WARNING: This post is just full of spoilers. Like I held back not at all. Viewer discretion is advised.
I watched CSI: Miami when it was first run back in the early aughts, jumping into the show in like the third or fourth season and then sort of fading out towards the last few (I was in and out, but I did watch the series finale, of course). When Charge! added the series to the line-up, I wasn’t exactly enthused (it replaced my morning Magnum PI for a time), but ended up putting it on because there was nothing else to watch and quickly found myself reliving the glory that is this show.
Then I realized that the show had been off the air for about 10 years which makes it Rerun Junkie eligible in my book. And that means I justified watching five hours of it every night for months as research.
A spin-off of CSI, the Miami version focuses on crime lab leader Lt. Horatio Caine (David Caruso) and his team which during the course of ten seasons included Calleigh Duquense (Emily Proctor), Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez), Megan Donner (Kim Delaney), Tim Speedle (Rory Cochrane), Ryan Wolfe (Jonathan Togo), Natalia Boa Vista (Eva LaRue), Jesse Cardoza (Eddie Cibrian), and Walter Simmons (Omar Benson Miller). They worked alongside medical examiners Dr. Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander), Dr. Tara Price (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and Dr. Tom Loman (Christian Clemenson), and detectives Frank Tripp (Rex Linn), Yelina Salas (Sofia Milos), Adell Sevilla (Wanda DeJesus), John Hagen (Holt McCallany), and Jake Berkeley (Johnny Whitworth). And everybody drove around in Hummers. Your first clue that this show as go big because we’re already home.
The first three seasons were pretty standard police procedural fare, cases mixed with personal lives and tragic backstories. Now, these cases were very Miami, of course. The first episode had a plane crash in the Glades that led to Delko and Speed needing to obtain the plane’s pilfered black boxes from a pit of juvie alligators. That sets a tone. There are also crocodiles, air boats, wild fires, night clubs, sex parties, diplomatic immunity, Cuban refugees, sharks, pirates, a hurricane, a tsunami, and boat drive-bys.
However, there were hints of the show it would become.
In the first three seasons, we got the roller coaster that was Horatio Caine’s dead brother Raymond, an undercover narcotics officer killed in the line of duty during a not-so-on-the-books drug deal, casting a shadow over his legacy. Complicating matters is that Horatio has feelings for his widowed sister-in-law Yelina and they are somewhat reciprocated, but then Horatio finds out that his brother had an affair and a daughter named Madison with meth addict Susie (Azura Skye) while undercover and because Horatio takes on the responsibility of supporting them, Yelina thinks the child is Horatio’s and that pretty much ends things for them and so she starts dating IAB Sgt. Rick Stetler (David Lee Smith), who has it in for Horatio and his team, but it all comes out in the wash when it’s revealed that Raymond was so undercover that he’s not only not dead, but also Dean Winters for that episode, and his apparent murderer, who was Susie’s shitty husband, was also deep undercover, and now-alive Raymond takes Yelina and their son Ray Jr. to be safe in Brazil with Horatio’s help, but we never hear about Susie and Madison again after Ray Jr. gives Madison a bone marrow transplant.
So, when Season 4 rolled around, the lab got a face lift, the show leaned into the orange aura and color coordination, and the show mashed that gas pedal to the floor. I swear the writing room philosophy was “Why the fuck not?” and I am not mad about it. The results are pure entertainment.
In Season 4 alone, Horatio had to contend with both a serial killer from his past (who frames him for murder at one point) and the deadly Mala Noche gang. He ended up falling for and marrying Delko’s sister Marisol (Alana De La Garza), who was fighting cancer, something Delko had been keeping from everyone as he struggled to support her financially and emotionally, including scoring pot for her to help her symptoms, which he got in trouble for, but Horatio bailed him out. Delko also wasn’t thrilled with his boss marrying his sister, but he got over it, blessing the happy marriage that lasted until the next episode when Marisol was gunned down by the Mala Noche (you had to see that coming, right?). Meanwhile, the whole lab is plagued by a mole and the feds eventually come crashing down on them. Also, Ryan got shot in the eye with a nail gun at some point. It was very busy.
