CSI New York--'Rush To Judgment'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at January 22, 2009 - 10:25 AM GMT

See Also: 'Rush to Judgment' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Detectives Flack and Angell bring in a young man named Todd Fleming for questioning, but Angell leaves Flack to handle the interrogation while she helps deal with an unruly suspect in the bullpen. No sooner is the suspect subdued than Flack is calling for help--Todd is on the floor, seizing. Flack administers CPR and tries to revive him, but the young man dies. Despite Mac's concern, Flack opts to talk to IAB officer John Malley, until it becomes clear that the lieutenant thinks he used excessive force. Flack calls for a union lawyer. The story flashes back two days, to the beginning of the case, when a snowboarder stumbled cross a severed foot in a pile of trash. An arm is found in a dumpster blocks away. Both limbs are found near bloody Christmas wrapping paper. Sid determines the victim died the previous night, and Lindsay brings in a severed hand to add to the collection of limbs. Sid is able to get a fingerprint match from the hand to a man named Vince Nelson, a wrestling coach at Hillridge High. Stella and Lindsay visit Vince's widow, Amalia, and she tells them her husband had no enemies. She last saw him the previous morning, but had gone to bed before he got home from his business class. She does recall one strange incident the day before: she noticed two people lurking on the roof. Stella and Lindsay go up to the roof and find a small pool of blood, which Stella takes back to the lab and identifies as alligator blood. Flack tells Mac that Vince wasn't registered in any business classes; he lied to his wife. He also withdrew $200 from an ATM the night he died.

Sid works on the newly-recovered torso and shows Danny and Lindsay a small gold disc he found on the body which Lindsay identifies as an acupressure magnet, used to help people quit smoking. Sid notes that Vince's lungs were in perfect condition. Sid also shows the CSIs he found sawdust on Vince's torso, and Danny posits that the killer may have used a chainsaw. A print off the acupressure magnet leads Flack to Tanda Love, a salsa instructor with a record for solicitation. She tells Flack that Vince was taking salsa lessons to surprise his wife on their anniversary, and Flack is able to corroborate her alibi. Hawkes brings Mac a disturbing find: pictures of under-aged boys in an e-mail Vince sent out to seven of the students on his wrestling team. Mac is disgusted by the pictures, while Hawkes wonders why the man would make such an incriminating move. While Flack goes off to question the seven students who got the e-mail, suspicion lands on one, Todd Fleming, when Stella learns his science project for the school fair involved alligator blood. Flack and Angell speak to the nervous young man, but when he evades their questions, Flack says they're going downtown to the station...which leads to the fateful interrogation. As Todd mutters that, "this wasn't supposed to happen," he gets more and more agitated until starting to seize up. After the boy's death, Sid determines hypoxia caused his heart to stop, but that there were no illegal drugs in his system. Mac is certain Flack didn't kill the boy. IAB puts Flack on modified assignment, and Angell is upset when she finds out during her own IAB questioning that the department is aware of her romantic relationship with Flack, which she warns him will discount her testimony.

An alibi rules Todd out as a suspect, but when Vince's head is recovered, Sid determines he was killed by a blow to the neck and also offers a new lead: a fleck of dried blood in the wound. The blood is matched to a rapist named Johnny Holt, who denies even knowing Vince. Lindsay is able to back him up when she finds the dried blood is three months old, meaning it must have come from the murder weapon. Mrs. Nelson continues to insist her husband was a normal man, and wasn't into child pornography. Hawkes and Mac discover Vince's firewall was breached and realize someone else must have sent the e-mail from Vince's account. Recalling Amalia's claims about two people on the roof, the two go to check it out and discover sawdust beneath the melting snow. Danny finally identifies the sawdust as coming from a beech willow tree, which is native to Flushing Queens, where one of the seven students lives: Kyle Sheridan. Kyle admits to, along with Todd, sending the e-mail after Vince changed his weight division and cost him a wrestling scholarship, but denies killing the coach. When he mentions his father, Alex, is a court officer, Mac realizes he's their killer. Alex used his baton three months ago to subdue Johnny Holt in court, and a visit to his house reveals sawdust, wrapping paper identical to that found with the body parts and blood on the basement wall. Mac and Angell arrest Alex who tells them he was disgusted after he saw the e-mails the coach sent his son. Alex beat him to death and, in an attempt to beat a murder charge, cut him up with a chainsaw and spread the body parts around the city. The case closed, Lindsay brings white roses to a grieving Amalia Nelson, while Mac offers Flack some good news: he's been cleared of the charges. Todd died from an overdose of an antidepressant.

