June 24 2024

CSI Files

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

Retro Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation–‘Fahrenheit 932’

8 min read

At the behest of a man facing the death penalty, Grissom decides to re-open a case investigated by his chief rival, Conrad Ecklie.

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:

Grissom receives a plaintive videotaped message from a prison inmate named Frank Damon, who pleads with the CSI to reopen the arson case that led to his imprisonment. Damon stands accused of setting fire to his house, killing his wife Jeannie and eight-year-old son Toby. When Grissom visits Frank in jail, the volunteer fireman tells Grissom he went out to get his wife some ice cream and returned to find the blaze roaring and the door to the bedroom too hot to open. Frank says he ran to get help without opening the door, but when Grissom notices a burn on his hand, he claims he can’t remember how he got it. Though Grissom isn’t convinced of Frank’s innocence, he agrees to reopen the case. Grissom takes Sara and Warrick with him to the Damon house, and the three head for the bedroom closet—the point of the fire’s origin according to Ecklie’s report. The dayshift supervisor discovered evidence of an accelerant on the closet floor, leading him to deem the fire arson. Sara notices shards of glass burned into the concrete of the floor, as well as burns on the outside of the bedroom door. Grissom determines Frank did indeed open the door, and goes to the prison to confront him about it, taking note of a woman leaving as he enters, whom Frank says is his sister. Grissom asks him about the door, and Frank admits he forgot his training as a volunteer fireman when he rushed into the house and opened the door. ¬†Warrick returns to the scene and finds a space heater, which he and Grissom discover caused a circuit overload and tripped the fuse in the bedroom. Back at the lab, Ecklie angrily confronts Grissom about reopening his case, going so far as to throw a coffee pot at the grave shift supervisor. Seeing it shatter gives Grissom an idea, and he returns to Frank to ask him about what really happened between him and his wife that night. Frank admits that they fought because he’d decided to leave her, and that she threw things at him—including a kerosene lamp. Grissom is able to prove that the circuit overload ignited the kerosene, and Frank is freed. He’s greeted warmly by his “sister,” whom he admits to Grissom is actually the woman he was leaving his wife for.

Catherine and Nick investigate the murder of Joey Hillman, a sixteen-year-old runner found shot in the head in his car in the parking garage of a casino. Though Joey’s wallet is empty, an envelope containing thirty grand in cash leads the CSIs to a teller at the casino, who identifies Joey by his runner number. Joey’s mother Sandra IDs her son in the morgue, telling Catherine that her eldest son, Danny, is a runner, too, and has been missing for a week. Warrick tells Catherine and Nick he used to be a runner, placing big bets on sports games and earning two grand a week to do so, and suggests that hunting down the big boss is a futile effort. He tells them to find another runner instead. At the casino, the teller points out another runner, whom he knows as 702, to Catherine and Nick, but the runner only tells the CSIs that Joey was a great kid, and he doesn’t know who got his route. Mrs. Hillman finds Danny and has him brought in, and the nervous boy admits he bet the cash he’d been entrusted with as a runner—and lost it all, prompting him to go into hiding. Danny thinks Joey was killed in revenge for his actions. A lab tech is able to recover DNA from condensation on the back window of Joey’s car, leading the CSIs to suspect Joey’s killer got in the back of the car to shoot him. Catherine and Nick have all of the runners brought in to give DNA samples, but none of them is a match—and Nick loses a hundred bucks to runner 702 when he bets that one of them is guilty. When Nick goes to the casino to pay his debt, he notices that the teller has a new watch, and a pesky sneeze. Realizing the killer is right in front of him, Nick calls the cops to come collect the guilty teller.

