I’m not sure what I expected from “Immortality,” the two-hour reunion-finale that ended CSI‘s 15-year run on Sept. 27. Returning cast members? Sure, and there were plenty: Original series stars William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger returned, relegating final-phase stars Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue to a few scenes (for him) and a throwaway reference to an offscreen death (for her). There was also Lady Heather, sort of the Irene Adler to Grissom’s Sherlock.
And there was that mysterious redheaded young investigator, proudly declaring that this was her first day on the job. “Where did that girl come from anyway?” asked Grissom. Willows, after a long pause: “My vagina!” Yes, that was Catherine Willows’ daughter, a second generation CSI. The fact that this was Willows Jr’s first day on the job — and the fact that she immediately referenced “giving blood” and “chocolate covered grasshopper” — were callbacks to CSI‘s very first episode, which introduced rookie CSI Holly Gribbs, an everyman audience-surrogate variously confused and freaked out by Grissom’s after-hours nerd squad.
Of course, the big weird dark joke in the CSI pilot was that Gribbs didn’t last very long: Shot to pieces by the end of episode 1, dead halfway through episode 2. A decade and a half later, CSI was in no mood for anything so bold. A bomb goes off in a casino, which immediately makes everyone think of terrorism. But the trail quickly leads to Lady Heather, which brings Grissom back from his pro bono adventures as, like, a maritime anarchist. (One of Grissom’s first lines in the movie: “Looks like somebody jumped a shark!”)
The finale turned on a few very out-there flourishes, some pseudo-scientific (South American mind-control flower!) and some pseudo-psychographic (lots of talk about the metaphorical implications of “dominance” and “submissive”). Midway through the two-hour running time, a few suspects showed up, and one of them was played by Doug Hutchinson. If you’ve ever seen Doug Hutchinson in anything, this was the end of the mystery.
Still, it was interesting seeing this most coldly logical of mystery shows indulge its romantic side. At one point in the finale, a mysterious bad guy sends in a face-scrambling video message straight to Grissom: “The grand finale is specifically designed for you.” That vibed like a meta mission statement for “Immortality,” which worked best as an extremely melodramatic triangle between Grissom, longtime antagonist/ambiguous love interest Lady Heather, and even-longer-time ally/ex-wife Sara.
No, but really, at a certain point in the second hour, “Immortality” went full soap, with Heather and Sara interrogating each other vis-à-vis Grissom:
Heather: “You’re scared for him.”
Sara: “I am.”
Heather: “Do you love him?”
Sara: “I do.”
Heather: “I believe you.”
Sara: “You should. Do you?”
Heather: “Do I what?”
Sara: “Love him.”
This was helplessly weird in the context of what CSI used to be. Unlike the histrionic Miami or the brutalist NY, the original CSI always had a nice mixture of bleak humor and sharp professionalism. Like every show in the franchise, it was set in a world where steadily more attractive philosopher-kings use futuristic technology and apparently bottomless reserves of funding to capture maniacs. But with Petersen and Helgenberger — and with Danson and Shue — there was always steady low-key rhythm to this most procedural of procedurals. It could be sad or weird when it wanted to be, of course. But “Immortality” pushed things into Hannibal territory.
Don’t believe me? When it turned out the bad guy was Doug Hutchinson all along, he blamed all his actions on Grissom — because Grissom stole Lady Heather’s heart. I quote directly: ““You came along, and you turned her heart. She quit role-playing because of you. SHE QUIT HER PRACTICE BECAUSE OF YOU. SHE QUIT ME… BECAUSE OF YOU!!!”
This led Grissom to give a good long speech about the 52-Hertz Whale, a lovelorn semi-mythic mega-creature who sings a love song at a frequency far too low for a lady whale to ever hear him. Grissom was the whale, kind of — for the finale of a show set in a landlocked desert town, there was a lot of ocean imagery in “Immortality.”
In the end, Willows declared that she wanted to come back to Las Vegas, to take care of her casino and some orphan children and her daughter, the rookie CSI. And Sara got to take over as director of the CSI program. “Vegas is lucky to have you,” said Grissom. “The oceans are lucky to have you,” said Sara.
The show ended with Sara and Grissom together, boating off into the distance. “Immortality” tied that finale into some larger notion of the show as Grissom’s rehumanization. “I’d lost my belief in humanity… she restores my faith in the human being.” Thus, all of CSI was the story of a man of science, learning to become a man of faith. Or something.
If you didn’t buy that, then there was another, quieter ending embedded in the finale. “I’m not one for big goodbyes,” said D.B. Russell, the chief-dude CSI for lo these past four seasons. “Cakes. Candles. Hullaballoo.” Russell was packing his things and heading East; Danson’s joining Cyber in a couple weeks. The oceans are lucky to have him.
What did you think of the CSI finale?
Check out CSI creator Anthony Zuiker pitching his other show, CSI: Cyber: