The CSIs are on the hunt for a man who walks away unscathed from a shootout that leaves two people dead and one injured.
A shootout erupts in a Las Vegas gun shop, leaving owner Delores Rinaldi dead, her son Hank wounded and Ed Smith, the customer who exchanged gunfire with them, dead as well. At the scene, Greg discovers part of a piece of paper with 101 SW written on it, which he thinks is referring to a Smith Wesson revolver. Nick discovers bloody size nine footprints that don’t seem to belong to any of the three shooters. In the hospital, Hank tells Brass that he heard Ed arguing with a man in a red shirt and that it was the man in the red shirt who shot all three of them. Langston gets contradictory evidence in the morgue: bullets from Ed’s gun killed Delores and wounded Hank, while Delores fired the round that killed Ed. Puzzled that the man in the red shirt apparently didn’t get a single shot off, Nick and Greg trace the trajectories of the various bullets fired and find one that wasn’t accounted for lodged in a can of gun oil–which contains a hidden stash of cash and auto sears, which can turn a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun. Nick points out that it’s illegal to sell the sears. After deducing through fingerprints on the money and sears that Hank was selling the sears to Ed, Nick goes back to Hank and questions him about what really happened during the shootout. Hank admits that Ed was robbing the store, but was afraid if he told the truth, the CSIs would take a closer look and discover the sears. Hank implores Nick to find the man in the red shirt, telling the CSI he’s afraid of him.
Detective Vartann leads Catherine and Sara to the body of a young woman by the side of the road, who has been tenderly wrapped in a quilt. The two CSIs posit that her body was dumped, and Sara finds evidence of road rash on her skin. In the morgue, Doc Robbins tells Catherine that the woman was shot in the head before she died, but that the bullet ran along her scalp and didn’t kill her. She was killed when her head struck a rock after she was thrown out of a car. The CSIs get a break when a bloody car is discovered not far from the body’s location. It’s registered to a Carrie Warren, and an ID tag in the car confirms she’s their victim. Catherine, Sara and Vartann go to Carrie’s house where they find her dog, Roscoe, shot dead in the bedroom. They also find a container of milk and milky vomit, leading the CSIs to suspect the milk was poisoned. In autopsy, David Phillips determines that the bullet wasn’t what killed Roscoe and Sara brings the ammo to Bobby Dawson for analysis. When Greg overhears that the ammo came from a Tokarev gun, he posits that it could be the weapon that the man in the red shirt used in the gun store shootout. Bobby traces the serial number to a Vietnam vet named John Rankow. Sara and Brass question the man, a neighbor of Carrie’s. Rankow tells Sara and Brass that he gave his gun to Carrie for protection from her unstable boyfriend, and when he learns she’s dead, he suspects her boyfriend was the culprit.
Henry runs a tox screen and determines that Roscoe died from drinking the drug-laced milk. Catherine finds a library book with a poem in it from Carrie’s boyfriend and learns it was checked out by a young man named Sam Trent. When Brass, Langston and Sara go to Trent’s house, they find his father, Paul, there but no sign of Sam. Sara and Langston search Sam’s room and find tickets to the Ivory Tower Sky Deck and pictures of Sam and Carrie there. Sara discovers letters that indicate Sam and Carrie were definitely a hot-and-cold couple, constantly breaking up and getting back together. Langston finds the two prescription drugs that were in the milk that killed Roscoe, while Sara uncovers a final letter that sounds like a suicide pact between Sam and Carrie. Wendy brings back DNA evidence that shows that Sam drank the milk–and that the vomit was from him, not the dog. Catherine posits that he tried to commit suicide in Carrie’s bedroom and wanted her to find him. When she found both Sam and her dog dead, she shot herself–but not fatally. Sam put Carrie in the car and headed to the gun shop, but on the way she fell out of the car–and cracked her head fatally. Then Sam went to the gun shop, fixed on ending his own life… but walked into the middle of a robbery and was the only one to emerge unscathed. Another trip to the Trent household reveals that Rankow has stormed the house looking for Sam, and that Sam fled, taking only $8… the price of a trip to the Ivory Tower Sky Deck. When Catherine learns that the “101 SW” was the address of a hospital where Carrie was treated for bipolar disorder, not a gun as they first thought, the CSIs realize Sam was trying to save her life. Brass, Langston and Sara rush to the sky deck, where they find Rankow holding Sam at gunpoint. When Sara and Langston manage to convince Rankow that Sam was trying to save Carrie, Sam prepares to throw himself over the edge. Though the two CSIs do their best to convince him not to jump, Sam throws himself off the ledge… and lands in an air cushion Brass had set up.
