The Vegas team is on the case when the Rascal Flatts’ bassist is nearly fatally electrocuted during a concert.
Popular country group Rascal Flatts is performing in Las Vegas when bassist Jay DeMarcus receives a near-fatal shock while playing during the concert. Jay is rushed to the hospital, while jump bass tech Travis Murray steps in so Gary’s band mates Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney can continue the concert. Catherine examines Jay, who not only doesn’t remember the accident but doesn’t remember the Rascal Flatts—and claims to not even like country music! He’s more of a rap guy. From the nature of the electrical burns on his arm, Catherine realizes this was no accident. She and Nick question Travis, who tells them he does a shock test on Jay’s system before every concert. Noticing a bruise on Gary’s face, Catherine asks him about conflict with Jay, and the singer admits that Jay wanted to pursue his own projects. Though they fought, Gary calls the band a family and denies sabotaging Jay’s guitar. In the lab, Doc Robbins stops Nick from performing a guitar-topsy on Jay’s guitar, pointing out that there’s no burnt flesh on the strings—meaning this wasn’t the guitar Jay was playing when he was shocked. Greg and Nick ask Travis why he gave them the wrong guitar, and he insists that he thought the guitar was in the case. Greg learns that a groupie wearing a t-shirt reading RascalFlattsPsychoBitch.com walked out of the hotel with a guitar. Nick and Greg locate the fan, Marta Petrovich, who proudly shows off the guitar, which she found in the dumpster. She’s crushed when the CSIs claim it as evidence. Back at the lab, Nick and Greg recreate the circuit that caused the shock that wounded Jay. Tracing it to one of the 220 boxes, the CSIs lift prints off it—and match them to Travis Murray. The tech admits he just wanted to play with the band once, and that he never intended to hurt Jay—just give him a little shock. Jay triumphantly returns to the stage, incorporating his love of rap into a new song for the band.
The bloated body of an older man is discovered in a river, sans a boat. Langston surmises he’s been dead for at least 24 hours. Langston and Sara find some puzzling objects on the body, including a World War II-era watch, and a bottle opener with the CIA logo on it. In the morgue, Doc Robbins tells Langston the man didn’t drown, pointing out a non-fatal head wound, as well as the fact that the man had stage four prostate cancer. Sara finds blood inside the man’s vest, indicating he was dressed after being murdered. Langston runs the man’s prints and gets a hit to Vance Colton, a former deputy director of the CIA—and Catherine immediately gets a call from Craig Halliday, a CIA Associate Director, who wants to claim the evidence in the case. Langston and Sara continue to root around, learning that Colton directed Operation Blackwood against the East German Stasi. Catherine gets an address for Colton, but by the time Langston and Sara arrive there, they discover Halliday and the CIA already dismantling the house. The CSIs go out back and find a canoe rack missing one canoe and one paddle. Sara finds green plastic, possibly from a canoe, leading both CSIs to wonder if Colton was in a canoe at some point. Back at the station, Craig Halliday apologizes to Brass for the CIA’s interference, and is interrupted by the arrival of Larry Colton, Vance’s son, who claims his father hated him. At the scene, Langston and Sara find tire treads from Suburbans, indicating the CIA has beat them to area once again. They’re even more surprised to find they have another set of eyes on them: a pair of Germans.
Back at the lab, Hodges’ computer is hacked and a document starts coming out of the printer: “Confirm Nothing, Deny Everything: My Life in the CIA” by Vance Colton. While Archie tries to figure out who hacked Hodges’ computer and sent the document, Langston scans it and finds it contains a word for word conversation between the German police and a popular leader. Langston wonders if the Germans he and Sara encountered were after the original tape of the conversation. Henry runs a tox screen on Colton but it comes back negative—even for cancer drugs, suggesting Colton wasn’t treating his illness. Langston asks Henry to run a more specific panel, giving him three drugs often used in espionage to test for, including the poison Sarin. Archie traces the signal from the hack on Hodges’ computer to the Blue Siren Motel. Brass and Sara learn Larry Colton, Vance’s son, checked into the hotel several days ago—a day before Vance’s death. They rush to the room only to find Larry Colton gunned down—his computer missing. Sara finds pictures on the bed of Larry striking Colton with a canoe paddle: a message from the Germans to prove they didn’t murder Colton. Langston surmises that Larry sent the manuscript of Colton’s book to Hodges’ computer to cast suspicion on the Germans. Henry brings the results of the tox panel to Langston: there was a fatal amount of the drug Sarin in Colton’s bloodstream. It should have been enough to kill him instantly but Langston suspects it was given to him in capsule form, which would have delayed the effects of the poison. Langston meets with Halliday, who he is certain gave Colton the poison. Langston theorizes that Colton wanted to go out a hero, posting the manuscript so the Germans would read it and come after him. Impressed with Langston, Colton offers the CSI a job, but Langston demurs.
