Review: CSI: New York — ‘Do Or Die’

The team is on the case when a popular valedictorian is murdered at an elite prep school.

Synopsis:

Principal Wendell Andrews guides parents and prospective students through the halls of Archford Academy, an elite prep school in Manhattan. He talks about the school’s accomplishments and the calibre of students who attend the academy, but elsewhere in the school students are having sex, buying drugs and stealing test questions. Valedictorian Olivia Prescott staggers toward the assembled group, clutching the bloody wound on the back of her head, and she collapses dead in the middle of the hallway.

It took a lot of force to crack Olivia’s skull, but she has no defensive wounds. Danny finds Olivia’s backpack in the bathroom, and there’s blood on the edge of the sink. This is the primary crime scene. Jo finds shoe prints on the toilet seat in one of the stalls, suggesting that someone hid in here. Olivia was smart and popular, and it doesn’t make sense to her parents or the other students that anyone would want to hurt her.

Danny and Lindsay test the school for mold, which caused contact dermatitis on Olivia’s knees. They determine that she came in contact with the mold in the library, and a book about Greek tragedies in her backpack leads to shelf in the back corner. They realize that she caught sight of some people having sex through a gap in the shelves. Fingerprints on the table trace back to Benjamin Gold, a student who has a record. They find homemade pornographic movies in his locker. Olivia saw him making a film in the library, but Benjamin says she didn’t threaten to turn him in—she wanted to be in one of his movies.

Trace from the footprint on the toilet seat leads the team to a squashed emperor scorpion. Biology teacher Mr Booker tells Mac and Hawkes that a student decided to scare his classmate by putting one of the scorpions near her bag, and she stepped on it when she left the room while the other kids were laughing. Emmy Thomas is smart, but she wasn’t popular among her classmates. Emmy explains that she hid in the bathroom, and she stood on the toilet seat while two other girls insulted her.

The water bottle found in Olivia’s bag has been changed so that the ingredients and nutrition information provide a cheat sheet for the AP World History exam. Soil found on Olivia’s blazer matches the chemical composition of soil found on Mars, but the soil is actually from the Atacama Desert in Chile. This leads the team to Allen Wilson, who was doing a science project with Emmy using a lizard from that area. Allen made the cheat sheet bottle for Olivia because he liked her. They can’t tie him to the bathroom, but they can tie Emmy to the scene. She was Allen’s partner on the science project, and she was jealous of Olivia spending time with Allen because she was in love with him. They’ve been best friends since they were kids, and she knows that Olivia was using him. They got into a fight, and she killed Olivia. She regrets it, but she doesn’t regret standing up for Allen.


Analysis:

“Do or Die” doesn’t have a particularly unique storyline. CSI: New York has dealt with the rich and privileged countless times over the course of the series, and certain aspects of this episode remind me of the recent CSI: Miami entry “Stoned Cold”. It’s not that Olivia Prescott is anything like Blaire Hawkins, the cruel bully who tortured other students and drove their parents to take drastic measures against her, but there are elements of that episode here. Nobody can believe that anyone would want to hurt Olivia because she was so perfect and popular, especially not her parents. Lo and behold, when the team starts digging, they discover that Olivia wasn’t so perfect after all. Nobody is perfect, of course, but even minor similarities stand out when episodes air within weeks of each other. “Do or Die” also features bullying, although Emmy wasn’t tormented by Olivia in particular.

In the end, Olivia is killed as a result of Emmy’s misguided attempt to protect Allen. She says she wanted to help her best friend, but she killed someone, and the repercussions of that rash action are far-reaching. Allen’s cheating is brought to light, which means he might get expelled, and his best friend is going away for murder. In what way did Emily think she was helping him when she repeatedly slammed Olivia’s head against the bathroom sink? That was rage, pure and simple, along with anger and jealousy that have come to a boiling point. She may rationalize her actions after the fact by saying that she was only trying to protect Allen, but the flashback makes it obvious that she snapped.

