. Which is not exactly the best reason to go into journalism.

There’s also the fact that Sandra’s current job is actually a demotion for her. JJ and Rossi get the feeling the reason she’s so devoted to covering this crime spree has less to do with helping the victims and more to do with boosting her profile and getting a promotion. Sounds like a potentially good motive for an unsub, no? Except from what we can see thus far, our unsub isn’t a woman, but a man. Every so often we keep getting glimpses of a man at home, watching the news and appearing agitated. He also seems to occasionally keep having childhood flashbacks, in which he’s being carried somewhere while photographers are snapping pictures left and right, with reporters shouting questions.

The news reports seem to be stirring him up, too. Tragically, it’s not long before another woman, Lindsey, gets shot, this time in her garage. As usual, there were no witnesses, but Luke and JJ do notice a huge media presence appearing right on the scene. Could their unsub be part of the media somehow? It’d certainly be a good way for him to blend in. JJ also notices a neon glow stick at the scene, meaning Sandra’s nickname for the unsub has officially stuck.

Lucky for Sandra, all the people who work at her news station check out when the team investigates them. And they also can’t seem to pin down any suspects at other news stations either. They look into possible online blogger, and that leads them to a guy named Kal. He may not work for Sandra’s news station, but he does have connections to them, and he filmed Lindsey’s crime scene before the cops even arrived. Hm. He also rants about an ex online, an ex who looked an awful lot like the victims, no less, which brings the team back to the “scorned lover” motive.

Not surprisingly, though, when JJ and Rossi ask to get in touch with him, Sandra refuses. Kal bypasses her, however, and agrees to talk. He claims to have heard about the recent shooting on a scanner, but he didn’t alert the police because Sandra wanted him and the station to break the story first. Priorities, you know. He also claims he didn’t film the video. Rather, it was supposedly sent to him by a random Miami cop, and this cop apparently sent the other official videos and photos as well. He even has proof. So he’s telling the truth. Which means that the person sending this footage around is likely their actual unsub, and he’s specifically sending it to the station Sandra works at.

So ruling out Kal means another suspect down, which is good, but the team’s still no closer to finding their actual unsub. And considering the time between when he kills his victims, films the crime scenes, and puts the video out there is tightening, they need to get moving. Because eventually it will get to the point where he essentially makes a snuff film.

Unfortunately, before they can make any further headway, there’s yet another shooting. Like all the others, the woman was in public, and she has a clip in her hair, and the unsub brought a neon glow stick with him. He also actively filmed the murder as it happened this time. There’s just one notable difference about this crime scene – a little girl is in the backseat. She’s not hurt, thank goodness, but she’s clearly scared, a fact made painfully clear with the killer’s footage of her screaming and covering her ears. The little girl’s name is Alex, and the woman who was killed was her cousin, Nancy. Alex’s presence in this footage leaves Sandra rather shaken, surprisingly, and she becomes more cooperative with the BAU in trying to hunt this guy down. She even goes so far as to refuse to air the video this time.

JJ and Matt rescue Alex and bring her to the station, reuniting her with her parents. If the footage of the murder wasn’t troubling enough, there’s something else about this crime scene that particularly bothers JJ and Luke. They were out late at night, and Nancy stopped to answer a text from some guy. Normally babysitters don’t take children out late at night. So why were they out, and how did the unsub find them? JJ and Luke believe the unsub must’ve stalked Nancy specifically, and used a text as a ruse to lure her out.

There’s a specific reason he targeted Nancy, too, and the revelation comes when Alex’s dad is carrying her outside, trying to avoid the huge media presence. The scene seems to spark something for JJ. When she was observing the awards and articles about Sandra, she remembered seeing photos of a young boy being carried out in a similar fashion...and after an eerily similar crime. One Sandra remembers quite clearly as well.

