CSI: New York--'Grand Master'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at October 28, 2004 - 5:55 PM GMT

See Also: 'Grand Master' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Two DJs spin at a hip club in a competition. DJ Francais spins first, while the crowd cheers. His girlfriend, Monique, is especially enthusiastic in cheering on her man. DJ Banner is up next, and his mix features the voice of Monique, clearly recorded from a phone call. The crowd goes wild as Monique storms out and DJ Francais glowers. The emcee, Jayden Prince, tells the crowd a winner will be announced in half an hour. But when it comes time to crown Banner the victor, he's no where to be found. He's lying dead out in the alley next to the club.

Mac and Aiden arrive at the scene, Aiden noting that she used to sneak under the velvet rope of the club. Mac kneels by Banner's body, noting the fatal stab wound in his neck. "What do you get for second place?" he muses. While marking the splotches of blood, Mac finds a few scraps of paper, which he picks up as evidence. The blood trail indicates Banner crawled towards the club door. The killer went back in the club through that door.

Across town, Stella and Danny arrive at the apartment of Deborah Gayle, a famous fashion designer who was found dead in her pool by her personal assistant, Madison Haynes. Stella notes an abrasion on Gayle's head, while Danny picks up a broken fingernail. Stella sees the woman's cell phone in the pool.

Madison tells Stella she quit two weeks ago and that Gayle was a nightmare to work for. Madison said that she still had a key to Gayle's apartment, which she used to get in when the designer didn't answer. She found her in the pool and pulled her out. Though she says she tried to save Gayle, Madison clearly isn't remorseful about her death.

Flack talks to Jayden Prince, who tells him that Banner and he were best friends, and that the two were planning to make it big together. Mac is following a trail of bloody shoe prints into the club. Along with Aiden, he questions DJ Francais, who claims he went to the alley to smoke. But when Mac examines Francais's shoes with the prints from the stairs, they're a match. He puts Francais under arrest.

In the morgue, Dr. Hawkes, who calls Banner the Michael Jordan of DJing, shows Mac that there were two stab wounds in Banner's chest in addition to the fatal neck wound. The lack of blood on Francais bothers Mac; it would be impossible for the killer to not have gotten blood on him. Dr. Hawkes points out bruises on Banner's ankles, from either being dragged, held down or hung by the ankles. The bruising occured two or three days before Banner's death.

In the lab, Aiden has found an isolated blood drop on Banner's shirt. It had to have fallen from above, making their crime scene bigger. Mac and Aiden go back to the club, where they focus in on the fire escape. Aiden finds a cell phone, presumably Banner's. Mac finds blood. The window the fire escape is outside of leads to the VIP lounge and restrooms. Mac concludes the stabbing began on the fire escape.

Dr. Hawkes tells Stella that Gayle died of asphyxiation due to drowning. The abrasion on her head was minor. She had foam around her mouth, and Dr. Hawkes found a piece of red paint in her mouth. The tox screen deepens the mystery: Danny tells Stella that Gayle ingested tetrodetoxin, or blowfish poison. The poison paralyzed her when she was swimming, causing her to sink and drown.

Aiden analyzes Banner's cell phone. She's found a puzzling message in his voicemail, filled with sounds from a DJ table. Danny is working on a cell phone/personal planner, too: he's taken Gayle's sopping wet cell phone and stuck it in a toaster oven. Stella enters the lab to tell Danny that the red paint was nail polish, and it contained blowfish poison. Danny removes the cell phone from the toaster and accesses Gayle's calendar, which has her at dinner at a sushi restaurant, Fuqua Sushi, the night of her death. The pair head to the restaurant, where they see customers eating off naked women, who literally serve as the tables at the restaurant. Danny and Stella question the chef, who tells them he screens the blowfish he serves for poison, so there's no way Gayle could have been poisoned by one of his blowfish. Danny says they need to examine the blowfish.

Aiden has called on the services of Disco Placid to analyze the vinyl sounds on Banner's voicemail. He educates the CSIs about the different sounds: laser, scribble, chirp, stab. The sounds end with three stabs, which Mac interprets as a threat.

The CSIs trace the call to Slick Vick Productions, where sleazy Kevin Vick tells them he signed Banner to a two year contract three days before the competition. Mac, remembering the bruises on Banner's ankles, tells Vick he suspects the producer hung him over the ledge literally to force him to sign the contract.

Danny and Stella dissect the blowfish, but they don't find any tetrodetoxin in them. Stella finds stitches on the sides of the fish. Meanwhile, Aiden and Mac compare Banner's signature on the Slick Vick contract to an older signature. The signatures differ slightly; the Slick Vick one appears as though it may have been signed with hesitation, or even with the help of another hand guiding Banner's.

The restaurant blowfish are a dead end. They were domesticated fish with the stitches removed so that the restaurant could charge high end prices for supposedly "wild" blowfish. Danny and Stella go back to Gayle's apartment, where Danny finds evidence that Gayle's computer was accessed after her death. Several files were e-mailed to Gayle's former personal assistant, Madison.

In the bedroom of the morgue, Dr. Hawkes has extracted and cleaned one of Banner's ribs, which has a stab wound on it in the shape of the weapon used to kill Banner. Mac takes the rib to a weapons closet, where he tests the indentation to see which weapon fits in it. He comes up empty on screwdrivers and scissors, but hits the jackpot with a construction file.

