Review: CSI: New York — ‘Holding Cell’

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When a Spanish citizen dies in New York, the team must determine if his death is really a homicide.

Synopsis:

Miguel Martinez, a 23-year-old club promoter, is found dead on the floor of his apartment. The team learns about the death 10 hours after the body is discovered, when they get a call from Hector Vargas. Vargas is a crime lab supervisor with the Barcelona police. Miguel was a Spanish citizen, and he’s been in Manhattan for two years. His girlfriend, Natalia Sanchez, found the body, and the first thing she did was call Miguel’s mother, who is a diplomat of foreign affairs in Spain. Vargas only alerted the NYPD about the case after he arrived in New York, and the team discovers that he’s Miguel’s uncle.

Miguel’s empty wallet is on the floor next to his body, and there’s no sign of a murder weapon. There are footprints all over the room, but they only belong to Miguel. Sid says that Miguel was stabbed three times, and the third wound was made with the blade upside down. The coroner also finds evidence of what appear to be bedsores on Miguel’s back, with various degrees of healing—but there’s no record of hospitalization or chronic illness.

Mac isn’t ready to rule this a homicide just yet. There’s no evidence of forced entry and no sign of a struggle. Mac shows Vargas a picture of the phone, which has no blood on it even though Miguel got blood all over the desk inches away—why didn’t he try to call 911? Mac doesn’t know what happened, but he isn’t convinced it’s murder. Vargas is adamant, however, and he says there must be an explanation for all of the strange evidence.

Miguel was taking clonazepam, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, but he didn’t have a prescription. He also had a 0.19 blood alcohol level when he died, but there was no alcohol in his stomach. It got into his system through his lungs in the “mist cube” at the club he was promoting the night before, Mystify. Danny and Flack speak to a bouncer at the club, who says Miguel got into an argument with a man named Leo the night before. They see Leo selling drugs to someone nearby and bring him in. Tiny chemical burns on Miguel’s shirt came back as a mixture of sulfuric acid and formaldehyde: Marquis reagent. It’s used for drug testing, and Leo has been testing drugs for people in the club. He says he wants people to be safe, but it’s really a scam to get them to buy drugs from him instead. Leo admits that he got into a fight with Miguel, and that’s when the Marquis reagent got on his shirt, but he swears he left after that.

Miguel’s mother arrives in New York to take his body back to Spain, but the embalming process revealed new evidence. She doesn’t want to give his body back, but she finally agrees. Sid sees marks around Miguel’s neck consistent with him being strangled from behind a week ago. A shard of solar panel material found at the scene contains a microscopic drop of blood, which leads back to Vern Jackson, a vagrant who has been arrested for stealing solar panels. Vern tells the team that Miguel came up to him on the street and offered money for Vern to kill him. He tried to strangle Miguel a week ago, but he couldn’t go through with it. He felt Miguel’s life slipping away and had to stop.

Vargas reveals that Mac may have been right about Miguel’s death not being a homicide. He tells Mac about the death of Miguel’s father 12 years ago, when the man’s body was found at the bottom of the pool. There were rumors that the man killed himself or was murdered by his wife, and it was a high profile case. There was a lot of pressure on the coroner, who ruled the death an accident. Now Vargas is wondering if history may be repeating itself, and if Miguel killed himself like his father.

There’s half of a gravitational blood drop on the murder weapon, which matches half of a blood drop on the floor. A fingerprint next to the blood drop was left by the person who picked up the knife to deliver the third, fatal stab wound—and the fingerprint matches Miguel. Somehow, the murder weapon was removed from the crime scene, and the team brings Natalia back in to tell the whole truth about what happened.

Miguel tried to hide who he was and present a fake image to the outside world because he didn’t want people to look down on him. Eventually, it all became too much, and he asked Natalia to help make his suicide look like a murder. He didn’t want his mother to know his death was self-inflicted. He finally convinced Natalia, but she changed her mind and tried to get there in time to save him. She was too late, so the only thing she could do was follow his wishes and stage the scene. She took the money out of his wallet and got rid of the knife.


Analysis:

“Holding Cell” poses several very serious questions, and they are questions without easy answers. If people want to kill themselves, is it selfish to try to force them to continue living? People are in control of their own lives, but should they be allowed to control their deaths without interference from others? It’s not a topic that can be thoroughly explored during a 42-minute episode. The final scene between Mac and Natalia briefly shows both sides of the issue for the situation presented in the episode, but ultimately it doesn’t try to give a cut and dry answer. This is the best choice since there is no cut and dry answer, and the crime drama is trying to tell a story, not offer an in-depth analysis of such serious subject matter. Natalia describes Miguel’s depression and torment, saying how difficult it was for him to get out of bed some days, but she also reveals her own heartbreak at seeing him suffer and wishing he could find a way to climb out of his depression. From a legal standpoint, there’s no question that Natalia broke the law. From a moral standpoint, however, viewers are left to form their own opinions.

Earlier in the scene, Mac says, without judgment, that there’s no shame in what Miguel was going through. He’s right, of course, and the social stigma surrounding mental illness doesn’t help those who are suffering. I am not an expert, but it seems to me that this stigma only serves to isolate people and make them feel ashamed to acknowledge that they have a problem. It also seems to prevent others from being educated about mental illnesses, making them less likely to support their loved ones in a time of need. “Holding Cell” addresses this issue when Natalia explains that Miguel tried to speak to his mother about his depression, but she refused to listen to him. He suffered for years, but so much of his time was spent trying to hide the truth—that time could have been spent trying to deal with his depression with the support of his loved ones. Natalia’s comment during the final interrogation where she points out that Miguel was good-looking and had money emphasizes the ignorance that comes along with society’s stigma against mental illness. Depression is not simply about being “sad”, and it’s not limited to those who are poor or unattractive. It’s a mental issue, plain and simple, and any person could be affected.

