CSI: New York--'Playing With Matches'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at February 7, 2008 - 10:57 AM GMT

See Also: 'Playing With Matches' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A team of firefighters responding to a call are shocked when a burning man literally slams into their truck. Sid determines the victim died from smoke inhalation when toxic fumes filled his helmet, and a patch from the Mercury 3 shuttle and the victim's odd trajectory make the CSIs wonder if he did in fact fall from the sky. Sid also makes note of a meat thermometer found by the victim and apparently used to stab him. Kendall Novack offers another theory when she reassembles wood and ceramic debris from the scene and concludes that the victim was a luge racer. Kendall shows Danny and Lindsay that the luge their victim was using was homemade, but notes that his suit was state-of-the-art. Lindsay also notes the victim was covered in a variety of accelerants, indicating he may have been doused and set on fire. Using their victim's estimated velocity at the time he hit the fire truck, Danny and Lindsay are able to determine he was riding his board on 45th street between 6th and 8th. When they go to the location, Lindsay discovers a dip in the road that may have caused their vic to fly off it and into the air. Lindsay finds a metal wheel at the scene and Danny gets a call from Kendall: the patch was purchased off of eBay by a user named "Mercury." Danny and Detective Angell track down a luge racing match and are able to find Mercury, who identifies their victim as "Demon," aka Deckman Hollister. He admits to participating in a brutal race with Demon and to stabbing him with a meat thermometer, but denies killing his rival.

Lindsay is able to recover a logo on the metal wheel: Concrete Cowgirl. Concrete Cowgirl, whose real name is Sandra Cook, is a professional luge racer with big company endorsements. The suit she's wearing in the picture on her website matches the one Deckman was wearing when he died. Danny questions her and she tells him she sent Demon the suit after he broke her official speed record. She raced down the same path Deckman took, hoping to match his speed, but she toppled over before she reached his speed. She insists she didn't kill him, saying she'd never jeopardize her career. Danny and Lindsay return to the lab to recreate the conditions for Deckman's race, and Danny recalls it was raining lightly the night Deckman died. The CSIs realize the rain would have brought up oils from the street, coating Deckman's suit. When they conclude that Deckman must have lost control and tried to stop the luge racer, they look at his shoes and realize the steel beneath the sole ignited the fire--and sent Deckman to his accidental death.

A woman's dead body is literally washed out of a public toilet. Stella identifies her as Vanessa Matlin, a twenty-three-year old social worker. Mac notices defensive wounds on her arms, and finds a knife by her body. Sid determines the wounds weren't fatal; Vanessa drowned when the public toilet filled up with water. Sid recovers red wax from Vanessa's hair and blood from under one of her fingernails. Hawkes processes the bathroom and discovers a polyurithane seal in the sink, clogging up the bathroom. Stella gets a hit in CODIS on the blood under Vanessa's fingernail: it's a match to Seth Riggin, a man Mac helped put away for the murder of a single mother several years before. Mac tells Stella he's certain Seth was the killer, despite the fact that Seth maintained his innocence. After checking the evidence again, Mac pays Seth a visit while Stella searches his cell. She finds a letter in an envelope and takes it back to the lab to analyze. Hawkes traces the red wax in Vanessa's hair to a man named Vinnie Palgrave, recently fired from a port company that uses the red wax to seal bottles of port. Vinnie, a former convict paroled two weeks ago, tells the CSIs that he and Vanessa were dating; they met eight months ago on felonydate.com. He swiped a bottle of port and went to her apartment, but she broke up with him and he left angry--but he insists he left her alive. DNA evidence backs up his claim.

Mac and Flack search felonydate.com and discover that Seth had a profile on it, but deleted it. Stella has the answer: Seth was in a relationship with Vanessa. After trying to decrypt the letter in the envelope, she found his message hidden under two stamps on the envelope, urging Vanessa to "stay strong." Flack thinks Seth got Vanessa to fake an attack in order to make it seem as though he was innocent all along. They ponder how she got Seth's blood until Mac recalls a ketchup packet among Vanessa's personal effects and discovers the red liquid inside is in fact blood, not ketchup. The CSIs are still baffled by what went wrong in the bathroom, until Hawkes discovers three burned wires that controlled the self-cleaning system and the door mechanism. Mac is able to recover prints from the wire and matches them to John Szabo--the owner of a company that was outbid for the public bathroom contract. Hoping to get the city to change their mind and choose his company, he sabotaged the bathroom--with fatal results for Vanessa Matlin. Mac pays Seth one final visit in jail to tell him that his plan has been foiled.

