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Criminal Minds: Episode 17

It’s easy to assume things about people from their outward appearance, but it’s the NCI team’s job to look beyond the obvious to uncover the truth. As our profilers chase after a new murderer, they are forced to face their own biases that cloud their judgment, but past mistakes won’t stop our team from chasing after the truth and seeking justice.

 
EPISODE 17 RECAP

Sun-woo and Hyun-joon arrive at the luxury apartment complex where the model-home murder took place. She wonders why the murderer chose this location, and Hyun-joon says that it’s rather easy to commit a murder at a model home since it lacks security and is open to the public. At the NCI office, Min-young and Han contemplate the same question, and realize that the pool of suspects is too large since anyone could gain entrance.

While Sun-woo and Hyun-joon examine the scene, they notice how clean the apartment is, even though a murder took place. It’s peculiar, especially since the first murder seemed more impulsive. The team reasons that the culprit has become more purposeful in his act, just like the criminal from the drive-by shooter case. Nana discovers a similar assault case that happened at a model home a week ago, and the team decides to visit the victim.

At the model home, Sun-woo and Hyun-joon learn that the culprit stayed at the crime scene until the early morning, even enjoying a bath. Sun-woo finds it odd that the culprit was unafraid to leave behind traces of his presence yet still cleaned the bloodstains in the living room. Recalling Han’s words, Hyun-joon says that the murderer may have cleaned simply because the apartment got dirty, rather than to hide evidence.

Though suffering from PTSD, the assault victim agrees to meet with the NCI, and tells them about the incident. Working as a masseuse, the victim went out that evening after receiving a call, and a man in a hat dragged her into a model home. She refused to follow him, questioning why they weren’t at his home, so the man started beating her up.

Ki-hyung cautiously asks how she escaped, but the victim can only guess that the man let her go because of her son. She’d begged the assailant to spare her life because she’s a single mother, and a sudden call from her son made the man pause long enough for the victim to flee.

The victim recalls that he was wearing shabby clothes, stuttered, smelled of alcohol, and held something in his hand. She gives a vague description of the pointy object, and Han correctly guesses that it’s a plumb, which is frequently used in construction. Then Min-young receives an update from the forensic unit that the culprit used a potent designer drug on his last victim.

Nana calls Sun-woo to tell her about the connection she found between the two murder victims. Both worked part-time as “dating partners” on a website, but she didn’t find any overlapping online accounts.

Everyone gathers to discuss the case, and so far they know that the killer has a fantasy about the home, and once that fantasy ends, he kills the victim. They also presume that the culprit chooses the victims based on some sort of past trauma, and given the assault victim’s testimony, the suspect likely works in construction.

They also note the use of drugs in the second murder, which could mean the murderer is an addict looking for stronger substances. If that’s the case, Hyun-joon grimly says that another murder will happen soon, even if it’s not specifically in a model-home. Ki-hyung ends the meeting, telling the group that even if the culprit chooses a different location, he won’t give up his fantasies.

The murderer enters an apartment building that’s plastered with “for sale” signs, and inside, he chooses a new victim from the dating website. The young woman he contacted arrives at the apartment, and seeing all the signs, she tentatively asks if they could go to a hotel instead. He tells her that he’ll pay her extra, so the woman reluctantly follows him inside.

The apartment is empty except for a dining table with food already set out, and the murderer sits the woman down while he goes to the bathroom to prepare his bath with rose petals. Growing nervous, the woman calls for the culprit and asks to leave because of a headache. The murderer’s expression turns cold as he grabs the woman and asks if she doesn’t like his place. So creepy. Meanwhile, a worker enters the building to place fliers in the apartments.

Bleeding from a head wound, the woman begs the murderer to spare her, but he smiles at her while wielding a bloody wrench—he’s only just started. Suddenly, they hear a knock at the door, and the worker enters the apartment. The murderer greets the worker as an employee from a nearby real estate office, and bars him from entering.

