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Criminal Minds - Submerged - Review: “The Pact”

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Here we are, first episode of 2018! Woo!

Or maybe that should be more like, “...woo...”. Because the first episode of this year...was kind of a dud. Which is a shame, given the show went into the winter break on a fantastic note, with the intense, suspenseful, engrossing “False Flag”. It would’ve been nice to continue that excellent streak into the new year, especially since elements of this case had some interesting potential and could’ve led the story in a totally different, and less goofy, direction.

That was not to be, though. But you know me, I always like to look at the positive where I can, and I’ll certainly highlight those moments in this review when they come along. Let’s get to this.

The Case:

The opening scene to this episode certainly seems appealing at first. There’s romantic music playing, lit candles sitting alongside a pool, a woman’s bikini top floating in the water. Looks like we’re about to interrupt some kind of sexy rendezvous.

Or, you know, we’re going to see the woman’s dead body floating in the water instead. Eek. Talk about ruining the mood. Things get even more disturbing when we see a man bound and gagged, a cinder block attached to his ropes. He’s pushed into the pool shortly after, and that’s the last we see of the poor guy.

As Garcia soon informs the team (and us), the unfortunate couple are Larry and Wanda, and they were newlyweds. Aw. Wanda was shot in the chest, and Larry obviously drowned. The unsub also looked to have robbed the couple’s home, since some of Rhonda’s jewelry has been reported missing.

And since these sorts of crimes typically aren’t isolated events, the team also learns of two other similar robbery/homicides that happened recently in Ramona, California. One involved an eighty-one year old man named Ben, the other a man named Burt. Both men were killed in the exact same manner as Larry – drowning in their backyard pools – and Ben’s coin collection was taken from his home. It’s revealed later on the plane that Burt’s bowling trophies were stolen from his place, much to Luke’s confusion. The types of things stolen may be different, but the robbery/homicide angle and the use of pools are pretty much the main connection between the victims. They were all longtime residents of the area, but none of them knew each other. How the unsub found all of them is yet another in the many mysteries the team will have to solve.

While the team’s making their way out to California, it’s time to meet the unsub. He’s pouring bleach directly into his eyes. Okay, so this is clearly going to be one of those weird unsubs.

“Don’t suppose you folks brought some rainmaking secrets with you?”

Once the team gets settled in at the police station in Ramona, they meet the local sheriff in charge of this case. His name is Clifford Mason, and he’s got his own theory regarding this rash of robberies. Ramona’s been struggling with drought conditions in recent times, and that’s had a negative impact on the tourism and outdoor activity businesses. As a result, the economy is struggling, and when that happens, people get desperate. It’s a valid theory, bolstered even more by the fact that the unsub specifically uses pools in their M.O. A commentary on the drought and its impacts? A way to punish those who have the luxury of things like pools while others are low on much needed water? Something to consider.

Rossi and JJ’s investigation of Larry and Wanda’s home gives the team a few more answers and new avenues to consider as well. This is an unusual robbery in the sense that there’s no forced entry. Rather, the unsub looks to have walked straight through the gate, no problem. The house itself was trashed, however. Neither victim has any defensive wounds, and there’s no indication Wanda was sexually assaulted, as she seemed to be half undressed before the attack.

One other odd thing about the robbery that jumps out: the unsub only took costume jewelry. That stuff may be pretty and fun to wear, but it’s not exactly going to fetch a lot of money for a robber. And the way the home was trashed seemed rather staged. Ben’s coin collection wasn’t worth much, either, and it was scattered along the shoreline of a nearby lake. The unsub clearly had no interest in keeping the things he stole. These revelations lead JJ to believe that the robberies are nothing more than an afterthought, a smokescreen of sorts to throw off the investigators.

Late on, while the team explores the lakeshore and attempts to collect the coins for evidence, a new and horrifying discovery is made. A man’s body is found in the lake...and as Sheriff Mason informs the team, dead bodies aren’t exactly an uncommon site in this lake. Apparently there’s lots of skeletons and other human remains there from over the years. Why? Well, the lake was a man-made one, you see, and as it formed, people who went to hang out in the area would sometimes get caught in the water and drown. Thanks to the recent drought lowering the water levels, however, more and more of those people’s bodies are being found. So that’s incredibly creepy.

