The CSIs are shocked to discover the identity of a car crash victim, and the investigation reveals a bigger conspiracy.
Reporter John Merchiston meets a mysterious woman while buying a cup of coffee, and she tells him she’s friends with “Suvari”. She cannot give him proof that Suvari is real, but she slips him a flash drive and says the man will be in touch. Merchiston doesn’t know he’s being watched, but he hurries away and heads to the nearby parking garage.
Merchiston’s silver Camaro races down the street until police give chase, leading to a fiery crash. The body is burned beyond recognition, but a passport in the car identifies the victim as Merchiston. The team is surprised that a friend of the LVPD would run from police. Finn was previously involved with Merchiston, and she doesn’t think the crash was an accident. The journalist was working on a story about government spying, and he thought he was being followed.
A black box installed by the rental car company offers the team a look at the car’s systems at the time of the crash. Finn hopes to find evidence of a bomb exploding to prove that Merchiston was murdered, but the system only indicates that the car hit the light pole. Merchiston’s attorney arrives and requests that they release his body, but they still have questions. Jill McDermott says that Merchiston was frustrated because his story about the government spying on US citizens was going nowhere. The point person on the case was Air Force General Robert Lansdale out of Nellis, explaining his repeated trips to Vegas over the past few months.
DB is shocked when John Merchiston himself appears from the shadows, frantic as he tells him they must leave quickly. The body in the morgue belongs to Merchiston’s assistant Brian, who took his coat and hat before driving the car out of the garage while Merchiston slipped out the back. DB is still confused because they identified the body using his dental records. Merchiston admits that he had someone hack into the crime lab computer to change the report, but he wasn’t the only one—someone else hacked in to change the toxicology report so it looked like he was drunk and high at the time of the accident. The story he was working on involved powerful people, and he’s being targeted.
DB takes Merchiston to Finn’s apartment, where he tells them all about the domestic spying program, Project Jericho. The night of the accident was the first time he ever saw the mystery woman. His contact, Suvari, usually left flash drives for him to pick up, but he wanted to meet the man in person. He wanted to confirm the truth of the information Suvari gave him before he went public with a story that involved a powerful man like Lansdale. The flash drive has encrypted data on it, and Merchiston gives it to DB to take back to the lab.
The mystery woman, Emily Rey, is found bludgeoned to death. The murder weapon is waiting nearby with a clear fingerprint in blood. The print traces back to Merchiston, which confuses Nick since the woman has only been dead for six hours. When DB hears about the second murder, he tries to call Finn, but she’s in the shower and doesn’t answer the phone. By the time she listens to the message, she only has time to reach for her gun before Brass and the FBI are bursting into her apartment to arrest her and Merchiston. DB is brought into interrogation and confronted by General Lansdale, who makes thinly-veiled threats against his family if he doesn’t cooperate. Meanwhile, Finn is interrogated by Agent Sturgis, who suggests that she is also working for Suvari—or that she’s helping Merchiston because of their relationship. Meanwhile, DB speaks to Nick, pointing out that Merchiston took a forensics training course. He’s too smart to leave his fingerprint on a murder weapon. Nick takes charge of the investigation, discovering that the fingerprint was planted and proving that someone is setting Merchiston up.
Hodges decrypts the flash drive and finds information about Project Jericho, including technology that would allow the government to hack into a car’s CPU—specifically aftermarket black boxes like the one on Merchiston’s Camaro. This would give the person control of the vehicle and even allow them to crash it. Elsewhere in the lab, Nick gets a message telling him to meet Suvari at the coffee stand. After he buys a cup, Merchiston’s lawyer approaches him. Suvari contacted Jill and told her he could help her client and the LVPD, so she agreed to take Nick to meet him. They get in her car and lose control, nearly crashing before the car is jerked out of the way just in time. When they get out of the car, Nick sees the man from the coffee stand set down a remote control and a coffee cup with a flash drive inside. Someone secretly installed one of the aftermarket black box computers in the car, and Suvari saved their lives.
The evidence convinces Agent Sturgis to work with the CSIs, and he reveals that the “Boston Brakes” tactic has been used before. Former DOD employee Cheryl Perez and her son Michael were killed in a car accident after she resigned from the department following rumors that she had an affair with a high-ranking officer. The team knows that it was General Lansdale, but they can’t do anything until they have the evidence to prove it.
When Suvari used his controller to save Nick and Jill, he left a cyber footprint behind that they are able to trace to his location. Unfortunately, they find him dead inside. Evidence and a faked suicide note make Suvari look like the one behind the previous murders. The man’s real name is Joseph Powers, and he used to be a contractor for Project Jericho. He resigned after Cheryl Perez died, and he fell off the grid until he contacted Merchiston. The team can’t pin the crimes on Lansdale now, but DB is confident the man will slip up again, or another person of conscience will step forward to reveal Lansdale’s sins so they can finally bring him to justice.
