CSI: New York--'Jamalot'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at December 1, 2005 - 7:06 PM GMT

See Also: 'Jamalot' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

The Big Apple Roller Derby is the site of a showdown between two fierce teams, the Manhattan Minx and the Brooklyn Clobbers, but when a race around the rink turns into a massive pile up that quickly becomes a fight, one of the skaters, Rose Wilson, AKA 'She Hate Me,' is left dead. Mac explains the rules of the derby to Stella as they examine Rose's battered body. Mac turns to the two teams and asks for their clothes and skates, a request one of the Minx team members, Polly, is more than happy to comply with. Across town, Danny and Hawkes are dumpster diving to retrieve the body of a young man wrapped in an expensive rug. Hawkes notices petechial hemorrhaging but no ligature marks on the man's neck, leading him to suspect the victim asphyxiated but wasn't strangled. They take the man and the rug back to the lab, where Hawkes finds various fibers on the rug and Danny discovers something far more shocking: florescent light reveals that the man's body has been entirely covered in writing.

At the rink, Flack questions the Minxs' manager, Stan Vonner, and his wife, Layla, who walks with a cane. Both have been heavily promoting the team, and Stan says Rose was the breakout star. Flack posits that that might have made Rose a target, but Stan insists the team is close. Layla frets that without Rose the team won't have the success they were on the cusp of obtaining. Lindsay goes over the skates in the lab and finds blood splatter on one of them: the one belonging to a girl named Hallie. Haillie, a Brooklyn Clobber, took out her frustration with her job as a day care worker in the rink, but Dr. Hammerback reveals that she wasn't the one who killed Rose. Hammerback shows Stella Rose's organs, pointing out that they overheated and killed her. They're looking for a chemical, DNP, a weight loss drug, but a search of Rose's apartment yields no evidence that Rose was taking the drug herself, meaning that someone else was giving it to her.

Hawkes tells Danny that he has an ID on their victim: Griffin Holden, a writer whose editor, Cala Winger, reported him missing. Danny shows Hawkes his pictures of the writing on Griffin's body and points out that because it's consistent all over, there's no way Griffin himself could have written it. Danny sees the words "The End" written on one of his small toes and thinks that they're looking at the last chapter of a book. Danny pays a visit to Cala Winger, who tells him that after several bad books, Griffin had finally produced a great novel. Danny's questioning is interrupted first by Cala's assistant, John, and then by her husband, Simon, who comes into to remind her they need to get to an appointment with a Dr. Shaffer. Danny tells Cala he's found the final chapter of the novel Griffin was working on and takes the rest of it from Cala, positing that the death of the author could drum up real publicity for the novel.

Danny turns to an expert, Dr. Brandon Hardy, who tells him the killer suffered from hypergraphia--the compulision to write. But how did the killer write the last chapter of Griffin's novel on his body--a last chapter that was theoretically only in the young man's head? Elsewhere in the lab, Mac and Stella find the source of the drug in some muscle cream Rose used when she fell on the floor of the rink just before she died. Flack questions Polly, who gave Rose the cream on the floor, but she denies putting anything in the muscle cream. She complains about a photo shoot the team manager organized, that he dubbed the "Kingdom of Jamalot," depicting the women in skimpy clothing. Lindsay has matched one male blood sample to semen found in Rose Wilsom to Ryan Chisolm, the team's coach. Chisolm admits to an affair, but denies poisoning Rose. They hit another roadblock when further tests show that there wasn't enough DNP in the muscle cream to be fatal. They head back to the team's locker room t collect every possible source, and Lindsay discovers DNP in the team's shampoo.

Hawkes discovers a plethora of trace on the rug--semen from the victim, a female pubic hair, angora and several other elements. Danny has traced the rug, an $85,000 item from a Christie's auction, to Griffin's brother, Charles. Danny pays Charles a visit, and Charles tries to brush him off by saying he hasn't seen Griffin in three weeks, but Danny has a police report--an assault charge filed by Griffin against Charles a week ago--that proves otherwise. Charles admits that they fought, and claims Griffin must have stolen the rug from him. Danny demands a handwriting sample, but it doesn't match the writing on Griffin. Hawkes has another lead--DNA from a skin shaving on the rug matches a man with a long record of petty crimes, Eddie Jones. But when the CSIs track down Eddie, he tells them he saw a man carrying a large rolled up carpet and reached out to help him before the man refused. He never saw the man's face but recalls he was wearing a herringbone coat. He shows the CSIs where he spotted the man--the same building Cala Winger, Griffin's editor, lives.

Mac and Stella test the Manhattan Minxes and discover DNP in all of the starting players' blood. Everyone except a girl named Birdie, who is usually on the bench. She tells them she didn't play enough to use the muscle cream and she was intimidated by the other girls' perfection and didn't shower with them, so she never used the shampoo either. Mac and Stella head back to the lab, where they compare the chemical properties of regular DNP and the kind in the shampoo, which is degraded and features another element, ANP, the degraded version of DNP. Based on the amount of ANP in the solution, they conclude the DNP is around 25 years old. The manager, Stan Vonner, was a wrestler and might have had access to the drug, so they go to his office to search for the drug. When Mac spots stain marks from a cane on the floor, he puts it together. It wasn't Stan, but his wife Layla, who mixed the DNP into the shampoo. Layla tells Stella the team was a business but the girls were blase about it and didn't keep themselves up enough in her eyes. Stella has her arrested.

