July 20 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Miami–‘Bone Voyage’

9 min read

The CSI crossover begins in Miami when the remains of a girl the CSI team is trying to find are discovered–alongside the remains of a girl who went missing in Las Vegas.

Synopsis:

A frantic woman named Brenda Tanner comes to the police station to report the disappearance of her daughter, Ashley. Her daughter left her a message the day before, crying and saying she’d be home in an hour–but she never showed up. The team locates her car and finds the tires are off the rims. Jesse finds a valet slip from the Town South Hotel, while Calleigh notes two sets of footprints and surmises Ashley was abducted by one man. Walter Simmons goes to the hotel and jogs the valet’s memory, but all the man says is that Ashley left the hotel in a hurry. The hotel’s concierge recalls seeing Ashley with a guest of the hotel: Jimmy Burris. The CSIs find Burris enjoying cocktails by the pool. Ryan and Natalia drag Burris up to his room, where they find a bottle of tequila, a cigar and a plastic bag with marks from a woman’s lipstick on it. Natalia posits Burris was hurting Ashley, but Burris shows her a video on his phone revealing Ashley putting the bag over her own head in a teasing way. The team matches DNA on the cigar to a man named Nick Cooper, who is in town for a golf tournament. Cooper says that Burke promised to get him a girl, but left when he saw the girl was “just a kid.” Dave Benton gets a hit on someone using one of Ashley’s credit cards. Horatio and Tripp find a young woman who is definitely not Ashley and a young man using the card. The girl, Madeline Briggs, claims she found the card in a purse at a rest stop at Exit 14. Horatio and Tripp arrest Madeline and the man, Tyler Goodman. The team mounts a search at the rest stop and finds a severed arm and a severed leg. The arm proves to be Ashley’s, while the leg shows signs of decomposition, indicating it doesn’t belong to Ashley.

Dr. Loman finds evidence that Ashley was alive when her arm was severed. The same is not true of the girl whose leg the team found; he points out an identifying butterfly tattoo on the leg as well. Calleigh brings trace from the girl’s foot to Michael Travers, who analyzes the compound and finds it contains salt from a salt flat as well as iodine and plutonium, leading Calleigh to deduce that it came from Nevada. Calleigh places a call to the Las Vegas crime lab and is connected to Ray Langston, who recognizes the butterfly tattoo from a missing persons case. He IDs the girl as Stephanie Matthews, who was reported missing ten days ago. Calleigh invites Langston to Miami to assist on the case. Horatio greets Langston when he lands and takes him first the scene, where the search is expanded, and then to the morgue, where Langston quickly notes the two limbs were severed by different tools. Langston observes that the tool used to cut up Stephanie was likely a commercial grade cleaver, possibly belonging to a butcher. Dave Benton finds a lead: a steakhouse with locations in both Las Vegas and Miami. Horatio and Langston go to the restaurant and confront the head chef/owner, Nathan Cole, who was in Vegas two weeks ago. Langston tests Cole’s knife for blood and gets a positive hit. Though the DNA results are inconclusive, a test from a cut on Cole’s own hand provides the link. Cole tests positive for Hepatitus C–the same strain Stephanie Matthews had. Horatio and Langston interrogate Cole, whose restaurant was bankrolled by a powerful gang known as the Zetas. Cole finally admits he got a call to go the salt flats and cut up a girl who he insists was already dead. He cut himself when he was cutting up Stephanie’s body, and some of her blood mixed with his, giving him the infection. He insists he didn’t kill her, but he refuses to give up the name of his contact in the Zetas.

Langston and Calleigh turn back to Ashley’s remains and the Vegas CSI notes that whoever cut up Ashley was in a hurry. Ryan and Walter run across a bear out in the field–and more remains. Once they’re brought back to the lab, Langston is able to determine Ashley’s killer used two weapons, one of which was a handsaw. Horatio notes that he must have put a lot of effort into cutting her up, and thinks to test Ashley’s bones for DNA from sweat. The DNA proves to be a match for Jimmy Burris. Horatio and Langston confront the man, who admits that he has been working as a pimp for the Zetas. Any girls who try to escape them are brutally killed. Burris is defiant, telling Horatio and Langston that they won’t be able to touch the Zetas. They may have gotten two criminals off the streets, but both CSIs realize that the case is far from over. At a Miami rest stop, Madeline Briggs escapes Tyler Goodman for a few moments. She leaves a desperate message on a paper towel in the bathroom: “Help me. He’s going to kill me.” To be continued…

Analysis:

The much publicized¬†CSI trilogy kicks off in Miami with a decent if unspectacular outing. I admit to thinking right off the bat that the CSI franchise as a whole has gone to the sex trafficking well a few too many times. Four entries over a combined twenty-one seasons might not sound like a lot, but the episodes follow a pretty predictable pattern, from the victimized, sullen girls to the unrepentant, sneering villains to the big save at the end where the women blink up into the light as the CSIs heroically come to save them. While the best entry of the four, CSI: NY‘s “She’s Not There” elevated the fare with Stella taking the lead and development for some of the victims and their families, the other three entries–Miami‘s “Legal” and “Won’t Get Fueled Again” and CSI‘s “Disarmed and Dangerous” followed the more predictable path. And while Miami‘s entry is more about murder and dismemberment than actual sex trafficking, the shadow of the storyline looms over the episode and makes the whole thing feel familiar. I’ll reserve judgment until I see the whole trilogy of course, but for a three-episode crossover that’s the first of its kind, it would have been fun to see the shows venture into newer, fresher territory. It’s not that sex trafficking isn’t topical; it’s simply that the franchise has yet to give this crime an interesting villain. And in a trilogy that allows the leads of all three CSI shows to partner up, the villain is important. Would the first Miami/NY crossover (“Felony Flight” and “Manhattan Manhunt”) have been as interesting if villain Henry Darius hadn’t been a compelling bad guy? Probably not.

