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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Hog Heaven'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at May 11, 2009 - 11:11 PM GMT

See Also: 'Hog Heaven' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

The Vegas team is called out when the Vegas Blasters, a local biker gang, apparently turns on one of their own, savagely killing him in a bar. Because the police are called to the scene immediately, they're able to catch most of the bikers before they flee. The biker is identified as Joey Niagra, and in autopsy Doc Robbins catalogues his multiple wounds and points out that he was on meth. Catherine spots a tattoo of the name Tonya on his body, as well as a distinct looping pattern on one of his wounds. At the station, the lab techs get DNA from the biker gang, including the aggressive Tonya, who head butts Hodges after mouthing off to Wendy and is promptly removed from the group. Catherine runs Joey's prints through the system and finds he's connected to an unsolved homicide of a prostitute who was raped after being killed. Ecklie pulls Brass aside to tell him Joey is actually Jack Nettles--an undercover cop. Brass is surprised--what kind of cop is "tweaking necrophiliac"? Ecklie and Brass go to Nettles house to tell his wife that he's been murdered and Brass is shocked when he recognizes her. Rita Nettles tells the men that her husband turned into someone she didn't know six months ago. She tried to see her husband's captain the night before, but was taken home when the officers she talked to realized she was drunk. Back at the precinct, the team isolates Tonya, who tells Catherine that she was working undercover alongside Joey to infiltrate the biker gang to get to the man at top, who they know as "Scratch." The night of Joey's murder, Tonya recalls the bartender getting a call just before clearing all the women out of the bar. Realizing something bad was happening, Tonya snuck away and called the police. A truckload of cocaine is coming in from Mexico and the Blasters' rivals, the Righteous Dogs, know about it--and are determined to get their hands on it. Tonya is upset that Ecklie has taken her off of active detail.

After Doc Robbins determines that Joey died of exsanguination from 24 stab wounds, Nick tries to match the weapons recovered from the bikers to the wound patterns on Joey, but he's only able to match one knife to several of the wounds, leaving most unaccounted for. Brass receives a visit from a rattled Rita to clear up the misunderstandings between them: she didn't know he was a cop and he wasn't clear she was married. She tells him that Joey stole money from her and hit her. Rita's face darkens when a cop comes in to tell Brass that Tonya Charles is being released. Theorizing that some of the bikers likely escaped before the police arrived, Langston hops on a bike and goes searching for the missing knives. He finds them tossed aside in a bag beside a trash heap. Langston matches the knives in the bag to the wounds in Joey and is able to match the prints on them to five bikers. Archie gets the phone records for the bar and finds that the call the bartender received just before the murder came from a pay phone outside the police department, and surveillance video reveals Rita making the call. Rita tells them her husband gave her the number for emergencies, but denies telling the bartender he was a cop. Tonya gets word to vice that the coke has come in from Mexico, but when she's released from police custody, the car she gets into explodes as Nick and Greg look on! The team determines the bomb was planted before Joey's death, meaning the Blasters--and their leader, Scratch--were on to her. The team recreates the murder and finds a bug in the bar's phone--which was hooked into a transceiver in Joey's iPod. Brass, Langston and Archie listen to Rita's call and hear her ID Joey as a cop after the bartender tells her he's with Tonya. The three realize the bartender is Scratch. Using a transponder on one of the bikes, Archie is able to trace the gang to a warehouse where they're facing off with the Righteous Dogs over the cocaine. Scratch runs at Brass only to be shot down. After Rita is led out in handcuffs, Catherine stops by Brass's office with a bottle of scotch.

Analysis:

There's not much mystery in the latest episode of CSI, which revolves around a murder that's essentially as obvious as it first appears. When the CSIs get to the scene, they suspect the bikers are responsible for the death of their compatriot--and they're right. There's more to the story, but there aren't any real surprises here; the final reveal that Rita purposely blew her husband's cover isn't a shocker, either. Let's face it: stories involving gangs have rarely been among the strongest CSI show entries. Miami has been to this well more times than I can count, and the episodes usually follow a predictable path, more often than not culminating in a big bust of some sort. This episode is no different, with the seizing of the cocaine overshadowing the conclusion of the murder investigation. The biggest problem with gang stories is that the scope of them often overshadows the human-interest aspect of it, rendering both the victim and the killer (or killers) little more than caricatures. That's sadly true here, as we don't really know what caused Jack Nettles to cross over to the dark side, throwing over his wife for Tonya and murder a prostitute. Was it always within him? Maybe--we don't really learn enough about Nettles one way or another to guess...or care.

