CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'The Descent Of Man'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 15, 2009 - 7:57 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Descent of Man' Episode Guide


Sky diver Pierre Delongue plunges to the ground, the apparent victim of equipment failure. The local sheriff is convinced the skydiver's near-fatal fall wasn't an accident and calls in the CSIs. Nick and Riley question Max Girard, the man who co-owns the jump school with Pierre, and Mink and Schuyler, Pierre's two girlfriends, but all deny attempting to sabotage Pierre, though there's clearly some jealousy between the two women. Nick confirms that Pierre's equipment was sabotaged, but can't find any DNA from either woman or Max. Ray Langston has an equally puzzling case: a monk is found dead in the desert. Tattoos on his body identify him as "Holy Steven," and Dr. Robbins and Ray examine his skull and brain, determining he was likely killed by blunt force trauma to the top of his head. Ray and Brass visit Steven's "temple"--an office in a strip mall--and find it renamed "Church of the Holy George." George tells the pair that he and Steven went into the desert and that Steven sent him back on the third day. When Brass posits that George whacked Steven on the head with his staff, George confesses that that indeed is what happened. But when Wendy tests the staff, she finds no evidence that George used it to kill Steven. Langston finds a DVD of Steven's teachings and realizes the man believed in acquiescence above all else, Brass puts George in an interrogation room and quickly realizes that George is agreeing with whatever he says. George is innocent, leaving Langston and Brass with no clue as to who really killed Steven.

Catherine and Greg respond to a call for a double homicide in Seven Hills. Ismail Javier and his business partner Allen McKenna are sitting dead in chairs in the backyard while Ismail's hysterical wife points out that her husband's bodyguard is missing. When the first officer on the scene and Gretchen both fall ill shortly after the discovery of the bodies, Catherine realizes a deadly toxin is at work and quarantines the scene. Henry finds evidence of digitoxin, a cardiac glyceride that causes arrest in large doses on a cigar at the scene. When Catherine returns to the scene with a team, she uses a spray and florescent lights to detect the digitoxin--and finds it covering everything in the backyard. Realizing it was spread from the air, she works with Archie to track flights and finds one small plane flew over the scene at the time of the murder. Surveying the area the flight took off from, she realizes it was from Max and Pierre's jump school. Catherine calls Nick, who goes to the hanger and finds digitoxin on the plane. Brass visits Pierre, conscious but almost completely paralyzed, in the hospital and finds Max by his bedside. He gets the story out of the two men: a man visited Max and threatened harm would come to his family if he didn't fly the man over Javier's house. Feeling trapped, Max was on his way to fly the plane when he got into a car accident. He called Pierre and asked him to take the flight. Pierre did, and the man pulled a gun on him and forced him to fly over the house--and then the man sprayed the poison down onto Javier and McKenna. Guilt-stricken, Pierre was unable to live with his part in it, and sabotaged his own equipment, hoping to end his life in the dive. Pierre gives Brass the man's name: it was Javier's bodyguard, who was working in tandem with another man. Both are arrested. Still mulling over Steven's death, Langston goes back to the scene and finds a tortoise with blood on it. After confirming the blood is Steven's, he realizes the tortoise was dropped by an eagle hoping to smash open the animal's shell onto Steven's head after the bird mistook Steven's bald head for a rock.


A true ensemble piece, there's a real natural flow to "The Descent of Man" that underscores how the recently shaken and stirred CSI team is settling into a routine and a rapport. There's been so much change in the last year for the show, with Sara's departure, Warrick's death and then finally Grissom's departure. The show lost three characters and gained two new ones--Riley and Langston--and the episodes this season, especially the ones since Grissom's departure have definitely been ones of transition. While the show hasn't slipped at all in quality, it has had to find a new balance. With no fewer than three principle characters gone, the entire tone of the show could have changed. Episodes like "The Descent of Man" prove that it hasn't--while also showcasing how the new characters have indeed impacted the show.

