The Most Unsettling Episodes In CSI History

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was a breath of fresh air when it debuted in 2000, even if some of that air was thick with blood, guts, and corpses. In presenting a new type of crime procedural, the series pushed the boundaries of what was allowed on network television.

From the levels of gore to the heartbreaking nature of the crime, these episodes are the ones that are the most disturbing from CSI’s original run.

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8. “Fannysmackin” – Season 7, Episode 4

The worse part of “Fannysmackin” is that there’s no over-the-top villain like the Miniature Killer or the Dick and Jane Killer. In fact, there’s not much of a mystery since the show opens with a gang beating up their victims in the parking lots and alleys away from the strip. Yet, that’s not the worst part of the episode.

CSI doesn’t often put the main characters in danger, but this time, Greg (Eric Szamada) becomes a victim in an intense and terrifying scene when the gang overpowers him. The consequences of that one scene are felt throughout the rest of the season, but for those that watched it at home, it’s stayed with them for years.

7. “Chaos Theory” – Season 2, Episode 2

One of the earliest episodes, “Chaos Theory,” played with audience expectations during the course of the mystery, which eventually revealed the killer as…no one. Results at the time of the bold choice were mixed, but CSI showed that sometimes, unfortunate accidents happen, and no one is to blame.

In the final scene, after Grissom (William Peterson) explains the sequence of events, shows a family demonstrating the human inability to accept that the universe is cold, uncaring, and random. Amazingly, CSI would hold off on the twist of “no one did it” for the rest of the show’s run. Mostly.

6. “King Baby” – Season 5, Episode 15

CSI routinely used different subcultures for an episode theme, from Lucha Libre wrestling to Lady Heather’s fetish-friendly lifestyle. “King Baby,” as the name implies, brought infantilism to the CBS audience, and while this is a real kink enjoyed by people that don’t resort to blackmail, the show amplified it to an absurd level.

Everyone assumes the rich and powerful have strange secrets, but when a victim is discovered facedown in his driveway after jumping out a window, the resulting discoveries are disturbing beyond the image of the giant nursery for a 60-year-old man.

5. “Sqweegel” – Season 11, Episode 4

One of the highlight episodes from the Langston (Laurence Fishbourne) era, “Sqweegel,” is unique not just for an episode of CSI, but for a network procedural. The villain, a bizarre individual in a leather suit that squeezes into tight spaces to kill hypocrites, is not only never caught, but his face is never revealed.

Anthony Zuiker, the co-creator of CSI, wrote a novel, Level 26: Dark Origin, which introduced the character of Sqweegel, making this an obscure cross-over from a different franchise. From his appearance to his disturbing behavior, Sqweegel made a lasting impression on fans in only one episode.

4. “Blood Drops” – Season 1, Episode 7

“Blood Drops” stars a young Dakota Fanning in one of her first on-screen roles, and as the earliest CSI episode on this list, left a lasting impression on the fanbase. What starts as one of the worst crime scenes in the show’s history, featuring a murdered family of four with only two survivors, slowly unravels into the stuff of nightmares.

A theme through the next few episodes is the inclusion of children, and either Sarah Sidle (Jorja Fox) or Nick Stokes (George Eads) involved with the case. “Blood Drops” ranks this high given the trauma inflicted on the survivors, the victims, and the CSI team, but it’s also one of the best episodes of the series, and establishes Sarah as the heart and soul of the team.

3. “Empty Eyes” – Season 7, Episode 18

Speaking of Sarah Sidle episodes, “Empty Eyes” features one of the bloodiest crime scenes in CSI, a truly disturbing sequence with unwitting victims, and a memorable appearance from Justified and Righteous Gemstones star Walton Goggins. Making it worse is Warrick (Gary Dourdan) spending the B-plot informing a victim’s grandmother that her granddaughter was murdered in cold blood.

Though it can be argued that CSI glorified murder, episodes like “Empty Eyes” are hard to watch because of the implied violence (never shown since it is broadcast television). By showing the impact on the family, everything hits harder, but the killer’s final damning line, revealing his motivation, is what haunts viewers to this day.

2. “Gum Drops” – Season 6, Episode 5

Narrated by a little girl (Mary Maitlyn Mouser), “Gum Drops” starts out with the creepy, hushed tones of a horror movie, before opening up on the site of a family massacre. Nick believes there’s a survivor, but few people believe him, which only adds to the tension of the episode, but that’s not what makes it a CSI classic.

From the slow-burn of a real investigation, which features no bodies, plenty of suspects, and a new piece of evidence every few minutes, to George Eads heartbreaking performance, “Gum Drops” does everything right. Yet in true CSI fashion, it remains intense, disturbing, and tragic from beginning to end.

1. “Grave Danger Part 1 And 2” – Season 5, Episode 24 And 25

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Grave Danger” is a two-parter that focuses entirely on the CSI team trying to find and rescue Nick after he’s buried alive. From the extreme closeups to scenes of Nick gasping for air, these are both the best CSI episodes, even if they are hard to watch. The franchise’s dark humor is gone, replaced by life-or-death stakes, and though it’s a non-traditional crime scene, it’s the most disturbing of all time.

When the episodes first aired, following a heavy marketing campaign over the involvement of Quentin Tarantino, fans turned off the television with their nerves completely frayed from sitting on the edge of their seats for 40 minutes. CSI never reached the heights of “Grave Danger” again, but it didn’t have to, the show already reached a peak no procedural has come close to since.