Catherine struggles with criticism of her leadership, the team investigates the murder of an actress and a familiar face returns to lend a hand in CSI’s tenth season premiere.
After a stop motion portrait of a dramatic shootout in the lab, the story flashes back 48 hours. A harried Catherine is dealing with an understaffed lab in the wake of Riley Adams’ sudden departure, while Ray is promoted to CSI 2 by Ecklie, who is impressed by the number of courses Ray has taken. The team gets a call from Brass: a car crash on a Las Vegas street has resulted in the death of starlet Olivia Hamilton. Her devastated boyfriend, Danny Ocampo, tries to get to her, but the officers prevent him. The driver of the SUV that hit Olivia’s car, Richard Wilkes, is pulled from his vehicle and revived. Catherine gets a call about another murder, a man found dead in a fleabag motel, and sends a disgruntled Greg off to take the case. Langston and Nick find evidence that Wilkes accelerated rather than trying to break just before hitting Olivia’s car. Brass speaks with a crushed Danny, who comes to the station with Tom O’Neill, a security guard who works for his father’s casino. Danny asks Brass to put a bullet in the man responsible for Olivia’s death. Across town, Greg collects evidence from a motel room where an older man was apparently beaten to death. Greg recovers two of his teeth, which have a black fiber between them. In the morgue, Doc Robbins determines Olivia died of internal hemorrhaging and discovers the actress was eight weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
Henry Andrews finds that Wilkes blood alcohol was .18 and that he had GHB in his system. Nick and Langston go through his things from the SUV and find a scrapbook filled with pictures of Olivia–as well as rope, duct tape and a knife. Wilkes was a stalker. Wilkes got a hold of the call sheet for the movie Olivia was shooting–meaning he knew exactly where she’d be, down to the route she’d take to get to work. Nick thinks Wilkes was out to killer, but Langston doesn’t think murder fits the profile of a stalker. The two look at surveillance footage of the intersection and notice the light Olivia stopped for shouldn’t have been red–someone used an override signal to get it to change, leaving Olivia a sitting duck. Nick confirms that an illegal infrared transmitter was used to change the signal–but no such device was found at the scene. Langston pays Wilkes a visit and discovers he has subcutaneous bruising in the form of a seat belt–but one from the passenger side rather than the driver’s side. Langston suspects the real killer drugged Wilkes, put him in the passenger seat for the crash and then transferred him to the driver’s side afterwards–and broke his spine to make it look like he’d been driving. Catherine tells him he needs proof, and is frustrated when Ecklie lays into her about a tabloid story that indicates a leak from the lab. Into the melee steps the person Ecklie has called on to help with the caseload: Sara Sidle. The newlywed admits she misses her old team–while Grissom is in France giving a series of lectures, she agreed to sign on to help with the caseload.
Catherine reviews Riley’s exit interview and is surprised to find Riley criticized her leadership and found there to be a lack of team cohesiveness. Hodges confesses that he told Tom O’Neill that Wilkes had confessed to Oliva’s murder. The team views surveillance footage from Danny Ocampo’s father’s hotel after learning Wilkes stayed there recently and discovers O’Neill speaking with Wilkes on camera. Suspicious of Danny, Catherine questions him and learns he didn’t want to kill Olivia after learning she was pregnant–he wanted to propose. Brass leans on O’Neill, asking him about a helmet found in his possession which Brass believes he wore the night of the crash. O’Neill admits to leaning on Wilkes after learning Olivia had a stalker but denies any involvement–and asks for a lawyer. Catherine turns to Sara for leadership advice, and Sara tells her the only thing she’s missing is a great second-in-command. Suddenly, the lab is besieged by men in suits with guns, who steal a body and make a break for it, shooting two people in the process. Several of the assailants are captured, and Sara recognizes Russian mafia tattoos on the hand of one of the attackers killed in the shootout. The team assumes it was Olivia’s body that was taken–until Doc Robbins tells them it was the dead man from the hotel room.
Wendy Simms has the answer: the man’s DNA links him to Olivia–he was her father, James. James was a diagnosed schizophrenic whom Olivia had little contact with. The team thinks Danny Ocampo’s father got wind of Olivia’s pregnancy and paid Tom O’Neill to dig up dirt on her. When he caught her talking to her father, O’Neill confronted the man to find out who he was, only to find himself in a fight with the unbalanced schizophrenic. O’Neill killed him accidentally. Catherine likes the theory, but wants proof–something Langston thinks must exist if O’Neill had the body stolen. The remains of James’ body are found by a wood chipper, completely cut up. The CSIs retrieve them, and Langston looks at the X-rays taken before the body was stolen and finds the key piece of evidence that O’Neill stole the body for: a cuff link James bit off when he and O’Neill fought. Nick finds it among the cut up remains, and O’Neill is arrested. Her thoughts still on Sara’s advice, Catherine promotes Nick to Assistant Supervisor on the grave shift. Doc Robbins summons Langston to the morgue to show him the body of Joseph Bigalow. When Robbins opens the body up, both men gasp….
