July 24 2024

CSI Files

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Review: CSI: New York–‘Sangre Por Sangre’

7 min read

Mac Taylor takes on a powerful gang after their leader is shot and impaled on a hotel awning.


Mac, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the arm, hunts a man in an abandoned warehouse. The man raises two guns and fires at Mac… and the story flashes back twelve hours, to the discovery of the body of Panthro Torres on a hotel awning. The leader of the powerful East Harlem El Puño gang, Panthro was shot twice before falling to his death and being impaled on a spike on the awning. Danny and Lindsay examine the hotel room; though they find no sign of forced entry, they discover a lipstick print on the mirror and a bottle of alcohol with a dead fish inside. Adam examines the bottle and finds the victim’s DNA and DNA belonging to an unknown person. Mac goes to a restaurant owned by the El Puño gang to speak with Luther Devarro (the man from the teaser), the founder of the gang who Mac put away for assault fifteen years ago. Recently released from prison, Luther vows that there will be no retaliation until Panthro is buried, but is as determined as Mac is to find the killer.

Back at the lab, Danny gets a DNA hit off the lipstick to a young woman named Hazel Ortega, a high-end prostitute who is affiliated with the Mambas, a rival gang. When Flack goes to pick up Hazel, he finds her armed. He arrests her, but on their way to the station, they’re shot at by two men and Hazel is wounded. The bullets at the scene have “P”s on them, which makes Mac think the shooters were members of the El Puño gang. Adam identifies the fish from the alcohol bottle as a snakehead fish, illegal in the U.S. Jo arrives at the hospital to find Hazel holding a cop hostage. Hazel insists she didn’t kill Panthro; she did her job and left him alive when someone knocked at the door. She refuses to tell Jo who came to the door, but she surrenders and lets the cop go. Luther’s brother Rick thinks the Mambas are behind Panthro’s murder. Mac confronts Luther about the shooting of Hazel, and Luther insists he didn’t give the order. He has the men responsible surrender to the police, and has Hazel’s medical bills paid. Hawkes isn’t able to match the bullets from Panthro to Hazel’s gun, but when he discovers a “P” on the fragments, the CSIs realize Panthro’s murder was likely an inside job.

The CSIs go to round up the El Puño leaders and aren’t able to find them—until Mac spots Fernando Flores running out of the El Puño restaurant… just seconds before it explodes. The body of another El Puño leader, Lisa Brigosa, is found inside, but Sid discovers she was shot and killed before the restaurant exploded. Flack learns Lisa ordered everyone out of the restaurant because she had a meeting, while the CSIs discover a bottle with a snakefish in it and a palm print on the wall near the explosion’s origin. Adam tracks down a source who tells him that a recently arrested smuggler imported three snakefish for a Puerto Rican man. Fernando Flores turns himself in, but Lindsay gets a hit on the palm print that clears him—and implicates Luther Devarro. Mac tracks Luther and his brother Rick to an abandoned warehouse and catches Luther just before he murders Rick. Rick shoots at Mac, wounding him in the arm, and runs off. As Mac hunts Luther, Luther explains that Panthro, Lisa and Rick corrupted the gang he started, making it about drugs, guns and money rather than protecting the neighborhood. Killing the leaders was his attempt to make things right. Luther shoots at Rick just before he fires on Mac, but Mac, thinking Luther is firing at him, shoots Luther fatally in the chest.


I like Mac Taylor, I really do. At least most of the time. Sure, he can be insufferably self-righteous at times, but usually the people he’s going up against aren’t very sympathetic. Not so here; Edward James Olmos brings a great deal of gravitas and humanity to his role, and scribe Aaron Thomas crafted a three-dimensional, sympathetic character in Luther Devarro. Devarro is old school: he started the gang before going into prison to take care of the neighborhood, and when he’s released fifteen years later, he finds his brother and his protégés have turned it into a violent money-making operation. Devarro clearly doesn’t trust the police; when Mac goes to him and offers help, it’s clear that Luther respects Mac, but he has a deep-seated mistrust of the police in general that keeps him from accepting Mac’s offer of help. Luther is clearly a man who wants to take care of his problems in his own way, outside the law. And yet, despite this, he’s still a man the audience is able to warm to and even like.

In contrast, Mac comes off as a little stiff and unbending, and morally rigid in a way that isn’t necessarily appealing. Sure, we know Luther just spent fifteen years in prison, but to hear Mac threaten him after Luther has offered Mac his word that El Puño won’t retaliate before Panthro’s funeral makes Mac seem rather rigid and inflexible. This is a problem the leads of both the CSI spin-offs have now and then; Mac and Horatio have a tendency to be overbearing at times. In Horatio, it comes off as posturing, while in Mac it takes the form of a high and mighty attitude that can grate after a while. Unassuming Gil Grissom never had this problem, and his successor Ray Langston doesn’t seem to either. Granted, Horatio is a bigger offender than Mac is, but when Mac climbs on his high horse, I almost always cringe.

It’s hard to fault Mac for firing at Luther in the warehouse after Luther has raised two guns and seemingly taken aim at him, and yet, as a viewer, I knew exactly who Luther was firing at. Granted, Mac was in the middle of the situation and perhaps didn’t have the luxury of careful consideration—his life is on the line after all—but the whole thing played out so predictably, and not to our hero’s benefit. Shooting the guy who just saved his life makes Mac look like a cold jerk. Yes, Luther was a murderer, but he was one with a code of ethics all his own, and he just shot his brother to save Mac’s life. The nobility of this action is certainly mitigated by the fact that Luther was at the warehouse in the first place to kill his brother, but the fact remains that he saved Mac’s life. The ending feels predictably inevitable, and perhaps would have felt more inventive had Mac not shot at Luther or simply shot to wound rather than kill.

Maybe it’s just that Olmos is so good in the role that I would have liked him to survive to pop up again at some point. Olmos most recently starred in Battlestar Galactica, a reimagining of the 70s show that focused on the struggle between man and machine in the wake of an attack that wiped most of humanity out. Olmos’s role was a meaty one, and he brings the same weight to the role of Luther Devarro. Devarro is a worthy adversary for Mac precisely because he doesn’t rise to Mac’s barbs and accusations, and even respects the man despite the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the fence in most regards. Devarro probably wouldn’t see it that way, though; in his mind he and Mac both want the same thing: justice. They just have very different methods of going about it.

There’s a big hole in the case early on that sticks out rather glaringly: when Adam first runs the bottle of alcohol from Panthro’s room for DNA, he gets a hit to DNA from the victim, but the other sample is unknown. Given what we know later on, this doesn’t make sense: Luther’s DNA would probably be in the database from his stint in jail. We know his prints are: Lindsay is able to match the palm print on the wall in the restaurant to Luther. Of course, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Luther is the killer, and not only because Edward James Olmos is the biggest guest star in the episode. The murder of Panthro takes place a mere week after Luther was released from prison. Wouldn’t the CSIs—especially Mac, who put him away—pick up on this coincidence right away? Young wannabe Fernando Flores isn’t much of a red herring.

Adam gets a chance to be delightfully flustered when Hawkes gets curious about how he knows so much about the illegal snakefish. Adam starts to babble, saying he knows a guy who knows a guy… and so on. Hill Harper and AJ Buckley play off each other beautifully in the scene; as Adam gets more and more uncomfortable, Hawkes simply stands and watches him, a skeptical look on his face. Adam certainly seems to have the connections when it comes to underground knowledge; it might come off as a little convenient if Adam’s bashfulness about his knowhow wasn’t so endearing.

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