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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Pirates Of The Third Reich'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at February 13, 2006 - 10:38 PM GMT

See Also: 'Pirates Of The Third Reich' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

The corpse of a young woman with a shaved head and an emaciated body is found off Highway 55 near the town of Sparks. She is branded with the number 19 and missing a hand, and when she is taken to the morgue, it's discovered that one of her eyes has been severed at the optic nerve. Wendy Simms in the DNA lab determines the severed eye did not belong to the dead young woman--the DNA of the eye is male. Dr. Robbins notes that the young woman had necrotizing faciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria, and puncture wounds on her body indicate it was injected directly into her blood stream. She also had a D&C, which could have been for anything from an abortion to polyps. The eyeball is traced to Jack Landers, a convicted sex offender who has been paroled. Jack is discovered disoriented and confused near a halfway house. The doctor who examines Jack thinks he's been lobotomized--in the 30s and 40s lobotomies were frequently done through eye sockets. The CSIs notice a brand on his arm, the number 18, indicating Jack was a victim of the same person who killed their Jane Doe. The young woman isn't a Jane Doe for long--her mother comes in to identify her after seeing her picture on the news. Her mother is none other than Lady Heather.

Brass tells Grissom that the victim's name is Zoe Kessler and also shares her mother's identity with him. Brass and Grissom take a look around Zoe's apartment and discover she went to a place called the Betz clinic and the clinic left several follow-up messages on her answering machine. Back at the morgue, Lady Heather IDs Zoe's body and asks Dr. Robbins if Zoe ever gave birth, but he tells her there's no way to tell for sure. Grissom offers Heather his condolences and tells her that back in November Zoe participated in a study at the Betz clinic. Catherine and Greg pay the clinic a visit and learn from Dr. Jacob Wolfowitz that Zoe was participating in a sleep study because she suffered from insomnia, but he tells them she left the study early. But Zoe's car was towed from the Betz clinic lot, so did she really leave on her own? When Wendy tells Nick that sinew found between Zoe's teeth was from her own hand, Nick and Warrick set off with a team of CSIs for the desert where Zoe was found to try to find her hand. They discover a pile of dirt in front of a barn that reeks of decomposition, and a variety of plants, including a corpse flower, in the barn. There's a package at the house next to the barn addressed to Jacob Wolfowitz, but when the CSIs knock on the door, it's Lady Heather who answers.

Lady Heather admits to Grissom that she broke into Wolfowitz's house in the hopes that he would press charges and give the CSIs the opportunity to get into his house, but Wolfowitz is refusing to press charges. Heather did take a rare etching of Romulus and Remus that she found in the house, noting that it's been torn from a book. Grissom calls in Professor Rambar to authenticate the page and the CSIs trace it to a rare book from the UNLV library. Catherine and Greg study the sleep trial tapes and witness both Zoe and Jack waking up in the middle of their sleep exams, seemingly in response to someone opening the door to their rooms. But the case takes a surprising turn when Wolfowitz is discovered dead in the Betz Clinic parking garage. The seat of the car is wet and there's no discernable cause of death. Rigor has set in, indicating he's been dead at least six hours. Dr. Robbins examines the body and determines that Wolfowitz has been frozen and thawed, indicating he died at least two days ago. There are bruises and puncture wounds on Wolfowitz's body and a number 1 branded into his arm. Catherine is puzzled by the autopsy results--how could Wolfowitz have been dead for two days when she saw him just yesterday. Lady Heather intercepts Grissom to give him a DNA sample she obtained from Wolfowitz--she slept with him. She and Zoe became estranged after she learned Zoe was pregnant by her married therapist and Heather had the man's license revoked. Heather is determined to bring Zoe's killer to justice but is shocked when Grissom tells her Wolfowitz is already dead.

Wendy informs the CSIs there's lots of human DNA in the dirt outside Wolfowitz's house and that the sperm from the condom Lady Heather brought Grissom matches the saliva used to tear out the page from the library book and Wolfowitz. But the fingerprints in the car are all a match to a Jacob Sneller, who turns out to be Wolfowitz's identical twin. A look at his record reveals he was in the army and stationed in Berlin up until a year and a half ago. Catherine posits that perhaps Sneller came back and experimented on his brother before killing him and assuming his identity at the clinic. Grissom and Catherine go to Wolfowitz's house and find a trap door in the floor leading to a secret underground lab. In the lab, Grissom discovers Sneller's experiment notes and the German words written at the gates of Auschwitz ("work will set you free") in a notebook, as well as a clock with no numbers on it. Another hidden door in the basement lab leads to a room where identical twins lie on the floor, sewn together at their backs. One is already dead, and the other soon follows, despite the fact that the CSIs have them rushed to the hospital. Grissom continues to search the lab and the holding cell. He sees handcuffs surrounding the wall and assumes Zoe chewed her hand off to free herself. When he notices the crucifix Lady Heather wears on the floor of the lab, he rushes back to his car to go look for her. He finds her off the highway where Zoe was found. She has Sneller tied to the front of his car and is whipping him. Grissom grabs her whip to stop her from finishing him off. He tells her to "stop" and pulls her towards him in a comforting embrace.

