CSI: Catherine Still Incompetent?

Visitors to the lair know that when I’m devoted to a show, I’m in it to win it until the very end. I’ll even follow you into continued “seasons” in book form if I’m really into you (which reminds me: I need to finish the “eighth season” of Deep Space Nine before I completely forget the first three books from the run). It’s no surprise, then, that I have continued to watch the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation through every bump and dip the show has seen in recent years. And, even though I confess to no surprise from the announcement earlier this year that CBS had cancelled the series after 15 years, I still felt a pang of loss. This show has meant a great deal to me for myriad reasons—so much so that, even though it had become only a sliver of its former self, I mourned the inevitable loss of the comfort I took from its familiar presence in my life.

It was, therefore, with no small amount of sadness that I tuned in this past Sunday to watch the final 2-hour movie that CBS green-lit to wrap up story lines and give fans one final Vegas hurrah. The final movie was, indeed, written almost exclusively for those of us who had watched the show with any sense of religious devotion. It was all about the characters, as it had become within recent years (much to my dismay, TBH). They brought back numerous characters, including Detective Jim Brass, “fan favorite” Lady Heather (who I found entertaining at first, but then quickly found irritating), and one-time show stars Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows.

Clearly, from the title of this post, I’d like to focus primarily on Catherine Willows as well as, more generally, how CSI ultimately failed many of its female characters as well as its female fans. I charge that its biggest failure in this regard, however, was to Ms. Willows.

csiwillows

When the series began in 2000, Marg Helgenberger and William Peterson clearly were marketed as the stars—sort of the Scully and Mulder of the forensic world, with the sassy headstrong redhead and the nerdy-hot socially awkward loner. As the series got its footing, it became more and more clear that, while Grissom was the technical leader of the team (read: He was the one making the bucks and getting all the attention), Catherine was the engine that made the operation run. However, there was a far less progressive message being conveyed in the depiction of Catherine’s “behind the scenes” role. She wasn’t in charge, but everyone on the team, including Grissom, depended on her to keep everything on track—paperwork completed, assignments passed out, reviews given, etc. In essence, in addition to being a high-ranking and capable CSI, Catherine Willows was Gil Grissom’s administrative assistant, taking care of all the clerical duties that Grissom felt were not what he should be focusing on.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with anyone who performs clerical tasks. There isn’t even anything wrong with setting up a scenario in which Grissom is completely inept at such tasks and Willows steps in to provide him the support he needed to keep the team on-track. What was wrong, however, was the turn of events that started at the beginning of Season 5, when the lab director decided to split up the grave shift, setting up Catherine as the new swing-shift supervisor in charge of Nick and Warrick. With Willows and Grissom separated, Grissom continued on as he always did, and no attention was paid any longer to his clerical ineptitude. He was simply the grave-shift supervisor. Period.

However, almost from the start, TPTB wrote Catherine Willows as unable to perform her supervisory duties with any degree of aptitude. She bungled cases, her team (two people previously under her supervision on the grave shift and previously possessed of respect for her skills and supervision) disagreed with her constantly, and the generally accepted presentation to viewers was that she was not suitable as the swing-shift supervisor. This was disappointing, of course, but also problematic. When the team was together, it was very clear that Grissom cared far more for cases, evidence, and investigations than in his supervisory duties. Catherine was the one who took care of all that, and Grissom trusted her implicitly. Plus, he trusted her implicitly as a CSI, often deferring to her as the next senior-ranking investigator on the grave shift. Nick and Warrick respected her as well while they were all on the same team. Splitting her away and making her their actual supervisor should not have changed any of what had already been established—should it? And yet, it did. The implication, of course, was that Catherine Willows could only be successful if she was supported by Grissom, who actually gave her no support at all. But clearly, she couldn’t handle all the things she used to handle without someone there to give her no help at all!