That being said, there’s a lot of great material here, and the meeting of Horatio Caine and Ray Langston doesn’t disappoint. Horatio has always been warm and open with anyone who shows up to help him solve a crime or catch a killer, and he and Langston hit it off right away. Horatio endearingly refers to Langston as “Dr. Ray” and the two fall into a natural camaraderie. There’s even a reference to the very first CSI: Miami episode, the backdoor pilot “Cross-Jurisdictions”, with Horatio greeting Langston with a reference to Catherine and Warrick, the two CSIs he worked closely with in that episode. “Tell Catherine I’m sorry about Warrick Brown,” he says, a nod to the death of Warrick at the beginning of CSI‘s previous season. Like a good host, David Caruso exudes a welcoming warmth in his interactions with Langston. It’s a credit to both writer Barry O’Brien and Laurence Fishburne that Langston feels absolutely in character in this episode. Writing for a character from another show is a tricky challenge no doubt, but Langston fits right in with the Miami team–and feels consistent with how he behaves and speaks on CSI. For his part, Fishburne proves he absolutely has a handle on the character of Langston here.

The episode–as I imagine all of the trilogy will be–is heavily plot driven, balancing two linked but separate murders. The first, the murder of Ashley Tanner in Miami, is perpetrated by one of those stereotypical moustache-twirling baddies: slimy pimp Jimmy Burris. Though he’s played with sniveling aplomb by Louis Mandylor, all we really learn about Burris is that he’s a shameless sleaze, completely unapologetic about essentially abducting young women and forcing them into sexual slavery. At least Amaury Nolasco‘s Nathan Cole seems somewhat repentant; Nolasco gives his character an edge of desperation that gives him a bit more depth than Burris has. Though Cole’s actions are plenty reprehensible, at least he wasn’t cutting up a living girl.

Ashley Tanner’s murder is wrapped up neatly, but Stephanie Matthews’ killer remains at large. I suspect her murder won’t be solved until the trilogy concludes in Vegas–most likely it will be the element that bookends the whole venture. After Burris’ guilt is revealed, Horatio laments to Langston, “This doesn’t end here, does it?” No indeed, not with the threat of the Zetas looming large. I can’t say the idea of another gang feels particularly thrilling either–the problem with gangs is that, again, they tend to feel like collectives of interchangeable baddies who come off as evil for evil’s sake. Because the CSI shows are largely episodic and can’t delve into the complex gang politics the way serialized shows like Homicide: Life on the Street or The Wire did, the gangs come off as largely stereotypical and flat. They’re far less interesting than individual murderers whose psyches the shows can delve into.

The cliffhanger isn’t exactly one that leaves viewers breathless either. Madeline dares to leave a note in the bathroom at a rest stop, but didn’t think to make an impassioned plea to anyone after she was arrested–and presumably separated from Tyler Goodman for at least a little while. Oh, sure, she casts an intensely sad look at Calleigh, but I find it hard to believe she didn’t interact with anyone who she could have told her story to in lock up. How is it that she’s willing to leave a note in a public restroom but not talk to the police when she’s literally in their custody? Hopefully that will be explained at some point in the remaining two episodes.

The episode has a winning bit of comic relief when Ryan and Walter encounter the bear near the rest stop. In a downright hilarious scene, the two men freeze upon seeing the huge bear and Ryan whispers to Walter: “Just make yourself small and non-threatening.” The tall, far-from-diminutive Walter counters with an emphatic “I can’t!” and sure enough, attracts the bear’s attention. The two men let out yells that could rival any scream queen’s before Jesse swoops in to save the day, gallantly saying, “You’re safe, girls!” as he shoots the bear with a tranquilizer dart. The whole sequence is laugh-out-loud funny, and played to perfection by Jonathan Togo, Omar Benson Miller and Eddie Cibrian.

The episode continues in CSI: New York, though at this point there’s no indication of exactly what will bring Langston to New York. He’ll certainly be raking in the frequent flier miles on this expedition, though one of the requirements for enjoying the crossover venture is the suspension of disbelief that the Las Vegas crime lab would pay to fly a CSI around the country in the hopes of solving what at the outset at most seems to be a double homicide–with only one victim actually having a connection to Las Vegas. That suspension of disbelief might be a little easier to come by if the CSIs were tracking a single, memorable sinister villain–rather than a faceless gang we’ve been told is evil. Hopefully the trilogy will pick up some steam as it goes along, but for now it feels distressingly pat and predictable.

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