CSI: Miami--'Tipping Point'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at December 17, 2008 - 8:06 AM GMT

See Also: 'Tipping Point' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A man buried alive at a construction site dies a gruesome death when a drill slices into him. The workers are surprised to discover blood on the drill, and when Horatio and his team arrive, the manager tells the CSI leader the site is a new one and that they had no idea someone was beneath the soil. Dr. Price finds a cardio messenger in the dead man's pocket which gives them his identity: Michael Olvera. In addition to being buried alive, he was shot once in the abdomen. The CSIs go to his residence and learn from a young man named Freddie Granada that Olvera was a Reverend who opened his house to kids in need and tried to keep them out of gangs. He points them towards some recent graffiti Olvera painted over and Delko uses an imaging machine to strip it away, revealing the logo of a gang known as the Craneos. Tripp follows up on a tip from a tipstersí hotline given by a young woman named Yolanda Ramoz, who tells him she heard a gunshot while she was distributing fliers. Calleigh and Delko go to the location and find a 9-millimeter bullet and blood drops, as well as a small St. Jude medallion. Calleigh is able to match the bullet to a bullet from a shooting 10 years ago by a man named Hector Salazar, the former head of the Craneos who was released from prison just days ago. Horatio questions Hector, who shows him a scar he received in jail and insists he has no desire to go back: he's reformed.

Tripp and Natalia follow up on another tip from the same area, a report of a heated argument from a woman's apartment. Gloria Nunez tells the pair that she was arguing with the funeral director in charge of her daughter Laura's burial, claiming he's trying to scam more money from her. Gloria's young son Matteo beseeches them to help, and while Tripp wants to get back to the murder case, Natalia is torn. Valera traces blood on the St. Jude's necklace to a man named Raphael Vargas, but when Horatio and Ryan go to question the man in his shop, he admits to threatening Olvera--but not to killing him. Outside, Horatio catches sight of Yolanda putting a flier on his car with an urgent message: the Craneos are hitting a shipping site. Delko and Horatio rush to the site and discover the Craneos have stolen explosives. The security guard at the site recalls being grabbed by a man with a scar on his arm, leading the team back to Hector. Hector tells Horatio and Tripp that he wanted to be found: he's trying to work from the inside and lead the CSIs to the Craneos. He told Yolanda about the explosives. He claims Reverend Mike visited him in prison and opened his eyes. He also knows of Tobey Hollins, the man Horatio helped in prison; he believes Horatio is someone he can trust and implores the CSI to let him find out what the Craneos are planning to use the explosives for. Horatio agrees. Natalia pays the swindling funeral director a visit and gets him to back off Gloria Nunez, and upgrade her daughter's funeral. When she goes to tell Gloria the good news, she's surprised to discover Matteo with a gun, and is forced to take both into custody.

Calleigh confirms the gun is the same one used to shoot Olvera, and Delko is able to match a partial print on the trigger to an unlikely suspect: Freddie Granada. When the CSIs apprehend Freddie, he claims Reverend Mike failed him by telling him life outside the Craneos would be easier. He killed the Reverend to get back into the gang. As soon as he's taken away, Hector calls--the Craneos are going to bomb Olvera's house. The CSIs rush there and discover Yolanda tied up inside, the explosive already set. With seconds on the timer, Horatio rushes in and saves the girl. Looking at video footage of the house just before the explosion, Ryan recognizes the explosive canisters inside the house as ones he saw in Raphael Vargas's shop. Horatio goes to apprehend Vargas and finds him arguing with Hector. Horatio takes Raphael down but Raphael fires a shot off and hits Hector, fatally wounding him. Horatio mourns the loss of the reformed young man while Natalia attends Laura Nunez's funeral. The Craneos are rounded up and arrested by the police. Afterwards, Horatio and Natalia go to see Reverend Mike's house being rebuilt and learn Yolanda is donating her tipster reward money to buy a new computer for the kids at the house.

Analysis:

Yes, it's another CSI: Miami episode about gangs. But what sets "Tipping Point" apart from the umpteen Miami episodes about gangs that have preceded it is the genuine human element that runs throughout the episode. Sure, the two bad guys are cardboard cutout baddies, sneering disdainfully when they're caught. But the other characters in the episode, from the victim who was trying to help kids in his neighborhood to the gang leader who actually reformed in jail to the snitch trying to make a buck who turned around and donated the money in the end, the characters in the episode actually made me feel something. If Miami's slick, trendy tone is sometimes its Achilles Heel, the last few episodes of this season have shown that the glossy look of the show and the cutting edge technology can co-exist with more meaningful stories.

The episode surprised me on several levels by bucking some Miami trends. For one, I fully expected some dark secret to come out that indicated Michael Olvera wasn't the good person he appeared to be. More often than not, victims on Miami turn out to have done some misdeed that would lead to someone wanting them dead--especially when the victim appears too good to be true. But Olvera was every bit as good as he seemed; he was genuinely trying to do right by the kids in his care, his only apparent failure being that he set up unreasonable expectations in at least one of them. It's refreshing to have a victim that really is what he seems, and it makes the horrible way in which he died even more tragic.

I readily dismissed Shahine Ezell as a terrible actor in his first scene, wincing at his overwrought and clearly false portrayal of Freddie's grief over Reverend Mike's death. Of course, as the episode went on to reveal, Ezell was actually playing the scene right on target: Freddie's shock and mourning were in fact disingenuous. When the CSIs collar Freddie, he's revealed as an unrepentant killer who offed Father Mike to get back in good with his gang. The motive doesn't make him the most complex or interesting of bad guys, but he's at least slightly more interesting than the truly stock Raphael Vargas, the other villain of the piece.

But the real surprise is Hector Salazar, the gang leader turned crusader who proves to actually be the genuine article, despite Tripp's scoffing and Horatio's reservations. At first, Hector's scar seems to be one of those red flag details that pop up in a less than subtle way in an episode--seemingly random, they turn out to be big clues that help the CSIs cinch the case in one way or another. So it's a clever twist that Hector's mention of his scar isn't random but in fact a bread crumb to lead the CSIs back to him. With his youthful, open face, Homicide: Life on the Street's John Seda was a wise choice to play Hector. He's incredibly sympathetic and sincere, which at first made me suspect he was too good to be true when he claimed to be reformed. Miami relishes a good double-cross, but thankfully Hector bucks the trend and proves to be just what he's claiming. One query: is it just coincidence that he shares the same name as one of the villains from 24's third season?

Hector is redeemed, but in the end meets a sad fate, killed in the crossfire between Horatio and Raphael, who gets a shot off at Hector before Horatio finishes him off. It's too bad Hector isn't allowed to live and perhaps take over for Father Mike, but his death gives Horatio a genuine moment of regret. David Caruso allows Horatio's grief to come through as he looks down at Hector's dead body, showing that the young man's plight really did touch the jaded CSI. Hector's exposure of Vargas apparently allows the cops to take down the Craneos, bringing on the "tipping point" moment, as defined by author Malcolm Gladwell who coined the phrase in his book of the same name, who describes the phenomenon as "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable." The tipping point that Reverend Mike so desired to bring about has clearly come to his neighborhood.

Less subtle and effective is the way the discussion of the value of tipsters--people who report crimes for cash--is handled. Dr. Price and Natalia both question the tipster site, while Tripp, usually the most skeptical one of the bunch, champions it. Yolanda Ramoz, who at first appears to be every bit as mercenary as the naysayers caution, turns out not only to be telling the truth, but is working with Hector, and in the end, so good-hearted that she turns over her check for $1000 to Reverend Mike's kids for a new computer. The message that people calling in tips is an important civil service, one that can be helpful to the police and beneficial to the people calling in the tips, could have been delivered with a lighter touch.

On the other hand, the continuity with an episode three seasons ago, "48 Hours to Life" is handled with just the right touch. Longtime devoted viewers likely picked up on the reference Hector made to Tobey Hollins, a young man who was taken to jail after Tripp elicited a confession out of him. The confession turned out to be a false one, but while in jail Tobey ended up killing another inmate. Horatio, who had his doubts about Tobey's guilt in the initial murder, showed compassion for the young man and when the team concluded he'd killed the inmate in self-defense, urged him to tell the truth. The episodic nature of the CSI shows doesn't often allow for references back to older cases, so kudos to scribe Brian Davidson for slipping such a pertinent one in here.

Natalia finally gets to do more than run DNA results when she connects with Gloria Nunez, a woman grieving the loss of her daughter and dealing with a shady funeral director trying to rip her off. On her own, Natalia steps in to help, and her kind-hearted gesture ends up leading her to the gun that was used to shoot Reverend Mike. It's nice to see Eva LaRue get more to do than just run lab results; Natalia is an empathetic and warm character, and her empathy for Gloria feels natural. With Calleigh going out of her way in last week's "The DeLuca Motel" to help a young pregnant woman, and Natalia and Horatio's emotional involvement in this episode, it's clear we're definitely seeing a softer side to these characters. And that's a very good thing indeed.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.