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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'A Space Oddity'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 23, 2009 - 5:00 AM GMT

See Also: 'A Space Oddity' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

David Hodges is shocked to run into Wendy Simms at a Whatifit convention dedicated to the sixties television show Astro Quest. Before the two can delve too deeply into their shared love for the show, there's a commotion on the convention floor: a man has been found dead on the mock up bridge of the starship from the show. Hodges confirms he's dead and calls Brass, gravely stating, "He's dead, Jim." When the CSI team arrives, Nick learns the dead man is thirty-six-year old California resident Jonathan Danson. David Phillips determines that the man died between midnight and 3 am. Jonathan's producing partner, Melinda Carver, tells Brass that he spent the last five years working on a pilot for a new Astro Quest, which had just been picked up. Melinda financed it--and retains the rights now that Jonathan is dead. Langston observes that the broken skin on Jonathan's face is split rather than cut, suggesting a sharp impact. At the lab, Archie plays video footage of Danson debuting his new show, Astro Quest Redux and witnesses the crowd react angrily to it, displeased by his darker, edgier version of their beloved show. Back at the scene, Nick and Riley examine the bridge and find semen stains on the command chair. Riley discovers Danson's laptop as well as a DVD player with a DVD in it made by outraged fans who find Danson "guilty of high treason" and execute him in video effigy.

Hodges broaches the subject of what would happen to two lab workers in a romantic relationship with Catherine and she tells him that one would have to switch shifts. Greg speaks with Penelope Russell, a media professor who was studying Danson's relaunch of the classic series. Russell tells Greg that Danson was a provocateur, the science fiction equivalent of Martin Luther. In the morgue, Dr. Robbins confirms that a blow to the head did Danson in, while Langston theorizes that the murder weapon was likely angular. Robbins shows Langston the odd substances he found in Danson's stomach: a mixture of worms and alcohol. Nick speaks with the bartender from the convention bar who served Danson the bizarre space age drink. He tells Nick that Danson hit on an Astro girl and got attacked by her two friends, whom the bartender identifies as two angry fans from the video of the Astro Quest Redux unveiling. While Hodges examines a metal collar found at the scene, Mandy recovers prints from the DVD that match Steuben Lorenz and Lionel Rose. Brass goes to Rose's address and the door is answered by Lionel's mother, who shows the detective to a space age room where the two super fans are roleplaying. When they're brought in for questioning, Lionel and Steuben insist the video was a joke. Neither knows where the girl, Risa Varness, they fought Jonathan over is. In the lab, Wendy matches the DNA in the chair to Danson and an unknown female. She invites Hodges over to watch several episodes of Astro Quest, throwing the smitten lab tech off.

Nick tracks Risa down thinking Danson may have forced himself on her, but she tells him they had consensual sex--and that she liked his show. Riley finds photos on Danson's laptop of him hooking up with various women--including Melinda Carver. Brass questions Melinda, who doesn't seem bothered that Danson had other lovers. She tells the detective that they were in an open relationship. Suspecting Danson had installed a video camera on the bridge mock up, Riley and Langston go to look for it. They're stymied until Hodges calls with a revelation: Danson was killed by a retractable viewer, likely hidden in the helm. Sure enough, they discover it by pushing the "targeting scanner" button. Langston finds blood on it--and a bloody print. The print proves a match to Penelope Russell, the media professor. She tells Brass that Danson was in her Media Semiotics class--and that he stole her ideas for Astro Quest Redux. When she confronted him, they got into a physical fight and she threw him into the console--releasing the retractable viewer, which struck and killed him. Nick, Riley and Ray head to the break room to watch Astro Quest, but both Wendy and Hodges decline to join them, instead watching each other forlornly from their respective labs.

Analysis:

A delectable geek fest chock full of winks and nods at science fiction shows--and their zealous fans--"A Space Oddity" is pure fun from start to finish. It's the brainchild of three writers with science fiction backgrounds: Naren Shankar worked for Star Trek: The Next Generation while writing team Bradley Thompson and David Weddle came to CSI from the brilliant, dark Battlestar Galactica. Science fiction fans are like no others: passionate to a fault, they know what they love--and won't hesitate to vehemently criticize anything they think violates their sacred cows. No one knows this more than Ron Moore, the man who re-imagined the 70s Battlestar Galactica into a dark, gritty show about humanity's fight for survival--and who makes a brief cameo in this episode as the first person to stand up and call out a passionate, "You suck!" to Jonathan Danson after the latter has screened a scene from his pilot. Like Battlestar, Danson's Astro Quest Redux is a dark re-imagining of a campy old sci-fi show that, cheesy as it was, had a devoted following.

