Review: CSI: New York — ‘Life Sentence’

Mac continues to deal with his former partner as an ex-convict seeks retribution for the death of his fiancée.

Synopsis:

Picking up where “Nothing for Something” left off, Mac gets a visit from his former partner William Hunt at the crime lab. Hunt says he got a text from Mac to visit the lab, but Mac says he didn’t send it. Before they can say anything else, bullets pepper Mac’s office and injure several people in the lab—including Hunt, who is hit in the arm.

The shooter took aim from an empty floor in the building directly across from the lab, and Mac assembles a team to head over and check it out. They find an AK-47 and a familiar subway map—the shooter was Raymond Harris. Mac confronts Hunt and tells him pushing Harris around put a target on their backs. Hunt says the target was always there, and he just sped up the process.

The AK-47 matches a case from 1994, where it was used in a drug robbery gone wrong. Witnesses said the bullets came from the second floor, and Mac recognizes the building’s address because that’s where he and Hunt arrested Harris. Harris was questioned during that case, but they couldn’t find the gun—trace on the AK-47 leads Hawkes to suggest the gun was hidden in a wall. Wondering if Harris went back to his old apartment for the gun, Mac and Danny head over there looking for him.

Meanwhile, Harris waltzes into the precinct and says he wants to file a harassment complaint. He says the man who attacked him looked like a cop who arrested him 17 years ago. The team has no choice but to put Hunt in a lineup, but Harris pretends he can’t identify the man who attacked him after all. Harris wants them to feel intimidated, but Mac refuses to play along. When Harris leaves, Mac tells Flack to put a tail on the ex-convict, and he wants someone to stay with Hunt as well.

The team analyzes Harris’s old apartment, and they find the niche in the wall where he hid the AK-47 and the ammo. They also find a small amount of blood under the carpet, but there’s an even bigger stain under the floorboards. The blood belongs to Miranda Thomas, Harris’s fiancée. She was found dead several weeks after Harris was arrested. Miranda’s DNA is also found on a rosary the team finds in the home of former drug dealer Lucius Woods. Woods died from starvation and dehydration, and he has been dead for several weeks. Woods was Harris’s boss, and the drugs and money they confiscated the night he was arrested belonged to Woods. Mac and Jo determine that more than $100,000 was taken out of the bag when Harris was arrested, and Mac confronts Hunt about it—Hunt admits to taking the money, but it has been too long to arrest him for the theft.

During the time he spent in jail, Harris assumed that Woods killed Miranda over the stolen money. He killed the drug dealer slowly and painfully, but then he realized Woods wasn’t the man responsible for his fiancée’s death. Mac figures out the truth when he sees a strange impression left in the floorboard Lindsay pulled back to find the pool of blood in Harris’s old apartment. Mac immediately recognizes the pattern: it’s from Hunt’s Fraternal League of Patrolmen ring. Hunt killed Miranda, and Harris believes Mac is also to blame. Mac goes for a drive with Hunt, expressing his anger and disappointment and insisting that they make things right. Harris rams their car and opens fire, shooting Hunt and going after Mac. Mac is able to get the upper hand, and Harris gives him no choice but to kill him. It’s too late for Hunt, who dies beside Mac as more police officers arrive.


Analysis:

“Life Sentence” is the second episode of Peter Fonda’s two-part stint as Mac’s former partner William Hunt. The conclusion of the storyline finds Mac and Hunt on opposite sides of the law when Mac discovers that Hunt stole more than $100,000 of the money they confiscated from Raymond Harris the night he was arrested. Things get even more complicated when the investigation uncovers the death of Miranda Thomas, and Mac realizes his mentor is actually a killer. Despite their different methods, Mac always assumed that he and Hunt were on the same side; instead, Hunt betrayed the badge he once wore and threatened to drag Mac into the mud with him.

Mac’s response to figuring out that Hunt stole the money is to visit Hunt in private and punch him in the face, and he refuses to back down when Hunt tries to intimidate him. Despite Mac’s anger, he knows the statute of limitations on grand larceny is five years, so he can’t arrest Hunt over the stolen money. When Mac discovers the truth about Miranda’s death, he once again chooses a private place to confront his former training officer, but this time he isn’t going to walk away and leave it alone. He takes Hunt’s gun and tells him they’re going to the precinct. There is no statute of limitations on murder, and Mac isn’t going to let Hunt get away with it. Mac is a man of honor, and he has no mercy for police officers who betray the oath they took to protect the citizens of New York.

Gary Sinise turns in a powerful performance in this episode, and his scenes with Fonda and Clifton Collins, Jr are particularly intense. Mac faces two very different adversaries, but Sinise does a great job of portraying Mac’s strength, anger and determination. Fonda and Collins were perfectly cast, and I have enjoyed watching these talented actors bring William Hunt and Raymond Harris to life during this two-episode arc.

