Spoilers: for all five seasons
Personal Website: Desiderium Caritas
What to say about Greg. It's hard to know where to begin, but then again, maybe that's the perfect place.
It's common knowledge in the fandom that Greg wasn't part of the original CSI plan. He was meant to be in the pilot only, but for various reasons the producers decided to keep him around on a recurring basis. As a result, his character's been sort of strung together out of bits and pieces, little bits of backstory fed to the audience over the seasons, and a healthy dose of Eric Szmanda, the actor who plays him.
What we do know about Greg is this: He grew up in southern California, went to Stanford on a full ride and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He's brilliant and he likes people to know it, he's got a corny sense of humor and…let's just say eclectic taste in clothes. He surfs and listens to Manson and Black Flag, he collects coins and he was kind of a nerd in high school and college. His college roommate was on the hockey team, and Greg spent a lot of time running errands like getting his skates sharpened for him. He likes to brag about his social prowess, but recently we discovered that he didn't lose his virginity until he was twenty-two, meaning he most likely recreated his entire image when he got to Las Vegas.
All of these are facts gleaned from canon, but the key to understanding Greg isn't what he tells us, but what he shows us.
At first glance Greg is cocky, a little arrogant and definitely impressed with himself. He's loud and sometimes obnoxious, generally overeager and hardly ever serious. In the first two seasons his only real roles are scientific exposition and comic relief, and for a lot of people that's where the character ends. But Greg's done a lot of growing up over the years, and during that time he's shown us a subtle vulnerability that makes him one of the most interesting characters on the show.
In a lot of ways Greg's the class clown. Particularly in early seasons, he's the comic relief. And even now that he's become a more dominant presence on the show, he's still treated as comic relief by the writers. Sometimes this is more flattering than other times, but whether you find it endearing or just obnoxious, you can usually count on Greg to say exactly what everyone's thinking and no one wants to say out loud.
He likes to be the center of attention and works hard at it, but like most class clowns, it's pretty clear that Greg's attention ploys are just a mask for his insecurities. There's a vulnerability about him that people tend to miss; he likes to show off his vast stores of knowledge and he has a tendency to exaggerate, but inside he's still that geek who runs his hockey star roommate's errands because he just wants to fit in and be one of the cool kids.
That's why he thinks of the CSIs as kind of glamorous, and ultimately what leads him to talk Grissom into letting him out in the field. They're not exactly rock stars to him, but he sees the limelight they're in and the glamour of being in the spotlight and he wants that. He's spent his entire life trying to rise above other people's perceptions of him, and even after he moves to Vegas and starts over with a new image and exaggerated stories of his daring adventures, that instinct to impress never really goes away.
We get a few glimpses of that vulnerability after the events of "Play With Fire" (3.22) and "Inside the Box" (3.23), when Greg's in the hospital and later, when he comes back to the lab and tries to hide the effects of the explosion from Grissom. He wants to be fine, wants to roll with the punches and go on as if nothing happened, but he can't hide his tremor and when Grissom calls him on it Greg lets us see our longest glimpse so far of that kid who's just looking for approval.
Unfortunately that's all we get, because when season four begins Greg's back to business as usual and the explosion is all but forgotten. We never see the emotional impact of his injuries, never find out the details of his recovery or who took care of him while he was recovering. We know he's got friends, but we don't know how many or how close they are. It's impossible to tell at any given moment if he's telling the truth or exaggerating to give people the impression of him that he wants them to have, and that makes it impossible to really know anything about his life outside the lab.
But we do know how driven he is, and we know that he craves what he perceives as the glamour of being a field investigator. We know beginning with season two that Greg wants out of the lab, but it's not until season four that he actively pursues the change.
The first hint we get that Greg's not happy being a lab rat is in season two's "Scooba Doobie Doo" (2.05), when Nick calls Greg a CSI wannabe. Later in that same season, he shows up at a crime scene and proceeds to freak out at his first taste of field work ("Chasing the Bus", 2.18). In season three, he accuses Nick of cheating on him when he takes Archie into the field instead of Greg:
GREG: Hey, Stokes?
GREG: We've got to talk.
NICK: Hey, did you I.D. that scraping from my vic's head wound yet?
GREG: Yeah, yeah, it's a common plastic, polyethylterephthalate - P.E.T. Used in everything from garbage bags to magnetic tape to floppy disks.
NICK: Okay, thanks.
GREG: Yeah, but that's not what I wanted to talk about.
NICK: What, then?
GREG: Look, I thought that we had a relationship. What are you doing taking Archie out into the field instead of me?
NICK: It's the right tool for the right job, man. You have to understand the world you're investigating. Hey, Archie.
NICK: Hey, what's that Star Trek episode where the guy's got the forehead thingy, and the time portal...?
ARCHIE: In Classic, TNG, DS9, Voyager or Enterprise?
GREG: Point taken.
- "Random Acts of Violence" (3.13)*
But he gets his first successful taste of fieldwork in "Precious Metal" (3.18), when he helps Grissom catch a murderous coin dealer. It's during this episode that he first tells Grissom he wants out of the lab, and that conversation marks the beginning of Greg's journey toward becoming a CSI.
In season four he officially begins lobbying to become a CSI, and although we've known for two seasons that this is the career he wants, it's impossible not to assume that the lab explosion had something to do with his drive to finally make the move from lab tech to CSI. By season five he's working on his field proficiencies and being hazed by the other CSIs.
The evolution of his profession career brings some changes in his behavior as well; the sense of humor is still intact, but he's more serious and more mature than the Greg we saw in season one. He doesn't flirt as readily as he used to, and although he's still given to corny jokes and snickering at any mention of sex, there's a subtle difference in the way he interacts with the other characters that shows not only his growth, but the fact that they've learned to respect him as a peer instead of just the person who processes their evidence.
He's finally become one of them instead of being on the outside looking in, and although he's still learning and making mistakes, it's obvious that his confidence is growing with his acceptance into what he perceives as the inner circle. He's one of the cool kids now – the one thing he's spent his entire life trying to achieve – and once he realizes that he's actually part of that group, he can finally stop trying so hard to impress them.
None of this means that Greg's a big bundle of insecurities hiding behind a cocky attitude. He knows who he is and he's not afraid to go for what he wants, he knows exactly how smart he is and what he has to offer. But there are small moments of doubt when we get to see that he's not completely sure all the time, and those are the moments that show us that he's not just an obnoxious know-it-all. He's smart and funny and at the top of his game in the DNA lab, but he's also sensitive and just unsure enough to make you want to feed him cookies and tell him everything's going to be okay.
Greg's changed a lot since we first met him; he's changed jobs, changed his demeanor, and changed hairstyles probably more than the rest of the cast combined. But mostly he's changed our opinion of him as a character by growing right before our eyes, learning from the people and the situations around him and somehow managed to make a three-dimensional person out of a single guest spot on the first episode of the show, and I can't imagine the show without him.
*Transcript courtesy of Anthology