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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at November 26, 2008 - 12:29 AM GMT

See Also: 'Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Janelle Rowe is found dead, her young daughter Nora injured but alive next to her. Brass tells Grissom that a neighbor heard shots and called the police. Janelle's husband, Peter, rushes in, but he tussles with the officers and is arrested. A .38 is found in his car, but Rowe insists he was using it for target practice. Back at the Rowes' house, Greg finds blood on the edge of the kitchen table and wonders if Nora hit her head on it. Greg discovers a spent round in a phone book on the shelf, and Riley notices the lock on the door has been forced. Brass asks Rowe about the three calls for domestic violence on his record and Rowe claims his wife was dramatic--but that he never laid a hand on her. Rowe's fingerprints ID him as Mark Redding, a suspect in a nine-year-old homicide of a private investigator named Trevor Murphy. Rowe says he's been getting death threats threatening that he'll "rot like Trevor rotted" and posits that someone is framing him for Janelle's murder. Brass brings Trevor's daughter, Kelsey, in for questioning; the e-mails to Rowe were sent from an e-mail account set up at her IP address. She angrily turns her computer over, but the e-mails are traced a halfway house where Kelsey's brother, Nathan, lives. Nathan admits to sending the e-mails and says he wants Mark dead, but he clams up and asks for a lawyer after Brass asks for an alibi. Rowe's gun isn't a match to the bullet that killed Janelle, but a gun Trevor Murphy used to take down a robber a year before his death is. On a surveillance camera at the hospital Nora was taken to, the CSIs spot Kelsey Murphy approaching Peter Rowe with something under her coat. The CSIs track her car through her GPS system and find her in the desert, aiming a gun at Rowe and forcing him to dig up the body of her father--and admit he killed him. Brass tries to talk her down, telling her Nora is going to be okay and saying he knows her murder of Janelle was an accident, but Kelsey aims the gun and fires several rounds into Peter. One of the officers with Brass fires at her, killing her.

Nick and Detective Cavaliere are at the scene of a car crash, where two young men, Chase Bowman and Max Poole, are dead, apparently killed when their car crashed into a tree. Nick immediately notices something is off when he finds splinters in Chase's wound--on the opposite side of the car from the tree. Chase's arm is also broken in a way that is incongruous with the car crash. Nick views footage from the car's internal computer showing him the five seconds before the airbags deployed, which reveals that the car swerved to avoid hitting something. Hodges confirms Nick's suspicion: the splinter in Chase's arm doesn't match the wood from the tree their car hit; the splinter is from a baseball bat, leading Nick to wonder if the boys were playing mailbox baseball. Nick and Hodges play a little mailbox baseball game of their own, trying to figure out how Chase broke his arm. Nick and Cavaliere retrace the boys' route and notice a brand new mailbox at one of the houses. They question the owner, Hal Jackmin, who says his old mailbox got smashed. Nick notices a concrete walkway with one stone out of place. He turns it over and finds a mailbox with a concrete center buried beneath. Jackmin tells Nick and Cavaliere that the boys destroyed four of his mailboxes before he decided to take matters into his own hands. Nick tells him that Chase hitting the concrete mailbox caused his arm to break, and the car to swerve, killing both boys. Jackmin tries to defend himself, but Nick has him arrested for two counts of negligent homicide.

Grissom receives a summons to testify in a hearing that will determine whether Natalie Davis, the miniature crime scene killer who nearly ended Sara's life, is mentally fit to be transferred from the psychiatric hospital she's been in to prison. Grissom observes Natalie respond to questions lucidly and clearly in the courtroom, and ADA Nichols arranges for Grissom to see the disturbed young woman. He visits her at the hospital, where she says she's unsurprised to see him. She asks if Sara is going to testify, and he tells her Sara has left the crime lab. Natalie apologizes for what she did to Sara. Grissom asks her if she truly feels that way or only thinks she should, and she insists she truly is sorry for what she's done. Grissom testifies, and when asked by the lawyer representing Natalie if he's there for revenge for what Natalie did to Sara, Grissom answers that he has no personal stake in the proceedings--he's trying to believe people can change even if they're damaged, but he doesn't know if they can. The verdict comes down: Natalie is fit to be transferred to prison. Grissom goes to see her as she's leaving the hospital and she tells him he's wrong about her: she's changed, and she believes people who do bad things need to be punished. After she leaves, Grissom finds a tile out of place on the floor and lifts it up to find a miniature of Natalie in prison garb hanging from a rope.

