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CSI: New York--'And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at November 17, 2006 - 4:37 AM GMT

See Also: 'And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Nicole Garner and Heather Rollins, two young women in the prime of their lives, are in a terrible car crash after a night of drinking and partying. Heather is killed, but Nicole survived and comes out of her coma--only to be murdered in her hospital bed. Dr. Hammerback confirms that Nicole was suffocated. Dr. Hawkes talks to his former mentor and boss, Dr. Richards, who is taken aback by the surgeon turned coroner turned CSI's suggest that one of the hospital staff may have committed the murder. He's even more livid when they question Kevin Green, a janitor in the hospital responsible for maintaining the aquarium. Traces of fish food were found on Nicole's lips, but Kevin insists he was just helping her with her juice--not suffocating her. The case dredges up Hawkes' conflicted feelings about leaving the practice of medicine, but Danny reminds him he's still a doctor.

Stella gets a print from a bar of soap in Nicole's room that leads the CSIs to Matt Huxley, Nicole's boyfriend. Matt runs when Flack and Mac come to question him, but the detectives catch up to him. Matt admits he was in Nicole's room despite the fact that her mother had refused to let him see her. He and Nicole had made a pact after a classmate was paralyzed to "do what needed to be done" if the other was ever similarly injured. Matt visited with the intention of killing her, but wasn't able to go through with it. When he returns to the lab, Mac confers with Hawkes about Nicole's EKG, wondering why her heart rate never reached dangerous heights during the attack. Stella determines a blue plastic bag was the murder weapon, and the imprint of a St. Christopher medal leads the CSIs to Nicole's father, Frank Russo. Frank was estranged from Nicole's mother, Ellen, but he denies killing his daughter, even in mercy. He brought her a small teddy bear and is crushed to learn that the bag from his gift was used to kill his daughter.

Hawkes and Lindsay are surprised to discover 4 heart monitor sensors from Nicole's room where there should have only been three. The DNA on them matches to a maternal relative, and the CSIs question Ellen Garner, who had a life insurance policy out on her daughter. The defensive mother insists she did it because of Nicole's wild and dangerous lifestyle, and maintains she didn't kill her daughter. The DNA backs her up--Nicole's isn't a match for Ellen's--or Frank's. The CSIs are shocked to realize there may have been a grave mix-up, and that the two girls who looked so much alike may have been misidentified. They go back to the SUV Nicole and Heather were in and blood evidence reveals Heather was in fact the driver. The DNA on the fourth heart monitor--which the killer used to hook her own readings into the machine and avoid alerting the nurses to the distress of the girl in hospital bed--reveals that Julie Rollins, Heather's mother was the killer. She makes no bones about it when the CSIs tell her--she wanted revenge on Nicole for taking her daughter from her. Her righteousness turns to agony when they tell her that instead of killing Nicole, she actually killed her own daughter, Heather. The case closed, Hawkes leaves for the day only to come across a man who has been hit by a car. The doctor's quick intervention saves the man's life.

Analysis:

And here's to you, Peter M. Lenkov for a truly excellent episode. From its clever title to its powerful conclusion, "And Here's to You, Mrs. Azrael" is a winner, that rare episode that melds a compelling case with terrific character backstory. It's about time we finally found out about Hawkes' career prior to his stint in the morgue. His character bio early in the series teased that two tragic deaths in surgery drove him into the morgue, but we saw him leave the morgue behind and head into the field with nary a mention of this. I'm happy to see some of Hawkes' feelings about his previous career finally revealed.

I'll admit, I was expecting something a tad more scandalous than Hawkes just getting burned by losing patients. Not to discount the difficulty of that at all--I have no doubt that some people simply aren't cut out for the field because they cannot deal with losing patients. But the way Dr. Richards told Hawkes no one ever accused him of murder led me to believe maybe there was something more there, a case that perhaps Hawkes made a fatal error on.

There didn't need to be though--in a show where everyone seems to have a dark secret, the decision to have Hawkes simply not able to handle losing patients and deciding to choose another path is a sound one. I love how being back at the hospital and in the presence of his former mentor brought up some rare insecurities the usually assured doctor has. I liked how he questioned whether or not leaving the field of medicine and then the morgue to become a CSI meant he wasn't really a doctor anymore.

