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Review: CSI: New York–’Death House’

Posted by Kristine Huntley - 10/12/09 at 01:12 am


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A 911 call brings the CSIs to a booby-trapped penthouse, where they find a mummified corpse–and learn that there might be other victims hidden within.

Synopsis:

A 911 call brings the CSIs to an upscale penthouse in Central Park West after Flack discovers the mummified body of a man in one of the rooms of the apartment. A broken skylight indicates the 911 caller likely broke in, but there’s no sign of him in the penthouse. While Sid works on the mummified body at the morgue, Adam is upset to discover Deborah Martin from the FBI is checking out the lab because the FBI is considering Haylen Becall for a position. Sid tells Mac and Stella that the victim died from 11 stab wounds and based on his dentures was likely murdered in 1923. Danny uses the facial reconstruction computer program to match the victim to a missing person from the 20s, Walter Jones, an early venture capitalist who was being sued by the owner of the penthouse, Sam Harding, an inventor who claimed Jones stole his ideas. Adam gets a match to prints from the skylight glass: Richard Lawson, a real estate agent known for breaking into properties about to go on the market and assessing them before anyone else and making a killing on the sales. Stella is unable to locate Lawson, and even though the CSIs canvassed the penthouse, Danny finds footprint evidence that Lawson entered the penthouse–but never left. Furthermore, he’s convinced by the recording of Lawson’s 911 call that the man was in real jeopardy when he made the call.

Flack, Mac and Stella return to the penthouse and discover it’s booby trapped–Stella steps on a ornate floor piece and narrowly misses being impaled by a bed of knives that swings down from the ceiling. The three follow a trail of clues to discover a trail of clues to find a hidden room, and then reassemble the room to match a painting of Harding, which opens another door–to a room-sized oven, where they discover the body of Richard Lawson, burnt to death. Hawkes inadvertently locks himself in the room but is rescued by Mac before the oven can begin heating again. Danny confirms the dead man is Richard Lawson, but also finds there’s another set of prints on the skylight, indicating someone else might be in the penthouse. Danny thinks it’s Paula Davis, Lawson’s girlfriend, who he called just prior to dialing 911. A neighbor reports water leaking into her apartment from the penthouse, but the CSIs can’t find any leaks in the apartment, suggesting the presence of yet another hidden room. They find it on the other side of the bedroom, but aren’t sure how to get to it. A riddle on the wall leads Mac to a grandfather clock, which he restarts–causing the doors to the hidden room to open and release Paula Davis in a cascade of water. The CSIs carry her to safety and leave the death house behind.

Analysis:

It’s always fun to shake up the formula a little bit, but “Death House” suffers from not being nearly as exciting as its chilling title promises. A bed of knives swings down–but misses Stella by more than a little bit. Hawkes gets stuck in the oven room–but is quickly rescued by Mac, before the good doctor even breaks a sweat. There’s someone trapped in a hidden room about to die of hypothermia, but it’s a random victim, not one of the main characters. This house is deadly and full of danger at every turn–and yet the CSIs move in and out of it with ease. The stakes just don’t feel high enough, nor the challenges inventive enough. Is watching Mac and Stella rearrange furniture in a room to match a painting really thrilling? Not particularly. The feeling of jeopardy needed to make the episode truly exciting just isn’t there.

The other problem facing “Death House” is that CSI: NY did a variation on this theme several seasons ago in “Trapped”. In that episode–which is among the show’s all time best–Danny managed to get himself trapped in a panic room with a dead body and was forced to get creative to process the scene. And in the end, Danny found himself at the mercy of a killer when it was revealed that the man supposedly working to free him was actually involved in the murder. “Trapped” offered both an exciting story and a great character arc, neither of which are really featured here, at least not in the death house. Though “Death House” does offer up an interesting backstory with the murder in the 20s, “Trapped” added an emotional element by drawing a parallel between Danny, who was dodging calls from his older brother Louie, and the victim, whose reclusive life was a result of his brother’s murder.

Sure, there’s something inventive about a room that’s been designed to be an oven or a room that fills with water, but they’re glossed over fairly quickly in favor of riddles that lead the CSIs on to the next clue in the puzzle. It’s a bit ironic that the person all of these perils were intended for never made it past the first one and was dispatched by the swinging bed of knives before stumbling on either the oven or the water room. And though Lawson meets death in the oven and his girlfriend nearly perishes in the room that fills with water, the CSIs handily manage to avoid danger, save for Hawkes’ brief brush with danger in the oven. Wouldn’t it have been fun if, while Mac, Stella and Hawkes found the body of Lawson, Danny or Flack had stumbled into the water room? It would have been much more fun and scary had it been one of the main characters in jeopardy in the final act. Though that’s not a ploy that can be used every week, surely this episode could have employed it to raise the stakes.

As ever, Flack’s reactions are the ones that mirror the audience’s–and make them laugh. His reaction to finding the mummified body? A hearty “whoa.” And after Mac makes reference to the room Flack and his uniforms missed on their first investigation of the apartment, Flack quips that it was “like it popped up out of nowhere” and proceeds to hum the theme to The Twilight Zone. Flack is intent on finding someone to arrest for the crime, and must have been heartily disappointed to learn that the killer had been dead for thirty years. Flack doesn’t get quite as many zingers in as one might hope given the setting, but the reactions he does have are priceless.

It is sensitive Danny who picks up on the genuine distress in Richard Lawson’s voice on the 911 call and insists that Lawson wasn’t just faking the call so that the mummified body would be discovered. Danny’s sharp intuition is also on display when he picks up on Adam’s nervous energy in the lab. “What’s wrong with you?” Danny asks, always one to pick up on the subtlest changes in mood in those around him, and to express concern for them. Though Danny’s energy seems somewhat muted this season, it’s nice to see that his role as the compassionate heart of the show hasn’t changed.

It certainly seems as though Haylen Becall is being written out in this episode when an FBI scout comes to consider Haylen for a position at the FBI lab. Does this mean we won’t be seeing Sarah Carter‘s overeager lab tech, last spotted in “Dead Reckoning”, again? Though the character never grew on me and didn’t seem to offer anything new or special to the show, three episodes seems like a very brief trial period. After being so eager to be a part of the New York lab, it looks like she’ll be moving on quickly–apparently to an even more prestigious position. What we do know about Haylen is that she’s ambitious–and apparently very, very adept at securing herself prime jobs, no matter how difficult they might be to obtain.

One person who is affected by Haylen’s apparent departure is Adam, who initially viewed her as a threat but definitely seems thrown by the prospect of her going to work for the FBI. Danny posits that Adam has a crush on Haylen, while Deborah Martin, after interviewing people from the lab, believes that Adam is actually relieved because he thought Haylen was after his job. It’s probably a mixture of both, though I tend to think Deborah is more on the money than Danny. Adam has been wary of Haylen since she caught a print he missed in an elevator in “Epilogue”, and he seemed none too pleased when Mac brought Haylen in to work in the lab. Though the hook-up between Adam and Stella that happened in “Epilogue” definitely seems to be going nowhere, it’s hard to believe Adam would be so quick to transfer his affections. If Haylen really is history, it’s all moot–but if she is indeed gone, it’s nice to see an explanation offered up, as opposed to her just never showing up again.

Source: "Death House"

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