June 19 2024

CSI Files

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

Retro Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation–‘Face Lift’

7 min read

The CSIs discover a startling link to a decades-old kidnapping case while investigating the murder of a robber.

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:

A robbery at The Cracked Kiln pottery store proves to be more complicated than it first appears when the body of the apparent robber, Joseph Felton, is discovered by the safe he apparently burned open. In the morgue, Doc Robbins determines Felton was killed by three blows to the head, and died instantaneously. Nick recovers yellow, glittery transfer from the head wound and sends it to trace, while Catherine finds spores in Felton’s hair from fern plants outside the shop. Grissom gets a hit on a print from the pottery store, not to a suspect but a little girl who went missing twenty-one years ago named Melissa Marlowe. Dust on the print indicates Melissa was in the shop weeks before the murder, and Grissom decides to take the lead on tracking her down. Nick matches the method used to rob the safe to a robbery from 1999, perpetrated by Felton and a man named Darin Hason, who Felton testified against in exchange for immunity. The CSIs question Hason, but he denies seeing Felton since his incarceration, and has receipts to prove he was in Barstow at the time of the murder. Catherine brings Felton’s daughter, Tammy, to see the body of her father, and is surprised to notice fern spores on the young woman’s sweater. Tammy admits she was at the shop with her father, but tells Catherine she was trying to talk him out of robbing the store. Catherine is shocked when she finds Grissom and Teri Miller doing an age progression on a photo of four-year-old Melissa Marlowe and recognizes the aged up photo as Tammy Felton. Grissom and Catherine consult with a psychologist named Philip Kane, who cautions them that children who have been abducted often display sociopathic tendencies and will do whatever it takes to survive. Greg identifies the yellow glittery trace from Felton’s head wound as paint laced with uranium, and Nick returns to the shop and discovers a yellow troll painted with the uranium paint with blood and hair on the bottom.

Grissom mistakenly allows the Marlowes to see Tammy through the glass as Catherine questions her, and Mrs. Marlowe runs up to Tammy as she’s leaving and hugs her, calling her Melissa. Confused, Tammy runs off. The CSIs obtain a warrant for Tammy’s house and discover a pair of gloves with yellow paint on them inside. Though Tammy claims the gloves belonged to her mother, her prints are found on the gloves. Tammy claims Melissa killed her father, and intimates that she has multiple personality disorder. Though Dr. Kane confirms it’s a possibility, the CSIs are skeptical, and Catherine catches Tammy in a lie, confirming it’s a ruse. The Marlowes rush to Tammy’s aid, bailing her out of jail and buying multiple bus tickets out of town so that the CSIs won’t be able to track her. Brass arrests them for abetting a fugitive, while Tammy escapes—and meets up with Darin Hason, who told her the truth about Joseph Felton, knowing Tammy would kill him. While the rest of the team works the Felton murder, Sara and Warrick investigate the death of Nadine Winston, who burned up while sitting in an armchair. Sara posits that it could be spontaneous combustion, which Warrick dismisses as science fiction. All that’s left of Nadine is a foot, and David Phillips confirms that it was severed by the fire, not cut off her body. Warrick has Sara bring him a nightgown, and he dresses a pig carcass in it. He injects sedatives like the ones Nadine took into the carcass and lights the end of the nightgown on fire. Sure enough, the pig burns up just like Nadine did. Grissom is impressed with their work, pointing out that a big of the nightgown that didn’t get badly burnt is the “wick”—the origin of the fire. Sara recalls finding a similar piece at the crime scene. When Grissom asks if they really thought Nadine spontaneously combusted, Warrick says they didn’t, covering for Sara.

