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CSI Files

An archive of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds and crime drama news

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Pilot'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at February 19, 2008 - 8:21 AM GMT

See Also: 'Pilot' Episode Guide

With the strike delaying any new CSI franchise episodes until late March/early April, CSI Files is taking the opportunity to go back to the beginning, offering reviews of episodes from the early seasons of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami, many of which aired before the site's 2003 founding! The retro reviews will run until new episodes of the franchise start to air in the spring, and then pick back up in the summer while the shows are on hiatus.


The body of a man, Roy Harmon, is found in a bathtub, the apparent victim of suicide. Gil Grissom, the nightshift CSI supervisor, plays Harmon's taped suicide note for his distraught mother, but she says the voice on the tape isn't Roy's. Grissom returns to the lab to meet his newest recruit, Holly Gribbs, the daughter of a traffic court cop who has just graduated from with a forensics degree. She's overcome at the Harmon autopsy, where the coroner confirms Harmon's death was indeed a homicide--and rushes out, only to get herself locked in the morgue. Holly's first night on the job only gets worse when Captain Jim Brass gives her a dressing down and dismisses her as a legacy hire. Grissom sends her on what should be a simple robbery case, but the owner aims a gun at her to get her to hurry up her processing and CSI Catherine Willows comes in to intervene and offer the new CSI a few words of encouragement.

CSIs Nick Stokes and Warrick Brown are in a fierce competition for a promotion to CSI Level 3. Both men are just once case away from closing the deal. Nick works a robbery where a man has been robbed by the prostitute he brought up to his hotel room. His lips are discolored, but when Nick takes the swab to tech Greg Sanders, nothing comes up. Nick lucks out when a young woman named Kristi Hopkins passes out while driving and gets into a minor car accident. She's sent to the hospital and the doctor observes a discoloration around her nipple. Nick gets her to admit to drugging the man who hired her, and agrees not to press charges if she returns the man's belongings and turns over the solution she used to drug him.

Warrick doesn't fare quite as well on his case; he's called to the scene of a home invasion turned deadly. A husband has shot the drunk friend of his wife who was staying with them for six months before the husband threw him out. He claims the drunk man returned to attack his family and he shot him in self-defense, but Warrick has his doubts. He notices the victim's left shoe has been retied and also notices that the husband's left pinkie toe is hurt. The man admits to retying the shoe after it flew off during the shooting, but denies ever putting the victim's shoe on his own foot. When Warrick finds a broken toenail inside the victim's shoe, he's convinced the husband kicked the door in himself using the victim's shoe to make it look like the victim broke in. But when Warrick goes around Brass to a get a warrant from a judge in exchange for placing a bet for him, Brass calls him out and gets him removed from the case. Grissom sends Warrick with Holly to the scene of a robbery and finishes the case up for him, going to the house and collecting toenail clippings from the husband and confirming that he did indeed wear the victim's shoe--and kill him in cold blood.

The murder of Roy Harmon proves more of a challenge. There's a perfect print on the tape recorder--too perfect--laced with latex. The print matches a man named Paul Millander, but Grissom finds an explanation for it when he brings the man in for questioning: Millander works in a model warehouse and designed a hand model using his own hand as the blueprint. His prints are on the fingers of the ten thousand hands that were shipped out for Halloween. Though Grissom can reassure Mrs. Harmon that her son's death was indeed not suicide, he can't close the case. The CSIs gather to celebrate Nick's promotion to CSI Level Three, including Warrick, who left Holly to process the robbery scene while he went to place the bet for Judge Cohen. Brass interrupts the celebration with disturbing news: Holly Gribbs has been shot at the scene of the robbery and isn't expected to pull through. Warrick is placed on suspension and the rest of the team is headed into overtime to catch the shooter.


This is how it all began, and looking back on the pilot episode, it's interesting to see how CSI has changed from its first outing. Though it's a more stylized and darker show now, CSI's quirky humor and smart writing was evident from the get-go. The pilot manages to be straightforward and accessible even as it lays out some complex plot threads that will continue throughout the season and beyond: the faked suicide killer, Warrick's gambling problems and Catherine's attempts to balance her job with raising her daughter.

Looking back at the pilot from 2008, when forensics shows are in abundance, it's easy to forget how groundbreaking the show was when it first premiered. Before CSI, it was all about getting a confession or finding a key witness or tripping a suspect up in the recounting of a story. In CSI, things are much more concrete: striations on a toenail clipping from a suspect match it to one found in the victim's shoe and similar skin discolorations reveal that a prostitute drugged her john. As Grissom quips, "Concentrate on what cannot lie: the evidence." People are fallible and, as Doctor House would say, "everybody lies." Whether they're trying to conceal shady behavior or an actual crime, people can't always be trusted. The evidence can.

