Give me AHS’s Twisty the Clown on my TV screen any day over bugs crawling all over someone like they do in this week’s Criminal Minds. The fourth episode of the show’s 10th season sees the BAU travel to Atlanta to determine the circumstances surrounding an investigative journalist’s death, only to find that it’s so much more creepy-crawly than an “easy” explanation of drugs or an accident.
How is it that it is so much easier to handle serial killers stalking people on their daily routes, sneaking into their houses, abducting them and doing unimaginable things to them than it is to watch an UnSub pour bugs all over his victim? Somehow, that’s the case with this episode, at least for me. Indiana Jones hates snakes, and I hate bugs.
Usually, there’s a break from the horrors of the case with a personal story for one of the agents, even if it’s just briefly, but that doesn’t happen in “The Itch.” There’s no escaping this creep show, and before the opening credits, it’s obvious that this is going to be one episode that may not have you locking your windows and doors, but it is one that will have you turning on the lights and checking those corners in your house and basement. And if you’re not itchy after this episode, well, I have to applaud you, because this is one skin-crawling episode.
No, Siri, Wrong Again
It begins quite normally, with a guy driving and having zero luck relying on Siri to text that he’s on his way. After multiple fails, he gives up and physically begins texting, only to then have to swerve to avoid a guy in the road. He gets out to try to help him, but the guy is grabbing at himself, scratching and shouting to “get them off” before he walks into the path of another car.
Albert Stillman’s death brings the BAU to Atlanta to determine what happened because people like him don’t just snap, and they hit a snag when his editor tries to file an injunction to stop the autopsy, which they later find out is because Albert was taking benzos and turned to heroin. He didn’t want them to think he was just a druggie. As for his latest story, all his editor knows is it was a piece on vaccinations, but he kept all his notes in his head.
It becomes clear this is no accident and instead a serial killer when a research scientist of entomology, Dr. William Suri, who published controversial articles, goes missing from his lab, his phone left behind so he can’t be traced.
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What’s That In His Arm…and His Nose?
Before the opening credits, Criminal Minds offers a look at the UnSub as he uses scissors to hold something crawling in his arm still as he extracts something with a syringe and puts it into a vial before letting the bug continue to crawl around his arm. Knowing that’s just in his head does not help at all. It’s positively awful to watch. It’s because of Dr. Suri’s controversial articles that the UnSub took him, in hopes that he would give him the proof he needs, but Dr. Suri doesn’t see anything in the vial he shows him, and so the UnSub thinks he corrupted the sample, even though he’s tied to the chair. He then decides to show him what it feels like to be “sick” like the scientist says he is and pours cockroaches all over him as Dr. Suri begs him to stop.
The ME shows that there is duct tape residue on his wrists, ankles and neck, signs that he was held against his will, and his own skin is under his fingernails. He scratched a lot, and based on the track marks on his arm, he was going through withdrawal when the UnSub had him. He wanted Albert to scratch, and welts behind his ear indicate that he introduced some sort of external irritant into his system. But wait — it gets worse.
Dr. Suri is found by a dumpster, shot in the head, and while there are fewer signs of scratching, there are bite marks just like with Albert. He just didn’t play along, so the UnSub killed him. That’s when Reid finds the roach in his nose. If you turned off the episode here, I don’t blame you one bit.
Who Is This Guy?
According to the BAU’s profile, they’re looking for someone who is suffering from delusional parasitosis. He believes he’s infested with bugs and wants his victims to share that delusion. This delusion tends to go hand in hand with conspiracy thinking, and so he thinks it’s part of a plot to keep him sick. He wanted Albert to write a story and thought Dr. Suri would believe him, but the scientist recognized that the UnSub is suffering from a mental illness. He’ll be looking for fellow believers, and that’s why he ends up in a support meeting.
The UnSub finds a kindred spirit in Jane at the meeting after she talks about her dermatologist trying to give her a salve and society wanting her to be sick. While Reid and Garcia are able to track down that support group, they get nowhere talking to the leader, Lisa, who thinks they just want to pretend their condition is made up. Meanwhile, the UnSub, Leo, and Jane have moved from discussing their conditions in a diner to him helping her test her blood in her apartment, and when he says he can see what she sees too, they hook up, because nothing says romantic like a shared delusion that something is crawling around in your body.
The next morning, Lisa stops by to see Jane, but Leo stops her from answering the door, and instead they listen as she speaks to JJ on the phone about coming down to the station. Hotch is able to get through to Lisa because he realized that since diaper rash cream is the only thing that seems to help her (she bought some in five different drug stores the night before); she figured it out because she had a baby, a baby who died. He knows that she wants to help, and she tells him about Leo. When officers drop her off at home, Leo’s watching, and when she leaves again, he grabs her. Anyone else feel more comfortable when he’s holding a gun rather than a container of bugs?
JJ and Kate try to get through to Jane, but they have to rely on her to get the answers they need, and that’s how they figure out that Leo worked at the CDC. Oh, they’re good. Dr. Pierre Chang, I mean, Dr. Jack Chun (Lost‘s Francois Chau) explains that he received a vaccination he didn’t even need, and the anti-viral for the shingles in his arm left the nerves dead. Like an amputee with phantom limb pains, he started scratching and couldn’t stop, and he insisted that there were cockroach larvae in the vaccination. They tried almost everything.
One Last Try
While the FBI is on the way, Leo has Lisa tied up and uses her fear of spiders against her, putting spiders on her as he demands to know who she works for and not believing her when she says no one. Rossi is able to get through to him briefly by showing him on his phone (Lisa has probably never been so grateful for that front camera feature) that there aren’t any bugs crawling in his arm, and when he’s distracted enough, he knocks him to the ground for Morgan to cuff him while he gets the spiders off Lisa.
As he later explains, it’s like the mirror box therapy used for phantom limb pain. (That’s also when Reid shares a very disturbing story about a woman who scratched into her brain tissue, because this episode can’t go one scene without something to make you shudder.)
JJ brings Jane home and tries to convince her that Leo has a good chance by pleading insanity, but she just thinks that’s what they want so no one will ever know what they know about the government. Every time JJ tries to get her to listen, she just tells her she’s saying more and more lies and promises to expose them. She can’t get through to Jane, but Lisa is doing much better in the end and throws away her creams, takes off her gloves and smiles at the photo of her daughter.
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About That Website Selling People…
Anyone else remember how the premiere introduced the black market website selling people being abducted by those people in the van? Remember how they were listed with gender/age/hair color/body type/build/area/condition? I’m not the only one who wants some sort of update or glimpse or something about that, right?
Criminal Minds season 10 airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CBS.
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(Image courtesy of CBS)