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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Burn Out'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at December 31, 2006 - 8:52 PM GMT

See Also: 'Burn Out' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Two young boys, eleven-year-old Jason Crowly and ten-year-old Lucas Henson, go missing and the Las Vegas police department launches a desperate hunt to find them. When the CSIs are called to the property of registered sex offender Carl Fisher to investigate a fire that destroyed his car and house. The CSIs ponder his possible involvement in the boys' disappearance, but Carl maintains he was the innocent target of his neighbors' hatred for him. The CSIs explore other options, including Lucas's deadbeat father, Currie, and Jason's abusive grandfather, Terrence, but both prove to be dead ends, though they do learn the boys fled from Terrence after he violently reprimanded them and threw Lucas into a door at an abandoned house the boys play in. While the CSIs pour over Carl Fisher's car, hoping to get some evidence to hold him on, police officers discover the body of Lucas Henson.

In order to keep him from leaving the station, Grissom enlists Carl's help in profiling the boys' abductor. Carl tells the CSI that were it him, he would have studied the boys' home life in order to see how he could entice them to him. Sofia follows up on a report that Jason has been sighted on a bus bound for Texas and discovers the frightened boy hiding in the back. At the lab, Dr. Robbins determines Lucas was killed by a trauma to the head, and finds evidence someone attempted to revive him using CPR. Hodges is able to trace gas used to start the blaze to a gas station right by Carl's house, and a trace of Carl's ATM records proves he bought sixteen gallons of gas just before the fire--and his car can only fourteen. When Grissom confronts him, Carl defends his actions, claiming Lucas found him--that the boy tried to befriend him and, along with Jason, ran to him after Terrence accosted them. Carl bought the boys pizza, and gave Lucas aspirin and alcohol--a combination that proved fatal. Carl maintains he didn't kill Lucas, but Grissom counters that his choices led to the boy's death. The weary CSI watches as both Carl and Terrence are led away before going to lie down.

Analysis:

An intense episode that never lets up, "Burn Out" is suspenseful despite the fact that it's all but a foregone conclusion that Carl is guilty. Guest star Alan Tudyk deserves much of the credit for this--as Carl, he's both creepy and yet, oddly earnest in a way that makes the viewer almost want to believe in his innocence, perhaps because he himself is so determined to do so. Indeed, it's clear from Tudyk's delivery that Carl truly believes what he tells Grissom in the end: that Lucas chose him, and that he did everything he could to save the boy.

Scribe Jacqueline Hoyt deserves kudos for the tense scenes between Carl and Grissom, which feel like a delicate dance as Carl tries to impress Grissom with his willingness to help and Grissom attempts to get Carl to reveal crucial information without making it blatantly obvious that he suspects Carl abducted the boys. It's a delicate balance--Grissom's gut is telling him that Carl is guilty but he doesn't yet have the proof, while Carl knows Grissom is fairly certain he did it, but he wants to make sure the CSI sees the distinction between what a monster would do and what actually happened, which Carl firmly believes was not his fault. It's a delicate balance, and both the dialogue and the actors carry it through perfectly.

Tudyk and William Petersen are so good in these scenes that it doesn't matter that viewers know Carl is the guilty party: watching the back and forth between these two is just as gripping as watching the CSIs use evidence to uncover an unknown killer. It's a psychological high-speed car chase: will Carl give away a crucial detail? Will Grissom be just a little too accusatory and cause Carl to clam up? There's so much tension in the room that the viewer can't look away for fear of missing a small gesture or a tiny slip up in which either Carl or Grissom gives away a little too much.

The recidivism rate for pedophiles is a hot topic these days, and was gruesomely and tragically illustrated last spring when Joseph Edward Duncan, released from jail after serving a jail sentence for raping a fourteen-year-old boy, murdered three members of an Idaho family and abducted the two youngest children. By the time he was apprehended, only one of the children was still alive. Hoyt avoids mirroring the tragedy, but the message is the same: pedophiles are repeat offenders. Carl was without a doubt heading that way when Lucas died, and Grissom's accusation is clear: were Carl's intentions towards the boys really not harmful, he would have gotten Lucas to a hospital.

The CSI supervisor is looking more than a little worse for the wear in this episode, and if viewers weren't clued in by his haunted dreams and pill popping, the title "Burn Out" gives it away: the job is taking its toll on Grissom. This case is an excellent one to highlight Grissom's exhaustion: the crime is particularly disturbing as it involves the disappearance of two children; he knows who the guilty party is, but can't immediately prove it; and Carl wants Grissom's ear, and eventually his sympathy and absolution. Is it any wonder that this case would get under his skin?

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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