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Criminal Minds - The Capilanos - Review: “Send in the Clowns”

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Yeah, I went with the cliché title. Sue me.

So. Clowns. Just the word alone can be enough to send a shiver down one’s spine, and indeed, fear of clowns (also known as coulrophobia) is one of the most common phobias out there nowadays, possibly only second by arachnophobia (my personal phobia), if anything.

I’m in a minority view with my feelings on clowns, as they don’t bother me personally. I think my early childhood spent watching Bozo the Clown might have played a part in that. But I can totally understand why some are afraid of them. Thanks to creepy stories both fictional (Stephen King’s It) and real (John Wayne Gacy) which feature clowns, along with the strange makeup and eerie-looking grins clowns are known for sporting, it’s very easy to understand how that fear became part of the public consciousness over the years.

And for those who are afraid of clowns, I think it’s safe to say this episode did not help ease their fears one bit. This episode marks cast member Matthew Gray Gubler’s eleventh time as a director, and it’s a fitting subject for a man who’s directed episodes featuring human marionettes, creepy borderline incestuous siblings, backwoods hillbilly unusbs, and introduced us to the ominous Mr. Scratch. Of course he would know how to perfectly capture the freaky nature of clowns as a result. Even I got a little spooked at times, thanks in no small part to the numerous jump scares throughout, as well as some of the unsettling visuals related to the crime scenes themselves.

The freaky nature of the subject matter helped my interest in the case itself as well, even if I would’ve personally chosen to take a slightly different tack with the premise. There were some appropriately scary moments, interesting unsubs, and genuinely thoughtful and touching moments throughout, and most importantly, the case was also more straightforward in nature, and not nearly as out there as some recent cases have been. So all in all, it worked for me.

Surprisingly, there was no side story this week, which is a bit of a shame, given the team’s just recently weathered a tense investigation and a breakup, brief though it was. I would’ve liked a nod to how the team’s been settling back in after all of that craziness. But at the same time, the lack of any side stories also made it easier to focus on the case itself, which, considering the premise of this show, is fitting.

So if you’re feeling brave enough, let’s explore the creepy world of clowns, and see how this case played out.

The Case:

As per usual, things start off innocently enough. It’s late at night in the small Oklahoma town of Guymon, and a man is returning home to his house out in the countryside. He’s not alone, though – his sleepy young son is with him, and he gently carries him into the house and settles him into bed. Later on, though, the boy is awakened by a strange noise of some sort, and scurries into his dad’s room for safety, taking his stuffed bear with him (totally relatable, that). His dad doesn’t seem to mind his unexpected guest, though, as he simply lays down next to his son, and the two of them soon drift off to sleep. It’s all very peaceful and sweet and awww.

And then a clown peeks out from underneath the bed. Yep. Here we go.

The team gets the case shortly thereafter, and the details of what happened to this father and son are pretty disturbing stuff. The good news is that the boy, Dylan, is alive and physically unharmed. Unfortunately, he’s not faring nearly as well emotionally. Turns out he witnessed the murder of his father, Mark, claiming a clown, likely the one hiding under the bed, was the killer. His dad’s mouth was cut in a weird fashion (though the mouth-cutting was after death, so...yay for small mercies, I guess?), and he was violently beaten to death. A truly horrifying thing for a child to see, for sure, and the entire incident has traumatized Dylan into silence. The killer also robbed the house, because why not add to your rap sheet?

Garcia then tells the team about another similar robbery/homicide that happened in Colorado the week before. That man, Sam, was murdered in the same manner, and also like Mark, Sam was married, and his wife was out of town at the time. The only difference is that Sam’s kids weren’t home at the time of the murder, either. So the team feels they can rule out a possible family annihilator as their unsub, which is a small bit of relief. Still, it’s clear this unsub’s not planning on stopping their murder spree anytime soon.

Upon arriving in Guymon, Emily and Rossi head out to the sheriff’s office. He was one of the people who responded to the crime scene, and he explains that Dylan had been the one to call 911. Thing is, though, the murder happened at midnight, and Dylan’s 911 call didn’t come until after sunrise. The kid spent the entire night hiding in terror, alone in the house with his deceased dad. My heart is breaking so much for this poor child, good lord.

