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CSI Files - CSI: New York--'All Access'

CSI: New York--'All Access'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 27, 2006 - 9:28 PM GMT

See Also: 'All Access' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Nick Russo, Kid Rock's limo driver, is found dead outside the venue where Kid is performing, but Mac Taylor barely has time to examine the scene before he hears a disturbing call on the police scanner: shots have been fired and an officer may be down at an address he recognizes all too well: Stella's. He and Flack find Stella in her apartment, unconscious and beaten. The body of her boyfriend, Frankie Mala, lies nearby, dead. Stella is taken to the hospital where she will undergo a complete work up. The CSIs are relieved to learn Stella hasn't been raped, but they need to piece together what led her to kill Frankie, whom she shot three times. Flack sits down with Stella to help her piece together what happened.

Danny and Lindsay tackle the Russo case, their suspicions first landing on Blake Mathers, Kid's original limo driver, who was fired for bringing groupies up to the parties. But Blake maintains his innocence, so Danny turns to a CD found in the limo, which contains Kid's new song, and was apparently used by Nick to release the song onto the net. Could Kid have killed him? The rocker denies it; he wanted Nick to release the song, to build buzz for his new album. Lindsay is able to match up a slip of paper with a phone number from the limo to leaflet in a CD a fan named Felicia Badman gave to Kid. Felicia tells the CSIs she hooked up with Nick to get an All Access pass into the show, but when they notice her pass is missing a chain, they match it to a mark on Nick's neck. Danny and Lindsay confront Felicia--after she and Nick hooked up, he refused to give her the pass. She found a gun in the glove compartment and threatened him with it, and when he tried to grab it from her, the gun went off.

Stella and Flack piece together what happened together: Frankie confronted Stella in a parking garage about not returning his phone calls. She broke up with him over the website he made, aresanob.com, which showed the two having sex. When she got home later that evening, she found Frankie in her apartment; he had stolen and copied her key. She told him to leave but when she went for her phone, he grappled with her and overpowered her. He tied her up, and she tried to convince him she loved him so that he would let her go. Frankie didn't fall for it; he punched her and knocked her out. When she came to, he dragged her into the bathroom, but was interrupted by the doorbell. Frankie left her in the bathtub while he went to get the takeout he'd ordered for them, and Stella managed to free herself using a razor. She hid behind the bathroom door and slammed it into him when he came back. She ran into the living room and got her gun, but he leapt on her and knocked her down. Frankie grabbed the gun and pulls the trigger, but he didn't load the chamber so no bullet fired. Stella used his momentary distraction to grab the gun, which she armed and fired into him three times, before collapsing. IAB deems the shoot a good one, and Mac insists Stella take sick leave. She returns home to her apartment but thinks better of it and instead packs an overnight bag and leaves.

Analysis:

I'll be up front right off the bat and admit that I had serious reservations about this episode as soon as I saw the extended preview at aresanob.com. When I first heard about the idea of Stella killing Frankie and not remembering what happened, it sounded like it had the makings for an exciting episode. However, I found what ended up on screen to be so excessive and graphic that it was downright distasteful. CSI shows depict violence against women with regularity due to the nature of the franchise, but never have I have seen it played for cheap "thrills" in the manner in which it was done in this episode.

We're treated to the story in flashbacks, but unlike the usual flashbacks on CSI shows, these aren't grainy or rapid in any way. It's done for effect, I suppose, because the victim is a main character and we're hearing the story from her point of view, and from that of the evidence which Mac and Flack use to piece together the holes in her story. The effect was to underscore even more the violence against Stella, and I had a visceral reaction to those scenes. And perhaps that was the point--I have no doubt the audience is supposed to be horrified by what happens to Stella. But when it's taken to this extreme, it's cheapened, as if it's being played more for shock value, a cheap ploy for ratings, something this show has never before sunk to.

Yes, it bothers me that it's Stella that it happened to. I realize anyone can become a victim of a violent crime, but the details are puzzling. Stella is so cautious that she never even has men over to her apartment, let alone give them keys, and yet, when she walks into her apartment and finds Frankie inside, she doesn't pull her gun on him, run, or reach for her cell phone to call for help. It's not that I don't believe that her first reaction would be that she could handle Frankie, but if Stella is as careful as she says she is, I would think that finding him in her apartment, a place he has no business being, right after she broke up with him would be enough for alarm bells to immediately go off in her head.

Frankie turns out to be a classic psychotic, spouting off lines like "I'll show you what a crime scene really is," that probably sounded "cool" on paper. And yes, it made Frankie seem pretty evil. It's an interesting turn of events, but not really surprising or not, given that we've only seen Frankie on screen three times, for a grand total of time that couldn't be much more than five minutes. But, here he is now, in full psycho mode, after dating Stella for almost an entire season and apparently fooling her the entire time. I'm not saying it's not possible he could have, but given how little we've seen of him, it seems more a cheap trick than an actual twist.

I also object to the graphic nature of the lurid details we're shown on screen. For one, Stella is wearing a little sundress to show as much skin as possible and make her seem even more vulnerable. We see Frankie struggling with her, we see him threaten her with a knife, we see him hit her in the face, we see him drag her across the floor and up a set of stairs and toss her in the bathroom tub. The message is loud and clear: the writers want us to see Stella suffer. In addition to the horrifying visual imagery, I find that disturbing on a deeper level.

We've never seen a woman on a CSI show in successful relationship. Over on CSI, Catherine seems to jump from one bad man to another. Ironically, the episode "Weeping Willows" was rerun just recently, and it's another perfect example of the trend. In my review, I noted how it seemed in the episode that Catherine was being punished for wanting to have a social life. Certainly that appears to be what's happening to Stella here. Other CSI show women follow the trend: Sara had a paramedic as a boyfriend who turned out to be no good, while on Miami, Calleigh's ex-boyfriend Hagen was revealed to be unstable (he held a gun to her head) and Yelina was abused by the man she was dating, IAB Rick Stetler (ironically, he's still on the show; she's not).

What all of this tells me is that the CSI writers like to punish the main female characters on their shows for seeking out relationships. While Mac shyly meets a woman from a diner for a date, or Danny flirts with a woman on a train, or Horatio pursues a relationship with Marisol Delko, Catherine grapples with an over-aggressive jerk, Calleigh witnesses her ex blowing his brains out in her lab and Stella is brutalized and terrorized by her boyfriend. The double standard is both glaring and reprehensible.

I suppose there are some who will read this review and dismiss it as a feminist rant of sorts, but I think the examples speak for themselves. Look at it this way: would we ever see either Mac or Danny, scantily-clad and crying, being beaten, held at knife point, terrorized and tied up? Men are the victims of sexual crimes, too, but I can pretty much guarantee you'll never see anything like what happened to Stella ever happen to a male CSI lead. If anything, this episode illustrated just how progressive CSI shows aren't. When it comes down to it, the episode was little more than a slasher thriller, a cheap way to terrorize a woman. It was pretty much a horror movie disguised as a CSI: New York episode. Surely writers Timothy J. Lea and Anthony E. Zuiker, who have penned some of the best entries in the series, could have come up with a better way to highlight Stella's strength than reducing her in this way.

Stella, of course, came forth from her ordeal with grace and dignity and strength, though I didn't really expect it to be any other way. Melina Kanakaredes is phenomenal, especially in the scene where she has to use a naked razor blade to cut through the bindings around her wrists, cutting herself in the process. Just like in any horror movie, the best moment is when the tormented heroine finally defeats the bad guy, and it is no different here. Kanakaredes was so good that she made me forget my disgust with the episode for a moment and cheer as she loaded a bullet into the chamber of the gun and blew Frankie away. I loved that she shot him three times; Stella wasn't taking any chances.

Also turning in a stellar performance in the episode is Eddie Cahill, whose Detective Flack displays both compassion and gravity as he walks Stella through recalling what happened to her. Kanakaredes and Cahill have a fantastic dynamic together, and there is clearly a great deal of trust between their characters, something we've seen in a lighter way in the witty banter they exchange when they work cases together. I'm glad they had Flack on the case rather than Mac, who comes off as a tad condescending when he tells Stella he's insisting she take sick leave. The sentiment might be justified, but his tone is patronizing.

The B-case didn't bother me as much this week as it did in "Run Silent, Run Deep", perhaps because I was grateful for the opportunity for some relief from the scenes of seeing Stella brutalized. Kid Rock made for a good guest star, and I enjoyed his interacts with the two most uptight characters on the show, Mac and Lindsay. Maybe he was playing himself, which perhaps isn't all that much of a stretch, but he was very natural and fluid in the episode.

If only the same were true of Anna Belknap. I'm finally starting to understand why Lindsay grates so much on my nerves, and I think it's Belknap's delivery of her lines. I'm always conscious of the fact that she's acting; I never feel as though what comes out of Lindsay's mouth are her own words, and not lines on the page. The same goes for her actions; I could practically see the line in the script that called for Lindsay to put her hand on Danny's shoulder after she gets the call about the blood on Kid Rock's jacket. In a show where the other actors are so natural and comfortable in their roles, she really stands out, and not in a good way.

I also puzzled over her reaction to Stella's situation, given that we've never seen any evidence that Lindsay and Stella are especially close. I hope they're either closer than we as an audience realize, or that Lindsay was just reacting to Stella's situation as a woman might, and not that it's related to her "dark secret." If Lindsay's dark secret is that she was raped, or in a bad relationship, the writers are really taking the cheap and easy way out. The last thing we need is one more woman on a CSI show who has been traumatized by a man. Surely the writers of this show can come up with something less marginalizing that that.

Because ultimately what bothers me the most is that when there is this much violence against the primary female characters in a franchise like this (and rumor has it there's more to come, two episodes later), it's being used as a subtle way to put strong women in their place, as though they could never be as strong as any man in this field, because there is always some evil bad guy (whom they will willingly and misguidedly let into their lives) around the corner waiting to do something--beat, threaten, or rape them--to remind them that they're just not quite as tough as the men on the show, not quite as invulnerable as a character like Horatio Caine or Mac Taylor. It's a subtle message, and maybe one the writers don't even realize they're sending, but with so many examples, it's one that is impossible to ignore.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.