In praise of ‘Chaos Theory,’ the best CSI episode ever

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘CSI’ ends its 15-season run with 2-hour reunion finale.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” was a last-minute pickup by CBS, plugged into a Friday lineup whose widely forecast surefire hit would be a reboot of “The Fugitive,” not a quirky little drama dwelling on hair fibers and blood spatter. “I thought it was never going to succeed,” says Jorja Fox.

At the time she had a recurring role on “The West Wing” as a Secret Service agent, “but I thought, ‘How fun would it be just to take this ride for a little while!’ By Christmas, I figured I would be back on ‘The West Wing.'” “I figured there would be an audience for it,” says William Petersen — “among those people who do crossword puzzles. I saw my teammates just gathering up all the evidence of body parts and you-name-it and I just was moved by that.” It’s all coming to an end on Sunday after 15 seasons and more than 300 episodes.

I never thought the audience would also be everyone who’s NEVER done a crossword puzzle!” Though set in Las Vegas, “CSI” occupies the world of forensic investigators who solve criminal cases not in the streets or an interrogation room, but in the lab, where the truth reveals itself in the evidence they probe. The camerawork and props were artistically grisly, a precursor to “Hannibal,” and the tone ranged from horror to black comedy, with one-liners amid the gore. While the actors are saying goodbye to the show, that doesn’t mean they have to say goodbye to each other, and there are definitely some co-stars that Helgenberger hopes to work alongside again. “[William Petersen] and I did have a wonderful chemistry together and a mutual love and respect for one another,” Helgenberger admitted. “I hope we get to do that again at some point down the line and with all the other actors as well.

NY: Word-vomit procedural Mad Libs.) The unlikelihood of CSI’s success has entered into legend: How nobody thought America wanted nerds scanning hair follicles; how it originally aired on Friday after Tim Daly’s highly-anticipated Fugitive reboot. We’ll stay in touch for sure.” The show featured many of today’s biggest stars before they became household names, from Emmy winner Viola Davis, who guest-starred in 2002, to Taraji P. On Sunday, the show leaves the air with a two-hour movie that will bring back Marg Helgenberger and William Petersen. “CSI” star Ted Danson (pictured right with George Eads) is joining the cast of the struggling “CSI: Cyber” on Oct. 7.

The show also provided guest roles for musicians who were already famous, such as Taylor Swift in 2009 and Justin Bieber in 2010, who both left an indelible impression. “Honestly, he was lovely to me,” Helgenberger recalled. “I think some of the crew had issues with him, but they should talk about that, not me.” Over the past 15 seasons, CSI has amassed a large ensemble with the likes of Petersen, Helgenberger, Gary Dourdan, George Eads, Eric Szmanda, Jorja Fox and Paul Guilfoyle among the series’ original cast members. The two-hour farewell brings back bygone stars including Marg Helgenberger (who played exotic-dancer-turned-investigator Catherine Willows until departing three seasons ago) and Petersen (who headlined for eight-plus seasons as lab boss Gil Grissom). Petersen recalled that in 2000 he was looking for a TV series, “but I didn’t want to play a lawyer, a cop or a divorced dad. ‘CSI’ was something different, and while we didn’t know what it was going to be, we wanted a chance to figure it out.” He got his chance and loved the experience, he says, then moved on in 2008 to pursue theater work. (Now he is joining another series, WGN America’s “Manhattan,” for its second season starting Oct. 13.) Petersen observes that just weeks after “CSI” premiered, a much-disputed presidential election left many Americans confused and disillusioned.

CSI was a boon for CBS when it debuted in 2000, helping boost the network’s place among the broadcast networks and launching numerous spinoffs, including CSI: NY, CSI: Miami and CSI: Cyber. Caruso-on-Miami was a brilliantly sustained act of self-parody, but once you saw that show or NY, the beats of a CSI mystery started to feel like beats. This all cemented a period of what Petersen calls “postmodern vagueness,” with people doubting themselves and their world and wondering, “What does it mean? This is a shame only because the original CSI was great in its prime, and its prime lasted a good long time. (Remember fifteen of its best moments here.) Original lead William Petersen played Gil Grissom as a cerebralist, hot for minutiae and kind of bored with humans. Where is the truth?” “What our show did was give you the truth,” he declares. “You can be confused about many things, but this little piece of lint that we found on the floor, you can count on that.

The difference is that those shows all depend on the idea that the lead character is a demi-Vulcan, sometimes because of some oft-explored personal trauma, sometimes because it’s just fun to write smarmy-smart dialogue. Granted, it was just one small truth about one particular case, but it was something you could touch and see and trust in.” “The show had a new way of coming at crime and murder and mayhem,” says Ted Danson, who joined the series in Season 12 as “D.B.” Russell and now is a star of the “Cyber” spin-off. “Taking a scientific point of view on a crime show was new back then, and allowed viewers into the darker side of life in a way that wasn’t just cops-and-robbers.” Even now, when science has fallen into disfavor among many — people for whom what you believe overrules what science proves — “CSI” still champions the scientific method in the face of its cultural assault. As Grissom told his colleagues on an early episode: forget personalities, ambitions and assumptions. “Concentrate on what cannot lie: the evidence,” he said. CBS now has three flavors of NCIS, a more cheerful acronymic procedural set in a universe where the Navy is every good and bad guy from 24; and two flavors of Criminal Minds, a wild-eyed death opus that’s like CSI rewritten in blood on the walls of an abandoned insane asylum.

Any procedural that isn’t trying to be those two shows is trying to be Bones or Castle or all those USA-Network shows that USA doesn’t make anymore, with a couple wacky maybe-lovers investigating lo-fi crime. It aired for the first time on Oct. 4, 2001, right as the show was crossing over from “hit” to “money-chugging sensation.” It starts where maybe half of all procedural episodes start: A cute blonde girl goes missing. There’s the randy-skeeze frat guy who sounds almost too guilty in his interrogation: The CSI team finds evidence of rape inside of the dorm room — strands of Rohypnol, lots of actors who got paid big money to say “dried semen” over the years — and that leads them to Paige’s former roommate. It turns out that the roommate was date-raped during a floor party, knocked cold by a roofie and tormented not just by the horror committed against her but by the ambiguity of that horror: “Somebody that I was living with attacked me,” she says, “And I was never gonna know who.” This should seem shameless, and it is — procedurals love to pull the sexual-assault card — but that line echoes throughout the episode. A new angle emerges: Paige’s professor, with greasy hair and glasses that say “I only wear these glasses to look sexier.” He was sleeping with Paige.

Maybe that skeezeball frat dude lied about something, or maybe Paige’s ex-roommate killed her out of some twisted vengeance play, or maybe her professor, or the professor’s wife, or the expectant father. The rhythms are a bit off — how is it possible that they haven’t had any forward motion on this case? — but maybe that’s just a bug in the storytelling. They go to the dorm’s trash chute, which has a busted spring that makes the chute door close extra aggressively — something that Warrick and Willows mentioned in passing at the seven-minute mark. The thing I love about “Chaos Theory” is that it’s hard to tell if the conclusion was planned the whole time or a last-minute hail-mary for a script run amok.

I almost prefer to believe the latter: That the experience of writing the script was the experience of investigating Paige Rycoff’s murder, with Talbert and Berman chasing down every clue and coming up empty, before finally deciding that, hell, maybe nobody did it. “Chaos Theory” isn’t, like, L’Avventura — it does solve Paige’s murder — but there’s an unquestionable whiff of metafiction and deconstruction in its final act.

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