As Delko fights for his life in the present, the episode flashes back to 1997, when Delko, working as a tow truck driver, found his first dead body and participated in the subsequent murder investigation.
Picking up where the seventh season finale “Seeing Red” left off, Horatio Caine and Calleigh Duquesne discover a badly wounded Eric Delko collapsed by a road in the Everglades. They rush him to the hospital, where Alexx Woods takes over in a desperate attempt to save Delko’s life. The story flashes back to 1997, when Delko, then a tow truck driver, discovered the body of Amy Bowers in a car in the Everglades. He puts a call into the police and is soon joined by Detective Horatio Caine and his partner, Detective John “Sully” Sullivan. Sullivan’s suspicions zero in on Amy’s husband Steve, who claims to have been out of town at the time. Sully notices bleach and finds a box of bullets–for a gun Steve claims he sold. Firearms expert Fred Dorsey thinks the bullets are a match to the one found in Amy’s skull, but new recruit Calleigh Duquesne points out that bullets purchased months apart can seem to be a match. Horatio is impressed with her savvy. Horatio sends Detective Jesse Cardoza, who is finishing up his final day with the MDPD, to look for clues at the Bower residence.
Frank Tripp pulls up a potential suspect: Arnold Hollings, a landscaper arrested on peeping tom charges. He lies about being in the house the morning of Amy’s murder, and Horatio is increasingly suspicious of him. Sully is convinced the killer is the husband, especially once he learns Steve was having an affair. After a bit of flirtation with Delko, Calleigh examines the car Amy was found in with Horatio, and the two discover the airbag deployed. They find evidence on Hollis’s shirt that he was hit by a deploying airbag. The ASA tells Horatio the evidence isn’t enough to charge Hollis with murder. What’s more, Sully has obtained a warrant for Steve’s arrest. Delko helps Horatio find the gun, but the serial number has been scratched off it. At the Bowers’ house, Jesse finds three blood drops on the window that he can’t explain and shows them to Horatio. The two deduce that the air conditioner was on when Amy was struck in the head and then shot–blowing some of the blood back on her killer. Another examination of Arnold Hollings reveals a tiny blood drop in his nose, which Horatio is convinced belongs to Amy. It’s not enough to take to trial–until Horatio calls on a friend at the FBI to use cutting edge technology to split the sample. The blood is a match and Hollings is arrested–and Steve is freed. Horatio thanks Delko for his help and suggests the young tow truck driver go to the police academy and come find him. In the present, Delko wakes up, surrounded by his relieved co-workers.
CSI: Miami kicks off its eighth season not with the story of Delko’s fight to survive in the present, but with a flashback that explains how he became a CSI in the first place. It’s a bit of a gamble–the audience is naturally very concerned with Delko’s plight in the present–but it’s one that mostly pays off. After all, we have seen Delko fight for his life before: after he was shot in the head in fifth season’s “Man Down”. To go through that again with the same character just two and a half seasons later would feel somewhat repetitive–and likely anti-climactic, since it’s been all over the entertainment blogs that Delko wasn’t going to die, and indeed, Adam Rodriguez, who is departing the show, will be around for ten episodes. The flashback is a way to have the team not go back to business as usual while their colleague–and in Calleigh’s case, lover–is fighting for his life, but still present a mystery to hook casual viewers in for the hour.
The reason I deem it mostly successful rather than wholly is that the flashback doesn’t really focus on Delko as much as it could. Yes, it’s the story of how he decided to go down the path to become a cop, but it’s not really his story in the way you’d hope for an episode like this. He’s absent for large parts of the investigation because he’s not yet a cop–he’s a tow truck driver who makes a gruesome discovery and is able to provide a few helpful tips. The flashback doesn’t really feel like Delko’s specifically because so much of it is devoted to scenes he’s not a part of. And in the end, it’s newbie (at least so far as the audience is concerned) Jesse Cardoza who finds the key piece of evidence, not Delko. Don’t get me wrong–it’s fun to see what led Delko to make the decision to become a CSI, but focusing on, say, his first day on the job might have put him in the spotlight more.
That being said, the flashback is pure fun, especially for longtime Miami viewers. What could be more fun than to see the various team members meeting for the first time? Horatio is so much more relaxed in 1997 than he is now–it’s fun to see David Caruso get to channel that easy, warm energy the character used to have in earlier seasons. And Calleigh is downright adorable–bubbly and cheery, determined to enjoy her work but also to be taken seriously. Even as she’s all smiles, she dares to contradict her supervisor on her first day and turns down Delko’s overtures, telling him–ironically, in hindsight–that she “wouldn’t socialize with anyone remotely related to her job.” Emily Proctor has always done a great job of blending her character’s Southern charm with her razor-sharp wits, and the same holds true for the Calleigh of 1997. Like Horatio, she’s a little lighter, a little younger and more carefree than the Calleigh we know in 2009.