Analysis:

"Pirates of the Third Reich" is one of those episodes of which so much is expected that it seems almost impossible that the episode will actually be able to live up to those expectations. Unfortunately, "Pirates" falls so far short that when the credits flashed at the end I was left blinking at the screen, so totally unexpected and abrupt that I just stared at the screen wondering, "That's it?" Abrupt endings aren't always bad, but leaving the audience feeling as though the episode has just been cut off makes it feel unfinished and incomplete.

The answer to the problems in the episode might have been to make it either ninety minutes or even a two-parter. "Lady Heather's Box", Melinda Clarke's last appearance as the whip-wielding dominatrix, was perfectly-paced, an ideal blend of personal stories and fast-paced mystery. Catherine and Grissom both got considerable time, as Catherine raced to save her daughter and Grissom explored his attraction to the enigmatic Lady Heather. It's amazing the difference just twenty minutes of actual episode time can make, but it did in this case.

So where does "Pirates" go wrong? It's mostly in the lack of depth to Sneller's Nazi-like crimes. Sneller is a non-entity--he's barely on screen, save to lead Catherine and Greg through the Betz clinic and then in the end to be whipped by Lady Heather. He's evil, that much is obvious, but it never goes any deeper than that because he's never given any voice whatsoever. Coming right after an episode like "Killer", which explored the commission of a crime by a seemingly-ordinary man and what he went through after the crime and in the days that followed, it's an especially glaring omission. Surely CSI can come up with something better than the stock evil doctor who experiments on human beings?

That's not to say Sneller's experiments aren't horrifying--they are. Replacing Zoe's eye with Jack's in order to give Zoe two blue eyes, giving Jack a lobotomy through his now vacant eye socket, surgically conjoining identical twins--all of that is beyond creepy and horrifying. Sneller seems to be an amateur: the eye he implants in Zoe's socket isn't attached, making me wonder what the actual purpose of implanting the eye was, other than to just give her two blue eyes. What's the purpose of sewing together the twins, other than to see if he could? Again, I lament that we never hear Sneller's voice. Compare it to CSI: New York's first season opener, "Blink", when the killer's motives were laid out for the viewer by Mac Taylor. It made the episode all the more chilling, because the viewer got a glimpse of the disturbing thought process of the man who had murdered several women.

Sneller is based on Dr. Joseph Mengele, a Nazi scientist who experimented on twins at Auschwitz. Like Sneller, Mengele's experiments didn't have much scientific basis--Mengele was a sadist who would inject dye into the eyeballs of twin children to see if he could change their eye color. Sneller's use of the phrase displayed at the gates of the concentration camp leaves little doubt as to who he is modeling his experiments off of, and the fact that he was stationed in Berlin during his time in the army is another nod to Nazism, as is his rejection of his adoptive parents' Jewish name, Wolfowitz.

It's never quite clear why Sneller picked Zoe and Jack for his experiments. It's suggested that Zoe may have been selected because of her different colored eyes, and one can hypothesize that Jack may have been picked out because he was a sex offender. If Sneller learned Zoe was estranged from her mother and Jack (presumably) have any family, he may have chosen them for the mere fact that he assumed no one would miss them.

The episode's strongest moments are when Lady Heather is on screen. Since she first appeared in "Slaves of Las Vegas", Clarke has owned the role, imbuing Lady Heather with a sensuality that mixes perfectly with her inner strength. A lot of what makes Lady Heather such a fascinating character is that there's simply no one else like her on television, and the writers thankfully never try to take away from the power of her character by chipping away at that strength. Even when confronted with her daughter's death, Lady Heather first cleverly breaks into the house of the man she suspects is the killer in order to trap him. When that isn't enough, she actually has sex with him in order to get his DNA.

And Grissom can't help but be utterly fascinated by her. She resists his attempts to council her, telling him he lost that right long ago. I assume that's a reference to the intimacy they shared in "Lady Heather's Box." Whether they slept together in that episode continues to be debated among the fanbase, but there's no doubt that their relationship has crossed into the personal. Though the ending of the episode is far too abrupt, the scene between Grissom and Heather is a powerful one, when he grabs her whip and tells her to stop. Grissom, normally so awkward around other human beings, especially emotional ones, lets down his guard for just a moment and embraces Heather. The fact that the episode should have stretched on a little more and dug a little deeper doesn't take away from the intensity these two generate together.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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