Luckily, Dylan’s mom has since arrived, and has been keeping vigil at his bedside as he recuperates in the hospital. Reid and Matt head out there, and Reid decides to try a different tactic with Dylan in the hopes of getting him to share what he witnessed. He suggests Dylan simply make a drawing showing what the unsub looked like, and that seems to do the trick, as Dylan’s haunting memories inspire him to start creating a picture. Sure enough, when he hands the drawing to Reid, it indeed shows the image of a clown. It’s a good start – at least clowns are easy to spot, right?

Elsewhere, JJ and Tara inspect the crime scene. The house is secluded, so no witnesses, and the unsub looked to have found a way to sneak in and lie in wait for the family to return home. Initially they think this means the unsub kept tabs on the house beforehand, but breaking into secluded homes seems to be their M.O. Garcia informs JJ and Tara that there were reports of three similar home invasions in Colorado prior to the unsub’s first murder. Perhaps the unsub simply stumbled upon the homes while driving around, and took advantage of their seclusion to commit their crimes unseen. There’s also the possibility that the unsub may have a specific connection to the towns where they committed their crimes, so Garcia decides to try and look further into that aspect as well.

And that’s when she discovers another strange aspect of those robberies. There was a smiley face carved on the front door of each home. And when we get our first glimpse at what looks to be our unsub, while we don’t see their face, we do see things in their car that have smiley faces drawn all over them. Makes sense as a calling card, given the supposed clown angle. The question now is, what inspired the unsub to go from mere burglary to full on murder?

Other interesting discoveries from the team’s continued investigation: judging from where Mark’s body was found, they believe the unsub actually tried to avoid having Dylan witness his dad being killed. So apparently the killer may have a miniscule level of compassion lurking within them. Emily also managed to get in touch with Sam’s wife at one point, and she had told Emily about an unsettling story Sam had shared with her not long before his murder. On his way home, he was nearly in a car accident, and the driver of the other car freaked out on him. Could this be some kind of road rage incident gone horribly wrong?

Reid then tells the team about Dylan’s drawing. He believes the unsub painted the clown makeup on, instead of wearing a proper mask, and he was clearly dressed like that before he broke into Mark’s home. An attempt to throw off witnesses who might otherwise identify him without the makeup, perhaps?

Soon after, we see another family returning home, and this time, it’s the entire clan. A mom, a dad, and two children. The mom ushers the kids off to bed before turning in herself, and the family bids each other good night. The dad finds himself alone downstairs, and decides to pop into the kitchen to see what’s in the fridge.

I think you know where this is going. It’s a time-honored horror movie move. Sure enough, the moment the guy closes the fridge door, HELLO SCARY CLOWN! Hand to God, I knew that was coming, and I still flinched.

Anywho, so JJ heads out to this latest crime scene as well, Matt accompanying her this time. The unsub killed both parents in this latest attack, but once again, the kids were spared. Fortunately, unlike Dylan, they were not witness to their parents’ deaths. So the unsub clearly has no desire to physically hurt or kill children, but by leaving them orphans, he’s still obviously traumatizing and emotionally torturing them. The fact the unsub’s targeting parents also clearly speaks to some sort of issues related to his own childhood, some kind of abuse or neglect or things of that sort. He may even have a scar similar to the sort he leaves on his victims.

Given two people were killed this time around, the unsub would have a little tougher time taking down both of them at once, so this leads JJ and Matt to start wondering if their guy has a partner. That suspicion is confirmed by a witness this time around. A neighbor claims they saw the unsub running and getting into a van, with somebody else in the driver’s seat. The pieces are continuing to slowly fall into place now.

Around this time, we finally get to see our unsub in person, as he and his partner are sitting in their van. They see the police wandering about, and are expressing fears about getting caught. The unsub’s partner seems to be completely in the dark about the actual murders, however. As far as he knows, they’re just breaking into homes, and he’s starting to regret even doing that. The unsub doesn’t seem to think very highly of his partner, calling him weak before they turn and drive away.

“I don’t know how we’re gonna get through this.”

Back at the hospital, Reid continues to stick around, helping to keep an eye on Dylan and waiting to see if and when he’s ready to speak again. According to Dylan’s mom, Reid’s presence seems to be a calming influence, which, aw. Dylan’s mom is clearly struggling, trying to figure out how she and her son will manage and deal with Mark’s death, and Reid helps to comfort her. He goes into a big explanation about how, after a tragedy, people will often experience that moment in the morning when they wake and all is good and peaceful for the briefest of moments, before the bad stuff comes flooding back in.