It was no surprise, then, that the next season brought them all back together as one team, Catherine once more serving as second to Grissom. Now, I get that this “breaking up the team” story arc was just a one-season ploy to begin with—something to stir up some controversy, shake the dust of familiarity off everything, and whatnot. What was frustrating was the fact that the ploy had to come at the expense of showing a previously capable member of the team fail so dramatically that no one even questioned her unspoken demotion at the beginning of the sixth season. Or at the beginning of the 12th season…but we’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve already gone off on a tangent about how CSI treated its female characters. And while some of my thoughts from that post have evolved with time, they’re still pretty on-target. However, what I point to from that post is the fact that Jorja Fox and Marg Helgenberger were the ones to call for a truce between their characters. They saw the value of ceasing and desisting with the continuation of discord between Willows and Sidle. It’s just one of the many reasons that I admire both of them. Of course, the writers’ solution? Stop having Willows and Sidle interact. Instead of climbing out of their clear comfort zone of supporting the notion that women cannot work together in the same collegial way that male characters often do and writing Willows and Sidle into two representatives of a new idea…a fantastic idea…the amazing notion that women can work together without sinking teeth into each other, figuratively or literally…they just gave up on having the women interact at all unless they had to. And usually? It was to spark some kind of fight between them that required male intervention to solve.

Again, all part of the process of pushing stories forward, but it’s trite. It’s demeaning. And it reflects the perpetuation of a misconception that deserves to DIAF. Women work together all the time without fanging each other or deceiving each other or betraying each other or just in general hating each other, “because women.” I do it every day. Even better, my female coworkers and I can pass the Bechdel test with almost every single conversation we have—something that, even by the last episode of a 337-episode run, Willows and Sidle failed almost completely.

But I digress. This is about CSI Willows. Fast-forward from the sixth season demotion to William Peterson’s departure in the middle of the ninth season and Catherine Willows’s subsequent promotion-by-default to head of the grave shift. Again, a shift she’s been helping to run for many years, supervising people she’s worked with for years—she’s got this. Right? And yet, at the beginning of Season 10…the beginning of Season 10, when Catherine Willows has barely been in charge for half a season, we learn that one of her staff has left after filing charges against Willows, for what? Incompetent management.

Again, the writers needed to cover the fact that an actress they’d cast the previous season either left or they let go because the character wasn’t working, but notice how this is the second time they’ve made Catherine Willows incompetent to fix the flow of the story? Sara even tells Catherine, in one of those delightful yet sadly rare moments when these two characters interacted amicably, that she’s a great CSI and that “the only thing that Grissom had that you don’t, is you.” (P.S., this was yet another instance in which Sara and Catherine also failed the Bechdel test, because apparently the only way these two could see eye-to-eye was if they first discussed Sara’s relationship with Grissom…but we’ll get to that in a moment as well).

[Loba Tangent: By the way, this could have been an incredible moment in which the writers decided to make Sara Sidle the second-in-charge to Catherine Willows, thereby having two women in supervisory roles. Can you imagine? Instead, they had Catherine make Nick Stokes her second-in-command. Look at there: Catherine Willows, supported yet again by a man. Surely, she’ll be successful this time!]

So was Sara lying? Or was it simply the fact that the writers at some point decided that the best way to fix major story changes was simply to make Catherine Willows the default incompetent scapegoat? Don’t believe me? Head on over to the beginning of Season 12. Laurence Fishburne had decided that serial television was not to his liking so he departed, to be replaced by Ted Danson. Arriving as D.B. Russell, Danson’s character quickly was established as, what? The grave-shift supervisor. Apparently, being He Who Was Sam Malone trumps the status of the woman who has been on the series since the beginning, and once again Catherine Willows becomes too incompetent to lead.

What’s even worse is that this time her incompetence stems partly from her emotional response to actions that took place at the end of the previous season—actions that a few of the male characters were complicit in carrying out for equally emotional reasons. But it was Catherine Willows who fell and served in demoted silence for all of one season before Helgenberger finally called it quits and left the realm. At least they replaced her with another woman when they brought Elisabeth Shue on as CSI Julie Finlay. Strangely enough, Shue didn’t get to become the head of the team. You’d think that being an Oscar-nominated film star would trump being Sam Malone. Guess not.

Jump, jump, jump ahead to the end. Catherine Willows returns in her new capacity as a field agent for the FBI’s Los Angeles office. Incompetent as a state employee? Don’t worry. The federal government has got you covered, bae!

