The Root of All Evil

PROFILER, "The Root of All Evil," two-hour long, second season finale. First airdate May 9, 1998. The dramatic series follows a criminal "profiler," an expert at interpreting evidence at a crime scene for insights into the perpetrator. James Morrison plays Will Cook, a photojournalism editor haunted by the faces of disaster.

prof19.jpg (24978 bytes)A chain of explosions rocks the parking lot at an Atlanta chemical company during a shift change. Twenty-three people die as vehicles around them explode. Once the fire settles, the FBI's Violent Crime Task Force, including profiler Dr. Samantha Waters and her boss Bailey Malone arrive on the scene. The chemical company could have many enemies, they speculate, because it manufactures controversial pharmaceuticals. With the help of a company security tape, they determine the cars rigged to blow were the ones without locked gas caps, which indicates the bombs had been randomly set. Forensics discovers thermite, a simple-to-make explosive, is the substance that blew up the cars.

Soon, they learn the chemical company is connected with a previous crime, a home invasion in Missouri. An armed, masked intruder waited inside the mansion of an importer-exporter of products to the Middle East and Africa. Still very frightened, the businessman tells Sam and Bailey the intruder made him kneel on what looked like a wrestling mat with a firework sparkler set up in the middle. The gunman demanded he confess his worst sin within 10 minutes. The businessman begged for an indication of what the intruder needed to hear, but to no avail. However, when he finally mentioned selling diluted drugs, the gunman extinguished the sparkler.

In explaining the nature of this sin to Bailey and Sam, the businessman mentions he had exported a batch of a diluted cholera drug to Sierra Leone. Sam remembers news photos depicting the resulting plague. The drug had been a big moneymaker for the company. The businessman added that the gunman had said, before he left, that "pretty soon the world would know about the root of all evil." Plus, the intruder had recorded his confession. After the interview, Bailey asks Sam why would the gunman kill 23 people and let this guy live? Sam states, because he confessed.

Sam and Bailey discover the suspect they call "The Executioner" shows a pattern of invading homes and demanding confessions. Those who confess, live. Those who do not, die in an explosion of the mite ignited by the sparkler. To avoid the deaths of innocents, the bomber has constructed the wrestling mat so a substance limits the range of the fire. The Executioner also exhibits a pattern of exacting a confession, then triggering a bomb in a related venue within 24 hours.

His vigilantism knows no international borders. Reports of kidnappings, confessions and deaths trickle in from across the U.S. and from Europe. Nor is his rage directed at a company's executive officers making the decisions to maximize profits. He extorts a confession from a secretary in Philadelphia, then explodes a bus in Chicago loaded with potential airline stockholders for the company that employs her.

His rage seems to be prompted by events in the news. With each reported confession, Sam remembers the media coverage of each incident. An airline's reduction of maintenance procedures causes a deadly crash. An armory sells landmines all over the world to countries that just leave them in the ground when the battle moves on. She wonders if The Executioner could be a rescue worker or someone in the media covering the events.

She and the task force's computer science specialist George Fraley check out photo credits of photojournalists covering the events triggering the executions. She focuses on the photographers who tell the story of an event in the faces of its victims. Finally, upon reaching the last name on the list, a James Davison, she calls his number to get his answering machine, which plays a recorded rant about "the root of all evil."

Accompanied by other agents, Sam and Bailey go to his apartment. Decorating the walls are exhibition-framed black-&-white prints of news photos, all depicting faces of disaster and war zone victims. In his darkroom, Sam finds the chemicals used to make the sparklers that detonate the confession mats. On his mantel is a framed series of photos of Davison carrying a little girl from a burning church. Apparently, he had put down his camera to rescue her. In the background is the church's sign with the phrase, "The Root of All Evil." Sam also picks up another lead from a coffee table book of his photos, a dedication written by editor Will Cook: "It was all in her face. The whole tragedy."

prof1.jpg (24370 bytes)prof2.jpg (34111 bytes)Sam goes to Will Cook's offices at "World Magazine." She mentions the series of photos on Davison's mantel. "I put them there," Cook said. "I also took them." He tells her he used the camera James had dropped in the grass. When Sam compliments him upon his photographic skill, he demurs, "I'm strictly point-and-shoot. Even an amateur pulls out of the sand trap every once in a while."


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prof8.jpg (26282 bytes)prof9.jpg (26084 bytes)Although Cook is aware of Davison's crimes, his affection for his longtime friend and co-worker is obvious. "There was a time when I hero-worshipped him," he tells Sam. "I considered it an honor to edit his books." He has known Davison since he was "a camera nut wandering Greenwich Village" photographing faces, especially the eyes. The eyes in a Davison shot, he mentions, eventually became "his trademark."

