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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Spark Of Life'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 11, 2005 - 9:41 PM GMT

See Also: 'Spark Of Life' Episode Guide


A man observing the skies through a telescope in the woods is interrupted by a terrifying blaze which overtakes and consumes him. When the night shift arrives at the scene, Gil discovers a second victim, a woman, and she's alive. When she is brought to the hospital, the doctor informs Greg that 80% of her body is covered in burns, mostly third degree ones. Greg notices a wedding ring on her finger.

The swing shift is at the scene of a suburban house where an entire family lies dead. Five-year-old Dani Stewart was found floating in the swimming pool by neighbors, while her mother Corinne is found dead on the stairs, a bullet through her back and shattered glass from photo frames surrounding her. The father, Morgan, expired on the bed, a shotgun not far from his hand. Catherine wonders if it may have been a murder-suicide, but Warrick notices that the gun has been wiped clean of prints.

In the woods, Sara finds a disposable lighter while Grissom discovers broken glass from a vodka bottle, leading the CSIs to strongly suspect arson. At the Stewarts' house, Catherine tells David Phillips she isn't ready to release the bodies to the ME. Catherine finds a brunette hair in the Stewarts' bed--puzzling, as both Corinne and Dani were blonde. Nick uses a scanner to create a virtual crime scene sketch. Back at the police station, Brass questions Annabelle Frost, Morgan Stewart's assistant who happens to be a brunette, but she insists nothing untoward was going on between her and her boss. She refuses to provide a hair sample without a court order. In the lab, Greg goes over the remains of the burned woman's clothes and finds traces of alcohol all over them. Grissom thinks she started the fire.

A print off the vodka bottle leads the CSIs to Patrick Bromley, a truck driver who gave the woman a ride the evening of the fire. Vartann and Sara question him and when they find a woman's pink sweater in his truck, they bring him in. He claims she was a willing passenger, but Sara thinks he poured alcohol on her and started the fire when she didn't give into his advances.

Warrick tells Catherine the gun at the scene was registered to Morgan Stewart. Stewart's financial records revealed he was deep in debt and in danger of losing his house. Dr. Robbins goes over the bodies with Catherine, noting that two bullets killed Morgan, while a bullet to the back killed Corinne. Dani drowned, but a broken rib indicates someone may have tried to give her CPR.

Mia Dickerson isn't able to get an ID on the woman from the woods, but Greg discovers a piece of paper that gives them her ID: Tara Matthews. Grissom and Brass pay a visit to Tara's husband, Neal, who tells them his wife stormed out after a fight. He says that Tara was on anti-depressants. Greg takes him to see Tara in the hospital, and he breaks down when he sees the condition she's in.

Greg is visibly disturbed when Tara's amputated fingers are sent to the lab for analysis. Grissom volunteers to go over them and finds a green substance on the underside of the fingers. Sofia finds an upset Greg in the locker room and reminds him not to lose his sense of humor. Elsewhere in the lab, Hodges tells Catherine that a basal thermometer was found in the Stewarts' house--Corinne may have been trying to get pregnant. Mia has some shocking news for Grissom and Catherine: the hair in the Stewarts' bed came from Tara Matthews. Grissom, Sara, Warrick and Catherine consult. There's evidence the lighter blew up in Tara's hand, and Sara strongly suspects attempted suicide. But did Tara kill the Stewarts? Neil and Morgan were friends from childhood. Did Morgan commit suicide, or was he murdered?

Brass confronts Neal with the news that Tara was having an affair with Morgan. Neal claims he felt guilty that he couldn't give Tara what she needed and wanted most--a child. Neal claims she wouldn't have killed the Stewarts. In the lab, Nick looks at the crime scene sketches and determines that Morgan fell on the floor when he was shot and was moved to the bed. Someone else shot him. At the Matthews' house, Sara finds a small piece of glass in one Neal's shoes. Gil discovers a syringe and a basal thermometer. Catherine confirms that Tara was certainly the one trying to get pregnant: Corinne had tubal ligation.

Dr. Robbins gets a urine sample from Tara Matthews and confirms she is indeed pregnant. Catherine notes that it will be a miracle if she can carry the child to term in her condition. Grissom notes that she was trying to get pregnant with Morgan, and Catherine points out that the glass from Neal's shoe puts him at the scene. Grissom points out that there's no blood on either Neal or Tara's clothes, and then remembers Tara's shirt from Patrick Bromley's truck.

Brass confronts Neal: there was chlorine from the Stewarts' pool on Tara's shirt. Neal says Dani's death was an accident. Tara was pregnant with Morgan's child and had been on her way to tell Morgan the news. Neal had thought the child was his. Neal was at the house and went to the medicine cabinet to get a bandage when he found the thermometer. He fought with Morgan and shot the man and then shot Corinne when she tried to run. He called Tara and they argued until Tara noticed Dani floating in the pool, not moving. She tried to revive her, but the little girl was dead. Tara told Neil that neither of them deserved to live before running off. Neal laments that all Tara wanted was a baby.


A rare CSI episode where the two cases the teams are working on turn out to be directly connected, "Spark of Life" has an energy flowing through it that underscores its title. Both cases start out with a bang, albeit in very different ways. The fire literally explodes in the woods, while the horror at the Stewarts' house unfolds much more slowly, with the discovery of each of the three bodies coming one after another. It's a powerful parallel.

The episode itself plays out like a sad parable. Tara, driven by her desire for a child, cheats on Neal with his best friend and then upon learning that his wife is carrying Morgan's child, Neal kills both the Stewarts and his actions inadvertently lead to the death of their child. It's a tragedy any way you look at it.

The role of Neil Matthews couldn't have been cast more perfectly. It's hard to imagine a more sympathetic actor than Tim DeKay. He radiates a goodness that few can match, which of course makes him the perfect choice to play an unlikely murderer. Even as he emerges as the most likely suspect, it's hard to believe that he actually committed the crime. And when he does break down and confess it's as a man lead horribly astray by rage and jealousy. DeKay plays one of the most likeable characters on HBO's complex Depression-era show Carnivale and he turns in an admirable performance here.

There are a few small loose ends, the most notable being that we're never quite clear on what transpired between the truck driver, Patrick Bromley, and Tara. We ultimately only have his side of the story, some of which can be discounted. Presumably Tara, stricken over the Stewarts' deaths, wasn't "ready to party" as Bromley claims. Whether he assaulted her or just abandoned her isn't clear, but then, loose ends are bound to happen in a case where the victim can no longer speak for herself. It's also somewhat rash that Neal would find the basal thermometer and automatically assume his wife and Morgan were sleeping together, but it is pretty damning evidence. Enough to kill your best friend and his wife, though? I guess that's why they call it a crime of passion.

All of the cast is present and involved here, and the episode brings them together again when the cases converge. Though it doesn't account for many scenes, the one where Grissom, Catherine, Warrick and Sara convene to discuss the case has a nice feel to it. There isn't much character work here--the story understandably dominates.

The exception is Greg's reaction to the case. He's clearly disturbed by Tara's extensive burns. Unlike the other CSIs, Greg is new to the field and not entirely comfortable doing the lab work he would have accepted without blinking once he's seen the victim. Grissom intuits Greg's discomfort and kindly offers to take on the examination of Tara's fingers. Thankfully, Sofia reminds Greg of the trait that's made him so popular with fans and his fellow CSIs alike--she tells him not to lose his sense of humor. Amid all of the horror these CSIs see, keeping one's sense of humor might be the only way to stay sane.

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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