Lindsay and Danny have a significant presence in the first half of the episode, including multiple references to their daughter Lucy and her future. It is nice to see continuity with regard to Lucy, although I’m not sure how old she is supposed to be at this point. Timelines on CSI: NY can be fluid at best. Lucy was born in “Green Piece” during season five, and by “Unfriendly Chat” earlier this season, she was already in preschool. It’s true that many people send their children to preschool when they are two or three years old, but Lucy is also apparently able to use an iPhone. Lindsay may have been exaggerating for effect, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lucy started school soon despite only being born a few years ago. A baby is more of a plot device than an individual character, so I could see the appeal of aging her up a bit if the series gets an eighth season—I just hope the same amount of time passes for the rest of the characters as well. You can get a headache trying to riddle out ages and timelines on New York.

The case prompts Lindsay to bring up a tragedy from her past, which was revealed during season three: she witnessed the murder of her friends, and the event still haunts her to this day. Although I appreciate the continuity, this flashback was a bit of a stretch. For Lindsay, the death of a teenage girl that was witnessed by other teenagers would certainly remind her of what happened, but it doesn’t seem like the other students will be nearly as affected by it as she thinks they will—how many of these kids were rubbernecking from behind the crime scene tape mere minutes before, taking pictures and sending each other text messages about the “popo” being all over the place? I have no doubt that some of Olivia’s friends and classmates will be affected by her death in the long run (and there were certainly at least a few upset faces in the crowd), but it almost seems ridiculous to hear Lindsay talk about how hard it’s going to be for them when what we see instead is a bunch of gawkers clogging up the hallway.

When Danny and Lindsay re-enact Benjamin and Becky having sex in the library, it makes for an odd scene. The intent may have been to show something flirty or intimate—or at least comfortable—between the pair of them, but the end result is just awkward. They are much more effective when discussing their daughter’s future and bickering playfully about whether or not she’ll attend an elite school some day. The exchange about ‘Dewey-majig codes’ in the library is less amusing. The dialogue seems out of character, and the only reason to make Danny say it is to set up Lindsay’s response. Humor doesn’t have to come at the expense of a character’s intelligence.

Jo gets a few great scenes this week. Her interaction with Adam, who is freaking out about finding “Martian” soil on Olivia’s blazer, is fun. She reminds him that, logically, there has to be a better explanation for the evidence, but she doesn’t hesitate to tease him a bit first. Adam’s reaction to finding trace consistent with Martian soil is a bit over the top, but it’s not the first time he’s gotten nervous and flustered during the course of an investigation, especially when Mac is involved. One can easily imagine Mac’s reaction to hearing that one of his scientists believes they found Martian soil in a high school, so I can’t blame Adam for not wanting to tell him until he finds a logical explanation. Jo gets another good scene a few minutes later when she expresses her annoyance with a pair of bullying cheerleaders by stating that she’d punish them if they were on her squad. When Lindsay seems surprised that Jo used to be a cheerleader, Jo retorts, “Don’t act like you weren’t.” It’s not clear whether or not Lindsay actually was a cheerleader, but it’s a nice team moment to see the pair of them, along with Hawkes and Mac, share a laugh. New York often borrows heavily from the actors when providing details about the characters, so it’s no surprise that Jo has a past as a cheerleader. Sela Ward was a cheerleader at the University of Alabama during the 1970s, and her southern roots have been referenced several times this season.

The aforementioned scene also includes a fun exchange between Mac, Jo, Lindsay and Hawkes when they discover the water bottle with the cheat sheet printed on the label. Mac realizes that the label lists odd “ingredients”, and Hawkes notices that the water apparently contains “1947” calories. Lindsay, Jo and Mac riddle out the meanings of several abbreviations, and Mac realizes the bottle has test answers relating to the Cold War. Hawkes is impressed by the cheat sheet, although he quickly adds that he never cheated. It’s a great scene, and it highlights the chemistry between the cast members. With a combined total of 24 full seasons between all three CSI series, not to mention a surfeit of crime dramas on television, it’s the character moments that help define New York, and those moments have kept me tuning in for seven seasons.


See also: “Do or Die” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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