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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Up In Smoke'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at March 6, 2006 - 10:06 PM GMT

See Also: 'Up In Smoke' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Martin Sidley's romantic fireside chat with a young woman is interrupted when she notices a horrifying sight--a dead body in his chimney. Sara and Nick arrive at the scene and partially excavate the chimney to retrieve the body, and David Phillips confirms the victim was male and was burned at least a few days ago, before being placed in the chimney. David is able to recover a plastic ID card from his pocket. Catherine and Warrick become interested in the case when they learn that Sidley's house has become a crime scene--Sidley was a prime suspect in the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl named Caroline Fitzgibbons a year ago, but Catherine wasn't able to get enough evidence together to get a warrant to search his house. Now that it's a crime scene, Catherine and Warrick venture inside to examine the house. Catherine finds evidence that the hardwood living room floor has been bleached, and when Warrick picks a sliver of wood out of the cracks in the floor, he finds a blood drop.

Back at the lab, Nick is able to clear up the ID card enough to tell it's a gym card and reveal the ID photo. Catherine questions Martin about Caroline, and he tells her that he knew the girl professionally--she was a promising photographer. When Catherine asks about the bleach and the blood, Martin's lawyer cuts her off and tells her the search was illegal. She is forced to drop the line of questioning, and signals Nick to bring the ID card in. To his horror, Martin recognizes the picture right away--it's his son, Tad, a student at UNLV. In the morgue, Dr. Robbins suspects the victim was killed by blunt force trauma to the head before he was burned. In the fingerprint lab, Mandy Webster tells Sara AFIS has come up with a match for the partial prints she pulled off the chimney's metal housing: Jonathan Wax, but he proves to be a dead end--he was simply the chimney sweep and didn't know Tad Sidley.

Ecklie tells Catherine that Sidley's lawyer has filed a motion restricting the CSIs searches of the house. Catherine and Warrick turn to Tad Sidley. They pay a visit to his dorm room where his roommate tells them Tad often takes off for weeks at a time and therefore he didn't think to report him missing. Catherine notices a piece of paper with the name and number of Don Fitzgibbons, Caroline's father, on it, and has the man come in for questioning and to bring Caroline's brushes for DNA comparison. Fitzgibbon admits he went to Tad, desperate for any information he could find on his daughter, but Tad refused to let him come to his father's house to look for Caroline. Desperate, Fitzgibbons gave Tad his number, but he tells Catherine he never heard from him. While Hodges labors on a piece of fabric Sara pulled off the roof, Wendy Simms in the DNA lab confirms that the blood from Sidley's floor is a match to Caroline.

The CSIs catch another break when someone uses Tad's credit card to make a purchase at a gas station, but when they view the surveillance tape, they are shocked to see the buyer is Tad himself, meaning the burned body in the morgue belongs to someone else entirely. Catherine and Sara go over crime scene photos and layout designs of Martin Sidley's house and notice one place where the chimney is significantly wider. Because the chimney is included in the original warrant, they're able to return to the crime scene and finish excavating the chimney. Inside, they discover the body of a young woman. Sofia tracks Tad down on the Strip, and he tells her he's been on another one of his junkets, and has no idea how his gym card turned up on a dead body in the chimney of his father's house. In the morgue, Dr. Robbins tells Catherine that Caroline was raped and stabbed to death, and likely bled to death while her killer bricked her up into the wall. Catherine confronts Martin with the discovery of the body, and Martin asserts that his son, Tad, had been seeing her and had raped and killed her while he was out of town. In the observation room, Tad watches his father and insists the man is lying. He bursts into the room and disowns his shocked father, who had no idea his son was still alive.

The CSIs may have closed the case on Caroline's disappearance and murder, but what about the body from the chimney? Sara thinks Don Fitzgibbons may have killed someone and stuffed the body in the chimney to point the CSIs in Sidley's direction. When she runs the prints, they match Fitzgibbons, but when Catherine questions him, he tells her the man he put in the chimney was dead already. He took the burned body in its body bag and charred Tad's gym card, which he stole when he went to visit Tad at his dorm, and then climbed the roof and dumped the body in the chimney. Fitzgibbons wanted Martin to feel what it was like to lose a child. He's accomplished his other goal as well--Martin is in jail and Caroline is getting a funeral. Would any parent have done differently? Catherine tells him she's sorry they couldn't find his daughter without his help.

Analysis:

If CSI: Miami and CSI: New York have been on the light side these days, CSI has taken the opposite route, with a season packed full of downers. The "Bullet" duo, "Still Life", "Werewolves" and most of the other episodes this season certainly can't be accused of trivializing their subject matter or glossing over murder. After a while, though, the gloom can get oppressive, and I wish the writers from all the shows could mix it up a little more, giving CSI a few more episodes like "Dog Eat Dog" and "Viva Las Vegas", which deal with less somber cases than the norm for CSI.

There's no doubt that the grim CSI cases have the most impact, and "Under the Smoke" is definitely grim. It's sad seeing someone the evidence has failed, and Scott William Winters portrays Don Fitzgibbons as a grimly determined man who will stop at nothing to see his daughter put to rest and the man responsible behind bars. He's not a fanatic--he didn't kill the person he stuffed in Sidley's chimney--but he is willing to skirt the lines, taking a body, stealing Tad's gym card and putting it with the body and stuffing both in Sidley's chimney in order to make Sidley suffer as he has. He's a sad and completely sympathetic figure, something Catherine recognizes and acknowledges when she apologizes to him for the fact that the CSIs weren't able to solve the case without his help.

Catherine is passionate about the case from the beginning. As soon as she learns that Sidley's house is a crime scene she immediately recalls the case and figures fate is giving her a second chance to investigate Sidley's house, something he denied the CSIs the first time around. Catherine defends her actions to Ecklie and when it seems she's hit yet another stumbling block in the case, she finds a way around that, too. It's part luck--the body could have just as easily been stashed in the attic or buried in the backyard--but it makes for a creepy reveal when Sara and Catherine chip away at the bricks and reveal Caroline's body.

The revelation that Tad is not dead works to their advantage as well, as Catherine cleverly manipulates Sidley into pinning the murder on the son he assumes is dead. I wasn't convinced of Tad's death even early on in the episode, but I was surprised by how he was used to eventually implicate his slimy father. As soon as Caroline's body was found I figured Sidley would try to pin her murder on the son he thought was dead. It made for a great moment when Tad burst into the room and denounced his feckless father.

I do wonder if a dramatic opportunity was missed with regards to Nick here. Caroline was essentially buried alive and left to die, just like Nick was in "Grave Danger", and though Caroline was a lot closer to death when she was bricked up in the wall by the chimney than Nick was when he was buried alive, I think Nick still would have been thrown by the similarities. Perhaps the writers are done with Nick's trauma--the death of Kelly Gordon in "Daddy's Little Girl" may have been the final bit of closure that helped Nick shut the door on the experience for good. But either way, it would have been interesting to see how Nick reacted to the uncovering of Caroline's body.

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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