Though he argues with the murderer at first, the worker sees the woman slumped against the wall and leaves, pretending to not have seen anything. Once in the hall, he calls the police and hurriedly takes the stairs. Just as the police dispatcher answers, the murderer strikes the worker with his wrench, sending him tumbling down the stairs and to his death.

The next morning, the police and NCI investigate the crime scene, but besides the bodies and weapon, there’s no other evidence. This female victim looks different from the others, and the messy state of the crime scene suggests to the team that killing was the culprit’s main motive this time. Hyun-joon also guesses that the murderer might be nomadic since he chose to stay in an unoccupied home.

Nana finds a suspect who resembles the assault victim’s descriptions and tells Ki-hyung that the suspect was heading towards an overpass construction site. Hyun-joon leaves to investigate further, and Ki-hyung tells Min-young to release all the information to the press. They’re going to need help if the culprit truly is a vagrant.

Hyun-joon and an officer interview some homeless men at the construction site, but another man looks up nervously as Hyun-joon shows the men a picture of the culprit. Grabbing a bag, the homeless man bolts, and instinctively, Hyun-joon chases after him. The homeless man grabs a stick and wildly swings at Hyun-joon, but Hyun-joon takes out his baton and easily apprehends him.

Min-young addresses the press, telling them the NCI’s profile of the culprit, and her news conference plays in the background at a counseling center. A man who looks like the murderer (but without the mole on his nose) is dressed in a clean suit and talks with a lady who thanks him for his help. She calls him Mr. Kang, but his attention turns to the television as Min-young gives her report.

Hyun-joon interrogates the homeless man, asking where he got the plumb and the victims’ belongings, and shows the man a composite sketch of the murderer. The homeless man recognizes him as someone named “Kang,” and tells Hyun-joon that he only meant to peek at Kang’s bag out of curiosity.

As the homeless man panics, Hyun-joon shakes his head towards Ki-hyung who’s watching from the other room.

Min-young reports to Ki-hyung that none of the tips they’ve got from the public have been fruitful, but Han arrives with some good news: They’ve got a lead from a construction company.

Sun-woo and Han go to the construction company where the man in charge hands them a file of a past employee. He tells them that the man drank a lot and acted like the places they built were his home, even drawing a symbol of a plumb on the ceiling, so they eventually fired him. Unfortunately, the records of the employee are all fake, and the team has no way to identify him.

The man who looks like the murderer sans mole is named Kang Dong-joon, and he goes to the NCI to report his younger brother, Kang Dong-min, as the culprit. Ki-hyung asks him why he suspects his brother, and Dong-joon explains their family history and how their mother abandoned them after stealing all the family’s money. As a result, their father tried to commit suicide with them, but the brothers managed to survive.

Ki-hyung asks Dong-joon when he last saw his brother, and the man begins to cry as he tells them that he went to look for him ten days ago after receiving a tip on his whereabouts. In the end, he didn’t meet him, but swears that he felt someone watching him from afar.

After verifying Dong-min as the assailant in the assault incident, Ki-hyung orders a thorough search for the suspect in the neighborhood reported by the older brother. Sun-woo and Hyun-joon interview the homeless people in the area, and one of the men recognizes Dong-min. He tells Sun-woo that Dong-min had changed recently, even glaring at him the last time they met.

Hyun-joon notices a homeless man marking a wall, so the others explain to him that they have a community code that signals to other homeless people about where to find food or places to avoid. Hyun-joon points to a symbol that looks like a plumb, but the homeless people grumble that someone must have drawn it to confuse them. However, Hyun-joon and Sun-woo realize that it’s the murderer’s mark, and decide to follow the trail of symbols to find the suspect.

Around the corner, the murderer (Dong-min?) watches Sun-woo and Hyun-joon and slips away into the shadows. He makes his way to a rundown building, and seems to deliberately stare at the camera inside a nearby car before walking in. Following the symbol, the police arrive at the same rundown building by nightfall, but suddenly, the building explodes.