In the ensuing seasons: Horatio acquired a teenage son named Kyle Harmon (Evan Ellingson) he didn’t know he had as the result of his own undercover work and whose mother Julia Winston (Elizabeth Berkley) had questionable motives and questionable taste in men (outside of Horatio, of course). One of her husbands, Ron Saris (Kim Coates), proved to be a dangerous, underhanded man, and a real pain in Horatio’s ass. Julia ends up being committed after going off her bipolar meds because she’s falsely accused of stealing drugs (it was really Dr. Price, who had a bit of an addiction) and trying to shoot Horatio in front of their son, who later enlists in the military and is sent to the Middle East as a medic. Horatio also fakes his death once with the help of Ryan and David Keith, then in a later season gets shot for real by Ethan Embry, who also puts Natalia in a car trunk and pushes it into the ocean. Does Horatio recover enough from his gunshot wound to save her AND solve the case? You’re damn right.
Natalia and Ryan were also nearly killed when a booby-trapped meth lab blew up and she ended up with some hearing loss as a result. When her abusive ex-husband Nick (Rob Estes) resurfaces and makes her life a living hell by following the abuser playbook, using his smarmy charm and knowledge of the law against her, which forces a shaky truce so she can keep working, he ends up getting murdered (because the dude is a shitbag), which rudely results in both Natalia and beloved DNA analyst Maxine Valera (Boti Bliss) being accused of the crime. Her sister Anya (Natalie Morales) was kidnapped by a murderous photographer (which was based on a real life close call of Eva LaRue’s sister). And Natalia was also kidnapped by a man who wanted her to prove that he was innocent (and nothing says “innocent” like the desperation of a felony). She was also briefly on everyone’s shitlist because she was the Season 4 lab mole. Just as brief was her relationship with Delko, which resulted in a pregnancy scare.
Delko would end up getting shot in the leg and the head (but we only remember the head shot), and the bit of the bullet left lodged in his temporal lobe would prove to be problematic as he recovered with some memory problems and the healing process resulted in him hallucinating a not-dead Speed, and then later the bullet shifting in his brain landed him in a coma. He took a break from being a CSI for a bit after that and sort of alienated everyone when it was discovered he was doing a low key investigation for State’s Attorney Rebecca Niven (Christina Chang) (who also briefly dated Horatio) regarding missing evidence, which got her blown up, and nearly took out Eric as well. And to add insult to energy, he found out that his dad wasn’t his dad and that his real dad was a Russian mobster and his birth certificate was a fake and he almost got deported back to Cuba, except that it was revealed that his Russian dad was actually an American CIA plant from way back in the day so Eric was still an American at the end of the day. He also ended up having an on-again, off-again relationship with Calleigh.
Calleigh would also have relationships with a couple of other detectives, first Hagan and then Berkeley. It was after Hagan’s suicide in front of her in firearms that Calleigh stepped away from her calling as a bullet girl for a bit. There was also a bit of flirtation with an FBI guy by the name of Peter Elliot (Michael B. Silver), but that tanked when she found out he got engaged to Assistant State’s Attorney Monica West (Bellamy Young), who was so hell bent on bringing down the lab, she stole evidence to do it. She was once put on leave for an off-duty officer involved incident in which it looked like an innocent bystander had been killed by her actions, but she was cleared. Calleigh nearly died of smoke inhalation twice, the second time resulting in a near-death experience that had her investigating the crime with the victim. Like Natalia, Calleigh was also kidnapped, but she was taken by criminals who wanted her to help them cover up a crime (thanks to a disgraced Cooper’s website targeting her because he blamed her for getting fired and not his own dispshit, thievery actions), but she was smart enough to leave a clue for every clue she removed, which led to the cavalry arriving just in time. While Ethan Embry was on the run after trying to take out Horatio and Natalia, Calleigh ended up forming a bond with his two kids, particularly his son Austin, and ended up later adopting him and his sister Patty.
