April 07, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Melinda Clarke’s Lady Heather, one of the most cultishly beloved guest characters on CSI, returned to the series this week. Unfortunately, her appearance only reminded viewers how much dramatic tension this show has lost.

Lady Heather is now a sex therapist — professional name: Dr. Heather Kessler — and she was visited by Laurence Fishburne’s Ray Langston and Jorja Fox’s Sara for background on a kinky case they were investigating about a dead girl who had acted out her neuroses as a kitty cat. (Animal role-playing as a therapy tool — doesn’t everybody do that, or am I the only one who visits his therapist dressed as a turtle?)

The dialogue was what I believe they call in the biz a bit too on the nose: “Cat got your tongue?” Sara asked a pervy suspect. A bit later, Ray said of the dead woman’s struggle to live, “Iona didn’t want to be a cat forever.”

From her very first appearance, the Lady Heather character was treacherous for an actress, so easily capable of sliding away into ridiculous campiness. But tonight, Clarke, as always, managed to keep firm command of her role; she plays it with a ripe wisdom. Lady Heather’s early encounters with William Petersen’s Grissom crackled with the give-and-take of two intellects intrigued by the unusual — it was intellectual eroticism.

Unfortunately, this week, Sara and Ray’s exchanges with Heather were flat. What could have been amusing — Sara and Heather eyeing each other as mutual admirers of the great Gil-man — was empty glowering; Sara sounded like Jerry Seinfeld sourly greeting his least favorite postal worker (“Oh, hello, Newman”).

The final scene was all the more dismaying for the memories we have of old Lady Heather/Grissom tête-á-têtes. (Warning: Mild Spoiler Here) The week’s case closed, Ray came to Heather with a box full of files about his archnemesis, Nate Haskell. “There’s violence in me,” he confessed to Heather — not news to us; we’ve seen and heard this from Ray before. Dr. Heather Kessler’s diagnosis? “The good Dr. Langston won’t catch Nate Haskell.” I.e., the bad Ray will come out if this villain is caught. “If I give in to my nature, I won’t catch him, I will kill him,” said Ray. “Yes, you will.” Aaaaaand scene! We were supposed to be left with a chill down our spines from this simple, cold, “Yes, you will.”

Instead, I was left trying to nurture renewed warmth for a show I keep watching that is having trouble sparking itself to life very often.

P.S. I did like Nick and Dr. Robbins rescuing that sweet baby.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

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