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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Lab Rats'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at May 16, 2007 - 10:55 PM GMT

See Also: 'Lab Rats' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

While the CSIs are away, the lab techs will play! David Hodges gathers Mandy Webster, Archie Johnson and Henry Andrews in Grissom's office to examine the miniature crime scenes left behind at four different murders. Hodges tells them Grissom wants the input of the lab team. They recall the miniature killer's first victim, rocker Izzy Delancy ("Built to Kill, Part Two"), the second victim, elderly Penny Garden ("Post Mortem"), the third, Raymundo Suarz ("Loco Motives") and the fourth, an undercover officer impersonating therapist Barbara Tallman ("Monster in the Box"). After Raymundo's murder, the CSIs managed to connect a man named Ernie Dell to the all three victims, but the miniature that arrived after his suicide ruled him out as the killer. His son, Lionel, was questioned, but he suggested the killer might be one of Ernie's many foster children.

To Hodges' consternation, Wendy Simms involves herself in the case, calling a number that appeared on all the victims' phone bills from Hodges' cell phone. The techs try to come up with a common thread between the cases, and Hodges accidentally breaks off a part of one of the miniatures--a tiny replica of a box of bleach. Wendy asks Sara about why Grissom would ask Hodges to help with the case and when Sara implies he probably didn't, she confronts Hodges. Undeterred, Hodges continues to study the miniatures, and realizes the bleach is a common tie between all four. When he points this out to Grissom, the CSI finds the information valuable, and wonders if bleach is a trigger for the killer.

Analysis:

A clever approach to a clip show that helps viewers who may have missed episodes throughout the season get caught up on the miniature killer case, "Lab Rats" is good fun and provides a new clue in the case, thanks to the careful work of the lab techs. CSI by its very nature doesn't often get a chance to be completely light-hearted, but this episode plays with CSI conventions, highlighting in a humorous way the amount of work that gets dumped on the lab techs, the way they deal with it and the occasional pitfalls of the job--like discovering a rat in a bloated body!

In many ways, this episode reminded me of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled "Lower Decks," in which viewers followed the story of four low ranking officers on the Enterprise while they performed their duties and observed their superior officers from a distance. It was a thoroughly unique and inventive episode in the series in the sense that it gave viewers a chance to see their favorite show through the eyes of characters with completely different roles than the ones they were accustomed to. These characters weren't captains or high-ranking officers and they weren't the decision-makers; they were the minions, who often got little consideration in the course of an average episode.

The same is true of CSI's lab techs. Hodges usually gets a witty quip or two in per episode, but all we see of the others are the moments when they get a task from a CSI or report the results of a lab find. We don't really know much about them; save for Hodges, they're mainly background characters. "Lab Rats" cleverly turns the tables--in this episode, it's the CSIs who are the background characters, passing down a hall discussing a case or bringing a stack of samples for one of the techs to run. It's fun to see the characters we've come to know over the past seven years from the perspective of the lab techs who spend their days processing the CSIs' evidence.

Wallace Langham, who as Hodges is usually brilliant comic relief in the show, tackles the lead role in this episode with aplomb, emphasizing both Hodges' quirky nature and his dogged interest in pursuing the case. Hodges believes, despite the doubt of his fellow lab techs, that they can make a difference in the miniature killer case, and he proves he's right when he uncovers a thread tying all the cases together: the presence of bleach at all of the crime scenes. It's a hard won revelation, found only after eliminating several other leads that look promising but don't pan out. In the beginning of the episode, Hodges notes that the lab techs have an eye for details, and he proves just how useful that is.

It's refreshing to see a more serious side to Hodges. The character is a gem, and his random, offbeat comments brighten many an episode of CSI, but for the most part he's somber here, surprising even Nick, who comes to Hodges with evidence expecting a quip and is floored when he doesn't get one. Langham, who was so moving when he took a call from a dead girl's mother in "Empty Eyes", proves that if CSI ever did spin-off a lab tech show (a la The X-Files' The Lone Gunmen), he'd be more than capable of taking on the lead role. I wouldn't like to see Hodges ever lose his quirky sense of humor, but I definitely enjoy seeing his more serious side.

The other lab techs shine in this episode as well. Liz Vassey as Hodges' nemesis (and possible crush?) Wendy Simms shines in her role as an enthusiastic participant and then finally frustrated skeptic when she realizes that Hodges has fooled the lab techs into thinking that Grissom actually asked for their help. Vassey and Langham play off each other well, and Hodges clearly envies Wendy in that she can be a lab geek...without actually being a geek. Hodges might not have wanted her in on the investigation, but it's obvious when they're pouring over the miniatures that they really do make a good pair.

With Hodges being more serious, Jon Wellner provides much of the comic relief as Henry Andrews, the lab tech who might possibly be even geekier than Hodges. Archie Kao's Archie Johnson is somewhat skeptical, as is Sheeri Rappaport's Mandy Webster, though both are swept along by Hodges' enthusiasm. All five of the actors turn in truly delightful, energized performances. It's a treat to see more of these lab techs and get a better sense of who they are, and I can only hope this isn't the last time they'll be featured.

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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