The New York team closes in on the Compass Killer as they try to prevent him from claiming his final victim.
Picking up where “Cuckoo’s Nest” left off, the team tries to figure out how the Compass Killer, Hollis Eckhart, disappeared from right under their noses in Flushing Meadows. Mac finds the answer when he spots a manhole cover that’s been moved. He and Flack venture down into the sewers, discovering Hollis Eckhart’s hideaway: a series of rooms designed to look like a Manhattan apartment. Mac sends Danny and Flack to search the sewer tunnels for Eckhart while Lindsay and Hawkes process the apartment and Adam taps into the city’s surveillance cameras. Danny spots a man in a green hoodie and he and Flack give chase. They pursue the man above ground to an alley, but when they find him hiding, they see the man they’ve been chasing isn’t Eckhart. The man, Leonard, tells them that Eckhart accosted him in the sewers and then felt bad and gave him his jacket. Danny takes the jacket but gives the man his own in exchange. Back at the lab, the team works on the evidence from Eckhart’s makeshift apartment, going over torn up pieces of paper and a solar illumination gage. Stella determines that Eckhart’s previous three victims weren’t the people he actually held responsible for his wife Calliope’s death–including the man who sold her killer the gun, the psychiatrist who didn’t identify the killer’s violent tendencies and the guard who let him in the building–but people his psychotic mind had mistakenly assigned the blame to.
Danny and Flack race to a hardware store after Eckhart attacks a worker there and flees with a length of rope. Lindsay analyzes the torn pieces of paper and determines there’s a picture that’s been blacked out, and posits that the killer hates his final victim more than any of the others. Hawkes finds two faded tickets and begins to analyze them. Hawkes is able to put it all together: Eckhart was using the sun tracking equipment to pinpoint Manhattanhenge: the day when the sun rises in line with the city’s grid. Manhattanhenge is scheduled to take place on December 5th: Hollis Eckhart’s birthday, and the day his wife was killed two years ago. Mac realizes that’s today’s date, and that they have a mere two hours to find Eckhart before he claims his final victim. The search kicks into high gear and Hawkes recovers information from the tickets: they were for the Philharmonic. Lindsay is able to uncover the drawing details enough to see that the final victim is none other than Eckhart himself. Mac races to the Lincoln Center and finds Eckhart there with a note on his chest that reads: “I shouldn’t have asked her to come. I’m sorry.” Eckhart runs when he sees Mac, and the CSI gives chase, eventually cornering him in a Manhattan intersection as the sun rises. Eckhart, seeing the ghost of his wife, raises his gun to his head, but Mac manages to talk him down and the killer surrenders. Afterwards, Mac and Stella interpret the note: Eckhart was supposed to meet his wife at the Lincoln Center to see the show, but he was running late and asked her to come to his work instead… which resulted in tragedy. With the case closed, the team heads out to enjoy dinner together.
The Compass Killer arc ends with what is essentially an episode-long pursuit, as the CSIs race to catch Eckhart before he claims his final victim. “Lat/Long” introduced the killer, while “Cuckoo’s Nest” unraveled the mysteries of his past and his motivations, leaving “Manhattanhenge” free to focus on his capture. There’s a big red herring in the form of Leonard, the hapless homeless man Eckhart attacks and then offers his jacket to, and a few more pieces of the puzzle fall into place–most significantly that the person Eckhart intends to harm is himself–but mostly the hour is devoted to the manhunt, which is certainly exciting. Seeing Adam set up shop in the lab and turn it into a massive surveillance center gives viewers a thrill in part because we know how psyched Adam is to be a central point person in the big chase. Adam has been grappling with fears of being replaced or pushed aside this season, so it’s fun to see him taking on such an important role in the search for Eckhart.
Given the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death, it’s not exactly a shocking revelation that Eckhart’s final victim is himself. Though he tried desperately to protect her, Eckhart ended up getting shot and falling to the floor, forced to listen helplessly as the killer went after and killed his wife. To add another dimension to his guilt, we learn after he’s been caught that Eckhart was running late that day and rather than meeting his wife at the Lincoln Center as they’d originally planned, he asked her to come to his office first. It was a simple request, one that on any other day wouldn’t have had consequences any more dire than perhaps making the couple late for their concert. Knowing that, it’s easy to trace the course of Eckhart’s rage: if one of the people he holds responsible–the gun seller who didn’t check to see if the killer had a permit, the court-appointed psychiatrist who deemed him stable or the security guard who let him in the building–had raised a red flag, Calliope Eckhart and a lot of other people would probably still be alive. Hindsight is 20/20, and any tragedy can be traced back through a series of near misses–including the one that took Mac’s wife from him.
That Eckhart’s delusions caused him to take his revenge on the wrong people ironically makes him a more sympathetic figure rather than not–in addition to losing his wife now and carrying the guilt from her death, he now has the blood of innocent people on his hands. If he gets the treatment he needs, that realization is what awaits him. Whether he can survive such a realization is very much in doubt; Mac and the vision of Calliope end up saving his life, but at best he’s looking at life in an institution, locked away with his guilt and devastation. Nonetheless, it still feels like a win when Mac is able to talk him out of shooting himself. It might have been nice to see Flack, whose loss is much more fresh than Mac’s, be the one to step up and reach out to the man, but Mac’s entreaties and mention of Claire still made for an effective climax.
