S1:E16 – The Tribe

Content notes: blood, racism against Native Americans, children in peril, kidnapping, fisticuffs, knife violence

This is a long recap, sorry, there is lots to unpack!  I did my best, and I’m at least passingly familiar with the issues, but I’m very much not an expert on the oppression and violence that indigenous peoples face in the United States, so please correct me where I’ve messed up!


We open on a couple of white teenagers partying in a house in New Mexico that is under construction.  In A Gadda Da Vida is playing, candles, beer, making out, etc.  There’s an ominous van outside, and a white blonde girl stands at a window while we hear voices saying “there’s our girl.”  She goes outside and is suddenly grabbed from behind!  One of the guys is looking for her and we see a knife and hear screams!  Fade to white.

Back at the BAU, Garcia and Elle notice a total hottie walk into the office, a tall white blonde-haired guy in a motorcycle jacket carrying a helmet.  Morgan greets him and tells the women that he is Hotch’s brother.  Neat!  Hotch and his brother, Shawn, talk, and his brother says he isn’t going to law school after all, and wants to go to New York to be a chef.  They argue, Hotch tries to kinda profile him and convince him to be a lawyer, he’s throwing his life away, blahblah, and I can’t shake the idea that Shawn might be a vampire.  There’s something Skarsgård-ian about him.

s1e16 brother

The team discusses the case of the teenagers — five kids, murdered in the house, with minimal defensive wounds and nobody tied up.  No one or two unsubs could control so many victims, so we may be looking at a “pack” (drink), “three or more who kill in unison.”  They will keep killing until stopped.  Stopped by what?  A stronger pack!  Like the BAU.  In case you didn’t get that.

Credits.  Nietzsche on the individual not being overwhelmed by the tribe.  Kinda subtle you guys!

Hotch, Reid, and Gideon arrive at the crime scene.  Hotch and Reid talk to the local police, while Gideon stands off to the side and stares into the middle distance.

s1e16 gideon standing

Admit it, this screen cap could be from almost any episode this season and you wouldn’t know.

So,we’re doing that again.  Ok.

They determine that the kids were “skinned alive.”  Yikes.  They determine that there may have been another girl there, since there is evidence that there were three couples there.  Way to be heteronormative, Hotch.

They go outside and we see a bloody spike.  Reid suggests that the flaying alive and the spike are reminiscent of “war rituals of the plains Indians.”  The sheriff confirms that “everything you see around you is Apache land.”  Oh good, I just bet this is going to get so much better and not at all offensive.  Oh — the sheriff says this is an old Indian burial ground!  Really.  REALLY.  “Ancient Native American burial ground”???  Good lord.

After some discussion about the local land disputes (here’s the Wikipedia page on the land claims in case you would like a primer), Hotch gets Garcia on the phone to look for any Native troublemakers.  She finds a local activist whose father was killed in the incident at Wounded Knee.  Oh man, you guys.  I don’t know.  This episode seems like it’s only going to get worse…

Hotch talks to the sheriff about the suspect, John Black Wolf, who is also basically the entirety of the local reservation police force.  The team heads over to the reservation to meet the council president and John Black Wolf.  The president, a dark-skinned woman with long hair, is very suspicious, but brings the team into the school to talk to John, a tall dark-skinned middle-aged man, who is teaching a classroom of kids about local Native American history.  Reid interrupts to answer a question posed to the students about the spirits of the caves, because he just can’t stand knowing something and not saying it out loud, because something something Aspergers.  Guys, this episode is already on my nerves and we’re like 10 minutes in.

They head outside to talk to John, who tells them they are off-base, because it’s not Native groups who commit massacres, it’s white people.  Fair point.  They ask him to look at the crime scene photos and help them understand how the kids were killed, and why, since he’s an expert on local Native culture and customs.  John says he has to go to the crime scene to understand what happened.  When they arrive, Reid spouts some really broad generalizations about “the Apache” and their tracking abilities, typical “Noble Savage” style stuff.  Suffice it to say, even talking about “The Apache” is a gross oversimplification, without even getting into crap like “this diverse group of Native American cultures that encompasses multiple sub-groups and countless individuals are all good at this one thing we stereotypically expect Native Americans to be good at.”  Maybe next week, Reid can tell us all about who is best at basketball, golf, and interior decorating.

