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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Formalities'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at November 12, 2004 - 10:57 PM GMT

See Also: 'Formalities' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Grissom and Catherine are getting ready to attend the appointment party for Grissom's old nemesis Conrad Ecklie, who has just been appointed to the post of Assistant Director of the Crime Lab. Catherine helps Grissom tie his bow tie and the pair head off to listen to Sheriff Rory Atwater give his speech. Grissom is up next, but he is saved just in time by his pager. He asks Catherine to give his speech for him, handing her a napkin that says only "What can I say about Conrad Ecklie?"

Grissom heads to the Empire Hotel, where the body of seventeen-year-old Nikki Jensen has been found in the penthouse suite where some kids from the McKinley High homecoming dance were celebrating. In the VIP elevator he runs into Ecklie's right hand woman, Sofia Curtis, whom he doesn't recognize because she's in formal wear. In the suite, they examine Nikki's body. She's lying on the floor, a puddle of vomit by her mouth. Grissom notices a contusion on her neck.

Brass learns that the room was checked out to Charlie Macklin, the owner of the hotel and casino. Janelle, his daughter, was hosting a party there, but no one can find her. Sofia changes into her CSI jumpsuit on the balcony. A stunned Grissom looks on while she puts on the suit and then pulls her dress out of it. David Phillips is examining the body, noting ligature marks on both of her wrists, suggesting she may have been bound. There's a mark on her cheek as well. He also finds some green fibers on her face. Sofia processes the room out loud, irritating Grissom slightly. She notes that there's no alcohol or drugs visible in the room. One of the girls who was at the party said someone tried to do CPR on Nikki, but it was too late. Disdainfully, she says Nikki's father is a freelance limo driver, probably a heavy for a casino owner somewhere, and that she didn't associate with the girl.

Nick and Catherine are on the case as well. Catherine goes in the security room and asks for the surveillance tapes from the guard. Nick talks to Sean Poland, who left the suite to go back down to the dance. Sean is disdainful of Nikki, too--he calls her a hanger-on and says she begged Janelle to let her into the party.

Dr. Robbins find evidence that Nikki had sex that evening, but he can't tell if it was consensual or not. Robbins determines Nikki died from mechanical asphyxiation due to the vomiting, which he believes was caused by drugs and alcohol.

Back at the penthouse, Sofia has found the drugs in question, ‘shrooms, in the toilet. She also finds seven used condoms. Grissom is looking at the vomit again. He says that the fact that it's a small puddle with no spatter indicated Nikki was already on the floor when she threw up. She may have been unconscious or dead when she did, Grissom says, noticing a green pillow on a nearby couch.

One of the boys at the party names "Rex" as the supplier of the drugs. Gavin is Rex's real name, and he says he doesn't need to sell drugs to make money. Brass tells Gavin he'll be charged with murder if the prints on the bag of ‘shrooms match his. Meanwhile, Sofia has noticed something strange about all the kids who attended the party in the suite: they all have ligature marks on their wrists. Catherine calls to tell Grissom that she's found Janelle Macklin: on one of the surveillance tapes from the VIP elevator, being abducted by two masked men.

The teens admit that two masked men came into the party and tied them up with duct tape before taking Janelle with them. The teens got free afterwards, but Nikki, high on drugs, was freaking out and in an effort to subdue her, the kids at the party accidentally smothered her.

Downstairs, Charlie Macklin tells Catherine that he's thoroughly convinced that Janelle has set up the whole kidnapping herself. He tells Catherine that his daughter is constantly trying to get his attention by pulling outrageous stunts like flunking out of prep school or totaling her car. Even when he calls her cell phone and hears a kidnapper's voice demanding that a million dollars be wired to an account in the Cayman Islands or Janelle will be killed, Macklin remains convinced it's a prank. Janelle's trust fund is at a bank in the Caymans. Across town, Nikki Jensen's devastated father, Bobby, identifies her body at the morgue, tears in his eyes.

Conrad Ecklie comes by to needle Grissom, asking him for a copy of Grissom's speech for his scrapbook. The two talk about who Ecklie is going to appoint as the new day-shift supervisor. Ecklie is clearly leaning toward Sofia, but Grissom recommends Catherine anyway.

Greg and Catherine are trying to figure out how Janelle's kidnappers got her out of the hotel. They can't find evidence that any of them actually left the building, so Catherine, Nick and Warrick head back to the suite. Nick finds a black fiber in the VIP elevator door, while Warrick uncovers the kidnappers' masks. He concludes that Janelle either knew her abductors or that they planned to kill her.

Catherine goes back to the surveillance room, where she locates a digital video time delay box. The guard admits that Janelle asked him to loop the video--he says she asked him to do it as a favor so that she could sneak two guys up to the suite. He claims to not know where she is.

