Review: CSI: New York — ‘The Untouchable’

A young woman is found dead, and Mac must piece together vague clues in order to solve two murders.

Synopsis:

A man lies in the back of a car, bound and with his head covered. A man and a woman drag him out of the car and threaten to kill him if he continues down a certain path. The kidnappers then hit the man and drive off, leaving him alone. The hooded man gets free of the plastic cord holding his hands together, and he pulls off the cloth covering his face. It’s Mac Taylor! Mac wanders out of the abandoned industrial area and calls 911, asking to be connected to the crime lab.

Forty-eight hours earlier, a woman named Tessa James is found dead in an alley from an apparent drug overdose. Mac recognizes Tessa, whom he first met a year ago. She came up to him on the street and started babbling about a woman being murdered. Based on her behavior, Jo says it sounds like Tessa had extreme OCD, which can involve fantasy, but Mac believes her. Sid says Tessa was killed by a heroin overdose, but nothing else indicates that she was an addict. She was left-handed, and the needle was injected into her left arm. Her organs are healthy, there are no other track marks on her body, and there are no other drugs in her system.

Tessa’s clothing contains a chip of paint with several layers indicating that she was in an older building that was constructed when lead paint was still in use. The most recent layer of paint is a discontinued color that hasn’t been used since the early-1980s, so the building is likely abandoned. A smudge on her coat contains traces of “killer smog”, which indicates that the place was high enough off the ground to gather a lot of the toxic substance. Her cashmere sweater still has a tag on it from the 1970s, so perhaps she was near an abandoned department store. Mac remembers a bag Tessa was carrying with a department store logo. These clues lead them to an abandoned sky bridge high over the streets of New York, where Tessa was living. One wall is covered with pictures, newspaper clippings and Mardi Gras decorations. The answer to both mysteries can be found somewhere on that wall.

Mac is sure that Tessa was onto something, even if there wasn’t any hard evidence to go on. A napkin with an LT symbol leads to the Vonner Club. All of the newspaper clippings concentrate on February 17, which coincided with Mardi Gras the year before. Mac and Flack go to the Vonner Club and ask about the Mardi Gras party from the year before. Mac mentions the bright lights and angels Tessa mentioned to him, and the club manager Keith DeYoung leads them to the VIP room. Mac and Flack turn out the lights, and the ALS reveals a multitude of biological stains from sex, as well as high velocity blood spatter on the wall. This is the site of the murder Tessa witnessed.

Mac is driving, and a woman jumps in front of his car. Mac gets out of the car to check on the woman, and a man uses a taser on him. They tie him up, put a hood on him and put him in the back of the van. After Mac calls for help and gets back to the crime lab, he tells Flack what happened while Jo checks him for trace. They find a partial license plate number where it pressed against Mac’s shoulder. Mac and Flack use the license plate number to locate a luxury car rental service. The owner, Peter Grant, makes a run for it but gets caught. Mac recognizes Peter’s voice as the man who kidnapped him, and his female accomplice works at the garage too. Peter was the driver for some of the Vonner Club’s biggest members, and Mac wants to know who put him up to kidnapping an NYPD officer. Peter refuses to talk—he’ll be dead if he does.

The team is able to identify the three men Tessa saw using clues on the wall in the sky bridge: Matthew Stratford, Derek Perry and the Vonner Club manager, Keith DeYoung. Jo and Lindsay speak to Keith, but he claims ignorance. He hosted the Mardi Gras party, and that’s all he can tell them. Mac speaks to Sid about Jane Doe victims from the year before, and Sid locates a woman with DNA that matches the spatter on the wall in the Vonner Club. The girl had a cocaine overdose—the high velocity blood spatter on the wall was from a cough or sneeze. One of the men in the VIP room strangled her to keep her quiet when she started to freak out. The only evidence on the woman’s clothing is a fingerprint on the top button of her coat. Mac matches the fingerprint to Keith DeYoung, who gave Mac a business card with his prints on it. DeYoung helped carry the woman’s body out after Stratford and Perry killed her, and he felt bad about leaving her out in the cold, so he buttoned up her jacket. He saw Tessa when they carried the body out of the VIP room, and he gave the men enough of a description that they were able to track her down and hire thugs to kill her and make it look like a drug overdose.

Mac goes to the morgue and asks about Tessa. Nobody has claimed her, and without a family member or friend to make an official identification, Sid will be forced to label her as a Jane Doe. Mac tells Sid that he was her friend, and her name was Tessa James.


Analysis:

“The Untouchable” opens with Mac in a perilous situation. It’s tricky to put a main character in danger because the audience can be pretty sure he or she will come through at least relatively unscathed, but in this case the danger feels more real because the audience doesn’t know it’s Mac. With a minor character or guest star, death is a distinct possibility on a CSI show, but few fans who watch CSI: NY on a regular basis would worry that Mac Taylor is about to die. Revealing that he’s the mysterious man under the hood, however, leaves the audience wondering what led up to that situation and who would dare to kidnap the head of the New York Crime Lab. It’s an intriguing start to the episode.

