In the US: Thursdays, 9pm et/pt, CBS
Characters re-cast: 0
Major characters gotten rid of: Ooh, that would be telling
Major new characters: 0
Format change percentage: 90% (for one episode only)
Number of contracts up: 1
CSI starts its eight season somewhat atypically - with an episode pretty much devoid of forensic science. Instead, it starts with the hunt for Sara Sidle, last seen trapped under a car thanks to the strange obsessions of the Miniature Killer (that's not a tiny murderer, BTW). Where she is and whether she's alive are the two mysteries that need clearing up.
Shows that have female characters kidnapped to increase tension are always treading a tricky path. Will they be weakening the characters by making them victims? Or will they fail to suggest any kind of peril by making the character too strong?
CSI manages to deal with this thorny problem reasonably well. Although it does go through most of the dramatic tricks you'd expect of an episode like this - the false discovery, etc - it still manages to leave Sara looking relatively strong during her ordeal while simultaneously creating a throbbing sense of menace, claustrophobia and desperation.
Much of the episode involves flashbacks to Sara's kidnapping, trying to show how she was kidnapped and the lengths she took to try to escape. While there are times when you think to yourself, “What an idiot. Don't do that, kick her in the head,” you're still in no doubt that Sara wasn't exactly led to the slaughter or that the Miniature Killer could have pulled off such an abduction. Sara's predicament and her survival attempts ram home the difficulties of trying to cope in a desert and again, Sara is shown to be resourceful when faced with such adversity (although she does make a couple of quite obvious boo-boos, given her situation).
The police hunt for Sarah is less satisfying, with very little cleverness involved in the eventual location of her body (alive or dead, I'm not telling). It's mostly a set of opportunities for Grissom to look pained and everyone else to consider their relationships with Sara. Again, this could have been more better, but there are some nice moments and flashbacks as well.
The episode is pretty much self-contained, so what the repercussions (if any) of the hunt for Sara will be (whether found alive or dead, I won't say), we don't yet know. Old viewers will be pleased to hear the episode is better than last year's quite poor season-opener and bodes well for continuing quality in the show, even if it's not the slam dunk you might have hoped for; new viewers will be able to wade in without much difficulty.