Saturday, 6 October 2007

CSI: Miami Watch - "Come As You Are"

There has been a delay in recapping the episode of CSI: Miami that aired a couple of weeks ago, but even more than usual we needed time to digest what we had seen. As we’ve said many times before, the show represents the right-wing half of CSI-niverse. The original is logical and analytical, and the Miami variant is reactionary and judgemental (the third version is soporific; I can't place it on a value-grid because I rarely make it to the end of an episode with my eyes still open). Plus, CSI: Miami has an astonishing body count, no sympathy for even the most trivial lawbreaking, a total lack of irony (which is one of the reasons why we like it, despite ourselves), and some really unpleasant political messages (my “favourite” is mentioned here; I think that that comment stopped me watching the show for about 2 years). The fact that two shows with such different messages can have come from the same cloth fascinates me, which is yet another reason why I’m drawn to both.

Come As You Are, however, is a curiosity. It lionises the US military, which is no surprise (Bruckheimer relies on military assistance to make many of his movies, and he’s not about to piss them off now), but even so seems in two minds about the Iraq war. In the middle of this disconnect, there is a lot of stupid nonsense that made us laugh. I’ll try to spend more time on the latter than the former.

The episode opens with two teenage jocks on a firing range, running around in camo and shooting targets. No sexy ladies in the opening scene! This is starting to become a trend, and after they went all out with the toolbooth attendants a few weeks back. Shame. Just as the kids are winding down their stint on the course, one of them lets off five rounds in a target, from behind which a bound corpse slumps. It’s a recruiter for the military, and his death is such an egregious tragedy that H’s entrance is more sombre than ever.

His grief is so intense that for the first scene he delivers his dialogue in a faltering croak. Conscious acting choice? Or did a glug of Fresca go down the wrong pipe? We shall never know. The two kids, Derek and Matt, deny knowledge of the guy, and the fact that he was bound and dragged into position post-mortem gives credence to their claim. Delko and Wolfe gather evidence, and I noticed that the direction was a little better than usual. The episode contains the usual splitscreen, glass-warping craziness, but some of the compositions are unusual and pretty, as is the editing later on. Kudos to director Joe Chappelle, who it seems directed the movie Phantoms, in which Affleck was the bomb, yo.

While looking for rock dust or something, Wolfe dares question the war in the most lily-livered and vague manner possible (so weak I can’t remember what he said. Probably something about it being a bit of a mess, like a kitchen gone awry) and that earns a rebuke from Delko, who pompously intones, "All I know is he's wearing a uniform, so he gets our best." Which explains why they're usually doing such a shit job investigating all of those other crimes; the victims are civilians and don’t deserve their best. Fine, go piss off and join NCIS if you've got such a hard-on for the military.

So far, so slightly exaggerated from their normal jingoistic behaviour. However, there follows a scene that spelled the beginning of the end of our love affair with Calleigh (and by love affair I mean, tolerating her more than most of the other characters). Alexx is about to examine the soldier’s body, and Calleigh comes in to watch, and the following exchange takes place.

Calleigh: ::sigh:: Men in uniform.
Alexx: And it looks like he went through a lot of them.
Calleigh: What do you mean?
Alexx: Today wasn't the first time he was shot. See these scars? They're old bullet wounds. Barely a piece of him without a scar. Tim. Hicks. Was. A. Fighter!
Calleigh: You know, I bet he got some of them saving lives. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
Alexx: Well, that makes this even harder to say. We found traces of a white powder in his nasal cavity.
Calleigh: ::with massive shock and indignation:: Oh, I do not think that he is the type.
Alexx: Well, things aren't always what they seem.
Calleigh: ::now in full absolution mode:: You know, I bet that white powder could help explain how someone could overpower a trained soldier.

Words failed us. No soldier is ever less than perfect! Ever!!! Got that, viewer??!?! Your bumper ribbon is insufficiently patriotic, you son of a bitch! Have you ever retro-actively absolved all soldiers of any crime? I’m not talking to you, Coulter, I know how you think. I’m talking about the rest of you. You probably think the waste products of a soldier stink. Don’t you! Well, they don’t! They are perfect! PERFECT!!!!!

