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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Built To Kill, Part 1'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at September 25, 2006 - 6:14 AM GMT

See Also: 'Built To Kill, Part Two' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Catherine and Grissom are summoned to the scene after a woman is found dead on stage in the middle of the Cirque du Soleil show KA, while Sara and Warrick crash Sam Braun's exclusive party after Robert O'Brian, one of the investors for his new hotel, Eclipse, is found dead, the gun still clutched by his hand. Robert's business partner, Joe, found Robert's body and is greatly shaken. Catherine and Grissom are frustrated to find the manager of KA moved the unidentified girl's body. He tells the CSIs that no one in the show recognized the young woman; she wasn't part of Cirque.

Dr. Robbins examines both bodies. He finds no evidence of sexual trauma on the young woman; she was crushed, but only after a fatal blow to the head. Dr. Robbins is frustrated when he opens O'Brian's body bag and finds it filled with blood; David Phillips forgot to tape up the fatal wound, allowing the blood to contaminate the bag, making GSR tests impossible. Hodges has more luck with green powder found on the female victim, which turns out to be foam from a floral arrangement, leading the CSIs to conclude she snuck into the show under the guise of making a flower delivery. Surveillance footage reveals her going in backstage with a man next to her. Nick is able to recover her bag from a sandbox used in the Cirque show and he learns her name was Celia Noel, and she had tickets for all of the Cirque shows. One of the tickets was purchased with someone else's credit card--a man named Arnie Clifton. The CSIs interrogate Arnie, who admits he snuck backstage with her. When he tried to make a move on her, she pushed him away and got struck by one of the moving stages. After she fell, he fled.

Dr. Robbins finds Robert O'Brian had a BAC of 1.9 and drugs in his system that match ones Joe has a prescription for. When they learn the gun Robert killed himself with is registered to Joe, their suspicions fall on him. In Robert's room, the CSIs find an over mit with sesame seeds in it, and an examination of the inside of the mit reveals the gun was transported in it. Sesame seeds found in Robert's pocket indicate he did indeed carry the gun to the party himself. The gun remained in his hand due to a rare condition he was suffering from, Dupuytren's contracture. Sara returns his personal belongings to a grieving Joe, who puts Robert's ring on his finger, next to his own matching band.

Brass reluctantly receives a commendation for his negotiation of the hostage situation that left him critically wounded. Catherine and Nick go to a John Mayer concert after their cases are closed, but while Nick is dancing with a woman, someone slips Catherine a drug in her drink. She wakes up naked in a hotel room and fearing the worst, begins to process herself. Unaware of Catherine's situation, Grissom and Sara begin to process a new crime scene: a man lies dead at a kitchen table, with the entire scene recreated in miniature right next to his body.

Analysis:

Season premieres don't have to be "event" episodes. It helps if they're good, but after a summer of reruns, viewers are usually so eager for the return of their favorite shows that they'll more likely than not tune in unless given a good reason not to. In the case of the CSI premiere, many might have found that reason to be the move of television's current hottest show, Grey's Anatomy, opposite the reigning champ. The showdown was far and away the most anticipated of the fall season, and, unfortunately for CSI, Grey's walked away the champ (at least for now).

The battle is far from over--CSI may have been defeated, but not by much, and even if the forensic drama lost the most-watched drama crown, 22 million viewers is nothing to sniff at. The problem, I believe, lies not so much with the competition from Grey's, but in the fact that CSI is going to have to evolve to stay competitive. The question is, after six seasons, can it break its own mold?

As much as I love the CSI shows, I couldn't suppress a feeling of "here we go again" when the CSIs walked onto the KA stage. It felt routine--something we've seen many times before--and that's not a good thing. A season premiere should be thrilling, not the same old stuff. And this episode really is, up until the final five minutes. Sure, seeing bits of Cirque du Soleil's show is a visual feast, and it's fun to hear two songs from John Mayer's new album, but neither really advances the plot.

That's not to say there's nothing good about either case. Kevin Rahm gives a particularly good performance as Joe Hirschoff, Robert O'Brian's business partner, who turns out to be his life partner as well. Rahm's perpetual look of bereaved shock throughout the episode is made clear when he pulls Robert's matching ring from his effects and places it on his own finger, right next to his own. Rahm, who appeared in last season's CSI: NY episode "Fare Game", makes Joe a sympathetic, memorable character.

The first part of "Built to Kill" feels like set up, leading up to what happens to Catherine. Seeing Sam Braun at the beginning of the episode was a tease since he doesn't factor into this episode at all. I'm sure that will change in the second episode, but in the case of a season premiere, it's hard to justify having 37 minutes of business as usual leading up to the pivotal moment, the real thrust of the two parter.

The episode makes the same mistake the sixth season premiere "Bodies in Motion" did, and that's featuring cases that aren't especially satisfying. Part of the fun of a CSI episode is seeing the CSI's piece the mystery together and lay it out for the killer, who, caught by the evidence, either breaks down and confesses or stares dejectedly ahead, outsmarted by the CSI team. Not all murders are intentional and it's a positive thing to see CSI acknowledge this, but it makes a season premiere feel rather anti-climactic.

What happens to Catherine at the end of the episode is no doubt meant to counter that, but I don't think it's nearly as shocking as the producers expected it to be. I suppose it was her "turn," so to speak. After all, last season saw CSI: New York's Stella terrorized by her boyfriend and Aiden murdered by a rapist. In Miami Yelina and Natalia both endured abusive relationships, and Calleigh's ex-boyfriend held a gun to her head. Is it surprising that a CSI show is victimizing another main female character for ratings? No, it's not surprising. But it is disappointing.

Gentlemanly Nick conveniently leaves Catherine so he can dance with another woman and then doesn't notice when she gets woozy and disappears. After what happened to Nick in "Grave Danger", it's hard to believe that he of all characters would be so careless where a friend is involved. Being a CSI, Catherine herself would presumably recognize the symptoms of being drugged before she passed out, but I'll buy that she didn't have the time or the faculties to react.

What I have a hard time swallowing, though, is that an experienced CSI would think that evidence she collected from herself would be admissible. Her first instinct to call the crime lab was on target. I believe that she'd hang up and grapple with having to call her co-workers to process her. But Catherine knows procedure, and she knows how important chain of custody is when it comes to the evidence. But if she called CSI, we wouldn't have the lurid scene where she puts in a tampon and combs her pubic hair for evidence. Just like Stella's ordeal in "All Access", it's needlessly drawn out and has an uncomfortable voyeuristic aspect to it. Just as I did watching "All Access," I found the whole thing distasteful and exploitive.

Interspersed with Catherine's self-processing are scenes of Grissom and Sara at an unusual crime scene--a man lying dead at his kitchen table right next to a miniature of the exact same scene. The precision of the scene seems to be in direct opposition to the randomness of the accidental death of Celia, but it's a little late in the episode to hook the viewer, especially when over on ABC, Meredith Grey and her fellow interns were sighing dramatically and casting soulful glances at each other from minute one. CSI doesn't have to become Grey's Anatomy with forensics to compete, but it does need to roll out cases more engaging than these two, and avoid relying on exploiting its female characters for thrills to keep up with the competition.

Discuss this reviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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