Mason and the team don’t know it, but they’re being watched by the unsub. He’s observing the entire lakeside investigation from a distance through his binoculars, and once he sets them down, we get a proper glimpse at his face at last. And frankly, he looks like he should audition for the role of the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. That bleach messed up the right side of his face pretty good.

His observation of the team is interrupted shortly after by a young boy named Tim. He apparently saw the whole thing with the retrieval of the body from the lake. The unsub asks him what the body looked like, and Tim apparently doesn’t seem fazed by the idea of an adult asking a child such a dark question. Tim and the unsub then acknowledge the fact that they both believe in ghosts. Mmkay.

Back at the station, the team examines all the evidence they have thus far, and there’s still a few details that are puzzling them. The murders are very organized and planned out, while the thefts are disorganized and impulsive. Could there be some sort of weird symbolic aspect to the way these crimes play out? There’s also the fact that the lake is a ways away from the neighborhood where the crimes occurred. Why would the unsub need to travel that far?

“Let the dead rest in peace.”

As the discussion about the whole situation with the lake continues, we learn at one point that it’s all really not sitting well with Sheriff Mason. Not because he’s involved in this bizarre case somehow, but because he has his own sad story to tell regarding that lake. Years ago, his high school sweetheart drowned there. She and Mason had gone their separate ways after school, with her going on to have a family of her own, and Mason had always wondered what might’ve been had they stayed together. Her death closed that chapter for good, sadly, and as much as Mason misses her, he’s also not keen to find her body in the lake. He prefers to remember her as she was, and wants her to rest in peace where she is. That’s a really bittersweet story, I gotta say. Poor Mason.

The new information about the recovered bodies does manage to reveal another surprising bit of information, though. Nine people drowned in the lake last year. The first body was pulled out on November 22nd. The second was found November 28th. And then two more were discovered on December 3rd. Anyone want to guess what dates Ben, Burt, and Larry and Wanda, respectively, were murdered? Yep. The crimes coincided with the removal of the bodies. Chilling.

Unfortunately, the unsub is wasting no time in adding to his victim list, as we see him binding and gagging yet another man while wrapping and sewing him into a bedsheet. His M.O. is shifting a little this time, however. He forgoes the cinder block, using only a chair to weigh the man down this time, and instead we’re treated to a squirm-inducing moment where he brings a needle towards the poor man’s eye. Thankfully, we’re spared the full extent of what he did there, but we do get the oh-so-lovely image soon after of seeing a needle sticking directly through the now dead man’s nose. Said man’s name is Walter, and he had a wife and children. Thankfully, they’re far away from this madness, visiting family in Florida. While the method of killing may be different, the robbery aspect is still the same – Walter’s place is ransacked, though nothing seems to be taken.

If there’s one piece of good news in all of this horror, it’s that Walter’s murder does finally provide the answer behind the unsub’s murder methods. Thanks to a call to Reid, Rossi tells the team that the whole “needle in the nose” thing is an old pirate technique used to determine that somebody is really dead. Between that and the theft of things like cheap jewelry and coins, and the unsub’s more immature side coming out in the disorganized thefts, the team concludes that their unsub apparently believes he’s a pirate. And those men he killed? They were simply “walking the plank”, as it were.

Okay, then.

So if this unsub sees himself as a pirate, that seems to speak to some sort of childhood incident, and further investigation appears to support that theory. Apparently, the unsub’s trigger, whatever it is, must’ve happened around the time the man-made lake was being created. All the family homes in the area were brought up and the families moved away – except for one man, a guy named Bob Turner. He didn’t move away, but he did mysteriously disappear about twenty years prior. Perhaps he has some sort of connection to the unsub?

“We specialize in mood adjustment.”

Turns out it doesn’t take long for the team to find him, and they do so in a rather unusual way. Bob’s wandering the docks near the lake, calling out to people and trying to get their attention. He even pulls off one guy’s sunglasses, much to the guy’s chagrin. Before a fight can ensue, though, JJ and Luke show up and bring Bob in for an interview.

