The team is on the case when a mother is killed during a child beauty pageant, and one of the contestants goes missing.
Young girls are participating in the Royal Azalea pageant, but the competition takes a tragic turn when Suzanne Gramercy is found dead with a crown jabbed into her eye. Suzanne’s daughter Melrose was in the pageant, and they find a bead in her hotel room from a dress belonging to another little girl, Tori Haverford. Tori’s mother Alicia left her room and visited Melrose’s room to confront Suzanne, whom she suspected of trying to sabotage Tori’s dress to prevent her from winning.
A doctor speaks with Melrose to find out if she saw the killer. She says her mother fell, and she ran into the bathroom and closed the door. When Dr Porter asks if anyone yelled at her mother, Melrose says she doesn’t know; however, when asked if anyone hurt her mother, she says her father did. Suzanne was spending half of the family’s income on pageants; Larry admits that he fought with his wife when he thought Melrose was asleep, but he denies killing her.
The truth is revealed when a delayed chemical reaction brings out previously-unseen marks on the band of the crown. Suzanne was trying to apply bronzer to Melrose’s skin, but the little girl was jumping on the bed. She was holding the crown while her mother sprayed the chemical, causing some of the bronzer to end up on the band. After a while, the chemicals reacted to the sweat in the band, leaving the impression of small hands. Suzanne tripped over the bronzer hose and fell on the crown. Her death was a tragic accident, and Calleigh tells Larry that the case will be closed. Melrose won’t be punished for what happened to her mother.
“Crowned” explores the kiddie beauty pageant phenomenon, which is the subject of series like TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras. CSI: Miami’s own Eva La Rue pitched the idea to the writers, and they even included a small role for La Rue’s daughter Kaya. She can be seen talking to Edwin Chambers in the first few minutes of the episode, demanding to know why her event has been pushed back. It’s a small moment, but it’s fun for viewers who know which young woman is delivering the line.
Calleigh is a natural with children, and she develops a sweet relationship with Melrose this week. Melrose is the daughter of the victim, and she was in the room when her mother died. Calleigh is gentle with the little girl and her family, but she encourages them to let a doctor talk to Melrose about what happened so they can find out if she saw anything. Melrose clearly trusts Calleigh, and she’s upset when she thinks Calleigh is going to leave. Calleigh explains that she will be waiting behind the two-way mirror, but Melrose won’t be able to see her. Calleigh leaves her necklace with the little girl, promising that she will be back to retrieve it. Later, when they figure out that Melrose was involved in the accident that took her mother’s life, Calleigh coaxes her to reveal the truth and gives the little girl a hug.
Suzanne’s death is an accident, but the team discovers another crime during the course of their investigation. When Calleigh and Ryan look at surveillance footage from the pageant, they notice that someone paused or repeated certain sections, seemingly only those with Suzanne in them. However, when they find a spot where Melrose and her mother are separated, the camera focuses on Melrose. They also find that the same person was watching Tori. Eric rushes to Tori’s hotel room, but she’s missing.
Calleigh confronts the pageant director, Darla Chambers, and she finds videos on the phone focusing on the girls. Darla was helping her husband Edwin target these children. They rush to the Chambers’ house, but there’s no sign of him; however, Eric finds a hidden section of the backyard with a place to keep a child chained up. Natalia finds a hair clip that belongs to Tori, but there is no sign of the little girl. A music box from the scene has a fingerprint belonging to Melrose’s older sister Jan. She was there when she was a child, but she says she can’t remember.
Horatio convinces Jan to talk to Dr Porter, hoping she will be able to remember something that will help the team find Tori. She remembers being in a movie theater, and the team locates a theater that is closed on Tuesdays—Edwin’s “special day”. Horatio and Natalia rush to the scene, and they find Tori tied up and crying. Edwin pulls a gun, threatening to kill the child if they don’t let him go. Horatio tells him to run, and he chases after the man while Natalia stays to free Tori. They don’t have Edwin’s keys, so Natalia pulls out a bobby pin—despite the severity of the situation, I have to say it was really interesting to learn that Natalia knows how to pick a lock.
While Natalia is freeing Tori, Horatio races after Edwin. They exchange gunshots, and Edwin falls over the balcony railing. He’s barely holding on, and he begs Horatio to help him. He says he can change, but Horatio isn’t buying it. Instead, he just stands by and watches Edwin lose his grip, falling to his death on the chairs below. Considering that Horatio has been known to rough up suspects (in fact, the previous episode “Long Gone” contains a perfect example), it’s no surprise that he would step back and wait for Edwin to die. He has a tendency to take matters into his own hands, doling out punishment to those who deserve it, and he clearly has no sympathy for a pedophile who has been using pageants as a cover to prey on little girls. I’m not really a fan of Horatio’s vigilante methods when it comes to suspects, but in this particular situation, I’m inclined to take Horatio’s side.
Throughout the episode, several characters offer their opinion on child beauty pageants. Calleigh says she was in pageants herself when she was younger, but she agrees with Ryan that pageants featuring such young contestants are a bit “creepy”. A bit later, Ryan and Eric talk about the event; Eric calls it “disgusting”, and Ryan says he doesn’t understand why parents would put their children through something like this instead of ‘letting kids be kids.’ It’s clear that no one on the team is a big supporter of child beauty pageants, but Natalia has an interesting scene with Tori’s mother Alicia after the little girl is taken. Natalia asks for a photograph of Tori to release to the press, and the woman hands over a headshot featuring the little girl in full makeup. Natalia asks for a picture showing what Tori “actually looks like,” and Alicia pulls a school photo out of her wallet. The woman is distraught, and she asks Natalia if this is her fault. Natalia is honest; putting Tori in these pageants made her more visible, but Alicia is not a criminal. The one responsible for Tori’s kidnapping is Edwin. Natalia’s comments here reflect my opinion on the matter. I’m not personally a fan of kiddie beauty pageants, but they don’t make these children targets for pedophiles—a pedophile is the only one responsible for his or her actions, and it’s never a good idea to place blame on anybody but the perpetrator. It helps to excuse their actions, and there’s no excuse for someone to prey on children.
See also: “Crowned” episode guide