Delko is, too–back in 1997, it’s obvious he was definitely the ladies’ man we knew in the early seasons of the show. He wastes no time hitting on Calleigh, trying out a line on her the minute she walks up to him. Adam Rodriguez has a boyish charm that makes his come on feel playful rather than sleazy, but there’s a confidence to Delko that he lost after getting shot in the head. We get brief glimpses of Tripp, a mustached patrolman who gives Horatio the scoop on Hollings’ record; Alexx, who was an ME in 1997; and even Natalia Boa Vista, who quietly processes the blood sample Horatio brings to her supervisor. Ryan Wolfe is nowhere to be seen–as the youngest member of the team, he might still have been in high school or college back in 1997. And unfortunately Tim Speedle hadn’t yet joined the team in 1997–apparently Rory Cochrane was unavailable to reprise his role in this episode. It would have been fun to see the beginnings of the rapport between Speedle and Delko. Their banter was one of the highlights of the early seasons of Miami.
The audience is introduced to new regular character Jesse Cardoza, played by Eddie Cibrian, who has already been inserted into the main credits. Cibrian has a smooth, open charm to him that makes him a good fit for the show. I never got the feeling that he was being foisted on us, and even though he is the one who finds the key piece of evidence that ends up breaking the case–the blood drops on the window–he and Horatio collaborate to put together what it means. New characters often take center stage in their first episode, to prove how special/different/unique they are, but Jesse’s introduction is refreshingly ordinary. He’s the guy who doesn’t hit on Calleigh–thankfully–and he’s the one who’s sent off to process the house on his own, an unglamorous job if there ever was one. It looks like next week he’ll be taking the spotlight when he returns to Miami, but his introduction is wisely a low-key one here.
The transition from more traditional detective work to science-based investigations is just beginning here, and it’s fun to see the contrast between Horatio and his more traditional partner, Sully. Sully deduces that the husband had motive and opportunity and means–and therefore he must be guilty. Horatio’s gut seems to be telling him something different, but because Sully’s conclusion seems like a sound one to the assistant state’s attorney who would be prosecuting it, his more traditional conclusions are taken over Horatio’s science-based ones. Horatio, being Horatio, presses on, eventually able to prove from a single blood drop inside Hollings’ nose that he’s the guilty party. The blood drop in the nose seems a bit of a stretch–has the guy really not wiped his nose or sneezed all day? Surely there was a more convincing place that crucial blood drop could have been hiding.
Dedicated viewers of the show will appreciate the banter between Horatio and Delko over Horatio’s now trademark shades. Delko jokingly gives Horatio a hard time for not wearing any sunglasses to combat the bright Miami sun, and vows to find him a pair. Sure enough, by the end of the episode, he does–a gift Horatio gladly accepts and puts on. Love it or hate it, viewers now know the origin of Horatio’s sunglasses–and the way he smoothly slides them on. The exchange over the sunglasses segues into a more serious conversation when Horatio suggests Delko apply to the police academy and then come look him up. Delko scoffs a bit at the offer, in a way that tells the audience he’s suffered a lot of disappointments and false promises in his life. Horatio reassures him that he is indeed sincere, and, as we know from the show, Horatio made good on his promise.
At the end of the flashback, Horatio has been asked to head up a brand new department–“They’re calling it CSI,” he marvels. Jesse, on his way out, recommends his friend Tim Speedle, but notes that he’s a “difficult person to get on the phone.” A sly reference to the failed attempt to bring Rory Cochrane back for the episode, perhaps? Calleigh is clearly not destined to be stuck in that broom closet for long–no doubt she’s the first recruit for Horatio’s new team.
The flashback concluded, the story moves back to the present, where Delko is waking up, surrounded by the entire team and Alexx, who has presumably saved his life off camera. We’re not sure exactly how he was injured, beyond the fact that Calleigh shot him, or how the bullet fragment in his brain played into his brush with death. The brief shots in the present showed surgeons actually drilling into his skull, so it’s possible the fragment was removed. Has this changed Delko at all, or affected his memory? The coming weeks will tell. All in all, a thoroughly satisfying and fun season opener.