Review: CSI: New York–‘Sanguine Love’

When the body of a young woman is discovered in a snowy park surrounded by blood, the CSIs come to suspect she may be the victim of a vampire cult.

Synopsis:

Mac, Flack and Hawkes stand over the body of a young woman whose excursion to Central Park on a snowy day to take photographs ended in tragedy. Hawkes suspects she bled to death from a puncture wound to the neck, and Mac notices part of her ear appears to have been bitten off. In the morgue, Sid confirms that the young woman died of exsanguination, and points out an unusual scar on her wrist, while Danny develops the photographs from her camera, including several of a young man the CSIs suspect was her boyfriend. Stella and Flack retrace the woman’s steps through her photographs and find the building where she lived. The doorman identifies her as Estelle Christensen, and the man in the photographs as Estelle’s boyfriend, Keith Borgese. He tells Stella and Flack that Estelle and Keith used to go to Central Park together every day. Mac questions Keith, who tells him that he and Estelle fought the day before, so he wasn’t with her in Central Park the day of her murder. Mac wonders if the fight led to violence, but Keith breaks down and says he should have been with her, that he could have protected her. Hawkes runs a fleck of dried blood found on Estelle’s body believed to be from the murder weapon and gets multiple DNA hits on it. One gets a hit in CODIS: a tattoo artist named Billy James. Flack and Hawkes question Billy, who sports a scar similar to Estelle’s on his wrist. Suspecting one of his tattoo guns might be the murder weapon, Hawkes confiscates them. He tests them out at the lab, but none of them match the mark the weapon that killed Estelle made, and Flack reports that Billy’s alibi checks out.

Estelle’s parents identify her body and tell Mac that they brought their daughter to New York as a young girl. She loved the city. Mac, noticing a scar similar to Estelle’s on her father’s wrist, vows to find her killer. Sid stops by Mac’s office later to share a theory: acting on a hunch, he looked up the scar on Estelle’s wrist and found that it was consistent with a cutting ritual by a group known as Sanguine or real vampires—people who look at vampirism as a kind of religion. They believe they discover a higher plane through consensual blood exchange. Danny and Flack go over Estelle’s apartment, where Danny discovers an exposed roll of film in the refrigerator. Danny develops the film and finds pictures of some sort of ceremony. He recognizes Billy James and spots Keith in one of the shots, and notices an older man in several of the photos, holding a blade of some sort. Mac pays a visit to Estelle’s father and asks him about the scar and the pictures. After an initial denial, he relents and identifies the older man as Joseph Vance, the master of the local vampire haven. He tells Mac that Joseph has known Estelle since she was a child, and that he asked Joseph to keep an eye on her. After Danny identifies the blade in the photograph as an ankh, an ancient Egyptian symbol for eternity, he and Flack crash the haven and arrest Joseph.

Joseph tells Mac he has never harmed anyone, and that all he did was offer Estelle love and support. Mac is skeptical, and disturbed by Joseph’s practices. When the missing piece of Estelle’s ear is found in Joseph’s apartment and Hawkes identifies some of the blood on Joseph’s ankh as belonging to Estelle, it seems like the CSIs have their killer. But Danny finds foreign DNA on the piece of ear, and Mac assembles the team to try to put Joseph at the scene of the murder. Stella mentions that Joseph is claiming innocence, and threatening to sue the crime lab, saying they planted the ear in his apartment. The team discovers a discrepancy when they realize Keith’s blood is on the ankh, but he didn’t have a scar on his wrist. Mac brings Keith back in and the young man breaks down, claiming that the haven changed Estelle. He followed her to the park that day and attacked her in a rage, killing her. After Keith is arrested, Mac meets Estelle’s father in Central Park and gives him her photographs.

Analysis:

There’s an elegance to “Sanguine Love” that suffuses the entire episode, giving the whole thing a very stylized feel. Director Norberto Barba lingers over images of the snow-covered park, while haunting piano music plays over many of the winter scenes, and a cello punctuates the scenes with the vampire haven. Despite the grim subject matter, there’s a real beauty in the imagery, whether it be the bright red blood on the snow or the softly lit room where the Sanguines gather. The episode’s languid pacing and lingering shots set it apart, and also give some weight to what could be a silly subject matter. Vampires are all the rage right now—from Twilight to True Blood to The Vampire Diaries, they’re everywhere, and hotter than ever. The problem with putting them in a crime drama is that it runs the risk of putting the story over the edge, into absurd territory—something this episode does manage to avoid.