“Boston Brakes” brings back journalist John Merchiston, who previously appeared in the season 13 finale, “Skin in the Game”, and the season 14 premiere, “The Devil and DB Russell”. He was an intriguing character the first time around, and it’s good to see him back—even if it’s under less than ideal circumstances. There were moments during last season’s finale and this season’s premiere when I thought Merchiston might have ulterior motives for spending time with the crime lab, and that makes it easy to be wary of him this week as well. Ultimately, he’s one of the Good Guys, but it still creates an interesting sense of tension over the course of the hour.
There’s even more tension thanks to the history between Finn and Merchiston, who had a relationship after he wrote his piece on the LVPD. She’s upset when she thinks he’s dead at the beginning of the hour, and it quickly becomes obvious that there was something between them. She knows about his family, his struggles with addiction, his work—their relationship may not have been extremely serious, but there’s no doubt that it was more than physical. Her past with Merchiston pushes Finn to make sense of a situation that seems so bizarre. She wants to figure out what happened to him, but she ends up toeing the line because she cannot remain objective during the investigation. First, she insists that a bomb destroyed the car, despite the lack of clear evidence to support her theory—and the fact that it seems “out there” according to DB. Even when she’s forced to accept that Merchiston’s crash may have just been an accident, she remains convinced that there’s more to the story. Of course, it turns out that Finn’s instincts are right this time, and it’s nice to see the team prove it.
Despite her previous relationship with Merchiston, Finn is not eager to pick up where they left off. He approaches her when she’s in the shower, but she turns him down. The normally confident and in-control Finn is still dealing with the effects of what happened to her in “Girls Gone Wild”, and she’s clearly uncomfortable with the thought of intimacy. She doesn’t offer an explanation to Merchiston, and he doesn’t press for one. There’s an uneasiness between them, but it’s obvious that they still have feelings for each other. At the end of the hour, Merchiston is determined to find more evidence against Lansdale, and working on the story will lead him away from Vegas again. He and Finn wish each other well, and Merchiston offers to listen if Finn ever wants to talk about what happened to her since the last time they met. Hopefully this means we haven’t seen the last of Merchiston—I like the character and seeing him interact with the team, and having a journalist pop in from time to time could add some interesting moments to future episodes.
DB responds to the news of Merchiston’s death with thoughtfulness, realizing that he spent quite a bit of time with the man but knew nothing about him. He doesn’t seem thrilled to discover that Finn and Merchiston were involved, and he’s quick to try to rein her in when she focuses on unlikely (albeit possible) theories. They both want to solve the case, but while Finn is determined to prove something, DB just wants to find the truth. When Merchiston turns up alive, DB is surprised, but he relents when the man says that the CSIs are the only ones who can help him. He doesn’t trust the federal government, but he clearly believes in the integrity of the crime lab—and rightly so!
DB leaves Nick in charge when he’s being held during the investigation—it’s always great when the show acknowledges that Nick is a high-ranking member of the team, and he works to help clear everyone’s name so they can focus on investigating the real threat. This involves a callback to Paul Millander (“Pilot”, “Anonymous”, “Identity Crisis”), one of CSI’s most memorable killers. I love references to the early seasons of the show; they evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the long-time viewers who are still tuning in during season fourteen. As a matter of fact, there was a clip from “Anonymous” (featuring Millander’s fake hand) in the montage at the end of the 300th episode, “Frame by Frame”—it’s fun to see him mentioned twice (directly or indirectly) within the same season.
Ted Danson’s daughter Kate (“Sheltered”) is back this week as attorney Jill McDermott, and she shares another scene with her father. I love watching them interact—there’s no professional conflict between them this time, but there’s still some tension in the first scene with Finn. Later, Jill finds herself in the middle of the action when she and Nick are involved in a thrilling near-death event. It’s an exciting moment, and I enjoyed her interaction with Nick. As I said in my review for “Sheltered”, featuring Kate in a guest-starring role is a fun wink to the viewers who recognize her. I’ve enjoyed seeing both Dansons onscreen in these two appearances, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of Jill McDermott.
Brass works with the FBI when they first arrive, but it’s clear that he’s on the CSIs’ side. When Agent Sturgis continues to press Finn and make inappropriate comments, he speaks up tells the man off. Sturgis might be in charge of the investigation, but Brass isn’t going to let the man insult his people. It’s a pretty badass moment, and I was glad to see him tell the jerk off. It’s Paul Guilfoyle’s only contribution to the episode, but it’s definitely a good one.
Agent Sturgis is kind of a jerk, but General Lansdale is a really slimy character. He’s powerful, and he isn’t afraid to use that power to protect himself—even if that means killing innocent people. He threatens DB’s family, and it’s satisfying to see DB confront him at the end of the hour. Unfortunately, Lansdale is able to get away with his crimes, but the episode sets up the possibility that he could return at some future date. I’m curious to find out if we’ve seen the last of him. It would be even more satisfying to watch DB, Merchiston and the rest of the team bring him down once and for all.
See also: “Boston Brakes” episode guide