Sadly for Calleigh’s theory, it turns out the white powder is ketamine, and even so Calleigh refuses to blame the guy. She goes to see Tim’s widow with Wolfe, and upon finding out she’s a vet, jumps to the conclusion that it has to be her drugging him, without even a shred of evidence, because the only alternative is that Tim took the drug himself, which is impossible, because that’s a crime, and no soldier has ever committed a crime EVER EVER EVER in the history of the world.

Of course, it turns out he is stressed because his recruits keep dying, and his guilt is so overwhelming that he needed to relax and thus took it voluntarily. So he’s a voluntary drug-abuser with a responsibility for recruiting kids into a military endeavour that has turned out to be horribly bloody and FUBARed. Does this mean Calleigh accepts that the guy is not pure? Of course not, because he is a soldier and is thus blameless, as opposed to everyone else in the show who gets arrested for farting or breathing heavily or chewing gum. His grieving wife is made to feel like shit by both Wolfe and Calleigh, who give her grief over not reporting a recent break-in to the police, and with that, we both go off Calleigh. She’d already been infected with the same judgemental attitude as everyone else on the show, but this is a step too far. Plus, was she checking out that soldier's corpse? Ew.

Wolfe goes to see Tim’s colleague, a recruiter with a pissy streak who tries to out-tough little bitty Wolfe, which is confusing. Turns out he has a history of violence, and as such is a suspect in Tim’s murder. So the show tries to have its cake and eat it. Soldiers are perfect sacrosanct individuals, but some recruiters are flawed and evil. Or are they? Am I now thinking in absolutes because everyone on the show does? Or is this their idea of moral shading? Having one guy be an asshole and the other a saint who loves horse tranqs? Does this count as balance? Is the show interested in balance? It hasn’t been before. At this point I started to wonder what they were playing at, and it got more confusing as it went along.

Tim received a hate letter prior to his death, which leads them to a soldier, Kevin, whose brother was killed during an ambush in Iraq. H goes to visit him to find some answers and to be all noble, seeing as how he coincidentally is attending his brother’s funeral. Of course, being H, he has to teleport in, as this series of photos shows.

Skeeving up to Patrick and Kevin’s bereaved mother, he is all charm. He then talks to Kevin who is horribly depressed and bereaved, though he knows to stand to attention when H shows up, him being the King of All Everything Ever. Kevin blames Tim for getting him and his brother into the war, as he told them they'd make a lot of money. That’s pretty low behaviour, and again we see criticism of the soldiers. At this point I was wondering if there would be a Damascene conversion by the CSI judgement-bots, but I can tell you now, that doesn’t happen. Anyway, during the discussion, Kevin says he killed his brother, freaking out with the grief, and for the first time ever H panics. He didn't even react this strongly when his brother died in his arms. It looks like he's thinking, "Oh God, are the terrorists winning now? I must shoot something soon!"

H vows to get to the bottom of this. Bottom of what? Is this guy now presumed innocent of Tim’s murder just because he's a grieving soldier who just confessed to a different crime? I don’t get it. Anyway, the break in at the vet's office leads the team back to the kids on the firing range, who are brought in for interrogation. While being accused of everything from robbery to murder to hiding WMDs by the obnoxiously indignant Calleigh, one of them says to the other, "Don't fold, Matt!" Er, she's right next to you, dude. Calleigh, not being a total idiot, spots the potential subterfuge, and puts on the thumbscrews. Turns out both Matt and Derek tried to join up (so they could get laid and shoot guns, natch), but Derek had second thoughts, so they tried to get the application back. Just to make sure no one finds the applications and files them, they burned all of them. Calleigh sneers at them for being evil. You can tell she’s going to get back at them for this evil evil evil…erm, bit of burglary. Is it because they’re a bit dopey? Or is it because by burning the applications they have stopped lots of kids from becoming noble and honourable soldiers who will look good in uniforms? Only the pinched face of Calleigh knows.

H asks the bereaved mom if he can do an autopsy on her dead son, Patrick, and she acquiesces to save Kevin from military jail, or a court-martial. Before we can get to that amusing scene, H brings in Kevin and during his interrogation, it cuts between them and a flying football, and for a moment I thought we were watching Friday Night Lights. It's a nice bit of editing, though. Cue flashback to Iraq, or should I say scrub brush in California doubling for Iraq. It's like that godawful episode of Boomtown with the Mykelti Williamson flashbacks to his military service during the first Gulf War. Ugh, that was the worst hour of TV I've ever seen. CSI: Miami is making me have flashbacks to that episode! It's becoming too meta!