Problem is, Bob’s not exactly in the mood to talk. That alone is enough to raise suspicions, but it’s his past that really raises some eyebrows. Garcia learns, through a search of Bob’s history, that Bob Turner isn’t even his real name! His actual name is Casey Peters. And why would he change his name? Well, he’s kinda got a nice little rap sheet involving things like embezzlement and fraud. Oops. He hightailed it out of the area about twenty years ago once he learned the FBI was closing in on him, and he remained under the radar for twenty years. So what’s lured him back to the area now? And is it just a coincidence he happens to be back in town right around the time a string of murders occurs?

As the team’s trying to get Casey to open up, the unsub continues to stay busy (and is now sporting an eyepatch to cover his bleach-destroyed eye, because, y’know, pirates). He runs into Tim once again, and they get to chatting about random things. The conversation soon turns to the topic of pirates, and the unsub shares a story from his childhood, in which he and a friend would go around town dressing up like pirates and playing games and whatnot. They even went so far as to make an actual blood oath, mingling their blood together and reciting a pirate’s code.

The unsub then decides it would totally be a good idea to make a blood oath with Tim and play pirates with him. Tim agrees to this, because what kid doesn’t want to share blood with a near total stranger? It’s completely normal for strange men to ask children to do blood oaths! Anywho, so they go through with it, but Tim’s got one more step he must take in order to prove he’s an official pirate. According to the unsub, he must stay out on the lake alone for an entire night.

Tim hesitates at this suggestion, claiming that his parents would worry about him if he were gone too long. HI, KID, YOU JUST SWAPPED BLOOD WITH A STRANGER, WHAT WOULD YOUR PARENTS SAY ABOUT THAT, HM? But he ultimately agrees, and I think we can safely say this will not end well. Somebody get this kid to a “Don’t talk to strangers” lecture, stat.

Surprisingly, however, the unsub does not harm Tim at any point during the night. Instead, he’s struggling with nightmares in which he himself tries to enter the lake, only for a dead body to pop up out of nowhere. Not going to lie, I actually flinched a bit when the body popped up in the unsub’s dream. Tim, meanwhile, manages to follow through on his dare. He’s officially a pirate now! But the unsub is not finished with him.

While all this is going on, we finally get some proper information on our unsub. The guy’s name is Jess Carney, and not surprisingly, it seems he had a rough life. He ran away as a teen, was institutionalized for a while, and returned home at the age of twenty-four. He tried to resume a normal life, taking on a couple jobs in the area, but the bodies being recovered in the lake seemed to trigger something in him, and he began killing.

So what was his trigger? Well, it all has to do with Jess’ story he told Tim about his friend from childhood. His friend’s name was Leland, and they were true buddies. They liked to play pirate, just as Jess said, and did the whole blood pact thing. They also gathered up some trinkets to make their own buried treasure, and hid it away down by what would eventually become the man-made lake. I think you can see where this is going. One day, Leland went down to where their treasure was buried to keep an eye on it as the lake was being filled up. Sadly, he got swept away into the water and drowned. Jess was supposed to go with him, but he got too scared and backed out at the last minute.

So basically, Jess has simply been trying to recreate his friend’s death in a twisted sort of way, perhaps in an attempt to deal with his guilt over abandoning and losing him, and dumping the coins along the shoreline of the lake was some sort of sacrifice, as well as an attempt to add to the boys' "buried treasure".

And now it looks as though he wants to use Tim as a sacrifice/recreation sort of thing. True to form, he binds the boy, adds the cinder block, and prepares to toss him in the water. He’s interrupted, however, by Matt, who’s arrived on the scene to try and capture Jess. His plans go awry, however, as his presence startles Jess...and Jess responds by shooting Matt! He then throws Tim in the water and attempts to escape via his boat.

Luckily, Matt’s bulletproof vest takes the brunt of the bullets, and he recovers enough to jump into the water and rescue Tim. He’s unable to get to Jess, though, as he’s long gone by the time Matt and Tim get back onto the dock. But Tim is okay, and he’s reunited with his parents, and Matt’s injuries look to be minor at best, so at least that part of the story ended well.

As for Casey Peters? He’s not the unsub, obviously, but he is connected to the case in a tangential way – he’s Leland's father! He returned to the area upon hearing about the murders, believing his son was involved in them. He tried to look for him, but when he couldn’t find him, he started to believe that his son might’ve actually been among the bodies hidden in the lake.

