CSI and Without A Trace


CSI (2000-    )
Without A Trace (2002-    )
Type: Spin Off
Group 33

   The CBS crime show universe just keeps expanding. Having found success with the police procedural CSI, focusing on Las Vegas crime scene investigators, CBS just kept rolling out the procedurals: various CSI spin offs, Without A Trace, Cold Case, Criminal Minds... The next step seems to be tying them all together as part of the same world. The CSI shows are obviously a done deal in that regard. Then CSI: New York crossed over with Cold Case. And now the original CSI has gone and crossed over with Without A Trace.

   Like I've already said, CSI centers on crime scene investigators in Las Vegas, the science geeks of police work who gather forensic evidence and use it to figure out exactly what happened. Without A Trace focuses on a team of FBI agents who investigate missing persons cases. The key to cracking those cases is usually trying to solve the case very quickly after a person has gone missing, before the trail has gone cold.

   Now, before I get into specifics I need to say, overall, this is a good crossover. A lot to be said for it that works. I say that up front because, really, I am going to be peeing all over it. It is flawed and I can't ignore that but sdespite those flaws, it's an enjoyable view.

   What brings these shows together? A shocking murder. A young woman in Las Vegas is babysitting for a small boy when they are both brutally beaten to death with a hammer. So that accounts for CSI being involved. But why would the missing persons squad be involved? Well, it seems the crime has many similarities to a similar crime from years earlier. A woman in New York was beaten to death with a baseball bat and the child she was babysitting was abducted. FBI agent Jack Malone feels it may be the same culprit behind both crimes and he thinks the dead boy in Las Vegas may be the boy abducted in New York.

   Okay, this brings up the first sticking point for me. Jack Malone thinks the two cases are related. There are two things that make him think this. One is that the crimes are sorta similar. Both involved a kid and a babysitter being killed with a blunt object the killer found at the home and took with him. Beyond that, in both cases there was no hard evidence to be found about the killer. That doesn't seem like a super compelling similarity. I mean, yes, they are alike. But enough to say, yes, definitely the same guy? No. The similarities are vague enough that they could be coincidental. The lynch pin that makes them seem connected is that the Las Vegas kid really looks like he could be the kid from New York. Only it turns out early on the Las Vegas kid isn't the same kid. Without that I'm not sure why the police continue to believe without a doubt the cases are connected. But they do.

   This crossover is filled with iffy logic like this. They kind of cover it up by piecing together the killers back story in a very nonlinear way. It makes it harder to figure out the precise details of the story and, thus, the flaws. The guy's a kidnapper with relationship problems but he's also a crazy transient killer... I dunno. Here's the linear flow of the story as best as I could piece it together. If you haven't seen the show and don't want it spoiled... well, what are you even doing here? If you watched it and went, "Huh?" maybe this will help. From the time he was a child, Terry Lee Wicker had emotional problems. When he gets upset he looses it and becomes violent. As a child he killed his brother over a necklace. People believed his brother died in a fall.

   As an adult he ends up having a kid with his girlfriend. He goes to jail for a time. He works for the railroad but gets fired. Somewhere in there he starts traveling the rails and breaking into homes near the rail line. He breaks in, kills the people with something from the home, makes use of their money and things and then moves on down the line. If he steals jewelry he brings it back to his sister in New York and gives it to her as gifts.

   The babysitter in New York was the same girl who would sit for Terry's son. Having not seen his son in awhile, Terry attacked the sitter assuming she was sitting for his son with the intent of killing her and abducting the boy. Only it wasn't his son. Not knowing this, Terry runs off with him. Four years pass. At some point in that time he has a violent outburst and kills the boy. He buries him near Vegas with the necklace from his own childhood. Meanwhile, his former girlfriend has moved with his actual son to Nevada.