Seriously, though. By the time Helgenberger left the show, the writers had written the character of Catherine Willows as someone whose personnel file was so riddled with problems that she should have been shipped back to the strip club where she started. And yet, they felt it was appropriate to send her off to the FBI? Forreals?

Right.

So Willows comes back to help during a time when Sara Sidle, by dint of reason that she’s literally the last remaining original CSI left (even though she didn’t appear until the second episode), oh and the show is ending, is up for consideration as the director of the crime lab. WHO’S THE BIG DAWG? Winning by default is still winning, AMIRITE?

Never mind that she’s up for a job that we will never get to see her actually work. No, scratch that. That’s one of the things that really pissed me off about seeing Sara Sidle up for this huge promotion. Pardon my language, but big fucking deal. Why didn’t the writers consider her for the promotion when they decided to demote Willows a third time? You want to give these women reason to fight? There would have been your reason. You know, because women never support each other in the workplace. Instead, she’s not up for any kind of promotion until the last episode. A promotion that she gets (spoilers) and then just as quickly gives up (spoilerz) because love interest is love interest and nothing more. Sara Sidle was always meant to be, first and foremost, Gil Grissom’s love interest. All that time that Sara Sidle was on the show after Grissom left? Well, none of that counted. All those cases she worked and victims she helped and suspects she put away. Meaningless. Everything about her was meaningless until Grissom could return and woo her away once more.

So who became the director after Sara rode off into the sunset with her Prince Charming (literally, spoilers)? The intimation was…it was Catherine Willows. Third time’s the charm? Again, though, big fucking deal. Not only do we not get to see Director Catherine Willows, we don’t even get to see her take the role. It was far more important to see Sara Sidle give up everything to fulfill her ultimate destiny as “Gil Grissom’s love interest.”

Wow. That’s a lot more than I anticipated writing. And yet I barely scratched the surface. Not to say that the show didn’t have great female characters. It honestly had many wonderful female characters come and go through the years. For instance, Julie Finlay was a fascinating character—you know, up until the point where they had her beat into a coma by a serial killer, stuffed into a trunk, and then confirmed as dead in the last 10 minutes of the final episode.

Whatever.

Why does any of this matter? After all, it’s just a show. Just a show that not only ran for 15 years but inspired the creation of at least a dozen knockoffs, including three spinoffs. A show that helped change the course of television in highly influential ways. And yet, when TV Guide dedicated a cover to Helgenberger and Fox? This was the photo they felt was most appropriate:

margjorjakneeswtf

Nothing like women on their knees, eh?

Oh, and if you’d like to dress like a CSI for Halloween? Better just put your own costume together, because this is what you’re going to find in the stores:

ladycsicostumewtf

Positive representation matters. If you think it doesn’t, then you probably are lucky to belong to a group that has never had to worry about any kind of representation, either in the media or in reality. To everyone else, it’s a big deal. CSI made a huge impact in many positive ways, but it also missed the opportunity to make the same kind of impact on how women are depicted in popular culture. They could have taken the character of Catherine Willows and made her an example of a woman who brought herself up from a life she no longer wanted to lead to a life that could have inspired. Instead, she was Catherine Willows, forever destined to make poor professional and personal choices and never ever ever learn from any of them. She—and we—deserved better.

There’s still hope, even in this particular franchise. Patricia Arquette is the lead in CSI: Cyber, which returns this upcoming Sunday. Of course, Ted Danson is shifting over to that show now that the Vegas crew has investigated their last crime. So help me, if he somehow ends up bumping Arquette to second-banana, hell will truly have no fury like Loba unchained.

Go ahead. Try to demote me again.
Go ahead. Try to demote me again.

Photo Fun Friday: CSI: Bajor

Crossing streams again, denizens. This one started about a month ago with a conversation I had online regarding which Star Trek alien Jorja Fox would look best as (yes, my world really is this geeky…and, consequently, this fabulous). I contend it’s Bajoran all the way. Then again, I think nose ridges make anyone look smexy.

I love Bajorans.