John Black Wolf examines the crime scene and it’s all basically a standard Native American stereotype of someone who understands things on a more spiritual level, who is in touch with history and nature, who doesn’t carry a gun because he doesn’t have to (carries a big-ass knife, though!), who can tell things about people just by their footprints, etc.  He tells Hotch that he can tell he carries an ankle gun, and when Hotch tells him he can’t tell that from his footprints, John says Hotch’s problem isn’t with his footprints but with his “perceptions.”  Ok.  That doesn’t even make sense.  Anyway, John says that the rituals represented in the murders are from many different Native tribes, so they aren’t looking for an Indian but someone who admires the culture.  He clarifies, based on footprints and his Apache tracking ability, that there were probably 8 attackers, who ran off over the hills in single file to hide their numbers (yep, just like Sand People!) (oy).

Back at the station, Hotch and John talk, and Hotch asks him to assist on the investigation.  John says he’ll help if it keeps the FBI off the reservation.  I think that’s fair, considering the history of what the FBI has gotten up to on reservations.  After the team delivers their profile, they wonder if the killers could be trying to frame the local Native American activists, and the sheriff says there’s a local “minuteman” type group (serious trigger warning for racist eliminationist rhetoric on the link) who may be responsible.  They bring in their local racist leader and we’re just going to summarize it by saying this guy spouts some incredibly gross racist rhetoric, spiked here and there with second amendment rhetoric.  Morgan is Not Impressed, but the team thinks he’s all talk — his motivation is simply greed over the land developments, not race.  Meh, maybe, but those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Garcia calls to let the team know she may have located the sixth victim based on fingerprints at the scene, a local college student named Ingrid.  Elle, Hotch, and JJ go to talk to the girl’s dad, who says he didn’t know she was missing, since she doesn’t live at home and has her own life, apartment, etc.  JJ asks him to give a press conference, and he agrees.  Hotch talks to Elle and Morgan about how the dad’s behavior wasn’t quite right, and they wonder if he’s maybe involved or guilty.

We cut to two white guys watching the press conference, and we see the girl tied up on the bed.  Cut back to Elle and Hotch at the dad’s house, who take a call from one of the kidnappers.  The kidnapper says the girl’s dad paid them to grab her!  What!  We cut to the two guys surrendering and Elle gets the girl out of a van.  Back at the PD, Elle and Hotch interrogate the two guys.  The dad just wanted her kidnapped, not hurt, and the guys say they know nothing about the killings.  Everyone was alive when they grabbed the girl.  The guys seem like they made a stupid decision and are now in over their heads.  Interesting.  Gideon believes them, and goes to talk to the dad, who is hostile and angry.

Reid goes to talk to the girl, while Morgan takes a call from Garcia.  The girl will only say her name and her SSN, like a POW.  Reid and Morgan update Hotch about her behavior, and let Hotch know that Garcia turned up that the girl left school and vacated her apartment a couple months ago.  Hotch asks for the dad’s phone records and goes back to talk to the dad, asking how long his daughter has been in a cult.  Woah!

Cut to a cop watching the house of the racist minuteman dude, then we see a big knife and blood splattering over a family photo.  Uh oh!

Hotch talks to the dad some more about what he’s done to try to get his daughter out of the cult.  Dad keeps refusing to talk to them, which is weird.  Hotch tells him about the new killings, and suggests that this, combined with a plausible claim for brainwashing, may be able to keep his daughter out of jail for any of the murders.  Dad finally agrees to tell them what he knows about the cult she joined.  Ingrid started acting weird over the past couple of months, distant, repeating phrases and jargon, then she disappeared.  She told her father he was a “trespasser,” that someone named “grandfather” taught her the ways of the spirits (I believe the word they are saying is diyí’, which the actors are pronouncing “gahe,” based on some Wikipedia research).  The team delivers a profile of the cult leader to the locals, a charismatic underachiever with a fascination with Native American cultures.

The team brings the girl to the crime scene, where John Black Wolf tries to talk to her about actual Native customs and culture.  He takes her to the crime scene and asks her what happened there.  She spouts off her messed-up half-understood Apache spirituality rhetoric, that the trespassers met the “vengeful blade of the tribe,” and tells John that he’s not Apache, and spouts off some really dubious stuff about being taken to the desert by Grandfather to be blessed by the spirits.  John is pretty pissed off at her, and tells her that the word Apache is actually a Zuni term meaning “enemy,” and that the Apache properly refer to themselves as Dine, which means “people,” and that she would know that if she knew the first thing about their culture (I mean, it’s like the very first thing discussed in the Apache Wikipedia page, come on, girl, you’re in college!).  The girl tells him that the Apache are like the Jews, waiting for a Messiah, which John gets SUPER pissed about, because NOPE, and tells her that the children that were murdered aren’t enemies and that she has no idea what she’s talking about.  The girl says something about “the Deadlands,” which at least gives them a clue as to where the cult compound might be, so that’s something.