That the episode is penned by one of the actors on the show only brings more scrutiny. Following last season’s less than successful effort by Melina Kanakaredes, “Grounds for Deception”, which took the show out of New York to Greece for an outlandish action adventure escapade, I can say that Carmine Giovinazzo‘s first credit for the show is much more true to the tone of CSI: New York. Instead of taking some sort of dramatic trip into his character’s past or turning Danny into 24‘s Jack Bauer for an hour, Giovinazzo has written a restrained, fitting entry. Somewhat surprisingly—and gratifyingly—Danny doesn’t even take center stage in the hour; rather, it’s an ensemble effort with Mac leading the charge. It’s so refreshingly free of vanity that one can forgive Giovinazzo for shoehorning a song from his band, Ceesau, into the scene in which Flack and Hawkes go to interrogate the tattoo artist Billy James. The catchy tune, while perhaps not as natural a fit for the hour as the haunting piano and cello music, isn’t out of place in the edgy tattoo parlor.

Though it’s admirable Giovinazzo avoided turning the episode into some sort of absurd paean to Danny’s awesomeness, I can’t help but wish there’d been a little something more for Danny here—not a storyline or a connection to the victim or her family (that is wisely left to Mac), but perhaps a flash of the passion and energy that made Danny so interesting in earlier seasons of the show. He’s thankfully free of his albatross in this episode, but the marriage of Danny and Lindsay has proved the old adage that happy couples don’t make for interesting television. Of course, it doesn’t help that Danny and Lindsay have none of the heat Eric and Calleigh do on CSI: Miami or any of the deep connection Sara and Grissom shared on CSI. I’m hopeful that the return of Shane Casey alluded to in “Flag on the Play” will spell the return of a more dynamic storyline for Danny, who really is at his best when he’s under duress. Certainly it will be more compelling that having Danny quipping that he gets to scour the lingerie football players’ website because he’s “married.”

Danny does have a great line about Adam, delivered as he talks to Stella after he’s developed the film from Estelle’s camera. He tells Stella that Mac had originally assigned Adam the task, but the “kid” had no idea what Mac was talking about. “The digital generation,” Danny shakes his head. The comment is doubly amusing given that Danny isn’t that much older than Adam, and there are no doubt many high tech devices that Adam knows his way around—like the credit card theft device in “Some Buried Bones”—that Danny wouldn’t have the first clue about. It’s too bad A.J. Buckley wasn’t around for this episode—he, Robert Joy and Anna Belknap are apparently contracted for fewer episodes this season than in years past—because I imagine he’d have a clever retort for Danny. Stella tells Danny, “I hope you hit him,” no doubt a little unsettled that the guy she spent the night with in “Epilogue” doesn’t know how to develop a roll of film.

There’s some fun had at the Sanguine’s expense, but not as much as one would expect, which is refreshing as well. Mac does cast a skeptical eye Sid’s way when the quirky coroner comes to him with his suspicions. “I’m no vampire!” Sid protests, citing his source as “the world wide web.” Sid admits he has his oddities, but “with everything that’s out there right now, the idea of ingesting another person’s unscreened blood is quite frightening.” Sid might not be into the practice himself, but he’s the perfect character to put it all together, and the look on Mac’s face whenever Sid shares some odd trivia or peccadillo is priceless. Flack’s snark as ever is right on target: at one point he asks a vampiric suspect if he’s going to bite him, and when searching Estelle’s apartment he says to Danny, “That’s a relief—she’s got a bed.” Danny replies, “What did you think? She’d have a coffin?” Flack can always be counted on for a laugh—even the edgier, darker Flack that has emerged this season isn’t above a wisecrack or two.

Mac himself isn’t immune to a bit of disdain for the Sanguines. When Joseph Vance tells Mac he’s “deeply disturbed by Estelle’s death,” Mac offers a quick retort: “You’re deeply disturbed—I’ll grant you that.” The casting of Carlo Rota, who made a splash on 24 as sullen Chloe O’Brian’s husband Morris, was inspired; he brings a gravity to the role of Joseph that a lesser actor wouldn’t have offered. Rota’s cultured accent and polished poise give Joseph credibility he wouldn’t have otherwise had. Charles Shaughnessy similarly brings a somber note to his role of Estelle’s father, and he and Mac share a nice scene at the end of the episode, when Mac joins him in Central Park and brings him some of Estelle’s photographs. Once again, I was gratified to see Mac take the lead, simply because it helped to demarcate the episode as a typical CSI: NY outing, as opposed to an ill-advised departure. For a first venture into writing for the show, it’s a solid one.

On a lighter note, while CSI has test dummy Ballistics Joe, CSI: NY has a seemingly endless supply of pig cadavers. One has to wonder how many (fictional) pigs have died to help out the New York City crime lab. In this episode, Hawkes gamely tests out weapons on a porcine cadaver, getting frustrated when none of the tattoo guns prove to be a match for the weapon that killed Estelle. Each of the CSI shows has a few hallmarks, some of them cutting edge technology—like NY‘s virtual autopsy or CSI: Miami‘s massive touch screen display—while others, like Ballistics Joe on CSI and the pig cadavers on CSI: NY, are surprisingly low tech, but in their own way, just as critical to the CSIs’ investigations.

Source: "Sanguine Love"

Kristine Huntley

Author

Kristine Huntley

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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