'Viva Las Vegas'By Kristine Huntley
Posted at September 24, 2004 - 9:35 PM GMT
See Also: 'Viva Las Vegas' Episode Guide
The scene is set for no less than four deaths in Las Vegas. People party in a fancy nightclub, while across the stip a woman in her underwear pushes a man down on the bed and they embrace. Two young men shoot at signs on the outskirts of Area 51, and a man sobs silently while the water runs in a bathtub. In the club, a shot is fired and a man is killed.
Gil Grissom and Jim Brass work the scene and while they do, Grissom's pager keeps going off. It's a busy night. Grissom pulls a Polaroid photograph out of the dead man's pocket. It's been partially burned, but Grissom is able to make out a prone figure in the photograph, lying on a floor. "Another body?" Brass asks. "Another murder," Grissom confirms.
Back at the CSI labs, Greg Sanders is taking his replacement, Chandra Moore, around to meet the CSIs. They interrupt Sara Sidle rehearsing a speech she's planning to make to Grissom on her therapist's recommendation. She's just started saying that she's never told anyone about her family when Greg and Chandra walk in. Greg asks Sara about her vacation, which she replies was fine.
Chandra is aloof until she meets Warrick Brown, whom she is very impressed with. Warrick gave a talk a while back that Chandra saw. When Greg takes Chandra in to meet Grissom, Grissom observes she's "hot" through his new thermal helmet. Catherine Willows storms in, angry about her office, but Grissom sends her, Warrick, and Sara and Nick Stokes out on cases. Grissom tells Greg it's time for his final field proficiency test, and that Greg can come with him. Sara goes up to Grissom afterwards and asks if they can talk, but when she sees how busy he is, she defers the talk to later.
Catherine arrives at the site of a grim scene in a hotel room: Carl Johnson claims he woke up to find the woman he brought home with him dead next to him on the bed. His shirt is covered in blood, and the woman appears to have died from a cracked skull. From the contents of the woman's purse, Catherine guesses she was a stripper. In the bathroom, Catherine finds a bloody poker--apparently the murder weapon--and a bracelet lying in a pool of urine by the toilet.
Brass questions the co-owner of the club where the murder took place, Manny Brazil, about how the killer could have snuck the gun past the metal detector. Greg cracks a joke and Grissom quickly chides him, telling him to get to work. Grissom suggests the gun was ditched in the club when the patrons fled after hearing the gunshot.
Warrick's victim is a man who died in his bathtub after being electrocuted--a part of his stove is in the tub with him. Warrick notices old scars on his wrists, suggesting prior suicide attempts, but Warrick isn't convinced it's a suicide, especially when he finds a festive lei on the dresser.
Detective Travis greets Sara and Nick outside Area 51. A couple of teenagers playing with their father's gun found a body dressed in what appears to be alien garb buried in the area. Several spectators watch, including some dressed similarly to the victim. Nick finds a shovel near the body and Sara notes that it's going to take longer to dig him up than it took to bury him. "Can't you just beam him back to the morgue?" Travis jokes.
Catherine dusts for prints in the hotel room, while the suspect, Carl Johnson, continues to claim that he was drugged. Catherine tells him that blood tests will confirm his story.
Back at the nightclub, Greg works the scene and finds the gun in a light fixture. At the morgue, Catherine's victim is identified as Nicole "Raven" Richards, a stripper. Dr. Robbins notes that her blood alcohol level is .30, and that her ankle is swollen. Catherine suggests that comes with her line of work.
In the lab, David Phillips hears a strange sound coming from the "alien" body--could it be a transmitter? He approaches cautiously. Sara comes up from behind him and tells him it's a hearing aid. David notes the elongated fingers, the result of a rare medical condition. Nick finds a poem on his body, while Sara notes the label in his alien garb.
When Greg brings Grissom the gun, Grissom notes blue residue on the gun's grip, and sends Greg off to analyze it, while he magnifies the picture found with the victim. Grissom zeroes in on a prescription bottle on the floor by the body.
Warrick shows the ID of his victim, Lance Frazer, at a casino that happens to be one of Warrick's old haunts. He recognized the lei in the hotel room as a favor bestowed on the big winners at the casino, and sure enough, the floor manager confirms Lance won fifty thousand dollars.
Back in the lab, Catherine and Chandra argue over the order Chandra is processing the cases in. The fingerprints from Catherine's scene turn out to be from an ex-con named George Craven, not Carl Johnson.
Grissom, Brass and Greg go the address Grissom got off the prescription bottle, where they discover the body of the club's primary owner, Ken Wallach. Grissom realizes a third party must have hired a hitman to kill Ken, and then killed the hitman after the job was done.
Sara and Nick head to the chapel where their alien likely officiated over weddings. Another man is performing a wedding, and afterwards Sara and Nick tell him that their victim's costume matches his. He says sci fi fans are peaceful and wouldn't be a part of any murder.
Back in the CSI interrogation room, George Craven tells Catherine he didn't kill Raven; he admits she was turning tricks and that he was in the room, but that he used the bathroom and left. Catherine says she thinks he killed Raven. Craven asks for a lawyer; Catherine asks for his clothes.
The lab report on the gun reveals that the blue substance on the gun is from a toilet bowl cleaner. Greg says he saw the water in the toilets was blue when he used the bathroom. Grissom reprimands him for using the bathroom at a crime scene, and tells him he may have compromised the crime scene. Brass suspects Manny had Ken killed so that he would be the sole owner of the club, but Manny denies it. Brass is still suspicious--the gun used to kill the hitman is registered to Manny.
