This season, CSI [CBS, Thursdays, 9/8C] has been a real rollercoaster ride. It started with the death of Warrick [Gary Dourdan] – followed by a murderer who used dead people to create some very warped art; an unsolved case involving an engaged couple; a killer hypnotist and even the return of Lady Heather [Melinda Clarke]. Along the way, Gil Grissom [William Petersen] has been looking less like the clue sniffer we’ve come to know and more like a man who has just about run out gas.
When he reveals to his team that he’s leaving, at the beginning this week’s episode, 19 Down…, it may come as a surprise to his team, but even without all the publicity about the new cast member, we’d have known before they did – and actually, Catherine Willows [Marg Hellgenberger] surprises him by not being surprised.
When what starts off as just another day in Vegas turns into something greatly different – a murder ties into a long imprisoned serial killer – and Grissom gets that intrigued look again. The tie-in is to Nathan Haskell [Bill Irwin – think Jack Coleman’s HRG gone stone bugfrak crazy], who killed at least eight couples before he was caught. Turns out that Haskell is doing a series of closed circuit Q&A sessions with a university class taught by one Dr. Raymond Langston [Laurence Fishburne].
19 Down… is the fall cliffhanger for CSI, so they’ve really shot the works. The pacing is [if you can believe it] even crisper than usual and the way it ties into the season’s prior unsolved mystery is not just clever, it’s very close to genius. Co-Executive Producers Naren Shankar and Carol Mendelsohn have created a terrific puzzle for Grissom and his team and every member of the core cast gets a meaty moment to shine – as when Hodges responds to the news of Grissom’s leaving [for just one example]. Director Kenneth Fink keeps things tight and suspenseful.
Not many weekly series can maintain a high level of quality through nine seasons, and CSI’s ninth season isn’t over yet, but between the announcement of Grissom’s leaving and the introduction of Langston, it would seem likely that the show is going to maintain that high level. It also seems likely that the transition of the series from Grissom’s era into Willows’ era will be a reasonably smooth one. For now, at least, I have to say that this is my favorite fall cliffhanger, so far.
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Final Grade: A