Back at the PD, the team and the locals talk about “The Deadlands,” and Morgan updates them on a guy Garcia turned up who may be their cult leader.  He was expelled from the school the girl went to for possession of peyote (oy), and took courses on Native American culture. The team tries to narrow down where the cult could be hiding, and figure since they have no way to make a living or, you know, pay rent, they must be camped out in some abandoned building or another.  John tells them there’s an abandoned motel in the middle of the Deadlands, and they head out.  It seems to me this might be a bit premature — the area, as described by John Black Wolf, is 100 square miles.  Surely there’s other abandoned farms, buildings, etc. in that area?

Anyway, we cut to the raid on the motel.  There’s only one person there, “Grandfather,” who is a thin young white guy who looks a lot like Sean William Scott:

s1e16 similar

who tells the team the others are “hunting.”  Reid and Gideon call in to give Hotch, Elle, Morgan, and John info on the cult leader.  Cunning, charismatic, violent, loves attention, unable to stay in a job or university program.  Hotch decides the best way to approach him is to stroke his ego, to “give him an audience,” so they can try to figure out where the rest of his group have gone.  Hotch talks to him, getting nowhere for a bit, until John Black Wolf steps in.  The kid gets super mad and shows his angry, bitter, nasty racist hand.  He calls John the kinds of names you’d expect, and admits that he tried to incite the minuteman group to attack the reservation, first by using Native customs in the murders and then by murdering the leader of the group.  Whoops you are not actually interested in Native culture, you are interested in starting a race war!

The team realizes that the likely target is the reservation, that since “Grandfather” tried and failed to provoke a race war, he’s going after the other side. The team race to the reservation’s school.  Hotch and John walk through the dark hallways and John tells him to put his gun away and use his baton, which up until now I’ve never seen any of the agents carry.  He tells Hotch there are many paths to the same place, and Hotch tells him he sounds like a fortune cookie, HAH.  We see a bunch of white teenagers/young adults with shotguns approaching the school.  When they get into the classroom, it’s empty!  They split up and go looking for the kids.

Hotch and John take out the white teenagers one by one, quietly, with batons and hand-to-hand fighting.  One kid draws a knife on John, and they knife fight!  John kicks his ass while Hotch fights with a kid in a classroom, baton against shotgun!  John winds up having to stab the guy he’s fighting with, and Hotch comes into the room just as two more kids with shotguns burst in!  Hotch fires on them while John jumps out of the line of fire.  John wryly asks Hotch “you just had to shoot somebody, didn’t you?”  Outside, John calls Hotch “Captain America,” hahaha, and Hotch correctly calls him out on having probably killed that suspect he stabbed.  John, for some reason, says “at least I didn’t shoot him.”  Ok.

Hotch goes to see his brother at a diner, and they make up.  Hotch gives him the card of a guy in the New York field office in case he gets into trouble, which seems, I don’t know, I mean, all we know so far is that Shawn got into Georgetown law and decided not to go, he’s not exactly a drug dealer or anything.  Also —  Is Hotch at his brother’s workplace in New York, or is this a place he is working at prior to leaving for New York?  Anyway, Hotch tells him he needs to whatever, be his own person or whatever, and we cut to credits with no closing quote.

Overall a pretty interesting episode that takes some twists and turns, but I think the examination of the tension between Native Americans and white land developers and white racists, and of white people’s general misunderstandings of Native cultures, could have been improved by not having such a stereotype as the main Native character.  It would have been much more subversive (and fun!) for John Black Wolf to be like “what, you think all Native Americans can tell your life story from your footprints? Don’t be ridiculous.”  Reid’s adorableness in this episode was marred by whoever wrote this episode thinking that “genius with possible Asperger’s” could be accurately represented by “someone who can’t stop interrupting people at inappropriate times.”  Also, Gideon is doing that “stand off to the side and stare” thing again, eurgh.


Reid’s hair floppiness rating: holding steady at a 3 out of 10, sigh.



  1. I do like how often the cop of the week is someone female, minority or both, but yes, would have been a lot better without all the stereotypes coming into play.

    OTOH, I very much liked the way various characters were both racist, and using their racism very cynically to whip up anger and violence where it would be useful to them. That’s quite true to life IME. People don’t always just do horrible stuff because racism, and the fact that they have other motives doesn’t mean that they aren’t also being racist. Indeed, that they’re willing to use the object of their hatred in such a completely cynical way rather illustrates their racism (or sexism, or homophobia, or whatever bigotry is in the forefront.)


    • Yeah I did really enjoy the “twist” where the cult leader was actually a huge gross racist. Even with that, I thought the misguided, misunderstood embracing of Native customs and beliefs by a bunch of white college students was also pretty true to life :-/


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