His son isn't the murderer, which is good, but unfortunately, the team has to inform him of Leland's death in the process. Casey admits that he’d hoped that Leland was involved with the murders, which sounds like an odd thing to say on the surface, but he explains his reason as to why. If Leland was involved, that meant he was still alive, and that meant that maybe Casey might be able to see his son again, even if only through prison visits. He’d just missed a potential reunion with his son, and now he’ll spend time alone in a jail cell for his own crimes.

Later that night, the team and Sheriff Mason both head back out to the lake for a moment of reflection. A short time later, as the team prepares to leave for home, it starts to rain.

Okay, so let’s get the main aspect of this episode out of the way – the whole pirate story and setup. The idea of somebody struggling to deal with the death of a childhood friend, and being stuck in a state of arrested development because of such a tragic loss, is an interesting idea in and of itself. I think that part of the story worked the best – the untimely death of Leland, and Jess’ desire to reunite with him, is genuinely heartbreaking, and it makes sense that somebody who was already struggling with personal issues would be especially affected by that event, to the point where they could become a killer. The mental instability can also plausibly explain the unusual nature of his crimes.

Where the story got all awkward and weird was in the unsub’s methods. If the lake was his main focus, why not just kill all his victims there, instead of in pools in areas far away. I could get that he wouldn’t want to clog the lake with more bodies, as that would muddy up any hopes he might have of finding Leland’s body...but considering he was willing to throw Tim in there, that seems to counter that argument to some degree. Plus, since it was the lake that killed his friend, one would think that he’d use it as part of his murder spree as some kind of retaliation towards those who decided to put the water there in the first place, and kick families like his out of their homes.

The sacrifice angle with the coins kinda fell flat, too, since that was the only item from his victims that he dumped near the lake. They didn't mention whether or not he dumped the jewelry and trophies there, too - if not, why not? And if so, one would think they would've mentioned that. And on a similar note, why would he steal bowling trophies? The gold and glitter of them would fit the treasure theme, yes, but why not find something else that was gold and glittery in nature to steal instead that would connect better to the pirate theme? Or why not make the trophies be for something other than bowling? It just seemed an odd thing to steal.

The whole “walk the plank” bit didn’t make sense, either, because, well, no, the men didn’t walk the plank, at least, not literally speaking. They were shoved into the water while tied down to something. It would’ve been more effective, and fit the pirate theme better, if he’d actually made the men walk a plank, holding a weapon towards them to make them comply all the while.

And the victimology seemed off, too. Targeting Tim made sense, because he was closer to the age Leland was when he died. But targeting random older men didn’t really seem to fit with his whole pirate setup. There was no connection between them, and they had no ties to the lake or Leland. It would’ve made sense if they’d been among those who brought up the homes along the lake – that would be enough motive for Jess to seek revenge, and it seems a missed opportunity on the writer’s part. And since they didn’t go with that idea, I think it would’ve made much more sense for Jess, who was perpetually stuck in a thirteen year old mindset, to target people around that age. It would’ve made the story even creepier, too – he could’ve been a Pied Piper sort, luring children to an unsuspecting end.

Ultimately, though, I think it might’ve made more sense to just forgo the whole pirate aspect of things altogether. The bodies appearing out of the lake was the much more interesting part of the story, I felt, and Leland’s tragic death at the lake could’ve still worked in that setting without having to bring the pirate theme in at all. Maybe Jess and Leland snuck down there to play one night, only for Leland to be sucked under. Maybe there’s a more sinister reason behind all the drownings in the lake, Leland's included, that would push Jess to seek revenge. Heck, maybe Jess himself was responsible for some of the drownings before being institutionalized, and once he got out, he resumed killing people at the lake. I dunno, I’m just spitballing ideas here, but any one of those ideas would’ve been far more realistic and appropriately creepy than an unsub wanting to play pirate would be.