Reid feels that little moment of peace is a pact of sorts that the universe makes with people’s conscious/subconscious, as a means of helping them find comfort and hope, and his words seem to help Dylan’s mom feel a little better as well. He also reassures her that Dylan will talk again, when he’s ready, and that just being there for him will make the pain a little easier to deal with. And again I say, awww. This whole conversation is so incredibly sweet and touching.

Reid also spends time looking up various photos of clown faces drawn on eggs in an attempt to compare them to the style of the unsub’s clown mask, to see if that gives him a clue as to the type of clown the unsub’s inspired by, if any, This also allows him to launch into an explanation about the history of a particular London clown at one point. Apparently the “faces on eggs” practice was started post WWII, as a means for professional clowns to copyright their makeup designs and outfits. There’s 300 examples of such images on display in a small town in England. The more you know.

So at this point, the team feels they’ve got their profile of their criminal duo pretty well locked down. It’s a dominant/submissive team, with the submissive, obviously, not participating in or even knowing about the murders. The unsub’s clown disguise serves multiple purposes for him – it hides him from potential witnesses, it emboldens them to be as dangerous as they want without repercussions, and it also hides whatever personal insecurities they may have about themselves.

Later that night, a group of kids decide to sneak into a cemetery. They’re a lot braver than I would be, let’s just put it that way. But it isn’t the dead that winds up scaring them away. Instead, they first see a balloon floating mysteriously off in the distance, a clown peeking out from behind the tree shortly after. Next thing you know, yet another jump scare, as a second clown pops up right in the camera. Luckily, however, both clowns are taken in and arrested right away.

Turns out these guys aren’t THE duo the team is looking for, however. Matt interviews one of the two guys, and he confesses that he dresses up like a clown because it’s the best way he knows how to get attention and put some excitement into his otherwise boring, overall lonely life as a telemarketer. He takes a friend along to add to the fun. “When I go out dressed like this, I make a difference in someone’s night,” he says. O-kay. He doesn’t know anything about the unsub or his partner, however, so that’s a total dead end.

While the team continues to try and hunt down this duo, we see one half of them holed up in a hotel...with his family. Yes, the non-violent member of this team apparently has a wife and son, and he seems very devoted to them. He dotes on his son, Mikey, trying to teach him how to blow up balloons and follow in his clown-y footsteps. His wife, meanwhile, is concerned about making sure they have enough money to head down to Florida, where they hope to finally put down some kind of stable roots. Her husband wants to talk to her more about this issue, but their conversation is interrupted when he sees a news report on the recent murders. This is how he finds out what his partner’s really been doing during the robberies, and needless to say, he is not happy. He has no interest in killing anyone, and he, logically, doesn’t want his family traveling around with a murderer.

The man, who we now learn is named Tony, goes to confront his partner about the murders, and surprisingly, the unsub apologizes for taking their crimes too far. There’s still a lot of tension between them, though – they’re both low on money, and the unsub further angers Tony by revealing he lost the money they’d gotten from a pawn shop while gambling. Tony looks to have one foot out the door of this partnership at this point, but the unsub manages to entice him to stay by claiming he knows a rancher from whom they can get some surefire cash. And, he promises, he will not kill anyone this time.

The two men head out to the ranch later that day, and attempt to break inside. Their plans are thwarted, however, when the owner appears at the door, shotgun in hand. A wrestling match ensues, and the gun goes off. Unfortunately, the rancher is critically injured in the struggle, which further angers Tony. In fact, the criminal duo made a few mistakes this go-round. This is the first place they broke into that had security cameras, and they knew there were cameras there. They also tried to break in during the day. All their other robberies, and murders, took place late at night. And the murderer didn’t have his usual clown garb on, either, exposing him to potential witnesses. Are they getting sloppy? Desperate? Bold?

The failed break-in further adds to the growing tension between the two men, and it’s at this point we learn that they’re brothers. The unsub, whose name is Sal, reminds Tony of all he’s done to protect him throughout their lives, such as taking the brunt of their father’s beatings when they were kids. Tony, meanwhile, tries to convince Sal to find another means of getting money, because he’s got his family to think about and he can’t afford to take any more of Sal’s big, dangerous risks. The issues are just too much for these two to overcome at this point, and Sal decides he’s done with his brother, leaving him behind.

Around this time, Reid manages to make a significant breakthrough in his communication with Dylan. The boy finally feels comfortable enough to speak, and tells Reid that he remembers the unsub wore denim and smelled like horses. Reid shares this description with the rest of the team, and offers to bring Dylan down to the station, feeling he might be more at ease and safe there, and more willing to continue talking about what else he may have seen.

