After four months on summer hiatus, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation returned tonight with “Karma to Burn,” the first episode of Season Thirteen. Recently promoted Christopher Barbour, one of the co-writers behind “Homecoming” and tonight’s season premiere, caught up with Shane Saunders to answer some of the premiere’s most burning questions. It goes without saying that if you have yet to see the episode, you may not want to read the following interview which does contain spoilers.
CSI Files: DB’s granddaughter and Ecklie (Marc Vann) are the two in immediate sense of peril at the end of the finale, yet the episode started off with Finlay (Elisabeth Shue), sobering up in the bathroom after a minor blow-up with Detective Moreno (Enrique Murciano), getting the news that everything is in disarray. How many different scenarios were considered as to how to begin the episode?
Christopher Barbour: That’s an interesting question; to some degree I think there were only a couple as there was some notion that this would be a continuation of the last few minutes of the finale. The teaser of the premiere would be the completion of that run, where you figure out all the things that are happening of the montage, and finish off to the point where Russell gets the gun. If you ran the two [sequences] together, they would have the same sort of rhythm. Pretty early on we had a sense Finlay would be taking an active role and try to turn the tables on what was happening, because she got a vibe off of Crenshaw [Billy Magnussem] that something was wrong and given the nature of police corruption, maybe he was involved; not specifically in the kidnapping, but she knew the people on McKeen’s payroll were out there and sabotaging with regard to the primary case in the finale. She would have probably followed him regardless, and now that she’s heard about Ecklie and the granddaughter, she sort of feels that if Crenshaw is trying to lure me someplace, I’ll let him. We didn’t have too many other variations on that other than possibly going to the CSI lab to pickup from where Greg [Eric Szmanda] and Sara [Jorja Fox] were at that moment. It was pretty strongly that we were going to pickup with Finn.
CSI Files: I heard that the episode was partially written one way, but then you guys went back and took it into another direction. When you guys first started breaking the premiere in the writers’ room, what idea did you guys originally have in mind?
Barbour: There was a time when we thought we might let McKeen [Conor O’Farrell] escape. I think it was a question of whether or not we might let McKeen completely escape, whether he would escape only to be confronted by our CSI people out in the wilderness somewhere, and would there be a final face-off out there in the world; we turned around and made it the way it was. The other scenarios were relative to McKeen and the disposition to McKeen trying to negotiate for his freedom, trying to finagle in acting emotionally and getting let out, and then trying to recapture him or just letting him out there in the world.
You mentioned many kidnappings and I mean, you know, you’re on a show this long and there are scenarios that seem to come back around and for us, having McKeen escape and tracking him down, those seemed like things we had done.
CSI Files: Did you guys ever consider actually killing McKeen instead of having it take place in a fantasy sequence?
Barbour: We did. I think there was some notion of we considered that, but it was something we felt we explored with other characters in the past. It presented a more interesting opportunity to get inside of Russell’s [Ted Danson] head. We presented him as a zen master and to glimpse inside of his worst case scenario will allow you to hopefully appreciate the struggle it is day-to-day; it’s not something he was born with, it’s an acquired wisdom which he had to particularly struggle with in this episode.
CSI Files: Ecklie’s fate was resolved rather quickly. Having written both “Homecoming” and “Karma to Burn,” did you always know that Ecklie would overcome the medical hurdle?
Barbour: Yes, the question would be the emotional hurdle after. Because Marc Vann is not always on the show, we also felt he would live but deal with in subsequent episodes the emotional fallout. His character has had quite a journey on this show and particularly, in the episode I’m writing right now, he will heal from his physical wounds but the emotional wounds of him being a political person compared to Grissom [William Petersen] with certain aspirations, he’s evolved from that so he never would have expected that he’d wield a gun or get shot. We thought it would be interesting to explore the actual healing process and the emotional ramifications to that experience.
CSI Files: When I talked to Don (McGill) back in July I asked if Ecklie’s ex-wife would be appearing at all, and he said possibly later in the season. Do you know at this point if we will be meeting the former Mrs. Ecklie?
Barbour: I think we are going to explore that, but not 100% sure. We certainly haven’t cast that role or developed that story line, but we are interested in doing that.
CSI Files: Nick (George Eads) channeling his anger, frustration, and disappointment in the ongoing lab issues into an alcohol binge took me by surprise. Will this be an ongoing demon that he’s going to battle?
