The pilot episode of the wildly popular crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation aired in 2000. Like all other pilot episodes, it introduces viewers to the main characters and their personalities, while setting the stage for the rest of the series. This series, however, is not really serialized; that is to say it is possible to watch a random episode at any given time without being terribly lost.

Plot (spoilers)

The episode opens with what sounds to be a man about to kill himself taping a suicide note. He identifies himself, apologizes to his sister and mother, and then is heard to shoot himself. Gil Grissom, the supervisor on the Las Vegas crime lab's graveyard shift, and Jim Brass, the head of the crime lab unit, show up and assess the scene. All signs point to suicide and Brass is quick to say so, but Grissom is less than convinced.

Back at the lab, Grissom meets Holly Gribbs, his newest employee. Holly is a recent police academy graduate, and we soon find out that her mother is a lieutenant in the department's traffic division. She is fresh-faced and enthusiastic, and Grissom treats her kindly.

Then she meets Brass. Brass, a lifelong cop, is far less welcoming than Grissom. He bluntly tells Holly that she only got her job because of who her mother is, that she won't last in the business and that she might not even last the day. Holly tells him that he's judging her prematurely, but Brass is unmoved. He sends her to observe an autopsy for the first time, noting that he thinks all new recruits should have to visit the morgue on their first day.

Meanwhile, we meet CSIs Nick Stokes and Warrick Brown, who also work the night shift. The two have a friendly-yet-competitive relationship, and Nick observes that they have both recently solved their 99th case. After solving 100 cases, CSIs are promoted to "Level 3," which gives them more annual income and annual leave. They discuss which of them will solve another case first, and Warrick offers to place a wager on the outcome. Nick asks him whether there's anything he won't bet on. (Remember that, that's important.)

CSI Catherine Willows comes in late to the nightly assignment meeting, having taken a few extra minutes to say goodbye to her young daughter, Lindsay. Willows is a single mother in the midst of a messy divorce from her husband, Ed, and she worries that her busy job and unenviable schedule is taking her away from her daughter too often.

Holly and Grissom observe an autopsy together. Holly puts on a brave face but is eventually overcome by the smell, and asks to be excused to the washroom. Once there, she vomits, then looks up to realize she's not actually in the washroom but rather in another part of the morgue. Freaked out by the corpses covered only in transparent plastic sheets, she panics and bangs on the (now locked) door. Grissom comes to get her, comforts her, and in an attempt to make her smile, pokes his head into the room and calls the corpses assholes. 

Grissom investigates the apparent suicide, and plays the suicide note tape for the deceased man's mother and sister. His mother tells Grissom that the voice on the tape is not her son's. Later on, when he visits her again, Grissom tells her that they now believe his death to be a homicide and she expresses mixed relief at the fact that he likely did not take his own life. A partial fingerprint that does not belong to the victim is isolated on the tape recorder. It is traced and identified as belonging to Paul Millander, a man who owns a prop construction workshop. After being brought in for questioning, Millander explains that his company makes fake severed hands for Halloween displays and that he used his own hand for the mould. This leads Grissom to believe that someone planted a fake fingerprint using one of the hands, and since thousands of hands had been sold he would likely find it impossible to trace. 

Catherine and Warrick are investigating the shooting death of a man who had been staying with a friend, her husband and their infant daughter. The man, the husband alleges, was an alcoholic who had been staying with them until he got back on his feet. He also claims that he had had enough, kicked the man out and when he tried to attack his wife and daughter, he shot him in self-defence. Something about the man's story doesn't sit right with Warrick, who later tries to ask Brass to get another warrant from the judge. Brass refuses and a confrontation ensues.

Nick, meanwhile, investigates a case involving the theft of an older man's belongings and money while he was staying in a Las Vegas hotel for a convention. He claims an attractive young woman started flirting with him and took him to his room for some indescretions, then he blacked out. Nick notices some discolouration on the man's tongue. Later on, he comes across a woman who has also blacked out and crashed her car. The doctors at the hospital say that she also has some discolouration -- on her nipples. Nick confronts the woman and finds that she is a scam artist; she applied a powerful sedative to her nipples knowing that her victim would (cough) ingest it, and she took his belongings after he passed out. The sedative later entered her own bloodstream, knocking her out while she was driving. The woman agrees to give the man's money and belongings back. 

Warrick, believing his instinct and wanting that promotion desperately, meets with the judge himself. The judge is not exactly the most ethical of people and agrees to give Warrick a warrant, provided he makes a bet on an NFL game on his behalf. The sherrif wants Warrick to put $5,000 on the Green Bay Packers; in exchange, he says he'll give Warrick a blank warrant.