After getting shot in the eye with a nail gun, Ryan sort of careened out of control, leaking information to reporter Erica Sykes (Amy Laughlin), assaulting lab rat Dan Cooper (Brendan Fehr) and a police officer, and then developing a gambling problem, which resulted in his debt being potentially held over an investigation. He paid it off just in time…by gambling on the clock. As a result, he got fired and spent quite a bit of time working his way back to the team. But his gambling past caught up with him through a support group buddy. Because of him he ended up being kidnapped and tortured (including some Marathon Man dentistry) by some Russian mob guys who wanted him to dispose of evidence in a crime. He was also framed for murder once by Stetler and then accused of a murder which was actually committed by late-comer CSI Samantha Owens (Taylor Cole), who left him to take the rap, breaking his heart because Ryan struggled to fall for anyone outside the lab. Oh, and he also got blown away by a tornado once, but despite landing on a car, was right back to work to help solve the case. Horatio was right. It’s in his blood.
Before we even got to the fifth season, Alexx had already survived two wild fires, being taken hostage by an escaped convict, and an explosion. So naturally she survives a rocket launcher attack, a meth lab fire (along with Ryan, who seems to have some questionable luck in the meth lab department), and the bad mojo of a solar eclipse. Prescribing antibiotics for Ryan’s nail gunned eye infection lands her in hot water with her boss, but she chooses loyalty to her friends over career politics. However, the job ends up getting to her and after her son ends up a murder suspect (the team clears him, of course), she decides to choose life over death and leaves the morgue, eventually taking a part time job at the hospital.
Within the span of a couple of episodes, Frank ends up stepping on a landmine (he’s okay!) and then a house explosion lands a water heater directly onto his new car. He ends up getting promoted to sergeant and during his time in uniform, he’s on a prison bus that crashes. The resulting head injury from the crash and an assault by one of the prisoners combined with the mob rush around the bus, disorients Frank to the point that he shoots at a man pointing a gun at him. In reality, it’s an unarmed deaf woman. Frank is distraught, but ballistics quickly reveals he didn’t shoot her. He eventually returns to plain clothes work, for which we are grateful because Frank has the best ties.
Jesse was only with us for a single season, but we find out this wife was murdered by a porn producer who also murdered his own wife and a big part of the reason Jesse’s in Florida is because he’s stalking the killer’s new unsuspecting woman in an attempt to keep her safe. Horatio and Delko end up going out to LA to clear Jesse’s reputation which as been besmirched by the killer and his attorney, Malcolm McDowell. Only Horatio Caine can best Malcolm McDowell. That’s like a law. And they eventually get said killer. Sadly, Jesse’s time in Miami ends with his unfortunate death after the entire lab is gassed by a serial killer high on his own genius and Jesse hits his head when he collapses.
Walter was lucky. He was mostly drama-free and with the exception of being put on the hot seat during an investigation into some missing diamonds (thanks to Delko’s big mouth) and feeling really guilty about Ryan’s tornado experience since he felt it was his fault, he was mostly left to deal with other people’s drama. Which is fine. Walter is precious and should be protected at all costs. Same for Dr. Loman. I love them and I will fight you if you say otherwise.
Now take all of this and weave in cases that feature politicians (including Ed Beagley Jr.), judges, spring breakers, weapons that can vaporize people, Russian mobsters (including Andrew Divoff), reality stars, guns that can shoot around corners, dirty bombs, repeat offenders (like Clavo Cruz, played by Gonzalo Menendez), Santeria, serial killers, cougars, con artists, identity theft, boa constrictors, then-current pop culture trends, sex workers, models, cartels, wannabes, and baby, you got yourself a good time.
