CSI is not usually known for its uplifting qualities, dealing as it does with the nastiest elements of humanity, especially with its trademark forensic attention to minute, grisly detail. Nevertheless, this week's episode, The Grave Shift, which featured the first episode starring Laurence "Morpheus" Fishburne as Dr. Raymond Langston was, at least to this fan, the right installment at the right time.
I don't want to dwell on real-life issues too much, as this blog was always meant to be a place for me, Canyon and Masticator to dissect the pop culture that has affected us, but I can't talk about this wonderful hour of TV without giving up a little bit about myself. At the moment I'm staring redundancy in the face, and while there are huge benefits to this, and much to be happy about, there is also uncertainty, fear of the unknown, the prospect of that first day in a new environment. If you're wondering why this blog has recently been updated so sporadically and indifferently, that's why. I know I'm not alone in this, and this is not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it is affecting me, though I am lucky to have Canyon's wonderful and much-needed support and advice to temper it all.
Even so, it's hard to concentrate on things while in this state of emotional flux, and it's distracted me enough to make me disapprove of the first two episodes of the new season of Lost, a situation which is unprecedented. Suspecting the onset of acute anhedonia, I've almost felt like ignoring TV until the situation improves, but luckily I didn't go that far, and last night we watched The Grave Shift with grins on our faces.
As I've mentioned before, the prospect of one of my favourite actors taking over from William Petersen was a cause for celebration even though I didn't want to see Gil leave. More importantly, I was tentatively confident that his arrival would be handled well. This optimism was bolstered by some evidence, such as the entertaining Gil-hiatus when Liev Schreiber guest-starred as the deeply troubled Michael Keppler, which showed that the showrunners can do great work introducing characters when they put their mind to it. However, there were also botched introductions, like Jessica Lucas' minor stint as CSI Ronnie Lake, or Lauren Lee Smith's Riley Adams, who was added to the team with as much abruptness as Louise Lombard many moons ago. Even after half a season I have no idea who this person is except to note that she's a bit rude sometimes. As we already have Brass, Hodges and Doc Robbins filling that role, I don't see what we're gaining by having her around.
My optimism paid off. Langston's first appearances in the previous two-part serial killer episode were a great teaser, showing a smart and capable man afflicted by a touch of self-doubt and much enthusiasm, which is a weird combination of traits you don't get to see in fiction every day. In his first full episode, Fishburne does an amazing job of making Langston a distinct character not just from his new CSI colleagues, but pretty much anyone else on TV. Meticulous, eager, jumpy, earnest, and a little bit out of his depth, Fishburne manages the incredibly difficult task of immediately manifesting a well-fleshed-out character the audience can warm to even as it mourns the loss of its most popular character.
Well, okay, I speak for myself there. I know what opinion is like on the internets, and I'm not about to go looking for other takes on it, as I'm sure there will be a lot of carping and whining about how the show is ruined now Gil is gone. The worrying drop in viewing figures suggests hardcore Grissom fans are not willing to hang around to see what the new guy is like. Whatever. For those of us who remain, this episode was a terrific introduction, for us, for Langston and, funnily enough, for David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, the excellent Battlestar Galactica writing duo whose names popped up as producers in the credits of this season's opener. This was the first episode credited to them as writers, and in a meta-comment on their new position, it concerned Langston's first day on the job: learning the ropes, making mistakes, breaking a case, figuring out the office politics and making friends.
My favourite character moments in the show revolved around Hodges, whose depression following Gil's departure manifests as bitter hostility towards Langston. As an audience surrogate anticipating the traditional internet reaction to change (i.e. fruitless carping and shocking levels of entitlement), Hodges' reaction was perfect, as was Langston's initial frustration and subsequent efforts to win him over. Utilising Hodges' help to crack an arson case, Langston provided us with a nifty set of facts about bomb-making on a budget, and then gave us a nice big explosion as a bonus. It's a textbook way to win the audience over. Look! He's doing it onscreen. Get over it, whiny schmucks.
At the same time we see the rest of the team adjust to Gil's departure and the new power structure in the lab, with Catherine in charge (a promotion I have been hoping would happen for years now), Ecklie given the job of undersheriff, and Nick turning Gil's office into a communal workplace for the whole team. Pretty much every decision made by the showrunners has hit the spot dead on, anticipating fan reaction brilliantly. Seriously, this is probably a naïve thing to say, but if anyone watched this episode and didn't like any of the adjustments made, I just can't take their protestatons seriously. There are so many ways to fluff a major overhaul to a show, but this one has been handled superbly. I was thrilled by the thought that had been put into it.
That, however, is not why the show salved my aching worryglands. As we were seeing Langston's first day on the job, we saw him make errors (wrecking a print due to overzealous powdering), overstep boundaries (confronting a father who hits his son), and offer help to someone who literally spits in his face, an act that made me furious even though it's only a TV show.
(An aside. At first this scene pissed me off, as I don't want our new hero dissed by some ungrateful little punk, but it is framed almost exactly like Horatio's super-earnest and patronising discussions with the various orphans left in the wake of the crime wave perpetuated by Miami's resident Nazis, drug barons, cannibals, nuclear terrorists, and time-travelling octopoid Martian overlords. Instead of that faux-heroic idiocy, Langstrom reaches out because he thinks it's the right thing to do, and it goes horribly wrong. Are the showrunners trying to reassure us that CSI: Classic isn't going the way of its drooling moron cousin? Maybe.)
Despite these setbacks, he prevails through determination and curiosity, absorbing the advice of his new colleagues, adapting to challenges, and patiently practising the things he has learned. Throughout the episode we journey with him, learning as much new information as he does; no mean feat considering how long this show has been going and how much the fans have already picked up (did you know arson victims' brains boil, and the steam escapes through the natural cracks in the skull? I didn't, and I kinda wish I didn't). The attention to detail, and the eagerness to impart new trivia, was a joy to behold.
Langston won me over in the first few minutes, meticulously preparing for his first day, dressing in inappropriate but precise clothing, and throwing himself into work with huge enthusiasm. Now we have someone who is enthusiastic about the job, whereas the series has spent a couple of seasons dealing with the toll it has taken on the team's psyche. For the first time in a while, Gil's initial playfulness has been returned via Langstrom's willingness to engage with the job. Just to seal the deal, his selection of relevant fingerprint powder, complete with a nifty snap of his wrist, was, for want of a better word, adorable (I never thought I would say that about Laurence Fishburne). It was such a nice touch that it is now immortalised in the title sequence. Sweet! It instantly rivals Alec Baldwin's dramatic turn in 30 Rock's titles as best credit moment on TV right now.
This was just what I needed. Though I'm never going to have a job as fascinating and semi-glamorous as being a criminalist with the fictional Las Vegas CSI team, it was still inspiring to see someone embrace the possibility of an exciting and inspiring new career instead of dreading the future, as I have in my darker moments. Langston's attitude cheered me up immensely, and though I expect that to be temporary, it was a nice respite from stupidly fretting and making myself miserable. My gratitude to the cast and crew is hereby immortalised via blog, for them to stumble across somehow.
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