Analysis:

After the significance of the miniature crime scene killer in season seven, it's gratifying for devoted fans of the show to see a follow up with Natalie Davis. Because Natalie more or less suffered a psychotic break in "Dead Doll", Grissom didn't really have a chance to go up against her and, as he puts it to Natalie, "see the real you." Grissom is a scientist; he needs to make sense of things in a logical way, so for him it's essential to see a rational Natalie. Grissom may have been telling the truth when he said he had no personal stake in the hearings--and I truly believe he wasn't there for revenge or with a desire to see Natalie shipped off to jail--but he obviously has a personal stake in seeing Natalie. Just his proclamation to her that "I wanted to see the real you" reveals that this visit is beyond the mere call of duty to testify as to her behavior immediately after being apprehended.

Grissom's statement in court that he's "trying to believe that people can change, even if they're damaged" is one of the most revealing things Grissom has ever said. Is he referring to Sara? Or to himself? Most likely, both. That Grissom is having a crisis of faith has been evident for a while now; when he admits in open court that he doesn't know if he believes people can change, the audience sees how conflicted Grissom is. Grissom's focus has always been on science and the evidence, but this season especially he's really been making an attempt to understand human nature. What Grissom is asking is can he change--can a man of science who has always been somewhat closed off to the real world open himself up to his feelings, to really get in touch with his emotional side? It's not easy for anyone to do that, but for Grissom, it's an extra challenge, because it will mean not just giving voice to the feelings he's always put second to his job, but also facing his grief over Warrick's death and the fact that he might rather be with Sara than leading the CSI team.

Natalie herself is every bit as clear-headed and rational here as she was psychotic and unraveled in "Dead Doll." She's a different person; whatever treatment she got has helped her find some balance and peace in her life, to the point where she's able to work calmly with bleach, the substance that has haunted her since her childhood. She tells Grissom she's changed, but he's skeptical, pointing out that sociopaths can be good at mimicking emotions they're expected to exhibit. Given Natalie's crimes--the precision of them, the calculation, the detail--is it any wonder that Grissom doesn't feel he can put a lot of stock in her assertion that she's changed? And yet, he isn't closed off to the possibility, or else why would be speaking with her, trying to tell if she's changed?

Jessica Collins is every bit as haunting as a rational Natalie as she was when Natalie was suffering from a psychotic break. Grissom doesn't cut corners with her; Natalie asks about Sara and if she's no longer with the lab because of what Natalie did to her, and he answers truthfully that he doesn't know. Grissom doesn't seem to yet fully understand why Sara left and yet it's clear for both reasons related to and independent of Sara, he's getting to the point where he feels the same way. Though he can't have the warmest feelings towards Natalie--his confrontation with her in "Dead Doll" is one of the few times we've seen Grissom truly enraged--he's chagrined when he discovers the miniature doll depicting Natalie hanging herself. Though he has little reason to feel for her, Grissom can't help but be dismayed at the idea that her reckoning with what she's done has led her to concluding that she deserves to die for what she's done.

Metaphorically, of course, change is a kind of death. For Sara, change for her brought the end of her career as a CSI and (at least for now) the end of her relationship with Grissom. For Grissom, it seems like it's coming down to a choice: stay in a job he's feeling increasingly burnt out in, or put his faith in his feelings for Sara and follow her. It wouldn't be an easy choice for anyone, but it's especially difficult for Grissom, who has shied away from personal relationships and has always defined himself as a CSI and a scientist first and foremost. For Grissom, a change that takes him away from that would be a death of sorts. In the end, Grissom wondering if damaged people can change is essentially him wondering if he himself is capable of change.

Brass gets a nice emotional arc in this episode in relation to Kelsey Murphy, who is haunted by her father's death. Kelsey recalls Brass talking to her after her father's car was found in the desert; Brass, who clearly has had many of these conversations over the years, doesn't appear to recall her. She's outraged that Brass is investigating her and her brother, but that outrage is apparently masking the fact that she's guilty of killing Rowe's wife. Allison Pill does a great job of conveying Kelsey's outrage and pain. She makes real the notion that a loved one's unsolved murder will haunt those left behind, especially when the killer got away with the deed and went on to have a relatively normal and happy life.

Kelsey gets her revenge in a tense scene in which she sacrifices her own life for that vengeance, shooting Rowe even though she knows Brass's officers have their guns trained on her. Brass makes a heartfelt effort to talk her down, but in the end, avenging her father has become the purpose of Kelsey's life. Paul Guilfoyle shows Brass's horror in his expression as he watches Kelsey shoot Rowe and then get shot herself. Guilfoyle's performance makes it clear that Brass feels he's failed in that moment when Kelsey makes the decision to fire at Rowe.

Is it wrong of me to sympathize with hapless Hal Jackmin? If someone destroyed my property four times over, I might be tempted to take matters into my own hands. Certainly Jackmin didn't intend to kill the two high school boys; I imagine a good lawyer could argue that he was free to do with his property what he wished, with the reasonable expectation that if someone came along and took a swing at it, they were responsible for consequences of their actions--no matter how tragic.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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