Movie Reviews

CSI: Crime Scene Investigations 15 Best Episodes, Ranked

Summary

  • The attention-grabbing episode “Cockroaches” sets the stage for significant character development, leading to an exciting climax until the end.
  • The impactful episode “Anonymous” showcases early engagement with a serial killer case and unique scientific work by the team.
  • “After The Show” delves into team dynamics and professional envy, with Catherine’s strong investigative skills coming to the forefront.



After 15 seasons, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has amassed many fantastic episodes, but only a few stand out as the best CSI episodes. Since the show ran for so long, few characters lasted until the end. However, beloved leads like Gil Grissom (William Petersen), Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) are major players in the greatest episodes of the series. The show is set in Las Vegas, and the crimes frequently incorporate different aspects of the city’s history and legacy.

The series’ huge success is because CSI did things differently than other crime procedurals. Both the show’s creators and actors were consistently shaking up the formula of a traditional crime drama, and the most memorable episodes involved a compelling twist, whether that was by keeping the audience guessing who the killer was until the nailbiting final moments or by unpacking the inner workings of team members. Additionally, the dedication to science and solving crimes through evidence and analysis kept CSI moving at a thrilling pace.


Episode

IMDb Rating

Cockroaches

7.6 / 10

Anonymous

8.1 / 10

After The Show

7.7 / 10

Justice Is Served

7.9 / 10

Slaves Of Las Vegas

8.2 / 10

Cello And Goodbye

7.6 / 10

Lost & Found

8.1 / 10

Toe Tags

7.9 / 10

Gum Drops

8.8 / 10

Living Legend

8.4 / 10

Frame By Frame

7.9 / 10

What’s Eating Gilbert Grissom

8.4 / 10

Built To Kill Parts 1 & 2

8.6 / 10

For Warrick

9 / 10

Grave Danger Parts 1 & 2

8.5 / 10



15 Cockroaches

Season 8, Episode 9

“Cockroaches” is a hugely significant episode of CSI because it marks the beginning of the end of Warrick Brown’s (Gary Dourdan) time on the show. The case the team solves personally impacts Warrick and causes him to get involved with a suspect, crossing a line. This episode was a big one, as it was when Warrick accused undersheriff McKeen of being a dirty cop. McKeen indeed turned out to be a dirty cop and murdered Warrick in the season finale.


Any CSI episode that focuses on the character development of a team member is going to be excellent, and the story explores the inner workings of Warrick’s mind in a way that furthers the investigation. His drug addiction comes to a head here, as Nick sees him taking pills heading into crime scene investigations. Warrick begins a downward spiral that results in his eventual murder. Although the lasting impacts of the case lead to Warrick’s downfall, it’s still exciting until the episode’s end.

14 Anonymous

Season 1, Episode 8

A notable CSI season 1 episode, “Anonymous” sheds light on what captured the audience’s attention from the get-go and how well the series worked from the start. It’s the first instance of Grissom going after a serial killer, and he has a chance to illustrate what an analytical and intriguing character he is. The case itself starts with a staged suicide that the team proves was a murder, and this sets them in motion to find the killer.


What helps “Anonymous” stand out is that it is a continuation of the pilot, with the same killer, Paul Millander, returning. Millander was the killer who kept getting away while taunting Grissom. Grissom never could bring Millander to justice, and the murderer ended his own life in season 2. CSI was still discovering itself and establishing what made it different from other crime dramas on TV. Episodes like “Anonymous” helped elevate it above the rest.

13 After The Show

Season 4, Episode 8

Nick Stokes and Sara Sidle talking in CSI.


Tensions arise between the team members as a high-profile case makes them more concerned with gaining fame than catching the killer. Catherine is assigned as the lead on the case because the suspect becomes obsessed with her, which garners the jealousy of her colleagues. Although the CSIs usually help and support each other, professional envy arises when Catherine remains dedicated to the case despite Nick and Sara believing that solving this could help them get a promotion and they feel Catherine is undercutting them.

The team remains on the same page for most of the series, but they are at odds in this episode, which gets in the way of them doing their job. Additionally, “After The Show” is significant because it discusses how men can abuse their power, juxtaposed by how Catherine uses the suspect and forces him to lose control when she exposes his insecurities.

12 Justice Is Served

Season 1, Episode 21

Al Robbins, Catherine Willows, and Sara Sidle looking at a dead body in CSI.


The last few episodes of season 1 were pivotal in propelling CSI into an even more successful season 2. “Justice Is Served” explores cultural pressures and beauty standards. CSI was unafraid to tackle difficult subjects, especially ones related to the current societal conversation. It turns out that the killer in the episode is a woman drinking her victim’s blood in a desperate attempt to stay young and attractive.