I found myself surprised at how much that climax tugged at my heartstrings, in part because of the gut-wrenchingly poignant performances of Skeet Ulrich and Josie Davis as the doomed couple. Her desperation and his guilt build an incredible intensity that make Mac seem almost like an afterthought. The drama here is not coming from Mac’s entreaties–really, who is Mac to Eckhart?–but from the war within Eckhart himself, to bring his quest for vengeance to its conclusion or to listen to the voice of his wife, to do what he knows deep down she would have wanted and spare himself. Ultimately his love for her wins out, and his surrender is a surprisingly gentle one: he lays the gun on the ground and sinks to his knees. Mac and Flack rush in with less violence than they might have otherwise, recognizing that the fight is over not because Eckhart is surrounded but because he’s truly surrendered.
Nice as it might be to see Danny back on his feet and acting more like his old self than he has all season, it feels more than a little unrealistic that Mac would put him on a major manhunt as his first real case back in the field. Danny might be eager to prove that he’s got his “sea legs” back, but it doesn’t stand to reason that he’d send someone who was walking with a cane a few weeks ago on an important chase. Even with Flack to keep a protective eye out, it seems like a risky move. What if Danny had been struck by crippling back pain in the middle of the pursuit? Danny seizing up in pain at a crucial minute could have cost the team Eckhart, and no matter how much Mac cares about Danny and his fragile self-esteem, it didn’t seem a risk worth taking on this particular case. Indeed, at the end of the episode at the restaurant, Danny is reaching for a bag of ice for his aching back indicating he over-exerted himself in the field.
Given his breakdown in “Cuckoo’s Nest,” Flack is a little too fine in this episode, especially given Eckhart’s backstory. Yes, Mac lost his wife in 9/11, but he’s not the only one who can relate to Eckhart–or to wrestling with guilt and remorse. Mac managed to get Flack to snap out of his funk in “Cuckoo’s Nest,” but for him to just be fine–and to not register some basic similarities between himself and Eckhart doesn’t really ring true. Perhaps Mac sending Danny out into the field with Flack was as much for Flack as it was for Danny–Flack has seemed at his happiest and most normal this season around Danny, and he never misses an opportunity to look out for Danny. Indeed, it’s Flack, not Danny, who jumps in and tackles Leonard. Though it’s nice to see Flack is in recovery, it would have made sense to at least see him clocking some of the parallels between his situation and Eckhart’s.
The person we do see really relating to Eckhart is not Flack but Lindsay, who is clearly thinking back to the shooting in the bar–and how she felt when Danny was hurt. It’s really the first time we’ve seen her address her feelings about what happened in the bar; in “Cuckoo’s Nest” Danny talked about his fears with Stella a bit, but up until now Lindsay has been focused on taking care of Danny and keeping things upbeat and positive for his sake. Trey Callaway‘s script gives Lindsay some of the best, most introspective lines she’s ever delivered when she wonders aloud about how losing someone you love in the way Eckhart loved Calliope can break a person. It’s clear from the impassioned way she’s talking that she’s thinking back to the shooting in “Pay Up” and how she could have lost Danny in one violent and shocking moment. After all, she’s lived it before when her three best friends were killed in a diner shooting when she was a teen. More than anyone, Lindsay can understand how violence can change someone’s life in an instant.
I’ve never before thought of Lindsay as a character who could be carried away by rage, or even understand that impulse. In “Dead Reckoning”, she struggled to understand how a wife could kill her unfaithful husband out of pure passion, while the much more emotional Danny got it on an instinctual level. But Lindsay’s comment about Eckhart’s rage over Calliope’s death being “a rage you can’t control” suggests that this is something Lindsay gets on an instinctual level. Lindsay obviously believes that had Danny died in that bar, she could have become similarly unhinged. She’s carrying around a fair amount of guilt, too, as evinced by her response when Danny comments that Eckhart “blamed himself as much as anyone else.” Lindsay immediately jumps in with, “Maybe more,” clearly showing that she really understands where Eckhart is coming from. The through line for Lindsay in this episode adds real depth to her character, something we see all too infrequently for her. Anna Belknap handles these scenes well, injecting a real intensity into Lindsay’s words as she speaks about Eckhart and his motives.
The episode ends on a cheerful note, with the team gathering at a restaurant to celebrate closing the tough case. Team bonding is something we’ve seen featured heavily in all three CSI shows this season, and it always makes for a fun wrap up for the audience. Stella gives a toast, Lindsay helps Danny with his ice pack and the two share a kiss, and Mac and Hawkes banter about their living arrangements. Hawkes has been crashing on Mac’s couch after his financial struggles in “It Happened to Me”, but we learn over the dinner that he’s found a place of his own. Mac seems thrilled to be getting his place back–until he learns the place is unfurnished. Looks like that couch is gone for good! The back and forth–and the chance to see the show’s two most serious characters joking around–is fun to watch and makes for a nice cap to a serious and powerful arc.