S1:E2 – Compulsion

S1:E2 – Compulsion

Content note: descriptions of arson and fire, people trapped in an elevator, descriptions of bullying behavior around stuttering


We open with a “previously on unsub” segment where we hear again about the Footpath Killer, while we see the maybe-flashback scene from episode 1, of Inigo Montoya stopping for gas and having a shotgun pulled on him.  The gas station attendant takes Gideon captive while Nine Inch Nails plays.  Glad Trent is still getting work!  Gideon tells him he knows why he stutters, then we cut back to Gideon’s office in the present day. So it WAS a flashback after all.  Ok.  He’s talking to some students, trying to deflect their hero worship, and they try to guess what Gideon knows about the killer’s stutter, and he won’t say.  Elle Greenaway comes in, so we guess she’s part of the team now, good for her.  It’s still pretty much a boy’s club though.

We meet JJ, a young thin blonde woman, who is the “unit liason.”  So that brings the team up to four male agents, one female agent, plus a female “unit liason” and a female “technical analyst.”  That’s….not terrific.  Of course, we’re also talking about a group that has all of one single person of color.  Although I guess on TV this counts as “diversity.”  Anyway.

The BAU team chats and banters, and Eyebrows tries to give Reid advice on playing chess with Gideon (his super useful advice is to think outside the box).  The BAU team is called to the conference room, though, so banter time is over, which is too bad, because I kind of love to hate Eyebrows giving advice to Reid.  Hey Morgan — maybe not everyone WANTS to have the kind of life you do!  Ahem.

JJ leads the team meeting as they review video footage of an arson attack, which shows a young white male college student filming a fire from his dorm room window.  The student’s roommate goes to the door of their dorm room, where he is suddenly engulfed by flames.  The team watches, stoic.  Credits.

Plane quote!  Einstein on imagination being more important than knowledge.  They really grabbed the low-hanging fruit early on, didn’t they?  Nietzsche last week and now Einstein.

On the plane, Reid plays chess against himself and spouts facts and figures on arson and arsonists while the team discusses the spate of fires on campus.  I’ve read previously, although of course I can’t find where now, that Matthew Gray Gubler makes an effort to be sensitive in his portrayal of Dr. Reid as someone on the autism spectrum; you can see this in his attention to the little things the character does, such as wearing his watch on the outside of his sleeve, avoiding eye contact at times, or not shaking hands.  Unfortunately, most of the time, the writers seem to think that “someone on the autism spectrum” can be summed up by an awkward guy spewing out lengthy lists of facts.

Now we’re told we are at Bradshaw College in Tempe, AZ.  Man it looks sunny and nice there.  Upstate NY has many good qualities, but an overabundance of sunshine and blue skies are not among them.  The team meets with the dean and the fire inspector, checks out the sites of the fires, and examines the firestarting devices, while the audience observes that Reid’s hair is still doing a sort of slicked-down thing but is looking less full of product and more floopy than the previous episode.  The dean is wearing a really awesome green patterned wrap dress that I really want.

s1e2 dress

Gideon has what at first appears to be a series of flashbacks to the mystery event in his past that caused him to be on medical leave. But as we see more of them, they could also just be him thinking about fire and firefighting since the images are kind of generic. I’m not sure if this is meant to be characterization or just some random file footage of firefighters that are being used to set the mood.

Gideon notices that the water is turned off to the building that he and the dean are in, and pulls the fire alarm, but is too late to prevent a professor from being killed by a fire in his office.  He goes a little crazy trying to get to the guy and Eyebrows has to pull him out.  Mandy Patinkin really goes to town chewing up the scenery here.  Just nomming it all to bits.  Elle takes photos of the crowd, since arsonists usually like to watch their handiwork; she zooms in on several people, and I guess we are meant to be misdirected by this.  Speaking of, a “science department” research assistant offers to help, saying he knows how the arsonist did it.  “Science department”?  What kind of college is this?

More of those terrible CGI scenes where team members are suddenly in crowds or at crime scenes.  I think it probably sounded better in the writing meetings than it looks on screen.

Gideon profiles a student security guard, because when you’re trying to catch an arsonist with a diminishing time period between crimes, you definitely have time for party tricks.  We cut to Reid, Hotch, and the fire inspector meeting with the “research assistants” in the “science department,” who inform them about how to make a self-igniting molotov cocktail.  I can’t imagine that this is brand new chemistry to the fire inspector?  Maybe we’re meant to believe that the agents and the inspector are investigating the students?  Wevs.

We cut to JJ and Garcia, combing through the fire hotline calls — Garcia has found something suspicious! A distorted voice saying they are doing “it” for “Karen,” (or what the team says is “Karen,” but I actually hear “Carole”) so the team starts locating all Karens on campus.  Sure.  All the Karens get brought in for interviews, which on this re-watch strikes me as odd.  What are they hoping to find?  Eyebrows even says as much, later — “Why don’t we change the first question to ‘have you recently dated a homicidal pyromaniac?'” Garcia and Eyebrows flirt some more, chemistrylessly, while Gideon mentors at Reid and tells him to think outside the arsonist box.