Astro Quest itself resembles Star Trek far more than Battlestar Galactica, and Hodges' fantasies draw directly from episodes of Star Trek. Hodges' primary fantasy, about Wendy and himself imprisoned by aliens on a planet, is drawn from the Star Trek episode "The Gamesters of Triskelion", in which Kirk, Uhura and Chekov are captured by aliens and forced to participate in combat games. Per usual, Kirk fell for a beautiful alien, a fellow captive who didn't understand the concept of love. The irony is that the final fantasy--in which the two finally connect just as he is transported away--is Wendy's, not Hodges. What is the woman left with once the heroic captain chooses his ship and his duty over her? Star Trek was seen mostly from Kirk's point of view, and most of this episode is told from Hodges' perspective, so it's nice to end on Wendy's viewpoint.

There are more than a few potshots at overzealous science fiction fans in this episode, from the angry reaction to Danson's pilot to the two geeks in their briefing room, which is of course located in the house of one of their mothers. Lionel and Steuben are about as stereotypically dorky as you get, down to their names and penchant for role-playing. The two go up against the producer who ruined their beloved show by updating and re-imagining it--only to get their asses kicked. Like most fanboy (or fangirl) critics, their bark is worse than their bite, and they are quick to assure Brass that their video was simply a joke and not a genuine threat. Fangirl Risa fares no better: she's "unbalanced" and believes that Danson could "sense" that she liked his pilot. She has a romp with him on the bridge of the ship--and believes it when Danson promises to take her to Cabo.

Despite the lambasting of the wackier fans, there's also a measure of seriousness when Nick is with the bartender who takes off his wig to reveal that the scars on his face are real, and not part of an elaborate make up job. The flip side to the zealousness of science fiction fans is that they're an accepting group, one that tends to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Scars or other physical deformities that might make someone feel alienated in another group become far less relevant in a group that embraces alien-ness with a sense of wonder. Much as the sci-fi geeks might over-invest in their fandom, they're also a unique group with some very positive attitudes and attributes. It's nice to see the episode acknowledge that as well.

Danson's killer turns out not to be an angry fanboy but the professor whose idea he ripped off, Penelope Russell. Sci-fi fans will recognize the actress playing Penelope as none other than Kate Vernon who portrayed slinky, cunning Ellen Tigh on Moore's Battlestar Galactica. Cerebral Penelope is nothing like party girl Ellen, but Vernon slips easily into the role, clear evidence of her range as an actress. Battlestar aired its final episode last month, and though it's already sorely missed, it's fun to see both Vernon and Moore turn up in this smart, funny send up of the controversy the show caused among devoted genre fans.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find Greg wasn't among their numbers. He notes somewhat incredulously that Danson "takes a cheesy '60s sci-fi show and turns it into something more realistic and they beat him up and kill him for it!" Maybe Greg is a closet sci-fi fan...or perhaps more inclined to shows like the gritty, powerful new Battlestar Galactica as opposed to its less serious predecessor. Mandy doesn't seem to be much of a sci-fi fan either: to Hodges' horror, she refers to Mr. Ed, the '60s show about a talking horse, as "science fiction." Hodges manages to sputter out an indignant, "That's fantasy," but Mandy clearly doesn't see much of a difference.

Hodges' dream girl, Wendy, not only shares his affinity for Astro Quest, but also apparently, his affections. It's been obvious for quite some time that Hodges has been nursing a whopper of a crush on his beautiful and brainy fellow lab tech, but it's never been quite clear until now that his feelings are indeed requited. Wendy has always humored the competitive Hodges, whose affections come through--in pure sci-fi geek fashion--not in professions of love but teasing and ribbing. And of course, he's fantasizing--throughout the course of the episode, he imagines Wendy as a sexy yeoman on the bridge in Astro Quest, as a fellow prisoner with no concept of freedom or love and the iconic (albeit in Hodges' fantasy, not green) slave girl clearly inspired by the Star Trek pilot, "The Cage". Wendy is obviously Hodges' dream girl, but--at least for now--his duty to the lab is getting in the way of their possible match up. And isn't that just like an overly serious fanboy, to put his "duty" (be it to his ship or his lab) over getting the girl?

Despite the fact that Hodges and Wendy don't manage to get together in this episode, I'm definitely rooting for them as a couple--and holding out hope that they'll eventually overcome the obstacles standing between them. Wallace Langham and Liz Vassey have a unique chemistry--there's something classic about the pairing between the geek and the gorgeous, brainy girl. Unlike some similar pairings that stretch credibility, there's something about Hodges and Wendy that makes sense. There's something really lovable about Hodges and the seriousness with which he takes everything, whether it be his job or Astro Quest. Duty to the lab might be a lame excuse for any other guy, but from Hodges we believe it. At the same time, he did tell Wendy (in Vulkon), "We were made for each other." There's hope for these two yet!

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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