June 19 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘CSI On Fire’

9 min read

A series of bodies found in the desert connect back to the case that got Finn fired in Seattle, bringing her past to the forefront as the CSIs try to bring down the killer who slipped through her fingers two years ago.

Synopsis:

A pair of hikers spot a piece of flaming debris falling from the sky, and the FBI is immediately on the scene because it belongs to some equipment from the nearby airforce base. However, a local officer spots something suspicious nearby, and he calls in the Las Vegas CSIs to take a look at the area. The officer spent time in the military, and he believes the disturbed earth is a mass grave. The CSIs take over the scene, unearthing the bodies of eight young women. One of the victims is Janet Warren, the subject of Finn’s final case in Seattle. Someone moved all eight bodies and their surrounding soil to Nevada.

Finn heads to Seattle to notify Janet’s mother that her daughter’s body has finally been found, but she is intercepted by her ex-husband Mike. Finn wants to bring down Tom Cooley, the man she knows is responsible for Janet’s death, but the man’s ranch has been turned into a housing development. They no longer have access to the primary crime scene. Finn still wants to speak to Janet’s mother, but she already learned about the bodies from the press and headed down to Las Vegas to make the identification.

A man’s class ring found in the soil around the bodies belongs to someone from the Hardison High School class of 1987. Cooley was the class president that year, but the ring doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to an officer, Eric Louie, who gave the ring to his girlfriend Marla. The pair later got married, but Marla insists that the ring went missing back then. She dated most of the football team, and she says she doesn’t know where she lost the ring. She did date Cooley’s best friend Max Liston, who took her to a party on Cooley’s ranch one time. She excuses herself, and Finn can tell the woman is hiding something. However, the name Max Liston does give the team a lead: Cooley hired him as the contractor when he developed his land into a housing development two years ago. Liston helped move the bodies before paving over the original graves. He became an instant millionaire and moved to the Virgin Islands, dying mysteriously only a few weeks later.

Cooley does a press conference, trying to make himself into the victim, but the team is busy following the evidence. The bodies were buried on federal land that can never be developed, but it once belonged to Cooley’s family. It might be enough to get a warrant for Cooley’s DNA, but a warrant is no longer necessary after Cooley is found dead in his hotel room. He was hanged from the door handle, and both doors were locked from the inside. He had high levels of alcohol and the date rape drug in his system, and Finn is convinced that his death is a homicide. Liston helped Cooley cover up his crimes, but Cooley had another best friend who might be involved—and who would have a reason to want Cooley dead so this case would be closed. Finn returns to Seattle to speak to Marla again, and the woman finally admits that she was at Cooley’s ranch back in high school, but it wasn’t a party; it was just her with Cooley, Liston and Gavin Pearson. She passed out and woke up in a hole in the ground, with Liston and Gavin shoveling dirt on top of her, and she ran away.

The CSIs have already met Gavin: he is Cooley’s attorney. He was an accomplice during the original murders, and DB knows that he had motive and a window of opportunity to kill Cooley in his hotel room. He used a magnet to open the door between their rooms. As soon as he killed Cooley, Gavin returned to his room and turned the lock with the magnet; when the police arrived, the door appeared to be locked from the inside. Gavin is a lawyer, so Brass reminds him that things will go better for him if he helps them out. He gives up the names of the remaining Jane Does.


Analysis:

“CSI on Fire” offers a closer look at Finn’s past in Seattle, as well as the reason why she was fired from her old job. Finn’s connection to the old case, and her desire to bring Tom Cooley to justice, is strong enough to be nearly overwhelming, and it’s easy to see why she went too far during the initial investigation. Finn wanted to arrest the man for killing Janet Warren, but the truth is much bigger—and far more sinister. The discovery of a mass grave containing eight victims only inflames Finn’s anger and desire for justice, making it hard for the other people in her life to rein her in and try to help solve the case without creating any loopholes to let killers go free.

Finn is deeply connected to the case, and she’s practically chomping at the bit from the moment she realizes that she has finally found Janet’s body. She wants to give the girl’s mother closure, and she wants to take down the bastard who got away the first time. DB tries to keep an eye on Finn, but he’s not surprised when he realizes she has headed to Seattle without permission. When Greg says he spoke to her on the phone, DB just moves to check her position with the GPS he’s using to track her. Greg isn’t pleased to know that DB can track them at any time, but I suppose the option does have its uses—like keeping track of a colleague flirting with danger once again while trying to track down the man who pushed her over the edge the first time.

