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Criminal Minds - Rule 34 - Review: “The Dark Web”

Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it.

Chances are good most viewers of this show knew the definition of that phrase going into this episode. Those that don’t no doubt got quite an interesting crash course regarding that concept. Even if one wasn’t familiar with rule 34, though, I’m sure the fact that the internet has some dark areas is not exactly news to anyone who’s spent any length of time online, or, for that matter, has watched the news. We’ve all no doubt got some stories of stumbling upon something screwy online – maybe not always on the level of rule 34, but something that could be classified as just plain weird, at the very least.

This episode, as the title indicates, tries to touch on that very concept, to mixed results. A lot of fans, upon reading this title, thought that the episode might deal more in the fandom realm, with an unsub who’s involved with creepy porn versions of some show/movie/celebrity/whatever that people were into. In some ways, I kinda feel like that might’ve been a better angle for the show, because I don’t know that this episode’s case really highlighted the actual idea of rule 34 all that well. It seemed kinda all over the place, which made sense given the type of unsub they were dealing with, but which made it harder to really address all the issues at hand all that well.

Still, even with that issue, we still had a case that was intriguing and unpredictable, a couple very colorful characters for the team to deal with, and an attempt to bring a new twist on this show’s common trope of internet-obsessed unsubs. On the personal side of things, we also got to spend a bit of time with Matt’s family this episode, so that was nice, too. Let’s get into it all, shall we?

The Case:

It’s quite the busy morning as the episode begins. The postal service is up and running, and mail is being delivered to D.C. residents. At the local IRS building, a couple employees are musing over what could be inside a box that’s been sent to a female employee. She ordered some sort of toy recently, so perhaps, she figures, it’s that.

Or it could also be a portion of some random person’s body.

That poor woman isn’t the only one to receive that kind of gruesome “present”. As the team soon learns, five other women reported getting body parts sent to them as well. But the fact they’re all women is where the similarity ends. Two of the women were at home when they got their packages, four were at work, and they’ve all got different jobs and are of varying ages. None of the women reported any male family members or friends going missing, so that makes the motive harder to pin down as well.

The various body parts were wrapped and sealed inside boxes, and include two arms without hands, two legs without the feet, and a headless torso that was split in two. Lovely. What’s more, all the boxes included an index card, each with snippets of an odd rhyme, which Reid recites for everyone: “All the king’s Porsches and all the king’s Benz couldn’t put this bitch back together again. Forever yours, Gone Postal.” Mmkay. It’s soon revealed that the body parts are tied to two men, so now the team has to learn more about those people, and see if and how they and the women targeted are connected.

Luckily, they have one avenue to look into right off – the packages were sent via an overnight courier service called WorldSend, and one of the victims, Dwayne, worked there. They also learn that both men were tortured while alive – the unsub had given them a drug that paralyzed them and allowed them to watch what they were going through. Yikes. And since it’s not easy to cut up a body, the team concludes that their unsub clearly has a lot of medical experience. They’re also struck by the fact that the unsub kills his male victims, whom he seemed to know personally, and psychologically traumatizes the women. Two kinds of behaviors means a possible variety of motives.

Tara notices another unusual clue. The unsub is apparently quite the gift-wrapping expert – the body parts are well-packed and secured, as are the boxes themselves. If he worked in the mail room at WorldSend, that, along with his “going postal” reference in his poem, would explain his experience with wrapping boxes. But, Reid wonders, why would he quit medical school to go work as a courier? It seems quite a change in career.

Things get even creepier when Garcia warns the others that the unsub is apparently filming his murders and putting them online. Reid, Tara, and Matt race to the scene to try and catch the unsub, but all they wind up finding are a) blood-soaked walls; b) a recording of a man’s screams; c) a laptop showing a loop of one of the murders (meaning the unsub isn’t streaming these “films” live), and another index card that simply says, “Made you look, bitches, I remain GP”; and c) THE HEADS OF THE FIRST TWO VICTIMS RESTING ON BEDPOSTS HOLY CRAP. Jeffrey Dahmer on line one…

Moving on! So four more women get body parts, and the head of the latest victim, a psychiatrist named Nicholas Kaufman, is among them. There’s no index cards with this latest round of deliveries, however, which only adds to the complicated nature of this unsub. The guy’s motives seem to be all over the place – revenge, validation, getting off on the public fear. Perhaps the site where he posted his videos will help the team narrow things down a little.

“No one has time for my sensitivities, and we all know that I could stand to have some emotional callouses.”

Luke goes to Garcia to get the information about the site and a copy of the film involving Kaufman’s murder. She doesn’t need to do that, though, as she’s already watched it...numerous times (a fact which concerns Luke deeply). She’s clearly rattled by what she watched, but she tries to brush it off, and gives Luke the information he needs. The website is called Xanadu, and it specifically caters to some of the darker and more disturbing fetishes on the web.

