Review: CSI: New York–‘Second Chances’

The New York CSIs investigate the murder of a man who was run over and burned in an alley.

Synopsis:

The burned and battered body of a young man is found in a New York City alley. Mac finds a cigarette butt, which Danny gets a DNA hit from: a match to Joe Koss. Danny and Flack interrogate the guy, who admits to robbing a fake Santa who was soliciting donations. Joe lurked in the alley—until a car ran over his foot on its way out. Joe tossed his cigarette and went to rob the Santa, but never saw a dead man. Hawkes IDs the dead man as James Manning, who was arrested a couple of times for possession several years ago. Based on James’ injuries, Hawkes and Stella conclude the man was run over by a slow-moving car. The tox screen also indicates he had heroin in his system. Flack tracks down Grace Chandler, Manning’s fiancée, and brings her to the morgue to see the body—and so that Mac and Stella can get a DNA sample from her. Danny and Lindsay are able to identify the car that killed Manning as a 1997 Taurus wagon based on the tire treads and undercarriage marks on Manning’s body. Danny learns of a 97 Taurus that the police found abandoned just fifteen blocks away from the crime scene. He and Stella examine it and confirm it is the car that killed James. The car is registered to a man named Sam Baker. Stella and Danny find him at a recording studio, and he tells them he didn’t even know his car was missing. The CSIs are suspicious—Sam’s car wasn’t hotwired, and both keys are in his possession, but he maintains his innocence steadfastly. Sam’s girlfriend Debbie Fallon comes to the precinct and tells Flack she’s hired a lawyer to represent Sam.

When the CSIs discover there was a $2.5 million life insurance policy on James and that Grace is the beneficiary, Mac brings her in for questioning. Grace insists it was James’ idea to get the policy. Stella finds that Grace has no criminal record, and points out that she volunteers at the Queen of Mercy hospital rehab program. Lindsay finds female DNA in the car, but it’s not in CODIS. She does get a hit on a strand of hair from the car’s undercarriage: Matt Davis, a heroin user who died six months ago. The CSIs find a hefty life insurance policy taken out on Matt Davis as well, but when they question Lisa Williams, the beneficiary, she tells them her identity was stolen after she got out of rehab two years ago. She tells them she was in the program at Queen of Mercy. Hawkes finds a charge for a growth removal procedure charged on one of the fraudulent credit cards and gets a hold of the sample. He runs it through DNA and gets a match: to Grace Chandler. Mac has Grace, Sam and Debbie brought in to the station. He identifies Debbie as James’ killer—her cell phone number was listed as Grace’s emergency contact on the form she filled out when she had the growth removed. Grace and Debbie were running a scam: they “rescued” homeless addicts, took out hefty life insurance policies on them and killed them two years later when the policies matured. Stella tells Sam he was their next target, and he’s thrown. Debbie and Grace are arrested, and the CSIs head out to volunteer to pass out gifts to children at a shelter.

Analysis:

Watching “Second Chances,” I can’t help but wonder what the episode would have been like if it hadn’t been overwhelmed by stunt casting, which is always a dicey proposition. Occasionally it really pays off, as in the case of Taylor Swift‘s moving performance in last season’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode “Turn, Turn, Turn”, or in the sympathetic performance of Pat Monahan of Train here. But more often that not, it’s a distraction and detraction. Musicians or worse, reality TV stars, aren’t famous for their acting abilities, and certainly aren’t the best people to play the parts. There was no point in the episode that I forgot that I was watching Vanessa Minnillo and Kim Kardashian, and that detracted from the powerful final reveal that these two women were chillingly evil, that they literally spent years preparing their proverbial sacrificial lambs. At no point did I buy that Grace was grieving for James—the single tear that rolls down her face is already there in the moment before she sees James’ body. And Kardashian can’t muster up anything more than vampy smugness in the scene where she confronts Flack about the police holding Sam.

The two women are a little better in the final reveal, once the game is up and they admit to what they’ve done, but I couldn’t help but wonder how powerful the lines would have come across had they been delivered by real actresses. That these women essentially rescued these men, helped them get back on their feet and built a life with them only to turn around and kill them in cold blood is essentially the definition of evil, and should be a reveal that knocks the audience off their feet. When Debbie calls the men “a cancer” and Grace coldly says that she and Debbie gave the men two good years they wouldn’t have had otherwise—that’s powerful stuff. It’s presented in such a rational way, and yet is so incredibly twisted and evil. It still makes an impact, but it could have made much more of one if the material had been delivered by actresses with real range.

Monahan acquits himself much better, though he has less material to work with. He definitely garners sympathy for poor, hapless Sam–the only target of Grace and Debbie who escapes death. That’s pretty much all he needs to do outside of the musical interludes, which all things considered, are worked into the story fairly well. LaLa Vasquez, who like Minnillo is an MTV personality, also gives a credible performance as Lisa Williams, the victim of identity theft. With no fewer than four roles stunt cast, there’s definitely a gimmicky air to the episode, which detracts from what is a strong case and a good script.

CSI: New York is hit or miss with the subtle touch, and the attempt to incorporate the spirit of the holiday season into the episode feels awkward and heavy-handed. The scene in which Mac and Stella carry the tree and talk about their holiday traditions is cute… until it’s revealed that it’s a charity mission. But it’s the cheesy ending, with four of the characters dressed up as elves—yes, elves—that’s really wince inducing. Did they really have to dress up to hand out toys? What’s even funnier, or really more insulting, is that Mac and Stella watch from the sidelines in street clothes. Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes must have clauses in their contracts that prevent the show from making them look foolish. The cheesy costumes take away from what otherwise could have been a sweet—if unsubtle—scene.

What has happened to Danny Messer? The once dynamic character is practically fading into the background these days. Not content with simply stripping Danny of his personality, Lindsay is now after his catchphrase: he tells Stella that Lindsay is forbidding him to say “boom” for fear that it will be Lucy’s first word. He rebels by uttering a “boom” at Stella’s prompting… but is this really the same headstrong Danny Messer who petulantly faced off with a killer in “Trapped”, the one who taunted his captors in “Snow Day” or who recklessly chased after his stolen gun in “All in the Family”? Really? He’s reduced to sneaking utterances of his favorite word behind his wife’s back. Yoking Danny to Lindsay has sucked the life out of him, and it’s a shame to see the formerly fascinating character stripped of his spirit. There’s a reason that Dr. House on Fox’s hit show is still a jerk after six seasons—much as the audience might think they want to see the softer side of the prickly doctor, a kinder, gentler House would certainly spell the death knell of that show. Danny might not be the star of CSI: NY in the same way House is on his show, but he is a draw… or he used to be.

Flack must be the most fun character to write for—his lines are always standouts in any episode. My favorite from this episode is from the interrogation of Joe Koss, who insists he doesn’t have “the stomach for that kind of violence” after he’s questioned about the murder of James Manning. Flack’s not having it: “You got a resume for ‘that kind of violence'” he shoots back. No, Flack doesn’t cut anybody any slack, and his snarky retorts almost always merit a laugh.

Source: "Second Chances"

Kristine Huntley

Author

Kristine Huntley

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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