Barbour: I think there are emotional demons that he’ll struggle with. I think the question that this existential crisis is about is what good is he doing in this job, him wanting to be a force for good, and how does he do that. It’s disappointing to him that the department has its ghosts and he will struggle with that. In a later episode that we’re shooting now in terms of the impact of Warrick’s [Gary Dourdan] death and the sacrifice that he made and what that means to Nick, he wants that to be a force for good. How can he best serve that? He will continue to struggle with the purpose of what it means to be a CSI.
CSI Files: It brought back memories from Season Four, when Sara started popping cough drops to mask her issues with alcohol and ultimately facing a DUI. If anyone is going to stop him from losing focus, it’s her; and she did. Will they talk about this issue in subsequent episodes?
Barbour: Yes. There was purpose to the fact that they’re in different places in their lives and yet it was very poignant for Sara and Nick to get into it. She does want to help him–there’s the emotional push-back of him quitting at the worst possible time; there’s never a good time to do these things, there’s always emotions so it’s messy. They can help each other, but like Nick said he’s not in a position to be lectured to, but that isn’t what she was trying to do. There was a little bit of miscommunication and they will try to help each other out. Sara has gained perspective so she understands where Nick is coming from and Nick is not at a point where he can easily hear that at this moment, at least in the premiere.
CSI Files: Moving forward in the season, how will the dynamic of Nick, Sara and Greg shift? Is this a season of conflict for the three of them?
Barbour: I think it’s probably more a season of maturity for Greg. An episode coming up will focus in on him and his further maturing at CSI and his personal life. I don’t think there’ll be conflict with them, but certainly things are changing in their lives. Things can never stay the same; you get comfortable with a certain situation, and you expect certain things and sometimes things change for good and sometimes they change for bad. I don’t know that they’re going to fight more, but certainly they are going to have to readjust their own expectations of what the job presents to them and how they can help each other.
CSI Files: Speaking of conflict, we saw the slightly less zen side of DB, but it was taken to a whole new extreme with the ‘what if…?” scenario device, something that, aside from a few Lab Rats episodes, hasn’t really been used since “Grave Danger.” Could DB end up on the same path as Ray Langston, who started out relatively calm but ended up succumbing to his darker side?
Barbour: [Laughs.] That would probably be very far down the road. I think it’s just, at this point, the ‘what if…’ scenarios would give an appreciation of the emotional maturity that DB Russell has, which is he does not jump to action; he’s very thoughtful. There are scenarious that play out in his head, kind of like a chess player. There will be some emotional consequences; he tried to compartmentalize his life, and that compartmentalization will be more difficult to accomplish in the future because of the violation of his home.
CSI Files: Moreno is back in Episode Three, “Wild Flowers.” Is there a certain romantic spark still brewing between Finn and Vegas’s step-son?
Barbour: [Laughs.] Yes, their relationship continues so that is not a casualty of the premiere. But we will also in a feature episode, I believe, see where that relationship will go and how fulfilling that will be for Finlay.
CSI Files: Are they Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) and Vartann (Alex Carter) 2.0?
Barbour: [Laughs.] Well, they’re together for the moment. I think we’ll learn more about Finlay’s romantic past and if that causes tension between the two of them.
CSI Files: Their relationships appears to be more definitive than what Catherine’s and Vartann’s was for four seasons!
CSI Files: As a long-time fan of the show, how is it going from executive story editor to co-producer this season?
Barbour: It’s a dream come true. I feel profoundly bless to work with everyone on this show; it’s been a wonderful experience from the cast to the crew. Working with Elizabeth Devine, who worked on the early years and then went to Miami and New York, to talk about episodes she wrote early on in the show and when they didn’t know what was going on… it’s interesting having watched the episodes that they worked on and being a fan of them. It’s been fun to be so intimately involved. It’s tough to keep it fresh, but you also want to honor what’s gone before, and I try to be as consistent with the history and mythology of the show. I think there’s a “Stump CB” thing, and that’s based on how I have a geeked out appreciation of the show. There’s a time when that’s a plus, and also times where you have to let that go.
You mention wanting a diversity in cases, actually, in the episode I’m working on right now [Episode Nine], we’re hoping to get a sense of the everyday work of the foot patrols in Las Vegas. There’s daily grind police work and the CSIs helping out with that.