“I adore the tag team dominance. But you do mistake me for a submissive.”

The team manage to track down the person who runs the website, a lady by the name of Galina, and she is...definitely one of the more unusual characters the team’s encountered in recent times. She’s an “obscene” performance artist, having been arrested (but never convicted) numerous times for her creepy interests and behavior, and embraces the darker fetish world. She claims that she thought the video of Kaufman’s torture and murder were made up, but if she did allow a video that happened to be real? That doesn’t bother her, because, she rationalizes, it’s no different from the horrible things one can see on the nightly news.

She also insists she doesn’t know the unsub, claiming that everybody who posts something must remain anonymous, in order to avoid judgment or retaliation. Tara and Matt aren’t quite buying her denials, though, and they bring in Rossi, figuring he might get through to her. His visit seems to really excite Galina, as she’s apparently a big fan of Rossi’s books, claiming he’s an inspiration. If Rossi is troubled by that fact, he doesn’t show it, and he makes it clear to Galina that if she doesn’t cooperate, she’s going away for a long time.

He then brings up her divorce, and the ways in which she’s been betrayed. Her husband’s still alive, see, and therefore she hasn’t managed to move on from him. This discussion upsets Galina, and proves she’s lying when she claims not to know the unsub. Want to guess who his next victim is?

So what do we learn about the unsub? Well, his name is Emmanuel, and his issues apparently stem from way back. He was a musical child prodigy and got accepted into medical school, but while there, he showed his interest in twisted fetishes early on. Most notably, he used his medical know-how to make videos involving the crushing of animals (Luke’s horrified reaction to this news is mine). Dr. Kaufman had tried to help Emmanuel with his problems, but it didn’t work. Emmanuel was eventually sent to jail for a time after beating up a guy, and while there, he learned that Dwayne, with whom he’d once had a romantic relationship, had gotten married. That news was the final straw, and upon being released on parole, he started up his crime spree, seeking revenge on these men.

As for sending the body parts to the women? According to his mom, he knew all of them personally. They’d all shown some level of kindness to him and helped him with various things over the years, and as a result, he saw these “gifts” as a way to say thanks. Gee. How sweet.

“It looks like you’re gonna have one hell of a story to tell, too.”

Emmanuel begins prepping Galina’s ex down in his creepy little lair, but luckily, with Galina’s cooperation and Garcia’s searching, Rossi, Matt, and Reid find out where he’s hiding out. They arrive just in time to try and talk him down, and Emmanuel is especially in awe at the idea that Rossi’s there, as it seems he too is a fan. Rossi uses that fact to his advantage, reassuring Emmanuel that he’ll tell his story if he backs off, and luckily, he does.

Afterward, Rossi muses on these “fans” of his, and reflects on a conversation he and Gideon (!) had years back. Seems Gideon wasn’t keen on the idea of Rossi writing true crime books, for this very reason. He feared that people would take the wrong lessons from them, comparing it to consuming pornography. The team tries to reassure Rossi of all the good his books have done – they were all influenced to do this work in large part because of his books, after all, and law enforcement in general have benefited from them, too. But Rossi still can’t help wondering if Gideon had a valid argument anyway.

This case was incredibly weird, and I think a large part of that is because of how all over the place the unsub was with his motives. I think it would’ve helped to see some hint of his early interaction with one or two of the women he targeted, because otherwise, that part of the case, while certainly unsettling, felt to me to be a little disconnected from everything else. I think it might’ve helped to narrow down the amount of women he sent packages to down a bit, because ten different women who were all kind and helpful to this one guy specifically seemed an awful lot. Perhaps they could’ve just had three or four, and done one at a time throughout the episode, to add to the suspense. Or he could’ve found a way to trick them into watching the website – if he’s turned on by the stuff he sees there, I could see him thinking these women would feel the same way.

Either that, or if they wanted to keep the number they had, they could’ve had him start off targeting women he knew, and then expanded out to women he may have passed and become fixated on, but who didn’t know him personally. That could’ve added to the terror – he starts off targeting people he personally knows, but as he becomes more and more unhinged, he soon poses a threat to people in general.

I’m also not entirely sure that this episode fully captured the concept of rule 34. Yeah, the unsub was turned on by his murderous impulse, and yeah, he was dressed kinda kinky when torturing these men, but that didn’t really seem to translate to the way he shared those videos online. All we saw was a video shared online and confirmation from Galina that he posted something there. Had we seen Emmanuel spending some time on that website, talking with other people about how “exciting” these videos were, or something to that effect, I think that would’ve made the “porn” element of it a little more apparent. As it was, his online behavior didn’t seem all that different from what we’ve seen with other internet-based unsubs.

