Leaving Las Vegas: CSI Ends with a Blast

csi

And now the time has come for CBS’s ridiculously long-lived original brand CSI, mother of many spinoffs and countless imitations, to face the final curtain. Yes, nicetimers, the finale aired Sunday night, but you can still watch it on Hulu. You could even binge watch the whole series, but it may be better to be selective.

How wide was CSI‘s influence? Ask anyone who was teaching our nation’s youts during its heyday. CSI made science sexy. Children of all genders wanted to grow up and study “forensics.” They dreamed of being “lab rats” who would one day move up to become investigators. They no longer said “ick” when it was time to dissect a frog. They demanded visits to the morgue. CSI did more to motivate the study of science than the Gates Foundation.

Was it science realistic? Not usually. The CSI team could not only do things that “real” forensic investigators could only dream of (and in less time than it takes to peel off a pair of rubber gloves), but they also got to interrogate suspects and solve crimes like cops. Week after week, the show told us that “the science” proved everything, beyond a reasonable doubt. Real-world juries believed it, leading to what became known as “the CSI effect,” where sometimes people were convicted on dubious scientific evidence and other times people were let go because there wasn’t enough forensic evidence – even if there was lots of other evidence. In a bit of meta, the show even had an episode called “The CSI Effect.”

But it wasn’t just fingerprints, insects, and leftover food in the belly of corpses that sold CSI. It was Vegas, baby – the weird desert oasis that never slept. Our main characters worked the night shift because in Vegas nothing ever happened in daylight. How Vegas was it? In the pilot we were introduced to CSI Catherine Willows, a former stripper, and CSI Warwick Brown, who had a major gambling problem. The setting was as integral to the show as NY was to Blue, or Miami was to Vice. The best episodes involved conventioneers, casinos, and visiting celebrities.

Willows

The very best involved at least a touch of the bizarre. You could learn a lot from watching CSI. It was the show that introduced a wider American audience to furries, adult babies, the intricacies of the professional dominatrix’s craft, and more – oh so much more!

In addition to sexy Catherine Willows, Vegas born and bred, the lovechild of a “showgirl” and a mobbed up casino owner, there was Gil Grissom, science nerd and bug collector. Not the smoothest guy socially – another one of those difficult genius types. He was never as unpleasant as House, not as cray-cray as Carrie Mathison, and probably not as much of a dick as Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, but there was always something a little off about Grissom. On the page, the character might have been a snooze, but William Peterson, a not quite star of the ‘80s (whose biggest role was the first screen incarnation of FBI Agent/empath Will Graham of Hannibal Lecter fame), turned him into television’s greatest original detective since Colombo. Peterson was so associated with the role that he even started speaking to groups of real world forensic scientists. Grissom brought in CSI Sarah Sidle, whom he knew from California, but the exact nature of their relationship (if any) remained murky for several seasons, until it wasn’t. But the course of true love did not run smooth, and before they were established as a couple, Grissom had a thing with Lady Heather, the dominatrix, as well as a fetching little person who was briefly a murder suspect. His tastes were eclectic.

grissom sara

Peterson left for good (except for maybe an appearance or two) in 2009. The character went to Costa Rica to reunite with on again/off again squeeze Sara, who’d left the show previously. Grissom’s departure caused many long time fans (your humble recapper for instance) to begin to lose interest. Catherine Willows took over as supervisor of the night shift until she royally screwed up and was replaced by DB Russell (Ted Danson), who brought along his own number one (but only in the work sense), Julie Finlay (Elizabeth Shue), who was left in a coma at the end of Season 15. Spoiler alert: After not being mentioned at all (or missed) during the finale, we finally see DB take out a plaque that shows his “Jules” is dead, perhaps further explaining his own decision to leave Las Vegas and move on to CSI: Cyber.

