A man is killed in the Everglades, and the team must search for a hunter with a preference for human prey.
Two men run through the Everglades, trying to escape the predator that is hunting them. One of the men gets injured, and when he kneels down to tend to his wounds, an arrow flies through the air and kills him, leaving his body pinned to a tree. Horatio is led to the scene by a man in a boat who says he heard a scream. Horatio locates the victim, and there’s another man standing over the body. The second man starts speaking in French, and he tells Horatio to kill him.
The victim was shot with a compound bow. He has a brand on his arm in the shape of the number nine, and there’s a strange wound around his ankle. Horatio talks to a ranger and gets the license plate of a truck that sped off that morning. Tripp talks to the man, Arnold Watkins, wondering if this is the hunter they’re looking for, and the man admits to hunting illegally in the Everglades—but he was hunting orchids. Walter and Eric speak to the man they found standing over their victim’s body, Jean Guiton, and they realize he’s Haitian. Walter asks Jean questions in French, but the man isn’t willing to talk. They see a wound on his ankle similar to the one on the victim, and he has a brand on his arm in the shape of the number 10. The ankle wounds are on opposite legs, leading them to believe the men were shackled together.
Ryan and Natalia locate the hunter’s perch in the Everglades, and they realize that this was no hunting accident—their victim was targeted. Someone is out there hunting human beings. Horatio talks to Jean, who speaks English just fine. A group of immigrants were promised freedom and a better life, but they were trapped and locked in a house. They were only let out to be hunted. Jean was paired up with the victim, Enrique, who knew he was going to die. He asked Jean to give the locket around his neck to his wife and daughter, and Jean was trying to retrieve the locket when Horatio found him. Jean admits that he didn’t tell the team anything because his brother Henri is still trapped in the house. Horatio promises to save Henri and the others.
Ryan and Natalia locate a compound bow near the hunting perch, and Calleigh tests it. She confirms that the bow was the murder weapon, and it’s top of the line. So is the arrow—in fact, there are only two places that make arrows like this. One is in North Carolina, and the other is in Miami. They speak to the man who owns the shop in Miami, Wesley Habeck. He gets them the name of the customer who bought the arrows, Steve Raymer, but Steve claims his credit card was stolen. He denies going to the shop or killing Enrique.
The team tries to track down the person supplying the ‘prey’ for this twisted hunting expedition. They’re looking for someone who specializes in Cuban and Haitian immigrants, and they get a name: Javier Lopez. They raid the house and arrest Javier, and they find Enrique’s wife and daughter. Horatio has to break the bad news. Javier gives them the name of the man who has been buying the immigrants from him: it’s Wesley Habeck. They find nothing at his shop, but they locate the van used to transport the victims. They decide to put a tracker in the van so they’ll know when Habeck is on the move.
Travers finds a leech, and Natalia accidentally hurts her arm testing out the bow because she is inexperienced. They check Steve Raymer’s arm, and he has a similar wound. He also has a leech wound on his ankle, so Natalia tests a leech found in the hunter’s perch. The DNA is a match, so they know Steve killed Enrique. He can only give them Habeck’s name, but the tracking device is able to give them a lead as Habeck takes Henri and another man out to be hunted. Tripp and Natalia go after the hunters, and they arrive just in time to save Henri and the other man from being killed. Horatio goes after Habeck and arrests him. He is able to reunite Jean and Henri, and Jean gets to fulfill his promise to give Enrique’s locket to his wife and daughter.
“Hunting Ground” marks the writing and directorial debut of CSI: Miami star Adam Rodriguez, and I’d say the effort is an absolute success. The result is an engaging hour that fits in seamlessly with the rest of the series. You know Horatio is going to save Henri and reunite the brothers in the end—because he’s Horatio, and that’s what he does—but there was enough ambiguity to keep me from being 100% sure I knew whodunit early on. Steve is an obvious jerk, but the wacky Arnold stands out enough to be a believable suspect as well. Sometimes the most obvious suspects are red herrings, but in this case Steve is guilty as sin. It’s satisfying when Natalia finds the evidence to nail the guy.