As for Rossi’s comments at the end, I always like it when the show touches on Rossi’s conflicted feelings about the influence his books have had on the public. I do feel, however, the point made here might’ve had a little more punch and meaning had it not been in an episode that didn’t hold back on showing us some rather disturbing imagery, and a show that, at times, has been criticized for its “torture porn” elements.

That said, however, I did like getting to hear a bit about Rossi’s initial decision to start writing books, and the mention of his history with Gideon. And I especially appreciated how they stayed true to Gideon’s own character with his reaction to the whole “true crime” phenomenon as well. I could totally believe Gideon having those kinds of reservations and concerns, and trying to impart some advice to Rossi in that way. I also felt there was an unspoken implication that Gideon was afraid of what the fame from that kind of work would do to Rossi himself as well, and I like the idea of him being quietly protective like that.

Other good things about this case: I really liked Rossi’s interaction with Galina. Kudos to the actress playing her – she did a great job at making her seem “off” and eccentric, and I liked how she held her own against Rossi. As infuriating as her cocky attitude was, given the particular circumstances, it also made her intriguing, and I liked that she was able to get in a valid point about how what we see in news reports can be just as messed up as anything else.

And yet, I also like that we got to see Rossi’s longtime experience shine throughout this episode. Of course he wouldn’t be fazed by somebody like Galina, of course he’d know just how to talk down somebody like Emmanuel (and of course he’d have a plan in place before he even entered the building). Between Rossi’s experience and other details like Tara’s eagle-eye observation regarding the gift wrapping aspect with the packages, Emmanuel really didn’t have a prayer of getting away with his crimes.

On that note, kudos should also go to the young man playing the unsub. He managed to walk a very fine line with his over-the-top behavior, and while it could’ve been laughable in somebody else’s hands, here, seeing him getting increasingly unhinged was honestly unnerving to watch.

I also liked the subtle nod to Garcia’s struggles with her reaction to the video of Kaufman’s murder. The idea of her watching that kind of video more than once was deeply concerning indeed, and it makes sense that this case would be the sort that would both especially upset her and also make her want to try and prove she’s tough. It was nice to see Luke worrying about her as well, and I hope we can see more moments of him being there for her as she tries to deal with these issues.

Garcia wasn’t the only one needing some support this episode. One of the team members had to deal with a similar issue on the home front.

Meanwhile, back in Quantico:

As the episode starts, we see that things are not well in the Simmons house. Matt’s son David, who’s been having some trouble at school lately, was suspended and sent home after getting into a fight with another boy. Naturally, Matt’s not happy about this, and is about ready to scold his son for his behavior, but both a call from work and the calming tone of his wife Kristy get him to back off for a while. He wants to stay home, but Kristy insists that he go do his job. Matt still checks in while working the case, just to see how things are going, and luckily, Kristy seems to have everything pretty well under control. David’s not causing any further trouble, and the rest of the kids are behaving themselves. She has an idea of just what might be troubling her son, however, and Matt learns the full nature of the issue once he returns home.

Remember last season, when Kristy was held hostage at her workplace and the BAU had to work the case and save her and the other hostages? Ever since then, Kristy’s been getting some therapy to deal with the aftermath, but David may need some of that therapy, too, as he’s also (understandably) been affected by that incident. His fears were further compounded upon learning that a classmate of his recently lost their mom in a car accident. It was bad enough that he had to worry about his dad being in danger, now he’s reminded that there’s no guarantee his mom is any safer. A bratty kid was talking at school about how unrealistic TV was, because they never showed the good guys getting shot, and David responded by fighting him as a result.

Matt talks things over with David, and reassures him as best he can. He admits to being scared sometimes, too, and promises that he and Kristy will always be with their son, no matter what.

I appreciated the continuity here in regards to Kristy’s ordeal from last season, and the reminder that she’s still getting some help for what she’s been through (I wish we could see that same kind of discussion among the team themselves, who clearly need a crapton of therapy, but I digress). It was good to see her talking to Matt about all she’s been dealing with – I like how open and communicative, as well as supportive, these two are with each other. I wouldn’t blame either of them one bit for wanting to spend more time together at home after all they’ve been through, but I like Kristy understands how important Matt’s job is, and that Matt lets Kristy be her independent self. It’s just good to see the show focusing more on happy relationships in recent seasons.

And Matt’s interaction with his son was sweet, too. We’ve seen the toll this job can take on team members’ kids before, of course, and this is no exception. Having one of the team member’s kids physically act out was an interesting angle to explore, and I’d be interested to see the show touch on that every once in a while going forward.

What did you think of the episode? Did the stuff with the body parts gross you out, or is it just part and parcel of this show for you at this point? Do you have your own memorable examples of “rule 34” content? Did you enjoy seeing Matt’s family? Were you surprised by the mention of Gideon? How worried are you for Garcia? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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