June 17 2024

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘A Kiss Before Frying’

9 min read

Greg falls in love with a mysterious woman, and the team investigates a series of electrocutions with ties to a legendary Old Vegas murder.

Synopsis:

A man is found with burns covering 90% of his head and face, but the team is shocked to realize he isn’t actually dead. The victim is rushed to the hospital, but he ultimately succumbs to his injuries. The man’s name is Carlton Doreen, and he was reported missing two days ago. He works at a hardware store, but he doesn’t have a criminal record or any known enemies who might want to hurt him. Ligature marks around Doreen’s wrists, ankles and chest, in addition to a burn mark on his ankle, point to an electric chair as the murder weapon. The fact that his head was still on fire when he was thrown from a moving vehicle suggests that the electric chair is located in the back of a truck or van.

Another body turns up, and there are similarities to the first victim. This man is definitely dead when they find him, however, and the burns on his head aren’t so severe. Despite the differences, it’s clear that he was killed in the same manner as the first victim. This man’s name is Elijah Newbloom III. The team can find no connections between these two men. Doreen’s family used to have money but lost it, and Newbloom is a trust fund kid. Their lives don’t intersect, even if they were murdered by the same hands.

Meanwhile, Hodges leads a group on a tour through the lab, and Greg catches the eye of a beautiful teacher named Ellen Whitebridge. They go on a date, and there is an immediate connection between them. Ellen visits the lab the next day, and the pair shares a meal together until business calls Greg away. When he returns from speaking with Henry about a toxicology report, he finds Ellen taking a peek at his files on the case. Growing suspicious, Greg follows Ellen and sees her approach a burlesque club. A man grabs Ellen by the arm and drags her inside, so Greg pockets a glass with the man’s fingerprints on it. Before he leaves, Greg sees that Ellen is actually on the stage, giving a performance as “Rita Von Squeeze”. The fingerprints on the glass come back to Roderick Hammerbacher, a schizophrenic man who happens to be Ellen’s manager. Despite finding out that Ellen has been lying to him, Greg wants to continue seeing her.

A third electrocuted man is found with similar markings on his body, proving that they are dealing with a serial killer. The third victim is Hammish Hershkowitz, and Greg recognizes the name. His knowledge of Old Vegas allows him to determine the connection between the victims—and also a link to Ellen. Ellen’s grandmother Agnes LaPlouffe was rescued in the aftermath of WWII and brought to Vegas by Bugsy Siegel. She thought she’d lost her love, a Russian dancer named Boris Kuchko, in the Siege of Leningrad, but he survived and reunited with her in Vegas. They hid their relationship—and the child they bore—from Bugsy, who thought Agnes belonged to him, but the mobster had her followed. His henchmen kidnapped and killed Agnes, framing Kuchko for the crime. He was convicted based on a false eyewitness account from Herzog “The Rat” Hershkowitz, the grandfather of the CSIs’ third victim. The prosecutor and defense attorney in the case were Ambrose Doreen and Elijah Newbloom I, and both men were in Bugsy’s pocket. They got paid to throw the case, and they became rich men and pillars of Vegas society. Kuchko, meanwhile, was executed for a murder he didn’t commit via electric chair. The serial killer in the present is avenging history by killing the descendants of those responsible for the deaths of Kuchko and Agnes.

Greg doesn’t want to believe that Ellen might have something to do with these murders. When she calls him, sounding distressed, he agrees to meet her at a diner; however, when he arrives, a car speeds out of the parking lot as the driver shoots at him. He runs into the diner to find that Ellen is gone, but he finds a bus pamphlet indicating that she’s leaving town soon. When he gets a phone call from the real Ellen Whitebridge, confirming that even her name is a lie, Greg leaves to meet Ellen at the bus station.

The presence of the industrial oxidizer ammonium perchlorate on all three victims leads the CSIs to a contaminated section of Henderson, and Hershkowitz’s body also contains traces of magnesium oxide, which is used in the manufacturing of paint. There’s a paint factory within the contaminated area, so Nick and Langston head there with Brass. They find Hammerbacher, and the man jumps into the back of a truck after initiating a shootout. He straps himself into the electric chair and kills himself before they can stop him.

Greg finds Ellen at the bus station and confronts her about her lies and her role in the deaths of three men. She tells him her grandparents didn’t deserve to die like that, and she asks Greg to leave town with her. He refuses, and she is arrested before she can reach the door of the bus.


Analysis:

“A Kiss Before Frying” is a departure from the usual CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode, and the story is richly seasoned with hints of Old Vegas and a gorgeous, film noir style. It makes for an interesting episode, and it doesn’t hurt one bit that Greg gets the lion’s share of focus this week. It’s always welcome to see a more background character pushed to the forefront, and this is a great way to feature Greg and his passion for Old Vegas. Eric Szmanda really takes the material and runs with it, and the result is an engaging episode.

