The team searches for Morgan and Ellie, who are being held captive by a sadistic serial killer.
Picking up right where “Skin in the Game” left off, the team searches for Morgan after she’s snatched by their serial killer. They bring in Jake, one of the members of the Fellowship of Fallen Angels, who is driving an SUV like the one Morgan was in—but it’s just a decoy. The team locates the SUV she was in, which is parked, windows broken out, beside a storage facility. Blood leads them inside, where they find the body of another missing woman posed like the Divine Comedy illustration for anger.
Journalist John Merchiston brings the team another flash drive, which was left outside his hotel room. This one contains a video of Morgan, telling the team they have six hours to choose which daughter will survive, her or Ellie. She keeps looking up during the video, and the team knows that she’s sending them a message. They isolate the background noise, which picks up every time she glances toward the ceiling. They figure out she’s near an airport, and that gives them a general area, but they need something more to find the specific place the women are being held.
Brother Larson says Oliver Tate is trying to set him up to take the fall for these murders, and he reveals that Angela used to be Tate’s favorite “girl” in the past. Angela calls DB; she wants to tell them something, but she only trusts DB. He promises to go to the Fellowship building, but when he arrives, he finds her dead and posed like the heresy illustration. Tate comes in, holding a gun, and he claims that Larson is setting him up. When DB points out that Larson is in custody and said the same thing about him, Tate seems to realize what else is going on. He leaves, and DB rushes outside to call for backup to catch the man—but his car blows up on the street, and the team realizes that Tate is another target, not their killer. The scene of the crime, with body parts scattered by the explosion, looks like the illustration for violence.
The boat in the storage facility has a number of dowels like the ones found at each crime scene, which are labeled using a ternary code. These dowels provide a decryption key to access information stored on synthetic DNA found in Tate’s home. He used the DNA to store porn, which he made using the prostitutes he paid for posed as the nine circles of hell. He liked to watch, and he used teenage boys as surrogates in his games—including Jake and his brother Matt. Jake doesn’t want to give his brother up, but when he realizes that Matt killed Angela, he tells them where they were keeping the girls.
Meanwhile, Morgan manages to get free and attacks Matt, and she and Ellie run outside. Ellie says she heard another girl in the house, so Morgan heads back inside and sees that Matt is gone. When she goes outside, Matt is there, pointing a gun at her. She fights with him and knocks it out of his hand, and Ellie grabs the gun and tells him to let her go. She shoots him anyway, and Morgan turns around—and gets shot in the back. Ellie pretends that Matt shot Morgan before Ellie was able to take him down, but the team realizes the truth when they look at the evidence and discover pictures of Ellie with Matt on his phone. Brass heads into his hotel room, finding his ex-wife Nancy dead on the bathroom floor. Ellie holds him at gunpoint, and he tells her to shoot him—he’s already dead. She doesn’t pull the trigger, and Brass takes the gun as the cops rush in to arrest her.
Well, I can honestly say “The Devil and DB Russell” pulled a twist I did not see coming. Ellie being a killer comes out of nowhere, but it definitely makes for good drama. I’ve always been hoping that Brass and Ellie would reconnect, and that their relationship would improve the way Morgan and Ecklie’s has done. I guess that’s out of the picture now, but Paul Guilfoyle is amazing this week. The scene in the hotel is some of the most gut-wrenching acting I’ve seen in a long time, on any show. Brass is a broken, devastated man, and he has nothing left. Ellie could kill him, but she doesn’t—in some ways, that’s probably more cruel. One particularly powerful bit of dialogue is when Brass says, “You killed the only person I ever loved, the only person who ever loved you.” I don’t think for a second that Brass knew his daughter was a monster (I doubt Ellie was intended to be a monster until this storyline was plotted out), but that line says a lot. In an earlier scene between Brass and Nancy, she reminds him that Ellie isn’t a little girl anymore. If he’s going to love her, he has to love who she is, not who she used to be. I guess that dialogue tells us all we need to know; it seems harsh to hear him say it, but I think the realization that he doesn’t love Ellie is just as damaging in its own way.
This storyline was created for shock value, no doubt about that—nothing about Ellie’s past behavior makes this an obvious direction to take the character in, but that’s what makes it such a big surprise. As a character, we barely know her, and the audience doesn’t really have a connection to her; we do, however, have a strong connection to Brass, and that’s the real payoff of the episode from a dramatic standpoint. How is Brass going to react to this? What is it going to do to him as a man? How is it going to affect him as a cop? He tells Ellie that he’s “dead already”, but what will that mean going forward? Guilfoyle is an incredible actor, so I’m sure he’ll do great things with whatever the writers come up with—this isn’t a pleasant storyline, or something I’d ever wish on a real person, but as a fictional character, it’s a hell of an experience for Brass to go through. I’m curious to see where that journey takes him.
Ecklie is also a devastated father in this episode, but it pales in comparison to Brass’s heartbreak when all is said and done. Ecklie and Morgan get their happy ending (or at least a happy getting-on-with-life) compared to Brass and Ellie’s tragedy. Ecklie blames himself for Morgan being in the predicament she’s in because he’s the Sheriff and he made the call to let her go. As Hodges points out, Morgan is a CSI who shouldn’t really be going undercover, but I’m not too bothered by that fact. The CSI shows have always taken a certain amount of dramatic license, and this certainly resulted in some drama! In the end, Morgan proves herself as a smart, resourceful young woman while she’s held captive, and her interactions with Ellie are particularly interesting—especially in hindsight. Morgan tries to relate to Ellie, or tries to get Ellie to relate to her, but it doesn’t work. They both have “daddy issues”, to be sure, but their lives and personalities are very different. Morgan was able to forgive her father and forge a good relationship with him, but Ellie let the hurt and anger fester until it corrupted her completely.
In my review for “Skin in the Game”, I wondered if journalist John Merchiston was up to no good. There were several moments this week where he still seemed suspicious, showing up conveniently or offering an all-too-insightful comment. But I was wrong, and he seems to have bonded a bit with DB by the end of the hour. The original casting news for James Callis indicated that Merchiston would be there to uncover corruption within the LVPD, but there’s nothing to confirm that in either episode. The writers may have changed their minds about which direction to take the character (and the storyline) in—either way, I’ll be curious to see if this news article is ever brought up again. I enjoyed seeing Merchiston interact with the team, providing a different perspective over the course of the investigation. Watching the team work together is always great, but there’s something fun about seeing them work with an outsider.
See also: “The Devil and DB Russell” episode guide