The fiber Nick found is from a tuxedo, and Brass has Dean Tate, one of the boys from the dance, in. Under pressure, he admits that Janelle staged the whole thing, but he won't tell them who the other "kidnapper" was. He does point them to the hotel room Janelle was in, but when the CSIs get there, it's been trashed and there's no sign of Janelle.

Dean takes a polygraph test to prove he didn't kill Janelle and he passes it. One of the prints at the scene places Sean in the hotel room. But when they call Sean in, he says it was just a joke. He wanted to hook up with Janelle, but she got a voicemail and got very upset and left the hotel room. Catherine and Greg access the voicemail, which is from Janelle's father, angrily telling her to come home.

Catherine, Grissom and Sofia discuss the case and are forced to admit there's been no crime here, other than Janelle's inadvertent involvement in Nikki's death. They are interrupted by a 419 page. Janelle's car has been found near McCarran airport. Janelle lies dead in the trunk, her hands bound and a scarf shoved into her mouth.

A shell-shocked Charlie Macklin tells Brass that Janelle left him a message hours ago saying she'd been kidnapped and was in the trunk of her car. He thought it was another prank--what kind of kidnappers let their victim keep her cell phone?

Brass question Bobby Jensen, whose town car was seen picking Janelle up outside the Hard Rock Cafe. Bobby is angry that no one has been arrested for Nikki's murder. He responded to a call for a town car, and when Janelle got in the car, she offered him an expensive bracelet and apologized to him about Nikki. He threatened to kill her, and she fled.

Dr. Robbins says that Janelle died of asphyxia--the scarf cut off her air passages. Her tox screen was positive. The only DNA and epithelials the CSIs can find on Janelle's bindings are Janelle's own. Catherine studies the pictures of Janelle and concludes from the positioning of the bonds that Janelle tied herself up. It was an accidental suicide--she was hoping her father would save her. Back at the Empire hotel, Charlie Macklin listens to Janelle's final voicemail again.

Analysis:

CSI's 99th episode is the tale of two fathers and two daughters. Janelle Macklin and Nikki Jensen may have been friends, but they were worlds apart. Nikki longed for the world Janelle inhabited naturally by birth, while Janelle wanted what Nikki had: a loving father who cared more about her than his work. The juxtaposition of the two girls' stories makes for a powerful episode.

The fathers couldn't be more different either. Charlie Macklin's neglect ultimately leads to his daughter's death. A girl so desperate for attention that she will fake a kidnapping is a troubled girl indeed, but Charlie chose to dismiss her cries for help as mere attention-getting techniques. It's hard to sympathize with him in the end, even though it's pretty clear that he's starting to realize what he's lost. It is especially sad to see him finally listening to Janelle (via her voicemail) now that it's too late to help her.

Bobby Jensen, on the other hand, is a man clearly destroyed by his daughter's death. The last we see of Charlie Macklin is in his hotel, still looking as polished as ever, nowhere near as devastated Bobby Jensen is the first moment we see him on screen. Bobby isn't a refined man, and though he's downright frightening when he's describing to Brass how he wanted to kill Janelle, he's also a tragic figure. He tells Brass that he lost everything when he lost his daughter. Nikki wanted Janelle's wealth and privilege, but it's clear watching Bobby that what Nikki had in her father was far more valuable.

Did my eyes deceive me or did Grissom and Sofia Curtis have some sparks flying between them? I enjoyed their banter; they are very different CSIs, but it was nice to see Grissom trying out her method of talking to herself while she processes evidence. It shows that Grissom admires her technique and probably a little more than that. I don't know whether or not Sofia Curtis is going to appear again, but it would be nice if she did. She and Grissom had a nice, natural chemistry.

Of course, that old thorn in Grissom's side, Conrad Ecklie, could get in the way. The episode's funniest moment was early on, when Grissom handed Catherine his "speech" and she opened it to find only one sentence. Grissom must be fuming about Ecklie's promotion, especially after he asks Sofia if Ecklie is her boss and she reminds him that as of that evening, Ecklie is Grissom's boss as well.

Grissom deserves praise for swallowing his pride and asking Ecklie to consider Catherine for the position of day shift manager, even though it seems all but certain that Ecklie will chose Sofia. It can't be easy for Grissom to ask Ecklie for anything, and the fact that he's willing to do it for Catherine shows how much he believes in her.

Grissom's faith in Greg seems less certain. Greg mentions to Catherine that Grissom keeps putting off his final field proficiency test. OK, Greg bungled his first case slightly (though his bungling led to the CSIs finding the murder weapon, so maybe a little bungling every so often isn't horrible), but he's earnest and eager and it's time to promote him. The guy (and the audience) has waited long enough.

Next week: CSI's 100th episode airs!

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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