Catherine goes to see her boyfriend, Chris Bezich, who recognizes Carl Johnson from his club. Warrick analyzes the stove from the bathtub, while Grissom and Greg discover duct tape in the back basin of one of the club's toilets clearly used to hold the gun in place. Sara and Nick don't get anything on their case from Chandra, who is clearly frazzled, but the shovel Nick found has pink residue on it. The pair recall seeing a pink Cadillac near the alien wedding chapel.
Catherine watches the hotel security tapes and spots Craven on them, but there's no blood on his shirt. Johnson's test results came back positive--he was indeed drugged. So who killed Raven? While Greg analyzes the duct tape for prints, Sara and Nick go over the pink Cadillac.
Warrick decides to follow the path Lance walked home from the casino in an attempt to find his killer and find out what happened to his money. He find the kiosk where Lance bought cigarettes, and the stand where he bought food. The man at the hot dog stand complains the kid who worked for him up and quit on him the night before. Warrick heads to the young man's apartment, where he find a lot of new electronic equipment, and the killer. The kid followed Lance home and demanded he give him the money. When Lance wouldn't comply, he dropped the stove face on him, electrocuting him.
Nick and Sara pull Brian, the alien minister now dressed as Elvis in. He tells them that marriage is a big business in Vegas, and that Ed Thomas, the dead man, was his competition. Ed scraped his car, but when Brian went to have it out with him, he found Ed dead. He buried Ed at Area 51 and took over his business. Sara tells Brian that Ed had Marfans Syndrome (which was responsible for his elongated fingers and legs) and that he only appeared to be dead. He died in the grave Brian put him in. Brian is stricken.
Catherine has solved her murder, which wasn't a murder at all. After drugging Johnson, a very drunk Raven went into the bathroom, where she got her ankle bracelet caught and she fell on the poker. When she went back to Johnson, he was passed out and couldn't help her. She died on the bed next to him.
Grissom and Greg have caught their man, who turns out to be a woman. She was awaiting trial for drug trafficking, which she was doing for Ken. He wouldn't help her out, so she had him killed, but then the hitman demanded more money, so she killed him.
Catherine goes to visit her boyfriend, but when she goes back to his office, she finds him in an embrace with a brunette. Disgusted, she leaves even as he weakly tries to blame his infidelity on his position as a club owner.
Grissom fails Greg on his final proficiency because he compromised the crime scene. But Grissom says he'll give Greg another chance, since he found a suitable replacement in the lab. Greg leaves Grissom's office only to run into Chandra who says she can't take the pressure and quits.
If four murders packed into one episode seems like quite a lot that's because it is, but CSI: Crime Scene Investigation manages to pull off a relatively light season opener, compared to the tragic Miami premiere and the chilling New York debut. It's a nice contrast the other two, even if it proves to be not near memorable as either.
The cases themselves fit together surprisingly well: it's a bad night in Las Vegas, and each of the murders is specifically Vegas-centric, reinforcing the producers' claims that the each of the CSI shows deals with very different cases than the others. The one that leaves the greatest impression is of course Sara and Nick's Area 51 case. Guest star French Stewart, who played alien Harry Solomon on the NBC comedy Third Rock from the Sun, manages to bring both comic relief as a jack-of-all-trades minister and even poignancy in his final scene, when he realizes, to his obviously very real horror, that he accidentally buried his rival alive when trying to do him a favor by interring him at Area 51.
Somewhat predictably, Greg's first day in the field does not go well. In one of the funnier twists, he nearly compromises a crime scene by using the bathroom there, but Grissom doesn't acknowledge that Greg's misstep actually leads them to find a crucial piece of evidence. Grissom was probably justified in failing Greg, but he should have offered him a bit more of a bone than the news that he could have another chance simply because he had found a suitable replacement.
Speaking of that replacement, Reiko Aylesworth as Chandra Moore, Greg's beleaguered stand-in, is a welcome presence in the episode. She's clearly overwhelmed by the work, and is able to show it in a way that the CSIs aren't. The one disappointment is that she leaves at the end of the episode, but with future guest stars Aisha Tyler and David Anders potentially stepping into the lab, Chandra's swift exit wasn't exactly a shocker.
Other personal developments include Sara's proposed talk with Grissom and Catherine's discovery of her boyfriend's infidelity. Sara's therapist has apparently told her to talk to Grissom, and she rehearses the talk, but never actually gets to give it. She's talking about her family, so presumably we'll learn something about Sara's background at some point in the future. Hopefully the writers won't forget Sara need to have that talk with Grissom. Catherine's second visit to her boyfriend--in which she discovers him in the arms of another women--is brief and packs a punch. Catherine doesn't linger, nor does she give any credence to his lame excuse: "I'm a nightclub owner," which he offers just before she turns on her heel and leaves.
Ultimately, "Viva Las Vegas" is a paean to the zaniness and tragedy of Las Vegas: the death of the gambler who finally wins it big time only to lose his life, the murder of the hitman who got too greedy, the accidental death of the hooker who drugged the only person who might have been able to save her, and the tragic misperception of a man who tries to do something thoughtful for his rival and ends up killing him instead. All of these cases show what we already know about Las Vegas: your luck can change in an instant.
Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.