June 17 2024

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Karma to Burn’

13 min read

The thirteenth season of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation gets underway as the team searches for DB Russell’s missing granddaughter.


Former Undersheriff Jeffrey McKeen is pulling strings from inside his holding cell. He had DB Russell’s granddaughter Kaitlyn kidnapped, leaving behind a card that reads “KARMA”. Meanwhile, Conrad Ecklie has been shot while walking down the street with his daughter Morgan Brody. Both of these attacks tie back to DB and Ecklie’s last talk with McKeen, where they told him his son’s death was “karma” for all of McKeen’s crimes.

McKeen tells DB that Kaitlyn will be returned to him if he helps the former Undersheriff get back $2 million that was taken from him by Jack Gilmore. Gilmore was framed for the murder of his wife and a drug lord, at McKeen’s orders, and McKeen tells DB that the money was the reason Gilmore was framed. Meanwhile, crooked vice cop Detective Crenshaw takes Julie “Finn” Finlay to the club where Kaitlyn is being held and leads her inside without her gun or phone. Finn gets Kaitlyn to climb up into an air vent, but Crenshaw and his corrupt boss Lieutenant Kimball arrive before Finn can follow behind her. Finn fights with Crenshaw, and Detective Carlos Moreno arrives just in time to shoot the dirty cop before he can kill Finn. Finn is safe, but Kaitlyn is missing again, and there’s no sign of Kimball.

Nick realizes that the LVPD still has a trace on Gilmore’s cellphone from the earlier investigation, so he and DB go find the man and hold him at gunpoint, demanding that he give back the money. Gilmore says he already paid McKeen back, and he tells DB that he’s wasting his time. McKeen has no intention of giving Kaitlyn back. He says Kaitlyn is already dead, but a bullet flies through the window and kills Gilmore before the CSIs can ask any more questions. The bullet casing, found on a nearby rooftop, has a fingerprint leading back to one of McKeen’s friends, an ex-cop named Earl Whitson. He killed Gilmore, and he was also in the area when Ecklie was shot.

With Kimball in the wind and Kaitlyn still missing, the CSIs turn to the evidence to figure out where they might be hiding. Fungus in Crenshaw’s lungs helps the team narrow down their search to a certain area of the desert, but it stretches over 40 square miles. Traces of plaster mixed with animal hair help narrow the focus even more, since that mixture was only used before World War II. They find a house from that era that’s still standing, under the name of Mary Whitson. Brass, DB and Finn hurry to the property, and they find Whitson and several other corrupt police officers dead in the house. Brass goes after Kimball while DB searches for Kaitlyn. He sees blood on a pair of pajamas, and an ice cream cup in the trashcan suggests that the little girl was recently in the room. He keeps looking, spotting some bloody fingerprints on the wall, and locates Kaitlyn hiding behind a piece of furniture. She has a cut on her hand, explaining the blood DB found, but the man is happy to have his granddaughter back safe and sound.


“Karma to Burn” picks up where “Homecoming” (review) left off, jumping right into the action as the team scrambles to deal with several life-threatening situations. The first scene of the episode features Finn washing her face in the bathroom at the bar. She receives a text message letting her know that Ecklie has been shot, and she immediately calls DB. She learns that Kaitlyn is missing, and she reveals that she is in a sticky situation herself. Crenshaw was acting suspicious before she headed into the bathroom, and she wants to go along with him and see what she can learn. DB warns her against it, pointing out that it’s a bad idea and revealing that he doesn’t want to lose anyone else he cares about tonight. Finn refuses to listen to his warning, and she pretends not to know anything is wrong as she meets back up with Crenshaw and agrees to leave with him. It’s obvious that she’s still on her guard; I never had any doubt that Finn would be okay, but Elisabeth Shue does a great job of infusing the character’s actions with a real sense of tension and unease. I knew she’d make it through, but those scenes with Crenshaw were very nerve-racking!

