I had reasonably high hopes for this episode, really I did. But, in retrospect, it’s clear to me that the reason I had such high hopes was precisely because I had never actually watched Criminal Minds. If I had seen just one installment, I’m quite certain that I would have managed to keep my expectations in check.

I’m not going to bother recapping the entire episode. There are, undoubtedly, people out there who are better able and more motivated to take on that task. Rather, I’m simply going to provide some thoughts on various aspects of the episode from the perspective of an opinionated person who is knowledge about the Zodiac.

I’ll start by considering some of the dialogue.

Rossi: Bottom line: the Zodiac is the most well documented, unsolved serial-killing case in modern times.

Hard to argue with that.

Rossi: Most likely wound up in a prison or mental hospital.

Although common speculation, this scenario is pretty unlikely in my estimation. If the Zodiac ended up in prison, it’s highly probable that he would have been identified through his fingerprints. Furthermore, the Zodiac’s ability to cope with the demands of normal life during his heyday suggests that he likely managed to avoid institutionalization in the subsequent timeframe.  In all probability, he maintained a relatively normal appearance and simply reached a point where he discontinued killing – similar to Dennis Rader, aka BTK, prior to his re-emergence.

The Chronicle’s website manager received two phone calls this morning. There was just heavy breathing on the other end, like the phone calls Zodiac used to make.

The Zodiac’s two phone calls were to law enforcement – the adversary that he was intent on embarrassing. The Chronicle and the other newspapers were the means through which the killer communicated with the people of the Bay Area (including law enforcement). And, of course, the Zodiac did not just breath heavily; he actually delivered very deliberate messages.

Reid: The spam had to be converted from matrix code to binary code, then converted to base eight before being translated back into letters…

Hotchner: Garcia, I need you to compile a list of people with I.Q.s of 160 or above in the region.

Garcia: Checking with the Bay Area Mensa society…

Binary, base 8 and Mensa?! Did the producers hire Gareth Penn as a creative consultant or what?

Reid: Can you rotate that? See, F-4 is a chess square.

Jareau: He murdered people according to a chess game?

Reid: Specifically, game 6 of Fischer vs. Spassky in 1972, one of the greatest chess matches ever played. The murder locations correspond to the final three moves of the game.

This kind of stuff is pure fantasy. Of course, there’s no explanation regarding the specifics of the given grid, e.g. what determines the spacing of the squares, the offsets of its alignment, black squares vs. white squares, etc. So, without any other supporting information, Reid jumps from F-4 (the page on which the classified ad appeared) and three crime scene locations to some forty-year old chess game. Uh-huh…

Hotchner: Garcia, do you have the list of Zodiac case experts?

Garcia: Yes, standing by for you I have everyone who has ever written or blogged about it. FYI, there are way too many people obsessed with this sicko.

Despite being a line from a fictional character, the negative connotation regarding people who are “obsessed” with the case of the Zodiac is unmistakable. I find it interesting that when the Zodiac’s murder victims are serving as fodder for pure-fantasy entertainment, all is well and good. But, when everyday people dedicate large parts of their lives to the pursuit of understanding and identifying this fugitive, we’re somehow incomprehensible ne’er-do-wells who are obsessed with a sicko. There is also an element of this attitude in the episode’s antagonist, Caleb, and the object of his attention, Harvey.

The show’s desire to have itself taken seriously is significantly hindered by the outlandishness of the fictional events. Criminal Minds seems to fill a void created by people who think the character Hannibal Lecter is entirely too reasonable and realistic. Need some serial-killer mystery solved? Just call the gang from BAU. Prentiss will make some ridiculously improbable observation which is, of course, correct. Next up, Hotchner will get Garcia on the line who will cross reference this thing with that other thing. Finally, Reid will use his genius-yet-fragile intellect to interpret the results in some impossibly arcane way and… Voila! The case is solved. What’s not to like?

There may be aspects of Criminal Minds that are entertaining. But its plots – based on my single-sample data set – are closer to a high-school student’s daydream than they are to the reality criminal profiling. For those of us who prefer to have some element of reality in our fiction, the show leaves much to be desired.

Since Criminal Minds appears to be so infatuated with genius-level I.Q.s, I’m going to pose my overall opinion of the episode in the form of a verbal analogy.

“True Genius” is to serious fiction as __________ is to good nutrition.

(a) Pluto
(b) A well-balanced meal
(c) Bubble gum
(d) Vodka

Answer Show