This is another way in which the show was unusually realistic and still very unrealistic at the same time:
- On the one hand, we’re seeing them contribute to some cases and then hand the work off to others, and accepting that we may never hear about this case again. This allows them to spotlight the quotidian reality of police work, and just show “a night in the life of a forensic lab”, instead of pretending that police only pursue one case at a time, as one might guess from “Law and Order”
- But they know that we’ll demand closure to at least some of the cases, meaning that they have to create two cases that unrealistically get reported and closed all within that one night’s span, including instantaneous test results that actually would have taken weeks.
And here’s the remarkable thing: the audience barely notices. Looking back, there is a moment where Grissom tells the victim, “We’ll keep trying, something will turn up eventually, it always does,” but you hear that on cop shows all the time, and I for one never noticed that the case is never mentioned again in this episode. (It would indeed be solved eventually when new evidence appeared twenty episodes later.)
Normally, it’s very unsatisfying in any story if the original dramatic question is simply abandoned, but this is another remarkable achievement of this show: they get us to admire the team’s successes and failures, and they discourage us from differentiating between the two. This is part of the show’s celebration of the scientific method: the purity of the process is more valuable than the attainment of a desired result. The fact that, by the end of the pilot, we’ve already learned to admire Grissom despite his lack of results is a testament to how successful they have been in quickly rewriting our expectations.