CSI: Cyber “Selfie 2.0” Review (Season 1 Episode 8)

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On the second of a double dose of “CSI: Cyber” this week, we took a “Selfie 2.0” and got a look at the decidedly darker side of dating sites in modern times, to say the least. The episode began with a shadowy figure dumping out a body just inside a wooded area underneath a bridge somewhere in New York City. The body is found roughly a month later and is identified as Elizabeth Marks (Rachel Fox, “Desperate Housewives”). One major problem, beyond the obvious: her “Friend Agenda” page (think “Facebook”) has been continually updated since after her untimely death.

Enter the team, who discover that the girl hasn’t even been reported as missing as a result of having little contact with her family and their thinking the website updates were actually her. Upon investigating said updates and taking a closer look, the team sees that said updates go from relatively downbeat to a much sunnier, seemingly out-of-character upbeat vibe. Their obvious conclusion: the killer is the one writing the updates to cover their tracks and put some distance between the initial abductions and the murders.

A closer look at the body reveals an odd telltale insignia: a series of numbers, some crossed out, one by one. The numbers are ascending, seemingly crossed out as the individual rose in the ranks…but the ranks of what, exactly? Avery understandably deducts that this isn’t the first girl that the killer has abducted, so the team begins to look at girls with a similar look, i.e. hair color, height, weight, etc. Elizabeth’s “high ranking” would seem to indicate that she was in good favor with her abductor, and thus, must have done something to antagonize him, or possibly them. Either way, Avery suspects the abductor(s) will want to replace the girl immediately.

Using the above requirements to search and eliminate potential missing girls with similar traits, and using the same website, the team narrows it down to one girl: Missy Bowers (Jonna Walsh, “Silicon Valley”). Unlike Elizabeth, her mother had indeed reported her missing, ignoring the constant updates, quite rightly, as being out of character. After a touching scene in which Avery promises the mother there’s still hope and that “by healing you, I heal me”- easily Arquette’s finest moment on the show to date- she finds out that both of the girls used the same dating site: “TrueLoveWaiting.com.”

This leads to a vaguely creepy doctor (Michael Irby, “True Detective”), who admits he talked to Missy but that she was looking for something more serious than he was, so they parted ways. He has an alibi for the time Missy went missing, so they determine he’s not the culprit. The team finds another thing the girls have in common: a propensity for taking lots of selfies, hence the title. They realize that, by using a computer program, the killer/abductor(s) can get a sense of each girl he/they are pursuing and track their movement and overall schedules.

Missy, for instance, frequented a karaoke bar just off the college campus she attended. The team looks into street cameras in the area, and sure enough, finds footage of Missy being abducted, and even sees the culprit’s face. One problem, though: it isn’t the person who really abducted her. Turns out, in a creepy twist, the abductor was wearing one of those eerily lifelike masks, a la the one Brian Cranston wore of himself when he attended the last Comic Con. The scene where the team burst into an office, only to discover a host of people seated around a table, all wearing the same face was mighty chill-inducing and disturbing.

The real one amongst them is Barry Tipton (Patrick Cavanaugh, “Mad Men”), who based the mask design on his own face for a company he runs entitled “No Persona.” The point being, if everyone looks the same, what they get up to is nobody’s business, and thus, they can maintain their anonymity. Unfortunately, in this case, that person got away with kidnapping. Fortunately, the team takes another look at the abduction tapes and notice that, not only is the abductor a female, but she has the familiar numbers tattoos/brands on her lower back. They realize that the person in charge must have sent his highest ranking girl to do his dirty work, so their theory it might be a team of people working together proves right.

However, Avery goes forward with the belief that the high-ranking girl is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, and doesn’t really know what she’s doing, having fallen under the spell of her captor after being held for so long. Krumitz, working closely with Brody, is able to narrow down the list of missing girls, and put a name to each of the rest. The abductor proves to be Vanessa (Grace Phipps, “The Vampire Diaries”), a broken young woman who was terrorized, along with her sister, by a pedophilic father, before facing even more horror when she was abducted by this madman. Ugh, talk about a tragic life. It’s no wonder this girl is full-on damaged goods.

Avery talks to her sister, Juliet (Aja Evans, “Justified”), who harbors some survivor’s guilt of her own, having run away from home at an early age to escape her father’s clutches, only to leave her sister at the mercy of him in her absence. Avery has Juliet email Vanessa, in hopes that she might have access to a computer, as the psycho’s “Number One” girl. Reminding Vanessa of her essentially forgotten, long-buried past, the gambit works and Vanessa flips out, exposing herself to the team, who are able to track her down in no time, with the help of the telltale mask, and capture her.

