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CSI: New York--'Child's Play'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at December 13, 2007 - 10:06 AM GMT

See Also: 'Child's Play' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Essex Palmer slips into a trendy New York nightclub to relax after a great day only to have his cigar blow up in his face, killing him instantly. Flack tells Stella and Lindsay that Essex was an internet entrepreneur, who made a fortune buying and selling comic bookstores and was fond of practical jokes. Essex's wallet is found near the entrance to the club, with prints on it from Mario Galanti. Flack arrests the man, but he swears he had nothing to do with Essex's death: he just took Essex's wallet--and dropped it after the explosion. Dr. Hammerback recovers part of the cigar from Essex's throat, and Lindsay has found DNA in a saliva stain on the man's tie from one Larry Gelatcher: Laughing Larry, a gag store owner who advertises his wares such as fake vomit and itching powder, in the back of comic books. After squirting Flack's tie with a fake camera, Larry tells the CSIs that Essex offered to buy his business, and he agreed. He gave Essex a cigar, but claims it wasn't one of his own--a stranger on the street who was celebrating the birth of a baby girl gave it to him. His "exploding cigars" don't match the one that killed Essex, so the CSIs suspect Larry was the intended target. They investigate one of his creditors, Kim Wey, but after literally chasing down Wey, it proves a dead end when the man claims he had no reason to kill Larry: he wanted his money, not Larry's death. Lindsay identifies the shop the cigar came from, and surveillance footage from the camera in the shop gives the CSIs enough to pull in several suspects for a line up. Larry recognizes the man who gave him the cigar: Benjamin Sudor. Benjamin tells the CSIs and Larry that one of Larry's gag items was responsible for his childhood best friend's death decades ago. After his marriage imploded, Sudor went after Larry, hoping the cigar would kill him.

Danny is awakened by his ten-year-old neighbor, Ruben Sandoval, who wants Danny to take him to church for the blessing of the bikes. Danny does, but on their way back, he hears a commotion from a robbery in progress and sends Ruben home. Danny hears a shot fired as he approaches the bodega, and sees a man run off, leaving the bodega owner, Justin Scott, badly beaten. His sister Lucy claims the robber fired at them, and both recall the robber had a blueish tint to the whites of his eyes. When Mac and Hawkes join Danny at the scene, Mac finds an orange with a bullet hole in it. Hawkes determines Justin was struck in the face with a revolver. Sid postulates that the bluish tint of the shooter's eyes might have been caused by a rare disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. As they're discussing the case, Danny is horrified to see a child's body wheeled into the morgue: Ruben Sandoval. Sid yells at Hawkes to get Danny out of the morgue, and Hawkes physically drags Danny away. Shocked, Danny tells Mac what happened and Mac consoles him, telling him he acted on instinct. Danny has the sad burden of telling Ruben's mother, Rikki, that her son is dead.

Citric acid on the bullet that killed Ruben connects his death to the bodega robbery, and Mac asks Adam to take over for Danny. Adam goes to Sid with a theory of his own: he suspects the eye discoloration was not Osteogenesis Imperfecta but rather the result of a unusual eyeball tattoo. Since there's only one tattoo parlor that does these kinds of tattoos, the CSIs easily zero in on Ollie Burns, one of the few people to get the special tattoo. Ollie admits to robbing the bodega but adamantly denies shooting Ruben; he claims he never fired his revolver and tells Mac where he can find the gun. The gun backs up Ollie's story; it doesn't match the bullet that killed Ruben. Mac uses a computer program to reenact the scene and determines that there's only one person who could have shot Ruben: Lucy Scott, Justin's sister. She's devastated when Mac shows her Ruben's body and tells her she killed an innocent child. Danny joins Rikki in church, but can't find the words to speak to her.

Analysis:

"Child's Play" is definitely a downer, with a few moments of comic relief thrown in here and there to offset the morose mood. At the heart of the episode are the deaths of two children: one in the present, and one in the past. If anything, the latter proves what is underscored by the former: getting over the death of a child is impossible. Twenty-some years later, the death of his best friend still haunts Benjamin Sudor, so much so that when his marriage falls apart, he takes out his rage on the person he holds responsible for the death of his childhood best friend. And in the present, Danny grapples with shock, grief and guilt over Ruben's death.

Poor Danny Messer. In the past three and a half years, he's been through a lot emotionally: he fell under suspicion of killing an undercover officer in "On the Job" and grappled with his brother's near-fatal beating in "Run Silent, Run Deep". Now he has the death of a ten-year-old boy on his conscience. Much as I sympathize with Danny's plight, to send a ten-year old whose mother hasn't even given him permission to ride his bike on his own home alone was a stupid move. The stupidity is compounded by the fact that Danny sends him home on his own while an armed suspect is fleeing the scene. I don't care that Danny's a cop; his first responsibility was to that child. He could have easily kept Ruben with him and called 911. So while I sympathize with Danny, I also do believe he's in part to blame for Ruben's death. Sending Ruben home on his own was the wrong decision.