Hyun-joon and Sun-woo investigate the building, but the officers tell them that they already found evidence of Dong-min entering the building as well as his DNA inside the room after the blast. Looking at the scorch marks, Hyun-joon says that the room was engulfed in flames all at once, and finds gasoline on the ground. It looks like foul play may have been involved in their prime suspect’s death.

Ki-hyung pores over the case file, mulling over the differences between the three murders, until he’s called over to Nana’s office. She’s found something interesting, and shows the team a video of a fight between Dong-min and the homeless man they interrogated for having the murderer’s bag. Though Dong-min was stabbed during the fight, he doesn’t look injured in any of the videos taken after the incident.

Ki-hyung shares his suspicions with the team that someone might be controlling the case, and asks if they remember how Dong-joon acted when he came to report his brother. He had red eyes, parched lips, and sweaty palms—common characteristics of a drug addict. Everyone gasps, and Ki-hyung orders Nana to investigate Dong-joon.

Hyun-joon’s team is informed about the latest development, and Nana finds more information about their new suspect, Dong-joon, who’s currently going through a divorce and in a lot of debt. Min-young asks if Dong-joon was behind all three murders, but Ki-hyung tells her that the younger brother probably committed the first one, which would explain the differences.

Hyun-joon tells Sun-woo that Dong-joon must have found his dying brother, and after learning that he killed someone, Dong-joon set out to act like his dead brother to murder people himself. Ki-hyung continues the profile, explaining to his team that after the second murder, Dong-joon gained confidence and started to choose his own targets and locations. But after they went public, Dong-joon felt pressured and started the fire to close the case.

Both brothers grew up in the same environment and shared the same trauma—and in the end, Dong-joon’s life was no different from his younger brother’s. Sun-woo solemnly notes how they were chasing after a ghost this entire time.

Ki-hyung and his team meet Dong-joon at the counseling center and hand him Dong-min’s plumb. Ki-hyung pretends that they were just passing by, and Dong-joon anxiously asks about the case. They tell him that the fire could have been arson, but assure him that the case will be closed soon.

Dong-joon presses them for more information, but Ki-hyung gives him vague answers about a possible accomplice. Noticing Dong-joon fidgeting, Ki-hyung excuses himself, and once outside, he tells Han that the suspect has started to react. Now all they have to do is wait for him to make one false step and capture him.

Hyun-joon finds the homeless man who stabbed Dong-min, and shows him the video of their fight. He threatens the man to tell the truth unless he wants to take responsibility for the murders, and the homeless man apologizes, saying that it was an accident.

Panicking, Dong-joon calls his wife to ask if anyone was looking for him, but their call quickly dissolves into a screaming match and the wife hangs up on him.

Flashing back to when all of this started, we see how Dong-joon met with a lawyer who told him that his mother left him and his brother some land. However, he needed both brothers’ consent to sell it.

Thus, Dong-joon searched for his missing brother, and eventually found him, wounded and dying. With his last breath, Dong-min told his older brother that he killed someone, but admitted that he never felt more alive than in that moment. Sitting next to his dead brother, Dong-joon read his journal and saw the photos of the murdered woman.

So now, Dong-joon quickly gets into a taxi, and fails to notice the NCI team following right behind him. He gets to his apartment—a note from his landlord tells him that his rent is overdue—and takes out a bag from under his kitchen sink containing his brother’s journal and photos.

A loud bang at his door gets Dong-joon’s attention, and his landlord yells at him to pay his rent. Dong-joon goes to talk with his landlord, but it’s a trap. The NCI team barges in, and Han holds up the journal triumphantly: They’ve found the evidence.

