CSI: New York--'City Of The Dolls'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at November 28, 2005 - 6:38 PM GMT

See Also: 'City Of The Dolls' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Two teens pelt cars with snowballs and flee when the driver of a truck gives chase. One of the teens stumbles into a doll hospital and over the body of Russell McCulley, the owner. When Danny and Mac arrive, Danny notes that an artery in McCulley's hand is sliced and Mac deduces the man died of shock before he bled out. In his other hand McCulley is holding onto a doll tightly that his assistant identifies as Secret Sophie. The assistant tells Danny and Detective Maka that McCulley filed a complaint with World Send, the company that delivered the dolls to be fixed. Mac notes that a shipment came in the night before. Across town, Stella and Hawkes are in the apartment of Lauren Redgrave who was found dead in her bed by her pregnant neighbor, Carolyn Straker. Stella and Hawkes find various pills and vitamin around her apartment as well as a to do list for the next day, which rules out suicide. Hawkes discovers that her beautiful blonde hair is actually a wig. Carolyn's husband, Dale, recalls hearing Lauren argue with a woman the evening before.

Mac tracks down Rhonda Chavez, who delivered the World Send packages the evening before. She admits to fighting with Russell about the deliveries but said when she left he was alive. Rhonda tells Mac she parked her truck in the back alley and only used the back entrance. She says she was mad, but not mad enough to kill him. One of Lauren Redgrave's neighbors, Harry Ellis, corners Flack and asks him when Lauren's apartment will be on the market. The disgusted detective asks Ellis if he heard anything the night before, but Ellis claims to have tuned it out. Dr. Hammerback informs Stella and Hawkes that Lauren had terminal stomach cancer, but that that wasn't what killed her--she died of respiratory failure, suggesting she may have been poisoned. Stella is convinced it wasn't suicide. In the lab, Mac works on reassembling a bunch of shattered porcelain shards while Danny and Lindsay take Secret Sophie apart. The pieces form a doll arm and match up with a shard Danny found in Russell's hand, making the doll arm the murder weapon. Danny recovers a print from the arm.

Stella goes over a black glove found at Lauren's apartment and then turns to a Styrofoam cup with a logo on it: Haverly Cafe. Lauren was employed at the cafe but had called in sick that day and a co-worker, Darcy, had brought her soup. Darcy tells Stella and Flack that Lauren had freaked out and accused Darcy of poisoning her, citing toxins in the styrofoam and hormones in the soup. Unable to reason with Lauren, Darcy left, dropping her glove in the process. Dr. Hammerback tells Hawkes that Lauren died of arsenic poisoning, so Stella and Hawkes head back to her apartment to find out the source. Stella finds tea bags with the staples removed and replaced and takes them back to the lab. Stella finds traces of arsenic and meteor dust in the tea and fears that perhaps Lauren wasn't the only victim of the teabag poisoning.

Danny and Lindsay track down Monica Drake, whose daughter Abby owns Secret Sophie. Monica, a high school teacher, tells the CSIs the Sophie's voicebox was broken so she brought it into McCulley's shop. McCulley had called to say the doll was fixed but she hadn't yet picked it up. Back at the lab, Lindsay plays back Sophie's 'secret' and heard Abby's voice describing something she witnessed: two people kissing, naked. Mac hears a bell in the background and posits that maybe Abby was witnessing something at her school. Lindsay asks Abby about the secret, but Abby refuses to tell her. Detective Flack conducts an interrogation of his own: the poisoned tea in Lauren's apartment was from the grocery store Harry Ellis owns. Ellis admits he was angry when the previous owner of Lauren's condo left his condo to Lauren, but denies killing her. Flack is skeptical--Harry wanted to buy the condo eight months ago and is apparently still interested.

Mac, Danny and Lindsay puzzle over their case; Danny has found street salt on the doll's clothes, but he can't identify the print on the doll's arm. Stella spots him puzzling over it and suggests he looks at the substance that made the print rather than the print itself. He takes her advice and is able to identify the substance as an element used in jewelry making, leading him back to Monica Drake, who has used the technique in her class. When Danny and Lindsay question her, she says she was fidgeting with a doll arm on the counter after dropping Sophie off, triggering Lindsay's suspicions, because neither CSI mentioned the print was found on a doll arm. Monica claims she was at a PTA dinner the night of Russell's murder, but Lindsay finds a doll eye in her welcome mat and knows Monica is hiding something. Danny matches blood on the eye to McCulley, but Mac says Monica's alibi checks out. Danny and Lindsay go over Monica's apartment and Danny finds evidence of sexual activity in Monica's bed, while Lindsay finds a chalky white powder. Neither CSI finds any blood. They turn back to pictures of the crime scene itself and Mac spots an open window on the second floor.

Hawkes has found the key to the Lauren Redgrave case: the other substance in the tea bags is rosin, used to keep up violin bows and strings. Stella has Dale Straker, who is a violinist, brought in. She tells him she knows he had plans to use Lauren's apartment as a nursery. It was he who poisoned Lauren's tea for him, and Lauren's 'to do' list is what clinched it: on the list was an entry: 'Give Dale $7.95'--the exact price of the tea. Mac and Danny return to the doll hospital with Rhonda, who shows them where she parked her truck. They realize someone must have climbed on top of the truck while Rhonda was making her delivery to get into the doll hospital. Mac finds salt on the ledge of the window as well as white shavings. Danny recalls seeing a student, Luke Fisher, sporting a cast and carrying something for Monica. Mac interrogates Luke: he and Monica Drake were having an affair, and it was them that Abby spotted and told her doll about. Monica sent Luke to steal the doll back, but Russell fought him for it and Luke sliced his hand. After he hurt Russell, Luke fled without the doll and went to Monica's apartment. Danny lays out the evidence for Monica, telling her that he knows Russell tipped her off by calling her about the secret he heard once he fixed the doll's voice box. Danny tells her the irony is that no one would have ever known that Abby was talking about her and Luke--it was only her guilty conscious that made her paranoid. She asks him if it makes any difference that she loves Luke, a question Danny doesn't deign to answer.

Analysis:

A pattern is emerging in CSI: New York's second season, one I'm not altogether convinced is good. I noticed something similar during CSI: Miami's second season, so perhaps it's a natural part of the growth process for CSI shows. Lately on New York, the stories seem to fit a very narrow formula--the two-case formula CSI is know for, with one of the cases (usually the primary one) being quirky and strange and the other less so, and often resulting in a weak conclusion. The CSI shows might focus primarily on the gathering of the evidence and the putting together of the puzzle pieces to get the full picture, but motive is often treated as secondary and unimportant, and I don't think that's wise in fiction. In real life a killer's motive might never be known or might nonsensical, but fiction is a different ballgame.

I think part of the problem has been the sensational nature of the stories this season. Man Killed by Doll Arm! Man's Body Found Torn Apart by Tiger! Martial Arts Battle Takes Over Pool Hall! While I've enjoyed some of the stories, I can't help but miss the more realistic, grittier stories of last season. A man killed at a baseball game, a shootout in the subway goes wrong, a conviction doesn't stand up under scrutiny--these stories were less sensational and flashy, but they had more emotion behind them, too. There's a slickness to New York this season, and aside from Hawkes' sensitive handling of the accidental death of a ten year old in "Corporate Warriors", the stories have mostly been devoid of any depth of feeling. Miami manages to pull off this slickness in part because of the setting and in part because David Caruso's Horatio Caine's emoting, but New York isn't Miami, and it shouldn't try to be.

"City of the Dolls" isn't any more or less sensational than the other episodes this season, but the motives in both cases seem especially lacking. After "Zoo York", I'm starting to think a lot of people kill each other for property in the Big Apple. But while I bought the business aspect of the murder in "Zoo York," the idea that someone would kill another human being to build a nursery is a stretch. Lauren was poisoned for seven months--did Dale find out his wife was pregnant and decided, rather than looking for a bigger condo, poisoning his neighbor was a better option? Are we really supposed to buy that? I'm sure there's probably a real case, somewhere, where someone did do just that, but having a real case to fall back on isn't enough. This is fiction, and part of fiction is selling a premise to the audience.

The motive in the primary case is a little more understandable, but the action falls apart under scrutiny. McCulley called Monica about the secret recorded by Sophie. Monica was scheduled to pick up the doll the next day, but she sends her sixteen-year-old boyfriend to steal it. Why? Couldn't Monica have just picked up the doll the next day, and if she didn't want Abby to have it, just told Abby it was permanently broken and gotten Abby a new (and presumably non-recordable) doll? Other than McCulley, who exactly was Monica worried would hear the recording? The point about her paranoia at the end was a good one, but it seems like just a little bit of thought could have helped avoid the situation altogether. I'm sure that could be said of most extreme actions, but the rationale behind this one seems extremely weak.

We're given more hints about Stella's background, but no answers. Stella seems particularly brought down by the fact that Lauren has cancer, and when Danny mentions it specifically to her, it certainly seems as though there's probably some history there. What it might be can only be guessed at--the clues are faint at best. Did Stella have cancer? I'd guess a family member, but Stella never knew her parents and was raised at an orphanege. Because there weren't any answers given, it didn't really add much to the story, but hopefully we'll get more information at some future point.

There's also a cute little flirtation going on between Danny and Lindsay, but given CSI's stance on romances between their characters, I'm not holding my breath on it going further than a few looks and quips exchanged. It's a shame--Without a Trace has managed to have their characters get involved while still maintaining the integrity of their stories, and I think one of the CSI shows could try it as well.

If I'm being hard on this episode, it's because I find the direction the show is headed in worrying. I don't mind stories here and there that don't have a lot of emotional impact--not every episode has to be hard-hitting and chilling. Some of the lighter and slicker episodes of CSI have been very memorable. But even in this week's CSI, "Dog Eat Dog", a lighter episode after a very weighty two parter, has more emotion than most of the New York episodes have had this season. I think the show can be lighter in tone without being devoid of feeling and depth. I miss the complexities of the first season--the show had struck a great balance at the end of its first year. This season seems to be all about the sensational aspects of New York, and as anyone familar with the city can tell you, there's a lot more to the Big Apple.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.