Danny and Hawkes search the Wingers' apartment, where they discover many of the elements found on the carpet. Cala admits to Danny that she was having an affair with Griffin, but when Danny discovers a notebook with writing that matches that of the writing on Griffin's body, his suspicions grow. A florescent scan of the walls reveals writing all over the walls of the apartment. But the writing belongs to Simon, Cala's lawyer husband, and not Cala. Simon has hypergraphia--he had written a novel which Griffin discovered one night in the closet, and proceeded to steal. When Simon overheard Cala reading Griffin's novel out loud one night, he realized what had happened. He caught Griffin using a florescent light to copy his writing off the wall and suffocated him with a dry cleaning bag, and then rolled up the body in a rug in their front hallway and got rid of it. While Danny interrogates him, Simon writes over and over on a piece of paper: "He plagiarized me."

Analysis:

There's no point in beating around the bush: "Jamalot" is a mess. There are obvious plot holes, a glaring error and leaps made that the audience can barely follow. There's a clumsy feel to the episode, as though the explanations required to follow the episode were too difficult to integrate gracefully into the plot. At one point Mac and Stella are writing complex chemical formulas on a dry erase board--I guess CSIs are chemistry experts, too--and I wanted to throw up my hands in frustration at the absurdity, both that the two would be able to rattle off complex chemical processes as if they were writing a shopping list and also at the idea that the audience was supposed to follow this.

The first case was rife with the kind of coincidences that often lead the CSIs astray--the DNP chemical is found in Rose's muscle cream as well as the shampoo, Birdie just happens to not have any of the chemical in her system, but she's not the killer. Perhaps it's my general dissatisfaction with the episode, but the red herrings this time around seemed particularly convenient. But the biggest frustration comes at the big reveal: when Mac deduces that a cane was used to mix the DNP in with the shampoo. The cane had been previously seen only once, in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the beginning when the CSIs were talking with Stan and Layla Vonner. Trying to follow the jump from suspect to suspect was jarring this time around.

But it's the B-case that really makes the episode a quagmire. Hard to follow, nonsensical, full of leaps that puzzle, the case is an idea that probably started out as a great concept. Hypergraphia is just the kind of disorder the CSI shows love to explore, but I'm not sure that they found the right way to do it. There were too many logical leaps required. I bought that Griffin Holden would steal the manuscript he found while hiding in the closet at the Wingers' house, but not that he would bring a florescent light into the house and know to look for writing on the walls. CSIs might carry florescent lights around, but writers sure don't.

And then there's the problem of the rug. Danny and Hawkes trace it, through Christies, to Griffen's brother, Holden. But then, inexplicably, when Danny's suspicions come to focus on the Wingers, suddenly the rug belongs to them. It seems like a pretty glaring error, and I'm surprised it wasn't caught. An error like that only adds to the feeling that the case has been haphazardly thrown together. I feel for Danny in the scene in Cala Winger's office, when her assistant and her husband enter the office, uninterested in Danny's attempts to question Cala about the murder. He looks as lost as the viewer feels.

I am never one to complain about product placement--most of the time it doesn't even register, and I don't find it bothersome if all the CSIs use the same kind of phone or computer. Every time I whip out my cell phone, I don't think it's an advertisement for Samsung, so why should I think of it as being the case with characters on TV (even if it in fact is, or at least can be interpreted that way)? They have to use some brand of cell phone/computer/car, etc. But seeing what essentially was an ad for a Coldplay ringtone in the middle of the show was just too much to stomach. The ringtone alone was fine, but then Danny and Hawkes actually have a conversation about it. Brief, but still. Wouldn't the ad with the number to dial for the ringtone be enough? Did we really need a conversation between the actors? This was one moment that made me feel bad for both the writer and the actors. I hope this isn't going to become a trend in scripted television, because it really does cheapen it in a way product placement could never come close to doing.

There were a few nice moments in the episode. I did like Polly's flirtation with Mac, and it was nice to see Lindsay has lightened up enough to be able to tease her boss. As she relaxes into the job, Lindsay is becoming more likable than she was in her first few episodes, when she seemed more eager to show off than she was to solve cases. And Hawkes has eased into his job so much that he's trying to tell Danny what to do, which irritates the prickly CSI. Stella teases Mac a bit, but the only insight we get into her in this episode is that she's making a date, presumably with Frankie. I miss episodes like "Til Death Do Us Part" when we got concrete insight into Stella's character, rather than vague hinting. Part of the reason I don't like it when Mac and Stella are paired is because she always seems to fade into his shadow when they work together.

I mentioned in my last review that I'm concerned about the direction New York is headed in, and "Jamalot" does nothing to ease those worries. I understand the need for higher ratings, and I've been genuinely happy to see that New York has been performing far better in the ratings this season, even cracking the top ten a few weeks ago. I understand that the lightening up of the show was due in part to a network directive.

But I can't help but wonder what happened to the show I loved. The writers working on CSI: New York are among the most talented out there, and I've seen them do better. Not every episode can be great, but the mistake with the rug seems so glaring that I'm surprised it wasn't caught at some stage. It seems uncharitable to harp on one error when the consistency in the show (and all the CSI shows) is usually so good, but in an episode that spends so much time focusing on scantily clad roller derby girls, a handsome young writer in his underwear and yes, a Coldplay ringtone, I can't help but wonder if flash is becoming more important than quality, and I would hate to see that happen to this show.

Yes, this show more than the others. I'm a little bit partial to CSI: New York--the characters, the setting (which, given the Law & Order shows are all set in New York, I was initially skeptical about), the cases and the writing all impressed me so much last season. I'd love to see New York break out of the CSI mold and push the boundaries of the franchise, much like the third Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine, did for that franchise. I saw glimmers of it last season. And maybe New York is just having a bit of a sophomore slump--trying to find a way to balance the depth of last season with the lighter look and tone of this one. Let's hope it doesn't last too much longer because I want to love this show again.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.