CSI: New York--'Cold Reveal'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at May 3, 2007 - 8:43 AM GMT

See Also: 'Cold Reveal' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A man with angel wings crashes through the stained glass window roof of a church. Dr. Sid Hammerback IDs him as eighteen-year-old Toby Finch, and notes that he died before he hit the ground--his spine was severed in two places. Mac discovers that the cord attached to the harness Toby is wearing was severed, suggesting foul play. Lindsay is able to retrieve video from a camera Toby was wearing, showing him jumping off a roof, and also featuring images of a woman named Jessica whose face is badly burned. Lindsay finds a website, Internetdaredevil.com, which features video of Jessica performing the stunt that injured her and concludes Toby was competing to be featured on the website. Using physics and deductive reasoning, the CSIs are able to pinpoint the roof Toby launched himself off. Flack tracks down the TJ Lindmark, who put video of Toby on the site, but Toby swears he didn't cut the rope. When Lindsay recovers more video of Toby, it reveals that it was Toby himself who cut the rope, thinking he would soar over New York City.

Stella is shocked when Scotty Valens, a cold case detective from Philadelphia shows up claiming that her DNA turned up on bloody clothes found buried near the Philadelphia turnpike ten years prior. The clothes have blood on them from two women and a man. Valens reluctantly agrees to let Stella help him in the case, and she and Danny trace the clothes to a photographer named Erin Yates. They recover undeveloped film from her camera, and while processing the pictures come across one of Stella from her police academy graduation. Stella is baffled, and clashes with Valens, who thinks she's hiding something. Danny retrieves an address from the photos and along with Valens goes to the house of Marilyn Bennett. She tells the men that her husband, Garth, has been missing for ten years. She doesn't recognize Erin, but Erin bears a striking resemblance to a photo of one of her foster daughters, Mindy Sanchez. Marilyn also knows Stella--she was one of her foster daughters as well.

Stella recognizes Mindy and recalls a locket Mindy had with both their blood in it. The two were blood sisters. Valens brings Stella a peace offering: the physical evidence from Philadelphia. After seeing a reel burn on one of the items of clothing, Stella and Valens go to the movie theater where Garth Bennett worked as a projecturist. Stella finds washed away arterial blood spray in the projection room, as well as a bloody handprint with a stunted pinky--much like the one Marilyn Bennett has. Danny interrogates the woman, but she insists she's innocent. The blood splatter is revealed to be from a male, but there's no DNA from Marilyn Bennett on the buried clothes. Valens turns the case over to Stella and departs, and she locates Mindy, now going by the name Veronica Page. Stella confronts Mindy: she killed Garth Bennett, who was sexually abusing her. Rather than arresting Mindy, Stella tells her she'll return tomorrow with her badge, giving Mindy the opportunity to flee.

Mac is under fire from both the news media and the police force higher ups for the death of serial killer Clay Dobson, who plunged to his death after Mac chased him to a rooftop (in "Past Imperfect"). Mac angrily defends himself to both Deputy Inspector Stanford Gerrard and Chief Brigham Sinclair, but both tell him there will be an internal investigation. Mac recalls the final moments before Dobson's death: he lowered his weapon, scuffled with Dobson and tried to cuff him, but Dobson escaped his grasp, locked the cuffs on his own wrists and hurled himself off the roof, vowing, "If I go, I'm taking you with me." Mac is confronted by the distraught father of one of Dobson's victims, who levels a gun at the CSI and claims Mac robbed him of the only hope he had of finding his daughter. Mac manages to disarm the man after he sinks to the ground, sobbing.

Analysis:

Though "Cold Reveal" is decidedly a mixed bag, I have to rather loudly applaud the writers for daring to do something the other two CSI shows haven't: paint their leading man in a downright unflattering light. Sometimes the CSI shows get so wrapped up in portraying their characters as heroes that they forget that they're human, prone to the same foibles and mistakes that we all are--and that by showing that it makes them more attractive characters, not less. Miami is by far the most guilty of this: while Horatio is a noble figure, the fact that he's never out of line or wrong in any way makes him less than three dimensional at times.

