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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Art Imitates Life'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at October 30, 2008 - 1:43 AM GMT

See Also: 'Art Imitates Life' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Grissom and Catherine are called to a bizarre crime scene: a woman leaning against a light post is dead, possibly the victim of a lightning strike. Mandy Webster identifies the dead woman as Carla Perotti, a health care worker at Desert Palms. The CSIs, overtaxed because they're shorthanded, are given some relief in new hire Riley Adams, whose first day coincides with the arrival of a grief counselor named Patricia Alwick, who has been called in to help the team in the wake of Warrick's murder. Before Riley can get settled in, she's called out on a case: a jogger is lying dead on a bench. David Phillips determines that he's only been dead for about an hour and a half, but as was true of Carla, rigor has already set in. While both victims apparently died from cardiac arrest, Carla had no drugs in her system while the male victim did. Dr. Robbins also notices the livers of both victims are a reddish pink color, suggesting they may have died of gaseous asphyxiation. Hodges is able to identify the man as Harley Soon, who has a record for solicitation. The mystery deepens when a third victim is found, dressed as a businessman and posed hailing a cab. It's clear the CSIs have a serial killer on their hands.

The CSIs uncover a connection between their first victim, Carla, to an artist named Jerzy Scaggs. Jerzy paints eerie portraits of people that make his subjects appear as though they're corpses. Brass pays a visit to Jerzy, but he doesn't recall Carla, who modeled for him, and denies killing his models. Catherine posits that the killer is drugging his victims, posing them and then gassing them in a chamber so they die in the positions he wants them in. Another set of victims is found: two elderly people posed as bird watchers. While Riley scours an art blog, Greg finds tan fibers on the victims. When Brass uncovers Harley's juvenile record, which shows he was arrested at one of Jerzy's parties, Brass brings the artist into the station for further questioning. Brass shows him pictures of the murder victims and Jerzy recalls an artist who brought him similar sketches once, a subcontractor looking to win a city contract--as well as a contract to redesign Jerzy's studio. Nick pulls the city contract submissions and finds sketches from an Arthur Blisterman that match all five victims' poses--as well as a sixth, depicting a little boy on a bike. The CSIs step up their manhunt with the prospect of another victim, and their search grows even more urgent when a little boy goes missing.

The CSIs begin a desperate search for Blisterman, turning to the art blog Riley found after they discover a picture posted on it is one of Carla before the crime tape went up. With the help of the blog owner, the CSIs trace Blisterman's IP to a library and apprehend him there. The artist tells Grissom life is not worth living without beauty and that his victims were nothing until he made them extraordinary in his art. He's not afraid of dying, but he doesn't want to be forgotten. He refuses to give up the location of the place where he gases his victims and tells them it's too late to save his final victim, the young boy. Determined to find him, the CSIs trace the tan fibers Greg found to an abandoned warehouse and rush there only to find the little boy in the gas chamber. They quickly take him out, but he's not breathing. Frantic, Riley administers CPR--and at last manages to revive him.

Analysis:

The question of a person's legacy permeates the episode--most obviously in the pursuit of the serial killer who, having failed to achieve success as an artist, turns to murder to leave a legacy people won't forget. But the underlying story is the legacy Warrick Brown and Sara Sidle left behind. In the wake of Warrick's death a grief specialist is called in--the always phenomenal Alex Kingston--forcing the team to either face their loss head on or avoid it outright. Greg goes right to Kingston's character, Patricia Alwick, to pour his heart out, while Hodges skulks around her office, probably in part to see who is going in and in part because he'd like to talk to her. And Grissom starts to talk about his dog, Hank.

At first, we, like Alwick does, suspect he's putting her off. But in their second conversation--once she's done some asking around and realizes Hank is Grissom's dog--Grissom reveals that Hank has been acting listless, and he's wondering if the dog might be reflecting his owner's mood. It's a brilliant moment, so quintessentially Grissom and so perfectly played by William Petersen. Of course Grissom can't come right out and simply tell Alwick that he's been feeling sluggish and depressed. The only way he can communicate his feelings to her are through those of his dog, whose ennui obviously reflects his master's. While Grissom does go so far as to make that connection, he isn't really able to fully express his sense of loss through his own feelings. It's a perfectly Grissomesque response, and the pain behind it is heartbreakingly palpable.

The case itself is strange and creepy in that way CSI has mastered; the victims really do look more like the wax figures you'd find at Madame Tussauds. CSI specializes in truly memorable serial killers whose methods are unique to say the least--think the Miniature Crime Scene Killer from seventh season or the Blue Paint Killer. Blisterman, a failed artist, is so focused on his legacy and the need to leave one that he opts for murder when art doesn't work out for him. Is a legacy everything? To hear Blisterman talk, it's clearly all he had.

Despite the heavy tone of the episode, there are several much needed moments of comic relief. The best one is definitely the moment when Jeffrey Tambor's delightfully nutty Jerzy Scaggs tells Brass he wants to paint him naked. Brass's deadpan reaction--"But where would the badge go?" is pitch perfect. Tambor, a veteran of the late, great comedy Arrested Development, is terrific in the part: so focused on his art that he comes off as oblivious to the world around him. Of course, the reality is that he isn't; he appears almost oblivious to Brass until he mentions that he prefers men and slyly brings up the suggestion of painting the detective naked.

I thoroughly enjoyed Riley Adams, who is quirky without being overtly so; nothing felt unnatural or overly ostentatious about the character. Oftentimes when a new character is introduced we immediately have how "special" that character is thrown in our faces. Think Lindsay Monroe from CSI: New York; how many references to her supposedly fresh country girl perspective did we get in her first episode alone? Riley is a talker, confident in her own abilities but not so eager to please the boss that she'll simply jump when he tells her to; when Grissom quizzes her on some stats she knows, she's quick to point out she's a Level 2 CSI. He's equally quick to remind her she's under evaluation, but it's nice to see she's not so cowed by her new boss that she isn't willing to point out to him that she might be a newbie in the Las Vegas lab, but she's been doing CSI work for a while now.

Also refreshing is the fact that the writers don't feel the need to immediately force Riley into a romantic situation with an established character on the show. On CSI: New York, Lindsay wasn't on screen for a minute before she and Danny Messer started the bantering that would lead to their forced pairing the following season, while Natalia Boa Vista and Eric Delko were hot and heavy in her first season on CSI: Miami. And the introduction of Dr. Tara Price, the new ME on Miami, was swiftly followed with Natalia positing that Dr. Price was trying to impress Delko during an autopsy and his observation that "she's cute." It's frustrating to see every new female character on a CSI show reduced to a love interest, so it's great to see Riley isn't introduced with that purpose in mind. Oh, down the road I wouldn't be surprised to see sparks fly between her and Nick or Greg, but for now, it's nice to get the opportunity to get to know her rather than just seeing her flirt with one of the attractive guys on the team.

Riley is definitely a talker: when Doc Robbins, noticing her veneers, asks about how she lost her teeth she goes off on a tangent about some of her perilous adventures...before admitting that she lost the teeth in separate, less dramatic incidents. When she admires Carla's weed, Catherine quips that the labs do random drug tests, and Riley tells her that she keeps a fresh urine sample in her locker. She adds, "Just kidding!" afterwards, but Catherine doesn't look so sure. Riley seems to be something of a daredevil, but she's also vibrant and fun, something the often somber CSI could use. Lauren Lee Smith is perfectly cast--youthful and vibrant without clashing with the show's tone in the least. Riley is intriguing, and since Smith is already in the opening credits, I expect we'll learn more about her in the coming weeks.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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