Arnold is nothing more than a goofy orchid hunter in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I have to say I’m glad that’s how it turned out. Eddie Jemison brought a lot of humor to his character, and I liked the guy. I especially liked his interaction with Frank. The snarky detective is easily one of the most entertaining characters on the show, if not the most entertaining character. I love when he gets a chance to be a smart-aleck, and the revelation that Arnold was hunting orchids makes for a memorable scene. Rex Linn knows how to make the most of a minor role.
Horatio is up to his usual tricks again this week. First he sticks a metal fork against a lit burner and uses the hot metal to threaten Javier while Ryan holds him down, providing some not-so-gentle encouragement for him to give up Habeck’s name. Later, Horatio confronts Habeck with a shotgun in hand and threatens to shoot him, making him beg for his life and causing him to wet his pants in the process. I understand where the characters are coming from in both scenes. After all, Javier is not a nice guy, and they don’t have time for pleasantries because people could die at any moment. As for Habeck, he’s a scumbag of the highest order and a sorry excuse for a human being, and you can’t help but cheer when Horatio takes him down. You’re pretty sure that Horatio won’t cross the line, but there’s still a bit of uncertainty regarding just how far he will go now that the tables have turned on Habeck and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else around. It’s a dramatic confrontation, and both scenes make for exciting television—but they’re still inappropriate. The CSIs are supposed to be the good guys, the law enforcement officers who protect and serve the innocent members of the community. Even if they’re chasing some horrible people, you have to draw the line somewhere. It seems like Horatio in particular just does whatever he wants if he thinks the end justifies the means (or if he thinks the other guy deserves it), but this isn’t the first time he’s gotten another member of the team involved in one of these encounters. I’m surprised there hasn’t been any sort of consequence for his actions because this seems to be an increasingly common occurrence this season.
“Hunting Ground” features some great character moments. Walter speaks French! We hear a good bit of Spanish on Miami, including this very scene, but it’s nice to hear other languages from time to time. The style of the subtitles works with the overall look of Miami, but I’m not a huge fan of them. I watch a fair amount of programming with subtitles, and I don’t mind the traditional style. That being said, it’s only one scene, and it adds some more visual interest while still communicating what is being said.
Ryan and Natalia have a fun exchange while searching the Everglades for evidence of their hunter. The “needle” and “haystack” code names are a hoot, and Ryan fretting about the presence of wildlife is hilarious. He likes watching nature shows on television, but he’s had some run-ins with wildlife in the past—including the bear he and Walter encountered in “Bone Voyage” last season before Jesse came to the rescue, and the alligator that nearly took a bite out of him in this season’s “Match Made in Hell”. Ryan isn’t thrilled about being surrounded by wildlife this time, and sure enough, a leech attaches itself to his leg. I had to smile at Natalia’s “ew” response. Ew indeed, but it does provide a valuable clue for later—it was pretty obvious that leeches would end up being important, and this isn’t the first time Miami has tested a leech for DNA. The episode “Camp Fear” from season one immediately comes to mind. In that episode, a young woman was knocked unconscious when she tripped and hit her head on a tree root, and she fell into a pond where leeches drained her blood. Calleigh tested a bucket full of leeches from the pond and discovered the victim’s DNA in the blood they ingested.
Emily Procter is back this week after her one-episode maternity leave following the birth of her daughter Pippa in early December. The actress didn’t want to miss such a major milestone for friend and costar Rodriguez, and she has a few good scenes in the episode. Calleigh test-fires the compound bow Ryan finds in the Everglades, and she discusses the unique arrow used to kill the victim. It’s not a lot, but it’s still nice to see her in the lab and helping the team with the case. I always love scenes that feature Calleigh dealing with weapons.
Natalia plays a big role in taking down this week’s killer, Steve Raymer. The guy is a total sleaze, and he tries (unsuccessfully) to flirt with her several times. When are these scumbags going to learn that Natalia just isn’t interested? It seems like Procter’s decreased screentime this season has given Natalia more chances to shine. I hope Procter will have a bigger role to play now that Pippa has arrived, and I really hope Natalia remains a major presence as season nine continues.
See also: “Hunting Ground” episode guide