“Unshockable” is a decidedly odd mix—while the A- and B-stories don’t have to go together (and indeed, if they end up converging too often it feels too convenient), it’s hard to think of a more awkward mash up than the country music concert shenanigans and the CIA conspiracy. Neither has a lot of gravitas, but the former is pretty light on plot, while the latter feels convoluted and confusing. Neither quite works. In the A-story, the Rascal Flatts’ bassist is sabotaged by a roadie who wants to take his place for just one performance. The motive is pretty weak—why didn’t he just ask?—but the point of the Rascal Flatts’ storyline is of course to showcase the band rather than offer a tightly plotted story. On that front, it works—the band gets to perform twice in the episode, and for anyone inclined to enjoy either pop or country music, their tunes are catchy and enjoyable.
The band members don’t turn in the kind of performance Taylor Swift did when she guested in “Turn, Turn, Turn”, but then the three are playing themselves, and their storyline is nowhere near as heavy as the one Swift was given. They’re not natural actors in the way Swift is, but then, that’s not really the point of their appearance. For fans of the band, it’s fun to see them in this lighthearted storyline. There’s a little jeopardy built in for the band: when Jay gets his shock, he forgets both the band and his band mates. What’s more, he has no memory of his love of country music, professing an affinity for rap instead. At the end of the episode, his triumphant return to stage begins with a rap about his ordeal. There’s also a poke at obsessive fans in the form of Ms. RascalFlattsPsychoBitch.com, who scores Jay’s guitar out of the dumpster and erects a shrine to it. When Nick and Greg confiscate the guitar as evidence, Nick offers her autographs instead, but her face falls as she points out that she already has their autographs—and the camera pans to reveal the Flatts have signed her arm.
Stunt casting has become a common occurrence on the CSI shows these days—all three do it, with varying degrees of success. Swift’s performance was a notable triumph; the spin-offs have featured more than a few duds, from LA Laker Pau Gasol on CSI: Miami to Kim Kardashian and Nelly Furtado on CSI: NY. Because the Rascal Flatts are playing themselves, it feels almost uncharitable to be too hard on them, and in the big arena scenes when they’re performing, they certainly excel. The plot is paper thin, but the script offers a few laughs, like the moment when Jay disdains country music in favor of rap, and in the dismay of the band’s biggest fan, who shows off her guitar only to lose it to the dogged crime scene investigators.
It’s easier to forgive the A-storyline its weaknesses than the CIA plot, which simply feels like a mess. Vance Colton, a former deputy director, is dying of cancer and decides to die on his own terms by employing Sarin poison, but wants to add some mystery to his death, so he leaks his memoir in the hopes that people will assume the Germans killed him. Sure enough, the Germans do show up, but don’t kill Colton—instead, they take out his son, Larry, who angrily attacked Colton with a canoe paddle… and presumably assumes he killed his father. The Germans kill Larry and leave pictures of Larry hitting his father over the head so that the CSIs will know they didn’t kill Colton… which if they’re going for a “we’re completely innocent” stance, they blew it by taking out Colton’s son. The real supplier of the Sarin—and therefore the real killer—is actually Colton’s CIA buddy, Craig Halliday, who killed his old friend out of compassion, because he was dying of cancer. Confused yet?
Rather than intriguing, the CIA plot is almost too convoluted to follow. As in the A-case, in which the bass tech stood out like a sore thumb and was immediately identifiable as the guilty party, Halliday’s call to Catherine immediately casts suspicion on him. The CIA is fast—but Halliday is all over Colton’s death, which makes sense in the end, when we realize he’s trying to create an aura of mystery and infamy around his friend’s death rather than simply cover up the true means by which he died, but it still points to him as the most likely culprit. Throwing in the Germans and the clichéd bitter, angry son, and the story just ends up going over the top—way, way over the top, in a manner that’s forgivable in the lighter A-story but not as much in this ostensibly more serious case.
The CIA naturally has the scoop on all of the CSIs, and at the end of the episode, Halliday offers Langston a job. More interesting than Halliday’s offer is Langston’s response to it. Halliday asks if Langston has found the right fit yet and Langston doesn’t respond. Halliday demurs with a “my mistake,” but I’m not sure there wasn’t more to the exchange than it appears. Did Halliday really read Langston’s silence as a refusal, or did he see it as an indication that perhaps the time wasn’t quite right to press Langston about a career change… yet. Langston isn’t one to play coy when he has a strong opinion about something, so I wonder if perhaps it’s something he would consider.
…But hopefully down the road, and not anytime soon. Laurence Fishburne had some big shoes to fill when he took over as CSI‘s leading man and though response from the fans to the character has definitely been mixed, I definitely don’t think it’s time to throw in the towel as far as Ray Langston is concerned. He’s a different lead than William Petersen‘s Gil Grissom, but he’s compelling in his own right, and it’s certainly not time to write him off—or out of the show.