Review: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — ‘Helpless’

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A man is found dead in a giant hamster ball, and Morgan works with a swingshift CSI on a serial rapist case.

Synopsis:

A giant hamster ball rolls down the street and into a couple’s front yard. Zach Fisk is dead inside, and they are able to trace the path of the ball back to his home. Fisk was interested in claustrophilia, the desire to be trapped in confined spaces. He had a website where he sold various items for use by other claustrophiliacs, and the videos feature a young woman. Unfortunately, Melodie Davis is found dead, her body literally delivered to Fisk’s front door in a box. She fantasized about being shipped like a package, but she was turned over in transit and asphyxiated. Melodie’s husband Roy knew about his wife’s claustrophilia, and he let her “play” with Fisk because he wanted to save their marriage. He drew the line at letting her indulge her shipping fantasy because it was too dangerous, and when he found out about her going through with it, he went to Fisk’s house to confront him. Fisk mocked him, and Roy picked up a statue and hit him while he was in the hamster ball, which then rolled out the open sliding door and down the street.

Meanwhile, Morgan works with swingshift CSI Dawn Banks on a serial rapist case. Amy Morse went to sleep watching the news, and she woke up feeling sick and sore. The other two victims of this rapist live in her neighborhood, but the team realizes that Amy was the target—the first two attacks were practice runs. Amy thinks her ex-boyfriend Jared Wallace might be responsible, since he reacted badly to their breakup, but the team can’t get a DNA sample without a warrant. Trace in Amy’s driveway leads back to a special smog-eating concrete, which is only used along one stretch of highway. Hodges and Henry visit a trailer park in the area and see a house with an impressive lock and surveillance camera despite the bad neighborhood. A tissue in the trash outside is a match to the rapist’s DNA, so they burst in to look for clues. They find Jared’s letterman jacket, but they also find heart medication and a gray hair, along with a photo of Jared, Amy, and Jared’s father Ken, who is touching Amy in the picture. Ken fantasized about her when she was dating Jared, and he plotted to make her his after they broke up.


Analysis:

“Helpless” features two very different cases. The first involves claustrophilia, an obscure fetish that immediately reminded me of previous episodes CSI has done—namely “Fur and Loathing”, which is the ‘strange and unusual sexual fetish’ episode that remains foremost in my mind after all these years. As with “Fur and Loathing”, there’s a fair bit of humor involved, including numerous jokes and puns about the hamster ball and the shipping box. The scene in Fisk’s house highlights one of the things I really love about Finn, which is that she seems refreshingly free of judgment when it comes to the actions (and particularly the sex lives) of consenting adults.

The victims in the claustrophilia case didn’t elicit much of an emotional response from me. Melodie’s husband supports her desires even if he can’t help her fulfill them, and it’s a bit sad to see that his fears about her being in danger are justified when she arrives on Fisk’s doorstep dead, but the emotional resonance pales in comparison to the secondary storyline this week—particularly Sherry Stringfield’s character, Dawn Banks. Morgan works with the swingshift CSI on a serial rapist case, and I initially assumed the case would be the focus of their storyline. Ultimately, it is Dawn’s troubled relationship with her son that carries the majority of the emotional weight in the episode. She mentions him in the beginning, and it’s obvious she’s worried about him. Her disappearance is a red herring during the rapist case itself, which ends up being relatively straightforward once Dawn’s excellent investigative work leads Henry and Hodges to search the trailer park. Instead, Dawn is missing because she thinks her son Tyler is dead. The 19-year-old has a drug problem, and Dawn dreaded—but expected—the phone call letting her know he was gone. When a decomposing body is found in Reno with Tyler’s ID, she assumes her worst fear has come true. She starts to drive to Reno to confirm the victim’s identity, but she is overwhelmed with despair along the way. She heads off the main road into a rural area, and Morgan is very concerned about her colleague’s well-being.

Tyler is initially belligerent toward Morgan and Yaeger, but once he realizes his mother’s life is in danger, he’s desperate to help. Despite their complicated relationship, Tyler easily remembers the camp site they used to visit, and they find Dawn unconscious on the ground from a combination of alcohol and pills. Fortunately, she pulls through, although we only get a limited number of scenes featuring Stringfield. She’s great in the role, as I expected, but Adam Hicks is a surprising treat as Tyler. The final scene with Morgan really tugs at the heartstrings, when Tyler promises to get clean and stay with his mother because he can’t bear the thought of something like this happening because she expected him to die so young. I’m curious if we’ll ever see mother (and son) again. They’re great as one-off characters, but I wouldn’t mind getting to catch up with Dawn again later on.

Speaking of returning characters, dayshift CSI Sean Yaeger is back this week after his introduction in “Passed Pawns”. In his first appearance, Sean indicated that he’d once worked on swingshift, and that gives him a connection to Dawn this week. He knows it isn’t like her to miss work, and he’s there to help Morgan with the serial rapist case as well as the search for Dawn, which they initially assume is related. There’s no butting heads between him and Morgan this week, and they continue to work well together. It’s a more minor appearance than last time, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing Matt Davis at least one more time. Recurring roles are often limited to three episodes, but I would love to see Yaeger on a much more consistent basis.

As I noted in my reviews for “Passed Pawns” (link) and “Under a Cloud” (link), this is the third of three episodes the cast and crew filmed simultaneously. The first episode of the “triple up” focused on DB and Morgan (with a side of Brass); the second episode shifted the focus to Sara, Greg and, to a lesser extent, Finn. This week, the claustrophilia case lacks a specific focus character, but the rapist case heavily features Morgan and her interaction with Dawn. I’ve really enjoyed the inclusion of characters from outside the main CSI team, and overall I think the “triple up” was a successful experiment. However, as much as I liked this departure, I’m still glad it’ll be back to business as usual in the next episode—including the return of George Eads following his leave of absence. Switching things up is great, but CSI is at its best when it sticks to the formula that has kept it on the air for fourteen seasons.


See also: “Helpless” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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