CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Example of the "miniature killer's" crime scene model

Example of the "miniature killer's" crime scene model

When considering the set of any production, the background design has the capability to take on its own life form much like that of a character. This possibility is true of movies, television series, and even musicals and plays. There are numerous movies that come to mind when talking about the background as a character, such as Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Harry Potter, Labyrinth, and Nightmare Before Christmas. However consider television. The most prominent difference between movies and television series are their length. Both genres greatly impact our society and sometimes even our personal lives, but television series give viewers an opportunity to become even more connected with the plot, characters, and setting. Similar to movies, T.V. series, too, can accumulate a “cult” following, for example CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a long running television series on CBS, under the production of the incredibly successful Jerry Bruckheimer. CSI is a show about a team of crime scene investigators and the cases they encounter. It stems from a docu-drama show on the Discovery Channel, which followed real life forensic detectives.

The setting of CSI takes place is Las Vegas, Nevada. When the cast is not filming on location, there are two main sets. One set is the laboratory, where forensic tests take place and the second set is the connected police station where suspects and witnesses are interviewed. In addition to the main sets, there are the crime scenes, where the cast goes to collect evidence and provide their expertise in solving their cases.

Stylistically, the CSI labs have clean, crisp window walls. Some are frosted and backlit with blues and greens. The design rings true to what one might associate with a forensics lab and T.V.: clean, sterile, but yet sexy and mysterious. This style continues into “the field” where the team goes on site to collect evidence. The evidence then comes back to the lab, where the tech gadgets and equipment take on a life of their own. The setting is accompanied by the characters lengthy explanations and technical discussions of bullet trajectory, DNA, and fingerprints. The “nitty gritty” of the evidence relates to the sterile set, while the drama of the teams relationships and crimes relate to the sexy mystique created by the lighting and sound design. The style of the set is very consistent, to the point where the viewer is able to identify where characters are at all times, whether they be in an interrogation room, the morgue, or Gill Grissom’s, lead CSI, office.

In season seven, the CSI team encounters a serial murderer, known as the  “Miniature Killer”. The killer sends CSI miniature scale models of the crime scenes to the CSI office, challenging the team to find the location of the victim. The models contain the victim’s real blood and a trace of bleach, the killer’s phobia, in which she is, later, incarcerated and forced to work with everyday. Besides that, the scale models are exact replicas from the amount of glass pieces from a shattered window, the pool of blood from a gunshot wound, to the amount of electricity found in the room of an electrocuted victim.

The viewer experiences the actual crime scene, a perfectly replicated model of the crime scene, and the CSI labs, which makes this season particularly significant. The crime scene is a character within itself. It has a history, or a story made up by several components and events. The history is created by the “miniature killer” since those are her doings. However, the miniature scale models may also be considered a character within themselves because they represent the real crime scene created by the serial killer, thus revealing more her character.

The crime scene scale model is a backdrop for the serial killer, the character the viewer does not “meet” until very late in the season. As the season progresses the audience is introduced to more information about the serial killers past, and how she became a killer. But remember, this is only discovered through the crime scene models, which are made and anonymously mailed, by the “miniature killer”, to the CSI team, who then must find where the real crime took place.

This season has the most impact on the audience as well as the CSI characters. CSI is unable to solve the case in one episode; thus, the viewer continues to see it unfold in the crime scenes and scale models of the crime scene sets done by the serial killer. Viewers tune back each week to see what new mail the CSI office received. Was it a new scale model of the serial killer’s doings? This plot line has the most mystery and technical, forensic aspects the show has ever seen. On top of that are the relationships of the team members, which are pushed to the limits due to the stress of this unsolved case. The clean, crisp set of the lab partnered with the sexy lighting and music are a backdrop to the character of the scale models of the crime scenes. And it is these scale models and forensic settings that lead the viewers and CSI team to the actual crime scene, which is a character of its own.


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