Kevin is under the impression that he killed his brother, and the flashback shows a chaotic fight and the possible accidental homicide of Patrick. Sadly, the tragedy of the scene is undermined by the final shot of Kevin, mourning the death and chaos. While striving for overwhelming pain and sadness, he ended up reminding me of Tracy Jordan playing famed jungle-fever-haver Thomas Jefferson.

H assigns Alexx, the only coroner in Miami Dade, to do an autopsy on Patrick, even though there's already been one and CSI's involvement has made him late for his own funeral, and it's conducted with such reverence you'd think they were examining Jesus. Still, it pays off (of course; they couldn't possibly have a dead-end on this "tightly plotted" show). They find a mysterious piece of shrapnel missed in the autopsy conducted by the military, which turns out to have come from an armoured vehicle. It's a big chunk of metal, and they missed it? Contrivance, thy name is CSI: Miami.

With the plot now split into two (a now common thread in a show that once focussed on a single crime per episode), Delko is given the task of figuring out what happened during the battle. Sadly for the viewer, this doesn't mean that he's shipped off to Fallujah, not when we have the internet to do the work. Dan is asked to look for footage of that exact battle on YouTube, and finds three clips, for crying out loud. I just did a YouTube search to see how easy this is, but I don't know what search term to use. What did Dan and Delko use? "Kevin Patrick Iraq murder justice"? But that brings up no clips. I pronounce this show unrealistic.

Luckily, hairs are found in Patrick's boot, belonging to a guy called Brad Hoffman, and H brings him in for questioning. The guy has a rock solid alibi, saying he's never been to Iraq but knew the victim and attended the pre-funeral (or whatever it's called), and his hair fell into his boot. We even see a flashback. Even with this mountain of evidence, H still suspects him, for no reason other than ESP. Teleportation? Mind-reading? Is H a one man X-Man? Will he develop a healing factor? Are his shades used to stop beams shooting out of his eyes? I can't wait for further developments, especially growing blue fur and hanging from the ceiling.

Meanwhile, Natalia isn't doing her job because her evil ex-husband is chatting Valera up.

This comes right out of nowhere, and it's only because I know what happens two episodes later that this makes any sense (it's establishing an insane motive for murder, basically). Otherwise, it just comes right out of the blue. Valera appears thrilled to be chatted up, finally. Even priapic Delko hasn't said as much as boo to her since the show started, which might be a lucky escape but would also damage your self-esteem like crazy. Natalia says she's not pissed at Valera, but she looks pissed enough to, gee, I don't know, KILL???!?!?!

YouTube brings up a ton of weirdly Hi Def videos of the exact firefight where Patrick was killed, and after watching them Delko and Dan just arbitrarily decide there is no way Kevin could have killed his brother as he was knocked unconscious at some point, so why does he think he did? Guh, whatever. Oh look, a licence plate on a truck that appears in one of the clips! It's turns out that Brad Hoffman lied about being not going to Iraq, and is actually a contractor! A liar who was at the crime scene and isn't an entirely blameless soldier with the automatic purity of soul that that implies? He must be guilty! Of course, the evidence of his hair in the boot really was explained, and had nothing to do with the murder that he actually committed. They only have that scene so that they can introduce him earlier in the episode, and then reintroduce him later, caught with different evidence, and then catch him heading back to Iraq. Brilliant. Oh, sorry, I meant terrible. Still, they will now get their man, after the b-plot is resolved.

Ryan finds copies of the destroyed army applications, and one of them is flagged as a security risk. Calleigh checks out a terrorist watchlist and find Matt's parents on it. They are Middle-Eastern, and even though they are respectable doctors with no criminal background whatsoever, they're assumed to be a risk. This is the most blatantly anti-establishment moment in the history of the show (I'm not counting the evil judge that H took down earlier in the season for being a corrupt landowner). Daring to shake a disapproving finger at the Patriot Act? I am amazed.

So, it turns out Matt had been told by Tim he couldn't join the army for different reasons, but upon finding out about the security risk, Matt got pissed at the subterfuge. Seriously, that's the reason you're mad? If you remember, he'd changed his mind about being in the army by that point, but he's still mad because the nasty soldier told a fib? Lame! He's so angry he goes after Tim and sees him snorting ketamine in his car. He pulls him, and he stumbles to the ground, where he smacks his head and dies. We see this in a flashback. It's an accident, and the flashback is presented as a fact, but Calleigh's judgement-o-meter is so far out of whack now that she treats him like a flat-out Dahmeresque murderer, having him arrested immediately, with massive sneerage. Man, we really turned against her ass in this episode.