Then, yesterday, I may or may not have received several CSI graphic novels in the mail, as I mentioned in my BookBin review of my first CSI comic series. As I casually flipped through said novels to check out the artwork, I started once again to think about how similar in marketing approaches CSI is to Trek. Which got me thinking again about a CSI/Trek crossover (what, you thought I’d forgotten about that request?).

Since I’ve already set a precedent regarding dragging my favorite CSI into other geeky forays, I figured why not? If she can be a vampire investigator, why can’t she be a Bajoran investigator next?

And so I give you…

Buckle up, denizens. It’s bound to get geekier from here…

Sugar and Spice and Everything…Catty?

Today’s EXTREMELY long-winded feminist rant will be brought to you by the letters C, S, and I. You have been warned.

Have you ever seen the first interaction between CSIs Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle? No? Let me share:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOLg3RWL9DU&w=480&h=390]

Not the most welcoming of people, that surly CSI Willows (just look at the video clip description: “Bitchy & Rude Catherine”). In Catherine’s defense, I should point out that Sara Sidle was originally brought onto the Las Vegas team to investigate one of their own for his role in the death of another investigator. She was an interloper, brought in to suss out the possible guilt of one of Catherine’s closest friends on the job. Not exactly the best setup for a warm and fuzzy friendship.

However, this animosity between our two heroines not only lingered, it evolved…or, rather, devolved into a series of biting comments, veiled insults, and out-and-out vitriol. True, some of it stemmed from personality differences. Catherine as originally created had a world-wise brusqueness to her, not necessarily spiteful or cruel, but direct and sharp. Sara, on the other hand, arrived with a quirky, nerdy sensibility and equal doses of naivete and a “black or white, no gray” outlook that often set her apart, not only from Catherine but from others on the team.

They weren’t the only ones on the team who had disparate personalities. Warrick Brown and Nick Stokes as first conceived shared very few commonalities. Our introduction to them also showed them vying against each other for a promotion. Yet right from the start they were still shown to share a comfortable camaraderie, a friendly competitiveness that served to bring them together rather than set them on opposite sides of an ever-widening chasm. Not at all like the steadily increasing animosity shared by our lovely ladies of the pink printing powder. (For the record, I love this scene for the fact that this is one of the rare moments from the show’s early days that showcases the previously mentioned contrasting characteristics of both women in a wonderful albeit short comedic moment.)

It’s not just this loopy lupine who noticed this decidedly disappointing development default in the relationship shared by Catherine and Sara. In this PopGurls Interview, Jorja Fox had the following to say:

You’ve said that the CSI writers and producers are really kind. That if there’s someplace you don’t really want to go with the character, you can talk to them, and generally they’ll change the course or direction. When was a time that you brought up a path w/the producers that you didn’t feel comfortable with for Sara?

There have been a couple of times over the years. The first one that comes to mind—very early in the show, the writers had wanted to create a real solid tension between Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle. They started off right away that we would lock horns and that this would be a theme that would go throughout the show. Marg [Helgenberger, who plays Catherine] and I talked about it and we both felt that, since we were the only women on the show at that time, to have [us] fighting each other and jockeying for position was an area that we were hoping that [we didn’t have] to go. We wanted actually to work well together—we could still disagree on things from time to time. Certainly Sara and Catherine are very different people and they go about things differently but we didn’t want to set a tone that would last throughout the show. We went to the writers and they were kind enough to pull back on that which was great.

I felt more passionately about potential for camaraderie coming from these two women being so different instead of the opposite.

Two sharp women are better than one...

Kudos to Jorja and Marg for putting their feet down to character choices that would have done nothing but continue to substantiate a dismal stereotype of women in the workforce. Sadly, however, as with most stereotypes, this particular one grows from a kernel of truth.

Admittedly, I’m little more than an armchair sociologist, but I have noticed something about the way my generation was conditioned as young girls that is both distressing and highly counterproductive. First, a confession: During my formative years, I probably spent more time interacting with boys than I did with girls. But that’s because the boys were all into fun things like riding bikes or playing football, and they had cool toys like G.I. Joes and Transformers. The girls all wanted to play house and put diapers and frilly dresses on grotesque plastic effigies that to this day haunt my darkest nightmares. I really, really hate babydolls.

