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Monday, December 22, 2008

From a miracle to the little screen

With thanks to Stephanie of the local Chowhounds group, I learned that last week's episode of CSI:New York featured the use of miracle berries as an accessory to murder. I went through the trouble of watching the episode, and this is pretty much my review of the show.

I'll be writing about things that could spoil the show for you. I haven't figured out how to hide that stuff behind a "click here for details" tag. My apologies, but it can't be helped. Please skip if you don't want to be spoiled, and have plans of watching the show. It can be streamed directly from

Okay, with that out of the way, let's talk about how they used this interesting fruit as a plot device. If you didn't know, miracle berries have this amazing property of making you taste sour and bitter things as sweet, and as such, have become the cornerstone of "flavor tripping" parties. Here in Houston, we've had at least three such parties in the past, and they've been very popular. The writers imagined that someone who is under the influence of miracle berries will be unable to taste a poisonous substance being slipped them. Never mind that people have used tasteless or easily disguised poisons before - like iocaine powder :). But I am getting ahead of myself.

The plot is that a girl was killed through internal saponification by ingestion of large amounts of sodium hydroxide that she couldn't taste because of the miraculin.

Oh geez. The problems with this plot. And the efforts they go through to try to make pretty actors look smart.

First of all, I don't think the writers have ever been to a flavor tripping party. Attendees don't consume large quantities of any one item, they tend to keep on tasting all sorts of things. Not likely that the girl would have drunk the amount she was required to kill her.

But, moreover, they don't understand the properties of concentrated sodium hydroxide. An abject lesson to everyone - a concentrated alkali like sodium hydroxide is quite a bit more dangerous than an acid because it will dissolve protein. Like, oh, the mouth and esophagus. In the episode, they make it like as if it didn't go to work until it got to her stomach. Secondly, that much base will dissolve the polymer gasket of a blender - and the thing should leak like a mofo. Thirdly, in a smoothie? That much NaOH would have reduced all the proteins in that mix to a viscous mass - and easily detectible on texture alone. And lastly, they make it like the sodium hydroxide somehow has a purity profile that can be tracked. Yeah, right. Sodium hydroxide is a very simple compound, and is consumed in the saponification reaction - it's not like some exotic compound that can be signed like a bullet. They couldn't have had the evidence they needed to convict.

Like I said earlier, if one really wanted to kill the girl through poison, there are so many other ways to do it, requiring less stuff (fugu liver, anyone?), less messy, and more likely to succeed. I give them kudos for bringing in miracle berries in a plot, but man, the writers should at least try them to learn their effects before writing. This is the first time I have watched CSI:NY, and I must say, I was incredulously giggling most of the way. Never mind the serious tone, this is a major comedy.

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