Analysis:

Appearance vs. Reality is major theme in literature, and it's one several of the characters in this episode perhaps should have taken into account. Things are not always what they seem at first sight, no matter how damning they might first appear to be. Alex Sheridan discovers an e-mail containing child pornography from his son's coach, and, rather than turning it over to the authorities so that legal action can be taken, he decides to mete out his own justice. The evidence is pretty damning so his reaction of disgust is understandable, and really, it's probably the one time out of a thousand when an e-mail like that would not be at all what it seems. Indeed, even Mac makes the same "rush to judgment," so lost in his own horror and disgust at the images in the e-mail that he overlooks Hawkes' very good point: why would anyone send out such incriminating e-mails? Mac tends to be the judgmental type, so it's not really surprising to see him leaping to the most obvious conclusion and being guided by his revulsion.

What is a little more unexpected is the fact that Mac immediately dismisses the idea that Flack may have used excessive force while questioning Todd Fleming. It's quite unlike Mac to exhibit what can only be called something of a blind faith in someone he works with. After all, this is the man who jumped down Hawkes' throat in "Murder Sings the Blues" for failing to tell him that he had met the murder victim once. And Mac certainly didn't express much faith in Danny after the younger CSI was involved in a shootout in a subway station that resulted in the death of an undercover cop in "On the Job". Mac doesn't seem inclined to give anyone the benefit of the doubt before he's seen the evidence, so what's with the sudden about face?

Of course, there's a big difference between a lie of omission or an accidental shooting and the use of excessive force. Though there's no way the episode could have resulted in the conclusion that Flack did indeed use excessive force and have him remain a sympathetic character, I can't help but wish the circumstances had been a little more murky and created room for doubt in the viewer's mind, or at least tried. When I saw Flack lead that skinny, nervous seventeen-year-old kid into the interrogation room, I didn't think for a second Flack would raise a hand to him. What if, instead of a nervous kid, it had been a suspect more like the out-of-control Cadillac Kligman, or the sneering rapist Johnny Holt? Flack has a temper, and if he's confronted with a hostile, disdainful suspect after a bad day, it might be possible to believe that Flack might lose his cool and cross a line. It would have made for a much more suspenseful, intriguing episode if we had believed, even just for a minute, that Flack could have transgressed.

Despite Stella's protests that Flack is so "by the book he doesn't even swear," I'm not so sure that's true. Earlier in the season in the episode "Enough", Flack kicked a suspect out of a swing. If that's not playing rough, I don't know what is. He certainly wasn't going by the book when he chased Danny all over town in "All in the Family" after Danny's gun was stolen by Rikki. Granted, Flack was ready to call in the theft and was swayed by Danny's pleas to hold off, but he did so multiple times, first helping Danny chase down the gun and then by allowing Danny to leave with Rikki and bring her into the station later. Flack is a good cop and an honorable man, but for Mac and Stella to not even have a few nagging doubts--and for Flack's record to be spotless when even Stella has a few complaints against her--robs the story of a lot of the dramatic thrust it might otherwise have had if the viewer were at all convinced that there was a smidgen of a possibility that Flack might have stepped over the line.

