A young man is shot to death in his apartment after spending the night with his dream girl, and the team has to figure out if his attempts to win her heart are what got him killed.
Mac has returned to the New York Crime Lab, and he jumps right back into his old role as the team investigates the death of Michael Schaefer. The young man spent the night with a beautiful woman named Miranda, and she was sleeping in his room when she heard a gunshot. The noise woke her, and she found Michael on the floor when she ran out into the living room. They’ve only known each other for a few weeks, since he and his roommate Josh came into the music store where she worked. They hit it off immediately.
Michael was shot at close range, and he struggled with the killer first. Robbery doesn’t seem to be a motive because the body is surrounded by $300 worth of $20 bills. Miranda says Michael didn’t owe anyone money. In fact, he was doing pretty well. He bought her an expensive guitar recently, after she admired it the day they met in the music store. He was a sweet guy, she says, and she can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt him. Meanwhile, Josh is nowhere to be found, and the team tries to track him down.
Adam analyzes Miranda’s clothing and finds tears consistent with catching the fabric on broken glass—like the busted window from the fire escape into the apartment. Michael lost his keys, Miranda explains, and she broke the window so they could get into the apartment. She didn’t mention this because she was in shock, and she doesn’t appreciate the insinuation that she killed Michael.
The team starts to look more closely into Josh when they discover that he has $12,000 in his savings account. That’s a lot for a college student, and he was throwing money around at the club. The team finds a tub of tattoo aftercare lotion in the apartment. Michael didn’t have a tattoo, so it must belong to Josh. They are able to track down the tattoo parlor, and the man recognizes him. Josh paid $1000 for a large back tattoo, and it took several hours. During that time, Josh mentioned that his best friend got a new girlfriend who started coming between them.
A smudge on Michael’s cheek contains a combination of ink, mineral oil, glass cleaner and auto degreaser. This leads Lindsay to figure out that the money next to Michael’s body is counterfeit. Josh was using a combination of auto degreaser, mineral oil and glass cleaner to remove the ink on $5 bills, and he reprinted them as $20 bills with his inkjet printer. Josh loaned Michael several hundred dollars in counterfeit bills to buy the guitar for Miranda, but that’s the only place where Michael was seen spending any of it. He had no idea it was fake. Meanwhile, Josh is using some of the counterfeit money to buy a gun.
A piece of reptile skin belonging to a boa constrictor is found on Michael’s clothes, and it has been discolored by fingernail polish. The team realizes the owner of the music store, Randy, is the killer. They rush to the store to find him and Josh having a standoff. Michael was Josh’s best friend, and he had no idea what Josh was doing. He didn’t deserve to die. Randy tells Josh that Michael’s death was an accident, but he owes money to a bookie who doesn’t appreciate being given counterfeit bills. The team comes in and stops them from shooting each other, and both men are arrested for their crimes.
“Keep It Real” marks the triumphant return of Mac Taylor. There was never a question that he’d be back in charge of the crime lab, and I assumed he’d be back sooner rather than later. He did good work at Piper Laboratories, trying to identify 9/11 victims, but he belongs in the New York Crime Lab. The premiere was all about honoring the past and bringing closure for Mac, and this week it’s clear that he’s ready to move forward. I can’t say I mind that he’s back so soon—with Danny working as a Sergeant instead of a CSI, they can’t have too many regulars off doing something different.
Mac’s return isn’t very fortuitous for Adam. In fact, the lab tech made a bet with Hawkes about when the boss would be back, and Hawkes collects his money this week as Jo walks by. When Adam admits that he thought Mac was gone for good, Jo expresses surprise—there was never any doubt in her mind. In fact, as she tells Mac in his office, she never thought he was gone. Mac shares a scene with Sid in the morgue about his choice to return to the lab, and Sid asks about his experience “on the outside”. He says Mac was “free” after he quit working for the NYPD, and coming back means that he’s “institutionalized”. It’s clear that Sid doesn’t mean that in a very serious way, but he does have a point. Mac’s options were unlimited when he finally left the crime lab, but he decided to come back.
At the end of the episode, Mac gets settled in by putting the final touches on his office. His things were boxed up in “Indelible”, but each picture frame and commendation is put in its proper place this week. The final item he puts on display is a plaque recognizing his work on the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, which was featured in last week’s premiere. It’s a nice touch that ties into his work on the memorial, and it emphasizes that the Mac Taylor who returned to the lab is not exactly the same Mac Taylor who left four months ago.
