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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--'Grave Danger'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at July 21, 2005 - 5:38 PM GMT

See Also: 'Grave Danger' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Nick Stokes arrives at a crime scene and is shown to the remains: bloody entrails. The officer at the scene, Officer Michaels, is overwhelmed by the sight, and goes off to throw up while Nick examines the entrails and searches the scene. He notices a bagged piece of evidence--a Styrofoam cup--just as someone sneaks up behind him. Flash forward twenty-five minutes: the CSIs swarm the area, searching the scene for their missing colleague. Grissom and Catherine grimly go over the evidence, including Nick's abandoned CSI vest, on which they find white fibers. Grissom makes note of the cup in the evidence bag and quickly realizes it's not evidence that Nick bagged.

The episode flashes back to earlier in the evening. Grissom and Sara discuss a case: he's solved it by concluding that someone killed twin sisters with a single bullet. Elsewhere, Hodges and Greg play a Dukes of Hazard board game. In the locker room, Warrick and Nick discuss Warrick's evening out the night before. Catherine brings them two cases, and Nick ends up with the "trash run" after he loses the coin toss with Warrick.

Nick wakes up in the back of an SUV. His hands are tied and when the car stops he braces himself to see his captor. But Nick is caught off guard when the person sneaks up behind him and puts a white cloth over his face. Nick struggles and slips into unconsciousness. At the crime scene Grissom looks at the too-neat blood pool around the entrails and concludes they were placed there by someone. The crime scene was staged to grab Nick. A distressed Warrick arrives at the crime scene to help with the investigation. A team of hounds is brought in to track Nick's scent, but they are only able to trace it to the location where a large vehicle was once parked. Warrick examines the outline left by the rain and takes measurements.

Back at the labs, the entire team is hard at work. Dr. Robbins informs Catherine that the entrails found at the scene belonged to a dog, not a human. Greg goes over Nick's old cases to see if anyone might have a grudge against him and the ability to act on it. Ecklie promises the entire resources of the lab. Hodges runs the vehicle size and comes up with several candidates. Warrick examines the traffic camera tapes and zeroes in on a suspicious vehicle: a Ford Expedition. Meanwhile, Nick's captor places the unconscious CSI in a fiberglass box, cuts his restraints, and throws in several glowsticks with him. Then he shuts the box and begins shoveling dirt on top of it.

Back at the lab, the CSIs go over the case. They don't have a lot to work with: the Ford went out of the range of the surveillance cameras and the most likely suspect they had, Nick's former stalker, is still in jail. They are interrupted by the sight of Hodges scuffling with a messenger, who has a package with Nick's name on it. Grissom opens the package and pulls out a tape and a USB flash drive. Inside the coffin, Nick wakes to find a cassette tape as well. He plays it and hears a voice congratulate him for following the evidence and promising him he'll die there. Back at the lab, the CSIs play their tape, but it's just a song, "Outside Chance" by the Turtles. Grissom realizes they're being mocked and turns to the USB drive. He inserts it into the computer. Words flash across the screen: One million dollars in twelve hours or the CSI dies. Grissom clicks on a button on the screen, which illuminates a light in Nick's coffin and allows the CSIs to see their colleague. Disturbed but determined to help Nick, the CSIs analyze the scene: Grissom assumes there must be air being pumped into the coffin or Nick would run out well before the twelve hours are up. The feed goes dark after a few minutes and the CSIs click the button again, confirming it's live.

After Brass questions the messenger and his slick attorney, the police storm the house where the messenger picked up the package. But when they get there, they find a man sleeping in a chair and no sign of Nick or his kidnapper. Nick's parents, Roger and Jillian, come into the CSI offices to talk to Grissom. They discuss raising the money for Nick's ransom, and Grissom shows them the live feed. Jillian is unable to watch, and Roger sadly calls his son by his childhood nickname, Poncho. Ecklie wants to cut the budget to raise the money, but he's told by a higher-up that he can't. Knowing the Stokes can't raise the money in time, Catherine turns to her father, Sam Braun, and asks him, as a daughter, for the money. He gives it to her and she brings it to Grissom.

Armed with the money, Grissom goes to the address that flashes across the computer screen during the live feed of Nick in the coffin. He arrives at a shack in the desert and enters cautiously. When he moves into the second room of the house, a man sitting at a table, watching the feed of Nick from a laptop asks Grissom about the money. Grissom kicks it over to him, and the man is surprised to discover Grissom isn't trying to trick him. The man seems less interested in the money and more concerned about Grissom's relationship with Nick--whether they're friends and how Grissom feels seeing Nick suffering. Then the man does something completely unexpected: he opens up his jacket, revealing explosives strapped to his chest. Grissom backs away as the man blows himself up.