The gang members are similarly clichéd tough guys who snarl and posture, whether they're in the bar hanging out or in the precinct getting swabbed. None of them are especially interesting, even their leader, who of course mouths off to Brass after getting taken down, spitting out that "the bitch cop was easy to make and Joey should have taken care of his wife." One of the most compelling aspects of CSI and really, any crime show, is the why behind the murder, to what leads one person to take another's life. The gang members in this episode come off as little more than brutes who mindlessly follow the orders of their leader, who isn't enough of a character to be scary or interesting. The scene in which the CSIs re-enact the murder is chillingly horrible, but the bust at the end takes away from the chance to give it an emotional punch. The explosion of Tonya's car makes for a shocking moment, but it's dismissed pretty quickly as well. And for what? The drug bust at the end isn't especially exciting or original.

The episode's strength lies in Brass's unexpected connection to Rita Nettles and the way Paul Guilfoyle handles Brass's discomfort. Brass is shocked when he accompanies Ecklie to give Mrs. Nettles the sad news about her husband and finds himself face-to-face with a woman who it becomes clear as the episode goes on he had a one-night stand with. The details of Brass and Rita's association are never revealed, a move that feels right for the character of Brass. The conversations between Brass and Rita make it pretty clear what happened between them and to over-explain the connection would have felt unnatural for the reserved Brass. Guilfoyle is excellent opposite Profiler's Ally Walker, who plays Rita as a damaged, unhinged woman. Whether she was that way when Brass met her or not remains unclear--the tone of their conversation suggests that the two found each other at a particularly low time for each of them. At the very least, they didn't share any pertinent details, like profession or marital status, with one another. One imagines they might have met at a bar at the end of a particularly grueling day for each of them. Rita's anger at her husband has clearly been building for a while, to the point that it causes her to reveal to the bartender (and leader of the Blasters) that her husband is a cop--an act she had to know would have a devastating result.

In the wake of Grissom's departure, interesting new friendships have sprung up: Greg and Riley have developed a teasing relationship, Doc Robbins and Langston have bonded over their shared knowledge of the medical field and Catherine and Brass's friendship is flourishing. It's lonely at the top, and like Grissom before her, Catherine is finding herself turning to the detective for advice--and friendship. In "If I Had a Hammer", Catherine sought out Brass as a sounding board about her doubts about her first solo case, both because he'd been around for the case, and because she knew he'd give her his frank opinion. Here, Catherine reaches out to Brass as a friend, showing up at his office door with a bottle of scotch in hand, saying she likes to wrap up a case with a "little scotch, a little talk." Though nothing is said before the episode ends--another wise decision--the camaraderie between Catherine and Brass is evident in the easy way they interact. There's a history here, felt deeply in Marg Helgenberger and Guilfoyle's performances.

Doc Robbins offers up an interesting bit of trivia to Langston, noting that Jack Nettles was stabbed 24 times, sustaining one more wound than Julius Caesar, who Robbins says was stabbed 23 times. Robbins references Caesar's as the first autopsy, a fun little piece of knowledge that sounds just like something the good doctor would know. The burgeoning friendship between Robbins and Langston has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the ninth season, and there's a genuine warmth between Robert David Hall and Laurence Fishburne that makes their scenes together truly enjoyable.

It's always nice to see Conrad Ecklie show up; the character has transitioned smoothly from Grissom's nemesis to a shrewd, but generally friendly suit. Though he's perfected the art of climbing the ranks, Ecklie is definitely an advocate for the team. Though he's clearly uncomfortable with Brass's history with Rita, he doesn't press the detective to tell him what happened, or force Brass off the case. Ecklie is no longer a man who pulls rank to get what he wants. Marc Vann always makes the supervisor sympathetic, and it's hard to believe he's still the same man who split the team back in season five's "Mea Culpa". The character has come a long way since then, and it's always great to see him whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In a move that's perhaps a bit much, newbie team member Ray Langston shows not just an interest in motorcycles, but a familiarity with them to the point that he hops on one to cruise around in gang territory to search for the missing murder weapons. The tricky aspect of introducing a new character is maintaining a balance: while the new character can't be a bumbling bumpkin else the audience will be turned off, nor can the new person be so extraordinary that it's a wonder he or she isn't leading the team after a handful of episodes. Langston is teetering a bit towards the latter--after floundering for a single episode, he's become something of a know-it-all. He hasn't made a single mistake since "The Grave Shift", which isn't really realistic for someone who's just become a CSI. While there's bound to be some friction between Laurence Fishburne's status as the new lead of the show and Langston's rank as a brand new CSI Level One, making Langston a wunderkind isn't the way to go. In comparison, Riley Adams' integration with the team has felt much more natural. Langston's medical savvy has given his character a unique angle, but having him ride a motorcycle into gang territory and sit stoically as a motorcycle gang approaches and rides past him is a little much.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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