February 22 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation–‘The Panty Sniffer’

6 min read

While Catherine and Vartann surveil a pair of drug dealers at a Vegas hotel, Langston and Nick attempt to track down the killer of a hotel employee.

Synopsis:

Catherine and Detective Vartann hole up in a room at the Diamond Dust hotel to surveil two suspected drug cooks, Everett Edwards and Bellermine “Bell” Quisk, whom they hope to catch making Ecstasy tablets. Greg and Archie successfully install cameras in every room save for the bathroom, which is where the two men actually cook the drugs. After watching the two men entertain hookers, get room service and encounter a violent man and his girlfriend who are seeking drugs, Catherine and Vartann finally get a break when Everett and Bell head out to a “surge” party with the drugs. Catherine and Vartann start processing the room while Greg attends the surge in disguise, hoping to catch the two men selling. Though Greg and Brass are able to catch Everett selling, Bell escapes… and returns to the room Catherine and Vartann are processing, gun in hand. Catherine catches him about to get the jump on Vartann and pounces on him, but he wrestles her to the ground and is about to shoot her—when a shot from Vartann’s gun saves her life.

While Catherine and Vartann stake out the drug dealers, Archie Kao stumbles across the body of Sasha Katsaros, the hotel’s event planner, on the loading dock. Archie notices the woman isn’t wearing any underwear, and head of security Finn Thomas tells Langston and Nick that Sasha was overseeing a private auction hosted by Lon Rose. The two CSIs visit the auction and learn the exclusive items are worn women’s underwear vacuum-sealed in bags—or taken directly from models. Nick and Langston question Clint Pudder, a buyer ejected from the auction by Sasha for coming on to one of the models, but he insists he was holed up in his room enjoying his purchases at the time of the murder. Wendy doesn’t find Sasha’s underwear among Pudder’s purchases, and she also tells Nick that Sasha had consensual sex before her death. After the catalogue of Rose’s models reveals Sasha was one of them, Langston and Nick question the auctioneer, who admits that Sasha was one of his best models—and the girl he favored personally. He got her to give him her underwear before she left the auction, but he deemed them worthless after realizing she’d had sex. He denies sleeping with her—or killing her. The CSIs find the answer when Sasha’s keycard is used and they learn the one found with her in fact belongs to Finn Thomas. The CSIs find Finn, who admits that he had a relationship with Sasha. He confronted her after finding out she sold her underwear at Rose’s auctions, and she promised to stop. When he learned she lied to him, he attacked her, and kicked her down a set of stairs at the loading dock, killing her.

Analysis:

CSI shows don’t shy away from exploring fetishes that are off the beaten path—think the furries in “Fur and Loathing” or forniphilia in CSI: New York‘s “Hush”—but there’s something distinctly distasteful about both the title of this episode and the fetish it sends up. There’s something really… yucky seems to be the most fitting word about listening to Clint Pudder go on and on about the aroma from a used pair of women’s underwear, or Lon Rose talk about Sasha’s pair of panties was “worthless” because she had sex before handing them over to him. It’s kind of amazing this one got past the censors, but risqué for risqué’s sake doesn’t really justify an episode.

If there was anything unique about the episode or the exploration of the fetish, I might feel differently. But all the stock elements are here: the lecherous red herring (Pudder), the curious/interested CSI (Nick), the detached CSI (Langston), the attractive participants (Rose and Brenda) and the killer who committed the murder because he just couldn’t stomach his girlfriend’s involvement in said fetish community (Finn Thomas). If Finn’s motive had been more original, the storyline might not have felt so tired, but he’s yet another person who killed his lover because she participated in something he deemed disgusting. He didn’t even try to claim it was an accident or that he didn’t mean to kill her—no, apparently murder was a better solution in Finn Thomas’s mind than, say, breaking up with Sasha. Pudder, too, is an obvious red herring—from the moment he climbed on the elevator with Catherine, I knew he would show up again one way or another, as either a suspect or a killer. The synchronization in the beginning—Catherine walking into the hotel and passing Sasha on her cell phone and then running into Pudder in the elevator, was fun, but also heavily telegraphed.

The one charming part of this storyline was Doc Robbins’ endearing anecdote about his uncle and aunt: his aunt came home one day to find her husband’s head in the oven. He wasn’t, as she initially feared, trying to commit suicide; instead, he was desperately seeking a whiff of her famous chocolate chip cookies. From that point on, she learned that the key to a happy marriage was always having a batch of the cookies on hand. Langston quips, “You really are freaky, Doc,” but Robbins’ story is by far the least freaky thing about this unappealingly lurid storyline. Though Nick ogling a woman dressed up as a cheerleader at the panty auction might garner a laugh, it also lasts just long enough to be a little less than charming.

The episode’s other storyline fares far better by virtue of a) not being about guys who get off on sniffing women’s used underwear and b) the chemistry between Marg Helgenberger‘s Catherine and Alex Carter‘s Detective Vartann. Despite the heated kiss he greets her with at the beginning of the episode to avoid giving away the real reason they’re at the hotel, their interaction in the hotel room is more cerebrally intimate than steamy. They’re getting to know each other. When Catherine complains about a text from her persistent daughter, Vartann opens up about his own teenage son, admitting he misses even his loud techno music. Vartann reveals that his son was such a difficult teenager that his ex-wife sent the boy to live with him. Being single parents to difficult children is a big thing for Catherine and Vartann to have in common.

After entertaining prostitutes, dodging room service and nearly getting into a shootout with a guy whose girlfriend throws herself at one of them, Everett and Bell finally make their product and head off to the surge to sell, sell, sell. Greg has been sent in undercover, in a get up that provides a big laugh, to buy drugs from the guys. Greg manages to get Everett to pass him a second hit, allowing Brass time to come up from behind and arrest him. Though Greg seems like an unlikely choice for undercover work—he’s noticeably nervous, especially when approaching Everett the second time—it’s fun to see him out of his comfort zone in a different role.

Catherine and Vartann’s stakeout ends with a bang when Bell ends up escaping the surge and heading back to the room that they’ve already started processing. Bell manages to get back in without Vartann noticing, and though Catherine catches him raising his gun to shoot Vartann, rather than shooting him in the leg or throwing some of the chemicals she’s using in the bathroom in his face, she inexplicably chooses to tackle him, a move that proves to be a misstep when he quickly recovers and wrestles her to the ground. This sets the stage for a dramatic rescue by Vartann, who hesitates as he tries to line up the shot that will take out Bell without hurting Catherine. Exciting, sure, but it might have been nice if the show eschewed the tired damsel-in-distress routine in favor of letting Catherine save the day… especially in an episode that also revolves around men who sniff women’s underwear.

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