Calleigh’s attempt to save a young man from a burning house puts her life in jeopardy.
Calleigh rushes into a burning house to save a boy in jeopardy. Though she manages to pull the boy from the fire, he doesn’t survive—and her lungs, already weakened from a bout with a fire last year, are badly affected. Horatio pulls the officer who accompanied Calleigh into the building to safety while Ryan examines the dead boy, Patrick Dawson, and notices burns on his hands, leading Ryan to suspect that he started the fire. Horatio and Tripp speak with his grandfather, Henry Dawson. He tells them that his grandson was supposed to be at school, not at the house, and that the house is being remodeled. The renovations were almost finished. In the morgue, Dr. Loman determines Patrick died of smoke inhalation, and finds chemicals on the boy’s hands. In the lab, Ryan analyzes the chemical and learns it’s turpentine. Walking past Calleigh, he grabs Jesse and Walter and heads back to the Dawson house, hunting for evidence of arson. At the scene, Ryan finds more evidence to support his theory that Patrick started the fire, discovering turpentine at the point of origin. Walter is disturbed by the draftiness of the house, and on the way out Jesse notices that the house has a sprinkler system that didn’t go off during the fire. The CSIs notice a lack of insulation in the house and suspect the contractor did a shoddy job. Horatio questions the man, who claims he was following the minimum required by safety codes. Horatio points out the lack of insulation on the house and arrests the man for negligence.
In the house, Calleigh discovers a second point of origin for the fire—and is thrown when she sees Patrick standing there with her. Freaked out, she retreats to the Hummer and tries to figure why she’s able to see the dead boy. Horatio and Tripp question Stephanie Hollister, a neighbor who had a dispute with Dawson—and set his lawn on fire. Stephanie tells the detectives that Dawson’s contractor started construction at 6am, two hours before he was legally allowed to. Stephanie went over to try to get him to stop, and when he didn’t, she set fire to the lawn in a rage. Suspecting she’s hiding something, Tripp, Walter and Jesse return to the house and find a second point of origin—wax paper on the wall that would have carried the fire slowly, allowing the arsonist to escape. The wax paper is found under the sink, prompting Tripp and Jesse to question Dawson if he started the fire. Dawson claims he and Patrick used it to make paper boats. When Tripp tells Dawson that his grandson missed eight days of school, Patrick, who is observing, says that he skipped school to help with the renovations as a surprise for his grandfather. Patrick is dismayed when the CSIs posit that he started the fire and his grandfather considers the possibility. A puzzled Calleigh follows Natalia and Jesse to the hospital and is shocked to discover she’s actually unconscious in a hospital bed—and on a ventilator. Worried when she sees Delko by her side, Calleigh wonders if she’s dying.
Walter and Jesse go back to the house, where Walter once again notices a draft. They discover the reason for it when they find a wall not sealed up properly—and the dead body of a man behind it! The man is identified as Ralph Zimmerman, a plumber. Dr. Loman determines he was electrocuted, and at the house, the CSIs notice exposed wires and bubbling on the linoleum floor of the kitchen, indicating the presence of water. Realizing this was where Zimmerman was electrocuted, the CSIs check the circuit breaker for tampering and discover Stephanie Hollister’s prints on it. The irate neighbor readily admits to killing the plumber because he refused to stop his noisy work, but denies setting fire to the house. In the house, Walter and Ryan are surprised to discover the sprinkler system is now working, despite the fact that it didn’t go off during the fire. Calleigh thinks she has an idea, but just as she and Patrick are following her hunch on the front lawn, she collapses—as in the hospital, Calleigh starts to flatline! The doctors are able to revive her, and, unable to talk, she writes a message for Delko, a series of numbers that lead Horatio to Dawson’s front lawn—and the pipes running beneath it. Jesse digs down to the pipe where he discovers a bag of dry ice—put there to freeze the pipes and stop the sprinkler from going off. It was definitely sabotage—and a tobacco stain on the bag of dry ice leads the CSIs to Dawson. The old man started the fire hoping to claim the insurance on the house—never knowing his grandson was inside. A recovered Calleigh visits Patrick’s body in the morgue with Delko by her side. She tells the boy to rest in peace and closes the morgue drawer.