Mac and Flack share several scenes this week. The fun rapport between them is not on display as it was in “Nothing for Something”, when Flack brought Mac to a diner after conspiring with Jo to get him away from a crime scene, but their close working relationship is evident in “Life Sentence”. They lead the ESU team into the nearby building after the lab is attacked, and Flack is the one who deals with Harris after the man comes into the precinct to file a report against Hunt. The detective isn’t willing to be yanked around by a former convict who fired a hail of bullets into the crime lab and injured several people. He holds his ground against Harris and demands to know what the man wants. Mac walks in just as Harris states his purpose: he wants justice.

Flack and Mac are together again during the scene where Hunt is forced to stand in a lineup, and Mac gives Flack the task of keeping an eye on Harris while they find enough evidence to arrest him. Flack’s guys ultimately lose Harris, and it gives the ex-con an opportunity to attack Mac and Hunt. The final moments of the episode focus on Mac and Flack’s faces following the confrontation that leaves Hunt and Harris dead, and I find myself wondering what’s going through Mac’s head. If Flack’s team had kept an eye on Harris like they were supposed to, that final deadly attack wouldn’t have happened. Is Mac angry with him for losing Harris? Is he mad that the other officers arrived too late? Flack is one of Mac’s most trusted colleagues, and I hope this doesn’t create a rift between them.

The rest of the characters play more supporting roles this week, although there are nice moments for several other members of the team. Jo shares a scene with Mac in his office; she is able to offer an outside perspective on the Harris case, and they discover the missing money together. Lindsay also has a nice moment with Mac after he dives through the broken glass wall of his office to pull her out of harm’s way during the shooting. Lindsay then shares a scene with her husband after the chaos dies down. Danny wants her to get out of the lab to stay safe, but she tells him she has to stay and do her job—the lab is now a crime scene.

Danny and Mac have a subplot in the episode involving an Internal Affairs investigation. They go to Raymond Harris’s old apartment and bang on the door, announcing themselves as police officers. When nobody answers, the small group breaks down the door and rushes into the apartment. Bullets start flying from the bedroom, so Mac and Danny unload their weapons until the unseen shooter is down. They go into the bedroom and find the shooter dead on the floor, but it’s not Harris. IA questions the men and takes their guns as part of the usual procedure, and the IA detective in charge of the case, Angela Sayer, wants to know why they rushed into the apartment without backup. Both men stand by their decisions, although Danny seems to be more bothered by the investigation. The whole thing reminds me of “On the Job” back during season one, when Danny was involved in a shooting and felt alone and unsupported by his fellow officers. There are subtle hints of that nervousness here, but Danny has grown up a lot over the past seven seasons. Danny might not like Detective Sayer’s questions, but he goes along with the investigation without making things worse for himself.

It all works out in the end, and the investigation is closed without much fuss. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more to it than that. I’m glad Mac and Danny had to deal with Internal Affairs after shooting the man in the apartment—it’s more realistic, after all—but I expected more to happen. Mac gets his gun back pretty quickly, and that’s that. Detective Sayer offers some unsolicited advice, suggesting that Mac stay away from Raymond Harris, but otherwise her role in the episode is pretty cut and dry. The IA investigation is nothing more than a casual subplot, and its only purpose seems to be to illustrate that Mac is always on the right side of the law—and perhaps as a subtle reference to “On the Job”, which I appreciate as a longtime fan of the series.

In my review for “Nothing for Something”, I said the Hunt storyline featured some all-too-familiar elements: “Mac is the perfect cop, the good guy who never forgets to honor the badge. … we’ve been here before: Mac goes up against a shady individual and emerges as the untarnished hero.” After seeing the conclusion to this storyline, I both agree and disagree with my original assessment. Yes, there is a certain predictability to the story, with Mac firmly in the role of the “good guy”, but he hardly emerges from the episode unscathed. Even if Mac is in the right, Hunt’s actions have definitely made a mark on him—his name is unblemished, but his faith in the job and his view of the world have been tarnished by the events of these past two episodes. The seemingly clear-cut case of an angry criminal going after a former police officer turns out to be anything but straightforward. The old-fashioned cop is actually dirty, and Hunt even used Mac’s good name to get away with stealing drug money 17 years ago; meanwhile, the ex-convict, while far from innocent, only goes after Mac and Hunt for their (actual or perceived) role in his fiancée’s death.

It feels like Mac’s faith in the job has been shattered—a fact which is represented by the literal destruction of his office at the beginning of the episode. Mac has been a hard-working, honorable police officer for years, and it’s painful to see his dedication symbolically destroyed in a matter of seconds. The scene later in the episode where he surveys the demolished office really hammers the point home. His military photo is damaged and discarded in the center of the debris alongside a tiny reproduction of the Empire State Building. Who Mac is and what he stands for are being severely tested, and it leaves him in a difficult place. He was exhausted at the start of “Nothing for Something”, and “Life Sentence” puts even more strain on him—it’s clear that the writers are building up to a climactic season finale, and Mac might be pushed to his breaking point. It will be interesting to see where that leaves the detective over the summer hiatus.


See also: “Life Sentence” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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