Burlesque artist Dita Von Teese is heavily featured in “A Kiss Before Frying” as well, and she’s a visually striking addition to the story. Von Teese is good friends with Szmanda in real life, and the pair plays off each other well on screen. She immediately stands out as an elementary school teacher who seems oblivious to just how stunning she is, and I, like Greg, am drawn to her old fashioned beauty. The burlesque scene later in the episode is pure Dita Von Teese, right down to the soundalike name Rita Von Squeeze. This is just the sort of scene I expected to see when I heard that Von Teese signed on to appear in an episode of CSI, and I wasn’t disappointed by the end result.

The writers created a multi-faceted character for Von Teese to portray, and by the end of the episode, Ellen/Rita’s real name isn’t the only question left unanswered; it is also unclear just how much of her personality is merely a performance. It seems obvious that she genuinely likes Greg, and there is a hint of vulnerability when she sees him in the club, which really works for the character. At the same time, there’s no denying that she is every bit the manipulative, revenge-seeking femme fatale she is revealed to be by the end of the hour. Ellen is an intriguing character, and I wish I could have learned more about her. Did she seek out Hammerbacher because she knew she could control him? Did her interest in burlesque prompt her to research her history and plot revenge? Why did she go after Doreen, Newbloom and Hershkowitz but not the descendants of Bugsy Siegel? (Logically, I know it’s because Bugsy was a real person, but it does create a bit of a plot hole in the episode.) She must have participated in the killings themselves, so did she drive the truck or flip the switch?

Von Teese’s acting is sufficient, but Szmanda really carries the storyline. Some of the dialogue seems a bit cheesy, especially in the final scene at the bus station, but I know it’s a style choice. The episode pays homage to 1940s film noir throughout the hour, and the dialogue here feels like something straight out of an old movie. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to watch old films, so the full effect is lost on me. Lines such as, “For what it’s worth, I’ve loved you since Tuesday” and “Why do the rotten ones smell so good?” just make me chuckle. However, the overall look of the flashbacks and old newspaper clippings is right up my alley, and the vintage fashion is gorgeous. The music throughout the episode is another element that I love, albeit a more subtle one than the 1940s imagery.

The electric chair demonstration is certainly an educational part of the episode. Langston builds an electric chair in the lab, and he explains the mechanics to Catherine: the current is applied to the person’s head and travels through the body to the grounding wire attached to the ankle. The electricity flows long enough to stop the heart, but Langston’s experiment doesn’t explain why their victim’s head caught on fire. Hodges arrives to solve that mystery: trace found on Doreen’s head is from a synthetic sponge. A saline solution-soaked sponge is used to conduct electricity into the person’s head, but it has to be a natural sponge. A synthetic sponge impedes the charge and increases resistance, converting most of the electricity into heat. This essentially cooks the victim and explains why the man had such severe burns on his head. The whole scene is fascinating, and educational moments like this are one of the reasons I fell in love with CSI in the first place.

There are some humorous moments throughout the episode as well. Ellen referring to Hodges as “Lodges” is funny, and it becomes a running joke in later scenes. Hodges’ attempt to inflate his role in the lab reminds me of “Field Mice” from season ten, when he tried to convince the high school students that he was actually a CSI. Hodges can always be trusted for a good laugh. Henry is also a character with a lot of potential for humor, and it’s worth a smile when he delivers the toxicology results to Greg and immediately goes on to say that Ellen is cute—and to ask if she has a sister. Greg seems exasperated by the lab’s interest in his love life, but I’m not sure what else he expects when he asks her out at the lab, answers her phone calls several times on the job and then has lunch (or perhaps dinner) with her in the lab itself. You’re not exactly keeping it secret, Greg!

The scenes between Nick and Greg throughout the episode are nice. First, Nick encourages Greg to ask for Ellen’s phone number, and then he pushes him to give her a call. The teasing is fun and casual, and it really serves to remind the audience that these guys have known each other for years. When he finds out about Ellen’s secrets, Nick tells Greg to take a step back because if she’s lying about one thing, she’s probably lying about something else too. He’s obviously frustrated by Greg’s stubborn behavior, but he’s also concerned about Greg’s well-being. It’s always good to see the show highlight the friendships between the characters, and Nick and Greg are a great choice.

I also enjoyed Greg’s scene with Catherine at the end of the episode. It’s obvious that they’re close, and that Catherine cares about him, but she doesn’t hesitate to confront him about the things he has done wrong during the case. They share a very interesting conversation about falling for the wrong people, and it’s good to see a nod to Catherine’s own past mistakes without taking away from her authority in the situation—or the fact that she’s definitely right about Greg’s actions this week. Catherine is such an integral part of CSI and the team’s dynamic, and it’s going to be tough when Marg Helgenberger leaves the show during season twelve. Helgenberger, like the rest of the CSI cast, is incredibly talented, and she will be deeply missed.


See also: “A Kiss Before Frying” episode guide

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1 thought on “Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘A Kiss Before Frying’

  1. Eminently informative, illuminating, and engaging, yet to-the-point summary and review, as ever

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