A bizarre night on the Las Vegas Strip leads the team to a series of interconnected cases, and Brass gets news about his daughter Ellie.
The CSIs are working with the uniformed officers of the Mobile Crime Unit (MCU), picking up offenders on the Las Vegas Strip. Due to the problems in the department, it’s good to have a CSI along to handle evidence while the uniformed officers make arrests. Nick and Officer Crawford pick up a prostitute named Chastity first, putting her in the back of the MCU van. Elsewhere, Sara walks with Sergeant Weiss down the sidewalk until they come across a man in a horse mask slumped on the ground, with a baggie of weed stuck in the waistband of his pants.
Nick and Crawford come across a drug deal; Crawford is familiar with Adrian Dinan, who is looking at his third strike and therefore life in prison. A young man named Bobby Reed is standing nearby, and it looks like he was going to buy drugs from Adrian, but Crawford says they might be able to let him go if he heads down to the precinct to give a statement. Once Adrian is in the back of the van, Nick and Sara converge in front of a casino, where Marko Palmisano is holding a decapitated head and making a scene while surrounded by spectators. The cops move in to arrest him, but not before he hits a pedestrian and knocks him out with the fake head. Marko turns to a woman standing nearby with a camera, making sure she’s getting all of this on film, and the cops chase after her as Marko breaks free. Crawford and Nick run after him, arresting him next to a car. Nick spots something suspicious inside the car, discovering a young man’s dead body in the driver’s seat with a bullet wound to the back of the head.
Back at the precinct, the people are marched out of the MCU van and into a waiting room to be processed. Weiss speaks to Joslyn, a transgender woman whose Florida ID states that her legal name is Josh McClure. Weiss explains that Joslyn was arrested for punching a cab driver, but she claims that she was protecting herself and the life of her unborn child. Later, Joslyn starts to freak out and claims that her baby is coming. She grabs a pair of scissors from a paramedic who comes to help her, stabbing herself repeatedly in the stomach. She does not survive the attack, and Doc Robbins discovers that she has balloons filled with drugs in her stomach.
Finn goes to see Anthony Pak at the hospital, the man who was knocked out by Marko’s fake head. He’s in good spirits, but he has hives on his hands from some sort of allergic reaction. The blood from the fake head is real, but Marko says it’s pig blood. Worried that the blood may contain some sort of virus, Finn tells Greg to get a map of every place Marko went with the head. If there’s a pathogen, they need to figure out how many people are infected. Fortunately, the blood is tested and is found to be free of any viruses, but Marko’s map is still helpful. Sara realizes he and his girlfriend were filming as they walked past the scene of the John Doe’s murder. Marko tries to get in touch with his girlfriend so she’ll bring the camera to the precinct. She agrees to leave the camera somewhere for the police to find, but when they arrive at the alley to get the camera out of the dumpster, they find Lydia dead nearby.
The pieces of the puzzle start to come together when the drugs from Joslyn’s stomach match the sample they got from Adrian. He claims that he wasn’t selling—he was taking a sample from Bobby Reed, who wanted to go into business with his boss, Mad 10 gang leader Roland Zahl. Bobby is a rich kid with a powerful father, and he and his college buddies have been selling drugs in the clubs on the strip. When Morgan runs a stolen debit card found in Chastity’s purse, she discovers that it was used to rent the car where the John Doe was found. His Florida driver’s license identifies him as Keith Dobson. Chastity admits that she spent the day with Keith and his friend, who is identified on Lydia’s video as Bobby Reed. Bobby was sitting in the backseat, but the video cuts away before returning to see Chastity and Bobby outside of the car and Keith dead in the driver’s seat.
Chastity works for Zahl, who was angry about Bobby moving in on his turf, and she let Zahl know where Bobby would be throughout the day. The killer mistook Keith for Bobby, and the young man was shot with a plastic gun that was created using a 3D printer. Finn recognizes the type of polymer—it’s the same composition as the substance that caused Anthony Pak’s allergic reaction. He was knocked out while making his way toward Lydia, planning to get the camera because he thought she’d videotaped the murder. The team lures Pak by making him think he’s following Chastity and Bobby Reed. The team was hoping to get Zahl as well, but the evidence only helps them arrest Pak.
“Strip Maul” features a lot of connections and coincidences—perhaps a few too many for one case. It’s a lot less confusing on a second viewing, but it was hard to keep everything straight the first time. A prostitute, a drug deal, an elaborate performance with a fake head, an accidental attack, a dead body in a car, and an unstable drug mule—everything is connected, and it all goes back to an ungrateful rich kid who’s mad at his father and wants to play drug lord. He gets three people killed after angering the leader of the Mad 10 gang, but Bobby is completely unapologetic. He’s a privileged kid who thinks life is a game; not only does he leave a string of bodies in his wake, but the whole situation causes more problems for the already beleaguered police department.
