CSI: Miami--'Prey'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at October 5, 2005 - 11:06 PM GMT

See Also: 'Prey' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

After Sarah Jennings, an eighteen-year-old Georgia girl on a class spring break trip, goes missing after a night of partying, Horatio vows to find her. Tina Saunders, Sarah's friend, claims that she left Sarah at Liquid Neon, the club they were drinking at, at 2am. The car Sarah rented is found with blood and vomit around it, and Ryan discovers a hidden camera in the car, which transmits to a laptop in the trunk. The car is registered to Ocean World Travel, the company running the spring break trip. Ted Griffith, the owner of the company, admits he rented the car to Sarah in order to be competitive, but insists he had the kids on the trip sign a behavior agreement. He denies having anything to do with the camera that was found in the car.

Ryan tells Calleigh the footage from the camera was sent out as a wireless signal. They view the footage and see a drunk Sarah fooling around in the backseat with a man they identify as Brad Walker. Brad admits to being in the car, but denies hurting Sarah. He says the blood by the car is his--Sarah elbowed him when a man approached the car and demanded Brad leave. Calleigh takes prints from the outside of his hands to match them to prints found on the window of the car, but Brad's prints don't match those on the window. Elsewhere in the lab, Natalia Boa Vista brings Horatio a cold case--one he was the arresting officer on. Horatio calls a woman named Jennifer and tells her to stay put before sending Officer Jessop over to her house to watch over her.

Sarah's purse is discovered near the beach by a jogger, who says a girl matching Sarah's description dropped it and ran half an hour ago. Delko finds an adderine pill inside--it's a medication for ADD, which Sarah has no history of. The pill leads Horatio and Tripp back to Ted Griffith, who admits he sold the pills to enhance his company's vacation packages. When Horatio sees red bottlebrush needles by the feet of Griffith's blonde secretary, he realizes that she discarded the purse, not Sarah. She confesses that Griffith ordered her to do it. Both are arrested. A red stain on Sarah's purse is identified as a new kind of alcohol being test marketed at the club, and the rep, Valerie Nordoff is brought in. She admits to plying Sarah with drinks, trying to get her into the drink. She recalls Sarah talking to a bunch of guys, including one with the last name Marshall, who wanted her to get on his boat.

Tripp and Horatio corner Jeff on the pier near his boat. Horatio notices vomit on the boat and on Jeff's jeans and shoes, and Jeff asks for a lawyer. As Tripp and Horatio haul Jeff away, Sarah's stepfather, Paul Jennings, approaches and starts screaming at Jeff. Horatio tells him to go back to his hotel, and the man reluctantly complies. When Jeff gets his lawyer, he tells them that Sarah and her friend Tina were on his boat, but they both left alive. This leads Horatio back to Tina--if she was on Jeff's boat with Sarah, she didn't leave Sarah at the club at 2am. Tina admits to lying because she was afraid of getting cited for violating the behavior agreement. She and Sarah left the boat and passed out outside, but she doesn't remember where. The CSIs take samples and discover heavy sand grains on her, which leads them to a playground. Delko finds Sarah's body in the bushes near a swing set. Horatio, chagrined, apologizes to Sarah for not being able to save her.

In the morgue, Alexx determines that Sarah was strangled. Calleigh asks her to hold off on the autopsy and run a sex assault test instead. Calleigh examines Sarah's clothes, noting that she may have been redressed. She takes the large buttons from Sarah's shirt in the hopes of getting prints off them. A look at Sarah's clothes with the UV light reveals splatter covering her clothes and body. In the AV lab, Dan Cooper traces the signal from the camera in the car to a computer in town--at the hotel where Sarah's parents are staying. Sarah's stepfather was spying on her, but when questioned he claims he was just trying to protect her. He scared Brad away from the car and argued with Sarah but she stormed off. In the DNA lab, Valera tells Calleigh that Sarah did have sex before she died, but that she was only able to recover one sperm sample. Calleigh authorizes her to test it, even though it could make the case harder to try later on. Valera matches the sample to a man named Thomas Woodward.

Thomas turns out to be Jeff's friend, and both are brought in. Each claims the other was the last one with Sarah, and that the other wanted her. Jeff's prints showed up on Sarah's buttons, so the CSIs aren't sure whom to believe. Calleigh and Delko decide to go back to the crime scene. Elsewhere in the lab, Stetler approaches Horatio and complains about Officer Jessop's overtime working on the cold case. Horatio brushes him off, telling him to put the cost on his tab.