Crenshaw leads Finn to Kaitlyn, and she tries unsuccessfully to get them both out of danger. After she is rescued, Finn has to call DB and let him know that she lost Kaitlyn. She apologizes, trying to explain that she simply wanted to get the girl away from Kimball and Crenshaw, but DB isn’t hearing it. He’s angry that she let herself get separated from a child who needed her. While I understand DB’s point of view, I don’t think Finn necessarily made a stupid decision. As far as she knew, Kaitlyn’s life was in danger the longer they stayed in the club. She couldn’t guarantee that the team would find them, and she thought she had a chance to get the little girl to safety. If they’d only left a few minutes earlier, they might have both made it out the air vent before being caught (assuming that was Finn’s goal, of course; that air vent was large, but it’s hard to tell if it was big enough for an adult to escape through).

Finn is a big part of the search for Kaitlyn, but the real focus of the storyline is the Russell family. DB’s wife Barbara and daughter Maya are terrified that they might lose Kaitlyn, and DB tries to balance his own terror as a grandfather with his training as a CSI. The night of the kidnapping, Sara comes up to him and shows him a flashlight she found beneath Kaitlyn’s window, which belongs to a police officer. The police corruption that was revealed in “Homecoming” rears its head, and DB looks around as he realizes that any of the officers at the house might be secretly working for McKeen. He demands that all of the cops leave, insisting that the only people who can set foot in the house are officers that Brass trusts.

Brass puts Officer Mitchell on McKeen’s door, relieving the officer who was already there. Brass heads inside, getting in McKeen’s face. His rage is clear and barely-contained as he shoves McKeen against the wall, warning him, “Anything happens to that little girl, I got people too.” Paul Guilfoyle is always great, and this week is no exception, especially when he’s forced to deal with DB stepping out of line during the investigation. Brass wants to find Kaitlyn, but he’s not afraid to confront DB when the situation warrants it.

DB’s struggle to maintain control of himself while desperately searching for Kaitlyn makes for some very tense moments, and he sometimes slips one toe over the edge. At the beginning of the episode, he retrieves a gun from the safe in his home office, something his wife never thought he’d do. It’s not in-character for ‘DB Moonbeam’ to carry a gun, but he’s been pushed to the limit and straight out of his patterns of normal behavior. This establishes early on that DB is going to be unpredictable this week, although one can hardly blame him. Ted Danson does a fantastic job of showing the alteration in DB’s personality and his frantic search for the little girl who was taken to get back at him. Later, Sara comes into the bedroom and finds DB processing the scene. She tries to gently suggest that he shouldn’t be doing that because it’s a conflict of interest that could affect their case later on, but DB doesn’t care. Sara lets it go, and she doesn’t comment on the gun she sees strapped to his hip.

As the hours tick past and Kaitlyn is still not found, DB and Nick take matters into their own hands by tracking Jack Gilmore down. It’s only after Gilmore is shot that they realize their mistake. Brass knew how to find Gilmore, but he kept the information private because the man was a witness in the ongoing corruption investigation. DB and Nick have caused problems for that case by going rogue, and they played right into McKeen’s hands. He didn’t need them to get the money back from Gilmore, he only needed them to lead Whitson right to him so he could be killed.

Several of the most shocking scenes in the episode aren’t actually happening, but instead offer a glimpse into DB’s mind. The first scene features DB standing over a sheet in the morgue, and Doc Robbins reluctantly pulls it back to reveal Kaitlyn dead on the slab. I never thought Kaitlyn would come to any harm, so there was a brief moment of shock for me before the little girl opened her eyes and the truth revealed itself. Later, we see DB storm into McKeen’s holding cell, confronting the man and losing it when McKeen claims that Kaitlyn is already dead. McKeen taunts DB, suggesting that he, like Nick back in “For Warrick”, is unable to pull the trigger. This is soon followed by the sound of a gunshot and a spatter of blood across DB’s face before McKeen is shown sliding down the wall, dead. This, too, is quickly revealed to be all in DB’s mind, and after the first fake-out, it was easier to guess the truth this time since killing McKeen like that would likely spell the end of DB’s career (and I had no doubt that he’d be sticking around). The third fake-out is different from the other two, and I honestly believed this one for a minute despite the fact that I was on the lookout for anything that might just be a figment of DB’s imagination. He finds his wife sitting in his office, looking at pictures of the dead cops from the house in the desert. She tells him she “can’t live like this anymore,” and she walks out of the office before the scene fades to reveal that DB was only thinking about the possibility of losing his wife. He puts the gun back into the safe in his office, re-establishing some balance as life gets back to normal.

