February 25 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Brain Doe’

8 min read

The discovery of an extra brain at a crime scene sends the team on the hunt for another victim.

Synopsis:

A convertible rolls through a Tasty Time drive-through, and it looks like no one is behind the wheel. The car continues rolling into the street, causing an accident with a Jeep and a truck that claims three lives. The man in the convertible is dead, the man driving the Jeep was ejected from the car and died, and the man in the truck had his throat slit during the accident. DB notices a problem when he finds a brain that doesn’t belong to one of their victims resting among the tires that fell from the truck.

The man in the convertible, Danny Clegg, was transporting the brain in a cooler. Sara finds oxycodone pills in the car, and there’s yellow powder on a crowbar in a gym bag. They don’t find the body that goes with the brain in the trunk, but they do find a football with the number 17 on it. Clegg has several of the oxy pills in his stomach, and there are track marks on his arms. He died from a drug overdose and collapsed on the front seat of the car before rolling out into traffic.

The spare brain belongs to a man, and Catherine heads out to a mortuary after they get a call that a man’s brain has been stolen. Lt Theodore Seligson was Jewish, so he was not embalmed, and there is a shoe print matching Clegg’s on the ground next to the body. Yellow powder and crow bar marks on the door offer further proof that Clegg broke in and stole Seligson’s brain. However, the brain Clegg was transporting when he died does not belong to the dead soldier—Seligson’s brain is still missing.

The brain they have belongs to Ryan Dempsey, a former MMA fighter who was having problems before he killed himself. He wanted his brain to be studied so they would know if he had something called Chronic Traumatic Encephalitis, or CTE. After Dempsey committed suicide, his wife called their family friend Bill Pernin for help, and Pernin contacted a private pathologist named Dr Eller. Eller came to remove Dempsey’s brain, and he was supposed to deliver it to a hospital for analysis; however, instead of taking the brain to the hospital, Eller met with Clegg in the parking lot of another Tasty Time restaurant. They switched containers, and Eller delivered Lt Seligson’s brain to the hospital instead. The team searches for Eller, but they find him dead inside of his car. He was shot once by another driver who pulled up beside him in an abandoned parking lot.

The yellow powder in Clegg’s gym bag and on the floor in the mortuary is a type of high end talcum powder used at gyms—including Bill Pernin’s Power Center, where Dempsey learned to fight in the MMA along with Clegg before Clegg was kicked out for using drugs. Pernin has an energy drink that he is trying to market, and the team realizes that it would look bad for him if one of his fighters was diagnosed with CTE. Pernin hired Clegg to get another brain, and he hired Eller—who once worked out at the gym—to remove Dempsey’s brain and make the switch. Pernin’s goal was to keep Dempsey’s brain from being studied. However, it seems unlikely that Pernin would go through the trouble of having Dempsey’s brain stolen and then killing Eller if he was only trying to cover up the CTE diagnosis.

Nick and DB are still confused about the football in Clegg’s trunk, and they wonder the significance of the number 17—right before he died, Clegg ordered a number 17 triple cheeseburger from the Tasty Time menu even though he always bought chicken nuggets. They know that Clegg never played football, but Dempsey did, and they wonder if the ball belonged to him. Curious about what secrets the ball might be hiding, Nick cuts it open and finds syringes inside with Pernin’s fingerprints on them. Clegg died on his way to a nearby police station to deliver Dempsey’s brain and the syringes so he could expose the truth about Pernin. The trainer had been dosing his fighters with a drug called dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and that was the secret Pernin was trying to protect. The syringe evidence gets the team a warrant, and they find the gun that killed Eller in the trainer’s house.


Analysis:

“Brain Doe” is an intriguing mystery, and the viewer is drawn in the moment DB finds an extra brain at the scene. It appears that the man driving the convertible, Clegg, is involved in a murder, but the reality is far more complex. I had trouble keeping up with all of the twists and turns at one point, but everything became clear by the end of the episode.

What happened to the victims and poor Lt Seligson is horrible, but the truth about Dempsey’s death is even more tragic. Years of MMA fighting left the man with a string of concussions and eventual Chronic Traumatic Encephalitis (CTE). The degenerative disease left him with memory problems and made him aggressive, and DB sees bruises on his wife Joyce’s arm when he brings her in to let her know that her husband’s brain is missing. Brass feels an immediate connection with Dempsey’s son Declan, and he sits down to speak to the boy while DB is with Joyce. Brass talks about his own father, who was also a police officer, revealing that the man could be abusive. Brass says he was 15 when he finally hit his father back, and he’d never felt better—or worse—than he did in that moment. He tries to ask Declan if his parents fought, but Joyce emerges from the interrogation room and leaves with her son before Declan can say anything. Brass decides that he should look up whether there were any domestic violence calls against Dempsey, but he finds something disturbing when he gets the file for Dempsey’s so-called suicide. There’s no sign of gunshot residue on Dempsey’s shirt, proving that the shooter was standing at least three feet away when the gun was fired.