Many years ago, Sandra reported on a tragic carjacking incident. A babysitter named Gina was driving a young boy to the vet to help his sick cat. Like all the recent victims, she was attacked and shot to death in her car, and she wore a hair clip. The boy, meanwhile, was left alone in the backseat, unhurt, just like Alex. His name was Jeffrey, and the media attention surrounding him after the tragedy was huge. Sandra herself had done an interview with Jeffrey not long after Gina’s death, paying attention to him, showing concern, giving him the attention he longed for.

Of course, as we all know, fame is a fleeting thing, and with time, Jeffrey’s story became old news. Sandra moved on to create a big career for herself, while Jeffrey’s life didn’t really seem to go anywhere important. Needless to say, this ate away at him, and eventually it got to the point where his loneliness became too much to bear. Hence, going on a murder spree. Not only would that get him in the news, but it’d get Sandra’s attention as well, and boost her profile again.

“We worked well together twenty years ago, and time forgot us both.”

Thing is, however, he doesn’t want to contact Sandra to catch up. No, he’s mad at her. Until Nancy’s murder, Sandra had been doing what he’d hoped by broadcasting the news and videos surrounding the murders. Sandra refused to air the footage of Nancy’s death, however, for Alex’s sake, and that just didn’t sit right with Jeffrey. So how does he plan to resolve this problem? Simple. He takes Sandra hostage at her station, threatening to kill her and broadcast her murder live to millions of people online.

Time to bring Garcia and her savvy computer skills to try and put a stop to this madness. The tension ratchets up as Garcia tries to cut the video feed, while Jeffrey rants at Sandra. He goes on and on about wanting her to tell the people viewing the video about his life, particularly how his interview with Sandra all those years ago shook him out of a year-long silence. He also wants to talk about how his cat licked Gina’s blood off him, which...okay, thanks for sharing, dude? Yeesh.

“Not today, Satan!”

Rossi and Emily hurry out to the station and work to try and talk Jeffrey down, but he has no desire to listen. Garcia finally manages to stop his video feed, but this only angers Jeffrey more, and the tension is razor-sharp at this point as we wonder what he’ll do next. Emily and Rossi take one last stab at trying to calm him down by promising him all the media attention he wants, and that seems to finally placate him, as he surrenders.

After giving Sandra a few moments to collect herself, Rossi checks on her. What has she learned from this experience? “It wasn’t terrifying. It was exhilarating,” she says, her voice unnervingly full of glee. She then asks Rossi to thank Jeffrey for her. Ooooookay, then. Rossi wisely decides to leave the creepy moment at that and goes to leave, and as he does, Sandra heads over to a group of reporters, eager to tell them all about Jeffrey, and her role in his infamy.

Did any of this plot sound at all familiar to you? It should, as the show did a very similar sort of storyline about ten years ago, in an episode entitled “Limelight”. In that episode, the driven, fame-obsessed woman was named Jill. She was a detective instead of a news director, but that’s where the differences end between the two women. Like Sandra, Jill also tried to come up with creative names for the unsub. Like Sandra, Jill was abducted by the unsub. Like Sandra, Jill only became more driven and fame-obsessed after her ordeal. Like Sandra, Jill butted heads with the BAU, most notably Rossi.

The episodes weren’t complete mirrors of each other, however. At least the cases and unsubs were notably different. In this episode, the unsub shot people in public, and longed for attention. In “Limelight”, the unsub kidnapped and tortured women, and he’d kept his crimes a secret for years.

I think it’s safe to say, however, that “Limelight” ultimately remains the stronger of the two episodes. The concept of the case for this episode was a good one. Sure we’ve had a number of episodes involving unsubs trying to post their crimes online for the world to see. But this unsub specifically wanted to get law enforcement and the media’s attention in particular. I was intrigued by the possibilities with that, especially with social media being what it is nowadays.

