CSI “Karma to Burn” Review

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When we last saw our cast of newly Dansoned crime scene investigators at the end of Season 12, basically everything for everyone was erupting in chaos. DB’s (Ted Danson) granddaughter has been kidnapped, Undersheriff Ecklie had been shot as revenge for killing one of corrupt former cop McKeen’s goons, longtime cast member Nick Stokes had a breakdown and quit, while Elizabeth Shue is still stuck with the much younger, much hotter, and likely crooked Detective Crenshaw.

“Karma to Burn” picks up where last season’ finale left off, DB finding a note made of magazine cutouts reading “karma”.

There was never much doubt that McKeen had everything to do with kidnapping young Katie, so there’s not much mystery there beyond finding her. This storyline largely serves as a vehicle to give Danson’s character some darker material to play with, venting his anger and frustration at anyone and everyone, strapping on a gun and getting rough with McKeen in his jail cell.

There’s always a bit of animosity in the CSI fanbase towards leading men who aren’t named Gil Grissom, and while I was sceptical of having fucking Becker heading up the cast on such a dark and moody show, over the last year he’d more than proven himself and helped to make Season 12 the best the show’s been in years.

That said, DB was always a pretty chill dude. He’s a grandfather, he’s patient, he’s very laid back and, well, zen. He was a breath of fresh air after Laurence Fishburne’s intense Ray Langston. And, now he is all full of ANGER and RAGE and it’s perfectly understandable but it is a little shocking to see, given his demeanour last season. He even yelled at Doc Robbins. You do not yell at my favourite cripple. Grr.


Rachel from Animorphs
It is Rachel and Kate is sad

Ecklie naturally doesn’t have much to do in this episode other than lie there and bleed, but I can’t help but feel like it was tied up a little too quickly. Shortly after the episode begins he’s seen being loaded into an ambulance, and disappears for most of the episode until the end, where he’s just hanging out in his hospital bed. Much of the shooting storyline is spent on his daughter and various other cast members sitting in the waiting room looking concerned and feeling guilty, particularly his daughter Morgan.

Really, the only thing to take away from this is Morgan confessing that she never really liked her father, and then kissing Hodges. The guilt thing is really quite standard and fairly dull. I just don’t care. I must confess I’ve always found Elisabeth Harnois’ portrayal of Morgan rather flat. Even when given emotional stuff as she is here, she invariably fails to tug at my blackened and withered heartstrings. The kiss with Hodges was a little more entertaining, but that was largely because, well, Hodges is a weird, awkward dude and he clearly had no idea what to make of it.

Which brings us to Julie (Elizabeth Shue). Her scenes in the early part of the episode we pretty cringeworthy. Crenshaw, as I said before looks like a teen idol, and, well…Julie is not young. She’s kind of trapped in the car with him, and while I know it’s a ploy, her attempting to distract him with the possibility of old lady vagina is just awkward to watch.

Naturally, Crenshaw really is working with McKeen, so Julie is driven to one of those warehouse/nightclub combinations and is taken hostage along with Katie. After this, I feel things get a lot more enjoyable because she wastes no time in helping Katie make an escape attempt and kicking some reasonable amounts of ass as she fights off Crenshaw’s goons. Katie was recaptured afterwards and Grumpy Grandpa Danson yells at her for it, but it made for a pretty good fight scene.

Ted Danson in CSI
Pictured: Ted Danson in a different episode

Nick’s freakout and breakdown strikes me as a little odd. When we first come back to his story he’s seen drunk in a parking lot, and when two police officers come for him, he mouths off and challenges them to a fight, which he clearly loses. Sara finds him in a drunk tank covered in bruises, and for some reason she thinks it’s a great idea to get him to come back to work.

It’s not that I dislike Nick going through this, but I’m not sure why it’s happening now. About the most traumatic thing to happen to him was being buried alive in the Tarantino-directed Season 5 finale “Grave Danger.” Season 6 did show him trying to cope with what had happened, but by and large he handled it rather well. Fast forward a couple of seasons and McKeen has his friend, fellow CSI Warrick Brown (yes, the black dude’s last name was Brown. Sigh) blown up. Either of these events would have been a better catalyst for this kind of crisis, but for some reason things are just starting to get to him now? I mean, sure, sometimes there’s a delayed reaction to trauma but eight and five years later respectively? Come on, now.

While I question the logic of having someone who is clearly drunk and surly working with forensics Nick does prove to be a huge asset to finding Katie, so, you know, I guess that makes it okay? This might be the worst police department in the world.

Detective Brass, thankfully, has also had enough of this and chews out both Nick and DB for the choices they’ve made after a valuable suspect is killed to silence him. He reminds them that even if they strap on a gun, they are not cops and he’s had enough of this going rogue business. It’s a welcome dose of common sense the CSI characters tend to forget.

Nick “quitting” is undone far too quickly. I know he’s been on the show since the beginning, and this being a CBS crime show, that means he’ll get his job back, but I have a tough time swallowing this particular pill. So, he has a freakout, quits, gets drunk, fights with the police, comes back to work while still all fucked up, and after the kid is found and things calm down, he’s just accepted back?

I very much enjoyed the conversation he, Greg, and Sara have about it at the end. I love that they call him out on this, because you just can’t pull shit like this whenever you feel like it and then come crawling back. I love that Nick points out Sara also quit before, but the difference there is she actually was gone for a season or two, where as Nick pulls the stereotypical cop show “I QUIT but now the case is solved so I can still haz jerb, plz?” This devolves into a fight which poor Greg has to referee. I love that those three have kind of formed their own little sub-group within the rest of the cast; they’ve been there the longest, and they’ve formed a kind of family. Very nice stuff.

The presentation of CSI in the last few years has gotten incredibly slick and fun to watch, and this episode in particular. Fights are more brutal, gunfights are a lot bloodier, the pace is faster, and the episode remains tense throughout. Flashbacks are no longer told in a cutaway, rather they appear in floating panels over the current scene.

CSI "Karma to Burn" shot

“Karma to Burn” also spends a good deal of time showing us what’s going in DB’s head. Like the flashbacks, these fantasies are given much sleeker transitions than a simple cut. They begin without warning and at times it’s only clear it’s a fantasy when the scenery around DB melts away and is replaced with reality.

I’ve really enjoyed the direction CSI has taken in recent years. They’ve moved from a largely episodic procedural structure to more serialized storytelling. Most seasons have had an ongoing plot that crops up in 6-10 episodes mixed in with the usual standalone mysteries. These arcs are usually contained to a single season, and I think that’s a wise choice. The television landscape is much, much different than it was when the series debuted in 2000.

CSI is not a mythology driven show, but episodic television is no longer the norm, and I think they’ve found a nice middle ground. It allows the writers to keep the show fresh and tell stories with a larger scope than they could have with a strict body of the week format. It’s like they threw up their hands and said Hey it’s been over a decade. We don’t give a fuck anymore. Let’s go crazy.

Many fans have complained that they preferred the episodic format to the more action-oriented arcs which often draw on the cast’s personal lives, but I feel at Season 13 you’ve earned the right to evolve a little. It’s not just my own preference for serial dramas; this late in the game you have to change to keep things interesting. Longer arcs and Ted fucking Danson have been like a shot of adrenaline to an ageing show that frankly needed it, while retaining its identity.

It’s not a perfect premiere, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I liked having so many balls in the air at once, and it’s great to see the writings are continuing to take more risks than they have in past years. A great new lead in DB, bolder writing choices and a very stylish presentation make CSI feel a hell of a lot more fresh and modern than any drama its age deserves to be.

If you haven’t paid much attention to CSI in the past, now might be the time to start.