During the final interrogation, Jo and Miguel’s mother Eva are shown behind the glass, listening as Natalia tells the truth. Sela Ward and Karina Lombard do a wonderful job of portraying their characters’ feelings without saying a single word. Eva doesn’t want to hear the truth, but she can’t deny it in the end. Jo is listening to Natalia speak, but it’s Eva who has her attention. Afterward, Eva admits that she knew for a long time that Miguel suffered the way his father did. She asks Jo, “What would you have done if it was your child?” Jo says she doesn’t know; she would just hug him and never let go. Miguel’s mother looks over at her only remaining child, Miguel’s younger sister, and moves to hold her. She may have made mistakes with Miguel, but it seems like she will work hard to avoid repeating them with her daughter. Perhaps the exchange is all a bit too neat and tidy, and Jo’s response is common sense rather than some profound truth, but it does prompt Eva to act on her feelings.

The episode ends with the camera focused on Jo, and moments like this always remind me that Ward is an incredibly talented actress, particularly when it comes to expressing her character’s emotions. No words are necessary, and the whole scene leading up to and including that moment really emphasizes the connection between Jo and Eva as mothers. Lindsay is a mother too, of course, but I feel like Jo is definitely the right choice for this scene. Lucy is very young, but Jo has a son in college and a daughter who is making the transition into young adulthood. She has watched her children grow up, which gives her a better perspective to understand Eva’s point of view as a mother with older children.

It’s nice to see Mac working with an international peer. Aside from a Spanish accent that is here one scene and gone the next, Jsu Garcia does a great job as Hector Vargas. Vargas butts heads with the CSIs toward the beginning, coming to New York before he even alerts them about Miguel’s death and making things more difficult by trying to block their entrance to the Spanish consulate to speak with Natalia. In the end, however, they work together to solve the case. Vargas is honest with Mac about Miguel’s father’s death, and he works with him to convince Miguel’s mother not to take the body back to Spain just yet. It’s clear that he cares about his sister and his nephew, but he wants the case to be solved before they try to pick up the pieces.

“Holding Cell” is a heavy episode overall, but it does have some lighter moments courtesy of this week’s supporting players. At one point, Lindsay walks into the lab to find a frustrated Hawkes and Danny discussing the case, and she recites a Spanish proverb which basically means “small strokes fell great oaks.” She knows a bit of Spanish, she says, and she’s teaching Lucy. Hawkes points out that this is great for the little girl’s future, but Danny seems more concerned that his wife and daughter might use the knowledge to talk behind his back. It’s a funny scene, but Danny’s quip about everyone being bilingual is amusing for a different reason. The line brings to mind season five’s “Communication Breakdown”, in which it did seem like half of the characters spoke a second language: Stella spoke Greek (not for the first time), Angell spoke French, Flack spoke Irish, and Sid even said a Lithuanian proverb.

Arguably the funniest scene in “Holding Cell” features a very nervous Adam asking Jo about the possibility that Mac might have made a mistake. A combination of sulfuric acid and formaldehyde, aka Marquis reagent, was found on the victim’s shirt, and Adam wonders if Mac accidentally spilled some at the crime scene. He’s afraid to tell Mac—someone who never messes up—that he might have done something wrong. When Mac walks toward them, Adam tells Jo to act normal despite the fact that he’s the one who is acting strange. Jo is clearly amused by his behavior as he loudly delivers the punchline to a joke, and she immediately broaches the subject when Mac arrives. Mac tells Adam to find a better explanation for the chemical’s presence, and Adam seizes the opportunity to shift attention away from himself when Lindsay walks up to share some lab results. The scene delivers a few laughs, although Mac sprinkling Marquis reagent all over the scene is not the most reasonable explanation for its presence on the victim’s clothes. This is Mac we’re talking about, and it’s a bit over-the-top for Adam to freak out over this assumption as soon as he identifies the substance. I love when Adam is nervous, but it seems like there’s a fine line between showing Adam’s hilariously awkward side and taking it too far.

When Danny and Flack first arrive at the club and spot the young people dancing in an alcoholic mist, they’re not exactly impressed. Danny quips that he saw people inhaling alcohol on The Jetsons, and Flack adds, “I’m not a doctor, but that can’t be good for you.” The brief exchange is amusing, and the concept of inhaling an alcoholic mist isn’t pure fantasy. There’s a device called AWOL (Alcohol Without Liquid), which vaporizes alcohol and mixes it with oxygen before the user inhales the mixture through a mouthpiece. At least one bar in the United Kingdom has pumped alcoholic mist straight into the air, although guests wore protective suits to cover their clothing when they went into the mist room. Either option is a far cry from the sexy “mist cube” depicted in “Holding Cell”, but it does work in theory. However, there are questions about the health and safety risks associated with inhaling alcohol in this fashion, and Wikipedia states that AWOL isn’t legal in New York. It’s an interesting element to include in the plot, realistic or not, but the minutes spent showing sexy people in the club could have been put to better use showing more interaction between Mac and Vargas or between Jo and Eva. The scenes featuring the leads and their Spanish counterparts are easily the best part of the episode.


See also: “Holding Cell” episode guide

Rachel Trongo

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Rachel Trongo

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