What were they supposed to do — kill her off?
That wasn’t going to fly. This is CBS: Beloved characters don’t get killed. Instead, when the actors who play them decide to leave (as opposed to having the decision made for them, such as Charlie Sheen), they make their exits with hugs and tears. And that’s how Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) left “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” Wednesday night after 11-1/2 seasons.
Basically, she left because she was offered another job — with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And she accepted the offer because she thought a change of scenery would do her good. In addition, it was revealed during the episode that, yes, she did feel she’d been “passed over” for the top job that went to out-of-towner D.B. Russell (newcomer Ted Danson).
Yes, “CSI” fans, as exits go, it wasn’t exactly dramatic. In fact, it felt a little tacked-on because, for most of the previous two hours of “CSI” (beginning with the episode a week earlier), Willows was deep into a very complicated storyline involving a “professional” hit squad, former “black ops” personnel, murdered federal agents, and an old friend’s (seemingly) nasty divorce.
And of course, Willows was in great danger herself, though she very athletically dodged hundreds of machine-gun bullets to escape. (These scenes in movies and TV shows in which heroes and heroines miraculously evade death from a half-dozen high-powered guns shooting at them always have us rolling our eyes.)
But after all that — a storyline so complex that it took two weeks to tell — Willows’ decision to leave was “dramatized” in a scene in Russell’s office in which Willows made her new-job announcement to the CSIs who had gathered there. And while the Willows finale left some critics cold (read one of them here, on EW.com), the episode drew 14.033 million viewers, according to the Nielsen overnights — the biggest audience for “CSI” this season.
Our take: Sure, simply having Willows decide to work elsewhere did seem to be a rather mundane and undramatic way to end her “CSI” career. But really: What else were they going to do? On CBS, more often than not, beloved characters live happily ever after, and the violent ends are reserved for the bad guys.