The CSIs investigate a murder tied to a 25-year-old case, while Brass is faced with a decision following his daughter’s attempted suicide.
Roger Mathers is found dead outside a shack in Ellis Springs. Sheriff Combs knows the man, who grew up in the area. He was one of three boys who came across an armed robbery 25 years ago. Back in 1989, the boys found Ben O’Malley in the shack, injured, but he died before his brother Paul returned. Paul tried to get away by forcing one of the boys, Scotty Gates, to carry some of the bags of loot. Scotty and the money were never found, and Paul died in his jail cell after being arrested.
A partial fingerprint on the back of an aerial photo found with Mathers’ body has a tented arch, which is rare. When Finn looks at Scotty’s dropped hat and glasses from the 1989 case, she finds a partial fingerprint on the glasses with a tented arch. The two fingerprint fragments match up, and they lead them to Sam Bishop, a former sheriff’s deputy who was fired two weeks after Scotty disappeared. They think he was a dirty cop who killed Paul after getting access to his stolen money, but the evidence tells them a different story. Bishop was an early forensic scientist, using techniques that were ahead of his time to solve crimes. He got fired from his job because his work on the Scotty Gates case unearthed information that was inconvenient for Sheriff Combs.
The photo found with Mathers’ body was one of the original images Bishop took using a weather balloon in 1989. He was paid by mid-level mob boss Michael Scarno to take the photos because he wanted to find his stolen money, but Bishop didn’t care about that—he just wanted to find Scotty’s body. He gives them the negatives for the photos, and they get a full version to analyze. Bishop didn’t see anything in the photo 25 years ago, but with new technology, Morgan and Hodges see an area indicating disturbed earth. They use the photo and GPS technology to locate the spot, and they find Scotty buried in the desert. His skull was struck, and the impression matches a 2,000-year-old stone lion that was rumored to have been stolen with Scarno’s money in the robbery. Scarno was an art thief, and the lion was one of a pair. The other lion recently sold at auction for ten million dollars.
A unique type of lotion on the shovel near the grave traces back to Bishop’s daughter Karen. She says she caught Mathers breaking into her father’s workshop, desperate to find the statue in order to save his failing business. Knowing how much the lion was worth, Karen agreed to help him find it using her father’s photos. They went out to the spot, but there was already a hole in the ground. Realizing someone got to the statue first, Mathers was upset and told Karen to leave. She dropped the shovel before she left.
Bishop carves a replica of the lion statue out of cement in order to test the force and angle necessary to cause Scotty’s head wound. He’s hoping to prove that Sheriff Combs killed the boy, but when the CSIs offer the use of their new technology, they realize that someone much shorter was responsible. The killer was left handed, which immediately leads Bishop to a suspect: Tyson Briggs, the third boy who was with Scotty and Mathers the day Scotty disappeared. Paul O’Malley wasn’t in the shack in 1989. After Ben O’Malley died, Tyson wanted them to take the money, but Scotty wanted to go to the police. Tyson hit him with the statue, but the skull fracture didn’t kill him. They weren’t alone that day—Karen followed them out to the shack, and she heard Paul coming in his car. She covered Scotty’s nose and mouth to keep him quiet so they wouldn’t be found, accidentally suffocating him. They buried the body and the statue so they wouldn’t get in trouble, and they put the money under Mathers’ porch—but it was destroyed after the house burned down. Karen and Mathers went back to find the statue together, and she shot him after he insisted that he deserved most of the money. They don’t have evidence to convict her until Bishop brings in a box with the statue and the gun, which he found by a creek she used to visit when she was a child.
Meanwhile, Captain Brass gets a call that his daughter Ellie is in the hospital following an overdose of medication in prison. She was back in Vegas to attend a preliminary hearing, in which she was going to testify that her father was responsible for her becoming a killer. Brass grapples with his feelings while Ellie fights to survive, and they speak for a long time after she wakes up. Brass is unwilling to lose the only person he has left, and he vows to support Ellie moving forward.
“Dead in His Tracks” wraps up CSI’s fourteenth season with a self-contained episode, focusing on an interesting and emotional case. This is a far cry from last year’s finale, “Skin in the Game”, which was a big, elaborate spectacle with a cliffhanger ending. This year, the only question fans are left with is a personal one, wondering about the future of the beloved Captain Brass. It was revealed that this would be Paul Guilfoyle’s final episode on the crime drama, and the storyline this week offers a reasonable exit for the character—without specifically stating that he’s going to be gone. Will Brass retire? It seems likely, given his time on the force and the emotional toll of the past year, but the episode doesn’t come right out and tell the viewers what will happen to him. In fact, if the fans didn’t read the news that Guilfoyle is leaving, they might not even realize this was the show saying goodbye to Captain Brass. I don’t know how much time the writers were given to prepare for Guilfoyle’s exit, so I can only speculate about the decisions made behind the scenes. Perhaps they chose to leave the resolution of Brass’s story vague on purpose, to make final plot choices during the hiatus and/or reveal the truth when season 15 gets started in the fall. Since Guilfoyle isn’t coming back, this could prove to be a disappointing decision, relegating the exit of a fan-favorite to a footnote. I’m reminded of Laurence Fishburne’s departure, or Melina Kanakaredes over on CSI: New York—offscreen and relayed by other characters, forced to address the absence of a familiar face without the closure of an onscreen goodbye. At the other extreme, the drawn-out goodbyes to characters like Grissom and Catherine had their own positives and negatives. I think an understated personal moment is a good fit for Brass’s final storyline, although I would have liked a more direct acknowledgment that it was his final storyline. I particularly would have liked to see more interaction between Brass and the entire team before Guilfoyle’s exit.
