A young woman is murdered during a roller derby bout, leading the team to search through her teammates and rivals for the killer.
Wrath of Connie is a jammer on the Miami Masochists roller derby team, but she’s having an off night. She heads into the locker room during the middle of a bout, but she doesn’t come out alive. Her real name is Connie Briggs, and someone hit her hard enough with an object to break her rib. Dr Loman posits that the broken rib must have ruptured something and caused her to bleed out internally.
Ryan speaks with Miami Spice, aka Olivia Adler, a rival player who got into a fight with Connie during the game. However, Olivia was in the penalty box known as the “Sin Bin” when Connie was murdered, and footage from the game confirms that she didn’t leave the rink. However, Masochist player D’Beat Down, aka Deb Taylor, got knocked off the track and didn’t return for 15 minutes. Deb and Connie were “derby wives”, partners in crime on and off the track. They had a bond, and they were supposed to be there for each other. She should have had Connie’s back, but she was signing autographs and posing for pictures while Connie was being murdered in the locker room.
Loman confirms that Connie’s chest cavity is filled with blood from a massive vessel rupture caused by the broken rib. He found ipecac in her stomach contents, which is used to induce vomiting. That’s why she went into the locker room during the bout. There’s some bruising on her gums from an ill-fitting mouthguard, which didn’t belong to her. The person who dosed her with ipecac had to use their own mouth to mold the mouthguard, and Natalia finds male DNA. It belongs to Vince Kessler, who says he just wanted Connie to get sick so she couldn’t play.
Lucy Strickland is Connie’s emergency contact and roommate, and she comes to the lab. She’s been friends with Connie since freshman year, but she claims nobody would want to hurt her. They didn’t talk about the roller derby much because that was Connie’s thing, but Lucy does remember Connie mentioning a woman named Tara and Feathered. They had a beef when Connie joined the roller derby four months ago. Natalia and Horatio speak to Tara Werner, and they discover that she severed her T9 and T10 vertebrae during a scuffle with Connie on the track. She doesn’t blame Connie, though, it’s just part of the game.
Vince is Tara’s brother, and he’s angry that they think she had anything to do with this. Tara’s injuries provide motive for Vince to kill Connie, but he claims he didn’t do it—still, he says, karma is a bitch. Tara says her paralysis has been tough on Vince, but he knows she didn’t blame Connie. Horatio asks her to use her roller derby expertise to identify the strange bruise left behind by the murder weapon. She has no trouble figuring out what caused the mark: an elbow pad.
Loman shows Natalia evidence of domestic abuse in Connie’s x-rays. He locates a fragment of bone, which is from a previous rib fracture. It has been healing for at least six months, but the new rib fracture dislodged the fragment; it was this piece of bone that shredded her thorasic aorta. Natalia and Horatio talk to Lucy, who says Connie broke up with a guy named Jake McGrath about four months ago. Connie doesn’t seem like the type to keep quiet about abuse, but Lucy says that’s why she joined the roller derby: it made her feel empowered and in control.
They bring Jake in, and Horatio points out that he put Connie in the hospital on several occasions. They find a punching bag at his house with indentations from elbow pads, but Jake says the marks were made by Connie and a friend when they were practicing. It wasn’t Deb, though, it was Lucy. The pair of them were hellbent on joining the roller derby, and the team finds equipment in Lucy’s trunk. Her elbow pads are heavier than the ones used by Connie’s teammates and rivals because she replaced the plastic plates with steel, which increased the force of her hit and enabled her to break Connie’s rib.
It was Lucy’s idea to join the derby, but Connie was the one who excelled. Lucy didn’t make any of the squads, and she and Connie drifted apart. Lucy went into the locker room to clean out her stuff, and she saw Connie after she threw up during the bout. Connie told Lucy she might not be cut out for the derby because she’s not fierce enough, and Lucy slammed the elbow pad into her back one time before running out. With the murder solved, Deb skates around the rink with Connie’s jersey to honor her memory, and the team sits in the audience to watch the roller derby bout.
I don’t know much about roller derby, but “Wheels Up” makes it look like a fun and brutal sport. These women are tough and take no prisoners, and getting hurt is just part of the game. However, things go too far when Connie is killed, and the murder casts suspicion over Connie’s friends and foes alike. The killer ends up being Connie’s close friend, who is hurt and angry when Connie dismisses her after becoming so successful at something Lucy couldn’t do. During the final interrogation with Eric and Natalia, Lucy says she lashed out because she felt mistreated by her friend, but Natalia points out that friends forgive each other.
