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More season finales: CSI, CSI: Miami and The Mentalist

Posted on May 21, 2009 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

God, so many season finales, I left off CSI from the last batch. So let's add it to this one, which includes old fave CSI: Miami and newbie The Mentalist

CSI
Season nine has been the season of changes. Warrick's gone, Sara's gone, Grissom's gone and Laurence Fishburne has replaced him. Thing is, while change can be good, you do need to end up with characters you actually care about.

Now, CSI's writing has continued to be top-notch, with one episode in particular – guest starring Taylor Swift of all people – being a real classic: Nick returns to a crime scene at a motel and recalls the occasions that he's been there before. We get to see over the course of a year how a sweet teenager (Swift) slowly falls apart, ends up selling drugs and then gets murdered. It was quite a moving piece, well executed and demonstrating that CSI can attain levels of subtlety that other crime shows only dream of. Meanwhile, the Hodges sci-fi convention romance showed that CSI does quirky and touching better than any other shows out there as well.

But despite that, I actually considered giving up the show, because I'm not really invested in any of the characters any more. Whether they're regulars from season one like Nick or new arrivals like our Laurence, there's not been any real characterisation. Once the creativity necessary to get Grissom out and Laurence in had been used up, the writers seemed to have been on autopilot, offering nothing to encourage the viewer to identify with the characters, such as development, story arcs or home life.

The finale was something of a limp affair. While there was the slight sting in the last few moments of the episode, it really didn't have much fizz or sparkle. The show really needs to make us care about the characters – particularly since its ratings have gone into decline ever since the very good Fishburne arrived – if it's to avoid CSI fatigue.

CSI: Miami
Something of an odd season this one, almost like the show has come to its senses after the Bush administration and is busily trying to apologise for its past behaviour. So we have Horatio's ex-wife and son returning and turning out to be okay after all – ex-wife's evil being explained by a nervous breakdown. There's been a strange Russian plot involving Eric Delko, who is apparently Cuban-Mexican-Russian or something, and his crime lord Dad who's really an undercover CIA agent or something. Delko and Calleigh have finally gotten together. Mr Wolf has managed to get the black medical examiner fired for stealing pills, despite his extensive gambling, etc, problems over the years having all been forgiven.

In other words, bizarre plotting, which is nothing new on CSI: Miami. But there haven't been the wild excesses of previous years (eg "which of the three triplet sisters all pretending to be the same woman did the crime"), and there have been attempts to be serious and thoughtful (even if David Caruso's acting did make that hard to achieve). Emily Procter and David Caruso have started sharing scenes together, which has been unheard of for about three years, and Horatio has been into the lab in his white coat more times this season than in the previous six. It's been quite disconcerting.

The finale was typical new-style CSI: Miami, with no real logic to it, beyond the desire to have big explosions, beautifully composed shots, and David Caruso wandering around making threats with guns, apparently leaping from location to location as though he has Hiro's old ability from Heroes.

But there were attempts at proper emotions, with Emily Procter doing a spectacular breakdown in the final moments after she thinks she might have killed boyfriend Eric, and Caruso almost managing to cry when a police officer dies in the pre-title scene, the rest of the time almost managing to channel some of his old NYPD: Blue anger and focus. With a really very good soundtrack suddenly drawing inspiration from Jan Hammer's Miami Vice theme through Nine Inch Nails, the whole thing felt like surrealist 70s cinema: not so much a crime story, more a collection of moods and impressions, like so many split-screen shots split off and stuck together into a narrative – CSI: Miami does Point Blank.

Except not done very well.

What happens next is almost immaterial, since if that is the new genre that CSI: Miami is pioneering, logic, plot and sense are irrelevant. But it does feel like the show's lost its conservative convictions and needs to get its mojo back if it's to return to unreality or even make a brave bid for reality.

The Mentalist
Watching The Mentalist feels like watching an episode of Miss Marple. It's warm, comforting, doesn't do much, but is fun to watch. It is, of course, really Sherlock Holmes, but Simon Baker's Patrick Jane is a warm, charming kind of a hero – no matter how dull the story, you can pretty much still enjoy The Mentalist thanks to Baker's performance – so I figured Marple was more appropriate.

Out of the whole 23 episode run of this first season, there were perhaps three episodes (all of them written by series creator Bruno Heller) including the initial episode that delved into the show's story arc. Only two other episodes did anything except present the standard mystery of the week that needed to be solved: a turn a couple of weeks ago by a female rival to Jane in the confidence trickster game; and Elizabeth Röhm's appearance as Jane's former psychiatrist was a highlight of the season, giving Jane a chink in his armour at last. A definite low point, however, was his meeting with another 'psychic' who may – shock – turn out really to be a psychic.

Part of the secret to The Mentalist's success, other than Baker, is the slow drip, drip of characterisation and moments. You can normally count on an episode of The Mentalist to give you at least one or two fun character moments, even if you still don't end up caring much about the characters by the end. The finale was filled with such moments, but although it did tap into the Red John mythos, you knew right from the beginning that very little was going to be game-changing about the episode. Nevertheless, it was quite different from the usual Mentalist fare, with Jane's mission and self-destructiveness showing us a different side to the man who always has a smile on his face.

Nothing earth-shattering, slightly disappointing that nothing moved on, but a good way to end the season. They're going to have to up their game next year though, now they're following CSI οn Thursdays.

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