June 14 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Miami–‘Happy Birthday’

7 min read

Miami’s 200th episode finds Horatio and his team rushing to find out who attacked a pregnant woman.

Synopsis:

Shortly after having brunch with her friend Marcie Westerfield, Heather Chapman, who is eight months pregnant, is brutally attacked and left for dead in the road. Heather is rushed to the hospital in the hopes that she and her baby can be saved. After learning Heather texted her husband Gary about a fight with Marcie, Ryan and Walter question Marcie, who admits that she resented that Heather was able to get pregnant so easily while she has struggled for years, but denies hurting her friend.¬†Heather’s husband, Gary, and stepson, Josh, rush to the hospital, and both are shocked by news of the attack. At the scene, Natalia and Walter follow the blood trail left by Heather to another road and conclude she was likely carjacked. Helicopters spot Heather’s car, and Horatio and Delko cut the car off. Two men flee the scene, running into a bar. One of the men throws a picture from the bar’s wall at Delko, while the other fires a gun in the middle of the crowded bar. Though the man with the gun escapes after tossing his weapon, the CSIs manage to apprehend the other man. The day manager, Vicki Turner, is upset when Horatio takes the photograph the suspect threw at Delko, telling the CSI it’s one she took herself.

Walter and Ryan go over the car, positing that the airbag deployed and noticing the car was keyed recently. While Calleigh comforts Heather in the hospital, Natalia gets a hit on the gun, which was used in an armed robbery, and identifies their missing suspect as Sam Novak, a known associate of Ruben Franco, the man they have in custody. Horatio gets Ruben to talk, leading the team to a chop shop, where they’re surprised to discover Josh Chapman is working. Horatio and Tripp question the teen, who admits he keyed Heather’s car after his father went back on a promise to buy Josh a car, opting to get one for Heather instead. Josh insists he didn’t hurt Heather, but Horatio is skeptical. Though Gary doesn’t recognize either of Heather’s attackers and Heather can’t remember the attack, she does identify Sam Novak as Marcie Westerfield’s trainer. When Ryan and Walter question Marcie again, she expresses shock over Sam’s involvement, and maintains it’s a coincidence. ¬†Ryan and Delko go over surveillance photos of Heather recovered from the chop shop and notice an imperfection on the photos that matches one on the photograph thrown at Delko. Walter and Ryan question Vicki, who tells them that Sam had her take pictures of a woman but didn’t tell her why. Telling her that she could be charged as an accomplice, the CSIs talk her into giving up Sam’s location.

Horatio and Delko arrest Sam at his apartment, and discover the severed airbag from Heather’s car there. Heather is rushed to surgery after her vitals start to crash, and an enraged Gary attacks Sam with a knife as he’s being led up to the police station. Delko and Horatio match the airbag to Heather’s car, and realize it didn’t deploy because of sabotage, which also caused the steering wheel to lock. Horatio realizes someone wanted Heather to be hurt in this accident, and he recalls Gary never asked about his unborn child, just his wife. Horatio matches marks on the steering wheel to Gary’s knife, confirming he sabotaged the car. Horatio confronts Gary: he hired Sam and Ruben to attack his wife, and then tried to kill Sam to make sure he stayed quiet. Gary admits he was behind it, but that it was supposed to be a simple carjacking—the men weren’t supposed to attack Heather. He maintains he loves his wife, but he didn’t want another child. Having Josh ruined his first marriage, and he didn’t want to lose Heather to a baby. Disgusted, Horatio arrests him. Heather gives birth to a baby girl, while Horatio visits Marisol’s grave and tells her about the baby and murmurs, “Happy birthday.”