For that matter, Jess didn’t even need to be the unsub at all. Given how antsy Sheriff Mason was throughout the whole case, especially when it came to the bodies in the lake, I initially wondered if he was going to be our unsub. The victimology would’ve made a lot more sense with a killer like him, since he was an older guy himself, and with his knowledge of the lake, and his own personal loss related to it, there’s some potential for motive right there. Maybe one of the male victims had some connection to his high school sweetheart, or he could’ve just targeted newlyweds like Larry and Wanda out of bitterness for his own love slipping away, and used some of the stuff stolen from the house to “honor” her. Stuff like that. Or heck, don’t let Mason be the unsub, but have his initial theory about the robbery/homicides being economically motivated be the main focus. That would’ve made for a really good story idea, too.

I also feel it would’ve made sense for Mason to have some bigger role in this whole case, unsub or not, mainly because otherwise, he really didn’t have much to do this episode. You get somebody like Lou Diamond Phillips on your show, he should have some major involvement of some kind in the storyline.

Then there’s Matt being shot. Let’s just set aside the idea that Matt would easily bounce back right away to where he could dive right into the water to save a child with no problems, ‘cause whatever, this show’s had a few unrealistic moments like that with the team, so I can shrug that off.

But the fact he wasn’t impacted at all aside from being knocked down for a moment made the idea of him getting shot at all pretty pointless. Jess could’ve simply tossed Tim into the water and started away in his boat without having to fire a shot at all. The fact that we didn’t get any sort of “How are you doing?” moment with him afterward just further showed how unnecessary the shooting was.

There’s also the fact that Matt may not have been shot at all, and the team may have been able to nab Jess in time, if Matt had some kind of backup on him from the get-go. Sure, he called for it when he came upon Jess and Tim, but I’m finding it kind of odd how some episodes this season have had team members wandering off alone to confront an unsub. I would think the events of “Wheels Up” would’ve shaken the team up enough to where nobody dares go anywhere alone again, and would’ve led Emily to be a lot tougher on that part of things.

As noted at the beginning of this review, though, I like to touch on the positive, too, and I will say that the backstories for Mason, Jess, and Casey legitimately worked for me. Mason’s story explained his deep investment in and unnerved reactions to the case perfectly, and I felt for him at the end of the episode as he stood at the lake, reflecting on his lost love. I mentioned already how heartbreaking Jess’ story was. And Casey’s longing to reunite with his son, and his explanation why he hoped Leland was tied to the murders, was rather poignant in its own right. I also liked the discussion, brief though it was, regarding letting the dead rest in peace, instead of digging their bodies up. It’s those quiet little moments, those emotional backstories, that draw me into the cases on this show.

I also admit to liking the whole thing with the rain falling at the end. Cliche as hell? Yes. But somehow it worked for me anyway.

So the case was alternately kinda meh and weird. Was the personal side story any more exciting?

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

Eh, no. Rossi’s tired because he was up late the night before, the result of a long-running poker game, he claims. That’s it. There was a funny bit where JJ tries to guess who some of his poker buddies may have been (Ringo Starr, an old general friend of Rossi’s, and Judge Judy. And the mere idea of Rossi and Judge Judy playing poker together entertains me greatly), but there’s no further mention of Rossi’s late night beyond that. Pretty uneventful, huh?

Or maybe not. The way the camera lingered on Rossi both when he was getting coffee and after the rest of the team headed towards the conference room, leaving him alone, had me wondering if maybe the “late night poker game” explanation was made up, and there’s a deeper reason behind his being up late. If that’s the case, then I wish we could’ve touched on that story a bit more in the episode. Or that we can touch on it in a future episode. If that’s not the case, however, then it was a humorous little moment, but nothing more.

So the first episode of 2018 may have been on the more routine side, but I’m hopeful that the next episode will be much more exciting. It’s the fourth collaboration between Kirsten Vangsness and Erica Messer, and I’ve liked all the episodes they’ve written together thus far, so I’m looking forward to what comes of that one. Especially since, unlike their other collaborative efforts, this episode will not be centered around a specific team member.

Also, Reid returns from his break next episode, so hopefully we can get an update on how his time off went as well. Until next time, everyone!

What did you think of the episode? Did the pirate theme work for you, or was it a little too odd? Did Tim’s open trust of Jess seem like typical kid innocence gone wrong, or naivety? Did the sad stories for Mason, Jess, and Casey strike the right emotional chord with you? Do you think Rossi’s late night was just that, or do you think there’s more to it? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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