For a show to last as long as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, it had to be a groundbreaking and addictive piece of media. For the most part, fans were not left disappointed. Gil Grissom, played by William Petersen, and his tireless crew from the Las Vegas Crime Lab spoke to everyone’s inner geek and lured many of us into the world of crime drama, in some ways even Law and Order could not do.
Since the first season, the show’s had many actors come and go. While most CSI episodes have been enjoyable to watch, some have stood out above the rest for their stellar scripts and acting. Others, unfortunately, fell a bit flat.
10 Worst: Mascara
The 200th episode of CSI left fans confused and even angry. After only eight episodes with the team, this Season 9 episode focused exclusively on Ray Langston, performed by Laurence Fishburne. Considering that Gil Grissom had just been replaced and Ray hadn’t melded with the team nearly as well yet, audiences weren’t happy about this big character study so early in the game.
Even the plot of the episode was considered a mess by most fans, leaving them wondering exactly where the show was going. Between the weird forays into boxing and voodoo, along with a case that was dull, Mascara was an episode to forget.
9 Best: Grave Danger
Over 35 million viewers tuned in to watch the episode that got Quentin Tarantino a nomination for a 2005 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. The fifth season finale of CSI was also listed as #47 on the TV guide list of the 100 Greatest Episodes. “Grave Danger” saw the kidnapping of Nick Stokes, the splitting up of the team, and so many little nuances, from songs used to pieces of dramatic irony, that there was no doubt it was a Tarantino episode.
“Grave Danger” featured nods to Tarantino’s other works, like Kill Bill, but more importantly it put the CSIs on “only one case tonight,” as Grissom had informed his team, which was saving Nick’s life. Witnessing him be attacked by fire ants during the second half was one of the most harrowing moments on the show.
8 Worst: All In
For a season finale, the ninth season’s “All In” had a pretty low viewer turnout, which isn’t surprising since the season was full of bumps. That was to be expected after losing both Grissom and Warrick, but this episode just featured some lackluster writing. It was an average-feeling and boring episode, not nearly what audiences expected out of a finale.
Viewers were particularly perturbed at not knowing who the killer was at the end. It’s never made clear, and even though sometimes the criminals manage to escape, there needs to be an emphasis on the fact that they did.
7 Best: Butterflied
In Season 4’s twelfth episode, “Butterflied,” Grissom and Sara have to deal with a case that feels personal when a nurse with Sara’s face is their murder victim. The nurse’s boyfriend, a doctor, was the prime suspect until he, too, was found taken out. The parallels that Grissom explores in the episode, not only about his workaholic lifestyle but his attraction to Sara, are hard-hitting while not being overblown, making the episode one of the best directed of the season.
Grissom’s obsession with finding the killer proves for naught, as the culprit is found but walks free. It was a metaphor for the GSR (Grissom-Sara relationship) that also remained unresolved at this point in their timeline.
6 Worst: Cockroaches
Sometimes CSI builds its characters up only to drag them through the mud again. In this case, Warrick Brown was the target. Warrick has always received the short end of the stick, even to the point where he was offed when so many other CSIs shouldn’t have made it out alive.
In the ninth episode of Season 8, Warrick is already having a rough go of it. He’s getting divorced (after getting married so abruptly in the first place), he’s taking pills, and handling stress quite poorly. He ends up high, in bed with a stripper, and wakes up to find the girl murdered in his own car. The whole thing was out of character for Warrick, who had made strides, and it’s even worse since it set him up for such trouble in his final season on the show.
5 Best: Blood Drops
One of the most compelling episodes of CSI was the seventh episode of the first season. In “Blood Drops,” we meet two girls who survived a brutal attack on their family only do discover that the older sister had orchestrated the entire thing in order to save her daughter from a fate like hers at the hands of her father. Dakota Fanning starred as the obviously traumatized little girl and even thinking about the big reveal at the end of the episode sends shivers down your spine.
In a later episode, when Sidle muses that it never ceases to amaze her what people do to one another, fans look back to this episode as a prime example.
4 Worst: Two And A Half Deaths
For starters, there was absolutely no reason to have a CSI crossover with Two and a Half Men. So many other shows would have worked better with all of these weird cameos and allusions. But the worst thing about Season 8’s “Two and a Half Deaths” is that it reads like a revenge fanfiction.
The episode was written by Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn, and it is no secret that the episode’s victim was based on Roseanne, whom Lorre famously doesn’t like. The whole thing didn’t feel like a CSI episode at all. A CSI episode isn’t the right platform to poke fun at an actress.
3 Best: Dead Doll
Another episode that hit close to home is Season 8’s premiere. “Dead Doll” dealt with Sara being kidnapped as part of a revenge plot on Grissom. The murderer, Natalie Davis, was known as “The Miniature Killer,” and the previous episode, “Living Doll,” had left us wondering if Sara would survive or not.
In the scheme of things, it looks like a cheap ploy to ensure great ratings for the new season opener. However, the episode was done incredibly well, with Sara largely saving herself for much of the episode.
2 Worst: Hero To Zero
Season 15’s fifteenth episode, “Hero to Zero” dealt with the loss of a person dressed in a superhero costume. It was a mess of an episode that struggled to focus on a single theme, as it touched on gang violence, vigilantism, and personal attacks. It felt very much like it had been written by a child or teenager who had been wronged by their friends and wanted to get revenge.
Even the evidence trail in the episode seemed more far-fetched than usual, and given how many plot lines this episode could have followed, its weaknesses stand out even more prominently.
1 Best: Unfriendly Skies
If a newcomer were to ask which episode of CSI gives the best overall representation of the show, fans might say Season 1’s “Unfriendly Skies.” This episode has everything, from cool science experiments to great chemistry between all of the actors. There is also plenty of humor and drama, while every member of the team gets an opportunity to shine at some point, which usually helps make for a fantastic episode.
It wasn’t as jaw-dropping as a Paul Millander episode nor as emotionally-charged as one of Catherine’s episodes with her father or ex-husband, but it was entertaining TV at its finest, the kind of episode that hooked us into the series.