Saying ‘goodbye’ can be a rather difficult thing. Whether you’re parting ways with parents before going off to college, having a conversation with a friend or sibling as they’re about to be deployed overseas, or perhaps attending a funeral, ‘goodbye’ usually means there’s going to be an absence. Some ‘goodbyes’ only last for a short while, but others often last for extended amounts of time–sometimes forever. Starting tonight millions of people will have to prepare for a fictional goodbye, but probably one that is just as emotional as one you would face in real life.
I’m talking about the departure of a beloved character, one played perfectly by Marg Helgenberger. Catherine Willows’ exit arc on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation kicks off tonight with an adrenaline-filled installment, slowly paving the way for her departure in next week’s episode. Coming to terms with this is hard, I will say that flat out. After spending an incredibly long amount of time–12 years!–with a character you come to look at them as someone you love and admire. In some ways they’re family. To escape the everyday doldrums of real life many of us will plop on the couch, turn on the TV, and eat all the ice cream our heart’s desire while watching our favorite shows (of course, some episodes of CSI there’s that inability to eat anything). You watch the characters learn and develop and you become attached. And when you finally have to detach it feels terrible.
To be brutally honest, it fucking sucks.
This April will mark my eleventh year of watching the series. That’s more than half of my life dedicated to watching a series about crimes committed in Sin City. Watching at a young age was indeed foolish, but the payoff has been so wonderful. I admire the writers more than anything for creating such three-dimensional characters, fascinating story arcs, and working long and hard on one of the most watched shows in the world. They’ve spent over a decade mapping out the character of Catherine Willows, an inspiration to women and men across the world, and as of tonight that run begins to fade away.
Fortunately, the exit is nothing short of brilliant and is a reminder to viewers of how tough–yet vulnerable–the character of Catherine Willows is. Marg Helgenberger tackles these two episodes with such a wide array of emotions; empathy, sadness, anger, frustration, and it’s all done marvelously. “Ms. Willows Regrets” and “Willows in the Wind” take Catherine–and viewers–on a ride through her past in a manner that hasn’t been done on the series before. It’s a great payoff; viewers love continuity. While watching these episodes I felt a severe case of deja vu. Not only does the show touch point on episodes from recent years, but there’s also an incredible sense of nostalgia when episodes from seasons one and two make their way into the fold. Catherine’s final episodes really do reward longtime fans.
As we prepare to say goodbye to a sublime character and an actress that has performed the hell out of this character, I eagerly await what comes next for Ms. Helgenberger. Be it another TV series (I strongly believe she would be a perfect fit on The Good Wife, another CBS series), a feature film, or even in front of a live audience on Broadway, there’s no doubt we haven’t seen the last of a class act woman who put her heart and soul into a role that has entertained us for years and years.