CSI: Miami--'High Octane'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at November 8, 2006 - 4:34 PM GMT

See Also: 'High Octane' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A stunt show on the streets of Miami known as a 'sideshow' turns deadly when one of the racers is decapitated while shouting a victory cheer as he speeds towards the crowd. Though the direct cause of his death is obvious--a cable with lights on it severed his head when he sped past it--Horatio thinks the nineteen-year-old, Dexter Gilman, is the victim of foul play. Delko sends a man named Mike Doyle, a documentary filmmaker who wants to follow the team, away when he catches him at the scene, but Ryan agrees to let the man follow him around in the hopes of taking heat off the lab. Alexx confirms the decapitation is what killed Dexter, but also notes a tire tread on one of his legs, indicating he was run over after he died.

The car Dexter was driving when he died is traced to a wealthy young woman named Brynn Roberts. Brynn tells Calleigh she dated Dexter and sponsored his stunts. Her father promised to double whatever money she made by the age of 25, and Brynn intends to collect. She tells Calleigh the car was stolen after Dexter was killed, and refuses to turn over her PDA. Delko turns to the discarded beer bottles at the site of Dex's death and finds an unusual print on all of them, indicating one person was handing out beer at the gathering. That person turns out to be Evan Dunbar, a teen who watched the stunts in awe. He denies stealing the car, but refuses give up the names of the other people at the sideshow. Horatio does some digging around and discovers Evan's father, Steve, was the one who called the cops on the sideshow after hearing his son talk about it.

Calleigh and Dan Cooper view footage from the sideshow released onto the internet by Brynn and notice that Dex's car was elevated when he hit the wire, indicating the hydraulics in his car were activated. Malfunction or murder? The car is recovered at another sideshow in the possession of a man named Luke Baylor, who claims to be a friend of Dex's. Half a dozen other stolen vehicles are also found at the sideshow. Tripp and Horatio suspect a car theft ring. Ryan is fairly certain Dex was murdered when he discovers a transmitter in the car, which would have allowed someone to activate the hydraulics remotely. Ryan and Delko go to question Evan Dunbar only to see the teen race by them in a car and crash. He's wounded, and the CSIs smell jet fuel in the engine. They trace the fuel to an underground line and discover an exposed pipe in the backyard of a Miami resident. The woman was having her pool worked on by none other than Steve Dunbar, Evan's father. Ryan finds Dex's blood on the gas pipe, puzzling him as the murder took place miles away. Tripp tells Horatio that the number of stolen cars in Miami has gone up in the last few weeks.

Delko discovers the remote transmitter was activated by a cell phone, and the number traces back to Brynn Roberts. Unrepentant, she says she only meant to cause Dex to crash for the attention it would bring to the sideshow, not to kill him. Calleigh is disgusted. The CSIs learn that Luke was the one who left Dex's blood on the gas pipe after shoving Dex's body out of the car and driving off. They follow him to an airport hanger where they discover him with several stolen cars. The find the ringleader, Steve Dunbar, close by, loading cars onto a plane and he is arrested.

Analysis:

Cool concept--murder by decapitation is certainly not something you see everyday. And I sympathized with Dan Cooper when he cringed at the repeated viewings of the fatal cut--it was graphic and shocking. Watching Dexter drive his car with his feet and work the crowd up while sticking his upper body out his sun roof, it was apparent that it was a recipe for disaster, but that didn't make the moment his head was severed from his body any less shocking.

What didn't make sense was why the CSIs were convinced it was murder. I spent half of the episode wondering why they felt the need to investigate what was seemed so clearly to be an accidental death until the hydraulics issue was discovered at the midway point. But up until then, the CSIs' dogged investigation feels like a baffling waste of time. Alexx doesn't even show up at the scene because the cause of death is so obvious. And there's nothing at the scene that screams homicide--Delko explains the way the would-be stunt men fix up their cars and it seems clear that Dexter's death was the result of a stunt gone wrong.

All of that would be fine if there had been something at the scene to suggest foul play. But the camera focuses in on blood on the wire of the lights--key evidence that the cable was what killed Dexter, for sure, but nothing that suggests murder over a tragic accident. The only reason I knew it had to be murder was because I was watching a CSI show, and although occasionally a death that appears to be murder turns out to be an accident, one that looks like an accident from the beginning is rarely just that.

Horatio seemed a bit off his game in the episode, something which almost never happens. Usually Horatio has a sixth sense about people, and he'll be suspicious of someone who turns out to be a bad guy long before it becomes apparent that the person is indeed less than honest. But Horatio actually sympathizes with Steve Dunbar about dealing with his son, before he finds out Steve actually used his son to cover up his own criminal activities. It's a rare moment when Horatio is off the mark about someone, but it was nice to see that even Horatio, usually such a good judge of character, makes a mistake now and then. It makes him more human, and therefore more interesting.

Samaire Armstrong, who made a big splash on shows such as The O.C. and Entourage is a standout as the shallow, money-grubbing Brynn Roberts (ironically, the last name of her character's rival, Summer, on the The O.C.--could it be a nod to the Fox sudser?). Armstrong imbues the character with a flip nonchalance--her concerns are about making money. No, the accident didn't happen the way she'd planned, but she's not really sorry about that--after all, it did draw a lot of attention, which is exactly what she wanted.

I'm curious to see where Ryan's decision to let a film crew follow him around will lead. It sounds more long term than the reality TV show that followed Grissom & co. on a case in last season's "I Like to Watch". Ryan says he feels like he has to do it because the lab's reputation was tarnished by Monica West's crusade last season, but Delko thinks it might have something to do with Ryan wanting to be a media darling. Delko has been wary of Ryan's ambitions since even before "10-7", when Ryan first cozied up to reporter Erica Sikes. I doubt Delko is right, but it's always interesting when these two butt heads, so I'll be interested to see if they clash further over Ryan's decision.

Natalia Boa Vista cautions Ryan against going in front of the camera. From what she says to him, it sounds like she's still feeling the heat from her decision to leak information last season. I'm happy to see she still isn't quite in good with the team--after all the hype the mole received, it would have felt unnatural if everyone had welcomed her with open arms. I hope she'll prove herself to the lab rather than ending up willing their sympathy by falling victim to her ex-husband or some unfortunate circumstance. It would make her a more interesting character to see why she's an asset to the lab.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.