Pop Culture

‘CSI’ season five: Not a shark in sight

For actors thinking about doing contract negotiations over the summer, you might want to think about George Eads of “CSI.” Ask for too much money, and you just might find yourself in a Plexiglas box rigged with explosives, buried alive, with fire ants gnawing away at you.

Of course, it wasn’t actor Eads who was buried alive, just his character, crime-scene investigator Nick Stokes. Coincidentally — or perhaps not — this was the only episode of the season to feature Eads’ character prominently. How much do you want to bet that, this summer, Eads readily agrees to his new contract?

Thursday’s finale featured a great combination of what’s great about “CSI,” adding some really fun Quentin Tarantino touches. The episode crammed a lot into two hours, including Gil Grissom’s (William Peterson) well-known love of bugs — that entomology library he keeps in his office sure came in handy — Catherine Willows’ (Marg Helgenberger) strained relationship with her crooked dad, Sam Braun (Scott Wilson), and Grissom’s hearing loss, which enabled him to read Nick’s lips.

After being lured to a phony crime scene, Nick was abducted by the father of an imprisoned woman, whom the CSIs had pinned to her crime with only the evidence of a Styrofoam cup. Nick was buried alive and the team worked together — a wonderful strategy change that was even approved of by awful Conrad Ecklie (Marc Vann) — to hunt him down. After a phony ransom setup ended with the abductor blowing himself up, the CSIs realized that Nick's chances to live were slim. The episode had plenty of fan-pleasing moments, including a plot development where Nick had to shoot out a light from within his tiny cramped quarters. It also featured well-played emotional scenes, as the CSIs faced the fact that they might not save their friend.

The Tarantino touches were obvious: Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda) and David Hodges (Wallace Langham) playing the “Dukes of Hazzard” board game — Tarantino is a notorious collector of  television paraphernalia and legend goes that he and John Travolta bonded before the making of “Pulp Fiction” over one of these games.  We also found out that Grissom is a huge fan of Roy Rogers (suspiciously Tarantino-esque) and even keeps his certificate of Trigger ownership framed. Former Riddler Frank Gorshin turned in his last performance, playing himself. The man did a great Jack Nicholson.

Another great Tarantino touch: Nick’s feverish dream sequence where Dr. Al Robbins (Robert David Hall) opened him up with a chainsaw, while cheerfully discussing his case with “Super” Dave Phillips (David Berman). “He had a good heart,” Robbins said to Nick’s father (Andrew Prine), handing him the organ. Not your typical “CSI,” but it worked here.

Ultimately, Pancho (as Nick’s dad — and now Grissom — calls him) survived. He wasn’t upset with the imprisoned woman (Aimee Graham), he just didn’t want her to come back into the world angry. And as for Grissom, fans will identify with his final words of the episode: “I want my guys back.”

All in all, it was a terrific way for another dependably good season of “CSI” to end. The show stayed in the top Nielsen five (and was usually number one) all year long. There was a lot to love all season long — and even some watercooler worthy topics to debate — here are just a few of them:

Best episode: “I Shot Sherlock.” In this episode about the murder of a Sherlock Holmes impersonator, Greg played Watson to Grissom’s Holmes and the game was most definitely afoot. The case was juicy and complicated, featuring a frame-up and overlooked evidence. It also served as Greg’s final test to becoming a full fledged CSI — and featured a dummy made of ballistic jelly that Nick and Warrick referred to as “Mr. Wiggles.” Greg’s case also seemed reminiscent of the real case of the mysterious death of Richard Lancelyn Green, the world’s foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes, whose garroting left many wondering if he’d been murdered or committed suicide. The best moment of this episode was when Captain Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) told one of the suspects to drop his phony British accent. The suspect replied, “I can’t. I’m English.” Second place: The season finale rocked.

Worst episode: “Mea Culpa.” The dreaded episode when Conrad Ecklie decided to split the “CSI” team in two after realizing that Grissom had missed key evidence on a case. There was absolutely no reason for this random development — and the upshot is that most of the time fans never get to see Grissom and Catherine work the same case anymore. It’s a loss, as these two actors have always had such good interplay. Maybe part of the reason this development unnerved me so much is that it reflected the random reorgs that many companies go through, with unseen bosses shuffling employees like so many playing cards. I don’t like seeing this happen to my little CSIs. I can only hope that the writers listen to Gil’s final words and give him his guys back.