Other people who came and went through the years included Laurence Fishburne, whose character was introduced after Grissom’s departure. Fishburne played a medical doctor turned world’s oldest rookie CSI investigator for some overly complicated reason. Jorja Fox’s Sara came back, which required some explaining given that Grissom left to be with her. This led more status updates on Sara’s long-distance relationship with Gil than you’d find on the average 16-year-old girl’s Facebook page. Eventually, they decided the long-distance thing wasn’t working, and Sara announced they were divorced. Warwick Brown (Gary Dourdan) got killed off, seasons ago. Nick Stokes (George Eads) was the most straight-arrow of the CSIs, except maybe for his dating call girls – but hell, it’s Vegas, where all the women are either cops, crime scene investigators, strippers, prostitutes, or some combination thereof. He lasted ‘til the end, but then left to run CSI: San Diego, which could be a spinoff, but probably won’t be because Eads doesn’t play well with others and didn’t show up for the “feel good” finale reunion.

About that: They got (most of) the band back together again one last time and mostly ignored the new people. Not only did Grissom return, but this time it was personal. “It” being a series of bombings terrorizing Las Vegas, in which dominatrix and one or more time Grissom squeeze Lady “Call me Dr. Kessler” Heather is the suspected mastermind.

The two suicide bombers had both been patients of Heather’s perfectly legit therapy practice, and the theory was that Heather had become unhinged after the hit-and-run death of her granddaughter. Further evidence for this included Heather’s disappearing, blood in her house that wasn’t hers, and her general history of being a badass. Grissom was brought in to help find her. He also happened to be back in the USA, apparently on assignment for the ecoterrorist outfit he now works for. He was caught on a boat seizing shark fins and said something to the cops about “jumping the shark,” and while we love us our Grissom puns, that was no “fur and loathing in Las Vegas.” Grissom is convinced Lady Heather is innocent and being framed because of some gobbledygook about doms and submissives.

Captain (or detective or whatever he was) Jim Brass is back working a crime scene with no mention of his having been written out with no fanfare a season or two ago. Is it an alternate universe or did nobody notice?

brass

Catherine Willows, who left to become the world’s oldest FBI recruit, is back because it was her casino that got blowed up in the first bombing. Vegas, just when you think you’re out, it pulls you back in. Other people who’ve been on the show forever in minor roles were also featured in the finale, possibly as red herrings. When it was clear that Heather didn’t do it and some evil mastermind with a grudge against both Heather and Grissom did, I was relatively sure that that weirdo lab tech Hodges was behind it, or maybe it was Henry the ballistic expert or whatever his specialty is. Who would ever suspect Henry? If you never watched the one episode that prominently featured the lab rats, you’d never even know his name.

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While the plot of the finale is over-the-top ridiculous even by television standards, as a pure nostalgia nugget for fans, it’s lots of fun. Yes, we finally get closure on Sara and Grissom. Yes, Catherine finds a reason to come home for good – which includes a couple of cute orphans (because who doesn’t like orphans) and a not-so-surprising job offer. And guess who the young newbie who acted like she knew Grissom even though he clearly had no idea who she was turned out to be? None other than Lindsey, Catherine’s daughter, that’s who. All growed up and on the job. (This also gave Catherine the best line in the show.)

And so fans get to see a highly unlikely happily ever after for Grissom and Sara. Catherine winds up back where she belongs – and I don’t mean hugging a pole so get your mind out of the gutter. Hodges is just a creepy guy who works in a lab, and not a super-villain out for revenge because he was passed up for promotion one too many times.

With minor changes, the episode could have been the finale five years ago when Peterson decided to leave. Now that it’s all over, every episode ever is on Hulu, so connoisseurs can go back and enjoy the classics, of which there are many, or at least ten. Here are my personal top five:

5. Lady Heather’s Box – If for no other reason, that title. Also Catherine’s no good ex gets murdered and Lindsey is kidnapped.

4. King Baby – Because America needed to know more about adult babies.

3. You Kill Me – The lab rats get to shine! It’s almost as if they really made a Star Trek about the guy who cleans the holodeck.

2. Grave Danger – Three words: Quentin Tarantino directs.

1. Fur and Loathing in Las Vegas – Because America needed to learn about scritching.

 

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Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

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