Laurence Fishburne is in a unique position as a television actor: he's essentially the lead of CSI due to his status as a well known film actor, but his character, Ray Langston, is a newbie CSI. He's not the new team leader--he's not even a maverick CSI with some experience who's joining the team at the mid-level, like Riley did. Ray is an honest to goodness beginner, and though he's not making beginner mistakes anymore, he is bringing a fresh perspective to the team, and a sense of wonder that the more experienced CSIs don't quite have anymore. The minute poor Ray starts to talk about Aeschylus in the break room, Nick, Riley and Greg head for the hills, with Riley making a promise she clearly won't be keeping to put Aeschylus on her reading list. Ray has made a breakthrough and what's more is able to draw it out of a literary reference, but the team--long used to finding connections, albeit ones grounded in science rather than literature--doesn't want to have to sit through Ray's revelation. Not to be deterred, Ray goes back into the desert and finds the murder weapon--a tortoise--though the avian killer has long since fled the scene.

Ray's enthusiasm for the job has injected a very different energy into the show, one that hasn't been seen in a while. CSI famously got its start through the eyes of a brand new CSI, Holly Gribbs, who ended up getting shot at the end of the "Pilot" and died in the next episode, "Cool Change". Holly's plight stripped away any illusions that being a CSI was a safe, cushy, behind-the-scenes job (at least on CSI and its eventual spin-offs). In season five, Greg transitioned from the lab to the field, failing his proficiency test the first time when he used the bathroom at a crime scene in "Viva Las Vegas", proving that Grissom was going to be thorough and exacting before letting another newbie out into the field. Greg went on to pass the test in "Who Shot Sherlock?", but that was four seasons ago, and while Greg still has a refreshing enthusiasm for the job, he's somewhat settled into the role--as well as developing a thicker skin after he's attacked in "Fannysmackin". It's been a while since the show has highlighted the experience of a new CSI, and Ray's enthusiasm and curiosity are two of the most interesting aspects of the character.

The one thing that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle? Catherine's transition to team leader. Sure, she's been a shift supervisor before--in the second half of season five, Ecklie broke up the team in "Mea Culpa" and put Catherine in charge of the swing shift, with Nick and Warrick reporting to her. So it's understandable that Catherine has taken over rather fluidly and naturally, but it would still be nice to see her grappling with the position a bit more. Perhaps it's more significant for viewers than it is for Catherine, but she's now the leader of the night shift CSI team, the head of the group of CSIs viewers tune in to see every week. Viewers are curious to see how Catherine is adjusting to Grissom's absence--after all, the two worked together for eight and a half years. Marg Helgenberger is still this show's leading lady, and she's been out of the spotlight in recent outings.

Indeed, in this episode she doesn't come in to the story until the halfway mark, when she takes the lead on the double murder that turns out to tie back into Nick and Riley's case. There's a nice flow that connects the two cases--after the mystery of Pierre's equipment failure hits a roadblock, the double murder in Seven Hills--which no one initially suspects is related to Pierre at all--turns out to hold the key to unlocking the truth about Pierre's near-fatal plunge. The case ends on a somber note when the audience learns the happy-go-lucky Pierre sabotaged his own equipment in a botched suicide attempt, unable to live with the guilt of being an unwilling party to murder. The sad irony is that Pierre's attempt failed, and he'll likely spend the rest of his life in a bed, unable to move, though, thanks to an innovative technology, not without a voice of sorts. Despite the somber revelation, what comes before it is humorous, with Charisma Carpenter and Erin Daniels playing Pierre's two jealous girlfriends. The two gifted actresses provide plenty of comic relief in the first act, shifting from marginally sad good time girls to jealous rivals as Nick questions them and compares their conflicting stories about their relationships with Pierre.

The biggest delight in the episode is Greg Germann, who played the marvelously shallow Richard Fish in Ally McBeal and here draws laughs as the affable and agreeable--to a fault!--Holy George. Naturally, Brass treats him like any other suspect, not knowing that George is more than happy to go along with whatever he has to say. Paul Guilfoyle's grizzly detective going up against the conflict-free monk is pure comic gold. After asking George if he'll submit to a psychiatric evaluation, Brass mutters, "Of course you will. Why did I even bother?" And when the naive George asserts that it's "better to be agreeable than right," Brass counters, "that's not religion, that's marriage." Could there be two more diametrically opposed characters? The scenes between them are a delight, and Germann's Holy George is definitely a suspect fans won't soon forget.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.