Over 14 seasons and 300 episodes, CSI has concocted some wild plots and brought in memorable guest stars to keep the body-bagging business fresh and fun. We asked the cast — including Marg Helgenberger, who reprises her role as Catherine Willows for Wednesday's landmark 300th episode, which flashes back to a case the team failed to crack in 2000 — to reflect on the show's best installments, selected by longtime executive producer Carol Mendelsohn.
1. Blood Drops (Season 1, Episode 7) A 6-year-old Dakota Fanning plays the surviving daughter of a family that's been butchered in their home. "I've had nightmares from time to time about this one," admits Jorja Fox (Sara). "Grissom [William Petersen] and Sara arrived so quickly after the murders that you could still feel the horrible events. I had one line — 'Her soul's still in the room' — which has stayed with me as [emblematic] of the entire series."
2. Table Stakes (Season 1, Episode 15) During a charity fund-raiser, a body is found floating in the swimming pool of an ex-showgirl who is supposedly vacationing in Europe. "Greg uncovered some DNA on the showgirl's old headdress," recalls Eric Szmanda, the actor who plays him. "He put on the headdress to celebrate and got caught by Catherine." (Watch for that prop to make a return appearance in the 300th episode.)
3. The Finger (Season 2, Episode 14) Tom Irwin (Devious Maids) plays a wealthy man who takes Catherine and $1 million in ransom money along on a ride to rescue his abducted girlfriend. "It was an unusual episode that we shot in the middle of nowhere," Helgenberger says. "It was a scavenger hunt that took us on a strange path where we met up with this person seen only in silhouette wearing a rabbit head."
4. Fur and Loathing (Season 4, Episode 5) After finding a dead man dressed as a raccoon on the side of the road, the CSIs head to a convention of furries — adults who wear animal costumes for sexual pleasure (one of whom is Sex and the City's Willie Garson as a sexy kitty). "I didn't know much about this world, so before we shot the episode, the director and I went to an event where people came wearing tails," remembers Helgenberger. "A lot of the extras we used were actually into that. God bless them."
5. Grave Danger, Volumes 1 and 2 (Season 5, Episodes 24 and 25) Quentin Tarantino directed this two-parter in which the team hunts for Nick Stokes (George Eads, who is on extended leave from the series after a skirmish with one of the writers). Nick has been kidnapped and buried alive in a glass casket. The late Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin guest starred as themselves in the episode. "When I heard Quentin was a CSI fan, I told the producers we should reach out to him," says Helgenberger. "That was a tough [contract] renegotiation year for us with a lot of ill feelings, so he helped motivate us all to give 100 percent."
6. A Bullet Runs Through It, Parts 1 and 2 (Season 6, Episodes 7 & 8) After a massive shootout between Las Vegas police and a Latin American gang, the members of the CSI team find themselves processing hundreds of bullets. "It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, so Greg got to go out in the field," says Szmanda, "which was a great honor for me after being stuck in the lab for so long."
7. Law of Gravity (Season 7, Episode 15) A cop threatens to expose the dark past of fill-in boss Keppler (Liev Schreiber) if he doesn't make the evidence in a case go away. "What a joy it was to have Liev with us for four episodes when Billy [Petersen] went to Chicago to do a play," says Fox. "But we all knew it wasn't going to end well for Keppler."
8. Turn Turn Turn (Season 9, Episode 16) Nick volunteers to take the case of a 16-year-old girl (guest star Taylor Swift) found dead in the parking lot of a seedy hotel run by her parents. "Taylor and her mom were fans of the show and seemed very happy to be there," Szmanda says. "She was kind of nervous because she hadn't done much acting before. And many of us were starstruck."
9. Sqweegel (Season 11, Episode 4) Ann-Margret plays a Las Vegas philanthropist who is brutally slashed in her bed by a man in a rubber suit. "Ann was asked to do a lot of physical stunts, which she was down for," says Szmanda. "And this was one of the rare times the killer got away. We never caught him."
10. CSI on Fire (Season 13, Episode 8) A mass grave in the desert is linked to an accused serial killer whom Finlay (Elisabeth Shue) pursued when she worked in Seattle. "Once in a while, the case is so close to your character that you get emotionally connected, which makes for deeper, richer scenes," says Shue, who adds that she enjoyed making out with Finlay's ex-husband (Cougar Town's Brian Van Holt) at the end of the episode. According to Fox, "This storyline will come back later this season, when Fin will have to confront her past in Seattle so she can bravely help out Greg."
CSI airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS.
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