Some familiar faces that popped up during the series run include: soap vets Wes Ramsey (who first played a baddie before coming back much later in a recurring role as video guy Dave Benton), Rena Sofer, Jennifer Sky, James Patrick Stewart, Amber Tamblyn, Jamie Luner, and Kirsten Storms; Lauren Holly, Natasha Henstridge, Judy Greer, Tia Carrere, Maria Conchita Alonso; future Lost alums Ian Sommerholder, Maggie Grace, Emilie de Ravin, and Mark Pelligrino; future Arrow stars Stephen Amell, Rick Gonzalez, Paul Blackthorne, and David Ramsey; Castle stars Stana Katic, Tamala Jones, and Seamus Deaver; John Schneider, Patrick Cassidy, Greg Evigan, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Ruck; Candyman himself, Tony Todd, and his lady love Virginia Madsen; Stargate-ers Ben Browder, Michael Shanks, Corin Nemic, David DeLuise, Louis Ferreira, Alaina Huffman, and Willie Garson; Star Trek-ers Chris Pine (who will never be as cool as his dad), Robert Beltran, Anson Mount, and Tim Russ; BSG stars Callum Keith Rennie, Michael Trucco, and Jamie Bamber; Aisha Tyler, Missy Crider, Debi Mazar, Brooke Burns; Alien franchise victims Mark Rolston (as pain in the ass fed Glen Cole) and Raymond Cruz; in addition to Dean Winters, other Oz alums included Dean’s brother Scott William Winters, Lance Reddick (as yet another recurring fed), and Brian Bloom; Sean “Diddy” combs, Rich Eisen, Sticky Fingaz, Zac Effron; Hawaii Five-0/Magnum PI reboot contributors Ian Anthony Dale, Katrina Law, William Forsythe, Sung Kang, Taryn Manning, and James Remar (who was also a Warrior); Lucy Lawless, Terry Crews, Joe Manganiello, Timothy Omundson, Jon Hamm; fellow Miami show Burn Notice stars Jeffrey Donovan and Coby Bell; future Breaking Bad stars Aaron Paul and Giancarlo Esposito; NCIS: New Orleans folks Rob Kerkovich and Necar Zadegan; Firefly‘s Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher; Christopher Titus, Elaine Hendrix, Jake Busey, Jsu Garcia, Beth Brodrick, Orlando Jones, Alica Witt; Walking Dead zombie dodgers Michael Cudlitz, Michael Rooker, and John Bernthal; legends in my mind Daniel Roebuck, Ned Bellamy, Wings Hauser, Don Swayze, and Jeff Fahey; and legit goddesses Bo Derrick, Cheryl Ladd, and Raquel Welch.
I couldn’t include all of the guest stars I wanted to because I could go on forever. A lot of fabulous people strolled through this part of Miami.
Also, special shout out to our recurring lab folks that I haven’t mentioned yet because this evidence isn’t going to analyze itself: Brian Poth (Tyler Jenson), Christopher Redman (Michael Travers), Brooke Bloom (Cynthia Wells), Cristián de la Fuente (Sam Belmontes), Armando Valdes-Kennedy (Aaron Peters), Leslie Odom Jr. (Joseph Kayle), and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Laura); a nod to a few of our other officers and detectives: Shelli Burgh (Officer Paula Muro), Joel West (Officer Jessop…blown up by the Mala Noche, RIP), and Michael Whaley (Detective Bernstein); and special consideration to Stephen Tobolowsky whose State’s Attorney Don Haffman seemed to be the only one who didn’t end up dead or in jail.
Though the show was known for its tendency to be soapy, over the top, maybe even a bit camp (all of these are good points as far as I’m concerned), it still managed to have some interesting storytelling and emotional weight.