Holly is assigned to dust for fingerprints after a robbery at a local liquor store. Grissom drops her off and tells her not to be nervous; if she needs any help she can call dispatch. Holly ends up confronted by the store owner, upset about how much business she's losing while the store is closed. Once the store owner pulls a gun on her, Holly calls for backup and Catherine shows up. When Catherine confirms that the owner doesn't really care about catching the thieves, they leave and she takes Holly out for "lunch" at a diner. Holly explains that she's fulfilling her mother's dreams by becoming a crime scene investigator and that she's thinking about quitting. Catherine tells her to stick with it, that the CSIs are the ones who really solve crimes and provide victims with closure, and that she should only quit if she solves her first case and doesn't "feel like King Kong on cocaine." Her advice appears to make Holly feel better. Brass then radios Catherine, telling her that she'll need to cut her lunch short because she's needed elsewhere. 

Brass is furious with Warrick for going over his head and assigns him to shadow Holly on her first few assignments for three weeks -- or until Nick solves his 100th case and becomes a CSI Level 3.

Warrick is bitter about being punished for doing what he thought was the right thing, and Grissom explains that they can only do what the evidence tells them, rather than follow their emotions all the time. Warrick is sent with Holly to assess the scene of a robbery. Holly says she'll be fine and tells him there's an officer present. He says he has to go off to run an errand. While in the process of placing his bet for the judge, he receives word that the team cornered the husband from his and Catherine's case. They've proven that his attack was not in self-defence and was, in fact, premeditated.

Feeling lucky, Warrick bets the money on the other team. He meets Grissom at the crime scene just in time to see the husband arrested. Grissom asks why he isn't shadowing Holly and Warrick says that she's fine, and confirms that there's an officer at the scene. When they get back to the lab, Nick has finalized his 100th case, and he is promoted to Level 3. Catherine offers to take everyone out to breakfast to celebrate, and Brass arrives to tell them that they aren't going anywhere. He needs them to pull a double. Holly has been shot after the robbery suspect returned to the scene, and although she's in surgery, the doctors don't think she's going to make it.

Warrick is placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. The CSIs set out to determine what happened to Holly. 

This episode is continued in season one, episode two, Cool Change. The case with the faked suicide tapes and use of planted fingerprints is continued in the episodes Anonymous and Identity Crisis.


Seeing as how this is the first introduction we have to any of the characters, this episode provides a lot of information about how they operate and what makes them tick. It's important to note that by this point, CSI has been on the air for seven full seasons and is into its eighth, so there have been all kinds of character development since then. Take, for instance, Brass, who mellows over time. Grissom, meanwhile, is a super-nice guy in this episode but he gradually hardens, due to factors I'm not sure I should elaborate too much on because I'd run the risk of spoiling stuff.

It goes without saying that the series's entire run reflects the fact that a career in law enforcement -- particularly one that involves regular contact with the dead -- takes its toll on people. That might explain the fact that the characters are generally more upbeat in this episode than they are later on. It's something that's easy to miss when you're watching a new episode every week, but when you sit down and watch six seasons' worth over the course of a summer (as I did), it becomes fascinatingly obvoius.

Several themes introduced in this episode becoming recurring topics; Warrick's gambling problem will be addressed later on, with various characters asking whether he's kicked the habit. He will later claim that he has, but that may not be the case.

Another theme that's only really hinted at here is Catherine's relationship with her daughter, Lindsay. Lindsay is a small child in the first few seasons and is every bit as sweet and innocent as a TV drama small child can be. This will change, partially due to the concerns that Catherine brings up in this and other early episodes.

Sara Sidle is not in this episode as her character does not yet live in Las Vegas. She will first appear in the second episode and will be brought in to conduct the investigation into why Warrick left Holly alone at the scene.

Also notable is the fact that the series's regular coroner, played by Robert David Hall, is not in this episode. He is not in the second episode either. The first two coroners are an older man and a middle-aged woman.

Most CSI episodes follow a formula: there is most often a main investigation, a "sub" investigation (known by fans as the "B" plot) and perhaps some related character development. The pilot, being charged with the task of introducing and setting the tone for the entire series, does this and then some. There are three investigations here (the pseudo-suicide at the very beginning, the "self-defence" shooting and the man duped and robbed by a femme fatale scam artist. Then, of course, there is the beginning of the investigation into the shooting of Holly Gribbs. Catherine is also briefly seen in a hospital, interviewing a young girl who has been sexually assaulted. Subsequent storylines are substantially more formulaic, particularly in later seasons.


CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The Complete First Season (DVD)

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