Knowing that Dempsey was abusive toward his wife, Brass assumes that the woman shot her husband in self-defense. Bill Pernin’s phone records prove that he has been having an affair with Joyce, and they wonder if Dempsey found out about the relationship and went after his wife. Pernin helped make the murder look like a suicide, but even after he is arrested for killing Dr Eller, Pernin refuses to give up anything on Joyce. Brass tries to speak to Declan again, hoping the boy will give them the information they need to prove that Joyce was holding the gun. Declan says his father was always abusive. The night he died, Dempsey pushed Declan down the stairs and started choking Joyce, and Declan couldn’t stop him. Brass realizes the truth before Declan can say it out loud, and he tells him not to say another word, but Declan doesn’t listen. He confesses to shooting his father, and he says he never felt better.

Paul Guilfoyle is a tremendous actor, and he always hits just the right note in every scene. The look on his face in the final scene with Declan is perfect. He’s convinced that he knows what happened that night, and he comes into the room feeling confident that his rapport with Declan will help him uncover the truth. However, as the scene continues, his expression transitions to confusion and then a dawning realization. You can see it in his eyes the moment he figures out what happened in that cabin, and his hand comes up as if he can physically stop Declan from confessing. The episode ends with a shot of Brass’s stunned face, and Guilfoyle never fails to impress me with how much talent he brings to the show and his ability to bring genuine emotion to even the smallest moments.

A far different father-son relationship is featured in “Brain Doe” as well, and the audience gets their first glimpse of DB’s son Charlie. As he revealed in “Bittersweet”, Charlie is a freshman at WLVU, and he’s on the basketball team. The young man comes to the lab this week to see his father, and he speaks with Nick. It’s fun to see DB’s son interact with part of his ‘work family’, especially since DB has taken on a paternal role with the younger members of the team. As Charlie finds out, DB’s methods at the lab are definitely similar to the way he helps run the family at home, and it’s a really interesting moment between the characters. DB comes in a minute later, and things get a bit awkward before Nick excuses himself to get back to work and leaves DB and Charlie alone.

DB is not pleased to learn that Charlie has been suspended from the basketball team for a game after he missed curfew, but he keeps his cool and tells the young man they’ll discuss the situation later. When DB and Charlie sit down to talk toward the end of the episode, the audience learns what happened. It would be easy for Charlie to be written as a typical, troublesome teenager—those are so very common on TV—but that isn’t the case here. Charlie missed curfew because he was out bouldering alone, and he confesses to his father that he feels like an outcast around the rest of the team. DB says Charlie is the weird new guy on the team, and he can relate since he’s the weird new guy in the lab. This earns a laugh, and DB encourages Charlie to apologize to his coach and work hard during the next game. The relationship between father and son is really touching, and I’m glad we finally got a chance to see DB in ‘action’ as a parent, so to speak. Brandon Jones is a great choice for the role, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of Charlie. The next item on my wishlist is to see DB’s wife on screen—their phone conversations have me curious about just what kind of woman married DB Russell.

Elsewhere, the wheels are being set in motion for Marg Helgenberger’s upcoming exit from the series. Sheriff Liston comes to see Catherine and asks how she’s doing. Catherine says she’s fine, but Liston reveals that she’d be angry if she got demoted and had no immediate chance for advancement. Liston says, “Sometimes you have to move out to move up,” and she tells Catherine about a great opportunity in Washington, DC, where the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to establish a Forensic Science Commission. They need a full-time staffer who is an expert in the field, and Liston recommended Catherine for the position. The sheriff points out that it can be difficult for women in law enforcement, and she gives Catherine the phone number so she can think it over and make her decision soon. I’m not sure if Catherine will take the job, but it would be an interesting way to write her out of the series while giving the audience a satisfying sense of closure. As much as I love DB as a character and as a boss in the lab, it was disappointing to see Catherine demoted in the wake of the Nate Haskell fiasco. If she moves to Washington, DC to work for the FBI, it would definitely allow the character to leave on a high note.


See also: “Brain Doe” episode guide

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