Mac offers a few words of comfort, telling Danny that he followed his instincts, but Mac has never been much good at comforting people. Perhaps this is why he seems to sympathize with Lindsay when she walks in and tries to talk to Danny, only to have him walk away from her. When she confesses that she's "not very good at this sort of thing," Mac tells her that's what she should say to Danny. I think he's wrong--and think she's wrong to once again focus on herself when Danny is in need--but I think it highlights a similarity the characters share. Both have martyr complexes when they feel they're being persecuted--witness Mac coming undone in "Cold Reveal" when he thinks Sinclair and Gerrard are after him, or Lindsay whining about being sent back to the lab in "Manhattan Manhunt" and becoming defensive after she left a crime scene in "Silent Night". Neither character has much empathy for other people; Mac was a remote figure to Stella in "All Access" and while Danny has offered Lindsay endless support, she's never returned the favor.

I will readily admit Lindsay and Mac are my least favorite characters on the show and that their self-involvement and righteousness is often off-putting, but this scene actually allowed me to understand them a little better. Both Mac and Lindsay seem to be drawn to science because the cold, hard facts aren't marred with messy emotions. Someone like Danny--so emotionally fragile, his thoughts and feelings an open book--is an anomaly to them, someone they don't quite know how to deal with or react to. Again, I do think Mac is wrong to tell Lindsay to approach Danny talking about her own inadequacies rather than encouraging her to push herself to find a way to offer Danny solace, but it's a very Mac-like response. Both Gary Sinise and Anna Belknap get across their characters' emotional stuntedness well in this scene.

Poor Danny really is alone throughout the episode. Mac removes him from the case and Danny takes it upon himself to go tell Rikki her son is dead. The poor woman sinks to the floor upon hearing the news and Danny sinks right along with her. He's at a loss, here, in the morgue, in the church at the end: it's very clear Danny is in shock, digesting the cold truth that his error in judgment and plain bad luck cost a little boy his life. Unsurprisingly, Danny refuses Mac's suggestion that he go home and get some rest--doesn't he always?--instead choosing to follow the case as much as he's allowed from work. He sadly tells Mac that he can't bear the thought of going home and not hearing Ruben's voice in the halls.

Carmine Giovinazzo makes some interesting choices in the episode, choosing to play up Danny's shock rather than having him break down completely, as he did after his brother was beat up. Danny tells Mac he shouldn't have stopped at the bodega, that he wishes he hadn't acted on instinct, clearly grappling with the magnitude of what that split-second decision has wrought. Though he's excellent throughout the episode, it's the final scene in church where Giovinazzo really shows what a brilliant actor he is: as Danny struggles to find something to say to Rikki, his expression cycles through a series of emotions: earnestness, guilt, sorrow, regret. Few actors can say so much without saying a single word, but Giovinazzo is one of them. Though Danny never does find those words he's so desperately searching for, the audience knows exactly how Danny's feeling, and the agony he's experiencing. Giovinazzo's performance is a masterful one.

Amid all that seriousness, Flack's snark and wit are more welcome than ever, and per usual, the good detective does not disappoint. In his latest CSI Files interview, Eddie Cahill promised a funny ad lib, and he didn't disappoint. When Flack goes to arrest Mario and finds him unable to hear, he simply holds up his handcuffs and points at them, signaling Mario is under arrest. Flack's expression, his gesture and Mario's "oh crap" response work together seamlessly, creating a truly hilarious moment. Cahill is a truly gifted actor; like Giovinazzo, he can say a lot without uttering a word.

I also enjoyed the reminiscing Flack and Lindsay do about how they were duped in childhood by Laughing Larry. Both recall saving up their allowances to buy Larry's toys, only to be greatly disappointed with their purchases. Both Cahill and Belknap play off each other well as Flack and Lindsay try to one-up each other with memories of how they were ripped off by Larry. Melina Kanakaredes has wry expression on her face as Stella jumps into the debate, offering that she bought sea monkeys. This all leads up to the fantastic moment when Larry commits the most egregious of sins: he dares to spray one of Flack's beloved ties with a squirt gun disguised as a camera. In pure Flack form, Flack promises to arrest him if he does it again.

Flack and Lindsay's joking about how Larry ripped them off in their childhood proves sadly ironic when one such rip off turns out to be the motive for murder in their case. Benjamin angrily tells Larry he hopes he never laughs again, a harsh indictment to be sure, but one that shows he's never really gotten over watching his best friend die in Larry's submarine. Will Danny be able to move on from Ruben's death? Time will tell. Hopefully there will be some follow up at some point, because viewers won't soon forget this powerful episode--or Danny's reaction to Ruben's tragic death.

Discuss this reviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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