It's easy to see why quirky, eccentric Gil Grissom makes such a compelling hero. He's different from the typical brash, posturing detective (personified in this episode by Jim Brass). What supervisor would ask for a pint of blood on a new employee's first day? Who yells, "You assholes!" at a morgue full of dead people? Grissom garners a few laughs in the pilot, but he's also an insightful, clever character. And a determined one as well--when the husband tells Grissom he cut his toenails and flushed them down the toilet, Grissom gamely sets about searching around the toilet for the clippings. The message is clear: incriminating evidence can't really be gotten rid of.

Grissom comes across as less reserved in this episode than he does as the series progresses. William Petersen is clearly having fun with the CSI's quirky side. He greets Holly Gribbs with a smile--and a request for a pint of blood. The moment where he yells, "You assholes!" at the corpses after Holly is startled by them is funny and completely unexpected. Who knew Grissom had it in him? He also apparently tried romancing one of the lab techs, with little luck. Grissom might be good at reading crime scenes and interpreting evidence, but women are something of a mystery to him it seems.

CSI's leading lady doesn't get much screentime in the pilot. Catherine does swoop in for a memorable rescue, getting Holly Gribbs out of a sticky situation with a convenience store owner who doesn't want the CSI to waste her time looking for evidence. Catherine's pragmatic side shows through right away when she assesses the situation and tells Holly to come with her. Why bother processing the scene of a robbery if the victim doesn't care about who robbed her? Catherine's got a point. She gives the frazzled Holly advice about the job, urging her to stick with it until she closes her first case. Catherine promises her she won't regret it.

Sadly, Holly probably does regret it, given that the episode concludes with her getting shot and as Brass says solemnly, isn't expected to pull through. It's a shocking ending to the first episode; the audience has been lulled into thinking Holly was their gateway into the CSIs' world, that she would be their guide, gently easing them into the world of forensics as she got the hang of it. But it's not to be so; Holly provides a quick introduction and then is summarily dispatched. Holly is a fairly stock character--the newbie uncertain of her path but eager to impress and please. The loss of the character is worth the message her death sends: that this is dangerous work and that the show isn't going to play it safe.

Holly's predicament puts Warrick in even bigger trouble than he already has stirred up for himself during the episode. He goes around Brass's back to get a warrant, but does so by making a deal with a judge: he'll place a bet for Judge Cohen in exchange for a warrant. I can't imagine Grissom would approve of this kind of backdoor dealing. Then, after being pulled from the case by Brass, Warrick blows off shadowing Holly to go place the bet for the judge. Warrick might never have gotten caught for that if Holly hadn't been shot, but his actions clearly have grave consequences here. It's a risky move, introducing Warrick with so much maverick behavior in the first episode, but it also immediately makes him one of the more fascinating characters to the audience.

His counterpart and rival, Nick Stokes, plays it a bit safer, but he does offer a deal to Kristi Hopkins rather than simply having her arrested. It's unconventional, but it does allow him to close the case, return the hapless victim's belongings to him and earns Nick the promotion to CSI Level Three. Nick comes off as easygoing and charming guy; it's no surprise that at the end of the episode it's he and not the troubled Warrick getting the promotion.

Brass is the very opposite of easygoing in this episode, and it's clear the character was initially envisioned as the stereotypical hard-nosed detective in opposition to the "nerd squad." Though Paul Guilfoyle does well with the material, Brass is a little too caustic to be likable here. First he lays into Holly Gribbs for being a legacy hire and then he opposes Warrick, disagreeing with the CSI but also clearly looking to rattle his cage. Brass also appears to be the one in charge of the CSIs, giving Grissom orders and putting Warrick on suspension following Holly's shooting. I'm grateful the character of Brass was mellowed as the series progressed; though he's on good terms with Grissom in the episode, his antagonistic attitude wears thin after a while.

There's no sign of Sara Sidle or Dr. Al Robbins here, but Greg Sanders shows up, geeky and quirky from the get-go as he banters with Nick about what kind of swabs are the best. From his goofy shirt to his quick wit, Greg is every bit the lab geek. In just two scenes he makes a strong impression, and it's not hard to see why he was eventually added to the main credits while the rest of the supporting players in the pilot didn't survive much beyond it.

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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