June 24 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Bittersweet’

11 min read

Things get personal for Sara when a convicted killer becomes the main suspect in a new murder case, and the team discovers that a dead man was drowned in an unusual substance.

Synopsis:

Nick is at an art gallery opening with Doc Robbins’ niece Callie, and he notices fluid dripping from a block of cement in one of the art pieces. Nick can smell human decomposition, and he calls in the team. They find another piece of cement nearby with the impression of a human face. The artist found the cement blocks in Tresser Park, where people dump their trash. The team heads out to the dump site and locates the blocks containing the rest of the young woman’s body parts.

The victim is a 12-15 year old girl, and she’s wearing silver flower earrings. This leads the team to make a connection to one of Sara’s old cases. The husband and wife team of Gina and Todd Sinclair kidnapped girls, sexually abused them, killed them and dumped their dismembered bodies in blocks of cement. They have video of Gina and Todd abusing one of their victims, Colleen Hughes, but they didn’t find these videos until after the verdict came down. Todd will be in jail for life, but Gina convinced the jury that she was just as much of a victim as the girls. She’s already out of jail on parole. DB speaks to Colleen, who is Gina’s only surviving victim. The young woman doesn’t want police protection because she’s done being a victim.

The police use serial numbers on appliances dumped in Tresser Park to track down potential suspects or witnesses. Ryan Thomas left his microwave with the other junk three weeks ago, which is around the time the body was dumped. He saw a truck that night with an attractive woman behind the wheel. Meanwhile, the victim is identified as Samantha Chase, who went missing three weeks ago. She walks home past Gina’s apartment building, and the team finds evidence of a Pomeranian dog in her fingernail scrapings. Gina has a Pomeranian; however, it’s clear that Gina would have needed help lifting the cement blocks to dump them, so she has a new accomplice.

Colleen is missing, and the race is on to find her before anything happens. Nick discovers that the bodies were dismembered using an industrial power washer. DNA from semen found on the victim matches Ryan Thomas. He works at a marina, which uses power washers to clean boats. The team rushes to the scene and finds Ryan with a new victim, but it isn’t Gina who is with him. Colleen was at a crucial stage of development when she was abducted by Gina and Todd, and she started to identify with her captors. She wanted to give Gina “another flower”.

Meanwhile, Greg and Morgan investigate the death of Chad Ellis. He was drowned in a vat of high-end chocolate, which the team tracks to the Sinful Pleasures candy company. Morgan finds a pubic hair floating in one of the vats, so they know he died here—but someone had to drag him out, clean him up and dump his body.

Chad Ellis used to be ‘Tristan Duran’, a model whose image was used to market Sinful Pleasures. Greg and Morgan find a lot of Sinful Pleasures chocolate in Chad’s apartment. The young man gained a hundred pounds and lost his looks—and his job. He convinced the security guard at the candy factory to let him in, and he drowned himself in the vat of chocolate. The security guard cleaned him up and dumped the body.


Analysis:

The title of “Bittersweet” is both literal and figurative this week. The B-case revolves around a former model who gained weight, lost his looks and took his own life by drowning himself in a vat of chocolate. It’s a bizarre story, but it’s secondary to the main case. Gina Sinclair is out of jail after spending a scant few years behind bars for raping and murdering young girls. Attacks against children are particularly heinous, and the audience gets a glimpse of Gina’s sick games when DB watches the video of her with Colleen Hughes. Sara wants to get this woman for the death of Samantha Chase, and she wants her to pay for what happened to the other girls. In the end, the team finds the evidence to catch their killer and save another girl’s life, but this victory is a bitter pill to swallow. Gina didn’t kill Samantha Chase, Colleen did. Sara is shocked when she sees Colleen standing over a new victim, repeating Gina’s words and pouring beer into her mouth. Gina didn’t kill Colleen, but she destroyed this young woman and turned her into a monster. Her mother tells Sara she thought it was a miracle that Colleen survived all those years ago, but her survival is bittersweet as well. She’s alive today, but at what cost?

