I'm going to be honest: my mind wasn't blown. If I were a star-giving reviewer, this is not a five-star episode. There were moments that didn't quite click, plot devices that were frustrating, and a tropey twist that made me kind of want to throw things at the TV. That being said, I'd still give it four stars (out of five) because despite the moments that didn't click, and the frustrating things, the trope worked out in the end. To be fair, I've lived through 300 episodes of moments that don't always click and frustrating plot devices. If CSI has taught me anything over the years, it's to be patient with the storytelling. For Frame By Frame, the patience paid off and what pushed it over the edge from three stars to four was the emotional connection made with the fans at the end.
The people around me are often not patient viewers. They demand answers right away and rush quickly to judgment. For me, I tend to fall into the story. Let me weep now as I walk with the characters. I'll worry about chain of custody and whether or not someone snapped a photograph later. I need the story first. This is probably why the internet is bad for me while watching TV, but that is a whole other blog post.
More than anything to me, this episode smacked of a show that knows full well that it will not be around for episode #400. Episode #100, back in the fifth season, was Ch-ch-Changes, which was a brilliantly written casefile. Episode #200, which I've never even been able to watch the whole way through, was a terribly written ninth season casefile. Episode #300, honestly, clears the way for the series finale to be a casefile, one that isn't chalked full of backstory and clips. It lets the series finale just keep the idea of the show moving because we've had our montage. Whether the show makes it to a season 15 or not, this was the "thanks for watching" episode. I think it helps to go in with that attitude.
All right. All of that being said, here goes.
It's too bad that the graveshift CSI's are so good at their jobs. They keep solving cases and putting murderers away and so there aren't any open cases to go back to. The creation of this case as a high-profile backstory for Sara was interesting, but would have been better if it was not high-profile. The idea instead that there was this small case that's been nibbling at her for years could be one of the reasons she is still in Vegas, despite her crumbling marriage. That guy that no one cared about, that she was sure did it, she's been hunting him and it's coming to light now that she's still hunting him; that could have made for something interesting. The high profile idea was easy, gave day shift a reason to have taken the case away from graves, and was a nice nod to the first couple of seasons and the competition between Grissom and Ecklie.
As for the flashbacks, I'm torn, and here is why: Sara's hair wasn't all that different. No really, that's the thing that bugs me the most. Jorja's hair was all over the place in the first season and they could have used a completely different wig to throw back to those waves that at times were never quite under control. The wig was just a straighter version of her current hair. I did love the flashback in the evidence room though. Sara's "you are so political!" was actually a terrible line but a reminder of how much we all hated Ecklie. Also, for the record, the fourteen years ago thing worked but didn't all at the same time. Yes, it's the 14th season and yes, the October in question was technically 14 years ago, but my brain had trouble processing that. I actually had to count on my fingers to make sure they weren't just throwing it out there and not thinking. I have a feeling they did too. Also, while I did enjoy the flashback with Marg and Eric, the continuity side of my brain reminds me that Greg didn't start making noises about getting in the field until the second and third season. To have Catherine say that he wanted out in the field speaks of a connection that it's hard to say they had. On the flip side, Greg was the one who flirted the most with Catherine back then, and the one he went to when he was curious to find out if anyone thought Sara would go out with him. So maybe they did have the connection, maybe she did know, but it threw me. I'll be honest, the reason it didn't send me scouring through season one DVDs is that I've spent so much time writing fanfiction and filling in plot holes that I'm used to overthinking and making the connections that perhaps the writers expect us to make. But it was so good to see Marg again - although if they put Jorja in a wig, they should have done it for her too. Her hair was not long enough to pull up in a bun in the first season.
The case itself came straight out of a CSI textbook. Drunk eighteen year old, party boy predator, faking-death trope, here's why I did it. I'm not a fan of the faking-death trope and I think it's one that is done far too often on shows like CSI, especially in later seasons. But. I was pleasantly surprised with how they turned it. The reasons Darcy faked her death were again, right from the textbook: drug addict, messed up kid, possibly being molested by her father. What challenged me, especially as a writer, was how they had Sara handle the situation. She didn't fly off the handle at the father, she didn't even completely lose it with Darcy. She'd accepted that she was wrong in the situation, found the answers she needed, and now the next step would be taken elsewhere. She was finished with this monster of fourteen years. She pushed, and when she pushed hard enough, what budged was not what she thought it was going to be. So, at the end, when she sat in DB's office and the two of them were talking it out, she didn't storm off in a huffy moment of not understanding why people do what they do. Sara's growth is one of the main reasons to watch this series from start to finish.
Which brings me to my final points - the characters and their growth. We didn't have Nick. Warrick is no longer with us. Grissom is wherever he is. Catherine was only in flashbacks. Doc Robbins has always been Doc Robbins. So really, this case was about Greg and Sara and of all the characters on this show, it is Greg and Sara who have grown the most. If Sara's growth has all been emotional, where we've seen her evolve from being angry at the world to being fascinated by the puzzles and driven to solve them, Greg's growth has been from boy to man. Standing in the evidence locker, he and Sara were given that moment to highlight their time together, all with just a look and a giggle over a headdress. Ted and Lisa might get top billing, but it's really Eric and Jorja's show now.
As for the last shot, the evidence sign-out sheet with Grissom and Sara's names one right after the other, there are a lot of ways to take that moment. As a fan of the relationship, it was touching for me. Especially following the Living Doll/Dead Doll clips in the montage. It lets me know that the writers understand the connection. Jorja has always said that what she loves most about the Grissom/Sara relationship was that two people were able to find love in darkness and that shot brought that to mind for me. But in a way, it was also a "life goes on" moment. It wasn't just Grissom's name on the tag, it was Sara's, his prot g , the next in line, the new rock of the team. She's there, following in his footsteps and there will be someone to come after she is gone, to sign out that evidence again.
Thirteen years and change; five episodes down in the fourteenth season. Three hundred episodes. I don't know if I'll count this one as one of the top ten, but I enjoyed it. It was nostalgic with a hint of "make this work for you, you play detective." I see myself coming back to it like I come back to episodes such as Friends and Lovers and Time of Your Death. Not ground breaking, but comfortable. A blanket I can pull around my shoulders.
CSI isn't getting another 300 episodes, it probably isn't getting another 100, I'd be surprised if it gets 50. But my hat goes off to a writing and production team that has weathered changing paradigms, a writer's strike, dipping ratings, and criticism that would knock most shows to their knees. They solve a murder every week and in doing that, we get insight into characters who are in many ways, just like us.
I give last night a solid B. It didn't blow me away, but I'm looking forward to what comes next.
Like say, some diversity?