Tit for Tat on CSI

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This post contains minor spoilers for season 7 episode Leaving Las Vegas

I don’t watch CSI (original) anymore, but happened to catch last Thursday’s episode – Leaving Las Vegas because my favored show wasn’t on. In the episode, Catherine Willows, a CSI second in seniority to the supervisor, investigates a cold case, attempting to link a disappearance and different set of murders with her killer that got away years ago. The MOs are similar with the murders, but the local authorities got a confession out of someone else, who’s now in jail. Catherine knows he can’t be the killer, so she goes to see him in prison, sent off with a “You’ll probably never get him to talk” from another CSI.

Aha, but she does. You want to know how? She promises a strip tease – for every question the guy answers, she’ll unbutton a button. During the course of the highly inappropriate and pretty degrading peep show interview, Catherine discovers the guy in jail was basically coerced into making the confession. Kind of like how she coerces answers out of him by flashing her breasts when he’s a good boy and tells her what she wants to hear.

The scene bothers me because I think it’s supposed to show that Catherine will do what it takes to get the job done, and that she apparently thinks trading herself is the best course of action. And because Catherine used to be pretty damned tough and smart without relying on these kinds of tricks.

I presume we’re all supposed to associate these shenanigans with the fact that, twenty years ago, she was an exotic dancer/stripper and think it was no big deal. That doesn’t fly with me because, while Catherine has always been very unapologetic about her former career, it was always very separate from her current one. Not so much anymore, apparently.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    Regardless of context, scenes like that always send me a very creepy message: that men think sex bartering is a wonderful resource for women to use rather than a form of exploitation. It makes me feel like some men wouldn’t feel I have the right to say “I tried everything” unless I can also claim I offered sexual services as an incentive. Which is not a requirement I imagine them making of men in the same position.

    I’d rather have seen this woman use threats against his family or psychological games to get him to talk. I suspect the writers weren’t clever enough to come up with the sort of clever dialog that could achieve that effect.

  2. MaggieCat says

    I’ve always thought that Catherine had some serious boundary issues between her job and her personal life, but it was usually related to her bad marriage/divorce. In the early first season she got a suspect killed because she felt the need to tell the victim’s husband that she was having an affair- unfortunately the suspect was innocent. While it could seem like a typical ‘woman scorned’ reaction, bad divorces are hardly limited to one gender so I could live with it.

    The only time I remember her using sex appeal to get farther in a case it was made clear that A) the suspect had decided to focus on her and offered to give up information if she was the one he was talking to, B) she never did anything inappropriate, and C) there was a small chance the victim was still alive and humouring him was the most expedient option. The show seems to have gotten stuck in the mindset that ‘Catherine’s attractive’ is the most important asset of her character ever since there was an episode involving plastic surgery that had every single male character assuring her that she was still gorgeous. It’s sad when what used to be an incidental attribute becomes someone’s reason for existence.

  3. sbg says

    The fact that it works doesn’t make it any better, either. I’m not proud of this, but when I worked the front desk of a hotel/apartment place and I craved, say, chocolate milk all I had to do was wear something a little nicer, that maybe showed more of my neckline and/or cleavage and I could get it. I didn’t pout or beg for it, but the “Hey, I’m going out, can I bring you anything?” offers only happened on those days I exhibited myself a bit more than usual.

    Ugh. Shame on me.

    Catherine strip-teasing just seemed so unnecessary to me.

  4. sbg says

    I’ve long since wondered why a show that professed to be about the cases delved deeply into Catherine’s personal life more than the rest of the cast, barring the whole Grissom/Sara stuff (sorry if you like that, but it makes me cringe). Characters like Nick, Warrick and Greg got little to know “character-building” stuff that I can recall, but Catherine had a whole home life that kept popping up.

    And you’re right about the pretty thing. The audience doesn’t need the reminder that a woman who looks like Marg Helgenberger is drop dead gorgeous. I remember an earlier-season episode that basically labeled Catherine as the pretty one and Sara as the brainy one. (Actually,Sara’s not that attractive to me, but Jorja Fox is a fox. ;) It kind of appalled me at the time. Unnecessary labelling does that.