The decision to make Ellie Brass a killer was shocking, but the twists and turns brought out the very best in Guilfoyle’s acting at the start of season 14, and “Dead in His Tracks” is no different. Ellie is in the hospital after overdosing on her medication, and the audience learns that she was preparing for a hearing where she was going to blame her father for the person she became. It’s heartbreaking to see Brass try to wrestle with his feelings, love and logic at war with one another, attempting to make sense of the way their lives turned out. He doesn’t know if he loves his daughter, which is a raw and honest—and uncomfortable—thing to admit. They will never know if Ellie was doomed from the start, or if some element of her troubled life caused everything to go wrong. Brass admits to Sara that part of him wishes Ellie would just pass away—it would cause no less heartbreak for him, but perhaps the most he could hope for in that moment is not to face any more heartbreak.
The other characters are supportive and sympathetic, but in the end, Brass must make his decisions and deal with the consequences on his own. When Ellie wakes up at the end of the hour, she tells him that she doesn’t blame him—perhaps her own brush with mortality has reminded her of what she has left. Brass’s decision to support his daughter is understandable, but it’s complicated. She killed people, including her own mother, and tried to blame her father for her actions. There are elements of his last scene with DB that make me uncomfortable—as if that one conversation undid all of Ellie’s actions, and her sudden turn-around with regard to her father erases everything that came before it. DB’s caution echoes my thoughts; Ellie may not be trying to manipulate her father, but it’s hard not to be suspicious. Hopefully Brass won’t come to regret his decision to trust her. Overall, it’s a complicated, messy, human, work-in-progress ending for a very complicated storyline. It isn’t easy or neat, which I can definitely appreciate. We all want happy endings, or to see our favorites ride off into the sunset, but life isn’t like that. On a show like CSI, focusing as it does on death and the worst of human nature, it would be a disservice to wrap everything up in a neat bow and call it a day. Of course, I still want Brass to have a happy ending, and he certainly deserves one. It’s obvious that the creators of the show love him as much as the fans, so I’m confident that (at the very least) the worst has passed. And perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Brass—he’s alive at the end of “Dead in His Tracks”, leaving endless possibilities for a return appearance from Guilfoyle in the coming years.
Guilfoyle was one of the few remaining original cast members during season 14, and it feels like the end of an era to see him leave the show. He is a phenomenal actor who brought a great deal of talent to every scene he was in for more than 300 episodes. He was a member of the family, and while I’m sad to see him go, I wish him the best going forward. Brass’s spirit will still be felt on CSI, in much the same way that characters like Grissom and Catherine linger despite being gone from the show. The fans will miss him, and the show will be different without one of their original members on the team. I’m not sure how the show will change without this tremendous talent in the cast, but I’m curious to find out when season 15 kicks off in the fall.
Guilfoyle’s exit isn’t the only focus of the episode, of course. In fact, “Dead in His Tracks” introduces an interesting character in the form of Sam Bishop, played perfectly by Treat Williams. Bishop was an old-school CSI before such a job even existed. He was clever and creative with his work 25 years ago, coming up with ways to solve crimes that are similar to the current CSI techniques and wildly different at the same time. It’s fun to hear about his experimental work in forensics, and I especially enjoyed seeing him work alongside his modern counterparts. They respect his work, and he appreciates the ease with which they can use current technology to close cases—even cases that were impossible to solve in decades past. Perhaps most interesting about Bishop, however, is the way the character parallels Brass. He, too, is a dedicated crime-solver who discovers that his daughter is a cold-blooded killer. As a guest star, we only see a minute of his devastation over his daughter’s actions, but his own actions say a lot about the character. He discovered the gun and the proof that Karen was involved in two murders, and he brought it straight to the police. He thought he knew his little girl, but like Brass, he couldn’t control the woman she became—and he couldn’t stop her from breaking his heart. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bishop again. He has a good rapport with the rest of the characters, and his old-school approach to forensics creates some really fascinating possibilities for storytelling. He’s a great contrast and complement to the CSIs, and I’d like to see what the writers come up with if he does return.
The finale doesn’t offer much focus on the rest of the team, but they do get some good moments over the course of the hour. Nick jokes about solar power in Texas at the beginning of the episode, stating that such a thing would be be treated as blasphemy when he was growing up in the oil-rich state. Greg’s love of history and his book about Old Vegas are given a reference this week as well, when he explains the story of the legendary treasure connected to the 25-year-old case. Morgan tells Sara that if she found a lot of money, she wouldn’t use it for her business; instead, she’d spend it on a big vacation or a “sexy sports car”. The moment earned a chuckle from me, and Sara seems amused as well. Hodges and Henry even get a fun scene discussing Cleopatra and the unique Dead Sea mineral lotion—I’m glad I got one last tidbit between my favorite comedy duo before the season was over. These are all small scenes sprinkled throughout the episode, but together they add some enjoyment to the hour.
Overall, “Dead in His Tracks” is a solid episode with an emotional focus, in the case and in the secondary storyline. It’s Brass’s story that really anchors the hour, a heartbreaking—but potentially optimistic—turn of events for a beloved character. With Guilfoyle leaving the show, I’m glad we didn’t end the season with a dramatic cliffhanger. That said, I wish we’d received a more concrete explanation of where Brass is going from here, if not necessarily a more drawn-out goodbye. I’m looking forward to whatever the creators and actors have in store for next year—and I have my fingers crossed that it might include a guest appearance from a certain former captain.
See also: “Dead in His Tracks” episode guide