Unfortunately, I felt the episode didn’t really do much with those possibilities. I think having a character like Sandra actually be part of the crime spree, and working with somebody to put the video out there would’ve made the case that much more intriguing. Not only would it have made Sandra less of a Jill rip off, but it could’ve led to a good opportunity for some social commentary as well. Think about the way social media can skew people’s perspective of who’s responsible for a crime when footage of said crime is made public. Add in a city gripped by fear over a man shooting people, seemingly at random, in public, and that’s a ripe setup for misinformation and accusations flying about. It would’ve been quite interesting to see how the BAU tried to deal with that sort of situation, and how somebody like Sandra might’ve exploited that scenario.

And that’s not all. I also think it would’ve been neat to see JJ touch on her media liaison past in relation to this case. We all know she encountered a few people like Sandra back in the day when she would do press conferences. I would’ve liked to see her and Sandra butt heads a bit more because she knows firsthand the problems that can come with a news station trying to beat everyone to the punch for access and information. Or maybe she might’ve had to slip back into her old role to try and combat whatever misinformation was being spread by Sandra and her station’s interference.

And then there’s Rossi. Having him deal with Sandra made perfect sense, given his prior experience with Jill, but again, there were some missed opportunities. In “Limelight”, we saw him wrestling with the role his true crime books played in making people more interested in the killers than the victims. We saw him trying to warn Jill from making the same mistakes he did in that regard. It would’ve been good to see him discussing similar things with Sandra here. There’s also the fact that Jill was a detective, and therefore didn’t have quite the same kind of media experience that Sandra and Rossi have. Maybe we could’ve seen Rossi comparing how he discussed crimes in his books to how Sandra and her station discussed them.

But as fun as it is to play “coulda, woulda, shoulda”, ultimately, I could have dealt with the similarity between episodes and the general setup if the case weren’t so utterly predictable. I don’t think it was even twenty minutes into the episode before I could see where the case would ultimately go, and I was pretty well spot on with my guess in the end. About the only things I wasn’t certain on was Sandra’s possible guilt or innocence, and the showdown at the TV station. A predictable case in and of itself isn’t always a bad thing, because there can sometimes be interesting bumps along the way, but this episode didn’t really offer much in the way of small surprises to balance out the predictability.

I do give the episode credit for keeping me guessing for a while regarding Sandra’s involvement in the case, however. I think they did well at making her just shady enough to where I could’ve believed she was guilty somehow. And despite the fact that she was so much like Jill, she was still an interesting character all the same. Her thoughts on her ordeal at the end were legitimately unsettling, and it was fascinating to see just how many lines she was willing to cross, or not cross, to get her way.

And, as noted earlier, the tension during Jeffrey’s final showdown was indeed very well done. I figured Garcia would stop the filming just in time, yes, but I was honestly wondering for a while there just how Jeffrey would go out. I don’t know if I saw him giving up quite as easily as he did, but given he longs for attention, it made sense the promise of that would’ve been enough for him to back down.

Plus, as clearly unhinged as Jeffrey was, in some ways, I felt just the slightest bit of sympathy for him, too. Going through such a traumatic experience at that young an age, being manipulated by a woman wanting her own glory, having seemingly little to no stable support system...yeah. I’m not surprised he wound up as he did. Clearly he was crying out for help, and for all the attention he got, nobody really listened. That’s a rather powerful realization. I kind of wish the episode had shown us whether or not Jeffrey wound up getting the fame Emily and Rossi had promised him in the end. Obviously they wouldn’t provide it, but maybe somebody else might’ve. That could have been a rather chilling way to end the story.

So okay, we had a case that was predictable and borrowed from a prior episode. Was the personal side of things any more interesting?

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

“Oh, good, we didn’t miss it!”

Eh, not really. The tidbits themselves were interesting, but this is pretty much all we got for side stories:

-As noted earlier, Rossi has a new book out! It’s about Tommy Yates, and he went on a local talk show to promote it.
-Reid was away this episode, conducting a lecture as part of his thirty day work break.
-Tara was also absent, because she’s still working with the people in Bridgewater to make sure Floyd Ferrell stays locked up.