That being said, I learned from an early age that interacting with boys is a much different experience from interacting with girls. Boys are rough and brash and to the point. If they say something that another boy doesn’t like, there will be a confrontation. It might get physical. But they get it out of their systems and they move on. They’ve also got your back. If you’re their friend, you’re in their pack, you’re on their team. And boys are taught from a very early age about the dynamics of teamwork.

Teamwork was still a foreign term for a lot of the girls my age. Title IX had already made its initial impact for opening up to the fairer sex the world of high school and college sports, but I believe that the concept of girls viewing other girls as teammates was still a holistically foreign concept for my generation. Why?

Because our greatest influences in character development were our own mothers. And our mothers grew up in a time well before when girls would take to the courts and baseball diamonds the way the boys were always able to do. The only viable competition available for these preceding generations of young women was for the sole prize that they were ever allowed to strive for: the ideal husband. Even my own mother saw a future in which her biggest expectations for me concluded with marriage and motherhood.

Don’t worry. I shuddered a little bit, too, just then.

You don’t get a husband through teamwork. You get it by being the last woman standing…and you stay standing by whatever means are at your disposal.

Is it any surprise, then, that when our predecessors began finally transitioning in larger numbers from housewives to working girls, they carried these same “values” with them into the workforce? We didn’t have the sports-based team ethics that the boys had. Hell, we didn’t even get the Godfather‘s rules of “It’s not personal, it’s business”! Instead, we were taught that the best way to play the boardroom game was to steal our secretary’s ideas in order to retain our sole seniority status AND gain the attention of the alpha male protagonist.

[Loba Tangent: Seriously, what kind of fucked-up message was Working Girl trying to convey? That women can’t work with each other unless they’re on the same low-level rung of the corporate ladder with no aspirations for climbing higher? That women who do make it to higher positions shouldn’t be trusted because they’re not going to try to help other women make it as far as they have? Instead, they’re going to use whatever means are necessary to ensure that they hold their competition as far down as they possibly can? Yeah, Sigourney Weaver met a perfectly Hollywood ending…but the movie still propagated stereotypes about women in the workforce that made me cringe almost as much as Baby Boom. But that’s a completely different tangent…and this post is already too long…]

Am I guilty of offensive generalizations and of propagating the stereotypes that I claim to loathe through this post? Perhaps. I am proud to say that I’ve been lucky to have worked for some amazingly progressive female supervisors. They’ve encouraged me, they’ve depended upon me for the skills I can bring to their team, and they’ve never been duplicitous in their dealings with me. I wish I could say this was the way it was across the board, both for my own experiences and for the experiences of all women in the workforce. However, I can’t. I daresay neither can most women my age.

The sad truth is that too many generations of women have long been conditioned to view the same sex as competitors that must be eliminated, not as teammates. But is it still this way? Are today’s young girls still being taught to view others of the same sex as the enemy, competition to be vanquished whether it be for that amazing job promotion or for the old-school brass ring of marital bliss and motherhood? I should hope not. Then again, it’s my generation that is now in the parental driver seat…and this was how we were raised. Will they pass along harmful lessons to the next generation? Or, like Fox and Helgenberger, are they going to say enough to petty stereotypes that do nothing but divide and weaken us, not only as a gender but as a society?

Everyone Needs an Editor: Sidel

This floors me for several reasons:

  • This is a professionally prepared one-sheet for a high-profile television series.
  • As such, this had to have gone through several rounds of review from several different people. Hell, I’m a design peon in comparison with someone who works for CBS and everything I do goes through at least four levels of review!
  • There are several far more difficult-to-spell names on this one-sheet, and they are all spelled correctly (Helgenberger, Szmanda, Guilfoyle, even Jorja!).
  • The character of Sara Sidle has existed for 12 years now. You’d think that would be enough time for the spelling of the character’s name to soak in, right (especially considering the fact that almost every episode, she can be seen wearing a vest with her surname stitched in white CAPITAL LETTERS)?

