CSI Season 15 Review “Dead Woods”

CSI Season 15 Episode 12 Dead Woods 02

On the latest episode of “CSI,” a case from Sara Sidle’s past that hit close to home popped up again after new evidence came to light in “Dead Woods.” The case revolved around one Abby Fisher (Ashlee Füss, “Suburban Gothic”), the lone survivor of a camping massacre that took the lives of her father, mother and sister. Originally, the crime was pinned on her own father, who was thought to have shot his entire family before turning the gun on himself. Abby was shot as well, but miraculously survived, with Sara providing a source of comfort in the immediate aftermath.

As Sara herself lived through a similar scenario when her mother killed her father for being abusive, the new evidence in the case couldn’t help but bring up some old, long-buried memories- and some new questions. Like, for instance, given that Sara’s mother was later diagnosed as a schizophrenic, was it true that her father was even abusive in the first place? Perhaps her mother had imagined the whole thing. Not in the least because Sara couldn’t remember her father ever being abusive herself. Was it possible her mother had killed an innocent man?

There were no easy answers to that question, nor were any forthcoming. Luckily for Abby, however, there were answers to be had in her particular case, and Sara was all too happy to provide them for her, though DB warned her to keep her distance from the case once it was properly reopened, given her closeness to the victim, which she did, to her credit.

After another autopsy on the exhumed corpse of Abby’s father revealed the presence of his being drugged, the team set about revisiting the case’s evidence, which was never properly investigated in the first place, after it was ruled a murder-suicide. Morgan finds prints on a sleeping bag that lead back to a convicted sex offender, Garth Fogel (Dean McDermott, aka Tori Spelling’s hubby), but more surprisingly, to the revelation that Fogel was, in fact, the biological father of one of the murdered girls, Hannah. Was the murder the result of his trying to see his daughter and being shut down?

Fogel admitted that he went to see his ex, Kathy (Joy Lang), at her home and that they argued and that he touched the sleeping bag then, as she was preparing to leave on the family’s camping trip, but claims that it was the last time he saw her. With not enough evidence to hold him, this proves a dead end, so Greg restages the crime scene for Abby to visit, in hopes that it will jog her memory. It does, and she is able to remember a key piece of info: the fact that the killer had a patch on his coat with an elk insignia on it, and that he had a beard.

This patch traces back to a hunting club in the area the family camped, and Abby is able to identify her attacker- or so she thinks- from a photograph compiled from a list of potential suspects that fit the vague description that she was able to recall. The team seeks out the man in question, Donald Wraith (Mark Norby), only to discover he’s already been killed- shot, with the scene staged as a suicide.

Resin on the gun leads back to a local taxidermist, Randy Pruitt (Ben Browder, of “Farscape” and “Stargate SG-1” fame), who also happened to be in the same hunting club as Wraith. His prints are also found on the tent the family was in the night of the murder. It seems that the family came into his hunting shop the night of the murder for direction and Wraith and Pruitt decided to seek them out, with the intent to drug the father and rape the mother.

However, they never saw the kids until they got there, and things quickly spiraled out of control, with the family killed in the heat of the moment. Pruitt tries to pin the actual murders on Wraith, but Sara realizes that the story doesn’t fit the one told to her by Abby and that it’s actually the other way around, with Pruitt killing the family and Wraith putting them back into their sleeping bag, in regret of what transpired. Knowing that Wraith might crack under pressure, Pruitt also killed him to cover his tracks.

So, it turns out that not only wasn’t it her father that committed the crime, but that the death of Abby’s family really couldn’t have been more random or spur of the moment. While it certainly didn’t bring them back, it did allow Abby to rewrite the history she’d self-provided of the memories of her father, which were sullied for obvious reasons by the initial revelation that he was the murderer. This was more than could be said of Sara, of course, but on the plus side, she did finally talk to Greg about what happened to her for the first time, which doesn’t hurt matters, as well as allowing her for the first time to posit the possibility that maybe her father wasn’t abusive after all, and that her mother was the one who’d gone off the deep end.

This was a sad, if effective, episode, with some great work by Jorja Fox in particular that allowed for more emotion from the character of Sara than we typically get, given how close to the vest she typically plays things, albeit not without good reason. The fact that the motive for the crime was completely random and unconnected to the family at all was heartbreaking, even if it did allow Abby closure in a way she probably didn’t expect. I mean, it’s not great that it was random, obviously, but at least it cleared her father of the crime, after years of her thinking the opposite, allowing her to preserve the happy memories she did have of him from there on out, which is something.

I would have to say this was one of the more emotionally resonant episodes of “CSI” in some time, and I really appreciated that, especially as Sara is one of my favorite characters on the show. While I am happy that the show is finally getting back to the Gig Harbor Killer thing next week, I will say that this was one of the better episodes this season thus far. As a show that often forgets to include much in the way of character development these days, at least insofar as the older characters are concerned, it was nice to get some for a change, especially considering that the elements involving Sara’s past have long since been established.

It was good to see Sara finally open up about her past, especially after it seemed like she was going to continue to avoid it, as she bailed on the initial conversation with Greg at first, only to bring it up herself later on. That’s a definite step forward for her in the grand scheme of things, as she’s not exactly forthcoming on the matter under normal circumstances. As a longtime viewer of the show, I really liked that.

What did you think of the latest episode of “CSI”? Did you, too, appreciate the character development on Sara’s end? What did you think of the main case at hand? Were you happy with its resolution? Or are you glad they’re finally getting back to the Gig Harbor Killer thing next week? Sound off below, and have a happy New Year!