And...that’s about it. I can’t even really tell you how any of this stuff turned out, either, because all we got were brief one or two liners about Reid and Tara’s whereabouts, and Rossi’s book promotion was confined to the beginning of the episode only. Which is a bit of a shame, I think. If the show’s going to dangle these potentially intriguing snippets in front of us, there should have been a little follow up at the end of the episode, or even partway through it. We could’ve had a scene at the end where Emily gets a call from Tara, updating her on how the Floyd case is going. And maybe she, or one of the other team members, could get a text or a phone call from Reid on the trip home as well (or heck, they could check in with him), where he lets them know how his first lecture went.

And given the show made a thing of Rossi promoting his book at the start of the episode, it seems very odd they didn’t touch on that any further. Since this episode already had blatant similarities to “Limelight” as it was, they might as well have gone the extra mile and take the opportunity for Rossi to reflect once again on how his role as a true crime writer impacts society’s fascination with murder and other violent crimes. It would’ve been interesting to find out what sorts of potential lessons he’s learned within the past ten years or so in relation to the two cases.

For example, Rossi didn’t defend Sandra the way he defended Jill. Was that intentional? Did he change the way he approached his true crime writing after the “Limelight” case, and will this latest case with Sandra further affect the way he writes? Did he ever try to contact Jill? Does he think there’s a chance for Sandra to change? He mentioned during his book interview how profilers and serial killers can both struggle with obsession – he could’ve commented on that further in relation to Sandra. All sorts of questions and scenarios that could’ve provided a meaningful compare/contrast setup for Rossi. Not touching on that felt like something of a wasted opportunity.

Speaking of questions, I have a rather big one regarding Tara’s recent absences. This episode is the second one in a row where the show’s made a point of telling us that she’s away working on the case against Floyd Ferrell. On the one hand, one could argue mentioning him isn’t such a big deal – the case with him wasn’t that long ago, after all, so it makes sense they might make a reference to it. Especially given all their effort in that episode to keep him from slipping out of their grasp. Naturally they’d want to update us on how that effort is going. Plus, mentioning that case is an obvious way to explain away Aisha Tyler not being in an episode.

But then again, they could’ve found other ways to explain her absence, too. Maybe she was working on another case entirely, or doing something that was connected to the job she had before joining the team. And one mention of Floyd might not be a big deal, but the fact they’ve mentioned it twice now? Well, it all just has me wondering if this is a hint that Floyd may rear his nasty little head again sometime later this season. Keep in mind that the show isn’t that far away from the 300 episode mark, and this season itself will end on episode 299. And the show’s been quite fond of bringing unsubs back lately. So I could see a callback in time for that milestone being a strong possibility.

I could be completely off with this assumption, too, of course, but still, it’s a thought that keeps lurking at the back of my mind anyway. If I am wrong about that, though, and Floyd’s appearance was just a one and done sort of deal, then hopefully, when Tara returns, we’ll get an update on how her efforts to keep him in prison played out, ‘cause I’m rather curious to hear the details.

Since I like to try and end things on a lighter note where possible, I will say that I thought the opening scene with the team all sitting around with some popcorn and watching Rossi’s interview was really cute. As was everyone’s supportive thoughts regarding Reid and his lecture. I will forever enjoy any moments where we get to see these guys support and cheer each other on.

Hard to believe, but we’ve got just one more episode to go before the winter break! Looking forward to seeing how the show wraps up 2017.

What did you think of the episode? Did the similarities to “Limelight” work for you, or was it a little too much of a replica? Were you surprised by how the case played out? Did the unsub come off sympathetic at all? How creepy was Sandra, and what do you think will become of her? How do you think Reid’s lecture went? Do you think these recent references to Floyd Ferrell are a mere coincidence? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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