June 14 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation–‘The Two Mrs Grissoms’

14 min read

A murder at a college for the deaf brings Sara in contact with her mother-in-law, and a former member of the team makes a special appearance.

Synopsis:

Sara is attending a party for the Gilbert Foundation for the Deaf, and she gets a call from her husband, Gil Grissom. He’s still working in Peru. A mass grave was uncovered, so he won’t be able to make it. While she’s on the phone, Sara sees a woman walk out of a room after having sex with a man. After Sara loses the signal on her phone, ending her call with Grissom, she walks over to her mother in law, Betty. Betty promptly introduces Sara to the woman she saw a minute before. Her name is Julia Holden, and she’s the head of the Department of Deaf Cultural Studies at the college. Betty introduces Sara as Gil’s wife, and Julia calls her the “other Mrs Grissom”. Betty is quick to clarify that Sara kept her own last name. Betty says Julia is like a daughter to her. Sara then meets Dr Eric Lambert, the director of the Gilbert Foundation. It’s his job to choose which of three finalists will receive a $500,000 grant. Dr Lambert says Julia runs the selection committee, and she’s very passionate about the candidates. Julia excuses herself, and Dr Lambert inquires after Grissom. Sara explains that he’s still in Peru, and Betty points out that her son spends a lot of time away from home. After the party, Sara walks outside and sees an explosion in the distance. She runs toward the fire and sees a car at the bottom of a ravine. She finds Julia pounding on the window and trying to get to Dr Lambert, who is trapped inside. Dr Lambert is already dead, and Sara pulls Julia back as fire consumes the man’s body.

The fire department extinguishes the car as Nick and Langston arrive at the scene. They brought work clothes for Sara, but they make sure to tease her about her fancy attire. Sara tells them the name of the victim, and she says she saw him drinking at the party. This could be a case of drunk driving gone wrong. Sara goes to speak to Julia to ask her some questions. Julia starts to explain what happened, but Sara needs someone to help her understand the sign language. She calls over Dennis Palmer, an interpreter she first met at the party. Julia felt the vibrations of the explosion in her office, and she ran out of the building when she saw the fire. She wishes she had been able to save Dr Lambert.

David pulls Dr Lambert’s charred body from the car and leaves Nick, Sara and Langston to look over the scene. Nick notices that there are no skid marks in the parking lot where the car went into the ravine, so Dr Lambert didn’t pump his brakes or try to stop the car. Nick and Langston locate the source of the explosion when they find pieces of a detonator in the parking lot. Someone planted a bomb under Dr Lambert’s car, and the explosion sent him careening over the edge of the ravine.

Catherine talks to Dr Robbins, who explains that there was no soot in Dr Lambert’s lungs. The bomb blast ruptured his aorta, and he was dead before the car caught on fire. Catherine asks Sara what she was able to find out about Dr Lambert. Sara says he wasn’t married and had no children, so she’s going to ask around at the college to find out if he had any enemies. Catherine suggests that she could speak to her mother-in-law, but Sara says communication is strained between them. Sara says it’s hard to get close to Betty or make an emotional connection with her, and Catherine laughs. Betty sounds a lot like Grissom.

Greg creates a computer simulation of the car bomb to map the shockwaves caused by the explosion. He determines that Julia could not have felt the explosion in her office since the shockwaves never made it to the Humanities building. She’s lying, but they need evidence to prove that she was involved. Nick and Sara test Julia’s office at Gilbert College, looking for signs of bomb-making materials. Julia and Betty come in and demand to know what is happening. Sara says they’re conducting a murder investigation, and Betty turns to Nick to ask what they are doing. Nick explains that someone planted a bomb in Dr Lambert’s car, and Sara points out that Julia wasn’t being honest about her whereabouts when the bomb exploded. Julia says she did nothing wrong, and Sara asks them to wait in the hall. Nick points out that Sara doesn’t get along with her mother-in-law very well, but she seems to like Nick.