The CSI franchise has included LGBT characters over the years, but they are admittedly few and far between. The casual inclusion of a transgender woman in this week’s episode could have been a promising addition to the case, but it ends up being played as if part of some big delusion. She claims to be pregnant and ultimately stabs herself to get the baby out of her body. Following her death, Ecklie and Henry both refer to Joslyn as a transvestite, and in the autopsy room, there is no indication that Joslyn is viewed as a woman, only a mentally-ill man. Technically, the episode never clarifies if the character is intended to be a transgender woman, a man in drag, or just a mentally-ill man in disguise, but that’s part of the problem. I assume she’s a transgender woman, but there’s no real legitimacy given to the character’s identity, and she is treated with very little dignity before or after her death. Overall, it feels like nothing more than a way to spice up an otherwise trite drug mule storyline. One positive thing I can note, however, is that the other characters consistently refer to her as Joslyn, and the photos taken after her death are labeled the same way.
The arrest of Chastity provides an unexpected reference to Brass’s daughter Ellie, who was last seen in the season six finale, “Way to Go”. Chastity is wearing a ring, and the inscription inside leads Morgan to Brass. He immediately recognizes it as his ex-wife’s engagement ring, but Chastity says she bought it from another prostitute for $200. She confirms that Ellie is the prostitute in question. Later on, Chastity quotes Ellie, saying, “the number one rule for survival: always know when to walk away.” Brass assumes that she knew Ellie in LA, but Chastity says she met the woman in Vegas a few months ago. Brass’s daughter is in town, and I hope we get to see her before the end of the season. It’s obvious that her relationship with Brass is as strained as ever, considering that he had no idea she was even in Vegas, but there’s a very real desire to re-connect with the girl in spite of everything. Paul Guilfoyle does an amazing job with his scenes, as always, and Brass’s pain and concern are palpable.
DB has a very different relationship with his own wife and children, but he’s still sympathetic when Brass talks about his family during their scene in the precinct. Brass describes the good times he had in the early part of his relationship with his ex-wife; he tries to hold on to the good memories when it comes to both his ex-wife and his daughter. The fact that Ellie sold her mother’s engagement ring for $200 means she’s in trouble, but she didn’t come to him. He’s obviously worried about her well-being, but there’s little he can do right now. It’s a nice moment between Brass and DB, even if DB can’t truly relate to Brass’s situation.
Later, Brass offers Chastity a second chance. His own daughter is out of reach, but he can try to save another troubled girl in a bad situation. The police want her cooperation to bring down Roland Zahl, but she knows the LVPD won’t do anything for her in return. Brass promises that he will give her some money and a ticket back to Pennsylvania. He wants her to go home, reconnect with her father, and start a new life for herself. He seems confident that she’ll take him up on the offer. Unfortunately, Chastity leaves at the end of the hour, giving up what Brass has offered her and perhaps making him doubt that he can help Ellie. Still, the girl encourages him to find his daughter, and maybe things aren’t as hopeless as they seem.
Another father/daughter relationship gets some focus in “Strip Maul” as well. It has been nice to see Ecklie and Morgan’s relationship grow and develop, although they face a stumbling block this week. Early on, Morgan arrives just in time to overhear the tail end of a conversation between Ecklie and Brass. Sheriff Liston is thinking about resigning, and she wants Ecklie to take over her position. Not only does Ecklie not want to become Sheriff, he’s thinking about quitting his job. Knowing this, Morgan tries to discuss the situation with her father a bit later in the hour. He seems distracted, and he says he isn’t sure what he’s thinking. He does, however, know that this isn’t the time to have that discussion, and Morgan understands. She’ll be there to talk about it when he’s ready. In the end, however, she has to track him down in order to speak to him. He’s sitting at a restaurant, filling out paperwork, and he says he just needed to get away. He doesn’t know what to do because everything in his life is complicated. Morgan seems upset by that comment, but he quickly clarifies that his relationship with her is the only thing that makes sense. Things end on a high note for them, and I’m glad that the ongoing growth between them is being nurtured and explored in a slow and careful manner. To juxtapose this father/daughter pair with Brass and Ellie’s troubled relationship is interesting, but perhaps this is another hint that things for Brass might not be as hopeless as they seem. After all, Morgan hated her father for years before re-connecting with him in Vegas, and maybe Brass can have something similar with Ellie. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for both father/daughter relationships as season thirteen continues.
See also: “Strip Maul” episode guide