How much one enjoys “Backfire” is largely dependent on whether one can buy into the premise, which involves both an out-of-body experience and a ghost. CSI allowed the dead to speak for themselves in season seven’s whimsical “Toe Tags”, but that was much more of a departure episode than “Backfire,” which essentially follows a typical case… with something of a twist. Fans who don’t mind supernatural elements likely had more fun with it than those who like the CSI shows to stick with the science, period. It is a tricky line to walk, since the whole hook of the CSI franchise is the science aspect of investigations. Not instinct like The Mentalist or profiling like Criminal Minds, but science. Evidence. Fact. Mixing supernatural or fantastical elements with that is always going to be risky. Does it pay off here? Somewhat.
There’s something nice about being able to hear from the victim in a case—it gives the viewer more of an emotional investment in the solving of the murder. CSI: NY did it a few weeks ago with narration from a victim in “Rest in Peace, Marina Garito”. Here, Patrick is keeping an eye on his own murder investigation, and getting upset when the CSIs start jumping to their own conclusions. He doesn’t seem to just be a figment of Calleigh’s imagination, since we see him in scenes where she’s not present, like the interrogation of his grandfather. At the time, we think the CSIs are starting to convince the old man that maybe his grandson was in fact responsible for the fire that destroyed the house when in fact it’s actually Henry Dawson grasping at an explanation that would turn suspicion away from himself. Robert Bailey, Jr. gives an earnest, heartfelt performance, making Patrick a sympathetic figure.
Calleigh’s predicament is a little more nebulous. Is it all in her head, or is she actually having an out-of-body experience? For the most part, it seems to be the latter. She observes Ryan in the lab, and doesn’t realize he’s talking to himself and not her. She sees Jesse and Natalia rushing to the hospital and is shocked to see herself in the bed, on a ventilator. But how can someone having an out-of-body experience leave her boss a voicemail? That small detail made me think it was all in her head… but that doesn’t track with her being able to observe Ryan in the lab. When Calleigh is with Patrick in the yard of the house, she’s struggling to remember something she noticed when she was first there, again suggesting everything is happening in her head. I understand the desire to keep exactly what happens to Calleigh vague since declaring that yes, she did in fact have an out-of-body experience might be going too far for the show, but the vagueness also makes it a little confusing and noncommittal. Yes, it’s a bit of a leap, but if the show isn’t going to commit to the departure, why go there in the first place?
Given the smoke damage her lungs sustained in “Smoke Gets in Your CSIs”, rushing into a burning building wasn’t exactly the smartest move Calleigh could have made. If she’d been alone, it would have made more sense, but couldn’t she have just sent Ryan in? Ryan was caught in the same fire in “Smoke Gets in Your CSIs,” but somehow his lungs were fine then/are fine now. I suppose it’s another instance of female CSIs being weaker and less judicious than their male counterparts, a theme in the franchise that is getting tired. Ryan and several police officers were with Calleigh; there was simply no logical reason for her to lead the charge into the house. It’s a way into the gimmick, but surely there was a way in without making Calleigh look stupid and bullheaded? If her car had been ahead of the others even by a minute, she could have rushed in without looking foolhardy.
Calleigh’s peril brings Delko back into the show’s orbit, but this time he’s just present as a concerned boyfriend. While it’s nice that the show has found a logical place for him working for the State’s Attorney’s office, it’s also good that every appearance he has doesn’t have to be case-related. Until he rejoins the show full time next season, the writers are taxed with finding reasons for him to return, and holding vigil at an ailing Calleigh’s bedside is as good a reason as any. The conversation between Delko and Calleigh that took place in “In the Wind” revealed that their relationship is very much in limbo land; neither is really sure where it’s going. With Delko coming back to the show, and presumably the team, I imagine that will eventually have to be settled one way or the other, but for now it’s sweet to see that Delko’s feelings for Calleigh are very much alive and as deep as ever. Her smile when she wakes and sees him certainly indicates she feels the same.
Somewhat bafflingly, Ryan continues to be bullheaded and overly self-assured when it comes to his snappy assessments of the evidence on a case. Here, he sees Patrick’s hands are burned and immediately concludes that Patrick set the fire. Suspecting that’s the case is one thing, but the approach he takes shows he’s analyzing the evidence through the lens of his theory. Isn’t the most important rule of examining evidence to be objective? Ryan pushes his theory pretty hard for someone who is supposed to let the evidence do the talking—and this is hardly the first time this season that we’ve seen him get an idea into his head and fixate on it. Given his troubled past—which includes being fired for gambling problems and being blackmailed into compromising a case—I can’t help but wonder if the writers are setting him up for a fall.