I wanted the team to find something to get Gina. Seeing that video in DB’s office and knowing what she did—what she got away with—is infuriating. I could identify with Sara’s simmering anger and frustration. Gina is a monster, but she’s walking around as a free woman and lounging by the pool while her victims’ families have to live with their grief. Poor Ed Burrows lost his daughter, and he has been keeping track of Gina’s every move. When Sara and DB go to Gina’s apartment toward the end of the episode, they find Gina tied up with Ed holding a knife to her throat. Sara talks him down, and the man is arrested and charged with kidnapping, assault and attempted murder. What he did was not right, of course, but it’s incredibly frustrating to know he’s going to end up in jail for attacking Gina—and she just thanks Sara. I have to commend Stacy Haiduk for doing such a great job of portraying a character that I find so completely loathsome despite only appearing in a few short scenes.

I could tell Ryan Thomas was complicit as soon as he was shown onscreen, but I didn’t want to believe Colleen was involved. I had a suspicion that there was more to her story, but I was really hoping she had nothing to do with Samantha’s murder. The case has an unsatisfying resolution; unfortunately, it’s not unrealistic. In real life, not all cases can have happy endings. Melissa R Byer and Treena Hancock definitely succeeded in creating an interesting, thought-provoking episode without neatly tying up all the loose ends.

Jorja Fox is an incredibly talented actress, and she does a great job this week. Sara is determined to catch Gina, but her feelings cloud her judgment. She announces to Gina’s neighbors that the woman is a rapist, a killer and a psychopath, and she sees no reason to apologize when she gets called out for it. In the end, when Sara sees Colleen standing over the girl in the warehouse, the look on her face says it all. She’s devastated, and there’s a lot of emotion in her voice when she speaks to Colleen’s mother. She wanted to save this girl, but the damage has already been done.

The third episode of season twelve continues the trend of educating the audience about newcomer DB Russell using small moments and team interactions. He’s such a fun character, and I love the fact that you never quite know what he’s going to say next. He’ll go off on a tangent about a book or a song, but he’s always trying to make a point. This week he mentions The Lady In Cement by Marvin H Albert to Nick in Tresser Park, and later he tells Greg and Morgan about The Road to Wellville by TC Boyle. In the latter novel, a man drowns his adopted son in a vat of macadamia nut butter. Greg and Morgan think he’s being random at first, but it becomes clear that he’s urging them to find the vat of chocolate used to drown Chad Ellis.

DB isn’t just a quirky guy who shares funny anecdotes, of course. When Sara outs Gina for the monster she is in front of her neighbors, DB calls her into his office and reprimands her for her actions. He starts with a story about his son, who is playing basketball for WLVU, but he quickly segues into the matter at hand. Kids should be able to walk home without being attacked by people like Gina Sinclair, and he wants to get her as much as Sara does. However, her actions were out of line, and they could hurt the case. When a case goes to trial, he says, the defense attorney will go after the CSI on the witness stand if they can’t attack the evidence itself. Sara needs to be “unbiased and impartial”, which is easier said than done. Despite scolding her in his office, DB does show support for Sara at the end of the episode. He waits at the hospital after she speaks to Colleen’s mother, and he pats the seat beside him so she’ll sit down. He asks if she’s eaten, and she says she isn’t hungry. Undeterred, he asks if she likes Chinese food, sushi, Italian—he can keep going, and he does, eventually eliciting a slight smile from her. I think DB is striking the right balance with his subordinates. He’s tough when need be, but he’s not too harsh. When he doesn’t need to be tough, he seems to be developing a good rapport with the others. There’s something almost paternal about his interaction with some of the team members.

His relationship with Catherine is interesting. DB took her job, and there’s still a bit of awkwardness there, but she pulls him aside this week to bring up Sara’s connection with the case. Catherine mentions a weakness in the team when she was in charge: she was too close to the others, she says, and she let Langston walk into a house with a serial killer. DB can’t make the same mistake with Sara. He has to protect the team. DB accepts the advice, and he clearly takes his role as supervisor very seriously. It’s nice to see that, while Catherine is no longer in charge, she doesn’t hesitate to assert some of her authority as a longterm team member by giving the boss a heads-up about one of his subordinates.

