TV Recap: CSI, ‘Immortality’ (Series Finale)

Written by Liz Dircks

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CSI Series Finale PLOT SUMMARY:

When a casino bombing sets authorities on high alert, three former members of the Las Vegas Crime Lab return to assist in the explosions aftermath. But as clues and old connections begin to surface, the team discovers the attack is anything but random.

CSI and I have a history. I was twelve when I watched my first episode of the ground-breaking forensic drama, then in its second season, and it became my main primetime obsession. The path to my writing TV reviews and, perhaps one day, actually writing TV, was paved with Grissom/Sara fanfiction. (No shame. They were meant to be.) I watched it religiously until college, when genre shows were beginning to peak and I gradually parted ways with my staple of so many years. Still, one could say CSI is in my DNA, and my soft spot for it had never been clearer than during its final bow.

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CBS announced last May that CSI, parent show to three successful spin-offs, would end its run with a two-hour TV movie. Titled “Immortality: Parts I & II,” likely a nod to the franchise’s longevity, the movie services current and longtime fans alike with a checklist of throwbacks to the show’s heyday. The cold open alone sees the return of a trio of familiar faces: Gil Grissom, Catherine Willows, and Jim Brass, who left during Seasons 9, 12, and 14, respectively. The enigmatic Lady Heather, a dominatrix-turned-psychologist who has read Grissom like a book on numerous occasions, is also back as a prime suspect. As far as ending a show goes, it’s difficult to please everyone, but this series finale does a great job at tying up loose ends and re-establishing the spark that made CSI such a sensation.

“Immortality” is comparable to the latest Avengers film in one respect: there are so many characters jostling for narrative space that cast members who have carried recent seasons are ushered to the sidelines in favor of the MVPs. This can hardly be helped, though, and plot comprehension doesn’t suffer for it. While the core cast has shifted dramatically over the past five years, it’s a treat to watch fan favorites again as if they’d never left. Catherine, for instance, remains a level-headed force of nature, being used to leadership positions in her career and now occupying a sizable one at the FBI. Despite her conflict of interest with the case — the bomb went off at a casino she’d inherited following her magnate father’s death — she snaps back into her role as a mentor to the audience’s benefit.

CSI never really earned its trade through the kind of epic storylines that characterize the current TV landscape. “It’s about the evidence,” Grissom tells Catherine in Season 1, but that doesn’t mean heart-pounding action never looked good on the show: note Nick Stokes’ imprisonment in a glass coffin in “Grave Danger,” Sara Sidle’s kidnapping in “Living Doll,” and Warrick Brown’s framing and murder in “For Gedda.” Cross-sections of “Immortality” come close to that heightened alertness, particularly when a teacher nearly blows an elementary school auditorium to kingdom come. Certain elements of the mystery, however, were somewhat predictable if you’ve logged any time watching (or reading) mysteries. I could’ve told you right away the bombers were being fed directions in their Bluetooth earpieces based on a similar twist in the BBC’s Sherlock. But hey, nit-picking at this level feels kind of like taking points off a college senior’s thesis paper for a punctuation error: they’re leaving regardless, and let’s be honest — they probably deserve a free pass.

Another reason why I didn’t bother focusing on the minutiae is that my heart fluttered like olden times whenever Grissom and Sara had scenes together. Sara is justifiably bitter after their separation a couple seasons earlier, citing Grissom’s physical distance and emotional unavailability. This was a recurring theme in their seasons-long courtship and subsequent romantic involvement, and it’s obvious Sara is less than eager to deal with her ex on top of leading a case with national attention. Her passive-aggressive jabs at Grissom are par for the course for Sara, a deeply compassionate woman often emboldened by an underlying stubbornness. Further enmity ensues when Lady Heather, whom Sara sees as a rival for Grissom’s heart, is strongly implicated in the bombings. Though I normally don’t enjoy seeing women battle it out for a man’s affection, Sara’s marked hostility towards Lady Heather is unmistakable in two interrogation scenes, one focused on the case, the other an attempt to discern the nature of Heather’s relationship with Grissom. Jorja Fox is on fire as a worked-up Sara, playing deftly against Melinda Clarke’s calculating coolness as Lady Heather, and the results are fascinating to watch. The evidence never lies, and those sequences are evidence that Sara has lingering feelings for her former boss/husband.

This leads us back to Grissom, who remains one of the nerdiest nerds to ever nerd but finds himself a stranger upon his arrival in Vegas. He doesn’t seem to recognize anyone in the lab, but a bubbly redhead, who turns out to be Catherine’s daughter Lindsey, gives him a warm welcome. It’s a great device for emphasizing both Grissom’s discomfort and the time that has passed since he was in charge. And sure, his contributions are pivotal to solving the case. He’s logical almost to a fault, Spock-like in his observations and dealings with others. But stories are about characters who change, and in one of the final scenes, Grissom acknowledges that Lady Heather taught him to finally love someone. In fact, he flat out pines for that someone, showering Sara with sentiments that would be at home on a Hallmark card, stealing glances at her and saying how he misses working with her. Even as his loyalty to Lady Heather is tested and he’s targeted by the bad guy, Grissom is unwavering, his perspective on life having done a 180 since the pilot. William Petersen illustrates his newfound warmth so endearingly without sacrificing the character’s core principles, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Petersen will likely miss Grissom as much as the fans will.

The CSI sendoff didn’t deviate from its time-honored formula, and really, that’s for the best. Besides, would the show be recognizable without the sweeping desert vistas, driving synth music, and gruesome autopsy scenes that made it popular in the first place? But what the often-sober procedural did have was a handful of happy endings. Catherine plans to return to the crime lab, Sara is promoted to lab director, and then promptly appears to relinquish her new job as she and Grissom literally ride off into the sunset on a white hor—er, boat. That CSI was given the opportunity for one last goodbye demonstrates the TV industry’s reverence for its revitalizing the crime drama and leaving its fingerprints all over countless shows since.

CSI, you will be missed. Every static close-up of a beating heart, every walk-and-talk down glassy corridors, and every aloof character with scientific leanings will forever make me think fondly of you.

RATING: 9 OUT OF 10