Mac asks Jayden Prince about the workers who struck the stage after the performances, and goes through their tool kits. He finds a bloody file in the kit of George Thomas. Flack questions Thomas, noting his lengthy rap sheet. Thomas denies any involvement in the murder. Aiden snaps a picture of his hands, but though he has bruising on the edge of his palms, Mac notes that type of bruising isn't consistent with the murder weapon. Thomas also has no motive. Mac goes back to the shreds of paper. He lines them up with the Slick Vick contract. They're a match.

Danny interrogates Madison, who admits to stealing the files from Gayle. When Danny asks her how she poisoned Gayle, Madison maintains that she only stole the fashion design files. Stella tells him there's no evidence of poison in any of the household items--toothpaste, mouthwash, water--in Gayle's apartment. The pair decide to return to the sushi restaurant and talk to the only other woman they know for sure Gayle interacted with: the human table. Mitchiko tells them Gayle was a regular customer of hers. Danny asks to examine her fingernails, but he finds nothing amiss in the red polish on her fingers. Then he asks to see her sock-covered feet. The messily-applied polish on her feet is a match. Mitchiko tells the CSIs that she used to be Gayle's personal assistant but was fired for refusing to sleep with the designer. When Gayle learned she worked at Fuqua Sushi, she began to frequent the restaurant and request Mitchiko, who loathed her. "Here we were looking for the murderer at the table...," Danny says. "...Only to find the murderer is the table," Stella finishes.

Mac and Aiden go back to their crime scene, this time to the office of Jayden Prince. Mac finds an empty shredder, while Aiden takes note of pink water in the toilet. When they life the tank cover, they find a soaked, bloody shirt inside. They bring Prince in. He claims that Banner would have never signed with Vick; Banner was going to renew his contract with Jayden. Mac tells Prince that Banner never got a chance to explain: Vick forced him to sign the contract. Prince relents and says he just wanted to protect Banner from the Kevin Vicks from the world. Mac informs him that by doing so, he became one.

Analysis:

DJs and blowfish poison--there's no denying that CSI: NY's two cases run the spectrum this time around. The cases work well together, both in holding the viewer's interest and in showing the diversity of New York. I'm not sure either of these cases (especially the former) are necessarily exclusive to New York, but the writers made them interesting enough that I didn't dwell on it.

There are some significant loose ends in the case of DJ Banner that weren't rapped up. DJ Francais was out in the alley smoking and his bloody shoe prints seem to prove it, but after his arrest we never hear about him again. He couldn't have missed Banner's body in the alley, could he? And what about those bloody shoe prints? Mac had to use the crime light on them, so presumably someone had tried to wash the blood away, but it wouldn't make sense for Prince to have done so. Did Francais? If so, when? DJ Francais is dropped like a hot potato, but a little resolution or explanation would have been nice.

How Prince managed to think ahead enough to sneak into George Thomas's toolbox, steal the construction file, stab and kill Banner, and then put the file back in the box without anyone noticing is also not explained, but it's slightly more forgivable. Still, the writers might have put in an explanation for Francais's bloody shoes instead of throwing another red herring in the form of George Thomas at us.

The other case is much smoother, though there's less time devoted to it. For those interested in reading more about those human sushi tables, Cynthia Gralla's novel The Floating World chronicles the plight of a young American woman in Tokyo who encounters the phenomenon. Whether the restaurants have made it over to the U.S. I won't pretend to know, but if they have, New York would certainly be the city I'd expect them to pop up in first.

Given what Madison and Mitchiko tells us about Deborah Gayle, it's hard to sympathize with the twisted fashion designer, freeing the audience to be merely intrigued by the outlandish, delightfully twisted case. Unlike the sad story of Prince and Banner, the blowfish poisoning case is pure slick CSI. The two work well together, with the Gayle case delivering the closing jabs and the Banner case ultimately providing the heart of the episode.

Aiden and Flack both shine in this episode. Aiden comes off as both tough and knowledgeable. Vanessa Ferlito is a skilled actress: last season, she convinced as a wealthy drug dealer's girlfriend on 24, and here she's utterly believable as a tough New York cop. She more than holds her own when sleazy Kevin Vick suggests she consider "giving up the blue for black," without any real backup from Mac. Aiden also shows initiative and savvy by bringing in DJ Placid. She even delivers a chuckle when she tells Mac, "I'm on the toilet! Come in here." Gary Sinise delivers here, too--his momentary look of puzzlement is just enough to give the audience time to react before he interprets what Aiden is saying and goes off to see what she's found in the toilet.

Eddie Cahill as sarcastic detective Don Flack gets the best lines, hands down. His delivery is perfect. He tells Thomas that he could keep reading his rap sheet, but he's "already read War and Peace," providing the night's funniest moment and also spicing up the show considerably.

If CSI: NY needs anything at the moment, it's to lighten up just a tad. Starting the season with several heavy episodes (a sadistic serial killer, a brutal rape, a decade-old tragedy) made an impression, but it's too easy to bring your audience down with one dark story after another. Utilizing a character like Flack can only help the show achieve more comic relief moments while still keeping with the tone of the show. After all, Flack's deadpan sarcasm is pure New York.

Next week: The CSIs next case takes them under the city.

Discuss this reviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.