Convicted arsonist Leonard Brooks is back, but this time the team must stop him from seeking revenge against people from his past.
Rita Lowman is trapped in an elevator, looking up with terror as fire springs to life on the ceiling. She is broiled alive by the heat. Security footage shows that convicted arsonist Leonard Brooks is behind the fire, and they head to his apartment to find it empty. The press is describing Brooks as a monster who killed an innocent woman, but he calls Mac to disagree with what they’re saying—he doesn’t deny being a monster himself, but he claims that his victim was not innocent.
Later, in the park, Jimmy Clark eats a sandwich and takes a drink of water before collapsing on the ground while Brooks watches. At first, it seems like the man had a heart attack, but in reality he was burned from the inside out. Brooks put cesium in the mayonnaise on his sandwich, which mixed with the man’s water to create a chemical reaction that gives off intense heat. The burning substance made its way down his esophagus and into his stomach, where it mixed with his stomach acid and caught fire.
Rita Lowman is an alias, and the woman’s real name is Jennifer Brooks—she’s Leonard’s mother. Jimmy was his foster brother, and they both beat him as a child. The team tracks Brooks down to a hospital where his mother used to work, locating him in time to save his foster sister Rachel from meeting a horrific fate.
“Where There’s Smoke…” brings back arsonist Leonard Brooks (Rob Morrow), who was introduced in last week’s season premiere, “Reignited”. Brooks was innocent in the first installment, but this week he’s behind a series of brutal deaths by fire. The episode explains the man’s painful past, revealing that the victims have not been picked at random. The first victim is his mother, who was abusive to him as a child after his father was killed. Following his father’s death, his mother had to take in foster children to help supplement their income. Brooks’ second victim this week, Jimmy, was his foster brother. As a child, Brooks thought 15-year-old Jimmy looked like an adult, and he thought the older boy would help him. Instead of helping, Jimmy beat Leonard because he was afraid of becoming a victim himself. The final target in the episode, Rachel, was only seven when this was happening to Leonard. She tells him that she was only a child, but he points out that there was a loose board in the fence around the house, and she could have slipped away to tell the neighbors. Leonard blames her for not trying to protect him, and after Mac and Flack rescue her at the end, she sobs and tells Mac that Brooks is right. She regrets that she did nothing. While I understand that she feels guilty about what happened, the truth is that she was just a child at the time. It’s assumed that Leonard didn’t tell anyone about what was happening to him either. Regardless of what the children could have done, the person at fault for the abuse back then was Jennifer. She was the adult in the situation, and the children were at her mercy.
Brooks’ mother was a nurse, and she worked in the burn ward. She had to take Leonard with her to the hospital some days, and he would peek in and see how she treated the patients. She was always gentle and kind with them, in a way that she never was with her own son. He felt like she cared about them more, and he wanted to gain control. Starting fires and feeding the flames gave him that sense of control, and it became an obsession. Fifteen years ago, he got caught and sent to prison because he did the one thing that no one did for him: he rushed back into a burning building to save an innocent person. He spent those long years in prison thinking about how to get revenge, and he has been planning the deaths of his mother and foster siblings for a long time. The trauma he suffered makes Leonard sympathetic to a point, but not nearly sympathetic enough for me to approve of the gruesome methods of murder he utilizes this week.
Leonard’s actions in “Where There’s Smoke…” seem to be in direct opposition to his behavior in “Reignited”. In the past, he never set out to hurt anyone, and he sabotaged Eva’s second fire to prevent any more firefighters from being killed by her traps. It’s a completely different story this week, although Leonard doesn’t see their actions as being the same. Eva just wanted to kill firefighters trying to do their jobs, whereas Leonard is targeting people he blames for turning him into the man he is today. He never wanted innocent people to die, but he doesn’t consider his mother or his foster siblings to be innocent.
The episode contains several video segments from Brooks’ therapy sessions in prison, which Jo watches so she can create a psych profile of the man to help with their case. It’s a nice nod to Jo’s FBI background, and the videos themselves provide some insight into Brooks as a person. The first video, from 1998, features Brooks talking about how fire made him feel safe because he was in control. Once he started that first fire, there was no going back. He was never going to be scared again. The second video, from 2003, offers some information about Brooks’ father. He and his dad were close, and the man’s death devastated Leonard—and drove his mother to abuse him.
