When a plane crashes near the Las Vegas Strip, the team must determine if it was an accident or the result of foul play.
A small charter plane flies out of Las Vegas, heading for Chicago, but the pilot reports trouble eighteen minutes into the flight before turning back toward the airport. The plane crashes less than a mile from the Las Vegas Strip, nearly striking the Mediterranean casino on its descent. NTSB investigator Doug Wilson leads the investigation, and an enhanced audio recording reveals that there was someone else in the cockpit, potentially a hijacker. The body from the cockpit is assumed to be the pilot, Keith Mannheim, who co-owns the charter company with Dalton Burke, his partner of 15 years. Dalton claims that Keith was flying to Chicago alone to visit his family. He’s surprised to hear there were three other people on the plane, and he cannot identify the other victims because there is no passenger manifest for the flight. Keith must have done the booking on his own.
Sara and Doug look at the plane’s data recorder, noticing a decrease in cabin pressure before the pilot turned back to the airport. A subsequent, complete loss of pressure in the cabin would have killed everyone inside the plane—the plane was only continuing on its set flight path until it crashed. This wasn’t a hijacking situation, but tool marks on the outside of the cabin door indicate that the plane was sabotaged before it took off. The door seal was unable to handle the increase in pressure, causing the door to blow out.
The marks match the tools of the plane’s mechanic, Hal, but he’s been out of town for several days. When Keith’s body is found in someone’s pool, blown out of the plane when the door flew off, the team takes another look at the body from the cockpit. It’s a former stripper named Thurston Mayfield, aka Thor, who was having a relationship with Keith behind Dalton’s back. They were going to Chicago together to see Keith’s family, but Dalton is shocked to find out Keith was having an affair. He refueled the plane and did a final check 12 hours before takeoff, but he’d never kill the most important person in the world to him. Surveillance footage confirms that someone else sabotaged the door.
The team turns their attention to one of the other victims, Jordan Lowell, who was searching for her biological father. Joseph Jordan died in 2005, but his daughter Helen lives in a care facility in Vegas, and Jordan took a DNA sample to confirm that they are half-sisters. Joseph left more than $100 million in a trust fund to take care of Helen, which meant the care facility was getting a large donation every year. Jordan was a threat because she could confirm she was entitled to some of the money. However, the team’s DNA test reveals that the woman in the care facility is not Helen Jordan. The real Helen died, and a lawyer named Jeffrey Forsythe substituted his disabled sister Marcia in her place. Forsythe was the trustee of Helen’s account, and he crashed the plane to kill Jordan, destroy the DNA kit, and cover up the deception so he could retain access to Helen’s money.
“Risky Business Class” introduces a man from Sara’s past, and her relationship with Grissom is brought into the spotlight. There have been hints through the season so far that their marriage is not as solid as it could be (“Wild Flowers”), and Doug’s intrusion into Sara’s life seems to highlight that fact. It’s obvious that these two have a history, and there are hints of flirtation over the course of the hour. Sara doesn’t really seem tempted, but it does remind her of what she doesn’t have with her husband. Grissom is still elsewhere in the world, and communication is sporadic. At the beginning of the hour, she leaves a message for her husband, just wanting to hear his voice over the phone.
Later on, her phone starts buzzing, but she decides to ignore his call in favor of calling him back later. She’s in the lab with Finn, and the other woman offers to talk about whatever is going on. Sara wonders if Finn has ever tried having a long-distance relationship, and Finn jokes that it might have helped with her second marriage. She’s referring to Mike, the Seattle cop we met in “CSI on Fire”, and Sara wonders what it was like to see him again. Finn says it was weird at first, but she ended up staying in Seattle to spend more time with him after the case was over. She wonders if the weird interaction between Sara and Doug might lead to something more, but Sara doesn’t consider it an option. At one point, Doug offers to buy dinner for Sara and her husband, and when Sara says Grissom’s out of town, he suggests the two of them could get dinner instead. Sara shuts that idea down pretty quickly, although Doug astutely points out that things might not be going so well for the couple.
With William Petersen gone from the show, it’s understandable that we can’t see Grissom every week—or at all. However, I don’t understand why he has to be so far away. He could be right there in Las Vegas without being shown onscreen. He could travel to far-off places and still return home from time to time. I’d like to believe that his and Sara’s marriage will survive these problems and emerge stronger in the end, but it’s frustrating to watch them struggle at all—especially after it took so long for them to get together in the first place. Hopefully, they will be able to communicate their wants and needs and come up with a better solution than the one they have now.
The return of Donna Hoppe is a fun addition to the episode. I enjoyed her scenes with Greg back in “Genetic Disorder” last season, and their rapport is evident when she visits the lab this week. Morgan actually called the woman in, wanting to have a family crest made for her father for Christmas. Donna heads off to start looking through the paperwork Morgan brought to help with the genealogical investigation, but her role in the episode isn’t limited to this fun side-story. She actually helps with the main case when she identifies a DNA testing kit found in the wreckage, and she posits that a contentious paternity lawsuit could give their killer motive. When the case focuses on the DNA kit, Donna is back in the thick of the action, helping the team search through old records and sharing her expertise about genealogy. For example, she reveals that there were strict rules about what unwed mothers could put on the birth certificate in the 1960s, and they could only give the child their own surname—I thought it was particularly interesting that many of the women would use the father’s surname as the child’s first name, as a way to get around the rules. I’ve never looked into genealogy myself, but this episode, like “Genetic Disorder”, makes me curious about giving it a try.
After complaining about the treatment of a transgender woman in “Strip Maul” (review) and commenting on the small number of LGBT characters featured on CSI over the years, I’d be remiss not to mention the gay characters included in this episode. In contrast to the transgender woman in “Strip Maul”, the storyline this week feels like a much more organic inclusion of LGBT characters. We’ve seen similar situations on CSI before, where a straight victim is revealed to be cheating on his or her longterm partner; elements of the plot are dependent on the characters’ sexuality, specifically the assumption that the male victim in the cockpit is Keith (providing for a surprise twist later on), but overall it feels like a case that just happens to feature gay characters. I’d love to see more LGBT individuals among the LVPD and the experts consulted by the team, but it’s still nice to see a greater diversity of characters casually featured in the guest cast.
See also: “Risky Business Class” episode guide