With this new information, the team starts trying to figure out possible places in the area that feature both horses and clowns. Traveling circuses and carnivals are an obvious place to look, and it’s discovered the brothers did work the circus circuit at one time But since circuses and carnivals are nowhere near as popular as they used to be, the brothers soon had trouble finding long-term employment as a result.

Emily then considers the idea of rodeos, which are very popular in this part of the country. Garcia starts searching around the area, and wouldn’t you know it, the places where rodeos exist were in the very towns where all the recent crimes were committed. This line of work also explains the brothers moving from town to town, and explains their initial descent into robberies. When your job doesn’t pay you enough, and you’re constantly trying to look for quick work, you can become very desperate.

And why are they so interested in this kind of performing? Simple. It’s in their family history. They learned the tricks of the trade from their dad, who was in the circus back in the day. That’s where the good aspects of their dad ended, however, as he was also a very abusive father, going so far as to eventually kill the boys’ mom. After killing her, he then abandoned the boys, and the circus folk became their parental figures, so to speak. Sadly, however, when the circus they worked at shut down for good a few months ago, they lost those parents, and felt like orphans.

This was enough to stress them out, and led them to start on a life of crime. Tony loved working as a clown, but Sal took his father’s influence and teachings to heart, focusing more on the daredevil antics that his father was famous for. That love of thrills and danger manifested later on in his crime sprees, and not only did he become a performer like his dad, he also followed in his father’s murderous footsteps, acting out his abandonment issues and loss of parents on his victims and their families.

So now the team zeroes in on any possible rodeos in the area, and find out there’s one in that area scheduled for that night. JJ and Matt head out there, but the brothers are nowhere to be found. The brothers are known by their last name, the Caplianos (aha, title reference!), and apparently their name is no good in the rodeo world. The owner explains that they’ve had a lot of trouble with the brothers, Sal especially, as he attempted to cut a fellow circus worker’s face, just like he would later do with his victims. After that, the Caplianos were blacklisted from working in any professional rodeos. Dang.

Key word there, however, is “professional”. Legit rodeos may not take the Caplianos, but there are also migrant rodeos in the area, and those tend to fly under the radar, due to their use of illegal immigrants. Their lack of regulation also means they’re more likely to take on anyone who’s willing to work, no matter how sketchy, and that’s how Tony winds up working at one of them. Initially, the person running this rodeo actually is wary to have Tony working there, being familiar with Sal’s dangerous behavior. But Tony assures him that he works alone now, and unlike Sal, he’s responsible.

He also explains that he needs money to help take care of his family, and that’s enough to convince the owner to take him on. While he’s getting set up, Dina and Mikey are sitting in the van nearby, relaxing. And then...CLOWN. Yes, for those keeping track, we’re now at jump scare number four of the episode. Sal’s back in his clown makeup again, and he forces Dina to get out of the van, demanding to know where Tony is and threatening her in the process. She’s wary of giving him that information, however, and tries to get him to leave. Mikey waking up from his nap is what ultimately scares Tony off, though, and he goes in search of his brother.

He soon finds Tony getting ready for the rodeo, and the brothers find themselves in another face off. This one gets physical, with Sal pulling a gun on the owner, who comes to try and break things up and chase Sal away. Tony then grabs the gun, and threatens to shoot Sal himself, to try and put an end to the madness once and for all. Fortunately, at this point, JJ and Matt, upon finding out where they’re now working, arrive to break things up, and they manage to take both men in, unharmed.

Later, at the police station, Dylan and his mom are sitting in a room with Reid, and it’s there Mikey spots them. He comes over to meet Dylan, and the two boys bond, sitting down and drawing pictures together. Tony then requests a chance to see Dina and Mikey one last time before being taken to jail. He may not have committed any murders, but since he’s an accomplice, he’ll be in jail for at least five to ten years. He pleads with Dina and Mikey to focus on making a better life for themselves, and sparing Mikey the trauma of his dad being in jail.

The family all bids each other a tearful goodbye after that, and Mikey gets to show his dad that he’s mastered the balloon tricks his dad taught him. Afterward, Mikey rejoins Dylan, and the two boys talk about a picture Dylan drew. A very bittersweet ending all around.

