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CSI Files - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Killer'

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Killer'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at February 6, 2006 - 8:56 PM GMT

See Also: 'Killer' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

The episode opens not with the discovery of a body but with the murder itself. Karl Cooper goes to the seedy motel room of Clayton Nash and enters through the window. When Clayton awakes and discovers him there, he tries to tell Karl something, but Karl shoots him three times with a gun equipped with a silencer. Karl goes to his car and drives away, only to be struck by the car of a drunk young woman, Ally Sullivan. She is adamant about calling the police, even though he tries to talk her out of it. When he sees he's failed, he gets back out of his car. The CSI team is called to the site of the accident, where Ally is now lying dead by her car. They aren't yet sure it was foul play, but when Grissom notices paint on the front of her car indicating she caused the accident, he wonders what made the other driver leave. Meanwhile, Karl arrives at his home and crawls into bed with his wife.

While Ally's grieving father tells Brass about Ally's aspirations, Dr. Robbins discovers Ally's death was not an accident--someone broke her neck. The following morning, Karl's wife Janice asks about his wild night the evening before while he makes breakfast with his daughter Maddy. Brass questions Trent Hall, whose prints were found in the car. Trent has a rape conviction on his record and Brass wonders if he tried to assault Ally. He says Ally was just giving him a ride home--they weren't having sex, but they did text all the time. This knowledge makes Grissom turn to Ally's cell phone with the numbers 999-552 dialed on it--could Ally have been trying to text the killer's license plate as she died? It translates to YKA. Hodges is able to match the paint scrapings from Ally's car to a rusted out blue Ford. While the CSIs work, Karl meets his friend Joey at a casino bar and spots Ally's father on the news talking about her death. Karl's second victim is discovered when the manager of the hotel shows Sofia Clayton Nash's decomposing body. Catherine and Warrick arrive at the scene--body temperature and lividity indicate Nash has been dead for at least 20 hours. They find the Walter PPK that the killer abandoned and Warrick finds evidence that the man was in a twelve-step program. Meanwhile, Karl watches as Ally's father discovers the large sum of money he left in the man's mailbox--guilt money.

Back at the lab, Hodges identifies fibers pulled from Ally's necklace as lambskin and rabbit's fur. A torched, charred Ford is found near a junkyard and the CSIs are able to trace it to a used car dealer. Sara pays the sight-impaired owner a visit and get a blurry copy of the driver's license of the man who purchased the car only days earlier. Based on a scratch on the bullet, Catherine and Warrick determine that the killer used a silencer when he shot Nash. In his basement, Karl Googles information on Nash and learns his body has been discovered--and linked to Ally's murder. Archie cleans up the license picture of the killer and Brass takes it to a bus driver whose route takes her into the desert in the vicinity of the car lot. She recalls the man, whom she says walked out of the desert on foot. Sara, Nick and Greg head out to the bus stop and discover ATV tire tracks that end at the site of a bonfire of clothes. The CSIs pick through the charred remains, which include boots, socks and gloves. Hodges confirms that the gloves are made out of lambskin and a match for the fibers found in Ally's necklace. Grissom discovers a silencer among the charred remains of the killer's abandoned possessions.

Sofia has gone over Nash's criminal record and learned he testified against a group of bank robbers, sending many of them to jail. Three of them are potential suspects, and Grissom has connected Nash and Ally's murders through the silencer. Karl is feeling the web close in on him--he goes to his friend Joey for a blank license and credit card. When his wife discovers what he's doing, she confronts him. Karl admits he killed Nash and his wife tells him to get out of the house. Catherine has zeroed on Karl Cooper as a likely suspect and when Warrick matches the tire treads on the killer's ATV to a Raptor purchased by one Janice Cooper, the police have enough for a warrant. They go to the Coopers' house but Janice refuses to tell them anything more than that Karl isn't there. Karl, at a bus station about to leave town, calls his wife and learns they've solved the case. When Janice tells him the cops are threatening to take Maddy away from her, Karl turns himself in to a cop at the bus station. Karl is brought to the lab where Grissom prints him. He asks Grissom where he went wrong and Grissom coolly replies, "You killed two people."

Analysis:

The idea of showing an episode of CSI from dual standpoints--the CSIs working to solve the case and the killer who perpetrated the crimes in the first place--is a fascinating one. Yes, it takes out some of the suspense in the sense that we know who committed the crimes from the first scene, but it also builds tension in that the viewer sees how close the killer comes to getting away. My one complaint lies with the scenes we do see of the killer, which are a bit too middling. That he follows the news of his own crime isn't especially surprising, and his eventual almost-escape ends anti-climactically, with a phone call at just the right time to his wife and a last minute decision to turn himself in.

None of that takes away from William Sadler's truly impressive performance. Sadler gives us a good sense of Karl from the beginning--he kills a man in cold blood but encourages Ally to drive off without calling the police. When he sees her in his side mirror on her cell phone, genuine regret flashes across his face. And yet, Sadler doesn't make him too sympathetic: in the final scene when Karl asks Grissom where he went wrong, he has an air of arrogance about him that suggests he truly expected to get away with both murders. Grissom's answer, "You killed two people," is delivered in a perfectly calm, logical tone that never wavers even in the face of a question he clearly finds repugnant. It made for a great final line.

Knowing who the killer is right upfront allows the viewer to take a step back and focus on the process the CSIs go through in gathering the evidence, seeing how even though Karl did a good job of covering his tracks, he still left behind breadcrumbs for the CSIs to follow--the fibers in Ally's necklace, paint from his car, the tire treads of his ATV. The one thing he purposefully left behind--the gun used to kill Nash--doesn't really aid the investigation. It is the silencer that provides the link between the two murders, and the fact that Karl was smart enough to take it with him (though he later abandons it) shows savvy on his part. But the episode also underscores how every killer makes mistakes; in addition to the car accident, Karl's attempts to abandon the items that helped him with the murders--the car, the clothes he wore, the silencer--prove to be his undoing.

The ending of the episode is a bit too easy. Would a man who killed a young woman to cover up his crime now turn himself in to protect his family? I guess the point is that even murderers have their limits, and Sadler does make the scene convincing. Susanna Thompson's role as his wife is somewhat thankless--I wasn't surprised to learn that she knew of her husband's dubious past or that she would protect him in the end and I think the only reason she didn't give Karl up in the end when Brass threatened that she'd lose Maddy was so that Karl could turn himself in. That said, it made for a striking scene for Sadler, with Karl walking confidently up to an officer and promising to make him a hero.

I do love that the writers are taking chances and playing with the show's format for individual episodes. Many shows are downright complacent by their sixth year, and certainly CSI, as television's number one drama, easily could have fallen into that trap. After all, why take a risk with something that works so well? But it may be the fact that CSI is willing to take these kinds of chances that is what continues to secure the show the top position each week. Certainly, no show that I can recall has felt so fresh in its six years--where many shows have the feeling of winding down in their sixth years, CSI feels like an established show in the middle of its run. Episodes that play with format like "Viva Las Vegas", "4x4", "Hollywood Brass" and "Killer" keep the show surprising. Hopefully the trend will continue.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.