Fortunately, Barbara doesn’t seem like she’s going anywhere any time soon, and I’m glad. Their marriage has been a fun element of the show since before we even got to see her onscreen, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of Peri Gilpin this season. We also get to see DB’s son Charlie this week, rushing to the house after Kaitlyn is kidnapped and waiting with the family for news. For Maya, the panic over her daughter’s disappearance is terrifying, and Brooke Nevin does a wonderful job of showing just how scared Maya feels—and how much guilt she holds for wanting to spend some time by herself. Logically, her wanting to leave Kaitlyn with her parents had nothing to do with the child’s kidnapping, but any parent would feel like it was their fault for not being there. Maya also tells her father that she always felt safe as a child, and that he promised that no one could hurt them at home. The illusion of safety is shattered, and the whole situation also reminds her that Vegas is not “home.”

Maya also references something new from the past, a series of murders that took place on a college campus back in Seattle. DB lied to his daughter about what happened, but she knows the truth. I assume this is something that happened while she was in school, and I wonder if this is another storyline we can expect to see on the show somewhere down the line. I like the members of DB’s family that we’ve met so far, and I’m curious about the children we haven’t seen yet. I wouldn’t want DB’s family life to overpower the cases or the rest of the team, but I think it would be great as a minor continuing presence as season thirteen continues.

The other life-or-death cliffhanger from “Homecoming” is resolved by the end of the hour, and I’m really glad that Ecklie will be okay. His scene with Morgan is wonderful, especially since the first thing he does when he regains consciousness is check to make sure that she’s not hurt. Ecklie may not have been the best father when Morgan was growing up, but it’s obvious that they love each other and will continue to mend their relationship as time goes on. In the early years of the show, Ecklie was not my favorite character to say the very least; however, as the seasons have passed, I’ve grown fond of him and enjoy seeing him interact with the team. The introduction of Morgan has added a new facet to the character, and I love seeing Marc Vann and Elisabeth Harnois depict the fragile, fragmented, and realistic relationship between father and daughter.

This particular storyline focuses on Morgan, and several members of the team speak with her in the hospital. It’s nice to see how each interaction is different from the others. David Phillips is sitting with her when Greg approaches them, and he lets Greg—and the audience—know that Ecklie is still in surgery. Morgan says he should get back to work, but he tells her to give him a call if she needs anything. After David leaves, Greg offers Morgan a change of clothes that he found in her locker. She’s distraught, and she starts to ramble about what she saw—and what she didn’t see. She feels useless because she can’t tell them anything about the person who shot her father. We don’t get to see Greg’s response, but it’s obvious that he sympathizes with her; bringing her something to wear so she can change out of her blood-soaked clothing is a thoughtful gesture.

Later in the hour, Hodges comes into the hospital to retrieve the rifle pellets pulled from Ecklie’s body, and he sees Morgan speaking with the doctor. He heads over to sit with her, at which point she reveals that her father is going to be okay. She thought she was going to lose him, and she believes it would have been her fault. Hodges tells her there’s nothing she could have done about the shooting, but that isn’t what she means; when she was a kid, she was so angry with him that she often wished that he would get shot. Hodges’ voice is gentle when he points out that the way she felt as a child wasn’t her fault either, and Morgan surprises them both by leaning over to kiss him. She apologizes immediately, and things are left hanging as the scene ends. I’ll be curious to see if there’s any fallout from the kiss as these two interact in the coming weeks.

Nick’s arc in the premiere is interesting, especially since he’s the only one who finds himself knee-deep in trouble of his own making. He walked out at the end of last season, fed up with the futility of the job. This week, Sara is trying to find him after all hell breaks loose, and she’s clearly emotional as she leaves voicemails on his phone. There’s no doubt that she’s worried that McKeen might have gone after him too, especially since he and Ecklie were the ones who shot McKeen’s son. However, Sara eventually catches up with him after he’s been arrested for getting drunk on the street and picking a fight with two police officers. When Sara finds him, she lets him know in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t care what he does tomorrow, but he’s helping the team today.

