With the miniature MacGuffin finally resolved, the real objective of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’s” tumultuous seventh season was finally revealed. It went a little something like this: Grissom loves Sara! Grissom loves Sara! And yes, like many viewers, even ol’ Gil seems to realize their affair is creepy.
The MacGuffin, FYI, is what Alfred Hitchcock called the narrative pretext that drives the main characters and creates tension in the plot, but in the end, doesn’t really matter. So innocuous is the MacGuffin that often its conclusion is a disappointment. Indeed, it was a bit of a yawn discovering that that the type-A psycho leaving intricately recreated murder scene dioramas all over Las Vegas is a just a bleach-phobic maid with an eye for detail.
It’s the final craft project by Natalie (the nutty cleaning lady) that brings the season’s real story line to a head — a desert scene featuring a crumpled model muscle car atop a tiny Sara Sidle doll, her plastic hand grasping for life via a hobby shop motor. No, CSI Sara isn’t dead. But as actress Jorja Fox continues contract negotiations with CBS, things for her character don’t look good.
Lab chief Gil Grissom (William Petersen), who recently started building models himself, realizes that this miniature is personal. Somehow Natalie, an outsider, figured out what a lab full of allegedly top-notch clue finders never sensed — that Grissom and Sara are totally hooking up. Her past murders were motivated by bleach use. But now Natalie wants to hurt Grissom. It’s revenge for the death of her train hobbyist foster dad Ernie Dell, who earlier in the season took the blame for Natalie’s crimes before killing himself.
His subordinates may be oblivious boneheads, but surely Grissom understands that Natalie and her deceased guardian mirror the age-inappropriate daddy dynamic between Gil and the missing Sara. During interrogation, Grissom plays into Natalie’s need for paternal attention, praising her meticulous handiwork and saying that with her attention to detail, she’d make a great CSI. (Hey, the lab might have an opening next season!) It kind of felt like maybe Natalie was a better match for Gil than Sara. Well, at least until Natalie started fantasizing about jabbing an Exacto knife blade into Grissom’s neck.
To be fair, even the coroner, Dr. Al Robbins (Robert David Hall) seems like a better match for Grissom. Earlier in the season, Grissom and Dr. Hall rocked out in the lab to the music of Izzy Delancy, the fictional has-been rock star they were autopsying. What musical interests — let alone any interests other than work — could Grissom and Sara possibly share?
There was also a funny bit in a later episode when Dr. Hall screamed in horror as Grissom chased a rat that emerged “Alien”-like from a dead body. Guess we know who’d mow the lawn in that relationship. In fact, just the ability to imagine a Grissom/Hall relationship more easily than a Grissom/Sara paring doesn’t bode well for their future together, even if Sara survives into next season.
Had it not been for Sara’s disappearance, the mismatched twosome may have figured that out on their own. The episode before the finale found Grissom once again running to the aid of Lady Heather, the dominatrix whom, according to senior CSI Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), is the only woman she’s ever seen rattle Grissom. That Catherine didn’t notice Sara wince when she said that once again brought into question her detection skills.
Then again, if the rest of the crew are still oblivious to what’s going on between Grissom and Sara, who can blame them? They’ve had their own red herrings to fry. Warrick Brown’s (Gary Dourdan) wife seems to be missing — at least he hasn’t mentioned her in quite a while. The other lab techs have been tormented all season by co-worker David Hodges (Wallace Langham) who seems to be on the verge of stalking Grissom himself, what with his own obsession with the miniatures case.
Catherine had possible the worst year of all, making the fact that she’s never looked hotter all the more amazing. First she woke up in a hotel room naked, no idea how she got there. Then her bratty teenage daughter was kidnapped. Then her rich mobster father (whose fault that stuff happened) was shot right in front of her and died in her arms, just seconds after they began mending their relationship.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mike Keppler (Liev Schreiber), the hunky CSI who filed in for Grissom while he was on a teaching sabbatical at Waldon College, dies in her arms a couple of episodes later. That’s a bummer for both Catherine (they had a major flirtation going on) and the viewers. Keppler’s oddball magnetism was a refreshing break from Grissom’s nonplused intellectualism. Catherine and Keppler had great onscreen chemistry, which in retrospect made the thing with Grissom and Sara all the less appealing. It’s a shame Keppler won’t be back.
At the other end of “CSI’s” guest star spectrum was Kevin Federline (ex-husband of Britney Spears), who led a gang of wilding youths thrashing tourists for fun. This short-lived early storyline led to Greg Sander’s (Eric Szmanda) own trauma when he was forced to run down and kill one of the hooligans in his SUV while attempting to stop a beat down. (He was then pummeled by the mob to within a inch of his life as well).
Facing murder charges and a civil suit, a bruised Greg adheres to the speedy trauma recovery so common in this crime lab. Consider that Nick Stokes (George Eads) seems fine after being buried alive in the violent Quentin Tarantino-directed season finale from season five. One has to wonder if Nick, Catherine, Greg and Capt. Jim Brass (shot in season six) sneak off daily to some post traumatic stress support group in a church basement down the street. If so, perhaps they’ll invite Sara next season — should she be rescued. Failing her safe return, they can take Grissom instead.
Helen A.S. Popkin is a freelance writer in New York City.