It’s the third video that provides the clues Jo needs to help crack the case and locate Leonard and Rachel. Filmed in 2005, it features Brooks talking about a nightmare in which he’s being chased by hunters with his blood on their hands. He also tells the story of a deer who tried to get back to its castle, but it discovered that it was being hunted. The deer hoped that someone would help it and keep it safe, and it became invisible. Mac recognizes this as the story of Saint Aidan. They quickly realize that Leonard identifies with the deer, and his mother and foster brother were the hunters. Leonard’s ‘castle’ is the abandoned Saint Aidan’s hospital, where his mother worked in the burn ward; Leonard used to sit in the chapel and pray to the saint to save him from the abuse he suffered. They find him in the chapel, preparing to kill Rachel in front of the very same statue of Saint Aidan he prayed to as a child.
Brooks tells Mac and Jo that he doesn’t want to be the way he is, and he blames the people in his life for the way he turned out. Mac acknowledges that a person is shaped by his or her past, but it is his or her choices that define them. Leonard, Mac says, made the wrong choice. At the very end of the episode, Mac watches footage from one more therapy video. This video is from 2008, and Brooks talks about fire by comparing it to the ocean: far more powerful than it seems. He describes getting caught up in the ocean’s currents, pointing out that something which seems benign can control and destroy a person. He thought he was controlling the fires, but in reality, the fires were controlling him.
“Where There’s Smoke…” marks the introduction of new recurring detective Jamie Lovato, played by Natalie Martinez. The character is first seen walking into the precinct, and she doesn’t look much like a cop with her leopard print high heels and messy hair. When a big man gets free from the uniformed officer who brought him in, Lovato kicks a chair into his way to trip him, then kicks him in the groin and puts a foot in the center of his chest. She backs up when the uniformed officers jump in to restrain the man, and Flack wanders over to compliment her on taking the guy down. It’s obvious that Flack is interested in her, and he asks if he can help her with anything. She tells him that she needs a desk, although Flack is confused until she pulls out her police badge. Lovato worked undercover in the narcotics division for three and a half years until her cover was blown, so now she has been transferred to homicide.
Lovato gets to prove herself again later on, after she’s changed into something more fitting for a homicide detective and approaches Flack and Mac in the precinct. They’ve been discussing the possible connection between both of their victims and Leonard Brooks, and Lovato sets them on the right path to discovering that ‘Rita Lowman’ was Jennifer Brooks, and that Jimmy was her foster son. During the scene, Lovato tells Mac that she already sent for Jimmy’s CPS records, and she offered the file clerk a couple of meatball sub sandwiches to make her request a priority. When she walks away, Mac is smiling, and it looks like Flack is already smitten with the new detective. Mac says, “I like her,” and Flack replies, “Join the club.”
I, too, like Lovato so far, and I’m curious to learn more about her as the season continues. We still have to learn the whole truth about what happened while she was working undercover, and I can’t wait to find out why she transferred to the homicide division. It’s obvious that there’s a spark between Flack and Lovato, which is the first time we’ve really seen Flack in a (potential) romantic relationship since Jessica Angell died back in season five’s “Pay Up”. There are certain similarities between Lovato and Angell; they are both tough, capable, beautiful women who happen to have several older brothers. However, despite any common traits they may share, this is only Lovato’s first appearance on the show—there’s plenty of time to really set her apart.
Mac’s memory problems rear their head again this week. He’s speaking to Flack in the precinct, and they know that ‘Rita Lowman’ is an alias. He wants Flack to circulate her photo so they can get an identification, but he can’t think of the right word. He struggles for a moment before he changes his phrasing, and it’s obvious that he’s frustrated. Later, Danny approaches Jo in her office, and there’s a really nice scene between them. He starts off by joking about her watching old Jane Fonda fitness videotapes, and she takes the teasing in stride. They talk about the interview videos, but that isn’t Danny’s reason for coming to speak to her. He is worried about Mac, and he wants to know what Jo thinks. Initially, Jo brushes off the idea that anything could be going on, and she points out that Mac has just come back from a really serious injury. Danny thinks he seems “a little off,” which she believes is the least of what they could expect. After the ordeal he’s been through, it’s amazing that he even returned to work. Danny is still worried about him, though, and Jo smiles and calls him an “old softie”—but she promises to keep an eye on Mac just in case. As the scene ends, it seems clear that Jo will be paying much closer attention to Mac than before.
I’m glad Danny is the first one to mention that Mac seems to be dealing with something. As much as I love the friendship between Mac and Jo, Danny has been a part of the team family since season one. Mac has always been a father figure for Danny, and he’s the godfather of Danny and Lindsay’s daughter Lucy. It would make sense for him to be in tune with Mac and realize that things might not be okay long before Jo would pick up on the same clues. It also speaks to Jo’s relationship with the rest of the team that Danny would come to her about his worries and trust her to help him keep an eye on Mac. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see not only how Mac’s aphasia affects him, but how it affects his relationships with the rest of the team.
See also: “Where There’s Smoke…” episode guide