Sara finds a voicemail transcript in the trashcan. The message was from Dr Lambert. He called Julia the night he was killed and told her that a certain relationship had to end because of the risk involved. Brass asks if Julia killed Dr Lambert after he broke up with her, but Julia insists that she wasn’t in a relationship with Dr Lambert. When Brass and Sara offer their theory about what happened, Julia says there’s a conflict of interest because she was once intimately involved with Grissom. Sara had no idea her husband used to be in a relationship with Julia, but she says her marriage has nothing to do with the case.

Sara speaks to Catherine about Julia’s tactics, and Catherine says Brass wants her off the case. However, Catherine argues that Sara is capable of being professional and objective, and she lets her continue to work on the investigation. Sara says she found nothing in Julia’s office or house to tie her to the bomb. Nick and Langston are checking Dr Lambert’s car for evidence, and Langston locates an industrial-strength magnet on the underside of the car near the gas tank. It was used to attach the bomb to the car. They found a lot of bomb fragments and a detonator, but there was no timer. The killer planted the bomb during the party and detonated it when Dr Lambert was near the ravine.

Hodges finds evidence of smokeless gun powder on the bomb fragments. Greg finds a serial number on a piece of the bomb, which traces back to a Shake Alert fire alarm for the deaf. This particular Shake Alert came from the dormitories at Gilbert College. Nick and Sara check each room in the dorm until they locate one alarm that is different from the others. The fire alarm in Michael Porter’s room was replaced. Michael is Julia Holden’s teaching assistant, and he wasn’t at the party. He says he was in his room all night because Julia and Dr Lambert didn’t think his research project was worthy to be a finalist for the $500,000 grant. He says one of the finalists, Sean Wyatt, showed up from England and became Julia’s pet. The relationship between Sean and Dr Lambert was very different. Michael saw the pair of them fighting several days before. He didn’t know what the argument was about, but Dr Lambert demanded that Sean “fix” something—or he would do it himself.

Nick finds evidence of nitrates in Sean’s room, but Sara still thinks Julia is involved. If Dr Lambert was out of the way, Julia would be able to choose the grant recipient, and she would surely choose Sean. Nick asks if Sara’s suspicions have anything to do with Julia’s past relationship with Grissom, and Sara admits that she’s upset her husband never told her about Julia. Nick insists that the relationship is in the past, and it doesn’t matter.

Nick and Sara run into Betty and Dennis Palmer, and Sara excuses herself to speak to her. Betty says that Julia would never hurt anyone. Sara confronts Betty, wondering why she never mentioned Grissom’s relationship with Julia before. Betty assumed she knew, and she says the couple might tell each other more about themselves if they spent more time in the same city. Sara changes the topic, asking Betty for any information that could help with their investigation. Betty says that Dr Lambert was a stickler for rules, and lately Julia had been distracted. Betty asked her what was going on, but Julia said everything was fine.

Hodges tests the nitrates from Sean’s room, but they are consistent with fertilizer rather than bomb-making materials. He also found Julia’s DNA on the sheets, proving that Julia was having sex with one of her students. Sara wonders if Sean was the person Julia was having sex with at the party. If Dr Lambert’s message to Julia about ending a relationship referred to Sean, maybe Sean killed him for the money and to be with Julia. Sean denies killing Dr Lambert and says Julia can confirm his alibi. They went to his dorm room after leaving the party early, and she left just before the explosion.

Sara and Langston go to Julia’s office to bring her in for questioning. Michael Porter delivers a package to her office as they arrive, and Julia comes out to speak to them. She turns back to her office to call her lawyer, but the package on her desk explodes, injuring Julia as well as the CSIs. Julia is sent to the hospital with a possible concussion since she was closer to the blast, and Nick rushes in to see if Sara and Langston are okay. They’re fine, but the bomb in Julia’s office seems to eliminate her as a suspect. Since they saw Michael deliver the package, they wonder if he’s the killer. Nick and Sara locate bomb fragments in the office, including a resistor that created a delay. Whoever planted the bomb definitely wanted time to get away before the explosion.

