Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Frame By Frame’

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CSI celebrates 300 episodes with a murder that has ties to a 13-year-old cold case.

Synopsis:

Gwen Onetta is found dead in Jack Witten’s home. She was hit over the head, which mimics the details of a cold case from 13 years ago, when Witten was the main suspect in the disappearance of Darcy Blaine. Witten is a wealthy man whose father was involved in the movie business, and he wanted to open a casino based on his father’s production company. The plan never came to fruition, and Witten has become a recluse. When Greg and Finn look through Witten’s hose for clues, Greg finds desiccant beads and traces of cork. Witten’s father was an art collector, and Greg realizes he must have had a preservation room to store his priceless pieces. When they get inside, they find Emily Bridwell bound and gagged on the floor. She says she and Gwen went out together, and they came home with Witten. She wanted to use the restroom, so Witten followed her, tied her up, and went after Gwen.

The team realizes that things don’t add up when they test a shard of glass found in Gwen’s head wound. It doesn’t match the lamp beside her body that they thought was the murder weapon; instead, the glass is consistent with a flashlight. Gwen and Emily were previously questioned about their role in a burglary, and the team realizes that they were targeting Witten’s house. They had all of the security codes to get inside and retrieve something from Witten’s preservation room, but things went south when Gwen got a text from Emily’s boyfriend. They fought, and Emily hit her over the head with her flashlight. She staged the scene, and she made it look like she’d been tied up when she heard Witten calling the police. The team can’t bring Emily in, however, because she has died in the hospital.

Emily was killed by silver poisoning, and the cause is a roll of old film that was found in her stomach. She was in the preservation room looking for the film, and she swallowed it before tying herself up. When the team processes the film, they realize that it’s footage of Darcy. Witten always said he didn’t know Darcy before the night of her death, but this proves that he did know her after all. The film was made using a camera that once belonged to Bob Geer, but he’s found dead with a gunshot wound to the head.

Geer worked for Witten when he was trying to build his casino, and they were friends outside of work. Witten knew Darcy because they met at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and he thought of her like a daughter. Unfortunately, he couldn’t control himself, and he woke up after a night of indulgence to find Darcy dead in the bed beside him. Geer came in for a work-related meeting and found them like that, and he offered to clean up the scene in exchange for $750,000.

When the team restores the film to look for more clues, they see a news ticker on a nearby building that places the film in January 2001—several months after Darcy disappeared. She faked her own death with Geer’s help to get away from her abusive father, and when Sara finds her, she claims that she killed Geer in self-defense.


Analysis:

“Frame by Frame” marks the 300th episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and it’s a bittersweet milestone. It’s amazing that the show has been on for more than 13 years, and I’ve been watching the franchise for a very long time myself. But seeing flashbacks of Catherine, and the montage at the end featuring clips from previous episodes, reminds me how much things have changed over the past decade. Characters have left, and others have joined the team, but CSI just keeps going.

I wish we’d seen Marg Helgenberger interacting with the rest of the cast in the present, but I understand why the flashbacks made more sense. It’s particularly interesting to see Ecklie way back then—he was a very different character in the beginning, and it’s nice to see him acknowledging his personal growth during the course of the investigation this week. The way he speaks with Sara about the case in the evidence warehouse is a stark contrast to the smug antagonism in the flashbacks from 13 years ago. I’m certainly glad he’s a different man now.

Sara had the most investment in Darcy’s case since Witten was ‘the one that got away’, and she has spent a lot of time with the girl’s family since her disappearance. For that reason, it’s particularly appropriate that she’s the one who confronts Darcy after they realize that she faked her death, and it’s nice for the team to be able to close that original case—even if the truth isn’t what they thought it was. Unfortunately, to echo Darcy’s father from the beginning of the episode, “Closure is a myth, it doesn’t exist.” As Sara puts the evidence away in the warehouse at the end, she and Greg share a very interesting scene. She says, “All this evidence, all these years. You ever think you’ve had enough?” Greg, however, insists, “Are you kidding? I’m just getting started.” CSI is in its fourteenth season, and the team has solved hundreds of cases; it’s understandable that it would wear on the characters, especially the ones who have been around since the beginning, but the series—and the team—shows no signs of stopping.

Despite the fact that we’re in season 14, it has only been a little over 13 years since CSI debuted, which means it’s an error to claim this week’s case is from 14 years ago. But it doesn’t really bother me, given how many other nostalgic references appear over the course of the hour. The movie posters in Jack Witten’s house are all the names of previous CSI episodes, including “Burn Out” and “Blood Drops”. The headdress from “Table Stakes” is a hilarious touch in that final scene, and I can picture Greg dancing through the lab with it on his head as if I watched the episode yesterday. The ending montage is a wonderful reference to the past, with clips from “Living Doll”, “Fur and Loathing”, “Scuba Doobie Doo”, “Gum Drops”, and “Anonymous”. The case in “Frame by Frame” never appeared on the show before, so it’s great to see actual moments from previous episodes. It really drives home how long it has been, seeing the actors up to a decade younger than they are now, and seeing characters who are no longer on the show. Those are some of the most memorable cases, and it’s a nice touch to end the episode with a close-up of Grissom’s name. William Petersen may not be on the show anymore, but Grissom’s presence and influence are still felt in the lab.

The whole episode gave me a real feeling of nostalgia, remembering when I first got into CSI—I had seen the show before, but I wasn’t a big fan until something prompted me to rent every season they had at Blockbuster and marathon episode after episode. I wish I could remember what made me want to watch the show, or which year I really got into it—it must have been about a decade ago. Whatever the reason, it’s strange to realize how long this show and these characters have been a part of my life. I really enjoyed seeing the characters reflect on their own history, and to see evidence of the writers looking back to the beginning. As big of a milestone as 300 episodes is, it’s important to remember all 299 episodes that got us to this point. Congratulations, CSI, it’s been one hell of a ride—and I hope the ride doesn’t end for a long time yet.


See also: “Frame by Frame” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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