Review: CSI: Miami — ‘About Face’

Natalia is kidnapped by an escaped convict hoping to prove his innocence.

Synopsis:

Horatio and Frank look at the body of Cara Landry. She was bound and gagged, and her neck was broken. The murder seems to fit the MO of escaped convict Patrick Clarkson. An eyewitness named Greg Calomar confirms their suspicions—he saw Clarkson leaving the victim’s apartment, and when he looked inside to see if something was wrong, he saw her body on the ground. He recognized Clarkson from the pictures on the news. Meanwhile, Natalia speaks to Dade University students about Clarkson and tells them to take precautions in order to protect themselves from the killer. He used an internet website called Barter Party to stalk and kill a student named Helen Sherman four years ago, and they have to be vigilant. As Natalia leaves the campus, she is snatched by a man in a van. She wakes up bound and gagged, and the man tells her to be calm so she can hear what he has to say. It’s Clarkson, and he wants her help proving that he’s not a monster.

Tom brings Molly a swab from the victim so she can figure out what type of foreign object was used to rape Cara. There’s a female DNA sample present, suggesting that perhaps there’s a female accomplice. Ryan and Walter talk to Cara’s old roommate, who suggests that she had been selling sex over the Barter Party website to make money.

When the team realizes that Natalia is missing, they use a special computer program to analyze the faces of everyone in the Dade University lecture hall. They locate someone trying to hide in the back, and they are able to match a scar on his chin to a photo of Clarkson. Back in the van, Clarkson tells Natalia that he’s innocent. He says he’s going to prove it to her, and he wasn’t even near Cara when she was killed. He was at his son’s birthday party, watching from afar as the boy opened his first baseball mitt. Natalia gnaws through the duct tape binding her wrists and launches herself at Clarkson, causing him to crash the van. When she regains consciousness, Horatio is there with the firefighters to rescue her from the wreckage. Clarkson is gone.

Natalia hurries to see Clarkson’s ex-wife in case she and their son Ross might be in danger. Natalia sees Ross with a baseball mitt, and she realizes Clarkson was telling the truth about attending his son’s birthday party. She starts to wonder if he actually killed Helen Sherman. She goes through the evidence from the original crime scene and sees that Helen’s refrigerator was full—if she was selling the refrigerator as her Barter Party ad claimed, the appliance would be empty. They bring in Helen’s husband, Ted, who admits that his wife was using Barter Party to find clients willing to pay for sex. He caught Clarkson peeking into the house the day Helen was murdered, but he didn’t actually see him that night.

Molly doesn’t find any other trace on the swab from Cara’s body, and Natalia goes to retest the bottle found at the original murder scene. She finds evidence of a discontinued lubricant from an ultrasound wand, and this lubricant links them to their eyewitness Greg. He used to be an OB-GYN. The team goes to arrest him, and Natalia finds the ultrasound wand he used to rape both victims. Greg was lurking outside of Helen Sherman’s house when her husband attacked Clarkson for peeking in the window. He followed Clarkson home and used his wireless internet signal to send the e-mails to Helen, and then he planted the soda bottle Clarkson left behind to frame the other man for his own crimes. He claims that he ‘freed’ the women from their ‘dirty lives’ because they were selling sex over the internet. When Clarkson escaped from prison, it was the perfect chance for him to kill again and blame it on Clarkson. He’s proud of what he did.

Natalia meets Clarkson in a park. They proved that he didn’t commit either murder, but he still has to be arrested for breaking out of jail and kidnapping a police officer. Meanwhile, Horatio looks at the board containing the pictures of the convicts that escaped last October, and he declares that it’s time to track down their two remaining escapees.


Analysis:

“About Face” puts Natalia front and center as the team tracks down one of the convicts who escaped from prison in “See No Evil” at the beginning of the season. This is the second major storyline featuring one of these escapees. The previous storyline revolved around the return of Memmo Fierro (Robert LaSardo), the man who killed Horatio’s wife (and Eric’s sister) Marisol Delko-Caine. The hunt for Memmo took two episodes, “Manhunt” and “Last Stand”, and both hours concentrated on Horatio and, to a lesser extent, Eric.

While it’s great to see Natalia at the center of the story, this isn’t the first time she has been victimized this season. She was drugged in “Sleepless in Miami”, and she hallucinated that her (dead) abusive ex-husband was after her. In “Blood Lust”, she found herself on the wrong end of a gun when she got too close to a husband and wife serial killer duo, and Horatio arrived just in time to save the day. Putting characters in peril is a sure-fire way to drum up the necessary drama and suspense, but Natalia is having really bad luck this season. In any case, Eva La Rue does a great job of expressing Natalia’s anger, frustration and determination throughout the episode. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m really glad La Rue has gotten a lot of material to work with this season, and I hope that trend continues through the rest of season nine and into season ten.

