[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for CSI: Vegas Season 2 Episode 4 “Koala.”]
It’s only fitting that CSI creator Anthony Zuiker wrote the Catherine-centric Vegas episode that puts Marg Helgenberger’s character in quite an emotional place. (It leads to an outstanding performance from the CSI vet.)
In “Koala,” not only does Catherine talk down the suspect in the case, but she also reconnects with her daughter, Lindsey (Katie Stevens, reprising the role from the original CSI‘s series finale). The two have been estranged, but Lindsey’s “I love you” text at the end gives Catherine hope.
Here, Helgenberger and Zuiker do a deep dive on the episode and tease what’s ahead.
When you first started talking about this episode, how much had you discussed? All of it? Pieces?
Anthony Zuiker: We knew the whole caboodle. Marg and I met three or four months prior to writing it. When I produce, I tend to, especially big vehicles for the stars, have a very early conversation and include them. It was an amazing meeting of the minds [with the] bones of a story. We fed each other collaboratively and emotionally about what this was and what the origins of the story was. It was Marg’s idea to bring in Lindsey and her idea for Eva Cassidy, for “Fields of Gold.” I love when those things happen because I like to make those come true in a draft when we just casually talk about it, just to surprise her, and out of that came a piece of magic.
Marg Helgenberger: Yeah, it was magical from the get-go. When Anthony and I initially met, we hadn’t seen each other in a while and since that time, both of our mothers had passed. And I just wanted to, in person, express how sorry I was that Diane had passed because I knew Diane and she was just a remarkable lady, as was my mother. That’s what fed me. I know it was what fed Anthony as well. While I was working on it at home and actually shooting it and Anthony was there for every moment, and he was co-directing along with Claudia Yarmy, it was an emotional journey in so many ways, but also just incredibly rewarding and fun. I was like, “Oh, yes, it was exhausting, but let’s do it again.”
Zuiker: Don’t forget, when we first started this in 2000, Marg and I, you’re just trying to not drown in the tidal wave of this show being a gargantuan success. Then you try to stay on the air for Season 2, then Season 3 and the biggest show ever by Season 5, then you’re spinning off to Miami, then NY. We never had the chance really to enjoy each other creatively in adulthood to where we can tap into something a little bit deeper on the screen and on the page. She’s had great episodes that had been written for her, but we’ve never had an Anthony-Marg emotional sit-down where we were really crafting and discussing every moment and really admiring the craft as it was happening in real time. That happened on this episode, because we’ve done a million of these, we reconnected, and then it was two seasoned veterans giving their best from a deeper place.
Marg, talk about working with Katie again. Catherine and Lindsey meeting was heartbreaking.
Helgenberger: As Anthony mentioned, I had brought up Katie Stevens, who was just in the series finale. There was two other actresses who had played Lindsey: Madison McReynolds in the pilot and a few episodes and Kay Panabaker as a teenager. Katie ended up being in the series finale and we had a really good connection. I was like, where is she now? And that started [it].
It was just great to be reconnected with Katie and then the fact that there were all these feelings we have for one another. But like in a lot of mother-daughter relationships, there’s always the expectancy — what I expect of her and being disappointed — and then she’s like, “Why can’t you just accept me?” That is kind of the theme throughout the whole episode: longing and loss and acceptance and expectations. There were so many themes throughout this episode and in the making of it that reverberated that I didn’t even give a lot of it that much thought. It hit me at such a gut level and in my heart that I just went with that.
Zuiker: You only have these experiences a couple times in your career, right? Honestly, between the pilot being greenlit, Quentin Tarantino when he came in the room and just did two hours off top of his head on a board, the two-hour finale in Season 5, “Grave Danger,” and Marg and I locking arms, career-wise, those are my top three moments that I’ll never forget after 22 years.
Helgenberger: That definitely was a highlight from the whole CSI franchise for me.
Will Katie be back or will we just hear about how things have gone between Catherine and Lindsey?
Helgenberger: Let’s hope she comes back.
Zuiker: The door’s always open.
Helgenberger: We meet my granddaughter.
How much did Catherine need that hope for her relationship with her daughter with that text?
Helgenberger: She definitely needed [that]. Those were tears of joy, for sure.
