When I watched CSI: Miami first run, I liked Calleigh Duquense, but it wasn’t until I watched the series again more recently that I really came to appreciate her. She’s a fascinating character played exquisitely by Emily Proctor and her evolution across 10 seasons of the show is equally interesting.
Calleigh Duquense is a CSI with a ballistics specialty which is a gilded invitation to a “strong woman” stereotype. A woman with the nickname “Bullet Girl” would be expected to be something of a tomboy, someone who’s stern and unemotionally tough, who eschews the “girly” things and wears a lot of denim and camo. Instead, we’re treated to a different kind of “strong woman”, one who’s bubbly and sunny and embraces the feminine and isn’t afraid to show emotions, but at the same time has excellent control over them. She’s tough without question, but she’s not what I’d call hard.
She shows up in the first episode of the series with braided pigtails and a sunny determination in the middle of a plane crash. It’s a beautiful introduction to the character. At one point in the second season, Speed says that Calleigh is entirely too cheerful. And he’s not wrong. “Cheerful” is a different direction when it comes to characters on cop dramas. They might be funny, but that humor is typically used to mask some sort of past trauma or toll the job takes on them. Everybody has a past and many times on shows like this, the characters end up leaning into the melancholy of it in order to give them depth. Calleigh doesn’t do that. She doesn’t have to.
This isn’t to say that she’s had a painless life and that she’s immune to trauma. She actually endures quite a bit during the show’s ten season run. And that does take its toll.
Calleigh is arguably at her sunshine most in the first couple of seasons, but even then she was dealing with her alcoholic father. Kenwall “Duke” Duquense isn’t a rough drunk. He doesn’t get violent. He’s not abusive. He’s usually a happy drunk, but he can be a morose one, too. Either way, taking care of him falls on Calleigh. She’s the one who scoops him up from the bar and delivers him home safe. Most of the time. A drunk driving incident leaves her dad looking at a murder charge, but he’s eventually cleared. As relieved as Calleigh is, she also takes his keys. She can’t stop him from drinking -she’s been supportive of every trip he’s made on the wagon and wants nothing more for him to stay there, but he’s a grown man who has to make his own choices- so she stops him from driving. There’s no question that she loves her father, but the man is also a challenge. It’s a great storyline that shows a different side of our tough sunshine girl.
Some of Calleigh’s bubbly personality begins to recede in the third season, and it’s understandable. First Speed, her friend and colleague, dies in a shootout, a fear realized as she’d warned him to keep his gun clean. Then her father’s DUI incident. And then her former boyfriend John Hagen ends a difficult period in his life by shooting himself in front of her in the ballistics lab. The lingering impact of that final blow drives her out of ballistics and away from her identity as bullet girl. At least for a little while. She eventually finds that you can go home again, in a sense.
Over the rest of the series, we watch as Calleigh’s accumulated experience -including two close brushes with death- matures her in the sense that her sunshine dims a little bit. It doesn’t go away entirely. She still smiles and she still makes jokes, but not as much as she used to (her teasing Walter with an eyeball hits me almost as a glimpse of the old Calleigh in a way). She becomes much more serious over time. Even her wardrobe reflects the change. She goes from wearing brighter colors to a more muted palette. The later seasons almost make me sad given how much black she wears (I acknowledge that Emily Proctor was pregnant during Season 9 so the black was more strategic then). It makes me long for the vibrant Calleigh of the early seasons.
Despite this apparent dissipation in effervescence, her experiences do sharpen certain aspects of her character. Not one given to pettiness to begin with, she outpaces almost everyone except Horatio when it comes to reason and emotional control, particularly in regards to her coworkers. She rarely flies off the handle with any of them and when she does get angry with them, you totally understand it. And even then, she’s not one for dramatics or cheap shots. It might be heated, but it’s direct. She leaves no room for misinterpretation.
Her ability to remain in control when dealing with difficult coworkers, suspects, witnesses, and situations sets her apart from the rest. While Eric and Ryan are still pouting over the revelation that Natalia was the lab mole for the FBI and is now working as a CSI, Calleigh has already reconciled that betrayal and is ready to move on. When Ryan whines about going out on a case with Natalia, Calleigh lands on Natalia’s side, giving her a vote of confidence. And when Natalia makes a mistake on a case, Calleigh helps her fix it. She gives her the consideration that the pouty boys wouldn’t until they were forced. Calleigh lives in the present.
Another episode that illustrates this skill is when Calleigh is being investigated for an off-duty shooting in which it appears her actions lead to a woman’s death. She’s distraught by this, visibly upset as she talks with Eric in the ambulance after the fact. But it’s a different story when she’s dealing with Stetler and internal affairs. She takes his insinuations that she was inebriated during the incident and basically rams it down his throat; she can’t tell him what the remaining suspect looks like, but she can describe in detail the gun he stuck in her face. She’s pissed, but she doesn’t lose it.
She also doesn’t lose it when she’s taken hostage buy a couple of shitheads who want her to help them cover up a murder. Calleigh keeps her cool, does what she can to acquiesce to their demands in order to stay alive, while also leaving a trail for her fellow CSIs to find. Her faith in her team is unshakeable and so is she. Calleigh might be effected by the whole experience, but she doesn’t fall apart, at least not until she knows it’s safe. And even then, she doesn’t so much fall apart as she relaxes and allows herself to breathe a shaky sigh of relief.
It would be easy in light of these trials and traumas for Calleigh to lose her empathy and caring nature, but she doesn’t. She still has a way of connecting with victims and witnesses, sympathizing with them and supporting them through a terrible moment in their lives. And of course she has this softness for her friends and coworkers as well in big and little ways. It never fails to hit the mushiest part of me when a gazebo comes down on Dr. Tara Price’s head and Calleigh calls her “babe” while tending to her. It’s not a shipper thing, it’s just sweet. Calleigh it just sweet tea sweet with the people she cares about.
It’s part and parcel with her loyalty to them. She’s ride or die with Horatio and will come to the defense of every single one of her team members. Like with her father, Calleigh wants to be as supportive as possible of them. Even when they kinda don’t deserve it. Or you could understand if she didn’t. Let’s face it, nearly everyone she’s worked with and cared about have lied to her big time. It would be easy to hold that grudge, but she doesn’t. They may have to earn her trust again, but she forgives them. And she doesn’t give up on them. Like I said, Calleigh lives in the present.
Calleigh has her share of romantic relationships (none of those men are good enough for her, though, not even Eric; I will not be moved on this), and while you get the sense she’d like a happily ever after, it’s not a defining aspect of her life. Neither is having children. She’s at no point reduced to a walking biological clock. What’s interesting is that when Calleigh does show interest in having kids, it’s a specific brother and sister she encounters on a case. She doesn’t just want to have a baby or adopt a child; Calleigh wants those two specific children. She’s bonded with them (particularly the older boy) and she’s willing to alter her life for them. And does, successfully adopting them in what would be the final episode of the series. It would have been intriguing to watch how she coped as a working single mom of two, how that would have changed her character.
I have a feeling that it only would have made Calleigh better.
She’s already pretty great.