Sara confronts Michael, showing him the ‘stalker wall’ on his computer which illustrates his grudge against Julia and Dr Lambert. Despite his anger, Michael insists that he didn’t plant the bombs. Sara says he had the skills and the materials, but Michael says he’s being set up. He suggests that the team should look into Sean Wyatt. Something about him just doesn’t seem right.

Sara goes to the hospital to take Julia’s statement, and she sees Sean in the room. He makes a sign that she’s not familiar with, so she asks Betty what it means. Betty recognizes the sign, which means “sweet pea” in Quebec sign language. Sara wonders why Sean would speak Québécois when he is from England, but Betty says he could have picked it up during his travels. Sara notes that some European phrases stayed with her after she and Grissom arrived home. Betty asks if Sara misses her husband, and she criticizes their marriage. Sara says that the marriage works for them and that they are a family. Betty can decide whether or not she wants to be part of that family.

Nick and Greg analyze the bomb fragments from Julia’s office. The resistor gave the bomber ten minutes to get away before the bomb exploded, and Nick tells Sara and Catherine that the bomb was triggered by a remote. The bomb let out a series of beeps to alert the bomber that it was armed. This proves that whoever planted the bomb could hear. Catherine and Sara hook Sean up to a machine and show him a series of pictures. The machine measures his brain activity, and the CSIs tell Sean that he failed. He says polygraph tests are unreliable, but they weren’t testing his response to the pictures. They gave him an auditory evoked potential test, which measures the brain’s response to sound. Sean isn’t deaf. He’s a fraud who has been pretending to be deaf in order to get the $500,000 grant.

Sara runs Sean’s fingerprints and discovers that he’s from Canada. His transcripts were forged using paper that had a Gilbert College watermark, so he had help within the school. She confronts Julia with this information, but Julia says she didn’t meet Sean until he was a student. Julia knew she should have put a stop to their relationship, but she fell in love with him. She was so lonely that she overlooked anything suspicious about his behavior. Julia remembers seeing him use a different e-mail address to write to an “old friend” in French. Langston tracks down the e-mail address and discovers details about the entire grant scam, starting with Sean’s acceptance into the college. Sean’s cousin is his partner in the scam, and the team has already spoken to him: Dennis Palmer, the interpreter Sara met the night of the party.

Brass confronts Dennis. They found evidence in his apartment linking him to the bombs. He got Sean into the school, and together they went after the big money: the $500,000 grant. Sean got close to Julia as part of their plan, but he developed feelings for her. Things started to go wrong when Dr Lambert found out that Sean didn’t go to Cambridge University in England. He ordered Sean to withdraw his grant application and leave the school. Dennis planted the bomb on Dr Lambert’s car, hoping it would look like an accident. The second bomb was meant to put suspicion on Michael. Dennis promised Sean that Julia wouldn’t get hurt, and Sean believed him. The police lead Sean and Dennis away in handcuffs, and Sean sees Julia in the hallway. He mouths an apology to her as he passes, and Sara asks if she’s okay. Julia nods and signs that she is fine, and Sara takes her hand.

Later, Sara speaks to Grissom on the computer and hears about his work at a mass grave in Peru. He asks how her week went and hears about the explosions, the interaction with Julia and the argument with her mother-in-law. Betty shows up at the door, and the three of them have a conversation. Sara and Betty apologize to each other, and they agree to start over. Grissom says they will have dinner together as soon as he gets back, and Betty starts asking questions about their sex life. They end the conversation by signing ‘I love you’ to each other.


Analysis:

“The Two Mrs Grissoms” introduces fans to Grissom’s mother, Betty, whom the audience learned was deaf in the season one episode “Sounds of Silence”. Grissom is fluent in sign language, but Sara is struggling to learn it. Sign language isn’t the only barrier between Sara and her mother-in-law. Sara has found it hard to make an emotional connection with her mother, and the situation seems even more apparent when Sara meets Julia Holden. Not only does Julia have a romantic history with Sara’s husband, but Betty clearly prefers Julia as a “daughter”. Jorja Fox and Tony award-winning actress Phyllis Frelich play well off of each other as daughter- and mother-in-law. The frustration and discomfort with one another are palpable in their early scenes, and their tentative connection at the end of the episode feels satisfying.