The truth, as it turns out, is pretty convoluted. Mac is kidnapped by a driver who works for rich members of the Vonner Club. The Vonner Club members in question go after Mac to stop him from looking into a supposed murder, which Mac starts investigating in response to the murder of Tessa James. Tessa witnessed three men carrying the body of a dead woman out of a VIP party, and she approached Mac as a man she could trust. She gave him bits and pieces of information over the course of a year, which only start to make sense when the team sees the wall Tessa has compiled in her sky bridge hideout. The Chicago “Black Sox” comparison seems random, although it does make sense once you get past the obvious question of why Tessa makes that particular connection. “Black Sox” refers to an incident from the 1919 World Series in which members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team intentionally threw the series, and eight players were given lifelong bans from the sport for their involvement.

One of the men Tessa sees, Derek Perry, is a baseball player, which could explain why she makes the leap from a modern murder to a century-old sports scandal when she chooses the code names for each of the three men involved. Perry, like George “Buck” Weaver, was a third baseman. While Weaver was banned for not reporting what he knew about the “Black Sox” scandal, Perry was suspended from his baseball team due to his cocaine addiction, and he opted to help cover up the murder of the woman in the VIP party instead of reporting it to authorities. Since Perry was known for doing cocaine, and the Jane Doe suffered from a cocaine overdose, it’s reasonable to infer that he supplied the drugs that led to the woman’s death. The man who committed the actual murder, Matthew Stratford, is the owner of a candy company. This explains why Tessa referred to him as Comiskey, after the man who owned the Chicago White Sox in 1919, Charles Comiskey. The third code name Tessa uses is Billy Gleason, who was the manager for the White Sox during the “Black Sox” scandal. This is the clue that leads Mac and the rest of the team to realize that Vonner Club manager Keith DeYoung was involved in the cover-up, and that he was the one who saw Tessa the night of the murder.

It’s a clever metaphor, even if it seems to come out of left field. It also gives Danny a chance to show off his love of baseball, which was established way back in season one with episodes like “The Closer”. The reference to Chicago could be a shout-out to Gary Sinise, who was born and raised in the Chicago area. Mac is also from Chicago, but Danny is the only one offering information about the “Black Sox” scandal here.

Mac, Flack and Jo get several scenes together in “The Untouchable”, and I love the interaction between the three of them. After Jo and Lindsay shared a great scene in “Vigilante” last week, I was glad to see them doing an interrogation together. Lindsay’s dialogue about Keith being a “pompous (lackey) ass” seemed a bit clunky, but I enjoyed the comments from Jo and Lindsay about being unaffected by the idea of Keith throwing up. It’s a fun reminder that they’re both mothers and, as such, have encountered more than their fair share of vomit over the years.

Kate Towne only has a few scenes in the episode, but she does a great job portraying a woman who is speaking the truth, albeit in riddles. Even if much of what she says doesn’t seem to make sense without context, it’s easy for the audience to see why Mac’s instinct is telling him to trust her. She may have extreme OCD, as Jo posits, but she doesn’t seem delusional. Interaction between Mac and Tessa is limited, but Sinise makes you believe that Mac cared about the young woman. It’s nice to see Mac make a connection with another character, even if we’ve never seen her before. Mac calls himself Tessa’s friend and identifies her body so she won’t be labeled as a Jane Doe, and viewers see a flashback of Mac in the sky bridge, where he finds a newspaper clipping of himself with the word “trust” on it. It’s just too bad the team couldn’t investigate the murder Tessa witnessed before she got killed for what she saw.

The sky bridge itself is a gorgeous set. It is meant to represent the three-story Gimbels Sky Bridge, which crosses 32nd Street in Manhattan. The original copper-clad structure was erected in 1925, but the bridge used on the show was created by New York’s talented art department mere months ago. Production designer Vaughan Edwards explained some of the process behind creating the set in the most recent “Under the Microscope” blog segment posted by CBS, which you can watch here. Set designer Will Batts shared some images of the set under construction on Twitter—check them out here, here, here, and here. As a viewer, it’s easy to take the sets for granted when they blend in flawlessly and seem so real. If not for the pictures and the behind-the-scenes video, I might not have glanced twice at the sky bridge in “The Untouchable”. The art department did a wonderful job, and the end result feels like an authentic piece of New York.

The digital effects used in the sky bridge scenes are no less impressive than the bridge itself. As seen in the “Under the Microscope” segment, the view beyond the sky bridge’s windows was added in post-production, and it’s so well-done that the audience can just assume the team is high above the streets of New York City. There’s also an establishing shot of the sky bridge from street level, which appears to feature the set reproduction digitally inserted into a real clip of the Gimbels Sky Bridge in New York, along with a sign from the fictional Braggmans department store. I had to look closely at pictures of the real bridge to confirm that the establishing shot was digitally altered. It’s always nice to be reminded of just how many highly-skilled people work behind the scenes on CSI: NY.


See also: “The Untouchable” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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