Despite the fact that Clarkson kidnaps her, Natalia still forms a connection with the man by the end of the episode. She’s busy trying to escape while he’s talking, but she does hear what he has to say about his innocence—and she makes sure to follow the evidence to determine the truth. I enjoyed the final scene between them. The team has confirmed that Clarkson didn’t kill anyone, and his wife knows that he isn’t a monster, but it’s not tied up neatly. His wife keeps her distance, and it is unknown whether or not she’ll let Clarkson be part of their son’s life in the future. Even though he was cleared of the murder charges, Clarkson will still face legal action for escaping from prison and kidnapping Natalia. I’m glad they didn’t make it all too perfect. This outcome seems much more realistic. There’s no magic wand to erase the time Clarkson spent in jail and undo the effect his conviction had on his family. His arrest and everything that happened afterward destroyed his life, and he’s going to have to rebuild it as he moves forward. Natalia shows compassion toward Clarkson by promising to be with him every step of the way.

Greg is a suspicious character from the very beginning, and his need for attention puts him square in the team’s sights when the ultrasound gel is found on the soda bottle he planted at Helen Sherman’s crime scene. Speaking of Greg, wasn’t he supposed to have hyperthymesia? Early spoilers stated that a character in an upcoming episode would have a remarkable memory, and CSI Files sources indicated that Greg would be the one. It wouldn’t have changed the basic plot, but I’m curious about why that element of the storyline was dropped. Oh well, perhaps it would be better put to use in a different episode somewhere down the line, especially if the person with the condition isn’t the killer—any time a killer has a unique trait, the show runs the risk of making it seem like the trait itself is somehow linked to the bad behavior. I know the writers only use these traits and conditions because they add something extra to the story, and the audience should know that there’s no real connection between the traits and the killer behavior, but it can come across that way.

Horatio may have taken a backseat to Natalia this week, but he still feels personally responsible for what happened to Cara (ostensibly) at the hands of one of the convicts that escaped back in October. The episode opens with a close-up of Horatio’s expression, and he’s deeply affected by Cara’s death. He has to leave the crime scene for a minute, and it’s only when he stands up that we first see the extent of Cara’s injuries—her neck has been broken, and her head is turned completely around. It’s a gruesome tie-in to the episode’s name, “About Face”, which refers to a 180-degree turn. The victim’s broken neck is a disturbing sight, and it’s jarring when you first realize what you’re seeing. The scene in the morgue later on when Tom rights Cara’s head while Walter watches is equally disturbing. It’s terrifying to think that anybody could do that to another human being.

Five men successfully escaped from prison at the end of “See No Evil”. One man was quickly located on a bus in “Manhunt”, Memmo has been captured, and this week the team crossed a third name off the list. Clarkson may have been innocent, but I doubt the same will be true for the two remaining convicts. At the end of the episode, Horatio resolves to track the men down, and the US Marshals have put the MDPD in charge of the investigation. These guys have been on the loose for six months, and hopefully the team can track down their two remaining escapees soon—after all, there are only four more episodes left this season.

Tech wizard Dave Benton is back in “About Face”. He usually seems a bit more cool than someone like CSI: New York’s dorky Adam Ross, but it’s fun to see him geek out a bit over the software program he designed to read facial expressions and body language. He agrees with Ryan that the program is “Orwellian”, and it probably won’t hold up in court, but it does help them to identify Clarkson as the person who kidnapped Natalia. The whole thing sounds like it was invented for the show, or perhaps it’s a fictionalized version of something that might be real (or in development), but it doesn’t matter. Real or fake, the software pushes the narrative forward. Plus, it helps save precious time that can be spent on Natalia’s plight in the back of Clarkson’s van, so I can suspend my disbelief. Wes Ramsey has been cast in the NBC drama pilot Playboy along with former Miami actor Eddie Cibrian (Jesse Cardoza), so it looks like Dave might be gone next season. I’ll be disappointed if that’s the case, but I do wish him the best.

This episode also features the return of new trace tech Molly Sloan. I like the character, although I’m still lukewarm about the budding relationship between her and Ryan. Things initially seem to be heating up a bit this week when Molly invites Ryan out for coffee, but their plans get put on the back burner when Ryan offers to help Horatio track down their last two escaped convicts. It was nice to see Molly interact with Walter in “Blood Lust”, and Tom is a fun (and unexpected) scene partner this week. If Molly sticks around on a long-term basis, I hope a relationship with Ryan won’t prevent her from having more scenes with the rest of the team.


See also: “About Face” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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