This episode’s serial killer had the same MO as Richard Chase, also known as “The Vampire of Sacramento.”

While this is an extreme example of the lengths people will go to meet societal beauty standards, it communicates to the audience that CSI has no problem getting into weird cases at times. The second case was also a tough one, as Catherine and Sara investigate the murder of a six-year-old girl at a carnival. CSI was a water cooler show of its time, and episodes like “Justice Is Served” definitely gave people something to talk about.


11 Slaves Of Las Vegas

Season 2, Episode 8

Though there are many harsh realities of rewatching CSI, the treatment of Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke) and her introduction in season 2 isn’t one of them. In “Slaves of Las Vegas,” the audience meets Lady Heather, a dominatrix, for the first time, and due to her chemistry with Grissom and the energy she brings into every scene, she becomes a semi-recurring character. Grissom meets her at a fetish club while investigating the death of a young woman found naked in a park playground.

Gil Grissom’s last case in the original series was to clear Lady Heather from murder charges.


While later episodes with Lady Heather have more interesting cases, the first is the most exciting because it sets up her complex relationship with Grissom and sets the tone for how CSI will deal with sex work. Lady Heather went on to appear in eight CSI episodes through season 15, sometimes helping the team and sometimes needing Grissom’s help herself. This episode set her up as one of the show’s best guest characters.

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10 Cello And Goodbye

Season 11, Episode 21

Catherine Willows sitting down talking to Sara Sidle in CSI


One of the best characters added later in the show was Dr. Raymong Langston (Laurence Fishburne), who lent his medical experience and leadership skills to the team. However, his tenure on the show ended on a particularly explosive note in the season 11 finale when Langston goes head-to-head with the serial killer Nate Haskell (Bill Irwin), whom he’s been chasing all season. Langston is unable to keep his cool and follow protocol after Haskell kidnaps his ex-wife, Gloria Parkes, and his actions change his trajectory forever.

The episode is an example of how CSI maintained high levels of drama in later years. While this was the first part of a two-part finale, the shock of seeing one of the show’s heroes not only commit murder but another character helping to cover it up showed that not everything on CSI is black and white. That fact makes this a very grim episode in the end. This episode was the first of Fishburne’s final two appearances.


9 Lost & Found

Season 10, Episode 21

Ray Langston questioning some girls in CSI.

Captain Jim Brass (Paul Vincent Guilfoyle) usually serves as a voice of reason in the series, but in “Lost & Found,” his desire to help a woman find her missing family clouds his judgment. The police reopen a case when they discover a possible murder weapon in the woman’s car, and Brass struggles between helping her and investigating her. Brass gets little time spent on him, and this episode gives Guilfoyle a chance to show why he is so important on CSI.

Despite spending many years with him, Brass is still an enigma on CSI before this episode. Brass becomes unsure of where he stands in the case as evidence piles up against the woman, making it appear she killed her family. However, the truth is even worse than the team could imagine, and the brutal case ends sadly for everyone involved.


Season 7, Episode 3

“Toe Tags” changed CSI forever because it opened the door to the afterlife and allowed the victims to speak to the audience for the first time. Much of the episode takes place in the morgue, as the victims of several different cases that the team is working on talk to each other and discuss what happened to them that led to their deaths. They speak about grief and the struggle to make sense of something terrible that happens to a person with tact and empathy, and the spin of the traditional episode format is a welcome change.


There is no CSI episode like this one. While most of the show focuses on scientists and police officers solving crimes, this installment gave the dead a chance to speak for themselves, and it was a meaningful look at what it means to die by murder and how hard it has to be to move on after that.

7 Gum Drops

Season 6, Episode 5

Nick Stokes sitting by Cassie in CSI episode Gum Drops

In a heart-wrenching case, Nick Stokes (George Eads) becomes emotionally involved when he believes that the young girl in a murdered family is still alive. “Gum Drops” is an example of how the series attempted to humanize its characters because they can sometimes appear overly cold and overly objective. Additionally, the science and investigative work is on full display in this episode because all the bodies are missing, with only blood as evidence in their home.


Because so much is at stake, the team has to be more innovative and creative in their exploration than usual. The episode has some impressive touches. A whispering sound heard throughout the episode turns out to be the surviving little girl telling Nick what happened. The episode also won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series.

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6 Living Legend

Season 7, Episode 9

Catherine Willows talking to a man in a hospital bed in CSI.