    I digressed a bit.

  5. MaggieCat says

    I’ve long since wondered why a show that professed to be about the cases delved deeply into Catherine’s personal life more than the rest of the cast

    Well for the first 3-4 seasons when the writing was solid, I thought it made sense most of the time. First of all she’s the only member of the team (barring Brass who’s a cop) who’s a parent, and that is often a relevant viewpoint. Then she and Warrick are the only Vegas natives, vs. everyone else who’s a transplant. Since she and Grissom were the senior members of the team with very different leadership styles, so it made some sort of sense for her to be the opposite of the closed book he is. And her stripper past was an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the them- while they were spending all of their time in class, she was living in a world that happens to contain many of the victims they end up investigating. According to the CBS site Sara went to Harvard, Catherine went to night classes at the local college. A more balanced view from a genre of television that sometimes makes crimes against women look like a punishment for an impure lifestyle.

    It didn’t become a problem in my opinion, until everything involving Catherine eventually revolved around her personal life. The point when I lost patience was when a murder walked because she used his DNA sample to run a paternity test. A seasoned investigator like her should never and would never have compromised the evidence like that, and plot ended up doing a huge disservice to character integrity.

  6. sbg says

    I’m not sure I agree that it made sense to focus more on her personal life than anyone else’s. Sure she’s a mom and sure that is a valid, different viewpoint…but any one of the other characters could also have had a backstory like that and they simply weren’t given that, or at least it wasn’t focused on as closely.

    It didn’t become a problem in my opinion, until everything involving Catherine eventually revolved around her personal life. The point when I lost patience was when a murder walked because she used his DNA sample to run a paternity test. A seasoned investigator like her should never and would never have compromised the evidence like that, and plot ended up doing a huge disservice to character integrity.

    Indeed. She really would have lost her job over that, I think.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s a far cry from doing a tit-for-tat strip tease, though.

    I’ve found that on days when I wear fitted clothing – not tight, not suggestive, not sexy; just tailored – a lot of men treat me differently than when I wear looser garments. This could teach me that using sex appeal is the way to get chivalry, and I suspect that’s where a lot of women go with it. But when men treat me nicer as a reward for wearing something that titillates them even slightly, that just lowers my opinion of them.

    And despite male claims that all men are pigs and I should accept this shit from them, not all men do that. Oh, they all eyeball curves – that’s okay; we check men out, too. But some of them are self-aware enough to treat people the same day after day.

  8. says

    Kind of like how she coerces answers out of him by flashing her breasts when he’s a good boy and tells her what she wants to hear.

    However inappropriate her strip show might have been, I have a hard time reading it as coercion of the person she was questioning.

  9. sbg says

    Yes.

    Just the way the guy wouldn’t have confessed had he not been deprived of sleep, water and bathroom facilities, he would not have answered her questions without the incentive of catching a glimpse of her breasts.

  10. MaggieCat says

    While the legal definition of coercion includes restraint, force, or the threat of force or blackmail, the more basic definition is “to compel to an act or choice” (definition 2 at Merriam-Webster). I can certainly see where Catherine using sexual manipulation, particularly against someone who’s currently incarcerated and therefore removed from most contact with women, could qualify.

    I didn’t see the episode, but if the prisoner in question happened to be serving time for some sort of sex crime, an additional argument could be made that she was using a known psychiatric issue as additional leverage. Either way it makes her look bad for resorting to something like that when she had other options available, and would have used those other options in the past.

  11. SunlessNick says

    While Catherine sometimes crossed the personal/professional line, it was always about clashing priorities – never about stripping to get confessions. Also, it’s terrible as a technique: the most important thing for a cop to achieve in an interrogation is to be the powerful one; and to convince the suspect that that power can be employed to their benefit if the cop chooses. This… doesn’t achieve that.

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