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What Really Drove Criminal Minds Hitman Colin Bramwell To A Life Of Crime

CBS's "Criminal Minds" has captivated audiences since its debut in 2005 with its intricate investigations of twisted serial killers, some of whom were based on real people. And although the show wrapped in February 2020, it is slated to return for a limited run with a slightly altered structure on Paramount+ in the near future. While we're waiting for the show's revival, it's the perfect time to look back on some of the original run's most cold-blooded killers, like Colin Bramwell (Mike Colter).

For the majority of the Season 9 episode "Final Shot" of "Criminal Minds," Bramwell is an elusive figure. He is present throughout the episode, playing what appears to be two parts. However, he is not named until just two minutes before the episode's close, when the two parts merge and everything becomes clear in retrospect — but more on that later.

The episode opens with a mass shooting at Archer Plaza in Dallas, Texas, where six people die. It's immediately apparent that this is the work of a sniper, although it remains a mystery whether or not the shooter is an amateur or highly skilled professional — only 50% of the shots hit a target, yet all hits are extremely precise kill-shots. The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) will have to kick it into high gear to make sense of the shooting and uncover Bramwell's identity, and they won't gain much ground before a second, clearly related shooting kills another three people. But why does Colin Bramwell suddenly become a very active serial murderer? Keep reading.

Bramwell distracts the BAU with current events

Part of the reason why Colin Bramwell's identity is so hard to pin down is that he committed his murders against the backdrop of a significant historical event. Initially, the BAU wonders if the first mass shooting is connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, as the shooting happened at 12:27 p.m., and JFK was killed at 12:30 p.m., also in Dallas, 50 years ago. With an increase in right-wing extremist calls and letters to the Dallas Police, the chance that this is some sort of perverse celebration of this anniversary is sadly not out of the question. But this option is ruled out when Agent Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) does what she does best: research!

The other possibility is that the mass shooting was connected to a recent uptick in white supremacist violence in the area. Also thanks to Garcia's web sleuthing, the BAU learns of Adam "The General" Dawson (Blake Gibbons), leader of the Southern Aryans, who is accused of killing a Black Dallas councilman, Adrian Clay, just three months prior to the shooting. 

While the majority of the victims of the two mass shootings were white, Agent David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) wonders if the white supremacists are "maybe waging a new kind of war" — perhaps trying to make some larger statement about integration or something. Ultimately, after an interview with the General, Agent Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) and Agent Jennifer Jareau (A.J. Cook) determine that, while the General has definitely not left racism behind him as he says, he isn't connected to this new batch of deaths.

Bramwell's backstory

Through the powers of hacking and internet research, Agent Garcia does it again and leads the BAU right to serial-killer-for-hire Colin Bramwell. She informs the team that a month before the events of the episode, a man named Eric Carcani (Paul Lacovara) called Bramwell, who was then living in Mombasa, Kenya, hiring him to kill his newly estranged wife Maya (Yetide Badaki). Maya had escaped from her abusive relationship with her husband through the Community Angels program, which would keep her whereabouts unknown. 

However, Carcani's not just some average Joe — he works for the quasi-military security firm Black Cross, making him skilled in tracking and killing targets (and well-connected with regard to stalkers and hitmen). In fact, Garcia tells the team that Carcani and Bramwell had worked together five years prior, and Bramwell had even been a sniper for South African Special Forces until he was kicked out for allegedly stealing sensitive government documents.

Now the question of whether the sniper was an amateur or a professional has its answer: The mass shootings were orchestrated to distract from the connection between two specific targets, thereby obscuring the motive and ensuring the freedom of Bramwell and Carcani. Target 1 was Alice Emerson, a counselor who supervised Maya's case when she applied for the Community Angels program. She gave Bramwell the name of Rebecca Schroeder, the actual "Community Angel" who hid Maya and arranged for her transfer to an unknown apartment. Schroeder, who was Target 2, then gave Maya's hideout location to Bramwell.

Fantasy integration gone wrong

In total, seven random people were killed in an attempt to cover up the deaths of Emerson and Schroeder, who were promised the safety of their families if they revealed information leading to Maya's whereabouts. The plan was then for Bramwell to stake out Maya's shelter until he got a clear shot, but a strategy for staying alert on his mission backfired, leading to his own death.

En route to Maya's location, the BAU puts the pieces together and, in a brief but important discussion, talks about the work of a sniper. Chief Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) tells the team about "fantasy integration," a strategy that snipers use to stay on their targets for up to 72 hours at a time, in which the sniper creates a fantasy involving both themself and their target in order to stay alert. Rossi gives the example of "building a car together," but Bramwell's fantasy that he is Maya's protector turns romantic — and ultimately causes his death.

When Maya can't take being cooped up in her apartment hideout any longer, she goes onto her balcony, unknowingly giving Bramwell a shot — and with his accuracy, her death seems imminent. But the romance Bramwell had imagined between sniper and target causes him to hesitate for a moment. Hotch takes full advantage of this, sniping him from within Maya's apartment. There were no last words for this killer.

So what drove Colin Bramwell to a life of crime? Well, being a hired hitman, it's definitely the money — though it isn't like he'll be able to collect payment for this final job.