Of course, as Danny reminds him, he still is, and, in the very final scene of the episode, we see him save the life of a man who has been hit by a car, proving that indeed, a change of career doesn't make him any less capable. Nice as it is to see Dr. Hawkes in action, it's a bit heavy-handed. Much as I love Lenkov's episodes (and he's penned some great ones), he has a tendancy to lay it on too think in the end, a la the 'CSIs as superheros' montage at the end of "Super Men" or the overly dramatic freeze frame hug between Danny and Lindsay at the end of "Not What It Looks Like". Lenkov is too talented a writer to need these crutches; his message gets across just fine without them.

The moral dilemma of mercy killings gives Mac and Hawkes fodder for a great debate. Mac surprisingly advocates the idea, and we learn he has personal reasons for doing so: he watched his own father die a slow and painful death from lung cancer, and yet found himself unable to go through with it when his father asked him to end his suffering. Hawkes, as a doctor dedicated to saving lives, naturally opposes the idea, and it seems unlikely given his reaction that he's ever been faced with such a choice personally. Lenkov wisely avoids any kind of finite conclusion here by having Mac support the idea but also showing that the theory is more easily embraceable than the actuality. After all, the episode features not just one but two characters--Mac and Matt--who couldn't bring themselves to perform a mercy killing.

The case that lies at the heart of the episode is based off of a very similar (and equally tragic) car accident that occurred this summer in Indiana, when a young woman who survived the crash was mistakenly identified as her friend (story). The parents of Laura Van Ryn gradually realized the girl in the hospital bed they were keeping watch over was not in fact their daughter but Whitney Cerak, a friend of Laura's thought to have perished in the crash. Laura's parents released a statement after it was confirmed that it was indeed Whitney who survived the crash, expressing their sorrow over their loss but also their happiness for Whitney's family.

Julie Rollins was by no means happy for Ellen Garner when it was presumed her daughter, Nicole, was the one who survived the crash. Julie blamed Nicole for Heather's death and went so far as to play the Angel of Death (the Azrael of the title) when she saw that Nicole was going to recover from her injuries. Was it divine retribution that in fact it was her own daughter Heather that survived--and her own daughter Heather that she smothered to death? Whether it was or not, it was certainly a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.

The cast, both regular and supporting, turn in great performances all around. Hill Harper Is dynamite in this episode, revealing to the audience that even the brilliant and talented Hawkes has insecurities and doubts. His transition from ME to CSI was awfully seamless, so it's gratifying to see that he doesn't leave things behind without looking back. Sam Anderson makes a splash as Hawkes' former mentor, Dr. Richards, and I'm hoping we'll see him again at some point down the road. There seems to be some underlying tension between Hawkes and his mentor, and I can't help but wonder if there's more to the story than what we were given here. I certainly hope so, because Harper and Anderson had a great rapport that bears further exploration.

Gary Sinise has been particularly good lately--the actor has been shining this season, perhaps because he's been given the opportunity to work with more varied material than in the past two. His agony over the ethics of assisted suicide quickly turns to scorn when he realizes Julie Rollins killed a paralyzed girl not out of compassion but in revenge. Though he doesn't get any joy from telling her she in fact murdered her own daughter, he doesn't shield her from the information or try to soften the blow in any way. Her complete lack of repentence does away with any sympathy Mac would have for her. Mel Harris turns in a memorable performance in this scene, gracefully transitioning from satisfied resignation to abject horror when she realizes just what she's done.

On a completely superficial note, I have give a nod to Lenkov for delivering exactly what the fans want: shirtless Danny. Lenkov is also the writer who stripped the comely CSI down in "Trapped", after conveniently having the air conditioning shut off in the panic room he was stuck in. If Lenkov is making a bid for the most popular writer trophy, he's definitely covering his bases: gratuitious Danny skin is certainly the way to go (and was even mentioned as being popular among online fans in one of the season two DVD commentaries). I did feel a little bad for poor Hill Harper: here he is, finally with a great emotional scene for Hawkes, and the show's beefcake chooses that moment to take off his shirt.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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