Time for H to arrest his own perp, the evil bastard who killed a soldier. He calls in JAG, gets their help to go after Brad, and arrests him in hilarious fashion on a runway as Brad attempts to go to Iraq for work purposes. Delko hides in a doorway, and when Brad passes him he pops out. Panicking, Brad runs to his plane to get away, but H is already there, waiting for him!

What, did H and Delko do, plan a little prank on the bad guy? Superb. Anyway, it's another accidental murder, with Brad panicking during the firefight, pulling out a gun, and firing it through the door of his truck (hence the shrapnel in Patrick's chest), but no matter. H is furious, I tell you. Furious! Brad is going down, no matter what his defence is.

The episode ends with a montage of whathappenednext, with Johnny Cash singing Like A Soldier in the background. Matt is arrested, and Derek ends up going to Iraq even though he changed his mind, and the shots of him looking terrified in the back of a helicopter are horrible. Hasn't anyone seen Hair? That poor bastard isn't going to make it. That's his punishment for breaking into a vet's office and burning some application forms? Harsh. The recruiter is shown on a campus, haranguing random students with fliers promising free booze and sex and ketamine, probably. Patrick finally gets his funeral, and during the gun salute that we honestly thought H would join in, pulling out his Glock and doing the crouchy thing while he plugs the sky.

I guess I'm stupid for expecting anything deep from CSI: Miami, but anyone who spends time absorbing large amounts of corporate-approved pop culture (as we do) knows that there are ways to get messages across through the nervous barrier put up by those awful men in suits. You know, the ones who are worried about the bottom line being damaged by offending a small group of Episcopalians somewhere in the Midwest, and thus firebombs their product so that no content or thought remains. Not that we thought CSI: Miami would do that; it's a hard-right show, which should make it anathema to proud liberals/progressives like ourselves, but doesn't because it's endlessly entertaining and fascinating as a barometer of US politics and as a work of "art". To a certain extent, the episode did the thing we thought it would, and then some, i.e. lionising the troops to such an extent that they no longer resemble the human beings they actually are, instead becoming paragons of virtue and patriotism that are so beyond criticism that to treat them as complex humans with both good and bad attributes is to hand victory over to the enemy.

However, on top of that, there was some tentative acknowledgement that the war isn't going too well: that the need for new soldiers is creating a cognitive dissonance in the recruiters that can only lead to unpleasant outcomes, be it taking horse drugs, or becoming a block-headed, hostile asshole; that lives are being destroyed and the Patriot Act is unfairly targeting whole swathes of the US population, dragging innocent, law-abiding taxpayer into the mix. The show seems to be unsure of how to dramatise these pressing contemporary issues, and as such muddles it all, and ends up being an uncertain mix of pro- and anti-war sentiments, coated in obnoxious symbolism. I wonder what Bruckheimer thought when he watched this episode, if indeed he did. Perhaps he wore this exact same expression.

Because if a picture paints a thousand words, that face portrays a billion.

"Come As You Are" Stats:

Horatio's (croaky) Send-Off Into Credits:
Frank: Somebody wanted us to think our vic died here in this playground war.
Horatio: Frank, the war may be staged, but the murder is real.

Ripped-Off Plot of the Week: Boomtown? Boomtown? Really? I'm glad they didn't wreck my memories of good movies, but even so, I'm also a bit disappointed. Why didn't they rip off Three Kings? H trying to solve the theft of Saddam's gold? That would have been magical.

Natalia's Awful Blouse of the Week: : Seriously, is the wardrobe department playing some kind of game here? This one looks like a Magic Eye painting. Or something William Morris designed in the depths of absinthe fever.

Number of Caruso Two-Steps:

Snottiest Behaviour From Wolfe:
Besides intimidating a grieving widow with accusations of drug-dealing and faking a crime scene, he also talks down to the dodgy recruiter at length. The man would be able to fit Wolfe in his pocket, so I guess +10 points for bravado, but -100 points for being such an obnoxious little creep.

Creepiest line from Wolfe:
Asking Calleigh how she got her hot little hands on a terrorist watchlist. Wolfe, just leave the women alone. They don't need your kind of "attention".

No comments: