Review: CSI: Cyber — ‘Kidnapping 2.0’

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The FBI’s Cyber Crime Division is on the case when a baby monitor is hacked during a kidnapping.

Synopsis:

Six-month-old Caleb Reynolds is kidnapped in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents, Fran and Steve, hear “foreign voices” coming out of the Natal-Cam baby monitor. Since technology is involved, FBI Special Agent Avery Ryan insists that the case belongs to the Cyber Crime Division. She heads to Baltimore with Agent Elijah Mundo, Agent Daniel Krumitz and Brody Nelson, a black hat hacker Ryan hopes to reform by using him to catch fellow criminals. The boy next door, Denny Metz, says he heard a woman’s voice and a car peeling out after the kidnapping, proving they’re looking for a team of two.

Ryan is suspicious of Fran’s behavior, so she compares Steve’s DNA to Caleb’s DNA. She discovers that Steve is not Caleb’s father; Fran has been having an affair with Bill Hookstraten, and he has been using malware to get access to photos of his son from Fran’s computer. When Ryan and Elijah head to Hookstraten’s boat restoration shop, they hear a baby crying. They rush inside and find Hookstraten holding a little boy. The kidnappers contacted Hookstraten and promised him his son in exchange for $75,000 in cash. He paid up, but there’s one problem: this isn’t Caleb.

Ryan changes Baby Doe’s diaper and gets a fingerprint from the tape, leading them to Vicky McDale. She’s their female kidnapper, and Nelson works with another member of the Cyber Crimes unit, Raven Ramirez, to search her Friend Agenda page for clues about where she might have gone. There are a lot of photos of Ricky Scaggs, including his blue Camaro. Ryan predicts that the pair would have gone to higher ground, and they would have avoided major highways since they were both alcoholics and likely stuck to smaller roads when they got drunk after getting their $75,000 payday. Sure enough, Ryan and Elijah find Vicky and Ricky at a bar in Five Forks, and the money is in the trunk of the Camaro. Caleb is nowhere to be found, but before they can get more information out of their kidnappers, a man shoots them from on top of a hill. Elijah pursues the man as he jumps onto a motorcycle to get away. Elijah shoots him dead, but his fingerprints have been burned off—it might be difficult to figure out who was calling the shots in this scheme.

Ricky has an SD memory card in his pocket, which was taken out of a hacked Natal-Cam. This tells them where Baby Doe came from, but they get more bad news: two more little boys have been kidnapped in the same way. Krumitz heads to the Natal-Cam headquarters and discovers a problem with their code that allowed the mastermind behind this plot to get easy access to the baby monitors. They shut down Natal-Cam, and the target retaliates by using Denny’s video game console to contact them with a video of Caleb crying. The man claims he will kill the baby if they don’t turn Natal-Cam back online. Fortunately, contacting them through the game console gives them a lead—there’s a safeguard in place to prevent children from being harassed by predators while playing online, and it leads them straight to their suspect in Paterson, New Jersey.

There’s a computer in the warehouse that will tell them the location of all three missing children, but they have to figure out the 20-character password. Elijah and Ryan notice new memorial tattoos on the leader, with numbers representing dates—or parts of the password. Nelson is the one who figures out the pattern, putting the dates in numerical order to find their code. With the locations of their kidnappers, they are able to retrieve the babies. The couple with Caleb try to run from police, flying off the road and into a lake. Elijah jumps in and dives toward the sinking car to retrieve Caleb. The baby is unconscious when they get to the surface, but Ryan does CPR to revive him. They are able to hand him over to his grateful parents, and Ryan suggests to Fran that perhaps there’s another person who might like to spend time with his son.


Analysis:

CSI: Cyber gets off to an action-packed start with “Kidnapping 2.0”. There’s a kidnapping plot aided by hacked baby monitors, which is a storyline in itself—however, this is the series premiere of a new CSI, and the episode spares no expense. There isn’t just one kidnapping, there are four of them. Added to that, “Kidnapping 2.0” includes a baby auction, a ransom demand with a swapped baby, a sniper on a motorcycle, tattooed passwords, and a high speed chase that ends with a dramatic rescue. There’s a lot going on with the plot, in addition to establishing the Cyber Crime Division and introducing viewers to the six main characters. It is perhaps too much to cram into 42 minutes, and parts of the story suffer for it. It is particularly glaring when it comes to the episode’s timeline. For example, Krumitz flies from Washington, DC to the Natal-Cam headquarters in Chicago and back again as if no time has passed. When they figure out Caleb’s location at the end of the episode, Ryan and Elijah somehow manage to drive from New Jersey to Upstate New York in time to arrive just as the high speed chase takes a turn for the worse. (And it’s a good thing Elijah is there, since no one else makes a move to jump into the water.) It’s jarring, and it took me out of the story a bit trying to figure out how they managed to travel from one place to another so quickly. Traveling from DC to Baltimore and back again is believable enough, since the trip takes less than an hour—hopefully the team won’t jump back and forth so easily when they’re investigating crimes elsewhere in the country.

Cyber lives up to its name, weaving technology throughout the episode. There’s the hacked baby monitor, of course. They check the Reynolds’ devices and find malware that allowed Hookstraten to see photos and e-mails about his son on Fran’s computer. The team uses social media to learn about their suspects. They also utilize a parental safeguard in the gaming console to track their suspect. The episode features a virtual autopsy, which seems fictional but has a basis in truth. These technologies are all real, even if they’re sensationalized to various degrees in order to make the episode entertaining—in much the same way the previous CSI shows (and most other crime dramas on television) get DNA results in minutes or manage to sharpen grainy surveillance footage to get a good photo of their suspect. The writers are inspired by reality, but this is definitely a fictionalized use of such technology. Anyone seeking to learn everything about the internet from CSI: Cyber will be disappointed, but there’s a kernel of truth in each element presented this week. The main takeaway from a show like this is just to be aware of the technology that surrounds us, and to ask questions. Is this real? Can this happen to me? Are there ways I can protect myself from criminals online? Just because no one is trying to auction off your baby doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change the default password on your baby monitor so no one can hack into it. Technology, social media, the internet—these things are so deeply ingrained in our lives that it’s easy to forget how invasive they can really be, or how vulnerable they can make us to criminal threats.

Despite being the “cyber” CSI, there’s a decent amount of non-cyber investigating going on in “Kidnapping 2.0”. Ryan picks up on Fran’s body language to know she’s hiding something. She and Elijah have clear knowledge of traditional investigative techniques, and they talk out the kidnapping and the escape in the same way I’d expect to hear it on the original CSI. There’s a raid, a car chase and a water rescue—the show may be cyber-focused, but the characters certainly aren’t stuck in a computer lab for 42 minutes. CSI: Cyber is taking the franchise in a new direction by focusing on the FBI and working crime scenes all over the country, but in many ways it isn’t that much of a departure from the original CSI that debuted 15 years ago. The latest technology has been a part of the franchise since day one, and there will never be a replacement for some good old-fashioned police work.

I really enjoy the characters so far, although the dialogue and acting felt a bit clunky during this premiere. The cast seems to get along well on Twitter and in interviews, operating like a little family, and I’m eager to see if they also settle into that comfort and familiarity onscreen as the season progresses. Leading the pack is Avery Ryan (Patricia Arquette), who was introduced in the backdoor pilot, “Kitty”. We get a glimpse into her backstory this week, providing the character with motivation to reform criminal hackers—and creating an ongoing storyline to thread through the procedural series. Ryan was a behavioral psychologist, but someone hacked into her files and got one of her patients killed. She still doesn’t know who the hacker is, but it’s her mission to find him. I’m sure we’ll get more forward movement on that storyline soon, and I suspect catching the elusive hacker will be the climactic moment of season one as a whole.

The rest of the characters are new to viewers this week. There’s Simon Sifter, played by Peter MacNicol, the boss who supports the team but still has to find ways to balance this new frontier of investigation with the long-standing FBI system. Elijah Mundo (James Van Der Beek) is the action man, the former military guy who spends more time chasing criminals than using a computer—but he’s still aware of technology, he’s still smart and savvy about this world he’s in. He’s also a big fan of video games, as we see from his first scene as well as his interaction with Denny, which shows that he’s a “geek” in his own way. Video games are hugely popular among all demographics, so it’s good to see the most “normal” member of the team invested in that world.

The three resident tech geniuses are Daniel Krumitz (Charley Koontz), a white hat hacker who is an unequivocal force for good; Brody Nelson (Shad Moss), a former black hat hacker who is working with the FBI to avoid a prison sentence; and Raven Ramirez (Hayley Kiyoko). We don’t know much about Raven so far, but I’m hopeful we’ll see a lot more of her later. Krumitz and Nelson get more focus, especially Nelson. He’s ambivalent about this world he’s been thrust into, but despite any temptation he may feel to return to the dark side, I think we’ll see him prove his worth as a member of the team. He already seems interested in the work he’s doing with the Cyber Crime Division. His dynamic with Krumitz is one of my favorite elements of the show so far, and I can’t wait to see that relationship (dare I say future friendship?) develop. My other favorite character dynamic is between Ryan and Elijah, who work closely together and seem a bit separated from the younger, more tech-savvy members of the team.

Overall, “Kidnapping 2.0” was a lot of fun to watch, and it’s exciting to see another CSI team get their start. The plot and writing had some issues, as did the acting, but the show has a lot of promise. Technology is ever-present in our lives, and it’s growing every day. The writers will find no shortage of inspiration out there, from the latest gadgets and internet subcultures, to cyber crimes that have already been committed. The possibilities are endless, and I can’t wait to see which entertaining (and perhaps outrageous) storylines they come up with from week to week.


See also: “Kidnapping 2.0” official details

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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