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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Pledging Mr. Johnson'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at February 26, 2008 - 7:23 AM GMT

See Also: 'Pledging Mr. Johnson' 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.

Synopsis:

Two men out fishing on the lake happen upon a gruesome find: a woman's severed leg. When the rest of her body is recovered, the CSIs identify her as Wendy Barger and the coroner, Dr. Jenna Williams, determines she didn't drown. Noting a dislocated shoulder and signs of sexual activity, Wells postulates that Wendy may have been raped. Grissom and Catherine question Winston, Wendy's husband, who admits they were having problems and she'd gone out to their cabin to think. His semen isn't a match, so the pair hits up the last place Wendy ate at and learns she dined with a neighbor, Phil Swelco. Swelco admits to an affair with Wendy and says she was planning to leave Winston. Swelco tells them Wendy took her boat to see him, but the boat isn't docked at the marina where it should be. While Grissom rigs up a tub to predict where the boat would be based on the currents, Catherine does the legwork and finds the boat near Barring Point Bridge. The CSIs recover the boat and find Swelco's blood on it. When they question him, he insists he cut himself innocently, but Winston spots him being question and Catherine tells him the truth: Swelco was having an affair with Wendy. Grissom gets angry with her for spilling the beans and compromising the investigation, and sure enough, even after Grissom determines Wendy's death was an accident--her boat ran out of gas and she dislocated her shoulder pulling the engine cord, hit her head and toppled into the water--tragedy strikes when a devastated Winston shoots Swelco, thinking the man killed his wife.

Nick and Sara look into the hanging death of a fraternity pledge, James Johnson. Matt Daniels, the fraternity president, claims James was depressed after not getting into the fraternity, but the coroner finds no teeth marks on James' tongue, indicated he didn't die by hanging. Petechial hemorrhaging indicates he did indeed suffocate, and the coroner points out ink on his penis. Matt and another fraternity brother, Kyle Travis, claim James was humiliated during an initiation ritual where pledges had to get girls to sign various body parts. The boys say James faked his and that they called him out on it, but Sara has doubts that are confirmed when fabric and liver are discovered in James' throat. Kyle claims James asked for a second chance, so the boys made him eat raw liver, but that he choked on it and died even after they performed the Heimlich maneuver on him. The coroner shows the CSI that there's no damage to the ribs indicating anyone tried to save James, and the plot thickens when the CSIs learn James actually did get his body signed by a girl: Kyle's girlfriend, Jill. When they find a bloody piece of string in Kyle's room, they're able to get Matt to confess: Kyle saw Jill's initials on James and made the pledge swallow the raw liver with a string attached, and then pulled on it, leaving the liver behind and causing James to choke to death.

Judge Cohen, the judge Warrick placed a bet for in the "Pilot" tells Warrick he wants the CSI to break an evidence seal in a rape case in order to compromise the case against the accused. Warrick is upset and turns to Grissom for advice after the supervisor tells him he's been promoted to CSI Level Three. Warrick lures the judge to a park to meet to discuss what Cohen wants him to do, and Warrick gets the judge's intentions on tape. Brass, who heard it all from nearby, swoops in and arrests the corrupt judge. Grissom tells Warrick he's proud of him but that he won't always be around to protect him.

Analysis:

The fourth episode of CSI delves into the differences between its leads, Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows. Grissom typifies science and reason and logic, which are essential in the field but also a little cold. On the other hand, Catherine personifies emotion and passion and feeling, which can sometimes be beneficial and sometimes just the opposite. Grissom and Catherine both locate the boat; Grissom uses his tank to figure out which way the current would have driven the boat, but Catherine is the one who actually physically finds it using her eyes. Which way is more effective? It's mostly a draw, though by the time Grissom figures out where the boat with his mock set up, Catherine has already found it. Though Catherine's way is less precise than Grissom's, both methods are clearly valid. Grissom and Catherine just have two completely different approaches to their work.

Less acceptable is Catherine allowing her own experience and emotions to sway her approach to a case. By the end of the episode, it's very clear that telling Winston Barger that his wife was cheating on him was a mistake. Not only could Catherine have spared Winston the pain of knowing his wife was going to leave him--especially after hearing from Phil Swelco that Wendy was worried Winston would fall apart if she left him--but in telling Winston, she unintentionally gave Winston motive to kill Swelco. Obviously, Catherine couldn't have predicted that Winston would murder Swelco, but Grissom had a point when he said she shouldn't have allowed her personal experiences to influence her in handling a case. Grissom made the distinction between what their obligation was to Winston: telling him how his wife was killed is their duty, but telling him that his wife was having an affair is not.

When Grissom criticizes Catherine for telling Winston that Wendy was cheating on him, she doesn't take it lying down. She tells Grissom flat out that she can't be like him, eschewing a personal life for work, work, work. Therein lies the difference between the two: while Grissom is able to approach his work from a clinical, scientific standpoint, but Catherine is guided by her emotions and can't separate them from her work. More than that, she's irritated at Grissom for being able to do just that: she lobbies a personal complaint, saying that she wished he'd told her when her ex-husband Eddie was cheating on her. This implies that the two are more than co-workers: they're friends, and Grissom was aware of the details of her personal life, and about her husband's infidelity.

William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger play off each other perfectly in this episode, adeptly showing why they were perfect choices for their roles. Petersen plays Grissom as the consummate scientist, truly baffled by the idea that emotion and gut instinct could ever compete with or even supersede science. Helgenberger, on the other hand, brings out all of Catherine's spitfire, spunky spirit that the character will come to be known for. And yet, different as they are, they do respect each other. Grissom is visibly impressed that Catherine found the boat on her own, without the aid of his scientific experiment. And Catherine is suitably awed when Grissom shows her Wendy's death was in fact a tragic accident and not the result of foul play. These two might have little in common, but each recognizes what the other brings to the table.

If Nick and Sara aren't quite there yet, it's only because they're younger and less familiar with each other. Sara dismisses Nick when she learns he was a frat boy; it's clear from the get-go that Sara thinks little of the fraternity system and the people involved in it. But while Sara is the one with the nagging suspicion throughout that the fraternity boys are lying, it is Nick who is finally able to get Matt to crack by appealing to his sense of community within the fraternity, telling him that unless he levels with the CSIs, the house will go dark. Though Sara's instincts were dead on, it is Nick who speaks the language of the boys they're dealing with, and knows just what to say to Matt to get him to crack and give up Kyle.

Warrick's entanglement with Judge Cohen comes to an abrupt end in this episode when the judge crosses the line by asking Warrick to tamper with evidence and thereby allow a rapist to go free. Warrick might not be above placing a bet for the judge in order to get a warrant, but actually tampering with evidence and compromising a case, and thus letting a criminal walk free, is going to far. Testing Warrick and seeing what his limits are early on is a good move: the audience knows he's a bit of a maverick character since he did gamble for the judge, but they're allowed to see that he's still honorable when he refuses to do anything that would help put a criminal back on the street. Grissom is still worried about him and therefore we as an audience are, too, but his promotion to CSI Level Three is hopefully a sign of good things to come.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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