“Keep It Real” features the return of another character, this time a member of Jo’s family. Cody Longo was first seen in “Identity Crisis” last year, and this week Tyler Josephson is back to talk to his mother about a new roommate. Tyler is acting suspicious when he meets with Jo at a restaurant, and he wants her to sign his apartment lease before meeting the new roommate. Jo immediately looks into the person her son is going to live with, and she asks Adam a few questions about college when he walks into her office. He tells her he had 12 roommates while he was in school, and he teases her for “breaking the mom code” by pulling up Alex’s criminal record, which contains some minor offenses. Adam teases her further by implying that Alex’s “trespassing and criminal mischief” charges make Tyler’s new roommate similar to his mother—after all, she did pull up Alex’s record at the first opportunity. Jo also discovers that Alex has a sealed juvenile record. The record arrives at the lab, and Hawkes comes in as she’s scanning through it. It looks like Alex got in trouble for graffiti, but Hawkes reveals that he did the same thing when he was a kid. That’s a bit hard to believe, but it does help emphasize that Alex’s record isn’t indicative of a bad person.
The audience is left wondering how things are going to turn out when Jo finally meets Alex at a restaurant at the end of the episode. When Tyler leans back to introduce them, it is revealed that Alex is a young woman. Jo pretends that she doesn’t already know, but Tyler isn’t fooled. He knows perfectly well that she looked Alex up as soon as she could. It’s a fun moment, and it’s so very Jo. I love the fact that Jo (presumably) figures out that Alex is a woman right away, yet she continues to dig—I guess she thinks that isn’t enough of a reason for Tyler to be nervous about her reaction! Either that, or she has to know more once she sees those minor offenses in Alex’s record. However, she does refer to Alex as a “he” during her scene with Hawkes, which suggests that perhaps she doesn’t know her gender at that point—although the more likely option is that the comment is just meant to keep the audience in the dark. In any case, it’s nice to see that Jo doesn’t raise any protests in the end, and she seems very supportive of her son and his choice of roommate. Jo seems to think Alex may be more than that, but Tyler insists that they’re just friends. It’s a cute scene, and I’m glad the writers brought Tyler back this week. It’s always nice to see family members outside of the lab.
The biggest guest star featured this week is Aly Michalka, a talented young actress who is also a talented young musician. Aly and her sister AJ Michalka perform together as 78violet, and New York fans may recognize Aly from shows like Hellcats or Phil of the Future. She does a great job on CSI: NY with performances that open and close the hour (“Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones and Keane’s “My Shadow”, respectively), along with several well-acted scenes in between. Toward the beginning of the episode, she speaks to Flack about Michael’s death, and she’s clearly distraught. She hadn’t known him for very long, but he was different from the guys she usually met. He bought her an expensive guitar, but she tells Flack it wasn’t unnecessary. She didn’t need gifts to start falling in love with him. Later, when Jo confronts her about the possibility that she might have killed Michael, she asks if Miranda lost someone. Jo listened to her music online, and she could tell that the young woman was dealing with a lot of anger, frustration and emptiness. Eventually, Miranda reveals that her father died in a car accident when she was a teenager. He would have approved of Michael, she says. It’s sad to think that this young woman has experienced another loss, but the end of the episode shows that she can channel her pain into music.
Danny’s promotion went through over the summer, and the first two episodes of the season so far have shown him working as a Sergeant in uniform. He’s on the beat now, away from the lab, but it wasn’t given much focus in the premiere. This week, he’s at the scene when Lindsay arrives, and she teases him a bit about whether he might have seen her husband. Later in the lab, Danny is trying to take her out for lunch, but she’s busy working the case and can’t get time away. The promotion is a good thing, but it does present the family with certain challenges. It also presents the writers with the challenge of finding ways to include Danny when he is no longer a member of the team. It hasn’t been a problem for the first two episodes, but he can’t stay on the beat forever.
At the end of season seven, when the show’s future remained uncertain, it made sense for Danny to take the promotion. After all, if the show was cancelled, it wouldn’t matter if his job took him away from the lab. The important thing was showing that the characters’ lives and careers would grow and change even after they were no longer on our screens, and it was a promising way to end the season. Now that the show is back for another year, however, it becomes a logistical problem to have one of the main characters working the beat. It’s clear this week that Danny misses the lab—not just spending time with his wife, but the actual work he did as a CSI. I can’t imagine he’ll stay in uniform for long, so time will tell whether he chooses to return to the lab, or if perhaps the choice is made for him. I’m curious how the story unfolds in the coming weeks.
See also: “Keep It Real” episode guide.