‘CSI: Vegas’: Paula Newsome Got What She Wanted From Max-Centric Episode
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for CSI: Vegas Season 2 Episode 17, “The Promise.”]
“I want me a ‘Koala’!” Paula Newsome told franchise creator Anthony Zuiker (referring to the Marg Helgenberger-centric episode earlier this season), and she got it with the latest CSI: Vegas.
When a young girl’s remains are found 40 years after her murder, her mother (Regina Taylor) doesn’t exactly trust the cops … until Max proves she can. Zuiker, who co-wrote the episode (with Alex Berry), and Newsome take us inside the powerful hour.
Anthony, why did you want to tell this story?
Anthony Zuiker: One of my goals this season was to write two big solos, one for Marg Helgenberger [“Koala”], [and] one for Paula Newsome. I knew that based on the bodies in the barrel that were found in Lake Mead kind of linked to mob hits was one way to go. I didn’t want to do a cliché mob story, but I wanted to use that as a tipping-off point, but really get back to the more emotional story between a grieving mother and a daughter and the old school granular forensics of facial reconstruction. Karen T. Taylor is pretty much the godfather of that discipline. I spent about four days in her masterclass, really learned that in Austin, Texas, reconnected with her, and brought an emotional story back to Paula. Then when Paula and I sat down, she was like, “Regina Taylor, Rob Morgan.” Next thing you know, it all came true.
That scene with Max and Bryan near the end with the facial reconstruction was so good.
Paula Newsome: Anthony has an ability to write this show in a voice that is like no other, as the creator of this show. And when I read “Koala,” I was like, “I want me a ‘Koala’!”
Zuiker: I gave her a smaller thing, “you take this one.” “No, I want that one!”
Newsome: I was like, “no, I want me a ‘Koala’!” … Then we got three more, and there was space.
The entire episode, you see how affected Max is: removing the skull from the barrel, everything with Regina Taylor — you two together were fantastic — then in the church.
Newsome: Just talk about Regina Taylor. Regina Taylor is a prolific actor. She made her mark doing I’ll Fly Away decades ago. Quite honestly, I didn’t see it. I just knew of it, and I knew she had gotten an Emmy. I saw her at a fundraiser, and it was like seeing Santa Claus like, “oh my God, he’s alive, she’s alive.” We exchanged numbers. When you work with people like that, it’s really easy; what makes something so emotional becomes just a conversation. When in doubt, just tell the truth. The truth may have a lot of emotional weight, but it’s easy.
Zuiker: [I] have a lot of conversations beforehand [with actors]. I try to make all their wishes come true. My excitement is if Paula says Regina Taylor or Rob Morgan or she wants a husband, I’ll listen to all of that. I’ll put all that in there because I want her to be surprised when she reads the script because she’s the first audience. … When I was younger, I used to try to overwrite Quentin Tarantino, and I learned over the course of time that the value is to underwrite the show. Let really great actors elevate the vision. And I think that’s what “The Promise” did. I told Paula, “I think I only got maybe six or seven shows right out of 841 episodes, but we definitely got this one right.”
Why have Raquel die? It feels like it couldn’t have ended any other way…
Zuiker: They tried to talk me out of it. I was like, “no, no, no, no, no, she’s not living. I’m sorry.” I purposely had Max go back and have a conversation, have her come through, drop the bullet in the hand, thinking she’ll be fine, and right when I got you so convinced that the crime was solved and go back for the good news, she’s already been long gone. That’s part of the intentionality of breaking the audience’s heart on purpose only to be able to emotionally give Max and her team the victory lap, that it’s far deeper than the case being solved. Two souls were solved and reconnected as they ascended into their higher place. There was no other way but to bury Phoebe and Raquel side by side. There was no other ending that could have made any sense to me.
Then Paula, you got that ending in the church with everyone coming in.
Newsome: I love how much this impacts [you] because this is what we wanted for Max. It was important to me. First of all, working with somebody like Anthony, who is so collaborative… What I love is his minimizing. There was one point when I came down to the morgue, [and] he was like, “take away that stuff!” It became so simple.
Zuiker: “Just strip it away.” The thing is, I’m not one to overly apologize for stuff that we do. I try to keep it just real and simple. You start doing all this hocus pocus, and suddenly it’s because the story doesn’t work. But we had moments in this draft of the show that will live on forever in the franchise. “This is my watch, and it don’t need winding.” … “Go get that man, here’s the bullet from my chest after 40 years,” boom in the hand!
Anthony, what did you want to do in this episode with Greg’s (original series star Eric Szmanda) return?
