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'Turning of the Screws'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at May 13, 2004 - 10:13 PM GMT

See Also: 'Turn of the Screws' Episode Guide


The CSIs are called to the scene after two rollercoaster cars from the Pharoh's Fever ride plunge off the tracks and fall to the ground, killing six people and crushing a red Thunderbird. One of the body's, that of a young man, is found far from the others. Sara theorizes that he wasn't wearing a seat belt. Elsewhere, the body of a thirteen-year-old girl is found by train tracks; she's been dead for a day and was clearly dumped there.

When the rollercoaster attendant is questioned, he tells the CSIs he only recalls five people on the ride. There was a camera at one point on the coaster to snap souvenier photos, but the cars derailed before reaching it. Grissom talks to Woody, an eager, older mechanic who tells Grissom all of the screws on the tracks would have had to be loose for the train to derail like it did. Grissom notes tool marks on the nuts from the track; this was intentional.

Warrick and Catherine talk to Raina Press, the mother of the dead thirteen-year-old, whose name was Tessa. Raina tells them she assumed that Tessa was sleeping over at a friend's house, which is why she didn't report her missing.

Dr. Robbins has identified all of the victims of the coaster crash, including the sixth man, Jim Nevins, the man who was found further than the others. A park employee, Nevins apparently died sixteen hours before the rollercoaster victims. "Dead men don't ride rollercoasters," Grissom notes.

Grissom and Sara examine the coaster tracks, where they find a trace amount of a substance that appears to be a lubricant. They also notice a detached support beam, but Woody, who is ever-present, is quick to assure them it's merely a cosmetic beam. Meanwhile, Greg has found another substance on the coaster itself: semen.

The Thunderbird belonged to Nevins, and when a bloody wrench is discovered in the trunk, along with fibers from the trunk that match those on Nevins' body, Grissom concludes that Nevins was never in the rollercoaster. Zach, the young man who closed up that night at the park, tells Brass that Jim used to take dates on the rollercoaster.

Dave Phillips examines Tessa and shows Warrick that her spinal cord was severed by a weighty object. Warrick notices soil in the wound. Nick, matches the wrench that killed Nevins to the marks on the nuts from the coaster. He quickly dismisses his own theory that Nevins sabotaged the coaster when he learns Nevins took girls on it after hours and had sex with them.

The cameras from the coaster the night of Nevins murder reveal him in a tryst with a young woman. Woody identifies her as "Cleopatra," whose real name is Lisa Hunt. She admits that she had sex with Jim, but says that she left afterwards. He was alive when left him.

Warrick examines a video from a convenience store Tessa stopped in. A boy attempted to lead her away, but he turns out to be a red herring as he was just a friend and she didn't go with him. Instead, he observed her gett into a truck with an older man.

The lubricant under the coaster is idenfied as Doxakin ointment, used to treat rashes. The ointment is available only by prescription.

Warrick identifies the dirt-like substance in Tessa's wound as ZooDoo, and traces it to a landscaping business that Raina's boyfriend, Justin Mack, works for. Justin is defensive, but he allows Warrick to take his shovel to examine it. Warrick matches the blood on the shovel to Tessa, but Justin isn't the killer. Raina's prints are on the shovel; she thought Tessa was trying to steal her boyfriend and struck her in anger. Justin is the best thing that's ever happened to her, she claims. Catherine counters in disgust that no, her daughter was.

Lisa has a prescription for Doxapin, but when she's called in for questioning she tells Grissom that her math tutor and co-worker at the park, Zach, had one, too, and loaned him her ointment. Zach was carrying a torch for Lisa, and when he heard she was going out with Jim, he loosened the screws on the coaster. When it didn't derail, he killed Jim in a rage after Lisa left. But when Grissom asks him why he didn't fix the coaster afterwards, Zach replies callously that he didn't think of it.


A perfect pairing of an the A- and B-stories makes this an especially strong outting for CSI. The theme of unreasonble jealousy wreaking havoc might be one of the oldest ones in the book, but with good reason. It's effective and chilling. The idea that a mother would kill her own child because she thought the thirteen-year-old wanted to steal her boyfriend, or that a young man would allow an infatuation to be reckless with so many lives, is mindnumbing and horrifying.

The show pulled a fake-out at the beginning: we saw a family with small children on the coaster when the show opened. The little boy turned around to say to his mother and sister, "We're all gonna die!" The glee in his voice was evident, but thankfully, he wasn't correct. It was the next set of riders who plunged to their deaths, as the horrified family looked on from a safe distance. Lest anyone think CSI "chickened out," the other victim in the show was, tragically, a thirteen-year-old girl.

Interviews with the writers indicated that this was the highest body count on CSI in a single swoop ever, but the impact of that isn't really felt until the end, when Zach cooly admits he didn't think to tighten the screws after his attempt at killing Jim and Lisa failed. It's a terrible moment: five people died because a teenager, in the thrall of a powerful crush and murderous intentions, didn't care enough to think to fix the damage he'd caused. He'd killed the guy he thought was separating him from the object of his affections; nothing else mattered. Horrific, but horrifically believable in a teenager's egocentric universe.

Writer Josh Berman has some snappy and memorable dialogue here. William Petersen's droll reading of the "dead men don't ride roller coasters" line was spot on. As was Marg Helgenberger's emotional delivery of the line to Raina about her daughter being the best thing in her life. She read it like a mother, horrified at seeing the depths another woman (a single mother of a daughter like herself) could sink to. Without needing to hit the audience over the head with the parallels, the script gave Catherine one line that said it all.

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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