Oscar winner Marlee Matlin is great as Julia Holden, the team’s main suspect and a sore spot for Sara. Not only does Sara discover that Betty would prefer to have Julia as her daughter-in-law, but Sara had no idea about the woman’s past with Grissom. Julia uses this surprising bit of information to complicate the investigation early on, but by the end of the episode, she and Sara have come to an understanding.

Laurence Fishburne has settled in well as William Petersen‘s replacement, but Petersen’s absence was especially obvious in “The Two Mrs Grissoms”. Grissom was a topic of conversation without being a part of the action. Petersen was last seen in “One to Go” more than two years ago, and his surprise appearance via computer at the end of the episode was a nice treat for longtime fans. However, despite the fact that Grissom was not there in person during the course of the investigation, his presence was felt throughout the episode. Fans learned a bit about his past with Julia, and they got to meet his mother—who, as Catherine points out, is a lot like her son.

The most satisfying thing about the appearance of Betty Grissom is the chance for fans to get a glimpse inside Sara and Grissom’s marriage. Their relationship has never been prominent, and the pair have only kissed twice on screen (first when Sara left the lab in “Goodbye and Good Luck”, and then when they met up in the Costa Rican jungle in “One to Go”). When Sara returned to the Las Vegas Crime Lab in the season ten premiere “A Family Affair”, fans were left to wonder how things were going to work out with Grissom still living in France. Sara stuck around, but Grissom never seemed to be in the picture. Love it or hate it, the fans haven’t had a lot to go on when trying to understand how the marriage works over the past few years. Leaving the relationship in the background is one thing, but the fans have been left in the dark for a season and a half. It’s nice to have Sara describe the marriage and explain how it works for them.

Sara is forced to defend her marriage several times during the episode, but the scene with Grissom at the end is better than a verbal explanation. Despite being separated by thousands of miles, the pair communicates openly and seems content with the current arrangement. Betty’s presence during the second half of the conversation gives a real sense that the three of them are on the path to growing much closer as a family.

The rest of the team is pushed into the background by the prominence of Sara’s storyline with her mother-in-law, but several characters do get good moments. Catherine is certainly in charge during “The Two Mrs Grissoms”, but her best moments are the more casual scenes with Sara. Nick seems to get along well with his mentor’s mother, a fact which he gleefully points out to Sara after the awkward confrontation in Julia’s office. Sara seems less than amused by Nick’s rapport with Betty, but Nick is clearly pleased to see that Betty likes him.

Hodges also gets a humorous scene when he invokes the name of Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke, “Leave Out All the Rest”) after the team discovers that Julia was sleeping with one of her students and hypothesizes that Grissom likes sexually adventurous women. He tries to backtrack, but he continues to put his foot in his mouth instead. Catherine gives him a chance to escape, and he takes it. Hodges has another funny scene earlier in the episode, when he explains to Greg that he has a Shake Alert alarm because he wears earplugs to block out his mother’s loud snoring.

Overall, the episode was well done, and it was nice to see deaf actors cast in several prominent roles. In addition to Frelich and Matlin, Anthony Natale (Dr Lambert) and Tyrone Giordano (Michael Porter) are deaf, and Bill Pugin is an interpreter in real life. Crime dramas rarely showcase the deaf community, and episodes like “The Two Mrs Grissoms” illustrate that the community is a rich source of storylines as well as acting talent. Frelich and Matlin were especially engaging on CSI, and I’d love to see them appear in another episode down the line. Perhaps fans will get another glimpse of the Grissom family dynamic if the writers decide to include that promised family dinner in a later episode. Seeing Petersen interact with Fox and Frelich in person would be a welcome treat.


See also: “The Two Mrs Grissoms” episode guide

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