IAB officers usually end up being two dimensional nemeses, and that trend isn't broken here. John Malley is clearly out to get Flack, for no apparent reason. Sure, Todd has a bruise on his forehead, but it also seems pretty clear that he had a seizure, and one would think IAB would consider all possible causes of the seizure before jumping to the conclusion that Flack probably used excessive force. I'd expect him to get taken off the case, but for Flack to get restricted to desk duty seems a bit excessive. Philip Anthony-Rodriguez does what he can with the role, but we're never even given a reason that he might be gunning for Flack. It's a wasted opportunity: Flack is a second generation cop, and an IAB officer that felt he might be skating by on privilege would have been much more interesting than one with no discernible motive at all.

Though the suspense really isn't there in the story, Eddie Cahill sells it with his performance. From his outrage when he realizes he's being railroaded by IAB to his half-hearted attempts at a crossword puzzle to his resignation when he's ready to walk out on the department that's throwing him to the wolves, Cahill lays bare Flack's feelings about the situation he finds himself in. Cahill even gets in a moment of that trademark Flack humor when Stella helps him with a word in his crossword puzzle, and, after she's walked out of earshot, he mutters, "Whisk. I knew that." Sure you did, Flack. The aside provides a welcome chuckle in an episode where the other jokes, like Danny's unfunny quips about the unfortunate victim, fall flat. Cahill doesn't get quite as much material to work with as one would hope (though at least he wasn't robbed of the final scene as Hawkes was last week in "Help"), but what we do get to see of Flack's struggle reminds us why he really is CSI: NY's MVP.

The episode reveals that Flack and Angell are in fact a bona fide couple. Angell is taken aback when, during her own questioning by IAB, she's asked about their relationship. Like anyone who discovers personal info is public knowledge, she turns to the person whom she shares the secret with and asks him if he knows how people found out. Flack is dismissive, reminding her he has bigger things on his plate at the moment, and rather than getting huffy or offended, Angell backs down. There are indeed bigger issues at stake than who gave away the fact that they're dating. After watching Danny and Lindsay do their immature dance for years on end and seeing Lindsay harp on Danny while he was grieving for the death of a child, it's a refreshing change of pace to see a young couple who actually feel like partners in the truest sense of the word. Cahill and Emmanuelle Vaugier certainly have chemistry together, and it's nice to see their relationship unfolding in a natural, realistic way.

Speaking of Danny, I'm starting to think whoever snatched his glasses took away his personality, too. He's had little to do recently aside from exchanging lovesick looks and words with Lindsay. The real crime here is that Danny offers up absolutely no support of Flack, who has gone to bat for him on more than one occasion. We've seen Flack drop everything to support ("On the Job"), listen to ("...Comes Around"), guard ("Run Silent, Run Deep"), and even rescue ("Snow Day", "All in the Family") Danny, but his devotion has never once been reciprocated. Danny was barely a presence in "Charge of This Post" after Flack was gravely injured, and once again, he's absent when it's pretty clear Flack could use some support. Cahill and Carmine Giovinazzo work just as well with the serious scenes between their characters as they do with the humorous ones, so the omission is downright inexplicable--and glaring. In the end, it is Mac who, after Flack has been cleared, offers the detective an opportunity to blow off some steam, suggesting they go to a bar to watch the Rangers game. Flack's face brightens and he observes that he didn't know Mac liked hockey. "I don't," Mac responds with a smile. It's always nice when Gary Sinise gets the opportunity to let Mac's lighter side peek through.

As the widow of the unfortunate Vince Nelson, Mayte Garcia turns in a terrific performance. She's unwavering in her belief that her husband was a good man, and neither Stella and Lindsay's questioning nor the pornographic e-mails will convince her otherwise. Her anguish is apparent as she has to witness her husband being torn down so soon after his death, and as she's subjected to the ceaseless ringing of the phone, no doubt with an unwanted line of callers ranging from reporters to outraged parents. Garcia's performance easily could have swayed towards melodrama, but it never does; instead, she offers a convincing portrayal of a woman clinging to her absolute faith in the fact that her husband was a good man. It's gratifying to learn in the end, she was right.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.