CSI “The Devil and DB Russell” Review

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WARNING: SPOILERS FOR CSI BELOW
CSI is back once again for Season 14. Picking up where last season’s finale left off, a serial killer is murdering prostitutes in elaborate ways corresponding to illustrations of the nine circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. Morgan went undercover as a call girl to the prime suspect’s penthouse, but the CSI team were given the slip and Morgan has been taken by the killer, along with Brass’ daughter Ellie. It’s Se7en, basically. And pretty blatantly so.

In this episode, the CSI team works around the clock to locate the girls, and the killer drops them a line with a chilling ultimatum: the CSIs must choose only one girl to be set free while the other becomes the next victim. If they don’t comply, the killer will make the choice for them.

Despite having DB’s name in the title, this episode is just as much about Brass as it is about Mr. Danson. His daughter on the line, and there’s a great deal of time devoted to Brass and his estranged wife calling a temporary peace during this crisis, his guilt at not being the best father in the world, and his inability to choose between Ellie and Morgan. Paul Guilfoyle knocks it out of the park in the episode’s closing moments, but we’ll get to that in a second. Ecklie shows up as well, guilt-ridden and angry at himself for giving the okay to the undercover op. He and Morgan have sort of switched places this year. In last year’s finale, it was Ecklie’s life hanging in the balance, and now the roles are reversed. Ted Danson does get some very nice scenes of soul searching. He says that despite being trained to follow the evidence, sometimes you need a gut instinct on where to look, and worries that maybe this time, that inspiration just won’t come.

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This two parter is slightly disappointing from a story standpoint. The plot’s not bad, quite the opposite. It’s just that after Season 12’s ruckus over McKeen and the corruption scandal, Season 13 didn’t really have much of an arc to call its own. There was certainly fallout from Season 12 to deal with, and good use of the series’ history, but no real arc to speak of. At the end of last season, I was hoping that by introducing this new serial killer, the show was setting itself up for a longer arc spent tracking him down, like Paul Millander, the Miniature Killer, and Doctor Jekyll before him. Color me disappointed when we discover that it’s being all wrapped up in the second part. Ah, well. Here’s hoping Season 14 can find some sort of a something, especially given the fact that episode 300 is only a few weeks away.

Plus, how many CSI premiere/finales have hinged upon one of the CSI team or family members thereof being kidnapped and placed in mortal danger? Let’s see, there’s Nick buried alive in Quentin Tarantino’s “Grave Danger,” Sara Sidle kidnapped and about to be drowned in “Living Doll”/”Dead Doll,” and just last year, DB’s granddaughter in “Homecoming”/”Karma to Burn.” That’s just naming three. I’m all for raising the stakes and putting our characters into mortal peril, but this is starting to feel a little rote by now. There has to be a more creative way of getting everyone into real danger.

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Again, guys?
There’s a lot of good stuff in this episode, though.  It does a good job of keeping the tension high, impressing upon the audience that time is running out, and making the audience really feel the desperation and frustration of the CSIs when they keep coming up empty. In many respects the premiere borrows more from horror films and slasher flicks than it does Dragnet. It’s genuinely unsettling at times, and you really do feel like people could die.

The Season 13 finale boasted an impressive guest cast, and unfortunately, they’ve kind of faded away here. The wonderful James Callis (Baltar, Battlestar Galactica), who was very prominent in Part 1, doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the second half. He gets to offer a few theories and act as a sounding board for Ted Danson’s monologue, but nothing that really lets him strut his stuff. Eric Roberts fares a little better. He’s one of those character actors who, when they appear on screen, you just know they’re up to no good. CSI plays with that expectation a little; while he’s not behind the murders, he is a little scummy. He gets a nice little scene where he uses his priesty-ness to assist the CSIs to get a confession.

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God, I miss Battlestar.
And then CSI makes me look stupid and knocks me right on my ass with one hell of a twist. Let me paint a picture, here. Morgan and Ellie manage to escape from the killer. He chases them down, Morgan struggles with him. He drops his gun, Ellie picks it up and shoots him dead. Awesome. Out of danger, right? Oh, no. Because then Ellie fucking shoots Morgan in the back. SHE WAS IN ON IT THE WHOLE TIME. Again, I figured this would be something that might lie low for a bit before coming to light. Ellie managed to weave a convincing lie about the killer being the one to shoot Morgan… and then Brass returns to his wife’s hotel room to find her dead in a massive pool of blood and Ellie pointing a gun at him. She says he’s the reason she did this, because daddy issues. Brass just confirms her suspicion that he doesn’t really love her when he says that she’s just killed the only person he ever loved and to go ahead and shoot him.

Ellie taken away, and Brass is left alone in the room in tears and my goodness Paul Guilfoyle is good in this. HOLY SWEET MOTHER OF UNFORGIVING JESUS HELL ON A MOTORBIKE. I applaud the hell out of this episode for taking that kind of risk with a character who’s been a part of the show almost since the beginning. Both Brass and DB seem to be left devastated by these events at the end of the episode. This is one of those landmark, holy-shit moments in a series’ life, and I expect it’ll be a good while before things are truly back to normal. You can’t do something like this and not follow through on it. The episode still has its flaws, but CSI hasn’t made me scream at my TV in shock and horror like that in years. Hats. Fucking. Off.

Rating Banner 4