Is there any show on television right now with as dark a sense of humor as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has? The final scene in this episode is set up tragically: Sam Trent is bound and determined to jump, convinced it’s his fault that his girlfriend Carrie is dead, and that she loved her dog more than him. Sam takes a last look at Sara and Langston, who are desperately trying to save his life and hurtles backwards off the ledge, plunging to what seems to be a certain death. Brass watches from the ground, a grim expression on his face. Sam falls and falls… and lands safe and sound on an air cushion. Sam’s face falls as the realization of yet another failure washes over him, but the moment is grimly funny. Sam has made every effort to kill himself: he tried to OD, he got himself in the middle of a gunfight, he provoked an armed man and he jumped off a roof–and yet here he is, still alive. The universe sure does seem to be conspiring against Sam Trent’s death wish.
Though definitely a sad figure, the writers have some fun with the unfortunate Sam Trent, painting him for the first half of the episode as a frightening figure. Known only as “the man in the red shirt” at the outset, the CSIs are impressed that he emerges unscathed from the shootout in the gun store. Hank Rinaldi is downright afraid of him; guest star Marc Menchaca conveys a real sense of dumbfounded terror over the man who stood in the middle of the shootout and showed no fear. Hank tells Nick that he doesn’t even want to leave the hospital until the man in the red shirt has been caught. After Hank utters this pronouncement, viewers see the man in the red shirt walk into an alley. Two thugs approach him and one draws a knife–until they see the look in his eyes. They back away warily and let the man pass.
In reality, Sam Trent isn’t a scary figure in the least; he’s an unstable young man in a rollercoaster relationship that’s gone south fast. He tries to kill himself on his girlfriend’s bed so that she’ll find him dead, but instead he survives and ends up inadvertently killing her beloved dog instead. Carrie comes home and finds them both dead (or so she thinks) and tries to shoot herself in the head. Carrie is ultimately no better at committing suicide than her unfortunate beau; the shot isn’t fatal, so Sam sets off to rush Carrie to the hospital. He’s just as bad at saving her life as he was at taking his own: on the way to the hospital, she tumbles from the car he’s driving straight into a rock, which does end up killing her. From that point on, Sam’s goal is to get himself killed one way or another, but his run of bad luck continues. It’s a classic case of appearance versus reality, and the picture painted of the imposing man in the red shirt at the episode’s outset couldn’t be more different than what the actual reality turns out to be.
There’s more grim humor to be found elsewhere in the episode, particularly when David Phillips recounts the unfortunate deaths of the Phillips’ family dogs. He shares their various tragic ends with Henry as he performs the autopsy on the unfortunate Roscoe. Carrie was definitely devoted to her dog, to the point that Sam’s final question before plunging over the ledge of the Ivory Tower is to ask whether Carrie shot herself because she found him dead… or because the dog was dead. Sara does her best to convince Sam it was because of him, but despite a real sense of conviction behind her words, it’s clear that it very well could have been because of the dog rather than Sam. Sam knows it, too, and decides to take the plunge, but in the time it took Sara and Langston to talk Rankow out of shooting him and Sam’s own wavering, the police have had time to set up an air cushion, and Brass watches as he plunges from the tower into the protective cushion.
There’s also a personal development with the revelation that Catherine and Detective Vartann are dating. Sara picks up on the change in their relationship right away, taking note of the chivalrous way Vartann helps Catherine down the ditch as he leads them to Carrie’s body. Later in the lab when they’re processing Carrie’s car, Sara asks Catherine about Vartann. Catherine laughs gamely but replies, “No comment.” Sara observes that it must be in the early stages and drops the line of inquiry, but it’s nice to see the genuine warmth between the two women, and to witness a reminder of the familiar warmth between them. Catherine might not be ready to talk about her relationship with Vartann yet, but she doesn’t deny that Sara’s on the right track. Let’s hope as the season progresses we’ll learn more about the new relationship between the CSI supervisor and the handsome detective.
Source: "Better Off Dead"