June 19 2024

CSI Files

An archive of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds and crime drama news

Retro Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation–‘Anonymous’

6 min read

The killer who first struck in the show’s pilot returns, faking the suicide of another victim.

With the CSI franchise in reruns for the summer, CSI Files is taking the opportunity to go back to the beginning, offering reviews of episodes from the early seasons of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami, many of which aired before the site’s 2003 founding! The retro reviews will run for the duration of the summer until new episodes of the franchise start to air in the fall.

Synopsis:

The body of Stuart Rampler is discovered in a hotel bathtub, the victim of a gunshot wound to the head—and an apparent staged suicide. When Grissom discovers a tape player with a recorded suicide note from the man, he realizes the person who killed Royce Harmon has struck again. Sara processes the room, finding not a single print in the bathroom but discovering a stack of bills, one with an upside down stamp on it. Grissom visits a consultant named Disco Placid who does audio comparisons, confirming both Stuart and Royce recorded the messages on the tapes. Placid is able to isolate a crinkling sound in the background that Grissom posits is a piece of paper the victim is reading from. Sara discovers the victims share a birthday, August 17th, one year apart—Harmon was born in 1958, and Rampler 1957. Lab tech Mandy is able to isolate two prints on the recorder—one belonging to Paul Millander, the sculptor whose Halloween hand model provided the prints left by the killer in the Harmon case, and one from Grissom himself. Grissom is shaken that the killer has his print, and realizes it’s a message: the killer has Grissom under his thumb. Grissom visits Millander to try to get a list of his distributors, but the craftsman claims he doesn’t keep one. When Grissom learns the killer has been making ATM withdrawals with Rampler’s card, he has the ATM machine the killer used brought in, and finds a homeless man with several pictures on the machine’s security camera. Brass tracks down the homeless man, who is able to describe the man who gave him the pictures: Paul Millander. While Grissom, Catherine and the police storm Milander’s now empty warehouse, Millander pays a visit to the lab, waving at a security camera on his way out.

Nick and Warrick investigate an apparent DUI that nearly ended in tragedy when the car of Walter Bangler plunged over the side of the road with Bangler belted into the backseat. Bangler survives, but is under heavy sedation in the hospital. Nick and Warrick come up with competing theories: while Nick believes the actual driver of the car fled the scene, leaving Bangler to die, Warrick posits that Bangler was set upon by an assailant, who robbed him and left him to die. The two CSIs decide to bet on their theories, upping the ante each time they find evidence they think supports their respective theories. When Bangler awakens, he’s able to tell them the real story: he was drinking and playing pool, and lost all of his cash, as well as his watch when he came up short. He got into his car and drove drunk, plowing into a railing. Realizing he was in a precarious situation, he climbed into the backseat of his car and belted himself in, which ended up saving his life when the car did plunge over the side of the road. With both theories disproved, Nick and Warrick agree to a draw in their bet.

Analysis:

Picking up on the unsolved murder case from the show’s pilot, “Anonymous” solves that case by revealing the culprit—seemingly mild-mannered Paul Millander, the owner of a Halloween shop—but allows him an escape. Though hindsight is always 20/20, it’s somewhat surprising that Grissom isn’t at all suspicious that Millander can’t supply him with a list of the companies he shipped his wares to. The oversight is very much in keeping with the way Grissom’s mind thinks, since the evidence that implicated Millander has already been explained and dismissed. Millander is something of an oddball, but Grissom isn’t one to judge another person for being an oddball, since he’s definitely one himself. He’s able to joke around with Millander, noting that Millander’s half-man, half-monster bust reminds him of the lab’s dayshift supervisor: Grissom’s rival, Conrad Ecklie. Grissom feels comfortable enough with the strange, solitary man to let loose; he’s more relaxed around Millander than he is when we see him in the lab or on a case.

And yet, Grissom visits Millander after his print is found beneath the one Millander used to make his model. He’s interpreted the message as the killer taunting him, saying that he has Grissom “under his thumb.” Grissom realizes the killer must have obtained his print, and though Catherine points out a plethora of places where the killer could have gotten Grissom’s print, Grissom is forgetting that Millander is the one person connected to the case that has interacted with Grissom. He certainly deserves a second look, which Grissom realizes all too late. At some point after Grissom’s visit, Millander decides to give up the game, making a withdrawal from an ATM using Rampler’s card and leaving a message for Grissom in the form of a homeless man standing in front of the security camera at the machine holding cards depicting a dove being held in someone’s hands, either being crushed because it’s being held too tightly or freed because it’s not being held tightly enough. Grissom determines that the dove symbolizes justice, and that the killer is saying he’s going to keep killing until he gets justice.

Millander’s motive turns out to be born out of his father’s murder, which took place in 1959 on August 17th—the birth date his two victims share. Millander’s father was dragged into a hotel room by two security guards and murdered, which a terrified young Paul witnessed. Afterwards, the security guards claimed the elder Millander committed suicide and they were subsequently acquitted. Though Millander does a credible job eluding capture—even being so brazen as to show up at the lab while Grissom and Catherine are storming his warehouse—he wants recognition from the beginning, tying himself to the case by leaving his own prints, albeit with the fake hands as a rock solid alibi. Fans had to wait until midway through the show’s second season for the episode that concluded the Millander case, “Identity Crisis”.

The episode’s B-case highlights the friendly rivalry between Nick and Warrick, who immediately develop two different theories about how Walter Bangler ended up going over the side of the road in his rental car. Though Grissom frowns at their banter when he gives them the case and orders them to “work together,” the two are positively gleeful at the prospect of wagering a bet about whose hypothesis is right. Despite their rivalry and the constant upping of the bet, which grows to three hundred dollars during the course of the investigation, Nick and Warrick are professionals throughout, each admitting to the other that his supposition has merit. George Eads and Gary Dourdan play off each other expertly in these scenes, establishing the rapport between Nick and Warrick right off the bat.

Even more ironic than the fact that both CSIs are wrong about what happened is that ultimately, the answer comes not from the evidence but the eyewitness: the near victim Walter Bangler. The evidence the CSIs find in the car connect a slew of unrelated people to the case, simply because the car is a rental. Tire treads near the crash site belong to a stolen Bentley that ends up having no connection to Bangler’s plunge. The same is true of several shoe impressions by the site. The storyline highlights how some evidence can be just plain misleading, and in this case, it’s witness testimony that illuminates the truth. Had Walter Bangler not survived, the truth of what happened to him might never have come to light.

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