Zuiker: I think you can only punish the character so long in the episode. You gotta give her some win. But what’s beautiful about the episode, in my opinion, is it takes the tragedy of a perfect stranger, a newborn child, as the vehicle to reunite and reconnect mother and daughter in the most unlikely of circumstances. The birth of a new life gives new life to the possibilities of this relationship. Metaphorically, that worked pretty well. That’s why it’s so emotional.
Especially emotional was that takedown scene. You’ve put Catherine in a dark place early on in the season — she tells Max (Paula Newsome) she was just trying to keep the body count down, but there was truth to what she said, right?
Helgenberger: Yeah. And when we were shooting that scene, there was a lot of dialogue that we didn’t even shoot. We were trying to tighten it up and honestly even while we were shooting it, I had prepared, but I didn’t even know how it was gonna come out. So when I was watching it, I was like, I don’t know what I’m gonna be seeing here because I don’t know what exactly I did. It was weird. I know I was connected to it, to that actress from the get-go. She was amazing. There was just something about that episode all around with all these deep-rooted connections.
Zuiker: There’s a fine line between when you’re on law enforcement on the good side and when you’re on the bad side as a murderer, sometimes it’s indistinguishable as a human being in terms of the dark place you go to. I think that’s pretty prevalent. One of the bigger lines in Act 4 is “she doesn’t need a negotiator, she needs a sister,” and Marg comes in there like the sister that she always needed. And the second that the testosterone guys are going to rip the baby away, which is what happened to her first child, this sister defends her and says, “don’t rip her away.” I didn’t plan to write that, but I remember when that came to me, I was a mess. I had to stop, take a walk and come back. Because I think that was just a beautiful thing that came out of nowhere. I didn’t plan to write that line, but I think that line was important to the whole episode.
Helgenberger: We had a stunt coordinator and Anthony comes in and he goes, “if I may,” and he physically showed how he had envisioned it. I connected to that immediately.
Zuiker: Because the men in the moment aren’t thinking about anything but just grabbing and protecting. But here’s this petite woman who’s jumping on top of the suspect and fighting these really burly men off to not have the same thing happen twice where they’re gonna rip her away. As a producer, I’m the guy that will just jump right and go, “It’s like this!”
What’s coming up with the Grace case?
Helgenberger: It takes a few twists and turns, like it should, like every good CSI episode does. The people that are behind it, you don’t expect it to be them. But it does take me to Belarus.
Zuiker: We’re so happy as a franchise to have Marg back. There’s a large fanbase globally that is tickled pink that she’s back. We’re fortunate to have a fifth iteration of CSI back under Jason Tracy, have some veteran actors from the original series, and a brand new cast. To see Paula Newsome interact with Marg Helgenberger is really, really special and super fun. I thought maybe Paula was not gonna be in this episode, but the network called, wanted her to come midway through it. I think that was a nice touch because she was able to bring the best out of Catherine and vice versa and really bring these two women together in a sisterhood, also as a theme for the show.
Helgenberger: One of my favorite scenes of the whole episode is after the scene we were just talking about, and I escort the suspect out, and get her in the car. Paula says to me, was that theater or did that mean something? It’s so deep and she’s so concerned and then she gives me that gift of telling me that this baby’s going to make it. It’s just so beautiful.
It’s such a good scene.
Zuiker: I’ll tell you — even Marg doesn’t know this. I’m a big fan of Pretty Woman and one of my favorite scenes is when he’s trying to find her before he takes her out and then she turns around in her beautiful dress and she says, you’re late. Then he says, you’re stunning. And she says, you’re forgiven. I use the same rhythm in the writing with Marg and Paula. And by the way, Sarah Gilman, you have to say her name out loud as Penny — another fantastic performance and breakout performance of the year for her.
Helgenberger: Absolutely. She’s so adorable in that episode. I don’t mean to make light of it, but she’s so funny in the autopsy and she starts bagging up everything because she doesn’t wanna dwell too much on getting nauseous.
Zuiker: I told her, look, take the goggles and it’s like Top Gun. Because Top Gun: Maverick just came out so we’re like Top Gun freaks.
Will any other original series cast members be showing up? Maybe to help Catherine with the Grace case?
Zuiker: I will say yes, but I shall not mention names. But there shall be a face that might be quite familiar in the episode I’m writing, Episode 217.
Helgenberger: That’s what I hear. It’s top secret at this point.
CSI: Vegas, Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS