February 29 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: New York–‘Damned If You Do’

7 min read

Mac is troubled when he can’t link a young man to a brutal attack on his parents after the man’s mother identifies him as the attacker.


A husband and wife are brutally beaten in their bed; though Walter Travers dies from the beating, his wife Grace manages to call 911. When Mac gets to the scene, he asks the woman if she knew her attacker. She indicates she did, and when Mac shows her a framed family photo and asks if her son, Billy, was responsible, she indicates he was. Flack rounds up Billy and his girlfriend Jules Roday. Both insist Billy was innocent, though the young man doesn’t have an alibi for the time his parents were attacked. Billy insists he loves his parents and that he’s innocent. Sid puts Walter’s time of death between 9 and 10pm and posits that he was attacked with a hammer or crowbar.

The case takes a strange turn when an inmate named Manny Ravarra, serving a life sentence at Riker’s, confesses to his cellmate Owen Hicks that he attacked the couple. Manny escaped from prison two weeks ago and was just recaptured the night before—after the attack on the Travers. Danny and Flack go to Rikers to question Manny. While his story that he was there to rob the couple doesn’t track, Manny tells the detectives the location of the sewer he dumped the murder weapon in. Danny and Flack head to the sewer, where Danny recovers a crowbar like the one Manny claims he used. When Lindsay and Hawkes are unable to connect Billy to the crime scene, Mac visits Grace Travers in the hospital. She doesn’t remember him and gets upset when he asks her about her identification of her son as the killer. She denies it vehemently and orders Mac out of the room. Mac consults with Sid, who tells the CSI that based on the damage to Grace’s front left temporal lobe, she could easily have retrograde amnesia—and might not have intended to identify her son as the attacker.

Danny proves that the rust from the crowbar Manny left in the sewer doesn’t match that from the one used to pry open the Travers’ front door. Jo comes up with a ruse to catch Owen Hicks in his lie: she orchestrates a fake polygraph test. Adam pretends to administer the test, and Owen, afraid he’ll get caught in his lie, cracks and confesses that he and Manny made a deal: he’d rat Manny out for the crime in exchange for a deal, while Manny would get to stand trial for the attack, which would bring him closer to his girlfriend in Queens. Lindsay finds a lead when she is able to match glass from the bed to a special security laminate made for a company called Glassphemy, which provides an unbreakable glass wall for people to throw glass objects like bottles at in order to let off steam. One of the company’s employees, Paul Benson, served eight years for the rape of his high school girlfriend—and used to live at the Travers house with his family. Danny and Flack bring the man in while Jo speaks with his parents, Nina and Steve, who turned him in after he raped his girlfriend. The difficult decision cost them their son. Paul, not knowing his parents had moved, broke into the house and attacked the Travers, thinking they were his parents. Mac visits Grace in the hospital and apologizes to Billy, telling Grace she has a good son.


What first appears to be an open-and-shut case is quickly revealed to be anything but when the suspect IDed by the victim proclaims his innocence (and can’t be tied to the crime), and another person steps forward to claim responsibility for the crime. The confession turns out to be a big red herring—but then, so does the eyewitness identification. The misidentification causes Mac to question his decision to query a victim at the scene and to give her indication that her son was the attacker so much weight. Mac’s questioning of Grace Travers is sound; at the time he spoke with her, it was in no way certain she’d survive her injuries. Mac was simply seizing what might be his only opportunity to talk to the surviving (for the time being) victim of the crime.

It’s impossible not to feel bad for poor Billy Travers, though: he finds out about the death of his father and the dire condition of his mother when he’s accused of attacking both of them. Based on the identification, Jo goes hard on Billy in the interrogation, and, annoyed when he won’t confess to the attack, she tells him, “Because you’re not man enough to admit what you did, I’ve got to do math. And I hate math.” She goes on to prove that he easily could have killed his parents and returned to go to the frat party in the window of time he doesn’t have an alibi for.

While Billy is shocked and defensive, his girlfriend Jules is downright incensed, insisting that she knows Billy didn’t kill his parents. When Flack opines that the mere five months they’ve been dating might not be enough time for her to accurately determine Billy’s homicidal tendencies, Jules shoots back, “You’re kind of a bitch, you know that?” It’s a laugh-out-loud moment, a frank and ballsy response to Flack’s sarcastic comment. Even Flack seems more amused than taken aback by Jules’ assertion.

The team is caught off guard by Manny’s confession and though it seems like a pretty obvious hoax once Danny and Flack question Manny and realize his story doesn’t match up with what the crime scene tells them, they’re forced to investigate the lead. In another hilarious scene, Flack sits on the curb, chatting with poor Danny, who is left to dig through the sewer looking for the purported murder weapon. Flack muses about Manny laughing in the prison cafeteria about “two detectives knee-deep in crap for nothing.” Danny sniffs that he only sees one detective, and Flack shoots back, “I don’t do sewers.” The rapport between these two is always fun to watch.

After Danny proves the crowbar Manny abandoned in the sewer wasn’t the one used to break into the Travers’ house, Jo comes up with an idea to get Owen to give up the game: she has Adam impersonate a polygraph expert, a venture the lab tech jumps into gamely, dressing up like an austere expert and spouting off complex language and terms meant to confuse the jumpy convict. As soon as Adam goes to wrap the cord around Owen’s abdomen, the con breaks, confessing he agreed to go along with Manny’s ruse. It’s an inventive ruse, and Jo is able to call the exact moment Owen will crack, down to the second.

The audience gets some insight into Jo’s past when she snoops on Mac’s desk to see if he’s going to file the report that Grace Travers denied IDing her son, and insists he isn’t capable of the attack. When Mac calls her out on it, Jo admits her perception is colored by her experience at the FBI, when she had to turn a colleague in for covering up a mistake. Her decision cost the colleague his job and also tanked a rape case involving a senator’s daughter, and though Jo insists she doesn’t regret her decision, it’s clear that the rape case weighs on her, and that the experience left her cautious about colleagues. Mac reminds her that his lab isn’t the FBI, and asserts that his team would never cover up a mistake or falsify evidence.

Jo’s experience is paralleled by that of Nina and Steve Benson, who made the difficult decision to turn their son Paul in for the rape of his high school girlfriend. The parallel isn’t exactly subtle, but the point stands: doing the right thing can be a difficult, life-changing decision. For the Bensons, it sent their son to jail, resulted in their estrangement from him and would have cost them their lives had Paul realized they’d moved. For Jo, it resulted in an abrupt career change, one she probably hadn’t planned on.

At the end of the episode, Mac goes to visit Grace Travers in the hospital and apologize to Billy. Though Mac can be self-righteous and sanctimonious at times, the apology to Billy also shows he can admit when he’s wrong. The whole episode also drives home a core theme of the CSI franchise: the importance of physical evidence over witness testimony. People lie, misremember or just plain get things wrong; the evidence, as Gil Grissom was so fond of saying, doesn’t lie.

I only have one minor quibble with this otherwise engaging episode: when Sid is giving Hawkes and Jo the rundown on Walter Travers in the morgue, he stops dead in his tracks and stares at Jo after she asks him a question. It’s clear he’s struck by her, but it’s a little bit of a stretch to believe a professional who has been working at the morgue for a good number of years would be so school-boyish when interacting with a new colleague, no matter how attractive he finds her. Whenever a new character is introduced in a CSI show, it’s hammered into the audience’s head just how wonderful, special and skilled that character is. Sometimes, less is more: I’d rather see Jo come up with inventive solutions (like the polygraph) and offer a new perspective than watch the coroner drool over her.

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