Jake is a bit of a red herring, although there’s no denying that his abusive behavior indirectly caused Connie’s death. It’s frustrating to see him shrug it off and know he’s going to get away with it, but Horatio goes way too far at the end of the episode. After Jake is released, a uniformed officer wrestles him into a room alone with Horatio. Horatio tells Jake he should be going to prison for murder, but Jake points out that they caught their murderer. Horatio mentions the broken rib he caused in the past, which contributed to her death, but he claims she fell off his bike. When Jake says he wants a lawyer, Horatio remarks that it will take a while for one to arrive. In the meantime, he locks the door and closes the blinds.
I know Horatio is a bit of a comic book hero, where the rules are more fluid and laws can be bent by the Good Guys, but I have a hard time suspending my disbelief when Horatio is able to physically attack people, even horrible people, without repercussions. Two examples that immediately come to mind are the man in “To Kill A Predator” who was planning to molest a teenage girl, and the rapist in “On the Hook”, whom Horatio threw through a window. Both men were very clearly in the Bad Guys category, yet Horatio chose to attack them rather than simply arrest them and let the system take care of the rest. It isn’t realistic, but it may be a form of wish fulfillment for some viewers; it can be gratifying to see Horatio bend the rules and fight back against sexual predators, rapists and men who abuse women.
Walter and Ryan are always a fun duo, and this week they get several great scenes while investigating the roller derby death. Walter knows all about the derby, but Ryan is skeptical—until he sees the girls on the track, at which point he announces that it is the “sexiest, scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” Walter is amused, but he did try to tell him how hardcore these women are! As they’re watching, a fight breaks out, and they wade in to attempt to break it up. It seems silly, given that they are outnumbered, but I do feel bad for Ryan getting punched in the face. Later in the episode, he collects the elbow pads of the woman who hit him. She apologizes (although she doesn’t sound terribly sincere), and he tells her she has a nice cross. She knows this, of course, so his compliment is unnecessary.
Ryan has another amusing scene with a derby girl when he talks to Olivia Adler, aka Miami Spice, about her fight with Connie prior to her death. He’s a bit confused about derby names, and she compares them to the names used by professional wrestlers—but the derby girls aren’t faking it. He suggests that she was angry enough to go after Connie and attack her, but Olivia insists she was stuck in the “Sin Bin” during the time of the murder. When she skates away, she lifts up her skirt and smacks herself on the butt. Ryan calls out, “That’s not professional”, and Jonathan Togo’s delivery earns a laugh—as does his “not bad” a moment later.
Dave Benton, like Ryan, is also surprised by the ferocity of roller derby when he sees the footage from the bout. Walter, Ryan and Dave are great together, and I love their exchange as they’re watching the game. When Ryan confirms that Olivia was in the Sin Bin when Connie was attacked, Dave asks what that is. Ryan’s response? “Don’t ask.” Oh Ryan, don’t try to make it sound more dramatic than it is. Who knows what Dave might think!
The mouthguard scene has a very old-school CSI vibe. The camera zooms toward a set of teeth as they bite into the soft mouthguard material, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that reminds me of the earlier seasons of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. There’s just something very interesting about looking at someone’s teeth from the back or side. I remember mouth close-ups in season one’s “The Strip Strangler” as well as season two’s “The Hunger Artist”, just to name two off the top of my head. Miami has also done a close-up shot of someone’s mouth, during season one’s “Slaughterhouse”. There may be more examples, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.
The scene with Natalia and lab tech Sara Clark is great. Desiree Hall previously appeared in season eight’s “Hostile Takeover”, but she hasn’t been back since “Wheels Up”. It’s a shame because she and Eva La Rue play off each other very well, and it’s fun to watch them try out the elbow pads and attempt to recreate the necessary pressure to replicate the injury that killed Connie. Unfortunately, they don’t have the strength to do it, and Eric wanders in to offer his services. There’s a bit of good-natured teasing about him thinking he’s stronger than them, but Eric points out that “force equals mass times acceleration”, and he’s got more mass to throw around. He’s able to replicate the conditions necessary to break the victim’s rib, and he suggests they’re looking for a male killer. Natalia and Sara disagree, however. Some of these derby girls are really tough, and they could be looking for a very strong woman. It’s a really fun demonstration, and I’d love to see Hall come back to reprise her role in season ten so she can interact with the team again.
See also: “Wheels Up” episode guide