Analysis:

“Fahrenheit 932” highlights the rivalry between Grissom and politicking day shift supervisor Conrad Ecklie, and though our sympathies naturally lie with Grissom, the episode also manages to be pretty fair to Ecklie, allowing the audience to see his side of things. Grissom is practically gleeful while committing “career suicide,” and while he obviously only has the best of intentions—getting to the truth of what happened at the Damon house—he never consults Ecklie before reopening the case or really invites Ecklie to work with him, despite paying lip service to the idea of them working together. Given the circumstances, it’s not surprising that Ecklie would be upset, and he clearly thinks Grissom is trying to make him look bad. The audience knows that’s not Grissom’s intent, but given the hostility between the two shift supervisors, it’s not really surprising that Ecklie jumps to the conclusion that Grissom is attempting to sabotage him. Grissom is right to reopen the case, but it wouldn’t have hurt for him to bring Ecklie into the loop before he did so. This is just one example of how Grissom isn’t good at playing departmental politics—or necessarily looking at how human emotions might play into a logical decision.

When Grissom accedes to Frank Damon’s request to look into the fire that killed his family, Grissom tells the man, “I’ll take your case. I don’t know whether I’ll help you or not.” It’s a quintessentially Grissom statement; to Grissom, the evidence will do the talking, and it’s the element Grissom knows he can rely on. Sure enough, though he’s eventually proved innocent of the arson, Frank is lying about plenty. His lie about not remembering how he got the burns on his hands is just plain dumb, and the explanation that he did everything wrong and felt terrible about it a little weak, given that he’s facing the death penalty. His lie about the woman who visits him in jail being his sister is equally transparent; even Grissom, who can be a bit clueless about people to say the least, picks up on the fact that the woman is not Frank’s sister. Nonetheless, Frank remains a sympathetic character, one that the audience, like Grissom, doesn’t judge for his falsehoods. In the end, we’re happy to see him exonerated.

True to character, Grissom’s interest in the case feels primarily scientific. In Grissom’s first interview with Frank, the CSI notices burns on Frank’s hands that contradict his story, but he’s intrigued enough to take the case. And indeed, it’s not hard to imagine that at least some of that comes from the case being an opportunity to show up his rival Ecklie. Grissom might be a professional, but he clearly harbors at least some dislike for the day shift supervisor. He’s frustrated when Ecklie first confronts him, asking, “What are you so afraid of, Conrad? We’re just a bunch of science geeks.” Ecklie counters that they’re “public servants,” delineating the primary difference in how he sees their jobs versus how Grissom does. Ecklie is very much aware of the “audience”—the public—while for Grissom, it’s more about solving a puzzle to get to the truth. Though it frustrates Grissom to no end, it’s fun for the audience to see these two lock horns.

The B-case gives Catherine, Nick and Warrick some interesting character moments. Catherine is tasked with the duty of showing Sandra Hillman the body of her son in the morgue, and the tear running down her face as Sandra reacts to seeing Joey’s body underscores her empathy for the woman. Earlier in the episode, Catherine was affected by seeing how young Joey was, observing, “He’s just a baby.” In a somewhat far-fetched convenient turn, Nick catches the killer when he goes to pay off a bet he made with one of the runners at the casino and happens to notice the teller’s new watch—and hear him sneeze. It’s not a very surprising turn given that all of the other potential suspects—the other runners—have been eliminated, leaving the teller as the only person involved in the storyline that the audience has seen and might suspect. It’s a bit too lucky that he just happens to sneeze as Nick is walking away—but then, the CSIs do get lucky breaks sometimes.

The news that Warrick was once a runner reveals just how deep Warrick’s ties to gambling run. He’s not just a casual gambler who places a bet now and then; he clearly knows the ins and outs of the system. He tells Catherine and Nick not to bother with trying to find the boss, but focus on the runners instead, since it’s probable that one of them might have killed Joey for his route. Warrick’s savvy advice speaks to something that served to distinguish CSI early in its run, and continues to do so to this day: its use of its setting. Las Vegas is a vibrant, colorful backdrop for the show, and at no point when watching CSI is it possible to forget where CSI is set. Whether the team is investigating a murder in a casino or trying to figure out who dumped a body in the middle of the desert, the setting of the series is always very much front and center.

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