Interview: Joe Pokaski

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Co-executive producer Joe Pokaski kicks off his second season on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation with tonight’s episode “Wild Flowers,” his fourth writing credit for the series. Last year, he hit the ground running with the classic “Tell-Tale Hearts” and there’s no stopping the momentum he created with “Zippered” and “Malice in Wonderland” as tonight’s episode puts an emphasis on character in the world of human trafficking. With a busy slate of development projects and CSI obligations, Pokaski graciously agreed to talk shop with Shane Saunders. Spoilers after the jump!

CSI Files: CSI has delved into human trafficking story lines before; how does your episode differ from previous installments?

Joe Pokaski: Without giving anything away we really wanted to personalize this story. Not only in personalizing the victim, but also giving her a really close relationship with one of our CSIs. What we did was we constructed a victim who could exist as evidence, but couldn’t really help you find the source of the trafficking. It’s Elisabeth Harnois‘ Morgan character in this case to forge a relationship and develop trust, so hopefully that differentiates it and personalizes this particular story.

It’s actually a really serious challenge on this show when you’ve done 280-something episodes at this point; part of it’s a challenge and part of it’s fun. The episode I’m writing right now is death inside the local news, which is something I don’t think we’ve delved in too much before. But finding something that’s completely unique is tough and the beauty of it all is, especially with new characters, trying to have a story live in similar worlds with similar evidence but really just focus on character.

CSI Files: And the case really has an impact on Morgan, who seemed to be in relatively high spirits last week considering what happened in “Karma to Burn.” Is the trauma finally getting to her?

Pokaski: She’s having a breakdown for something she discovers that’s tied to the case, but I think you’re very astute in following the trauma getting to her. What happened to her at the end of last season and beginning of this season is hard; as you know Elisabeth and Morgan both kind of wear a hard shell. I’m always fascinated with–Morgan as a character to me I was happy to come along, she had only been on one or two episodes before–someone who wears armor, so I was interested in kind of taking off that armor for an hour. You’ll see why specifically she acts like that, but I think you’re absolutely right in the fact that everything she puts a wall up against comes crumbling down for a while.

CSI Files: Enrique Murciano is back. Are his ties to the case strictly professional or will there be further exploration of Finn (Elisabeth Shue) and Moreno?

Pokaski: I like the idea that he’s Vice, so we start off with him undercover at this rave. He and Nick [George Eads] have this great discussion about Finlay and ironically his interaction is more with Nick in this episode than Finn, so they talk about it quite a bit.

CSI Files: Enrique is also working on 666 Park Avenue, so will he be able to do more episodes of CSI after Episode Three?

Pokaski: We like having him there; he’s kind of good to go to. Paul [Guilfoyle, Jim Brass] isn’t available for every episode, so it’s always good to go with a different cop every once in a while. He seemed like a natural fit for this episode.

CSI Files: Is Paul in your episode?

Pokaski: He is not.

CSI Files: Sara [Jorja Fox] brings up her relationship with Grissom [William Petersen] this week. What’s the status with those two? Is he living in Vegas or is he still abroad?

Pokaski: He’s still abroad. This year, without giving too much away, we’re going to start dealing with the fact that long-distance relationships are hard. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a long-distance relationship, but my wife and I were apart for a while and there’s a lot of message leaving. So it starts with Sara leaving a message and kind of beginning in the sense that long-distance relationships have challenges.

CSI Files: Since it’s hard to know what Billy’s involvement will be, is it easier having Grissom off and about than having the character in Vegas, or is it simply a story and creative decision?

Pokaski: I can’t speak for everyone else, but I prefer having him abroad because it allows you to focus 100% on Sara and Jorja Fox who is another actress I’m just enamored with. It makes it easier to just look at her and not have to make up those weird stories like, “Oh you just missed him!” or “We had breakfast today.” It’s an easier thing for me to hang on to as a writer.

CSI Files: Over the summer you started developing Blake’s 7. Can you talk a bit about your version of the series?

Pokaski: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the original British show, but it was made almost thirty years ago, but the notion of it was really ahead of its time. The idea of doing The Dirty Dozen in space really fascinates me, so without giving too much away because there’s a lot to be done, I wanted to do The Walking Dead in space. I’m obsessed with the idea of second chances so Lost, The Walking Dead, even Breaking Bad and Mad Men to some degree are about reinventing yourself. It’s going to be about seven convicts who are going to be sent off to a prison colony for the rest of their life and then they get their second chance to reinvent themselves.

Right now Martin Campbell, who is fantastic to collaborate with, and I are really just working out the first couple hours which he’ll be around to direct. We’re trying to get a sense of the characters before we have them play off each other and start thinking of actors.

CSI Files: Your development deal is a reason you’re only listed as ‘Co-Executive Producer’ on episodes that you pen. Do you have an idea of how many you’ll be working on this season?

Pokaski: I’m writing my second right now and hopefully I can write a third, it depends to what degree Blake’s 7 or other development projects heat up.

CSI Files: With this being your second season on the show, are you finding there’s more challenges or are you feeling more settled?

Pokaski: It’s a little of both. To be honest, the consistent thing that makes it such a pleasure to work here is the people: Carol Mendelsohn, Don McGill, all the writers. Because the show has gone twelve years and there’s such a confidence and family sense, but I’m finding it easier in both senses except I’m using up all my cool ideas and clue trails and evidence ideas much quicker than I thought I would.

CSI Files: After Julie’s storyline resurfacing, what other episodes do you guys have planned?

Pokaski: There are a lot of cool worlds we’re exploring, amazingly that haven’t been touched yet. We’re going to be doing local news [Episode Eleven], exploring a tennis tournament that Melissa [R. Byer] and Treena [Hancock] are writing, Gavin‘s [Harris] is telling an incredible all-female poker player story. There’s going to be a lot of episodic punch, and then I think there is a master plan that I can’t speak of toward the end of the season, kind of in the same sense as last season’s happenings.

Shane Saunders
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