The Las Vegas Crime Lab tracks a pair of “zombies” after two young men who are pronounced dead come back to life.
The news reports on serial killer Nate Haskell’s escape from prison, but life—and death—must go on in the Las Vegas Crime Lab. A man is found dead on the sidewalk, and he gets zipped into a body bag and brought in for an autopsy. David Phillips receives a phone call, and while he’s talking, the man gets up and walks away. There is no sign of the man in the building. The only clues they have about their mysterious zombie is a notebook filled with strange writing and surveillance footage that proves a dead man walked out of the morgue. Meanwhile, Sara heads into an alley to look at another victim, but the body is gone. Surveillance footage reveals that he got up and walked away, but the cop on scene swore the man had no pulse. The team has two zombies in one night.
Greg searches for key terms found in the notebook and finds information about secret government tests which took place at WLVU in the early 1970s. Sara and Langston go to see Dr Elliot Aden, a psychologist who was involved with the secret tests before a student committed suicide and the school cut all ties with him. Dr Aden doesn’t seem surprised to hear that two dead men got up and walked away. Someone must have picked up his research, and this isn’t a good sign. Langston and Sara take Dr Aden to the WLVU campus, and they discover that his research lab is exactly the way he left it. The first zombie victim is identified as Max Ferris, a WLVU graduate student in the psychology department.
A man stole Max’s wallet while he was lying on the ground, and the team is able to track him when he uses Max’s credit card. He also took a wearable camcorder, and the video on the camcorder reveals that Max and two other people named Kurt and Alice took some sort of drug. Their goal was to take a step into death. The video continues until Max collapses on the sidewalk where he was discovered. Meanwhile, Sara and Langston follow Dr Aden as he searches for something. They find a tank filled with poisonous fish, which proves that someone has been here recently. Dr Aden darts away when he hears a vibration, and he locates the sensory deprivation tank he used many years ago. The second zombie victim, Kurt Dawson, is found dead inside the tank. The team finds traces of tetrodotoxin, LSD and cannabis in his blood, but Kurt was drowned. Nick and Sara find evidence that Max was in the sensory deprivation tank, and he fought with Kurt before drowning him. Langston speaks with Dr Aden, who watches the video from Max’s camcorder and says Max didn’t tell the others what they were getting into. After Kurt survived the nightmare induced by the drugs he took, he must have attacked Max—but Max got the upper hand.
The third student in the video is identified as Alice Katsu, a biochemistry major whose mother died five months before. Alice was trying to peek into death to find her mother, so the team visits her mother’s grave to see if she went there after taking the drugs. They find someone in the cemetery, but it isn’t Alice. It’s Max, and he bolts. He darts out into the road and gets hit by a car, which kills him instantly. They now have two dead bodies, and Alice is still missing.
A notebook in Alice’s bedroom matches Dr Aden’s handwriting, but the ink is new. She contacted Dr Aden online after her mother died and said she wanted to continue his work. She found Max and Kurt and got them involved. Kurt’s camcorder footage has interference from Alice’s camera, and for a moment the team is able to glimpse what she saw: Dr Aden’s car. Sara and Langston go to Dr Aden’s house and find a series of videos featuring Alice doing experiments for Dr Aden. The latest video is from earlier that day, and it features Aden saying he will stop taking false journeys and go all the way into death with the aid of drugs. The pair find him in a chair outside. He has a faint pupil response, but he’ll probably never recover.
Nick goes back to WLVU and into Aden’s old research lab. He finds Alice alive. She says she found her mother on the other side, but her mother told her to go back. She wants to tell Max and Kurt what she saw, but Nick tells her they aren’t coming back. Langston talks to Dr Robbins about death, and Langston says evil people deserve what they get, either in this life or the next. Dr Robbins tells Langston to be careful because evil can take hold of good people and drag them down.
Zombies seem like an odd fit for a show that is centered around scientific fact, but “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead” doesn’t deal with the subject in a fanciful way—aside from a few jokes in the lab, of course. Henry’s comment about Hodges wanting to start a version of CODIS for zombie DNA called “ZODIS” is funny, and it’s very in-character for the quirky Hodges to suggest such a thing. It might have been more fun to hear Hodges himself deliver the line, but it gives Nick and Henry a chance to make a joke of their own at Hodges’ expense. David Phillips’ reaction to Max getting off the autopsy table is priceless, as is his lie that he was knocked out while ‘defending his domain’ against the undead man. I also loved Officer Mitchell’s comment about a “zombie epidemic”, even if the very notion is ludicrous. The uniformed officers are a recurring sight we usually take for granted, so it’s always good for one of them to get a few memorable lines.
