It only took three episodes for CSI:Cyber to tackle The Way We Ride-Share Now and it does NOT disappoint.
The basic plot of "Killer En Route" is actually well within the realm of possibility, considering that Uber rapists and Uber kidnappers are objectively real things. I haven't seen a headline rip this ***fresh*** since I watched that SVU where Hilary Duff played Casey Anthony (NEVER FORGET).
As with all good headline rippers, things need to be just off enough to avoid a lawsuit, so a rideshare company called "ZoGo" serves a stand-in for Uber, a fictionalization thinner than Giuliana Rancic on a cleanse. ZoGo's boss is unnamed but they might as well have named him Mravis Balanik because he sneers this when he's asked to cooperate with the investigation:
We're not responsible nor are we liable for any of the transportation services provided by the drivers, that is clearly stated in our terms of service agreement. We're a software company that links drivers to passengers. We provide an app. We're an idea company.
This is both the most realistic part of the episode and possibly just taken verbatim from comments in the public record Travis Kalanik has made.
Before we go any further I would like to share this word cloud graphic from the opening credits:
Just ponder a delicious moment about the people in the opening credits team who came up with this. None of these words have anything explicitly to do with cybercrime. "Rape" is there at least five times. "Let's make a word cloud...but have it be really generic...and repeat itself a ton," is a thought that got turned into a thing that exists every week on our televisions.
Anyways, Uber murder!! Someone is strangled to death by his ride-share driver, the corpse decorated with a child's play block in its mouth. Our team flocks to the scene, which is Boston, which is an opportunity to corral actors with very bad southie accents.
The victim is a high-level government contractor with top-secret clearance, so our cheerful cyber squad (led, as always, by Oscar Winner™ Patricia Arquette as Special Agent Avery Ryan) is on the case. The victim remotely wiped all of his devices using his cell phone in the time between he realized his driver was up to no good and when he got murdered. (Apparently he has rigged up a remote wiping command that responds to him typing "DESTROY" into his phone.)
But it turns out state secrets mean nothing to our rogue strangler. The victim was just in the wrong ride-share-app-commissioned car at the wrong time. The murderer somehow hacked into ZoGo to create a system-ride glitch that'd allow him cover to murder, but he picked a random dude who just happened to be a cyber-expert, which seems like a waste of a good cyber-expert murder to me, but whatever.
Avery hypothesizes, apropos of really nothing, that the killer hates ZoGo and is trying to murder the app by murdering random users. There's a false lead (a taxi driver who hates ZoGo for running him out of business) and lots of glorious talk about the benefits and drawbacks of ride-sharing apps.
"I use ZoGo all the time! It's cheaper than a cab! Look, pay right on your phone, get in, get out, tip's included in the price," Nelson says. "Murder extra?" Mundo quips.
They figure out that the killer is a guy whose kid was run over by a ZoGo car. Sad Dad decided to take his revenge by serial murdering ZoGo riders. And he's about to strike again.
The Sad Dad is getting ready to murder his driver and the team is desperate to keep him within reach of their cell tracker (which apparently they do not need a warrant to use) so they do the most logical thing to slow him down. JK, they do the least logical and most likely to cause fatal collateral damage thing and hack into Boston's traffic grid to change all the traffic lights to green, because it (and I quote) "causes the most chaos." Yes, just what we want when we're hunting down a single madman, to illegally manipulate government infrastructure to compel drivers to get in enough horrible car accidents to cause a gridlock. Maybe the "killers en route"....were our motley cyber-experts all along!
But apparently there is no carnage, and Avery is able to talk Sad Dad down from his ride-share massacre. All's well that ends well, and the gang retires to a bar.
There is a B-story about amiable neckbeard Krumitz, who apparently has super dead parents. Krumitz agonizes over testifying at his parents' killer's trial, and then he does it, but the killer gets freed anyways and he is sad. The B-story is both boring and wholly unconnected to the main plot, and I'm pretty sure it exists just so we can have a wholesome show-closer where the gang affirm their loyalty to each other over alcohol drinks.
- I am so glad they're keeping Patricia Arquette's scaremonger voiceover as a permanent opener for the series, although it definitely makes it clear how bold a choice it was to base a procedural crime series on basically Mat Honan's hacking odyssey with a little extra still-mostly-unexplained murder thrown in.
- Shad Moss Vest Watch: Nelson's fealty to the wholly unnecessary piece of workwear remains unexplained.
- The ZoGo hacking took place after a phishing attack was used to put malware into the system, which the CSI: Cyber team decided to explain with this delightful graphic:
The graphics team at CSI: Cyber continues to do whatever the opposite of knocking it out of the park is, and I salute them.