I tend to love the episodes Gubler directs, and I think this one fit perfectly into his overall wheelhouse. The attention to detail with the clown makeup, the smiley faces, the drawing (which was so clearly done by Gubler), the general sense of unease and creepiness, was well done, as always. The jump scares were very effective (or maybe I’m just a total wuss, which is a distinct possibility, too), and I also liked the silent opening a lot. It was a good way to lure us into a sense of uneasy peace before the scares officially began. Yes, it’s easy to tell when Gubler directs an episode, but I also like that his style is so distinctive. It’s one of the things that help set this show apart from other procedurals out there, and it’s a fun opportunity for the show to go off the beaten path every now and again, and get all weird.

I also really liked the quiet, gentle moments between Reid and the Wilsons. Dylan and his mom were very sympathetic characters in and of themselves, and it’s always nice to see Reid bonding with children. Watching him find other ways to communicate with Dylan was lovely, and I especially loved his heartfelt talk with Dylan’s mom. They forged a strong connection, and I liked how Reid’s sentiments about how to use the good moments one gets to combat the bad revealed so much about his own attempts to deal with all he’s been through in recent years. My mind couldn’t help going to the idea that he was likely thinking about Maeve there, given he and Mrs. Wilson were discussing how to deal with a tragic loss.

But lord knows there’s no shortage of rough moments Reid could’ve been talking about with that, too. I like to think that the Wilsons might keep in touch with Reid, maybe send a thank you letter at some point letting him know how they’re faring. I also hope that Dylan and his mom can keep in touch with Dina and Mikey. Seeing the boys befriend each other at the end was really sweet. I like the moments when this show can let us see the good that can come out of tragedy. I do wish we’d gotten to know Dina a little more, though. She essentially came off as the supportive wife, and that was it. I would’ve liked to see a little more discussion of her own hopes and dreams, maybe see some tension between her and Tony along the way as well.

It was also easy to feel for Tony. I don’t blame him for finally snapping and turning on Sal as he did, and his goodbye to his family was heartbreaking. I totally get that he needs to serve some time for his role in these crimes – while I get his feeling like he needs to stay by his brother, and can understand his brother’s power over him to some degree, at the same time, he had plenty of chances to walk away. Heck, he didn’t even need to get involved in the robberies in the first place. But still, I can understand where desperation can make people do things they never thought they’d do, too. And I like to think that maybe Tony can get out a little sooner than he fears, and try and start his life anew with his family someday.

As for the general premise of the case, on the one hand, I do like that it felt fairly original in some ways. But on the other hand, I think maybe a nod to a real life case involving a clown might’ve added to the creepy nature of the story a little. Remember that rash of random clown sightings a couple years ago? Nobody ever really learned how or why they started, and what their purpose was (promotion for the It remake? People being weird and creepy for the hell of it? A commentary on the craziness that was 2016 in general?). I would’ve been interested to see what they could have done with that premise. I think the rodeo element alongside the circus idea seems a little packed on – maybe the brothers could’ve worked at just one or the other. Maybe they were trying to keep their family’s dying circus afloat, taking it from town to town, and along the way Sal commits his crimes and also shows a vaguely threatening presence in the town in general by just lurking around and stalking the families he later attacks, or something. It could’ve helped streamline some of the story a little more.

Overall, though, I do appreciate that this case felt a little more grounded in reality than some of their recent cases. A murderous clown has a real world basis, as noted at the start of my review, and I think that made it a much more effective, interesting story.

As noted, there were no personal side stories this week, and while that helped in terms of focusing on the case, at the same time, I like the personal side stories, and would’ve liked to see what they could’e done on that front. How has the recent investigation from Barnes impacted Emily and JJ? For that matter, what ultimately became of Barnes herself? We know from the last episode she was told to keep her hands off the BAU, but was she punished at all for her behavior? Did Reid’s foray into teaching kickstart a desire to maybe do a bit more of that on the side, the way other team members have over the years? Is Garcia still in touch with her friend from cyber crimes? I just feel like some kind of nod, no matter how brief, to all the team’s been through recently would’ve been nice to see.

But if they’ve moved on, then I suppose we shall, too. The next episode involves a visit from somebody in Rossi’s past, so we’ll be back into the side stories soon enough. In the meantime, here’s to hoping everyone’s dreams are free of creepy clowns.

What did you think of the episode? Did you enjoy Gubler’s directing? Were the clowns and jump scares effectively scary? Did you enjoy Reid’s interaction with Dylan and his mom? Do you feel Tony deserves a lighter punishment? Would you have liked a brief update on what became of Barnes, or how the team’s been faring since settling back into their old jobs? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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