Speed’s death in a shootout at the beginning of Season 3 mirroring his involvement in a shootout in the first season, not just his gun failing to fire because he didn’t clean it (dammit, Speed), but also him getting hit in the same spot on his chest, the lack of a bullet proof vest dooming him the second time is a beautiful piece of symmetry and Speed’s final moments are terribly upsetting, especially given how senseless it was in the context of the case. But his death was allowed to resonate, not just for that season, but later seasons as well. Delko was deeply impacted by Speed’s death, which led to him engaging in some really risky behaviors. When Delko hallucinates Speed in Season 6 because of the way his brain is healing after being shot, he ends up having to grieve him all over again.
Speed’s name comes up later in Season 8 when Delko is in a coma and Horatio pleads with him to stay around because after losing Marisol and Raymond and Speed, he can’t bear to lose him, too. It’s such a beautiful scene in the middle of a nostalgic episode that gives us the story of how the band got together. A tricky thing to execute in such a late season, it does a great job of showing how everyone connected as Horatio and his partner John “Sully” Sullivan (Brad Leland), who would be pretty relevant in Season 8, investigate a murder, with Horatio encouraging a very not-CSI Delko to pursue the career, Calleigh just transferring to the lab, Cardoza fixing to leave the lab in Miami to go to LA and recommending a guy named Speed on the way out the door, Frank in uniform, Alexx back in the morgue, and Natalia still with the FBI. Ryan and Walter aren’t around in the flashbacks, of course, but they’re in the present and that’s good, too.
Delko and Calleigh weren’t the only ones with near-death experiences and hallucinations. After Horatio was shot by Ethan Embry, he found himself back with Marisol again. I so love when shows don’t shy away from things outside the realm of known reality, particularly when they’re shows like this that are so science, fact, and evidence driven.
One other storyline that I particularly love that played out over the first few seasons was that of Calleigh and her dad, lawyer Kenwall Duquense (John Heard). It was obvious that she was daddy’s girl and loved the man very much, but his alcoholism and inability to stay on the wagon created such a sad strain on their relationship. When his drinking inevitably leads to an incident in which it looks like he may have killed someone (but of course didn’t), Calleigh puts her foot down. If she can’t stop him from drinking, she’ll stop him from driving and takes his keys. In his last appearance, he seems to be doing better.
The fact that the show wasn’t above having some intentional fun is great, too. The episode titles themselves got punny, like “Bang Bang Your Debt” (a shady credit card company preying on college kids leads to murder), “Smoke Gets in Your CSIs” (the first time Calleigh suffers smoke inhalation), “Chip/Tuck” (a plastic surgeon gets put into a wood chipper), “Grizzly Murder” (a bear attack on some hunters), “Won’t Get Fueled Again” (a guy involved in a fuel smuggling ring is set on fire), and “Look Who’s Taunting” (the first episode featuring the Miami Taunter serial killer suspected to be Esteban Navarro, played by Kuno Becker). Seriously. Just inject that sort of thing straight into my veins.
There’s a Rashomon-style episode that has Ryan, Calleigh, and Delko coming to very different conclusions on who killed their victim before Horatio steps in to help them tie it all together. There’s also an episode in which Ryan starts to believe that he’s been cursed by a little coffin that Eric won’t touch due to his respect for the Santeria alter in the victim’s room. In the end, Ryan’s not cursed…but someone else might be.
There’s also an episode in which Ryan is certain he sees a floating hat at a crime scene and even though everyone else gives him shit about it, the mystery of the floating hat is actually relevant to the crime. Doesn’t stop Walter from messing with him later, though.
I really do love the relationships between the characters on the show, particularly the Delko/Speed friendship (I love those two on cases together), the Walter/Ryan friendship (the two of them being confronted with a bear is legit one of my favorite laugh out loud moments), and the Natalia/Ryan friendship (I love how they support each other). None of them are above getting pissy with each other (Delko and Ryan could get particularly bitchy, especially with each other, and Frank was never above busting Ryan’s balls), but there’s something subtly refreshing about how that almost never happens between Calleigh and Natalia, and something gently reassuring about how Horatio always has everyone’s back, whether they want it or not.
At the end of the day, they’re all family.
And the show is a bonkers good time.