CSI was the first show that I fell in love with. It was my introduction to fandom and my entry point into scripted dramas. I don’t think I would even be exaggerating to say that my relationship with this show has been life-changing. Over the years I distanced myself with the show. My favorite character left and I was watching so many other shows that I decided to drop it.
Last spring I started watching again while I was home on breaks. I grew to know and tolerate the new characters, and was glad to see Sara, Greg, and Nick again. Not only was it nice to see familiar faces, I was thrilled to find that the show hadn’t missed a beat. In fact, the cases and character development are stronger than ever and even 14 seasons in CSI is still a fantastic show.
And at 14 seasons, they just recently passed their milestone 300th episode. 300 is a crazy number for scripted drama, and I was excited to see what would be done to celebrate the achievement. I read that Marg Helgenberger was to return for the episode and I got excited, this was going to be good. And it was… but unfortunately it was also somewhat disappointing.
To get the biggest disappointment out of the way first, I was truly disappointed that while they brought Marg back, she only appeared in flashbacks. The reason I love to see characters return is to see their character development over time, and only having past-Catherine there eliminates that option. I wanted her to interact with the new characters. To reference old jokes with Nick or Sara. Instead we were sent back to the past. I’ll admit that it may have been difficult narratively to justify Catherine being back with the team, but it didn’t make sense to me to only have her in flashbacks either.
With milestones like 300 it’s always best to look forward as well as back. To show that while there is a rich history, there’s also a bright future; and an episode half in flashbacks didn’t really show either of those things.
The flashback set up also made it hard to define the narrative. The case they were investigating included a man they had suspected of murder 14 years ago, around the time of the show’s start. As far as I can tell it wasn’t a case that had been done on the show in season 1, so there was a lot of narrative to catch up on which was done solely in flashbacks.
The heavy explanation also made the dialogue clunky and expository. The time spent here would have been better spent with Sara explaining to the newer characters what the case had been and how it had fallen apart. Not only would this have brought in the more recent turnover of characters and giving fresh eyes on the case, but it would have brought the full cast and displayed the current team dynamic. It would have given a reason for the dialogue to be as expository as it was and would keep in tune with the current style of the series.
Now that I’ve dumped all over the episode, I have to clarify that it wasn’t all bad. The case was interesting. The idea of bringing back an old case from the early days of the show was a great one. I also appreciated the more subtle references to the series past from reminders of Greg being a lab tech to the miniture-esque opening sequence.
The focus on Sara as a strong investigator and her character growth was a great way to pay tribute to the series history of balancing cases with relationships, and Sara’s relationship with Russell brought out how awesome the show still is. Outside of the flashbacks the character growth was clear, brought home by the final scene of Sara and Greg in the evidence storage room. The final scene to the montage through the end credits was an inspiring piece of television. Then again, I might be biased.
Overall, while the 300th episode was a tad underwhelming, CSI is still a solid show that I happily tune into every week. Season 14 so far has been consistently on the mark, it’s only in tribute that they’ve wavered.