"James Davison could capture a decade in a single portrait," Cook tells Sam. As she glances around the magazine's office, seeing all the famous photographs, she is inclined to agree. She asks what happened to him.

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The subject matter eventually got to Davison and has not left Cook unscathed, either. "Bodies broken into pieces," he explains. "Blood so thick it covers the top of your shoes. How many times can you look at the face of a starving kid, snap a picture, then go back to your regular life?"

Sam steers the conversation back to the series of photos from the church fire. Was that the first time Davison put down his camera? Cook calls it "the last straw" and mentions it was the last time they worked together. Since then, Cook adds, Davison has disappeared.

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prof18.jpg (24930 bytes)Sam, who has seen plenty of pain on the job and at home, muses about how hard it must be to be objective when surrounded by that much pain. Cook tells her he and Davison talked many times about that. "I think James was looking for reasons." Wondering about Davison's motivations, Sam asks if he thought Davison had been looking for blame. "He felt we were all to blame. In a way, he's right." Cook lists several international trouble spots. "We pay lip service, read the stories, look at the pictures. But what do we really do about it?"

prof20.jpg (24084 bytes)prof21.jpg (25342 bytes)Knowing Davison is gearing up for a big finale, Sam asks his old friend what he thinks he will do. Cook sits a moment and then says, "Something - that will create an image the world will never forget." Davison had wondered what it would be like to reveal a disaster before it happened and prevent it. "Something instead of just chronicling the aftermath." Sam asks him to make a list of stories Davison covered, as well as a list of stories he wanted to cover.

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prof27.jpg (23672 bytes)prof29.jpg (23483 bytes)After coolly discussing his troubled friend with a stranger, Cook stops Sam on her way out the door. Cook tells her, "Do you know what you'd find if you looked inside his head 20 years ago, Dr. Waters? Somebody full of midnight courage. Somebody you could call a hero. Someone you would like -- " his control slips a moment as he chokes " - an awful lot."

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prof31.jpg (30387 bytes)prof36.jpg (48288 bytes)Later, Cook comes up with the lists Sam requested. They meet in his office to go over the photos. Mention of Davison's obsession with "the root of all evil" prompts Cook to say, "I know he felt he made a living off the misery of the world. It bothered him. I told him we have a responsibility to let the world know." Studying the photographs of suffering faces, Sam wonders if Davison ever published anything that didn't emphasize faces. "He's into people," Cook replies. Then he speculates on Davison's final victim: "He's basically a moral guy. He'll probably take retribution on himself."

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Meanwhile, Davison may be missing, but his mission continues. Bailey and Sam receive a report of another confession in Washington, DC. Davison had allowed the survivor to live once he mentioned NASA putting plutonium in rockets. The man with a second chance is an engineer who advised NASA to shoot plutonium off into space in the first place.

In her home darkroom, Sam loads the negatives agents confiscated from Davison's apartment into her own enlarger to study the images. Davison may have been known for photographing close-ups of people, but Sam finds photos of things and places, such as the bus he had bombed in Chicago and the chemical plant he had targeted in Atlanta. In addition to his past targets, she finds an oddly abstract image - a pattern of lines crossing and intersecting, like a grid of pipes. She wonders if that photo is an indication of his next target.

She shows the prints she has made from Davison's negatives to Bailey. Deep inside the intricate gridwork, he spots the letters "ANE." He believes that to be part of the word "methane," which is highly explosive with or without the addition of a thermite bomb. Since Davison's current obsession seems to be the NASA project, they wonder how methane could fit into the picture. Bailey realizes Houston, Texas, has a network of natural gas pipelines running under the city. Houston is also the site of NASA's mission control center. Since, according to Davison's previous pattern, they have less than 24 hours to find and stop him, Sam and Bailey fly off to Houston.

At the gas company's main plant, Sam advises the manager they should find a place both central and vulnerable. The manager counters by pointing out the massive sprawl of pipes and conduits, then adds, "If that maniac sets off his thermite anywhere around here, we're ghosts."

As they try to determine his next step, somewhere under the gridwork of gas pipes is Davison carrying his rolled up mat of thermite and a long sparkler.

And Sam knows he's there, citing his pattern of no more than 24 hours between confession and retribution. With her mind racing, she suggests he "thinks in pictures," so he has a perfectly composed image already in mind as his precise target. She suggests George, who is working on the computer back at the task force's headquarters, run a comparison program between the gas company's plans and the specific composition of a parallel lines of pipe making a frame.

George finds places that match that specific pattern, and gas company workers scramble to shut off service to the junctions. While Sam and Bailey race to stop him, Davison makes his confession alone. Only, this time, the confessor is not saved. The sparkler burns down to the mat, the thermite explodes and he disappears into a ball of flame. The pipes overhead remain unscathed. All Sam and Bailey find left of the troubled photojournalist is ash.

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