Several people die when a truck filled with party-goers plunges into the Hudson River, and the team has to figure out which of the guests were being targeted.
A party is in full swing inside of a tractor trailer, which is being pulled down the street. Suddenly, the truck smashes through a locked fence and plunges into the Hudson River. The Coast Guard pulls the survivors out of the water, but three party-goers didn’t make it. The main door of the truck was padlocked closed, and the hatch was spot-welded shut. Fortunately, the welding wasn’t done well, and the cold water weakened the spots enough for one of the guests, Chris Boyle, to force the hatch open so most of them could escape. Jo, Flack and Danny talk to some of the survivors, but they have no idea who might have been driving the truck.
A young woman named Jessica Thompson comes to the precinct, and she says she got an invitation in the mail a few months ago stating she was a VIP for the party. She couldn’t go, but a friend went and died when the trailer sank. The team speaks to the other survivors, locating three more people who say they got a handmade invitation in the mail: Chris, Abigail West and Neal Cooper. It looks like the killer had four specific targets. The CSIs need to figure out the connection between them to establish a motive. All of the intended targets report being harassed in the past, and it sounds like they all had a stalker. However, it’s rare for a stalker to have more than one target, and there’s no consistent pattern between these four people. For now, the only connection they have is the invitations.
There’s blood mixed with the ink on the invitations, and it leads back to the artist. Wanda Cole says a man paid her $20,000 up front to make four invitations. He barely made eye contact and seemed nervous. She draws them a vague sketch of the man, whom Neal identifies as a man he saw following him. He makes some alterations to the sketch to give a more accurate picture, and Jessica walks by and recognizes the face: it’s her ex-fiancé, John Everett. They dated off and on, and he proposed. She started to see a darker side of him, but John broke up with her.
They find John’s body in the water. He has a hole in the back of his head with a curved metal object inside, and he was dressed to impress. It looks like he was one of the guests at the party, not the killer. The rivet pattern on John’s boots matches dents on the driver’s side door of the truck, suggesting that he swam down to help the driver escape and he was killed for his trouble. The metal spike in his head is one of the horns from the ‘devil dog’ logo belonging to the party company, which is an emblem on the front of the truck. Hawkes finds an invitation in his pocket, so one of the other guests must be lying because the artist only made four.
The artist said she sold the invitations to a guy, so that eliminates Jessica and Abigail as suspects. Jo suggests that Chris wanted to be a hero, and he’ll certainly be famous when the media finds out that he saved everyone. However, Chris used to play football, and he couldn’t handle fame. Getting media attention is the last thing he wants. Mac speaks to Neal, who says his parents died last year in a car accident. Neal starts to act strange, and he freaks out when a female officer comes into the room to bring him water. He’s uncomfortable around women, and he finally snaps and reveals that he is the killer. He felt alone, so he decided to kill people from his past who made his life miserable.
“Party Down” starts in the middle of a “truck party”, which features a group of sexy young people partying in the back of a tractor trailer. I don’t know if this is actually a real trend, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there has converted a tractor trailer into a place to party. In this case, the trailer is actually a death trap, and it’s only shoddy workmanship and the strength of a desperate man that saves any of the people trapped inside of the truck when it goes into the river.
The death of Victoria Enzo is a red herring early on, when the team realizes she’s the daughter of a much-hated man, Carmen Enzo, who is the head of the local sanitation workers’ union. A lot of people were mad at him after two sanitation workers were killed on the job the year before, and the union worked out a deal that favored their employers. There are plenty of people who might want him to suffer, and it seems like the party might be an elaborate way to disguise that Victoria was the target. However, the Enzo lead hits a dead end only a scene or two after it’s introduced. The storyline is referenced several more times in the episode: first when Mac sees Enzo sitting outside of John’s apartment, and then when the man shows up outside the precinct to shoot Neal after he has confessed to the murders. Paul Ben-Victor does a good job with his role, but the whole thing feels pretty tacked-on to the main storyline, and I think the episode would have been fine without it.
Neal’s confession is an interesting scene. Mac is talking to him, and things start to shift when Mac casually asks if Neal spoke to a therapist after his parents died. Neal says there isn’t anything wrong with him, and Mac points out that he never said there was. A moment later, when a female officer brings a pitcher of water into the interrogation room, Neal gets visibly uncomfortable. Mac picks up on it immediately, and he tells the woman to bring the water to the table and pour Neal a glass. He drops it on the floor when their fingers touch, and Mac brings Jo into the interrogation room with them. She addresses Neal, asking if he has a girlfriend and mentioning all of the sexy women at the party. She wonders why he was invited to hang out with those pretty people, and he says he doesn’t want to talk to her. When Mac forces him to answer the question, he says he doesn’t know. A stutter starts to emerge in his voice, and Jo goads him. She calls him a loser and says women like her don’t even notice that a man like him exists. He slams his fists on the table and calls her a bitch, but Mac yanks him back down into his seat. He says that Jo thinks she’s better than him. She replies that no, she never said that—she’s just not a murderer, that’s all. They checked his apartment, and they found his parents’ life insurance policy. He’s been plotting revenge for years, and the money let him put his plans into motion.
Neal’s motive is pretty weak, to be honest. He targeted the people he held most responsible for his misery, so he tried to kill two people he hadn’t seen in years and a woman who didn’t know him. Abigail grew up across the street from him, and they were best friends until she “abandoned” him for a new group of friends in middle school. Neal tutored Chris for three months during his freshman year. Chris spent the rest of his time partying with the popular people, but he never invited Neal out with him. Jessica never even knew he existed, but he stalked her. He wrote poems for her and took pictures of her and her fiancé John. She was in love with John, but John threw her away—therefore, he deserved to die. Neal thought if he couldn’t have Jessica, she deserved to die as well. Neal says nobody wanted him, and he was tired of being alone. Jo points out that if Neal had spent less time blaming other people, he would have realized he was his own worst enemy. He’s alone because of his own actions and behavior, not because of a stranger or two people he knew in school.
Overall, “Party Down” is a more case-centric episode, but there are a few character moments worth mentioning. There is an interesting dynamic between Mac and Enzo during their brief time onscreen together. Mac expresses his condolences for Victoria’s death, and Enzo says he has no use for Mac’s sympathy. When Mac promises to bring her killer to justice, Enzo says they have different ideas of justice. Mac warns him against taking matters into his own hands, in this scene and then later when he finds the man waiting outside of John’s apartment building, but Enzo gets his revenge in the end. The episode ends with a close-up of Mac’s face as he looks across the street at Enzo being arrested for killing Neal.
Flack and Jo have a fun scene with the artist who created the party invitations, Wanda Cole. When they first arrive to see her painting on several models with long wigs covering their breasts, Flack stays behind for a moment and offers the beautiful women a smile and a “How you doin?” The women show no sign of hearing him, and Jo immediately comes back to pull him away. It’s a funny moment, and their interaction with Wanda is fun too. When they bring up her criminal record for writing bad checks and scamming elderly people, she claims it was a misunderstanding. She doesn’t know the name of the man who paid for the invitations, and she can’t give them much of a description. He was nervous, and she’s focusing on Flack when she suggests that she has that effect on men. He just gives Jo a look, and Jo presses her for an actual description. Flack and Jo are always great together, and it’s nice to see them play off each other as well as an amusing guest star like Haviland Stillwell.
See also: “Party Down” episode guide