Up until this season, this was largely true of Mac. Mac always had the answer, he was always right--in "A Man a Mile" he cautioned Danny not to go by his gut feelings, and was proved correct when it was revealed that Danny's instincts were telling him to trust the killer. In "Sweet Sixteen", Mac holds off on arresting a teen because his own gut is telling him the boy isn't guilty and he turns out to be right. Mac has also been known to ride a moral high horse, firing Aiden in "Grand Murder at Central Station" because she opened an evidence bag and contemplated using a hair sample to tie a man she knew was guilty to a crime. Mac has always been a tad sanctimonious, but then, he's always been right, which makes him at times downright insufferable.

Not so here. Mac is so utterly convinced he's being railroaded by the higher ups in an attempt to appease the media that he lashes out at both Gerrard and Brigham Sinclair, accusing them of throwing him to the wolves for their own political gain. But is that really what they're doing? In the face of Mac's almost paranoid anger, both Gerrard and Sinclair come off as reasonable, and in the former's case, apologetic. Gerrard approaches Mac to give him advance warning of the investigation, and for his troubles he's called a "puppet" by Mac. Gerrard, rather than throwing a smarmy retort back in Mac's face, instead asserts that the accusation isn't fair. And he's right.

Sinclair is similarly rational. Played with a calm astuteness that rivals Mac's by Mykelti Williamson (Bubba to Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump), Sinclair maintains his cool and comes off as a lot more level-headed than Mac, who at one point accuses Sinclair of going after everyone in the department appointed by former NY mayor Rudy Guiliani. I suppose next week we could find out that Sinclair is every bit as corrupt as Mac is making him out to be, but at this point it looks like Mac has one hell of a persecution complex.

The fact that Gerrard and Sinclair come off as more sympathetic than Mac in this episode is in and of itself a triumph. In a franchise that often paints the CSIs' adversaries as cardboard villains, either competing ruthlessly with the hero (Ecklie on CSI) or playing Ahab in a dogged pursuit of the hero (Stetler on Miami), it's rare when the CSIs' adversaries aren't simply dismissed as ambitious politicos angling to get ahead at any cost, most notably their integrity. Mac accuses both Gerrard and Sinclair of this, but by no means is the audience convinced that their motives are what Mac claims. That Gerrard--who only came across as less than sympathetic once, when he talked about wanting to beat some sense into Danny in "Raising Shane"--and Sinclair come across as more rational and clear-headed than Mac, the hero of the show, truly is ground-breaking for this franchise.

And really, though we as the audience are fairly certain that Mac didn't push Dobson (and if there was any doubt, a handy flashback midway through the episode reveals that Dobson did indeed take the plunge himself), Gerrard, Sinclair and the news media have no idea. Mac was alone on the roof with Dobson, and somehow the man, his hands in cuffs, ended up plunging off the roof and landing on a police car. It does look bad. And indeed, as Sinclair points out, if Mac is innocent, what harm will an internal investigation do? Presumably the evidence that cinches the case will be Dobson's prints around the cuff, proving he locked them himself, which would probably be suspicious enough to clear Mac.

The best moment by far comes when Sinclair actually points out Mac's hypocrisy to him: that he was willing to take Dean Truby down for wrong-doing. Now, Mac knows he's done nothing wrong, but his passionate resistance to an internal investigation suggests he does in some way think he's above reproach, and his actions above examination. That's quite a fallacy in a leader, who is supposed to set an example for his team. Wasn't he quick to reproach and even fire Aiden for even thinking about planting evidence? Didn't he cruelly drive the knife in when chastising Danny for his desperate attempts to defend himself in "On the Job"? Mac veers dangerously close to hypocrisy in this episode, and that's a bold move on the part of writers Pam Veasey and Sam Humphrey, one I commend whole-heartedly.