DB puts in a call to Finn’s ex-husband Mike, who pulls her over on the side of the road. There’s definite tension between them, but also a real spark. Elisabeth Shue has great chemistry with Brian Van Holt in all of their scenes this week, whether they’re being flirtatious or on the edge of an argument. Finn is a very interesting character, and she’s a lot of fun to watch—but she seems like she could be hard to live with. She’s a very passionate person, but her passion gets her into trouble. Luckily, Mike seems to be able to keep her mostly on the right path this week, sticking by her while she does what needs to be done. It’s obvious that they still care deeply for each other, although love isn’t the only element necessary for a successful marriage. That said, it does seem like Mike might be willing to give it all another try. It would be interesting to see if Finn would ever get back with one of her exes. They certainly wouldn’t have to wait for him to get her all figured out. There’s one moment this week that I really like because it shows just how well Mike knows Finn: when they are watching Cooley’s press conference on TV, Finn is holding a coffee mug in her hands. Mike tries to get her to put it down, but he doesn’t succeed—and she throws the mug through the front of the TV. Finn has a volatile temper, and Mike is no stranger to that side of her. At the end of the hour, Finn apologizes to him for going too far sometimes, and she says she’s working on that. Mike just laughs, but he does admit that he misses her sometimes. She misses him too, and she decides to stay the night in Seattle before heading back to Vegas in the morning. I don’t see her leaving Vegas to head back to Washington, but it would be interesting if she and Mike decided to get back together.

I enjoy Finn’s interaction with her ex-husband, and her interaction with Cooley himself is fun to watch in a different way. Shue is a fantastic actress, and her scene with Dylan Walsh is a great example of a powerful but understated performance. Cooley is a smug man who clearly views himself as untouchable. He seems to get amusement out of Finn’s desperate attempts to take him down. When she shows up at his hotel room, he isn’t scared, and despite the fact that she’s alone with a serial killer, she’s not scared either. She barges right in without permission, pouring herself a glass of Cooley’s whiskey and goading him by suggesting he should give her his glass when he’s done. He offers her the drink in her hand, but she doesn’t take a sip. She knows that’s how it starts, and she walks him through the process he uses when he lures a young woman into his clutches, drugs her and kills her. She points out that she’s his type: the right height, blonde, looking for a good time. Despite her words, it’s obvious that she’s being anything but flirty. She remains calm for most of the scene, but her expression and tone betray her frustration and anger at several points, especially when she describes the way Cooley strangled his victims. She tries to provoke him by suggesting that he’s inadequate in bed. She wonders if that’s his trigger, the thing that makes him attack these women. He asks how she knows he won’t kill her, but she says that only makes it more exciting. The whole scene is gripping, and that last comment is particularly interesting. Finn is determined to bring Cooley down, but she obviously isn’t afraid of him.

Unfortunately for Finn, visiting Cooley is a mistake on more than one level. She confronts a murder suspect alone, and said suspect ends up dead less than an hour later—with her fingerprints in his hotel room and an eyewitness that puts her there just before his death. Finn is convinced that Cooley was murdered, even without seeing the evidence. She knows Cooley too well to think he’d kill himself. She is right, of course, but visiting him prior to his death only makes her look like the most likely suspect. It certainly seems damning, but I’m glad nobody on the team thought for a moment that she was guilty. Finn may be reckless and temperamental, but she’s definitely not a killer.

In the end, it’s satisfying to watch Finn close a case that has loomed over her for so long. It’s also nice to see the rest of the team working to help bring Cooley down. Greg is in the morgue when Finn comes down to help identify Janet’s body, and he’s understanding when she gets short with him about documenting a different victim. Greg says they’re a team, and he wants to help her solve this; he even ends up running DNA as a favor so it can be done quickly. Morgan and Hodges work together in the lab, testing the soil from the mass grave to find evidence. Hodges tells Morgan about Finn’s past, and later he avoids phone calls from Finn because she keeps calling him. He says he doesn’t want to go down with Finn if she gets fired again, but Morgan doesn’t think that’s even an option. Finn is just passionate about this case.

We also get a great scene featuring Nick in his role as the team’s new Bug Man. He pins up the insects found in the dirt from the mass grave, neatly organized on the board while he explains their significance to DB. Several species narrow down the area where the bodies were originally buried, and Nick jokes that one specific find should earn him a pay raise. There’s a horntail insect, which is specific enough to lead them to an area just outside of Seattle—it’s a bit too convenient, perhaps, but it’s still a nice moment for the character that helps move the case along.


See also: “CSI on Fire” episode guide

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