Calleigh and Delko return to the playground where they get a break: an automatic sprinkler pops up in the area where Sarah's body was discovered. The CSIs test both men's clothes. Horatio brings them together for the final interrogation. Jeff's prints were on Sarah's buttons--he came across her body and buttoned her shirt when he saw she was dead, but it was Thomas who killed her. The sprinkler water--treated with a specific chemical--is all over his clothes, and on his hands in the exact place he held Sarah's wrists down. The case closed, Horatio goes to Jennifer's house and takes over the watch from Officer Jessop.

Analysis:

Inspired by the Natalee Holloway case, his episode could steal Law & Order's frequent "ripped from the headlines" tagline. Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba at the end of May of this year while on a senior class trip. As of this writing, Natalee is still missing, and while I enjoyed "Prey" as an episode, I'm not entirely sure it was in good taste, given the fact that the Holloway case is still open. The episode is forced to come to a conclusion that that case hasn't yet (even if a tragic outcome is the most likely).

That said, the episode is a sad cautionary tale that plays into stereotypes but still drives its message home. It's a bit unfortunate that the killer turns out to be the sleazy, predatory looking man and not the one with the angelic face because in reality evil isn't always so apparent at first glance. Watching the episode I wanted Jeff to be innocent--there's something so likable about Sam Page's face--even as I knew it would be a more interesting conclusion if he wasn't. With his disdainful sneer, predatory Thomas--played with creepy disdain by Matt Matkevich--looks like the kind of guy who a girl would think twice about going off with alone.

But Miami isn't going for the subtle here. The most unfortunate example of this is the pat conversation between Ryan and Calleigh as they watch the video footage of Sarah and Brad in the car. Ryan makes the stereotypically insensitive comments suggesting that Sarah's drunken state was responsible for what at the time looked like Brad's assault on her, and Calleigh comes back with the only appropriate response and that's that Sarah wasn't asking to be assaulted. Do we really need the umpteenth incarnation of this argument? I'm sure that unfortunately there are still men out there that think a drunk girl is "asking for it," but if this is supposed to be a cautionary tale, wouldn't it have made more sense to discuss the very real dangers of alcohol and drugs, of lowered inhibitions? This is what the episode seems to about.

It's also disturbing to see Ryan painted in such an unsympathetic light. He's supposed to be one of the good guys, so why have him spouting such misogynistic nonsense? It's not unlike the incident in "Pirated" when Frank complains about residents of Little Havana not speaking English. Again, it seems we have a main character expressing views that seem out-of-character just so another character can correct him. It's not the best way to treat the lead characters. Characters with flaws are interesting and complex, but having them say insensitive things out of left field just so another character can set them straight does a disservice to the characters.

The writers do a good job of creating suspense by not revealing whether or not Sarah is alive or dead until the mid-point of the episode. In this way, it reminds me of the fifth season CSI episode "Harvest" and the revelation is equally heartbreaking. Horatio's apology drives home the reason he's so likable to so many of the show's fans: he cares so much for each victim.

This episode also gives us a little more background on what Horatio's secret might be, but not much. Could he have killed the wrong man trying to protect Jennifer? Now that would be kind of interesting, and would explain why Horatio might feel more than a little guilt. After all, killing bad guys has never really gotten under his skin, so I'm wondering if the person Horatio killed was actually an innocent person. If the killer is still a threat to Jennifer, Horatio obviously didn't get the right man.

Speaking of this formerly cold case, I have to wonder if poor Natalia Boa Vista is going to spend all of her time shuffling folders and looking up cold cases for the team. The idea of exploring cold cases and relating them to current ones is interesting, though it might lose steam before long. Hopefully the writers will give Eva La Rue more to do, because she has a nice, warm presence and potential chemistry with David Caruso.

Stetler isn't going to let Horatio's secret go, is he? Stetler is like a dog with a bone whenever he gets a whiff of scandal around Horatio or his team. And yet David Lee Smith always manages to make Stetler seem so sympathetic that I can't tell if he wants to get Horatio fired or if he's just hoping the man will confide in him. With Yelina out of the picture, it will be interesting to see how their relationship changes.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.