Analysis:

It's one accidental death too many in "Playing with Matches." For one case now and then to turn out to be not murder but an accident is plausible, but two in the space of one episode is a bit much to swallow. I liked that the death of the luge racer turned out to be the result of a series of unfortunate events and not the doing of any one nefarious person, but the fact that the sabotage of the bathroom led to the accidental death of a woman who was trying to exonerate a guilty man by faking an attack was just a little too much.

There was a lot of "playing with fire" going on in this episode. Deckman was definitely taking chances with his life by racing at high speeds even the professional with high quality equipment couldn't match. Vanessa--who is involved with not one but two convicts--decides to put herself on the line to help a sociopath falsely clear his name and get out of prison. Misguided would be a generous term for her; how did this woman ever get a job as a social worker? And John Szabo went to great lengths to sabotage the public bathroom, not thinking about what would come from that tampering. They all pay very high prices for their daring and ultimately foolhardy stunts.

Kendall Novack makes her third appearance here, but I can't say I've got much of a handle on her character. The detail that she was very into luge racing didn't seem like a good fit for her, and her explanation that she "bored easily" made it sound like she'd one dated a guy who was into the sport rather than she'd studied up on it out of her own interest. As in "You Only Die Once", I felt the dialogue would have been better suited to Adam Ross. I don't buy Kendall being into luge racing anymore than I did Lindsay's knowledge of the Mach-5. Signing A.J. Buckley to be a regular was a great move, but I can't understand why all of these great geek moments that would work so well for Adam are being given to characters who don't fit the material nearly as well.

Though no mention is made of the tragic death of his young neighbor that has haunted Danny for the last few episodes, the energetic CSI isn't his usual bouncy self in this episode. He's all business on the case, despite the fact that luge racing is something that might have piqued his curiosity in the past. Still, he seems to be moving past the depression that's consumed him for the last few episodes. Perhaps Danny is taking Flack's words, "You've got to stop blaming yourself for Ruben's death" to heart at last? I hope we haven't seen the last of the storyline because it's been such a rich one for Danny, but it's understandable that at some point, he's going to have to pick up and get on with his life.

Why must Mac Taylor always be right, all of the time? I miss the depth of an episode like "The Closer", where Mac actually questioned his own conclusions. Not so in this episode: when Stella gently asked if Mac was sure he got the right guy when Seth Riggin was arrested, and Mac swiftly, rather haughtily replies, "Of course." Not even a little doubt there, though to his credit Mac does go back to the old case evidence and runs it again. Of course he found out his conclusions were right the first time around, but at least he did run the evidence again.

Felonydate.com was truly inspired, and sadly not all that far off, since there are women out there who find themselves prison boyfriends. Naturally Flack gets a great line off the site, wondering about a dating site for single, law-abiding citizens. Given the amount of female attention Flack has gotten this season, first from his socialite lover and more recently from Detective Angell, I'm going to venture out on a limb and say that Flack is doing just fine without the assistance of a dating site. Flack's lines in this episode really are great; I laughed out loud at his description of the public toilet being the result of a mating between a dishwasher and a port-a-potty. Who but Flack would come up with such a description? And of course, it's dead on.

Speaking of Detective Angell, she once again shows her unique brand of policework by suavely kicking over a trash can to stop a suspect from fleeing. Danny and Flack might give chase and tackle suspects, but Angell's method is more elegant and doesn't require quite the same level of physical effort. Got to admire a girl who can take down a grown man without breaking a sweat.

"Playing with Matches" is the final CSI: NY episode written before the writers' strike began, and the final episode of the CSI franchise penned before the scribes took to the picket lines. With a possible resolution to the strike on the horizon, it's unclear at presstime whether the CSI shows would go back into production on the current season or simply pick back up in the fall with the new season. If the strike does indeed end this month, as many believe it will, it's possible we'll see new episodes of the franchise on in April. Here's hoping the sun hasn't yet set on this season for the CSI franchise.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.