CSI‘s tenth season kicks off by acknowledging the elephant in the room: fan dissatisfaction with the second half of the ninth season, following Grissom’s departure in “One to Go”. Fan complaints ranged from disappointment over losing so many original team members in a short space of time–Jorja Fox, Gary Dourdan and William Petersen all left the show in the space of about a year–to frustration with the amount of focus put on Ray Langston. The disconnect with Langston was perhaps the toughest challenge: Laurence Fishburne was brought in to be the new lead (and comes first in the opening credits), but Ray himself joined the team as a rookie. Many fans felt Ray was put front and center at the expense of characters like Catherine, Nick and Greg–all of whom had been around since the first season. The opener seems to be an attempt to course correct after what many saw as a problematic changing of the guard.
I’m not sure the ninth season got an entirely fair shake–while the much ballyhooed 200th episode “Mascara” was clunker, there were some great entries in the latter half of the season, such as “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “If I Had a Hammer…” and “The Gone Dead Train”. I thought “Deep Fried and Minty Fresh” and “A Space Oddity” showcased the crime drama’s dark sense of humor as well as the lighter episodes of any previous season. The stories were, for the most part, still sharp and well told, but any show that loses three cast members in such a short period of time is bound to falter a bit. And while Fishburne is very, very good and Langston is an appealing character, the rush to put his character front and center right away might have hurt more than it helped. In the wake of their colleagues’ departures, Catherine, Nick and Greg certainly should have gotten more screen time.
And so “A Family Affair” seems to be an attempt to right these missteps, to show viewers that the “family” they tune in to see every week is still present and accounted for, if struggling a bit. That struggle is brought front and center by the departure of Riley Adams. I’m sorry to see Riley go–she had an edge and a sharpness to her that set her apart from the rest of the team, and added a different dimension to the team dynamic. Sometimes the Vegas group seems a little too free of conflict, and Riley’s sometimes abrasive attitude brought in a little friction that was fun to watch. Whether Lauren Lee Smith left of her own accord or was written out of the show remains something of a mystery, but the writers make the most of it by having Riley’s exit be just as abrupt. Riley’s reasons for leaving are no mystery: she was apparently unhappy working at the lab, calling Catherine’s leadership “ineffective” and pointing out the lack of “team unity.” Riley’s complaints echo those many fans voiced last season.
Catherine, already frazzled at being understaffed, doesn’t know quite what to do with the critique so she turns to an old friend for advice: Sara, the person Ecklie called on to step in and help the understaffed grave shift. Sara’s return was hotly debated among fans as well; while some were excited at the prospect of the character’s return, others were happy to see her exit, along with the oft-contested Grissom/Sara romance. Grissom and Sara are now married, giving a bit of closure to the “will they or won’t they last” debate. Personally, I was happy to see Sara back–the original team had a camaraderie that has proved hard to replicate. Seeing Catherine and Sara have a heart to heart brings back the old days of the show; it’s good to have Sara back, whether it be for five episodes or longer.
Sara’s advice to Catherine provides the grave shift leader with a flash of clarity: Sara tells Catherine that what Grissom had that she lacks is a strong second-in-command, a crucial counterbalance. As soon as Sara shares her thoughts with Catherine, Catherine knows exactly who she needs as her right hand man and goes to Nick to give him the promotion to Assistant Supervisor…and an armful of paperwork. Nick is a good choice–the only choice, really, unless the also newly promoted Langston was to leapfrog him, something that would have left fans groaning even more loudly. As it is, Langston remains a wunderkind, getting bumped up to CSI Level 2 after taking a bunch of courses, above and beyond the norm.
Nick proves his worthiness for the job early in the episode when he backs up Catherine’s decision to send Greg to the hotel crime scene. Greg–being the hardcore pop culture buff that he is–doesn’t want to leave the scene of a famous actress’s murder to go to a “dirtbag motel” and protests Catherine’s decision. Langston offers to go in his place, but Nick steps in, reminding them that Catherine is the boss and it’s her call. Greg is sullen about it, but by the time he gets to the actual crime scene and sees the victim, he gets some perspective, reminding the cop in the room, who is watching his buddies on television at the Olivia Hamilton scene on television, that they’re at the hotel to catch the person who brutally killed the victim on the bed. It’s understandable that Greg didn’t want to leave the higher profile scene, but it’s nice to see him pull himself together when it counts.
Also “promoted” in a sense are Liz Vassey and David Berman, who have finally made the opening credits of the show. It’s nice to see the two finally elevated to the credits–they’ve both become integral parts of the show, and will hopefully be spotlighted in future episodes. David Phillips made a big stride last season when he performed his first solo autopsy, and I’m curious to see if Wendy will finally get her nerd in shining armor or if Hodges will continue to fearfully dodge a romance with her, even as he longs for it. Apparently being emotionally open and vulnerable is scarier to Hodges than physical danger–in the shootout he bravely jumps between Wendy and one of the shooters, pushing her out of harms way.
That opening sequence is definitely a visually stunning one, with the team frozen in the middle of a chaotic, tumultuous moment in time: in the middle of a dramatic shootout in the lab. David Phillips is on the phone, Doc Robbins has just struck one of the assailants with one of his crutches, Langston has similarly fought one of the attackers off, Catherine is holding a wounded lab tech and Sara and Nick are outside exchanging fire with the two men who are in the process of escaping with the pilfered body. It’s a dramatic opening for what promises to be a dramatic season.
The episode also ends on a bit of a teaser: Doc Robbins and Langston peer into the body cavity of a dead man, shocked by what they’re seeing. Will we find out next week what’s inside the dead man, or is this perhaps the beginning of a season-long arc, a la the Miniature Crime Scene Killer from season seven? I can’t wait to find out.