A news anchor is killed during a studio blackout, and the team must discover which colleague had the motive and opportunity to commit the crime.
A news anchor named Theresa is killed during a brief blackout in the studio, stabbed in the back of the neck. She wasn’t popular, so there are plenty of people who might have wanted her dead. A rival anchor, Ella, was angry about being demoted from co-anchor, and the team realizes she pre-recorded the on-location storm report that served as her alibi. She and her cameraman Robby admit to faking the news report, but they did it to spend time together since they were having an affair.
Whoever killed Theresa caused the blackout to take advantage of the darkness in the studio before the backup generator kicked in. DB looks at the transformer that blew out, discovering bomb fragments and pieces of a cellphone used as a detonation device. The bomb used dynamite wrapped in wax paper, which matches the MO from a series of unsolved arson cases from 17 years ago. Theresa was looking into those old cases, and she had a clue about who was responsible. Her notes mentioned GH, which Finn recognizes as Garrett Howard, a retired military munitions expert. He’s in the morgue, his body burned in an attempt to cover up the true cause of death: he was stabbed in the back of the neck.
Theresa and Garrett both had a green paste in their wounds. It’s chromium oxide, which is used to sharpen a blade like a straight razor. A green stain on the meteorologist’s dress makes her look guilty, but she says she spent time in Denny’s part of the studio during a recent broadcast. Denny is a crew member who uses a lot of sharp implements in his work. When Morgan goes to speak to him, Denny flees, grabbing a case containing the murder weapon and running out into a crowd of reporters. He refuses to go back to jail, so he stabs himself and dies on the sidewalk.
Denny was in the army with Garrett, and Garrett got him the job at the station as a favor from his old buddy Fred Paulsen, the executive producer. Theresa was in a relationship with Denny, and she figured out that Fred must have a secret. She wanted to figure out what it was to protect her job at the station, and she started to connect the dots. Fred took photos of the fires 17 years ago because he was the first on the scene, and she realized he was responsible—so Fred had to get rid of her. He got an explosive device from Garrett before killing him, then killed Theresa during the blackout using Denny’s knife.
“Dead Air” focuses on the death of a news anchor who had plenty of enemies, and the key to finding out the truth comes down to timing. The power was only out in the studio for twenty seconds, meaning the killer had to be able to get close enough to stab Theresa in the back of the neck and return to his original location before the generator kicked in. It’s an interesting puzzle, and solving it doesn’t rely on high-tech science or the latest gizmo—just the CSIs putting themselves in the suspects’ shoes. I enjoyed the reconstruction scene, watching Finn, Greg and Morgan taking the place of each suspect and trying to make their way to Sara sitting in Theresa’s chair, only to get caught out in the open—and see that someone else managed to snatch the flag during the blackout. Fred isn’t treated as a suspect from the beginning, despite being present at the scene of the crime, so it’s fun to see DB prove he is the killer.
Having a storyline about a dead news anchor puts heavy focus on the media, and the cutthroat nature of the business is shown multiple times—from Theresa’s extensive plastic surgery to remain camera-ready, to “Rainy” feeling like she has to dress sexy (despite her impressive qualifications) because if she doesn’t, her job will be given to someone who will. But the most intense example is Denny’s suicide scene; even after he stabs himself, the reporters clustered outside don’t stop the incessant snapping of pictures as cameramen try to push close while he bleeds out on the sidewalk. Every station wants their exclusive, and if they don’t get aggressive and cross lines to get it, they just end up being left behind by the competition.
Watching TV, especially the major news networks, during any breaking story or media event shows how every station is trying to attract viewers: covering every little new detail (sometimes without confirming that those details are even true), focusing on the story for hours or even days on end, seeking out anybody connected to the story to speak onscreen, bringing in experts to analyze and dissect every aspect of the situation, and so on. Tuning in after a tragedy easily illustrates the vicious nature of the media, reporters and video cameras and flashbulbs in the faces of grieving family and friends—but it’s what our society demands these days. If a network doesn’t show the widow or the coroners removing the victim in a body bag, some other news station is showing it, and viewers will follow the most constant and invasive coverage. People want instant and complete access to everything, all the time. It’s not nice, but it’s realistic.
In the last episode, “Risky Business Class”, Sara spent some time with an old flame named Doug. It was obvious that Doug still had feelings for Sara, and she seemed to appreciate the attention. There was never an indication that she’d cheat on her husband, but seeing Doug again did drive home just how little she actually gets to interact with Grissom. This week, we see that the distance is really taking its toll on Sara, who ignores a call from Grissom early in the episode. She continues to avoid him during the rest of the hour, although she does share a nice scene with Finn where they continue their confidence from the previous episode. Finn wonders if Sara has spoken to Grissom since Doug was in town, and Sara is quick to point out that nothing happened with Doug. However, she can’t bring herself to answer the phone because she knows she’ll be sad by the end of the conversation. Grissom wants to “talk”, which never sounds like it’s going to end well. Later, DB asks Sara how she’s doing. He brings up a moment they shared in Theresa’s house, where the conditions seemed to hit a bit too close to home. Sara is married, unlike the divorced Theresa, but sometimes her empty house looks a lot like that. They get distracted by the case before DB can ask more questions, but it’s nice to see him slip into his role as Team Dad for a little while.
By the end of the episode, Sara is finally ready to pick up her phone, and the fans get a nice surprise when they hear William Petersen’s voice on the line. Jorja Fox says a lot with her expression as the camera gets closer; it’s obvious that Sara is dreading what she and her husband have to discuss. They only speak for a few moments before the episode ends, and the viewers are left in the dark about where Sara and Grissom stand at this moment in time. I hope the fact that the storyline is being carried over multiple episodes means that it will eventually come full-circle to a happy resolution for the characters.
See also: “Dead Air” episode guide