Needless to say, Vanessa is straight-up crazy, ranting and raving and demanding to be taken back to her “Master.” Eventually, it turns out that Vanessa was the one who actually killed Elizabeth, who had risen in the ranks to become the “Number Two” girl, which meant that she was given “outside privileges” and allowed to go to the store with Vanessa. Only once there, she attempted to call for help and Vanessa caught her, and that was all she wrote for Elizabeth, who Vanessa killed and dumped the body of later on, necessitating the need for a replacement girl. Avery realizes that the captor won’t wait long to replace his “Number One” girl, and she proves right when they use the dating site as a lure and he takes the bait.

The culprit proves to be Jasper Cross (Brett Rickaby, “True Blood”), who they track to his home, where he’s holed himself up in the basement with all of the girls with a AK-47, which he opens fire with on the SWAT team, led by Avery and Mundo. Threatening to kill all of the girls if they come any closer, Avery approaches him from the side and chides him about Vanessa and how he’s obviously threatened by strong women. He once again takes the bait and comes just enough out of hiding for Mundo and company to gun him down before he can do any damage to Avery or the girls. Missy is indeed among them, and Avery is able to reunite her with her mother, as promised.

In addition to the main plotline, we also got a subplot that shed a lot of light on Avery’s past, which, coupled with the aforementioned scene with Missy’s mother, easily provided the best showcase of star Patricia Arquette’s formidable talents to date on the show. It revolved around one of her former patients, Danielle, who was among those whose private information was leaked when Avery’s records were hacked into, an event that directly led her to quit her job as a therapist and become a cyber-crime specialist. Danielle was survived by a sister, Trish, played by Arquette’s own real-life sister, Rosanna (“Ray Donovan,” “Pulp Fiction”), in a role that paralleled the damage inflicted on Vanessa by her own father and later, her captor.

Having gone off her meds and gone on a bit of a rampage herself, albeit a much-less deadly one than Vanessa’s, thankfully- she instead dug up her sister’s grave, refusing to believe she was actually dead. Avery tried her best to juggle Trish’s grief while also concentrating on the case at hand. I’d say she did a pretty bang-up job in the end, as she managed to get Trish back on her meds and join her at the end of the episode as they laid Danielle to rest for a “second” time. I also really appreciated the scene where she took the time out to acknowledge how much she valued Krumitz’s contribution to the team by giving him a big bear hug, much to his shock and appreciation, if a bit awkwardly.

No doubt about it, this was Arquette’s finest turn to date on the show, and the first real sense we’ve gotten of the talent that won her that Oscar. Not that she’s been bad on the show, per se, just simply adequate more than anything. Up until this episode, I (and a lot of other people, judging from the internet reaction to the show overall, to date) would have argued her role could have just as easily been played by any number of actresses in her age range and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference.

Here, though, she brought her “A” game, and knocked it out of the park, bringing that same gravitas she’s brought to her best work, including her award-winning turn in “Boyhood” and her ongoing role on “Medium.” Kudos to her, and to the writers, for that matter, who finally rose to the occasion- or at the very least, realized who they were working with and what she was capable of, finally. Better late than never!

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent work by Grace Phipps as well. I’ve liked Phipps for some time, having watched (and reviewed) her work previously as April on “The Vampire Diaries” and enjoyed her turn on the sadly brief ABC Family Y/A adaptation “The Nine Lives of Chloe King,” where she was charming as all get out. Toss in a guest-starring bit on “Supernatural” and the underrated “Fright Night” remake, and this girl should be a much bigger star than she is already.

Maybe her fantastic, heart-wrenching-but-chilling turn here will garner her the attention she truly deserves, and land her something bigger and even better than another Disney teen flick. On the plus side, she’s got a potentially recurring role on the upcoming, promising “Scream Queens,” but if I know creator Ryan Murphy, of “American Horror Story” fame, that may be short-lived; as may her character on the show. Here’s hoping she at least gets to show her stuff for a few episodes!

Anyway, all told, I thought this was by far the best episode of “CSI: Cyber” to date. For the first time, everything clicked, and everything worked for me. Yes, there’s still room for improvement- we still don’t know all that much about the individual team members, for instance- but this was undeniably a step in the right direction. And on an episode featuring what could have easily been dismissed as “stunt” casting, no less, given the rare teaming of both Arquette sisters. Instead, we got a good one, and I for one couldn’t be happier, as the show has certainly taken its lumps from critics and online commentators alike. Here’s hoping they keep up the good work.

What did you think of the latest episode of “CSI: Cyber”? Were you also suitably impressed, or is the show still not your cup of tea overall? If not, why? What do you think could be done to improve it? Were you also impressed by Arquette’s work here? How about her sister’s? Or Phipps, for that matter? Did you find the case as riveting as I did? If not, why? Sound off below and see you next week for the latest episode!