The final chapter of my book, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, concludes with the exchange between Gil Grissom (William Peterson) and the homeless woman Cassie in “The Hunger Artist,” which I have excerpted here. My point in the book is that their dialogue compares them as fellow outsiders analyzing the world. Talking with Cassie enables Grissom to justify his isolation—which is to say that the dialogue, like the series as a whole during the Grissom years, is deeply invested in the scientist’s professional expertise but also in his activity as an intellectual, with regard to his motivation, distance, thinking, and morality. The scene following this exchange then literally embodies the scientist’s isolation in his hereditary illness, which will challenge his ability to continue in his profession by compromising his ability to analyze evidence. At the same time, this coda challenges the authority which the series otherwise appears to grant to science: “I don’t have the answer,” the doctor replies to Grissom, and the episode, along with the second season of CSI, concludes on this uncertain note.
I chose this excerpt for my post today to call attention to an investigator who is coded as authoritative because of his professional expertise and intellectual agility. CSI stands out to me in this regard as a worthy successor to the Ben Stone era of Law and Order when, in contrast to other law shows and its own “ripped from the headlines” rebranding later on, the second half of each episode usually foregrounded questions arising from the lawyers’ reading of the law as a text. Granting narrative authority to an intellectual because his or her training and expertise has honed his or her intellectual acumen is as rare an event in the history of the US TV police procedural genre as it is in American culture at large. The spin-offs of CSI are standard cop shows which exploit their brand by transforming the scientists into cops with guns and reducing the science to displays of technological gadgets. More recently, a sort of post-post 9-11 twist on the genre is evident in the return of the amateur detective on shows such as The Mentalist and Castle and a few of those crime dramas which have welcomed character back to the USA cable network. I am not yet sure what to make of this pattern in which, during the past decade, the scientific and intellectual activity that comprised the narrativity of CSI was sublimated in its spinoffs and imitators and then succeeded by the amateur cop who may have a certain intellectual panache and flair for deduction but lacks professional training and credentials (and, it turns out on The Mentalist, moral as well as legal discipline)—yet these series give their amateurs free access to official crime solving. Would amateur doctors be so easily welcomed on medical procedurals?