CSI: New York--'Prey'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 10, 2009 - 1:07 AM GMT

See Also: 'Prey' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

An NYPD tip line receives a picture of the body of Marshall Baxter, who is found dead in the vocal studio at the theater where he gives lessons. Dr. Hawkes determines the man's body temperature was 86 degrees, putting his time of death at midnight the previous evening. Stella notices an indentation in the wall left by a fist, and Mac and Flack find the theater director, James Copeland, has a bruised, red hand. Copeland admits to scuffling with Baxter because the dead man always took his parking space, but adamantly denies killing him. The team pores over the evidence, including volcanic ash and a ceramic tile, while Sid determines that Baxter died of exsanguination from a gunshot wound, but notes that the killer pulled the bullet out of Baxter's body. Sid is perplexed by the fact that the body is still in rigor, and theorizes it was exposed to a cold temperature of some sort. Danny finds a spoke card from a member of the Brooklyn Bruisers, a local bike polo team, with a number written on the back of it in Baxter's pocket. When Stella calls the number, she reaches a "rejection hotline," leading her and Danny to question the spoke card's owner, Gavin Skidmore. Gavin tells them that he got the number from a cute Chelsea University student named Odessa, but that he never called the number--as soon as she walked away, an angry guy approached him claiming to be her boyfriend and ripped the card out of his hand. Back at the lab, Adam is able to determine that the photo of Baxter's body was taken with a Blackberry, and find traces of CO2 on the ceramic shard. Mac realizes the body was exposed to dry ice, which let off CO2 gas as it melted--and altered Baxter's body temperature, putting the time of death at 5 AM rather than midnight.

Mac assembles the team to discuss the bizarre evidence, and Stella puts it together: the connection is her. She gave a lecture two months ago at Chelsea University, discussing past cases and what evidence led the team to various murderers. Stella goes to her old professor to get a list of students in the class while Flack and Hawkes scour Baxter's messy apartment for clues. Hawkes discovers a hidden box filled with photographs of two women, who were clearly unaware they were being photographed. Hawkes realizes Baxter was a stalker, striking a nerve with the doctor and bringing back memories of the assault on his ex-girlfriend Kara. Flack is able to track down a record on Baxter, who was arrested four years ago for aggravated assault. The woman Baxter stalked in Rhode Island, Carrie Langdon, committed suicide six months ago. Flack pays a visit to her bereaved brother Phillip, who blames Baxter and the police that failed to protect Carrie for her death. After telling Flack about how he witnessed his sister's fatal jump, Phillip gives Flack his alibi and tells the detective to contact his lawyer if he wants more. Back at the lab, Stella is unable to tie any of the nineteen students from the Chelsea University class to Baxter, though she is able to tie the planted evidence to a museum near the university. Danny and Hawkes investigate the other woman who accused Baxter of stalking, Dana Melton. They obtain an MP3 of her testimony from Boston PD and listen to the young woman relate how Baxter followed and terrified her. Hawkes matches the picture of Dana the Boston PD sent to the ones he found in the box beneath Baxter's bed.

When shown the pictures of Dana, Gavin Skidmore confirms she's the woman he knows as Odessa, and recalls that she had a singing gig somewhere nearby. Stella overhears Mac listening to the MP3 of Dana's testimony and recognizes her voice from the Q&A session of her guest lecture. Going through Baxter's receipts, the CSIs canvass a neighborhood that he frequented in the hopes of finding Dana. They get lucky when a mailman recognizes her and points them in the direction of the building where she lived. The building manager shows Mac, Flack and Hawkes to her apartment, but they find it completely cleaned out. Mac and Hawkes turn back to Baxter's possessions, which unsettles Hawkes further, leading him to point out that Dana was driven to kill Baxter. Hawkes finds a flier for the Lemon Drop Room, and Mac recalls that Dana had a singing gig. Mac and Hawkes go to the Lemon Drop Room and find Dana finishing up her set. When she steps off the stage, Mac flashes his badge. He regretfully arrests her, even though she pleads with him to let her go. Hawkes points out to her that without a formal confession from her, it will be very hard to win a conviction.

Analysis:

CSI: New York slyly addresses the "CSI Effect" in an episode that also delves into a serious failing of the law. Ever since CSI and its spin-offs became popular, we've been hearing about the "CSI Effect," where juries expect copious amounts of evidence in order to convict someone of a crime. In this case, it's something of the reverse: Stella gives a course on how various criminals nearly got away with crimes and the evidence that finally led the CSIs to them. Astute longtime viewers will recall the cases Stella references from several second and third season episodes: Pauline Rayburne's mummified body was discovered in "Not What It Looks Like", Sara Jackson met her sad fate in "Open and Shut", while Stella and Hawkes investigated Lauren Redgrave's death in "City of the Dolls". Dana didn't pull any punches: rather than lifting one or two ideas from the lecture, she took them all, gathering a variety of substances such as volcanic ash and hair from a yak to plant on the body in order to mislead investigators. She didn't stop there: she took the fatal bullet from Baxter's body and covered his body in dry ice in order to throw off the time of death determination. Of course, she didn't take into account the fact that in the absence of physical evidence leading them to a concrete conclusion, the CSIs would look to Baxter's life to determine who might have a connection to him--or a reason to want him dead. Changing her name may have slowed the CSIs down, but what Dana should have taken from Stella's lecture was that the CSIs will find a way to connect the dots from victim to killer.

