Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Torch Song’

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A night club fire claims four lives, and the team uncovers a potential motive when they learn more about the band that was performing onstage.

Synopsis:

A fire at the Lockjaw Club sends the crowd scattering. When the smoke clears, four people are dead, and another is badly burned in the hospital. One of the dead band members has a lot of white supremacist tattoos, helping Sara identify her as Rene Nylen. She’s the bassist for the hatecore group White Rising, which makes the team wonder why the Latino victim, Timo Padia, was in the audience. Doc Robbins determines that Timo was dead before the fire, and the evidence shows he was choked by a chain in a back room before his body was dumped on the dance floor.

The team finds evidence of an incendiary device composed of a candle affixed to cardboard and doused with gasoline. A barcode leads to Lee Wong Automotive. Lee Wong Jr was beaten outside of this very club several months ago after White Rising performed, but Lee’s sister has a much more innocent explanation for the cardboard: a few days after her brother was attacked, she and some friends came out to the club to release paper lanterns in his honor. The cardboard picked up traces of gasoline from the shop before she used it to make the lanterns, and several of them landed on the roof of the club—where they remained until the roof caved in during the fire.

Nobody in the club was able to escape through the side door because Jeremy Douglass’ red Pontiac was parked in the alley. Douglass was in the crowd, and he says a man named Caleb Voigt demanded to borrow his car the night of the concert. He parked it in the alley so Voigt could make a quick getaway after he strangled Timo—he didn’t mean to block the exit. Caleb admits to attacking Timo, but he denies setting the fire. He says he saw someone else crouching down in the corner, wearing a t-shirt with a skull on the front. The burn victim in the hospital was wearing a similar shirt, and Morgan runs his fingerprints. He’s identified as Ian Baxton, an arsonist whose MO matches the incendiary device that actually started the blaze: two matches connected to a cigarette using rubber bands. Club owner Stu Kirchoff hired Baxton to set the place on fire to collect the insurance money because the club wasn’t worth anything on the real estate market; he opted to have the fire set during the concert because it would be less suspicious than if the place was empty. He thought the crowd would have time to get out before the fire spread.


Analysis:

“Torch Song” reunites leading man Ted Danson with his former Cheers costar John Ratzenberger. The pair appeared on the sitcom from 1982 to 1993, and it’s fun to see them working together again two decades later. They only share one scene, but it’s an intense one. Stu expects DB to understand where he’s coming from, wanting to get rid of the club he’s owned for 30 years because of how nasty the world has become, and how disrespectful kids are these days. DB isn’t having any of it, though. They’re just being “young, stupid kids”, he says, and that’s no excuse for putting them in danger to make your insurance fraud seem less suspicious.

This isn’t a comment on the episode itself, but DB’s dialogue got me thinking about the common opinion that young people doing stupid (or even harmful) things are ‘just being kids’. It can be a dangerous assumption with potentially deadly consequences—Timo’s death and Lee Wong Jr’s attack are the sort of thing that happens all too often in real life. Bigotry isn’t an attitude that most people grow out of, especially when their prejudiced ideas are being reinforced and encouraged with stuff like “hatecore” music. I think it’s a mistake to ever dismiss bigotry as nothing but a rebellious phase. Lives are lost and destroyed over those attitudes every day.

This the last episode George Eads filmed before he went on hiatus following a disagreement behind the scenes. Recent spoilers indicate that he will return in episode nine, “Check In and Check Out”, putting him offscreen for five episodes. Fortunately, Nick has some good moments this week, including the first and last scenes in the episode. At the beginning of the hour, a computer-generated scene shows ants moving in an orderly fashion away from a disaster while Nick’s voice explains that, unlike ants, humans fall into chaos during an emergency and it’s every man for himself. Then at the end of the hour, Nick and DB are watching a strange phenomenon in a fish tank. Nick explains that it’s called a death spiral (or circular ant mill), which is caused by the pheromones the ants give off to alert the rest of the colony to danger. (You can see a real life example here, along with an explanation.) I always enjoy Nick showing his skill with entomology, and the last scene is just fun when Nick tries to get DB to stick his hand into the tank to disrupt the signal and set the ants free. DB refuses, so Nick has to do the honors, and the ants scatter. It’s a nice moment, and not a bad way to end Nick’s final appearance for a while.

Morgan doesn’t show any overt signs of a struggle this week, after breaking down during last week’s baby kidnapping case. That doesn’t mean she’s over her ordeal, of course, but it doesn’t rear its head this week. It’s more obvious that Brass is still going through a tough time, and most of that is accomplished by Paul Guilfoyle’s subtle acting over the course of the hour. He seems weary throughout the episode, like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. One moment that is more conspicuous occurs when DB gives Kevin Ellis’s personal effects to his mother after the boy is trampled to death trying to escape from the concert. When the woman walks away, Brass comes up and wonders if she knew the sort of crowd her son was hanging out with; DB doesn’t think so, and Brass says that’s probably for the best. Ellie isn’t mentioned by name, but I couldn’t help but think of her. After all, Brass knows exactly how it feels to learn horrible things about your child. Kevin didn’t kill anyone, of course, but he was hanging out with a bigoted crowd that was directly responsible for at least two hate crimes. Ellie’s involvement in the events of “Skin in the Game” and “The Devil and DB Russell” is horrible, but it has definitely put Brass on an interesting journey. Guilfoyle has done great things with all of his material so far this season, both directly relating to Ellie and, in this case, indirectly dealing with his ongoing struggles.


See also: “Torch Song” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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