The history of the mafia in Las Vegas is uncovered in “Living Legend” when the car of an infamous mob boss, Mickey Dunne, is found many years after he and the vehicle went missing. The disappearance happened before Dunne could be arrested and charged with any crimes. After the car is found, people start turning up dead, and there seems to be a connection between them and Dunne.

“Living Legend” won awards for sound editing from the Cinema Audio Society Awards, Hollywood Professional Association Awards, and Primetime Emmy Awards.

The team soon suspects a conspiracy and that Dunne might be at large. “Living Legend” is a hallmark because of how compelling the villain is and how Catherine Willows proves her investigative skills once again. The episode also gets credit for showing how ruthless Catherine is, as she coaxes the entire confession out of the killer, who believes he is dying, only to let him know he won’t die but will spend the rest of his life in prison. It is ice cold, and Catherine has never been better.


5 Frame By Frame

Season 14, Episode 5

For the 300th episode of the series, CSI pulled out all the stops and gave a satisfying conclusion to a 14-year-old cold case. When a young woman is found dead in the home of a man who was suspected of a similar crime over a decade ago, the team works tirelessly to put him away this time around. While this is a cold case for the team, it is not from a previous episode.

Marg Helgenberger made a special guest appearance as Catherine Willows in this episode after leaving the show in season 12.


The episode inventively incorporates flashbacks to the cold case from many years before, giving the actors a chance to play their characters a decade younger. However, something doesn’t add up with the case, allowing for so many twists and turns that keeping track of them is not easy. The CSIs finally unravel the mystery and exonerate an innocent man in a case that shows that nothing is as it seems.

4 What’s Eating Gilbert Grissom?

Season 5, Episode 6

Gil Grissom with his glasses on in CSI.

Seeing Gil Grissom lose his cool is an unexpected and brilliant way to expand his character and give insight into how he copes with leading his team. What pushes him to the edge is how lost he feels when he comes up against a killer who’s outsmarting him at every turn. The characters on CSI are defined by their intelligence and abilities, especially Grissom, and it’s fascinating to witness Grissom struggle to find answers.


The Blue Paint Killer first appeared in season 3’s “The Execution of Catherine Willows.”

However, it’s an effective shock that reminds the viewer anything is possible on the show and that even the most mythic characters are human. This episode brings back a serial killer known as the Blue Paint Killer. He showed up in season 3, and by season 5, Gil still had yet to bring him down. This episode was the final confrontation between Grissom and the killer, and in a familiar moment, the killer took his fate out of Grissom’s hands.

3 Built To Kill Parts 1 & 2

Season 7, Episodes 1 & 2

Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows with a flashlight in CSI.


It’s impossible to overlook both parts of “Built to Kill” as standout episodes because of how well they unpack the serial killer arc in a new and innovative way. Other episodes deal with serial killers, but the season 7 opener introduces one of the most notorious, who becomes essential to the season-long arc. This killer is The Minature Killer, a woman who kept Grissom and Sara running in circles for the entire season.

It’s always significant when a procedural commits to a season-long arc, and it often highlights that season as one of the best in the show. It took the entire season for the team to identify the killer, which happened in “Living Doll.” While catching the killer always makes for a good episode, the two-part introduction were the better episodes as they showed how smart and elusive she was.


2 For Warrick

Season 9, Episode 1

Warrick’s arc wraps up, and his character says goodbye when Gary Dourdan exited CSI in season 9. It’s a hard loss for the team, but they are brought closer together as they have to solve the mystery surrounding Warrick’s deathand bring his killer to justice in the name of their fallen friend. Emotions run high throughout the episode, and the twist of who killed Warrick makes his passing even more brutal.

However, these intense plotlines helped make one of the best season premieres of the series and kick off a strong season 9, even though Warrick wouldn’t be present for it. “For Warrick” is an example of how well CSI handles the comings and goings of different characters and actors. Even though Warrick’s death is a big change, the series takes it in its stride.


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1 Grave Danger Parts 1 & 2

Season 5, Episodes 24 & 25

Quentin Tarantino directed the two-part season finale of CSI season 5, but it’s not just his directing that makes it the show’s best episodes. Time is running out as the team races to find Nick, who has been abducted and buried alive. Every aspect of this episode is engineered to be the most heart-pounding and compelling story possible, and it captures how well CSI performs when it’s at its best.

Quentin Tarantino received a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for directing these episodes.


Each character receives time in the spotlight, and their skills are put to the test. In a case with a time limit revolving around one of their own, this is the perfect way to cap one of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation‘s best seasons. Almost all of the original cast is present in the episode, and Gil Grissom has to work harder than ever to protect his team and keep them investigating as if they have nothing to lose.

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