   Apparently Crazy Terry figures out he had the wrong kid and that his ex is in Nevada and comes looking for her. He ends up killing the woman and child whose deaths start the whole crossover. Did he see the kid and think it was his kid? If so... why did he think that? Or was the death a random house-near-the-railroad-tracks attack? Because if it was random, what are the odds of him killing a kid that looked enough like his son to draw the FBI's attention? But if it was intentional then the fact that the sitter lived near the railroad tracks ends up being just a coincidence. I mean, not like he would find a kid he thought was his son and then go, "Gee, I'd break in and abduct him only... he just lives too far from the railroad tracks." Either way one piece of the police's evidence becomes invalid and just coincidental. For our purposes lets just assume he did think it was his kid. He breaks in, sees he was wrong and kills the woman and the kid.

   Terry then heads off to do some gambling. Time for another impossible coincidence. At the casino he sees a poster advertising another casino. The casino hostess in the poster just HAPPENS to be his ex. He uses the knowledge of where she works to hunt down his ex, kills her and abducts his son. He runs off with the kid to New York where he kills more people and almost kills his son in a fit of rage. But because he does care for the boy, he holds himself together enough to let the boy go. Eventually the FBI catches up to Terry and he kills himself. Shortly after that they locate his son and out him in the care of his aunt, the only other character left alive.

   The story is convoluted and confusing. Even in the order things are revealed on the show there's stuff that doesn't make sense. For instance, at the start they do think the kid in Vegas is the kid from New York. That being the case, at one point the cops think the guy abducted this kid in New York and then 4 years later hunted him down in Las Vegas and killed him. For forever I sat there going, wait... if he abducted him in New York... why would he have to refind him in Las Vegas. Did he lose him? It's not until the second half of the crossover on Without A Trace that someone bothers to address this weird logic flaw. Then, of course, it ends up the whole theory is crap anyway.

   So why do I still like this crossover? Well, first, they really do try to hide the logic problems with the plot as best they can and draw your attention to the immediate drama at hand. I also liked the thing you tune into a crossover for, the interaction between the characters from the two shows. The central characters from each show are Gil Grissom from CSI and Jack Malone from Without A Trace. They do a good job developing a relationship between the two based on their differences and their similarities. At the start the two really don't get along because they are both used to being the man in charge. Most shows might overplay this and be overly blatant about it. In this case it almost plays like subtext. The two are mostly politely professional with each other but the actors just throw out a subtle vibe of the two of them not meshing so well. And they are different. Grissom is the smart science nerd. Jack is smart too but he's also more of a man-of-action cop. Grissom's untidy office full of science geekery is utterly foreign to Malone. But then they find common ground. They both have had issues with workplace romances. They both are constantly having to cope with the bleakness of the world their work exposes them to.

   In fact it's the strength of the character stuff that makes one of the second half's conceits believable. Jack Malone showing up in Las Vegas makes sense. He's FBI, he goes everywhere. But for part two the story moves to New York, well out of CSI's jurisdiction. It's not really logical that anyone from CSI would have any business showing up in New York. Even so, Gil Grissom makes the trek. How do they explain this? W ell, because he's Gil Grissom. The evidence he collected needed to be sent to New York. He decided to escort it their personally to keep an eye on his things. I kinda but that. But on top of that, he also wants to see the case through to the end. Again, it makes no sense from a law enforcement point of view, but from a character angle, I buy it. It also makes for a subtle touch to his relationship with Malone. They two of them started off rubbing each other the wrong way, sort of jockeying to be top dog. Based on the Gil/Jack dynamic at the start of the story, if Grissom showed up in New York unrequested, Malone would have sent him packing. But through the story they slowly built a friendship which can be seen in the fact that Malone does welcome Grissom to stay and help with the case. Then the show ends on a nice scene between the two of them. They are sitting in a car outside a house as Malone tries to gather his courage to go tell the parents of the boy who was abducted four years earlier that their son is dead. The two cops who started off resenting each other end the episode bonding over the pain and sorrow that comes along with their jobs. It's strong enough character stuff to balance out the episodes squidgy plot logic.

Other CSI Crossover Links
CSI and CSI: Miami
CSI, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY: The Trilogy


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