Analysis:

A surprising twist and an impressive performance by guest star Brigid Brannagh as Tammy/Melissa distinguish this involving episode. Though Dr. Kane’s assertion that people who have been abducted as children tend to exhibit sociopathic tendencies feels like an awfully broad generalization, it makes for an intriguing situation, and sets Tammy up as a fascinating villain. Brannagh is able to switch from pitiful grief to steely coldness in the blink of an eye, and she effectively sells Tammy as a sociopath along the lines of Edward Norton‘s compelling debut as a similar character in Primal Fear. The clever reveal at the end—that Darin told Tammy about Felton and his wife taking her from her real parents when she was four, giving her motive to murder Felton—neatly ties up the loose ends in the story. Tammy might be a sociopath, but that doesn’t explain why she’d turn on the man she thought of as her father out of the blue. The revelation that Darin told her about her past and knew what she’d do about it makes Tammy’s motives clear.

Catherine shares several pivotal scenes with Tammy in which the young woman does a chillingly convincing job of trying to play the perceptive CSI. Catherine buys her grieving daughter act, but when Tammy tries to play the multiple personality card, Catherine is understandably suspicious. In an effort to get Catherine to testify on her behalf, Tammy calls Catherine to the jail where she’s being held and claims she remembers her childhood as Melissa, before the abduction—and nothing since. But she goes too far when she tells Catherine she has no memories of the last 21 years, and the sharp CSI catches her in a lie: if Tammy remembers nothing after she was taken as a child, how could she remember Catherine? Tammy’s demeanor changes instantly, and she orders Catherine to get out in a hard voice—and then toys with her by calling her back in a childlike, frightened voice.

In the end, when Tammy meets up with Darin, the audience gets a real glimpse of her true personality. There’s no remorse, either for her crime or the plight of her hapless parents, only satisfaction that she’s managed to escape the authorities and an eagerness to get out of town. One wonders how long Darin will survive in her company; as soon as he picks her up, she tells him he owes her for killing Felton. He asserts that he’s the one who told her about her father, and she retorts, “And you knew exactly what I’d do.” No doubt Darin Hason has unleashed a monster he won’t be able to control, and he probably won’t be around long to enjoy his revenge. The chilling conclusion to the episode underscores that despite science and evidence being on the CSIs’ side, sometimes criminals are smart enough to outwit the law.

Grissom’s awkwardness with people is highlighted in this outing, most notably when he takes the Marlowes to see Tammy through the two-sided mirror while Catherine is questioning her. Grissom is surprised when Mrs. Marlowe runs after her daughter despite him telling her not to, and he gets scolded by Catherine, who asks him if he really thought the thin layer of glass would keep them apart. Grissom admits he didn’t think about it, and Catherine replies, “I know. You’re not good with people.” The incident illustrates that while he can be very good noticing small details or reading when someone is trying to conceal something from him, Grissom isn’t good at predicting how people will react in emotional situations—or prepared to deal with those reactions when they come up.

He’s similarly awkward with Teri Miller, who comes to the lab to use a computer program to age Melissa Marlowe up so that the CSIs can identify the young woman. Grissom brings up their interrupted date in “To Halve and to Hold”, starting with, “Since I screwed up our last date, will we ever have dinner again?” She wittily replies that of course they will—just not together. Grissom presses, adding that he apologized, and she tells him he’s forgiven, but leaves it at that. Though William Petersen and Pamela Gidley have some chemistry, and Grissom and Teri share a rapport and passion for their jobs, the romance seems problematic from the start, given the way their devotion to their careers seems to be a roadblock to any potential relationship. They’re well matched intellectually, but their similar passions are actually working against them. Still, it’s fun to watch Grissom get excited about something other than insects, even if the romance seems ill fated.

The B-case is much weaker than the strong A-story, revolving around a woman burning up completely while sitting in a chair. Sara thinks the death could be due to spontaneous combustion, which shows Sara has an imaginative side, but doesn’t really grab the audience the way the Felton case does. Warrick opposes the theory, and it’s not really a surprise in the end when he’s proved right. He does cover for her when Grissom asks if either of them really thought spontaneous combustion killed the victim, saying that neither of them did. Sara and Warrick have been at odds a great deal in these early episodes, so the gesture builds a little goodwill between them—though perhaps not much, since Warrick leaves her on her own to clean up the experiment he performed to prove how Nadine Winston burned up.

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