After the explosion, the CSIs pour over the house and the Ford Expedition. Warrick and Greg check the mileage on the car to determine the radius of where he could have taken Nick, while David Phillips examines the remains of the man's torso and reports that there's no ID on him. Sara is pleased when she comes up with a thumb intact. The team heads back to the lab. Warrick watches Nick on the feed, pressing the button and illuminating the coffin. Inside the coffin, Nick realizes the light is connected to the fan, his only source of air. Elsewhere, Sara runs the thumb through AFIS but comes up empty. Back in the lab, Warrick watches in horror as Nick pulls out his gun and raises it to his chin. But then Nick shifts and shoots the light instead. Nick lights a glow stick and Warrick sighs in relief when he sees Nick still alive.

Mia has good news for Sara--a DNA run of the thumb through CODIS has revealed a match to a relative currently serving time in prison: Kelly Gordon, a young woman serving the third of a five year sentence for being an accessory to murder. It was her father, Walter, who took Nick. Brass and Sara bring her in but Kelly, hardened by a rough life in prison, seems unconcerned about Nick's predicament. She was convicted based on a Styrofoam cut found at the scene of a murder--the very cup the CSIs found bagged neatly in the spot where Nick disappeared--but denied any involvement. She was convicted anyway. She bitterly recalls her days as a horticulturist before savagely telling them she hopes Nick dies.

At the Gordon house, Catherine, Warrick and Greg are looking for evidence. Warrick begins to break down, and confesses to Catherine about the coin toss. Catherine reassures him but they're interrupted by Greg, who has found a patch of dirt with something buried beneath it. The CSIs begin to dig frantically. In his coffin, Nick hears noises and starts calling out. The CSIs dig until they hit a coffin, but it's that of a dead dog, not Nick. They sigh in disappointment. Inside his coffin, Nick watches as the fiberglass walls begin to crack, set off when he shot the light earlier. Warrick takes the coffin with the dog in it back to the lab and takes it apart.

In his coffin, Nick begins to record a message for his parents and friends while Grissom looks on and reads his lips. Suddenly Nick begins to convulse. Grissom magnifies the image and sees hundreds of ants streaming into the coffin through the cracks in the plexiglass. The ants are biting Nick; he wads up some paper and sticks it in his nose to avoid ants getting into his nasal passage. At the lab, Warrick tells the other CSIs that based on his examination of the prototype coffin, Nick probably only has ninety minutes of air left.

Grissom studies the wire feed and manages to get a screen capture of one of the ants as it crawls across the screen. He rushes to his entomology books and identifies the ant as a rare type of fire ant. The CSIs are able to narrow down the areas the fire ants are found in to two plant nurseries, and Sara recalls that Kelly Gordon mentioned she worked at a nursery. She gets the name and the CSIs rush to the area. They scour the area, and Catherine locates the webcam transmitter. Meanwhile, Nick is running out of air and beginning to hallucinate. He envisions Dr. Robbins and David Phillips autopsying him and removing his organs as he looks on. His father enters the room and observes, asking what his son died of.

Above ground, Warrick begins to dig frantically. The CSIs are rewarded with the sight of a plexiglass coffin with Nick inside. Nick becomes frantic when he sees them, and Warrick gets a fire extinguisher to kill the ants that are biting him. Before the CSIs can pull Nick from the coffin, Catherine gets a call from Hodges--he's discovered traces of simtex on the bottom of the prototype coffin, indicating there could be explosives under the one Nick is in. Warrick is forced to leave Nick as the CSIs prepare a way to get Nick out and retain the weight in the coffin. Nick becomes hysterical when he sees Warrick leave, and Grissom gets into the hole, calling Nick 'Pancho' and telling him how they're going to get him out. The CSIs bring over a tractor to dump dirt in the coffin as Nick is lifted away from it by a crane. The coffin explodes just as Nick is pulled to safety. Nick is taken away in an ambulance, Catherine and Warrick at his side. As Grissom watches the ambulance drive off, he tells Ecklie that he wants "my guys back."

After he recovers, Nick goes to visit Kelly Gordon in prison. They regard each other warily, and Nick tells her that when she gets out, not to take it with her. She hangs up the prison phone and goes back to her cell, contemplating his words.

Analysis:

When the news that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct the fifth season finale of CSI broke, the reaction was understandable excitement, from both those working on CSI and the show's many fans. Tarantino and the CSI team do not disappoint; "Grave Danger" is perhaps the most tense, exciting and suspenseful episode of CSI to date. The stakes are always upped when a main character is in jeopardy, but "Grave Danger" is the rare episode that actually leaves the viewer wondering whether Nick is going to make it out of that coffin alive.

Indeed, Nick is no Beatrix Kiddo, and he can't simply punch his way out of the coffin. Being buried alive tops most people's nightmare scenario lists, and Tarantino and George Eads do an admirable job of drawing viewers in and forcing them to experience the horror alongside Nick. The scenes in the coffin are claustrophobic and eerie, whether lit by the too-bright white light or the sinister green glow from the light sticks. The fiberglass adds to the effect, as Nick can see for a fact that he is indeed buried under ground.

There's been speculation about the possibility of a CSI movie, but it would be difficult to top the cinematic feel of "Grave Danger." There are certain scenes, like the one where Grissom approaches the house where Walter Gordon is waiting for him, or after Gordon's bomb explodes and the money rains down around Grissom, that have a larger-than-life feel to them. "Grave Danger" would not have been out of place on the big screen.