As the episode draws to a close, Nick has to start thinking about his future again. Kaitlyn is safe, and McKeen has been neutralized as a threat (for the time being, at least). He has to decide whether he really wants to leave, or if he’d rather stay with the team. Sara tells him that “words have consequences,” and this leads to a brief argument between them. After all, Sara once left the team and came back, and Nick sees no difference between the two situations. However, Sara argues that it’s a completely different situation since she didn’t say “I quit” in so many words; she left a note for Grissom and walked away until she got her head together. It’s a realistic scene between colleagues who are also friends and, ultimately, a created family in the lab. Greg gets between them, the little brother trying to mediate between his arguing siblings, and I like the dynamic between these three. With several new people joining the lab over the past season, it’s nice to see the old team members interacting with each other.

Overall, “Karma to Burn” does a good job of wrapping up all of the cliffhangers presented at the end of season twelve, but there are still some questions left unanswered. I hope we learn more about DB’s past with Finn soon, and there’s plenty left to say about DB’s family and his marriage. It seems like Nick will be in the lab for a while yet, but I’m curious to see if he questions his job again as the season goes on. Ecklie will have to recover from his wounds, although the audience may not see that part of the story—we’ll certainly see him continue to interact with his daughter, however, and that’s an ongoing development that I’m looking forward to watching play out onscreen. By the end of the episode, McKeen has been stripped of his control, and Kimball is in custody; he’s cooperating with the LVPD and helping bring down McKeen’s crooked police friends, but I will be curious to find out whether we’ve seen the last of the corruption within the department.

See also: “Karma to Burn” episode guide

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5 thoughts on “Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Karma to Burn’

  1. It looks to me like the threads left spinning out of this episode connect to episodes later on this year. For instance, given that we know there will be an episode dealing with Warrick, I would bet that Nick’s emotional turmoil will find resolution then. The writers left things ongoing to set up the rest of the season–not with one long ongoing case (like the Miniature Killer), but with a lot of smaller ones.

  2. Sorry, but I don’t see all the great action/angst scenes as helping jump start a long time favorite show for a new season. DB totally went off his zen; don’t care to know much about his family. Morgan and Ecklie–all I’ll add is: how sweet. As for Finn–she can leave tomorrow and I won’t miss her. Once Ecklie called Sara a loose cannon—well, now we have Finn as a wild-card, loose cannon, never follows directions as well as the female in lust with every man she meets.
    I don’t like the way this story is heading, sorry. CSI got viewers by being different–now its another cop show. The CSIs are busting down doors and getting shot at, becoming the case rather than working the case.
    As for Nick, Sara and Greg, the parts they are playing would have been regulated to a guest character in past seasons. Maybe they don’t want to be on screen, but they certainly have NOT been replaced by DB, Finn, and Morgan.
    I’d like to see this show continue in its old form, but with 10 million viewers for a preimere, it won’t be around much longer is my prediction. Hopefully, the powers that be will take it out with an announced last season and put some quality work into writing each episode instead of this easy-way out of writing CSI in peril stories and giving us nonsense characters like Finn.

  3. I used to love CSI when it first got started. Each week I
    would patiently wait for the show to come on and faithfully watched each
    marathon that graced the airwaves. Unfortunately, CSI is just a shell of it’s
    former self and I have to agree with the comment that it got bad when the
    characters started getting killed off, essentially becoming cases themselves.
    It all started with Warrick getting shot and ever since I’ve been a little put
    off. Out of habit, I’ve got my Hopper set to record every episode just in case
    it strikes me to want to watch the show. I’ve got tons of recording space
    available so no need to rush. I understand that every show has to go through
    some changes but it isn’t what it was in any way, shape, or form. Nick’s impending
    decision on whether or not he will leave may prove to be a difficult one. My
    DISH co-worker noted that the show will lose some more of its cohesiveness if
    he leaves as well. I have to agree with that and Sara’s demand that he help with
    the case may not make that choice easy. I think that Nick loves his job but
    there comes a point when you just feel like you can’t go anywhere else.

  4. I feel maybe they won’t be tons of seasons left I mean miami has finished and new york is in danger of cancellation after its current season maybe csi las vagas will finish in 2 seasons so long as it ends well I will be happy I am currently enjoying Db russell as in season 12 he reminded me of Grissom and not that keen on Julie but I like Morgan. Also to the review the grandaughter was called Katie

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