That being said, Dana did a pretty job of eluding the team and in the end it was really Baxter's only crime--his relentless stalking of her--that led the team to her, via the pictures in his apartment and the complaint she filed against him in Boston. Like "Commuted Sentences", "Prey" delves into issues of crimes against women that aren't adequately addressed by the law. In "Commuted Sentences," the perpetrators were rapists who managed to beat the system; here it is a stalker whose crimes aren't covered by the letter of the law despite the fact that they most certainly violate its spirit. It is Hawkes who proves to be the most vocal critic of the inability of the law to protect victims of stalkers. This is in part because of his personal experience with his ex-girlfriend, Kara, first introduced in "Help" who was the victim of a rapist who wasn't caught until years after the crime was committed. The investigation of the murder of Baxter brings those demons back to the forefront for Hawkes, but it's safe to say that Hawkes speaks for the audience as well when he points out that "no one has the right to do this to another person."

At the end of the episode, when Mac tells Dana he has no choice but to arrest her, Hawkes makes a critical choice: he tells Dana that without a formal confession it will be very hard to win a conviction. Just a few weeks ago in CSI: Miami's "Wolfe in Sheep's Clothing", we saw just how taboo it is for a CSI to offer a suspect any kind of out, but this is clearly a special case. Even Mac, a stickler for the rules who rarely ever sympathizes with someone who has taken the life of another, is remorseful about having to arrest Dana. He tells Dana it's the "toughest part of my job" when he arrests her for the murder of Baxter and what's more, he doesn't contradict or even try to stop Hawkes when he offers the crucial piece of advice. The men might be doing their job, but they're cognizant of the failings of the law in this case, and neither is happy about what he has to do. Though Hawkes is the one most visibly fired up about it, Mac is obviously not happy about having to arrest a woman who was hounded, harassed, followed and threatened for two years to the point that she thought murder was her only option.

It's rare to see a case get to the normally unflappable Dr. Hawkes, but this season has really opened him up. Hill Harper said in his latest CSI Files interview that:

What's been made clear this season which I really like is that Hawkes will act and speak on what he believes is right and wrong. He's not just "okay, this is the letter of the law." He's like, this is right, this is wrong. He has a clear opinion and point-of-view and he's confident enough in his point-of-view that he'll articulate a position but he does it from a place of love and respect, so he's also very fair.

Indeed, between the introduction of Kara and the trauma that tore her and Hawkes apart in "Help," Hawkes' refusal to tamper with evidence for his friend in "Sex, Lies and Silicone" and his frustration with Danny over Danny's decision to call in sick with the blue flu in "The Party's Over", it's very clear that Hawkes has a strict moral code. He has a very clear sense of what he believes is right and holds himself and others to that standard. Here, he sees the inherent injustice of a system that allows a man like Baxter to harass and terrify Dana and Carrie but punishes Dana for taking a decisive step to rid herself of the man who is ruining her life. One woman chooses suicide, the other murder because aside from submitting to the harassment and likely even eventual violence, what choice to they have? Indeed, there is bitter irony in the fact that there's no legal recourse until the stalker commits an act of violence.

Guest star Katherine McPhee doesn't get a surfeit of screentime, but she does well with the time she does get, convincingly portraying a woman at the end of her rope trying desperately to regain control over her own life. Dana did everything she possibly could to get rid of Baxter: she filed a complaint with the police, she moved to a new city, changed her name--and yet he still found her. The episode sets up the impossibility of her situation extremely well--the law won't act until Baxter perpetrates an act of violence against her, something his increasingly threatening postcards indicate he was building to. But who is her right mind would wait for the man who has been threatening her to attack her? The message here is clear: the law is as much to blame as Dana is. Indeed, after his sister's suicide, Phillip Langdon went so far as to sue the Rhode Island police department for "failure to protect." The episode exposes a very dangerous, disturbing gap in the law.

Flack's interview with Phillip Langdon results in a rare moment of sympathy from the hardboiled detective. Sent to question Phillip about his lawsuit--and his possible involvement in Baxter's murder--Flack offers a quiet apology for Phillip's loss before proceeding with his questions. After he turns to Phillip's alibi for the night of Baxter's murder, the grieving man shuts down and tells Flack to talk to his lawyer. Flack leaves without protest, offering a rare personal detail: "I'm truly sorry for your loss. I have a sister, too." Flack isn't one to share personal information with suspects, but clearly he can emphasize with Phillip's plight and imagine how awful it must have been for the young man. Both Eddie Cahill and guest star Eddie Mills do a great job with this emotionally raw scene.

There aren't many light moments in this somber episode, but we do get a glimpse into Flack's relationship with Jessica Angell before he's called to the crime scene. They're still obviously in the beginning stages of their relationship, when everything is fun, hot and sexy. These two generate sparks together in a way the other couple on the show, Danny and Lindsay, never have. Flack and Angell obviously enjoy being together, and the chemistry between them is evident. I loved the way Angell cuffs Flack to the bed to prevent him from answering his phone--she's intent on this being their time, and clearly wants an encore of the night before. Unlike the wishy-washy Lindsay, who pushes Danny away only to turn around and put the moves on him, Angell clearly knows exactly what she wants--and isn't afraid to go after it. It's nice to see a smart, strong woman who isn't playing games. Flack and Angell are fun to watch together, and their relationship is clearly on stable ground. It will be interesting to see how it progresses as the season goes on.

The episode's other light moment comes from Adam, who goes into full on babble mode when he has to tell Mac that the computer from the internet cafe didn't offer up any viable leads. A.J. Buckley has Adam's nervous, dorky mannerisms down pat, and it's always fun to see him get flustered around Mac. The lovable lab tech obviously looks up to the CSI team leader, and the way he trips over his own words when talking to Mac--or Stella for that matter--is completely endearing. Adam has been working with the team for almost four years now, but he'll never be the type to take his job in stride. Whether he's expressing his enthusiasm for a particularly perplexing puzzle that he's solved or his bashful nervousness around Mac and Stella, Adam is always a delight to watch.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.