What is perhaps most surprising is that the whole cast is given a chance to shine. Usually in a big story like this, two or three characters are in the forefront while the others have little more than background work to do, but that's not the case here. Every character is proved integral to the story and to solving the case. The most notable performance is Eads', which makes sense, given that Nick is the one in danger throughout the episode. I would argue that his best scene is not in the coffin, but at the end, when he confronts Kelly Gordon in jail. His need to see her, to put the situation behind him and bring some good from it are all evident in his plea to her, "When you get out, don't take it with you." Whether or not Kelly will heed his words remains to be seen; rumor has it that she might return next season.

William Petersen remains the steadfast rock that anchors the show. Even in moments of crisis, Gil Grissom's calm center allows him to think rationally. And yet, there's no doubt that Grissom is emotionally affected by Nick's plight. He goes alone to meet Gordon with unmarked money, imploring, "I just want my guy back." Later in the episode, he watches Nick record his farewell tape and reads his lips and tells Nick that he never let him down. It is also Grissom that pulls Nick from the abyss by calling him Pancho and calming him down. Despite Grissom's awkwardness around other people, he does have a keen grasp of human nature, and is in fact the one who connects with Nick emotionally at the crucial moment. And when Grissom cracks the case by identifying the type of ant in Nick's coffin, it's a classic CSI moment.

Marg Helgenberger's Catherine is less of a foil to Petersen's cool Grissom in this episode than an equally quick-thinking partner. When the department refuses to give over money for Nick's ransom, she turns to her father, Sam Braun, and acquiesces to his request that she ask him for the money as a daughter. It is also Catherine who confronts Warrick about his emotional outburst. Catherine is clearly growing into her role as a team leader; will she retain that position if Grissom gets his "guys" back?

Viewers get to see the coin toss that started it all early on in the episode, and Gary Dourdan expertly reminds viewers of that coin toss every time he's on screen, as it's clearly at the forefront of Warrick's mind. Warrick's guilt and grief are palpable; every time he's watching Nick, he's thinking of his friend's fate alongside the question, "What if that were me?" That expression is mirrored in all of the CSIs faces as they watch Nick during various parts of the episode.

Sara, Greg and Brass don't have quite as much to do as the other four characters, but their scenes are integral and powerful, if briefer. Easy-going Greg is more on edge than usual, clearly upset when Warrick yells at him, and nervously eager when he finds what he thinks might be Nick's location. It is Sara who finds the thumb that leads the CSIs to Kelly Gordon, and she and Brass shine in an interrogation scene with a witness they can't comprehend. Aimee Graham lets Kelly's rage simmer just beneath her jaded, disinterested exterior. She shows no signs of crumbling in either the interrogation scene or the final scene with Nick; it is not until she is in her cell alone that there is any indication that Nick's words may have resonated with her.

Even Ecklie is presented sympathetically in this episode. Tarantino has gone on record saying he's an Ecklie fan, and in this episode he offers another side of the ambitious director: a man who does, behind all the management decisions and calculated angling, actually care about the people working for him. It is Ecklie who goes to the department bigwigs trying to get the cash for Nick's ransom. He also tells Grissom that the entire department is behind the CSI team. Gone is the publicity hungry bureaucrat; in his place is a man who wants to do the right thing. Is it too abrupt a character change? Perhaps, but then, maybe the crisis is showing Ecklie's true nature, that the man is more than a ladder-climbing opportunist.

The amped up performances of the regular cast, along with the higher stakes in general, give the episode a cinematic feel. Tarantino's direction cannot be overlooked either; his influence is felt throughout the episode. Tarantino is famous for incorporating music into movies in a significant or symbolic way. The episode opens with Nick singing along to the radio; later Walter Gordon cruelly sends the CSIs a taunting tape; and in the hallucination sequence music plays in the background and David Phillips and Dr. Robbins lean over Nick and begin to autopsy him. That scene is classic Tarantino as well: Nick watches passively, with little expression, as the two coroners remove his organs. Later, his father appears and asks if Nick's heart gave out, and when Dr. Robbins notes that Nick's heart was healthy, Judge Stokes says that Nick always did have a good heart. It's a powerful scene, and an unusual one. Amid all of the characters on television struggling with bad parents, it becomes clear in this scene (and the one where the Stokes are at the CSI labs) that Nick is not one of them. His bond with his father is clearly a strong one; it's Grissom using his father's nickname for him that calms him long enough for the CSIs to get him out of the coffin.

I often see critics complaining about the lack of character work in the CSI shows (and forensic dramas in general), and to them I would offer up "Grave Danger" as evidence that CSI does a masterful job of blending character work and exciting stories. ("Grave Danger" is hardly the only example of this, but it is a high profile one.) The plot of "Grave Danger" is so intense that it's easy to lose track of the excellent character moments on the first viewing, but the episode shows just how fully-formed these characters are, and how strong each character's individual presence is. It's a fine way to conclude television's most popular drama's fifth season.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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