This isn’t the first time I’ve dinged CBS and its affiliates for poorly edited CSI materials. And, to be honest, this is nothing in comparison with that book and all its editorial SNAFUs. Still…

I know, I’m just being nitpicky because this happens to be my favorite character, but I’m also nitpicky because, dammit, take some pride in what you do, people! Especially when millions of people are going to be seeing it. My stuff is only seen by a fraction of the people who see stuff related to CSI and I’d be mortified if a mistake this glaring went out on something I’d done. Hell, I even go back and edit posts if I catch a mistake later on. Yes, it’s that bad, denizens. It’s that bad.

And yet another tip of the paw to Jorja Fox: Online for giving me something to howl about on a shiny, happy Monday morning.

Photo Fun Friday: CSI: Underworld

Foregoing Flashback Friday today, denizens. Not in a nostalgic mood at the moment. Besides, I got the seed of a kooky idea the other day that just wouldn’t go away…so I decided to make it happen in the only way I know how—PhotoShop it!

So, did you know that Jorja Fox once played a vampire in a really cheesy-awesome made-for-television movie called House of Frankenstein 1997? It was something done by NBC (who is owned by Universal, house of all the big horror movie monsters back in the day) and includes vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster. It’s not available on DVD or video…but I’m sure that if you know where to look, you might be able to find it somewhere to watch. Also, since SyFy is owned by Universal, this movie usually tends to appear around Halloween.

Anyway, I learned more about this movie through Jorja Fox: Online (which is quite an impressive fan-run site) and even found some screen caps of Fox’s scene-fanging moments as Felicity the Campy Vampire. And that’s when the idea started to grow. It’s what happens when the chocolate and peanut butter of all the crazy genre ideas in my brain start to swirl together. So CSI started to combine with vampire flicks…one thing led to another…and then it happened…

Sara Sidle as a crime scene investigating vampire? I don’t know about you, but I’d tune in. Every show. Maybe I should pitch this as a new spin-off. Something to inject a little fresh blood (heh) into the CSI franchise. Besides, we need something to take back the night for respectable (read: non-sparkly) vampires.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled geekery. Flashback Friday will return…but Photo Fun Friday might sneak back in every now and again. Hope you all don’t mind.

Bacon Makes It All Better

I’m trying to “keep calm and carry on” as the Anglophile in me thinks is best. My frame of mind at the present is a whirling dervish of unpredictability, with valleys of torrential self-pity…which I hate. What I hate even more is that I seem to be at a total loss regarding how to verbalize any of this. Or write about it either. My focus as of late has once again been reduced to Twitter-level: short, random, and most often pointless.

[Loba Tangent: I speak hypothetically, of course. Loba does not tweet. Although I get the sneaking suspicion that one of my Internet PersonalitiesTM does. I’m just not sure which one…yet.]

Anyway, this is why the lair has been a relative ghost town as of late. Minus my holiday investigation with Santa Sidle, of course.

[Loba Tangent 2: Did you know that, apparently, all I needed to do to give my visitor numbers a nice bump was to mention Sara Sidle? Who knew? I wonder what mentioning Jorja Fox will do to my stats. Gina Toscano? Maggie Doyle? Seriously, I’m a closeted stats whore, so I’ll do whatever it takes to make my numbers soar. Heh. That rhymed.]

However, I wanted to bring you all something during this final countdown to the end of 2010…something more special than gold, frankincense, and myrrh combined. What could be better than that combination, you might ask? How about Wil Wheaton, the Golden Girls, and Dungeons & Dragons? Framed in bacon?

Yeah, it’s okay to be speechless right now. It’s also okay to be mesmerized. Go ahead, take your time and stare. I’ll wait.

It’s breathtaking, isn’t it? Even Wil Wheaton didn’t quite know what to call this masterpiece. His blog post on it was titled what is this i don’t even

I don’t even either, Wil. All I know is that when I start to feel sad, I open this image and the tsunami of awesome that crashes through my mind immediately sweeps the sad away. It’s a temporary palliative, true…but I’ll take temporary like this any day. With an extra side of bacon, please.