CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Grave Danger (19 May 2005, Quentin Tarantino)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A member of Las Vegas’s crime-scene investigation team is kidnapped and buried alive…

What does QT do? Quentin Tarantino once claimed to have seen every episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-2015). He watched many while shooting Kill Bill in Beijing and was such a fan that word reached the production team, who asked him to write and direct an episode. In the end, he provided a storyline and the script was written by producers Anthony E Zuiker, Carol Mendelson and Naren Shankar. Once Tarantino began directing on set, it became clear the cut would overrun so the episode was bumped up to a double-length special, which concluded the show’s fifth season.

Notable characters:
* Nick Stokes (George Eads) is a crime-scene officer investigating a call-out as the story begins. However, he’s soon kidnapped and buried alive by someone who has a grudge against the CSI team. In the coffin he has a light, an air fan and a gun…
* Gil Grissom (William Petersen) is the team leader who’s stunned when he’s shown a live video feed of Nick in the coffin.
* Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) is Grissom’s second in command. When she and Gil need $1 million for ransom money, she convinces her casino-boss father, Sam Braun (Scott Wilson), to give it to her.
* Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) is everyone’s boss.
* Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox), Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda), David Hodges (Wallace Langham), and Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) are colleagues of Nick’s.
* Doc Robbins (Robert David Hall) is the medical examiner. At one point, Nick hallucinates his own autopsy, Doc Robbins performing it while Nick is alive.
* A delivery guy (Michael Bacall) shows up with a package from the kidnapper: it contains an audio cassette and a USB stick.
* Stokes’s parents (Andrew Prine and Moonraker’s Lois Chiles) are kept abreast of the situation.
* Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin cameo as themselves in a scene at a casino. When cross-dressing is mentioned, Curtis has a gag referring to Some Like It Hot (“Who do you think you’re talking to? Jack Lemon?”). Gorshin died two days before this episode aired.
* Walter Gordon (John Saxon) is the kidnapper, who we never fully see. In his only substantial scene he’s lit to hide his face and then, in a shock cliffhanger at the halfway mark, he blows himself up.
* Kelly Gordon (Aimee Graham) is Walter’s daughter, who’s in prison. Walter’s doing what he’s doing in revenge for her controversial conviction.

Returning actors: John Saxon had a small role in From Dusk Till Dawn. Aimee Graham had acted with Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn and been directed by him in Jackie Brown. A clip of Tony Curtis on a chat show was seen in Jackie Brown.

Music: At the start of the episode, Nick is singing along to Bob Neuwirth’s Lucky Too on the radio – and he sings it again later when he thinks he’s being rescued. The kidnapper sends the CSI team a cassette that plays Outside Chance by the Turtles and its lyrics (‘You don’t stand an outside chance!’) play ironically under the rest of the scene. Kasabian’s Running Battle is also heard at one point, while the incidental music is by the show’s composer John M Keane.

Time shifts and chapters: After the cold open (Nick investigating and being captured), we cut back to earlier that same day and follow Nick as he’s given the assignment. Then we jump to him in the coffin and it’s chronological from then on.

Connections: The central idea of a character being buried alive featured in Tarantino’s most recent movie, Kill Bill Vol 2. In a nice visual twist, this time the coffin is made of Plexiglass so we can see the soil and worms and stuff. On original broadcast, the two ‘hours’ of this episode were titled Volume I and Volume 2, aping the naming convention of Kill Bill. Around this time, Tarantino also directed one scene of Robert Rodriguez’s film Sin City (2005), which is a comic-book adaptation that owes a structural debt to Pulp Fiction. He did it to return the favour for Rodriguez writing some music for Kill Bill, and also because it gave him a chance to work with digital cameras for the first time. The scene is a two-hander between Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro set in a car.

Review: This has a slower style of storytelling than CSI usually provided. There are also no B-plots to cut away to and the momentum sadly loosens rather than tightens as the 90 minutes progresses. But pacing issues aside, this is still an enjoyable enough piece of television. Tarantino’s influence is most clearly felt in the dialogue and his use of close-ups. For a show usually dominated by cold science and forensic procedure, it’s refreshing to have characters talk about real life. Gil chats about a Roy Rodgers certificate he’s bought; other characters play a Dukes of Hazard board game; others shoot the breeze and swap anecdotes about dating. (It must be said that this kind of dialogue disappears once the plot kicks in, however.) And while the team start off very calm and professional considering a friend has gone missing, the realisation of what’s happened to Nick is played in dramatic close-ups. You could write a book – perhaps someone has – on how television overuses the close-up. But Tarantino knows precisely when to cut to one: they all have meaning, are timed to perfection, and tell you something about a character. Also, as in Quentin’s episode of ER, there are also close-ups of equipment and procedures that border on the fetishist.

Seven intestines out of 10

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