Mac might be able to dismiss Gerrard and Sinclair, but the grieving father at the end, who approaches Mac with a gun and laments that Dobson's death robbed him of any chance to find his daughter clearly hits home with the righteous CSI. He can accuse Gerrard and Sinclair of having political motives all day long, but he can't dismiss this man as easily. Because while Mac didn't kill Dobson, he did act recklessly and arrogantly on the roof, putting his gun away and essentially accepting Dobson's challenge for a scuffle. Oh, Dobson might have gone over the edge of that roof even if Mac hadn't holstered his gun, but he would have done so without handcuffs on his wrists, and Mac might not be facing an internal investigation. Mac's own arrogance did play a part, and that's a risky move as well, and one that pays off.

Sinise tackles Mac's scenes with gusto, and isn't afraid to show Mac's uglier side when he spars with his superiors. Sinise conveys Mac's arrogance and his righteousness as well as his earnestness. It might grate that Mac thinks he's above reproach, but he really believes what he's saying, and Sinise sells it. He even manages to create some sympathy for Mac, who clearly truly does believe Gerrard and Sinclair have ulterior motives for coming after him. And even though what he does on the roof reeks of an arrogant bravado, it's hard not to sympathize when hearing what the unrepentant Dobson says to him.

If only the rest of the episode was as good as the scenes where Mac grapples with the outcome of his standoff with Dobson. The case of the fallen angel comes off as a PSA for not trying stupid stunts at home. Indeed, the opening scene, with Jessica cautioning that "what they're doing is dangerous" as she turns to show her burned face is a cautionary tale, but that moment is the most creative one of the whole case. Alas, CBS didn't even link a nifty preview to Internetdaredevil.com.

I was intrigued by Stella having ties to a ten-year-old cold case, but alas, the premise didn't pan out well. It was cliché from start to finish: the cold case detective blows into town, full of bluster, but then relents and lets Stella help him with the case; he starts to suspect and distrust her, but then relents again; and then the resolution turns out to be that Stella's foster sister killed their abuse foster father. I really think the writers could have come up with something less cliché than this. The way Stella was tied to the crime scene--the blood in the locket--felt like a stretch.

The whole case was confusing, racing along at a quick pace in the beginning, full of random connections: the missing girl was a photographer, Stella just happens to recall an art exhibit from ten years ago that the girl happened to be at, the CSIs recover her photos and none of the pictures of the man in them are clear. The whole thing feels rushed and full of unlikely coincidences. Emotionally, it's a wash, too: we get almost no reaction from Stella upon discovering the case is linked to her foster family, no idea about how she felt about them or foster care in general. The whole case is a bad example of too much telling and not enough showing. If the writers wanted to delve into Stella's past in this way, they should have allotted more time to develop it.

I'm not familiar with Cold Case, the show that features Danny Pino's character Scotty Valens as an investigator, but I do know that characters transplanted for the sake of crossovers often come across as pale shadows of themselves on the show they're guest starring on. The crossovers between CSI shows haven't suffered from this--there's a natural fluidity between the shows--but Scotty comes across as narrow-minded and arrogant here, a bland, abrasive man meant to hassle and then back down and admire Stella. He must be more compelling on Cold Case, but he leaves little impression here.

The problem with the case is the same one that reared its head with Stella's HIV scare: the conclusion is foregone. Stella didn't have HIV, and ten years ago, she didn't kill anyone in Philadelphia. And she didn't murder Frankie in cold blood in "All Access". Just for once, I wish the writers would give Stella a truly risky storyline, one like Mac's with Dobson, where everything didn't end up wrapped up neatly in the end. Every character's dark side can't be explored all at once, but until it's time to really delve into Stella's character and her past, I wish the writers would stay away from these half-hearted, neatly concluded storylines for her character. Give us something good--like Mac's current storyline--to sink our teeth into.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.