Gideon is walking through the “science department,” looking at what appear to be science fair projects on the walls.  What kind of college IS this?  He sees the security guard from before and asks about the kid’s girlfriend, who Gideon predicted he would break up with.  The kid confirms, saying he’s met someone new.   “What’s her name?” Gideon asks.  “Brian,” the kid deadpans.  It’s kind of a terrific moment, and the kid’s comedic timing and the face he makes is just perfect. The kid makes some comments about the nasty homophobic things his ex-girlfriend said, and Gideon runs off with A Genius Idea!

Back in the darkest computer office in the world, Garcia informs Eyebrows that the mystery caller isn’t saying “Karen,” but “something more like ‘Karone.’”  Eyebrows makes kind of a nasty joke here — Garcia asks him if she figures out what “karone” is, does she get a night of passionate lovemaking, and Eyebrows says “yeah — with REID,” who turns around with surprise.  Yeah, I mean, it’s not THAT big a deal, but I know plenty of people who were on the receiving end of “jokes” like that — being asked out only to be laughed at for it, for e.g. — to be able to read  it as all in good fun.  Also, Reid is extremely attractive — the actor was once a MODEL for chrissakes.  So shut up, Eyebrows.

The team puzzles over this for a bit when Gideon comes running in.  It’s charon — Hebrew — God’s burning anger!  The team brainstorms outside the box of typical arsonists with this new religious evidence!  We are treated to a close-up of Reid’s hands, which are thin and elegant but whose nails are really long.

s1e2 reid hand

I really hate long nails on men; it reminds me of an ex I’d rather not remember.  Boo.  The scene is otherwise very nice, with some tremendous Reid cheekbone shadows and intense looks.

s1e2 reid cheekbones

Reid realizes the arsonist has a religiously-focused form of OCD focused on the number 3, which is why he is setting fires and why the profile doesn’t match a “typical” arsonist.  Hotch thinks he knows who it is — and he is a she!  One of the “science department” “research assistants.”

Hotch ticks off the evidence as Eyebrows and Elle go to her apartment.  It’s not a bad creepy unsub apartment, really — dark and spooky, covered floor to ceiling in handwritten pages and drawings of demons, weird curtains and candles, and of course just chock full of homemade bombs.  Hotch uncovers that the girl survived a fire in her childhood at her home, which was number 333 on her street!  The team try to locate the girl on campus.

We cut to three (!) of the research assistants getting onto an elevator, which is stopped by a mystery hand holding a lighter (!) on the third (!) floor.  (Guys, I don’t know if you’re getting where this is going, it’s pretty subtle.)  The BAU team activates the fire alarm in the “science building,” seriously what IS that, I mean, the dean says the arsonist girl is a “chemistry major,” so clearly they have proper departments, but only one “science department” and “science building”?  Anyway, nobody can find the girl.  Oh no, the three kids are in the service elevator that you need a key for and nobody knows they are there!  The girl shows up at the elevator and sprays the students with some kind of flammable (one presumes) liquid.

The arsonist girl does some basic yet enjoyable “crazy religious arsonist” acting, all googly eyes and rocking and chanting.  Hotch remembers about the elevator and finds the girl.  It seems to me that the actual university people would know about this elevator as well and would have checked it?  No?  Anyway, Hotch tries to talk her out of setting the kids in the elevator on fire (despite telling Gideon not to try to do that), and ultimately shoots her in the leg.  Gideon arrives just in time to catch the lit matches and make a pithy comment.

Back on the plane, Elle continues to needle Gideon about the Footpath Killer, and guesses that Gideon only told the killer he knew why he stuttered to distract him. Gideon kind of deflects until Elle asks the right question — what REALLY happened back then? Gideon tells her he knows how to make a stutter worse, and we flash back to Gideon, the gas station guy, and his shotgun.  Gideon makes fun of him and his stutter, laughs at him and tells him he can’t understand him, until the guy gets distracted enough that Gideon can make a grab for the gun.  We flash back to the plane, where he plays chess with Reid and Reid’s Cheekbones, who I submit should get separate billing because they are just that great.

Plane quote: Faulkner on trying to be better than yourself.  Seriously, writers, you have many more seasons coming up, you better find some deeper cuts.


Reid’s Hair Floppiness Rating: 1.5 out of 10.  Better than previous episode but not very floppy at all, objectively.



  1. “Science Building” doesn’t bother me – that was how my college did it. One really giant building that housed everything from chemistry and physics to computer science and psychology. “Science Department” on the other hand is a major WTF?

    On diversity, I’ve noticed that the Cop of the Week (or in this case dean) is often a woman, a PoC or both. Which is not the same as serious diversity in the main cast, but is at least something.

    I hope our favorite mop of hair gets released soon!


    • It probably depends on the size of the university — I went to a gigantic school, so having everyone in one building wasn’t really realistic.

      Regarding diversity, I think what bugs me now, rewatching it and analyzing it with an eye towards these issues, is that there is only one proper woman field agent. JJ doesn’t really get any field time at this point, and of course Garcia is the technical analyst. Although I do like having a woman be the computer specialist even if they do tend to overdo the quirky.


%d bloggers like this: