Aired April 7, 2011 IMDB
“Unleashed” is the first Lady Heather episode without William Peterson as Gil Grissom, after the actor’s departure from the show. It also retreads some of the same ground as the notorious “Fur and Loathing in Las Vegas” episode (to be discussed).
This time, the dead body is a woman in a leotard who got mauled to death by a mountain lion in the woods. The woman shows signs of having been beaten and restrained.
Further examination reveals feline dental prosthetics and signs of being hit by a stun gun. ID’d as Iona Vail, who ran a battered women’s shelter. The co-manager of the shelter, Debra, says Iona left weeks ago.
Examining the victim’s address book reveals she was seeing “Dr. K”, which turns out to be Dr. Heather Kessler, formerly “Lady Heather”. She now has a PhD, a certificate in sex therapy, and an office that shows her taste for Victorian furnishings.
Heather: “Iona came to see me after exhausting more conventional psychotherapy. A diagnosis of exclusion, if you like.”
Iona looked after her siblings as a child, and continued as an adult, to the detriment of her own needs.
Heather: “My job was to help her express a deep-seated longing for love and nurture.”
Sidle: “And you did that how?”
Heather: “I didn’t diagnose three nights in Lady Heather’s dungeon. I suggested she express herself through gestalt role-playing.”
Langston: “And what was that role?”
Heather: “After preliminary psychotherapy, she imagined herself as a cat.”
Heather shows them a video of a session.
Heather: “She was making progress, finally able to demand and receive affection.”
In session with her boyfriend Carter on the video, Iona walks around on all fours and meows on the couch. Heather suggests that he “stroke the kitty’s head”. Looking dubious, he does.
Heather: “It was a productive session, until the end.”
In the video, Heather (wearing a tiger-stripe top for some reason) tells her the session is over, but Iona won’t come out of it. Even when Heather claps her hands loudly at her.
Heather: “Iona, whatever you’re hiding from in there, you have to come out and face it.”
When Carter tries to pull her out, she hisses and bites him.
In interview, the boyfriend Carter has no idea what happened to Iona.
Carter: “I blame that Dr. Kessler. She used to be a dominatrix. I mean, how the hell does a woman like that get a license?”
He shows Sidle a bag of bondage equipment he found at Iona’s place.
Carter: “That’s what that shrink got her into. I was gonna go down to her office and throw those in her face.”
The fake tooth links to a Dr. Tyrell Neth, dental veterinarian. He fits the “rich, decadent weirdo” archetype who greets the CSIs at the door of his huge mansion in a smoking jacket.
The place is full of women (all young and pretty) in cat costumes, slinking around on all fours, with men playing with them. (At least one woman is in human mode.) One wears the same kind of collar and cuffs as found by the boyfriend.
Dr. Neth: “I assure you, what goes on here is all quite healthy and, for the lack of a better word, natural.”
Sidle: “How about consensual?”
Dr. Neth: “All the restraints are self-releasing. My pets choose to be here.”
Langton: “Your pets?”
Dr. Nether: “My friends and I find comfort from their affection.”
Langton: “Your human pets.”
Dr. Neth: “The idea of animal transformation, therianthropy, is as ancient as mankind itself. In native cultures, young males gain an animal spirit at puberty. Often, the initiate must kill his spirit animal, consume it as a rite of passage.”
Langton: “Yes, I’m familiar with the concept, but my understanding of therianthropy is that it’s fleeting. It’s meant to be symbolic. In many cultures, the notion of retaining the shape of a beast is seen as nothing less than a curse.”
Neth calls Iona “a creature of habit”. She was living in Neth’s house since Heather and Carter saw her, and hanging out in a pine tree outside. Then she ran away. “Total mystery.”
Sidle suggests Iona got tired of a gilded cage and the demands. Neth says he’s not intimate with his pets.
Neth: “[I get] Affection, loyalty, gratitude. Qualities I find sorely lacking in human society. And this house, while certainly gilded, is no cage. The animals can come and go as they please.”
Sidle is rolling her eyes at all this.
Sidle: “How does someone who runs a woman’s shelter end up with a guy like Neth?”
Langton: “Good question.”
Outside, their examination of Iona’s favorite tree is interrupted by a man in a dog costume, who barks at them. He also has stun gun marks.
Langston returns to Heather, talking about how “Doberman” won’t answer any questions as a human. “Doberman” used to be the manager of a hot dog chain. Langton says he’s either hiding behind the mask or Neth has him brainwashed.
Heather says that’s too simplistic.
Heather: “You attribute all the power to Neth.”
Langton: “He is the master. It is his house. They are his pets. His rules.”
Heather: “But a king is nothing without his subjects. They define him, elevate him. Without them, he’s just a man.”
Langton: “You’re saying the relationship is more equal than it seems?”
Heather: “It’s a bond of reciprocity.”
Langton: “Tyrell gets affection, his pets get shelter.”
Heather: “It’s like the bond between dominant and submissive, hunter and hunted.”
She pries into Langton’s background and the serial killer with which he was involved. “I can help.”
The stun gun is a false lead, but a scrap of catsuit fabric produces a fingerprint that leads to Debra, the co-manager of the women’s shelter. Brought in for questioning, she says she tracked down Iona, used the stun gun on her, dragged her away from Neth’s place, and tried to drive her away. Iona woke up, still in cat mode, and ran away. That led to Iona’s death from the mountain lion.
Debra: “The Iona who started the shelter, who saved me from my husband, she would have died before she let herself be some pervert’s cat. So I was just trying to bring her back.”
She describes it as “brainwashed”
Debra: “I wanted to rescue her like she rescued me.”
Sidle: “But she didn’t want to be rescued.”
It’s Langston who resolves the matter.
Langton: “Iona didn’t want to be a cat forever. She just wanted to be treated like one for a little while. She wanted to be taken care of, the way she had taken care of so many other people.”
Debra: “So why didn’t she just say that?”
Langton: “Some people just can’t ask for help. They don’t know how.”
This episode dips a toe into very deep issues, but it really isn’t equipped to deal with those depths. Is BDSM supposed to be therapy? Is animal roleplay legitimate psychotherapy? Is Heather responsible for putting Iona on the path that ultimately led to her death? Or is Debra, for assaulting and kidnapping Iona? Is Dr. Neth a loving dominant, just an eccentric, or some kind of cult leader? Are sexually submissive women driven to this by the demands of the caretaking expected of their gender? Did Debra try anything else to rescue Iona before kidnapping? CSI as a franchise operates on the principle that figuring out a cause of death is narrative resolution, when really it is just the beginning.
The episode treats animal roleplay like it’s a magic spell the people can’t escape from, even for people they’re close to. The idea that people do this temporarily for pleasure and/or relief isn’t supported by the story. Even when “Doberman” is arrested, he doesn’t break character. None of the “cat women” talk for themselves, about their lives and what they get out of animal roleplay. It’s Langston, channelling Heather Kessler, who resolves the discrepancy between “Iona, rescuer of battered women” and “Iona, housecat.”
Dr. Heather Kessler now has an office, but like the previous episode, she’s a stationary expert, without agency, who completely cooperates with law enforcement. If she sees herself as even partially responsible for Iona’s death, she doesn’t show it. Though she has no established relationship with Langston, she moves into being his psychological caretaker just like she was with Grissom.
This is “Lady Heather’s” penultimate appearance in the series. Before I get to her role in the series’ finale, I will explore some of the other BDSM/kink-related episodes of CSI. While these episodes may not be about BDSM per se, they illustrate how forensic procedurals like CSI and its spinoffs and imitators look at sexual subcultures.