Analysis:

Miami‘s 200th episode ends on a sentimental note, and a nod to one of the show’s big story arcs in season four: Horatio’s relationship with Delko’s sister, Marisol, which culminated in marriage. Horatio barely had a day to enjoy matrimonial bliss before his new bride was gunned down by the henchman of a drug kingpin. While sweet, the nod is indicative of the direction the show is headed in, or rather back in, and that’s to the show’s mid-run, when outlandish action overshadowed forensics. Seasons four and five of Miami were all about adrenaline rushes, big chase scenes and over-the-top shootouts. While it made for fun TV, it wasn’t especially realistic, and the show suffered for it. Action was more important than forensics and character; the relationship between Horatio and Marisol, while touching, never fully seemed to blossom because so much of it happened behind the scenes, to the point that the couple never even kissed.

The writers finally started to tone down the action and return to the kind of mysteries that made a name for the CSI franchise, culminating in the show’s eighth season, when three new characters were brought in to replace Delko after Adam Rodriguez didn’t return to the show as a regular. I like Delko, but the infusion of fresh blood proved to be just what Miami needed: Jesse Cardoza, Walter Simmons and Tom Loman added a new and different dynamic in the show, and the focus shifted more to getting to know these new characters: exploring Jesse’s mysterious past, establishing a downright delightful banter between Walter, Ryan and Jesse and introducing Dr. Loman’s many quirks. There was still plenty of action, from tracking down dastardly killers to exploding meth labs, but the show regained its center. Even Horatio was toned down a bit, to the benefit of the show. Natalia battled hearing loss. Calleigh and Delko’s steamy coupling flourished. Jesse pursued his wife’s killer. Intriguing mysteries were paired with compelling character development.

Season nine seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Horatio has gone back to being the tough guy who crosses lines to get what he needs. Back in season five, it was flying down to Rio de Janeiro to avenge the murder of Marisol. While it stretched credibility, the audience’s sympathy did lie with Horatio. But now, he seems to be crossing the line into police brutality. In “On the Hook”, Horatio tossed a crooked parole officer out a window; here he strong-arms Ruben Franco in a Hummer while Natalia, clearly shocked and uncomfortable, watches. If this is leading somewhere, and Horatio will eventually face excessive force charges, it has some merit. (Alas, his greatest and most interesting rival, IAB officer Rick Stetler, was handily done away with in one of season eight’s few missteps, “Meltdown”.) But I fear we’re simply supposed to accept that this new, tough Horatio is justified in his actions. In a post-Guantanamo Bay world, I’m not sure that’s going to fly.

The scene with Horatio at Marisol’s grave is definitely a touching one, and showcases David Caruso‘s strengths as an actor. Horatio is at his best when he’s a little vulnerable, a little off kilter: it’s in moments like this where we can most see his humanity. He’s not some kind of superhuman cop in these scenes, but a flesh and blood man. And we need to see more of this flesh and blood man. I was moved when Horatio told Marisol about the baby and pointed out that “she’s beautiful, just like you.” He quietly wishes her happy birthday, a sad moment in which we see Horatio mourning all he and Marisol were robbed of by her murder.

Ryan and Walter have an amusing exchange about Delko that proves that Ryan isn’t quite over his envy of his colleague. After the altercation in the bar, Walter asks Ryan if he heard about Delko, noting Delko “took that guy out like a linebacker.” Ryan, not willing to be so easily impressed, sniffs, “Too bad a guy got through the line.” Ryan and Delko’s early contentious relationship remains one of the more interesting ones in the CSI franchise, and the two have managed to build a strong friendship while still occasionally butting heads or being a little jealous of each other. The relationship is a very real one, a very believable dynamic. It’s fun to see a small nod to it through a conversation between Walter and Ryan, who also share a great rapport.

Exchanges like that are more of what Miami needs, not action-packed scenes or examples of how Horatio crosses the line and gets away with it. Though it seems like season nine might be moving back towards those earlier, more over-the-top seasons, I hope that’s not the case. The show is aging, but the answer isn’t to go back to earlier seasons. Season eight felt far fresher than anything Miami has done in years, and I believe the key to keeping the show fresh lies in continuing to explore the characters and build interesting interplay between them. With so many crime shows on the air, the characters are definitely a big part of what brings people to the show, and more emphasis on them can only be to the show’s benefit.

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