The zombies themselves are easily explained using science: the presence of tetrodotoxin, a paralytic poison, in Max and Kurt’s bloodstream explains why seemingly dead men were walking, and the paramedic’s incorrectly-calibrated EKG machine explains why it escaped notice that Max was actually alive. The EKG error is a bit too convenient, but it does further the storyline. Doc Robbins is livid that the paramedic would make such a mistake, and it’s an unacceptable error from someone who has lives in her hands. If she had the machine calibrated correctly, Max would have been taken to the hospital instead of the morgue, and he and Kurt might be alive at the end of the night.
Howard Hesseman is great as Dr Aden. He seems like a relic from another era with his car, his hookah pipe and his psychedelic sensory deprivation chamber. Sometimes the character seems like a bit of a crackpot, but other times he seems distinctly dangerous. He has no qualms about giving harmful drugs to young people and pressing them for information about their experiences. The video of his session with Alice is creepy. Dr Aden told Langston earlier in the episode that sacrifice is necessary because “knowledge demands its payment,” to which Langston responded, “It’s always nice when somebody picks up the bill for you, though.” In the end, Dr Aden decides it is time to stop sending others into the unknown, so he takes the drugs. After so many years being obsessed with what happens when we die, that obsession finally drove him to seek the truth on his own. He pays the ultimate price for that knowledge.
“Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead” also offers continuity from the previous episode, “Targets of Obsession”. Serial killer Nate Haskell is on the loose, and the authorities are doing everything they can to find him. That’s not good enough for Langston, who hates knowing that Haskell is free while he is powerless to do anything about it. Langston brings Haskell up on his own several times during the episode, first when Greg mentions the dead rising as a sign of the arrival of the Antichrist, and then at the end when he tells Doc Robbins that “people that bring suffering and pain into this world should have it repaid to them tenfold, either in this world or the next one.” It’s clear that Haskell is weighing heavily on his mind, and I’m sure that will remain true until the team is able to catch the elusive killer—and hopefully it will be for good this time. Haskell is an interesting character, and Bill Irwin is fantastically creepy in the role, but they need to lock the killer up and throw away the key. I love a good villain as much as the next person, but like Memmo Fierro over on CSI: Miami, Haskell shouldn’t overstay his welcome.
Doc Robbins’ final line to Langston seems to be foreshadowing how this storyline will progress as the season winds to a close: “Evil has a way of making friends with the good and dragging them into the darkness.” It was obvious that the monoamine oxidase-A (MAO-A) gene Langston and Haskell have in common would be significant from the moment they established the connection in “Targets of Obsession”. Haskell’s comment about this newfound link between them makes it abundantly clear that the killer is more interested in Langston than ever. I suppose we are left to wonder if Langston will grapple with his own dark side in his pursuit of Haskell, but I don’t think the MAO-A gene matters all that much. Sure, they both have the “warrior gene”, but Langston is not Nate Haskell. Haskell is a cold, cruel killer, and Langston is nothing like that. His problem is not that he doesn’t care about anything—he cares too much. That seems to be the more likely interpretation of Doc Robbins’ warning to Langston here. If he continues to be obsessed with Haskell and lets himself care too much and make it too personal, Haskell could get his hooks into him and drag him down. I do wonder what Langston would do if left alone with Haskell when all is said and done. Would he kill him? Would he regret doing it? I suppose we’ll see when Haskell makes his return later this season.
I really enjoy the friendship between Langston and Doc Robbins, and that final scene is enjoyable before it changes direction at the end. It’s always fun to see Doc Robbins offer his thoughts. Being a coroner doesn’t give him as many opportunities to interact with the rest of the team, so it’s nice when the writers include a conversation like this. He and Langston have a lot in common, but I never thought we’d see them bond as much as they have over the past few seasons. I expected Langston to be closer to the CSIs. He and Nick certainly have a nice work relationship, but his friendship with Doc Robbins is such that chatting in the morgue about death seems completely natural. I hope we can look forward to more scenes between these two as season eleven continues.
See also: “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead” episode guide