Morgan is continuing to settle in well. There’s a nice moment between her and Doc Robbins this week in the morgue, when he tells her she made a good call about the victim’s “dual liver mortis”. She responds by saying that she didn’t get this job because of nepotism, and he tells her the thought never entered his mind. There’s no venom in her voice when she says it, but it’s clear that she knows—or believes—that others will see it that way, and she’s eager to prove herself as a valuable addition to the team regardless of her parentage.

Morgan also has some lighter moments in “Bittersweet”. She’s in heaven when they enter the chocolate shop and see the candy displays—and the image of the sexy man covered in chocolate on the wall. Even after they discover the vat where Chad drowned himself and she sees a public hair floating on top, that doesn’t discourage her from eating a lunch composed entirely of chocolate. Nick sees her and gives her an odd look, declining when she offers him a taste of her “pre-pube” candy. Earlier, when she first climbs up next to the vat of chocolate, she inhales the aroma and tells Greg not to pull her out if she falls in.

The writers seem to be setting up a possible love triangle between Morgan, Nick and Greg, although there’s nothing so far to indicate whether it will ever go past the curiosity stage. Nick is on a ‘date’ at the beginning of the hour, and Morgan casually asks Greg whether Nick and Callie are in a relationship. It doesn’t seem like she’s asking out of any real interest, but Greg is slightly taken aback. Moments before, he checked his reflection after he got out of the car. As I said in my review for “73 Seconds”, Greg clearly has an interest in Morgan, but it’s all in the early stages right now. I’d hate to see a love triangle dominate the personal storylines for these three characters, particularly Morgan—there’s still so much to learn about her, and her relationship with her father has a lot of potential. A little bit of romance wouldn’t hurt, but I hope it stays subtle if/when the writers decide to go there.

Nick’s ‘date’ is a surprise. We rarely see the characters away from the lab, although it’s fun to see him out of his element at the art gallery. He’s bemused by the whole idea at first, concentrating on the fact that each piece of art is made from junk. When Callie challenges him, however, he discovers his inner art critic and offers an interpretation of the next piece. Unfortunately, this particular sculpture starts dripping fluid which he identifies as human decomposition, and Nick is back in his element in a moment. It is revealed when DB shows up at the scene that Nick’s ‘date’ was just him showing Doc Robbin’s niece around Vegas, but DB isn’t convinced—and neither am I. There was definite attraction between Nick and Callie, and it will be interesting to see if she comes back or if this was just a one-off appearance. Dating outside of the lab is usually a better idea, and runs less risk of dominating storylines. Callie is an interesting character, too, in that she has a connection to the morgue but clearly exists outside of that world.

The art gallery features a quirky character in the form of Slade, the artist who made the piece containing Samantha Chase’s body parts. When he leads the team to the dump site where he found the cement blocks, Officer Mitchell stands with him at the top while the team gets to work searching for more body parts. Slade, played to perfection by guest star Theo Stockman, isn’t happy with the police intrusion, and he remarks that the “heat” will ruin his “spot” because he’s in a cutthroat business. He then turns to Mitchell and asks how much it would cost to get an old police car, perhaps one riddled with bullet holes. Mitchell responds, “Give it a rest, Picasso.” Larry Mitchell is a technical consultant for the show in addition to being a recurring actor, and I love his little moments on screen.

At the dump site in Tresser Park, Nick gets another moment to shine as the new Bug Man on the team. He can tell from the maggots on Samantha’s face that the cement block containing her head broke and exposed her to the elements approximately three weeks ago, most likely when it was dropped down the hill. It’s a nice touch to keep Grissom’s legacy alive in the form of his protégé, and you can be sure Grissom is proud of Nick taking over his role as the resident bug expert. Any time Nick pulls out his knowledge of maggots and beetles, it feels like a subtle reference to the show’s early days and the former leading man; as a longtime CSI viewer, I appreciate that Grissom continues to have a presence within the team even though he left several years ago. Out of sight isn’t always out of mind.


See also: “Bittersweet” episode guide

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