“Why do you do it?”
“Because the dead can't speak for themselves.”
Five seasons into CSI and I was wondering whether it had jumped the shark. The show's lead, the vastly underrated William Petersen (Manhunter, To Live and Die in LA), had almost taken a backseat to the proceedings as his CSI team had been split and fragmented in a wash of office politics. As a long-time fan of the show, Quentin Tarantino himself decided to intervene and, with a fantastic two-part season finale, managed to return the show to its great heights and give Petersen's character of Gil Grissom his thrown back. One season on and things appear to be back to the way they were - if not better - with highlights including Brass' police shooting incident, Nick's post-kidnapping trauma and the revelation (at least to audiences) that Sara and Gil have been having a secret relationship.
The beginning of the seventh year (and I should point out now that, if you haven't seen it, it's worth picking up cheap before you watch the second half) kicked off with a tremendous two-part season premiere that saw CSI Catherine Willow assaulted and her daughter kidnapped. Although they manage to resolve the story fairly quickly, the second plot in this two-parter involved the introduction of a new adversary for Gil Grissom (and every Sherlock Holmes needs a decent Moriarty) in the form of the so-called miniature killer, a serial killer who creates an exact model replica of the crime scene to leave as a gift for the CSIs. It was a great opening gambit, and with the exception of a couple of gimmicky fillers (like the morgue body 'chat' episode) the rest of the first half-season remained quite solid. Greg got viciously beaten and then got his own little story arc, the miniature killer continued to baffle Grissom with a couple more murders, and there were even a couple of nice nods to Petersen's earlier Manhunter (like the fantastically dark paedophile episode, which sees Grissom try to delve into the mind of his prey) but then it all seemed to go wrong. Grissom suffered stress and then, somewhat randomly, took a sabbatical and a (hopefully temporary) replacement was brought in to run the CSIs. Would somebody please call Tarantino and tell him his favourite show has gone off the rails again?
The second half of the seventh season does thankfully soon see Grissom's return: the new guy's reign - Keppler - played by Liv 'Scream' Schreiber, was pretty short-lived - only four lacklustre episodes (although his final episode, as most exit episodes are, was quite good) - I assumed that he must have been brought in for gimmick reasons, or to prove/disprove Petersen's integral role in the drama, but it was actually apparently at Petersen's own request to be able to take a month off and do some theatre work. Still, I hope that it gave the producers enough of a scare so as not to consider doing the show without him as it would be infinitely worse if not unwatchable (or at least pointless). It would seem that we also might not quite be done with the miniature killer (or at least someone with all of his skills) and so the hunt to back on to stop this killer, who has stopped creating miniature post-mortem crime scene and started making pre-emptive ones, to taunt the CSI team with what he is planning on doing.
Aside from this great and involving story arc we get some more depth into the relationship between Grissom and Sara, as well as both Sara and Grissom getting their own private lives unravelled a bit, with the past catching up with both of them. This is, of course, all before things reach their shocking conclusion, one which will leave fans simply desperate to see what happens next. Taking the seventh season in two separate segments, you can see lots of highs, but a slight lull during the middle episodes, although overall it is arguably still one of the best seasons, which is pretty high praise for a show with this many years under its belt. Whilst his role is more prominent than in, say, season 5, Grissom still does not get quite as much runtime as he deserves but, unlike its brother CSI: Miami - which thrives on its lead Horatio Caine, overplayed by the also underrated David Caruso, Vegas CSI does not rely solely on Grissom, and the other characters all get their fair share of the limelight (even Greg). Still, with Grissom's absence, it became clear that this show isn't likely to survive (or be any good) without him in it.
The biggest reason why this season is so good is the overall story arc - the way in which they develop Grissom's antagonist, the miniature killer, and the way you see it affecting him and becoming something of an obsession. I'm glad the second half of the season saw his 'Moriaty' return and even if it would have been nice to have more Grissom, they have done well in giving him both a nice personal story arc (revolving around his relationship with Sara) and a solid, clever adversary in the form of the super-smart miniature killer - both superb arcs which, together, basically act as the backbone to the whole season.
It's worth noting that there has been quite a style change to the show over the last couple of years, most noticeable in this, their seventh, where CSI appears to have tried a more 'Miami' approach to storytelling, with lots of flashy Vegas shots, and even a few more one-liners (which almost seem out of place coming from the likes of Grissom). I'm assuming that they were trying to inject some adrenaline into this animal in a bid to get it to keep up with its Miami MTV music video brother, but I never really thought that Vegas CSI needed to be like that. It was always more substance than style, more quirky than cliquey, and it is a slight shame that this season appears to have forgotten that somewhat. Still, the end result is sometimes quite dark and, at the very least more viscerally entertaining, so most fans will probably be happy that their show manages to retain a certain vitality despite morphing into a slightly different creature than perhaps what they have known from the first few years.
I've always been a fan of CSI: Vegas, being distinguishably more cerebral than its brothers Miami and New York, but I've found Miami just as entertaining - for different reasons, associated mostly with David Caruso's heroic lead and plenty of action. To a certain extent the plot-lines in New York have also generally been more 'eventful' and I think that this has had a knock-on effect with Vegas, which now sports plenty of character-involving story arcs - most of them dominating the seventh season. Perhaps it is what fans have always been waiting for, but can they keep it up? After all, CSI's get assaulted or kidnapped almost as often in Vegas as they have their loved ones attacked in Miami now. Still, as I've stated, it makes the seventh year both a dark and eventful one, and we can only hope that the changes rumoured in the eighth season will work out. Has this show jumped the shark? No, despite the fact that it came close before the end of season 5, CSI continues to go from strength to strength and this is arguably one of the best years the show has had. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how they fare again next year and if they can keep up the high standards that they have set for themselves here. Recommended TV viewing.
7.14 Meet Market
7.15 Law of Gravity
7.16 Monster In the Box
7.17 Fallen Idols
7.18 Empty Eyes
7.19 Big Shots
7.20 Lab Rats
7.21 Ending Happy
7.22 Leapin' Lizards
7.23 The Good, the Bad, and the Dominatrix
7.24 Living Doll (1)
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