Most improved: Greg Saunders. Greg’s transformation from lab rat to CSI provided a great character arc for the season. He contaminated his first crime scene by using the bathroom at the victim’s house and was scolded by Grissom and mocked by his nemesis David Hodges. He suffered through his first autopsy and was shaken when he visited one victim in the burn ward. Sofia (Louise Lombard) wisely told him: “Rumor has it you used to be a pretty funny guy. Don’t lose that.” Still a bit of a kid, he stood by Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) when she was suspended and told Grissom that he didn’t like to read unless the books were about “dismembered bodies.”

Greg was one of the great surprises of the season and seemed to have a bigger role this year than Nick (George Eds), who was perhaps being punished for those contract negotiations. Second place would definitely go to Jim Brass, who even got his very own episode this season, “Hollywood Brass.”

Least necessary character: Conrad Ecklie. More plot device than person, Ecklie seemed to exist only to create drama for other characters on the show, primarily Sara (and in her case we need less drama) and Grissom. It just seems beneath “CSI’s” writing talents to create such a cardboard villain. They tried to humanize him by giving him a case in “Iced,” but even that didn’t make his character any livelier. In the season finale, Ecklie at least allowed the team to work together and really did stand up for Nick. But for me, it’s a case of too little, too late. Nothing against the actor, but this is one character I would love to see disappear before next season. Grissom said it best in “Mea Culpa,” “Look, Ecklie doesn't have a scientific bone in his body. He starts with the answers he wants and then devises the questions to get them.” Get rid of him. Second place: Sara Sidle. Get over Grissom, girl.

Most valuable player: Gil Grissom. Could it be anyone else? Grissom combines humor, wisdom, quirkiness and a weird attractive quality that I’ve talked about before. He had some great moments this season. In “Crows Feet,” his love for bugs took the forefront as he asked an exterminator, “Does it ever bother you that you make your living killing insects?” And his interchange with Madge (Edie McClurg) in “Big Baby” was priceless. She played the clerk at Forever Baby who offered to take Grissom to her playpen. Completely deadpan, he replied, “You know, I don't think the department would let me expense it.” When it comes down to it, the best thing about Grissom is characterized by a conversation he has in “Big Middle,” when Greg asks him what turns him on. In a completely Grissom moment, he said, “Someone who doesn't judge me.” The show would not be the same without him.

Second place goes to Warrick Brown, who had his best line in “Iced,” when he said, “I was a dork in high school. I’m still a dork.”

Best guest star: Pruitt Taylor Vince, as Marty Gleason in “Swap Meet.” It was a small part, but this character actor made the most of it. He played a crime-scene cleanup man, who broke into a Southern accent when talking to the victim’s family, because, “The bereaved often find a southern accent very comforting.” What does it take to be part of the “blood bucket brigade”? Marty said it best:  “All you really need is a strong stomach, a thorough knowledge of solvents, a little sensitivity, a little tact.” Runners-ups include Melissa Leo (also known as Kay from “Homicide: Life on the Street”) for her heart-wrenching turn as the mother who uses her daughter to keep her son alive in “Harvest.” And, of course, Wil Wheaton, making a small-screen comeback as Walter the homeless man in “Compulsion.”

Biggest grossout: The bodybuilder with the bubbling eye in “4x4.” When Robbins and “Super” Dave examine a bodybuilder whose face has been seemingly crushed, Robbins presses his finger against the victim’s eye and a black substance oozes out. If that weren’t disgusting enough, later in the episode the victim’s true cause of death is revealed: His face collapsed from the inside due to side effects of steroid use. The bones that held his face in place had been literally eaten away by airborne mold spores. Um, yum. Make sure not to watch this show while eating. Second place would go to the nice piece of Nick’s abductor’s torso that the CSI’s examine in the finale.

Saddest episode: “No Humans Involved.” Any episode that involves the death of children tends to get to me. This one, about a boy who was found starved to death, was one of the most upsetting. Especially when we find out that his aunt was the one starving him and that there are two more brothers undergoing the same treatment. Sara said it best, “To starve anyone is beyond me, but to do it to a child ... a relative, is unforgivable.” Runner-up: “Harvest.”

Biggest scare: “CSI: LA”? Yikes, when we followed Captain Brass out to Hollywood to track down his daughter’s roommate’s killer, I had a brief panic attack that CBS was about to introduce us to “CSI: LA.” Thank goodness that didn't happen. However, I wouldn’t mind seeing Captain Annie Kramer (Donna Murphy) added to the cast of “CSI” as a detective — she was one of the highlights of the episode. But, please, Anthony E. Zuiker, as my last plea of the season, no more spin-offs.