Zuiker: To be honest with you, it wasn’t my first choice to have him in this episode. It wasn’t designed to do that. It was really just a Maxine vehicle, period. But somehow, just the ball bounced where I was going to tee him up, which is fine. He’s my actor, and I created him. So it was a little bit of a tonal dance, how to tonally bring him into the show without having to upstage the emotionality of what the show was designed to do, which is be a Maxine vehicle through and through. I think we did a great job with that because he was in early enough to be introduced and not dissuade what happens in the motion of the episode and then supportive enough in the science and the solve to run parallel tracks and not interfere with the Maxine run to [the focus on Max].
Paula, I felt for Max when she met her ex-husband in the restaurant because, at that point, she had been going through enough with the case. Did she really think he might stick around? Did she just not want another loss?
Newsome: I think there’s something there, and I don’t know what it is. Maxine having someone to lean on, that she’s not always the one propping folk up, is such a gift. It’s an opportunity to exhale.
Zuiker: Paula saved that scene, by the way. Paula said, “I think I need to add a line here,” which was just bad timing. He could not be coming back at a worse time. This is not the time to rekindle the relationship! He tried, but he’s reminded quickly in that first scene that her head is in the job. Sometimes family takes a backseat. She might be forgetful because she’s so hyper-focused because she’s so good at what she does. It’s one thing to live it in the past but to see it in front of you again… That’s why the very end, Rob Morgan says, yeah, and walks away. He’s like, “s**t ain’t changed.” Even Rob said to me, “same s**t, different day.” And he was right.
As soon as he ordered the drink, I was like, oh, that will be for Max, and it will be as he leaves.
Zuiker: You’re good!
Jason Tracey teased a focus on Folsom (Matt Lauria) coming up. Paula, what can you say about what we’ll see between Max and Folsom with regard to that? Those two are always there for each other.
Newsome: Yeah, it is a special relationship. It’s like an older sister-younger brother, auntie-nephew vibe, and they can do things with one another that don’t fit in the other dynamics. It’s a challenging thing to watch someone that she cares for go through.
Zuiker: This particular episode is one of the rare [ones] where people are doing all they can to support and take care of Max. She’s been taking care of everybody else the entire season. So Paula and I had a deeper discussion about making sure that we’re going to flip this and we’re going to have people take care of her in the best way, as we torture her through the episode with great pleasure, so we can give her a great victory lap at the very end.
Earlier in the season, we saw Serena (Ariana Guerra) trying to be there for Max.
Newsome: And it was so uncomfortable! But at the same time, it’s one of those situations where people are like, “how are you feeling today?” It’s like, “who are you?” People need time. It’s a process.
Because of the last scene in this episode, it seems Max needs people to be there for her silently instead of asking questions.
Newsome: You’re a smart woman.
Anthony, what was your favorite scene to write?
Zuiker: It had to be when Mrs. Williams first comes in, upset. Look, I cried during most of the things I write for the show because they’re usually emotionally driven. They’re usually very deep and personal. There are things if you want to deconstruct my life in “Koala” and here, it’s all about what I’ve gone through, just disguised in different ways. But there’s something about somebody coming in hurt and having a new face come in and say, this is a different sheriff in town, and having to earn that trust over the course of the episode was great fun because where they started, which was terrible — “I’m out of here, go to hell, leave us alone” — and the scene you didn’t see was when they were in the hospital bed for her surgery… Paula had this great take that we had to lose because of time. She was like, “you were so mean to me. I was mean to you. And it was like two sisters —”
Newsome: That’s what it felt like! I’m so bummed we missed that.
Zuiker: And then the very end, after they kind of settled, she’s like, “now get them damn doctors in here. Let’s get the show on the road.” And it was such a, “I don’t care if I’ll live or die, now that we’re bonded, take the bullet and go get ’em.” We had to cut that. It still works. But there were wonderful colors in that.
We know as viewers that you can trust Max, but we see that entire journey here.
Newsome: I like that. Yeah, of course, you can trust Max, and somebody coming in basically and saying, “Who do you think you are? Get the hell out…”
Zuiker: Plus, there are no ethnic passes. There is no, “just because you’re an African-American female, I’m going to go ahead and treat you any kinder.” This is a woman dressing a woman down. … It was like, “I’m older than you. We’re both African-American. I don’t trust you, and I’m going to let you know how it is. Keep it real.” It’s like, wow. Now she’s got to really come back from under and get the trust back. And then we want to see how Max will do it. One of the best takes in the whole show is, “I thought I said, leave us alone.” And Max goes, “I am, but I’m a little hardheaded.” [Newsome laughs] I didn’t write that line. That was brilliant! Then they’re off and running.
CSI: Vegas, Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS