CSI: New York--'Open And Shut'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at October 26, 2006 - 9:21 AM GMT

See Also: 'Open and Shut' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Model Mandi Foster pitches a fit when hotel concierge Sarah Jackson brings her the wrong kind of pillow, and Sarah is dead hours later, the victim of a fatal fall in the hotel. Mac takes one look at her trajectory and knows it wasn't an accident. Before they can remove Sarah's body, the CSIs hear shots fired, and rush to a nearby condo where Grace Thomason sits trembling by the bodies of two men: her husband, Daniel, and the man she claimed beat him to death with a hammer. Grace claims she shot the man in self-defense. Stella immediately empathizes with the traumatized Grace, recalling her own ordeal when her boyfriend Frankie attacked her and she was forced to shoot him. Hammerback discovers the address and a time, 10am, written on the assailant's hand. The CSIs collect evidence from Grace's apartment, and Stella discovers a small amount of blood in the bathroom, where Grace claims she was taking a shower when durng the attack on her husband. Lindsay gets an ID on the man in Grace's apartment: Ron Blunt. Blunt had anti-psychotics in his system, and Grace recognizes him as a limo driver who drove her husband home from the airport and spouted off crazy theories to him. Unsettled by the man, Grace called the limo company and got Blunt fired. Lindsay discovers the hammer was Daniel's and posits that the murder wasn't premeditated, irritating Stella. Mac cautions Stella to follow the evidence, but she counters that she can't help but be emotionally involved with the case.

Sid determines that Sarah's heart was pierced by a sculpture she fell on, and also finds a substance in fingernail marks on her arms. He notes an eternity bracelet she has on, as well as hairs from her thighs, which Mac identifies as camel hair used in artists' brushes. This leads him to Tony DeLuca, the photographer who snapped pictures of Mandi the day of Sarah's murder. Tony fesses up to hooking up with her, and says he took photographs for her as a favor to Mandi. A print on Sarah's body matches Mandi, but the model insists she was just checking Sarah for a pulse. When pictures of Mandi's meltdown from a video show up in a tabloid, Mac has his doubts. The pictures prove to be from a now-missing camera owned by Sarah. Mandi owns up to stealing the camera so she could release the video footage herself for publicity, and the CSIs arrest her on probable cause. However, when the substance on Sarah's body turns out to be bovine stem cells used in beauty products and Adam discovers silver and turquoise trace on the railing Sarah was thrown over, they turn to Mandi's stylist, Tess. Tess tried to take the camera from Sarah, thinking Sarah was betraying Mandi, and accidentally threw her over the railing. She tried to pull her back up, but lost her grip and watched helplessly as Sarah fell to her death.

When Hawkes notes the absence of blood splatter on Ron Blunt's shirt, he, Stella and Lindsay go to Grace's apartment to recreate the crime. They determine that not only would Ron definitely have gotten blood splatter on his shirt had he killed Daniel, but based on the pattern of several blood drops at the scene, he was too tall to have committed the killing. Stella tests the blood she found on Grace's bathtub and learns that it contains human brain matter. Grace showered after her husband was killed, not before, meaning she is the killer. Stella turns to the video from Sarah's camera to help her prove it and spots Grace wearing a different shirt not long before the CSIs turned up at her condo. Stella searches the condo and discovers the t-shirt Grace was wearing when she killed her husband stashed in a vent, complete with blood splatter. Stella confronts Grace, who lured Ron to her house to frame him for the murder of her husband and then kill him. Completely unapologetic, Grace likens herself to Stella, but Stella firmly insists they have nothing in common.

Analysis:

I have to admit, I liked "Open and Shut" more than I thought I would. I found "All Access", the episode in which Stella was attacked by her boyfriend, Frankie, to be distasteful and needlessly exploitive, so the idea of a follow-up to that episode didn't thrill me. But I found myself impressed with the way Stella's complex and conflicting emotions were handled, and most importantly, felt Wendy Battles' script was true to her character.

As the title states, the cases were fairly open and shut, perhaps more so than was intended. I knew as soon as Flack sent Tess packing out on the deck where she and Mandi were sunning themselves that Tess was the guilty party. If a character that seems to have little relation to the storyline sticks out too much, chances are that character is indeed the killer. Sometimes it's better integrated than it was here, but in this case, the moment Flack said her name I inevitably knew the trail would lead back to her.

Grace's case is less cut and dry, at least in the beginning. There seems to be little reason to doubt her story, but when the blood spatter pattern on Ron's shirt isn't what it should be, I immediately realized Grace was guilty. In this case, however, it's more important for Stella to come to this realization than it is for the viewer, and watching Stella get to that point is where the real meat of the episode lies.

Melina Kanakaredes knocks it out of the park with a performance that underscores Stella's core strength while acknowledging her struggle. Contrast Stella's approach with Lindsay's last week in "Oedipus Hex". While Lindsay makes up an excuse and foists an unpleasant job off on someone else, Stella turns to Mac when confronted with the scene and tells him flat out, "I want this case." That resolve and desire to face down her demons is precisely what makes Stella such an appealing and admirable character.

Though she approaches the case with some preconceived notions based on her own experience, but she doesn't run away from the case or cling to those notions once irrefutable evidence contradicts them. Stella only falters in one scene, early on when Lindsay presents a few theories and Stella passionately shoots her down. Lindsay might be right that it's worth looking into other angles of the case, but she's so self-assured and huffy about it that it's hard not to cheer Stella on when she cuts her off. (And indeed, Stella never does apologize.) But when presented with actual concrete evidence as opposed to theories, Stella is willing to reassess the situation and listen to what the evidence is telling her.

Thankfully Mac gives her the leeway to do just that. Where he might have been skeptical of another CSI, Mac has worked with Stella long enough to know he can trust her. Stella's not a hothead like Danny, or overly eager to condemn like Lindsay; she's earned Mac's respect and faith. Though he does remind her that evidence trumps emotion, he doesn't question her judgment when she tells him she has no choice but to be emotionally involved with the case.

Dedee Pfeiffer turns in a convincing and memorable performance as Grace, seamlessly moving from the role of shell-shocked victim to stone cold killer with ease. The one disappointment is that we're never given much of an explanation for why Grace wanted her husband dead. She merely tells Stella she has no idea "what it was like to live with him," which leaves the viewer not knowing whether he was abusive or left the toilet seat up one too many times. Either way, Grace's murder of the hapless Ron and the elaborate set up of the whole crime make her irredeemable.

Stella is disgusted by Grace, and notes that while she acted in self defense, Grace is nothing but a cold blooded killer. Stella refers to herself as a victim, and she was, but what she brought from her ordeal is clearly not a sense of hopelessness or helplessness. If anything, it has made Stella stronger and given her an renewed desire to help those whose lives have been shattered by crime. As she reminds Mac, there's more to their jobs than the "business" of investigating crime.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.