Hyun-joon interrogates Dong-joon, asking if he committed the last two murders, but Dong-joon refuses to admit his crimes. Hyun-joon continues to pressure him, and asks if he thought his life was any better than his younger brother’s. He calls Dong-joon an abusive father, drug addict, and delusional husband, and Dong-joon slams the table, telling Hyun-joon to stop.

He threatens to rip out Hyun-joon’s mouth if he continues, and Hyun-joon breaks into a wide grin as he mocks Dong-joon for finally revealing his true self. He tells Dong-joon to stop being a coward and tell him why he killed those people, and caught in Hyun-joon’s trap, Dong-joon angrily asks, “What do you know about the reason why I killed them?”

Returning to his calm self, Hyun-joon calls Dong-joon a lowlife murderer, and Dong-joon finally realizes that he just confessed inadvertently to his crimes. He yells at Hyun-joon to come back, but Hyun-joon’s task is over—he got the confession they needed.

Ki-hyung and Han watch the entire interrogation scene with grim faces until Min-young enters. She tells them that the victims’ DNA was found on the clothes Dong-joon wore, and Han wearily says that the culprit refuses to repent despite all the evidence against him.

Flipping through Dong-min’s journal, Ki-hyung reads the repeated entries about feeling exhausted. He ends the case with a quote from Dostoevsky: “Good did not separate happy families from unhappy families. But men cannot free themselves from these restraints.”

 
COMMENTS

It’s been a while since the show has ended an episode without starting a new case, and it’s a choice that I welcome with open arms. A part of me wonders why the show hasn’t done this more often because there’s something powerful about ending an arc with the episode. It allows the audience to ponder the questions left at the end of the case by giving the viewers more time for closure, and these lingering emotions aren’t tainted by the sudden introduction of a new villain and event.

Though the overall structure of the case was fine, I found the substance to be lacking. Like previous cases, this one also tried to answer the ever-present question of how people can commit heinous acts and become monsters. Despite the outward differences of the two brothers, they ultimately ended up living similar lives because of their shared past and trauma. However, I found it kind of disappointing that the show didn’t delve more into the criminals this time because the conclusion felt almost fatalistic, as if childhood trauma ruins lives permanently and destroys any hope for a happy future. Though the culprit(s) was compared to the drive-by shooter by the NCI team, I think the show did a better job in that case of showing the process of a man turning into a monster than it did in this episode. However, I did like the small touches the creators added that foreshadowed the twin twist (like the different shoes worn by actual Dong-min and fake Dong-min played by his brother), even if the case, as a whole, wasn’t the most engaging.

While Criminal Minds is clearly episodic, I’m actually getting nervous by the lack of the Reaper in recent episodes. With the rather anticlimactic Nadeul River murder case, I’m wondering if the Reaper storyline won’t take a similar path and just be treated as every other case the show has done. I thought the Reaper arc from before was well executed in terms of emotional delivery since Ki-hyung lost his wife and the aftermath was devastating to watch. Because of that, I’m unsure with how the show can top itself, and am worried that the creators may have bitten more than they can chew. With only three episodes left, I’m curious about how the show will reintroduce the Reaper and develop his story with the team because the show deliberately brought him back into the foray rather than let the arc end with Ki-hyung’s loss.

Since the show is based on a U.S. television series with lots of cases and episodes to get inspiration from, it makes sense that the show is relatively long for a Korean drama (it could be even longer with 50 episodes like a some sageuks, but I shudder at the thought). However, sometimes the show feels too long, and I think the pacing could have benefitted from a shorter episode count. For example, this entire case could have been omitted, and I don’t think the show would have suffered much from the loss. There’s wasn’t anything new added to the story or the characters from this case, which is a shame because, despite already airing 17 episodes, I still feel like I don’t know certain characters as much as I want to know them. The show should really develop the NCI team and its members (particularly Sun-woo and Nana), but I feel like I’m beating a dead horse at this point. It’s not that Criminal Minds is a bad show, but rather that it’s consistently mediocre when it has the potential to be spectacular.

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