CSI: New York--'She's Not There'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at February 12, 2009 - 11:17 PM GMT

See Also: 'She's Not There' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A girl gets off the subway in Times Square on a rainy evening and meets her friend for a night of fun, passing by a man in a tourist t-shirt. The man wanders through the crowd before getting mugged by a man and a woman. As the two girls get into a black van, one drops a gum wrapper, which floats past the now dead body of the man. Mac and Hawkes show up at the scene and Flack informs them that the victim was found without a wallet or ID. Hawkes notices a scar on the man's neck, evidence of cataract surgery and rings on his nails, indicating he had cancer and was treated with chemotherapy. His acrylic dental work leads Hawkes to surmise that he was from the Ukraine. Back in the lab, Stella finds evidence the man spilled coffee on his pants but not his shirt. When Danny finds the remnants of a price tag in the shirt, Stella wonders if the man purchased the shirt at the airport. She asks Danny to check into incoming flights at nearby airports. Sid traces residue on the knife to flowers found in Chinatown, while Lindsay is able to get DNA off a lip piercing from the body and match it to a man named Sammy Chen. Danny and Flack go to Chinatown and chase down Sammy and his partner in crime, Jody Sun, and bring them in for questioning. The pair admits to mugging the dead man, but when they found he only had rubles on him, they tossed his wallet up on an awning. He got the knife away from them and they ran off--leaving him alive. Danny and Flack climb to the top of the awning and recover the wallet, along with an ID identifying the man as Adrik Fedoruk, a letter damaged by the rain water and a piece of paper with a meeting time and location on it. Mac goes to the Deluca Motel and finds Deputy Inspector Gillian Whitford waiting. She tells him that Fedoruk's daughter Rani had come to New York a month ago and disappeared. Fedoruk wrote the mayor and the letter ended up on Gillian's desk, and she agreed to meet with the man.

Danny and Hawkes delve into processing the letter: Hawkes translates it from Cyrillic and is able to decipher that Rani had written to her father asking him to come get her. The letter was postmarked four days ago. Danny lifts DNA from the stamps on the envelope and matches it to a club owner named Willie Burton. Stella pays Burton a visit, but he only vaguely recalls mailing the letter for the girl after she approached him at a party at his club and asked for a favor. Frustrated, Stella heads back to the lab and recovers a glove print from under the armpit of Fedoruk's sweatshirt, leading her to believe that his killer helped him up before stabbing him. Trace from the glove print is made up of multiple elements, including rust, plaster and several spices used in the making of mustard, leading Hawkes to suggest that perhaps the girls are being held in an old abandoned mustard house in Williamsburg. The team storms the warehouse, finding it filled with mattresses and blankets. Mac has a disturbing realization: their killer is a sex trafficker. Flack catches a young woman hiding under some blankets. She tells Mac and Stella that her name is Katie, but she claims she was just crashing at the warehouse. Assuming she is traumatized from her experience with the traffickers, Mac and Stella allow her to use the bathroom, but she locks the door and breaks out through the window and runs away. Gillian Whitford surveys the scene and estimates thirty girls are being held, and when Lindsay runs a hair analysis, she notes that the girls are all between the ages of 14 and 21. Lindsay also finds evidence that the girls are being drugged with a combination of heroin, ecstasy and codeine. A search of the drug database reveals this particular drug mix is unique to a dealer named Nemo. Stella floats the idea of getting Willie Burton to set Nemo up.

Flack brings Willie in and while he's reluctant, he eventually agrees to go along with the plan for the sake of the girl he mailed the letter for. Gillian is upset when she finds out he wants to do it his way--with no undercover cop involved--and Mac follows her after she storms out. She tells him why the case is so personal to her: her fourteen-year-old niece, Rachel, went missing three years ago. She relents and tells Mac he can arrange the set up however he needs to. Patrick Habis, the father of one of the missing girls, shows up at the station, frantic about finding his daughter Tara. Stella sits with him as he describes Carolyn, the girl his daughter Tara met in New York who had promised to take her to LA with her so they could pursue acting careers. A single father, Patrick tells Stella that he didn't hear from Tara after she went off with Carolyn, which wasn't like her. Willie meets Nemo and as soon as the drugs change hands, Flack and his team burst in, arresting the men. Flack whispers a quiet thanks to Willie. In the interrogation room, Flack and Danny lean on Nemo about him selling large amounts of drugs to a sex trafficking ring. Nemo gives up the name and location of the man he's been selling to, and Mac and Stella storm it along with the cops. Flashbacks reveal that Fedoruk went looking for his daughter and the sex trafficker followed him, killing him after Chen and Sun mugged him. Gillian brings Rani to view her father's body and the tearful girl tells him that he saved her and the other girls. Stella reunites Tara and her father, and Tara recognizes the computer rendition of Carolyn and identifies her. Stella realizes Carolyn is actually Katie, the girl who escaped the warehouse--she's in league with the trafficker. Katie greets another young girl fresh off the subway and prepares to get her into a black van--until the doors open, revealing Stella. Mac catches Katie before she can run off and arrests her while Stella gets the unwitting girl to safety.

Analysis:

I had serious reservations going into "She's Not There," in large part because both CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami had already rolled out episodes dealing with sex trafficking rings. CSI's entry, "Disarmed and Dangerous" aired a mere two weeks ago! Miami went to the well twice, first with "Legal" back in third season and then again in this season's "Won't Get Fueled Again". Though the episodes were by no means disasters, they all had something in common: each dealt with the issue of sex trafficking in a very surface, clichéd way. The girls were all helpless, cowering victims, who blinked into the light when the heroic CSIs came to rescue them from the dark rooms or warehouses they were being kept in. Sex trafficking became a device in which the CSIs--usually the male CSIs--could look like big, brave heroes saving the most helpless of victims. There wasn't anything personal to the stories, nothing to connect us to the victims--they were barely given voices in the previous storylines. So when I heard CSI: New York was going to do a sex trafficking episode, I wasn't optimistic. The other two shows had fallen short on giving the issue any depth, and I wasn't hopeful about a fourth attempt, especially given that two out of the three previous ones had been just this season.

Well, I was wrong. Because Pam Veasey and John Dove made the sex trafficking storyline the main focal point of the episode, the victims were actual characters as opposed to a batch of voiceless girls rescued at the end of the episode. Yes, we got the typical rescue scene where the CSIs heroically burst in and rescue the dozens of girls held in the dark room, and they catch the man who both murdered Adrik Fedoruk and held the girls prisoner. But unlike the CSI and Miami episodes, that wasn't the end. The traumatized girls didn't just smile blankly and silently at the CSIs as they were led out; the episode went on to show us what happened after they were rescued. In doing so, it gave the girls voices and personalities, two essential elements in giving the storyline resonance and meaning. I don't find episodes of the CSI shows often moving me to tears, save for ones that feature the death or departure of a major character, but I'll readily admit that Rani's heartbreaking goodbye to her father made me cry, and not just a little.

Another element I liked about the episode was that it cast the female heroes in the show, Stella and Gillian, in important roles. In Miami, it was Horatio Caine who rushed in to save the imprisoned women both times, while in CSI Nick led the charge. Though Mac is involved, his role is secondary to Stella and Gillian's. I try to avoid getting on a feminist soapbox unless an episode truly warrants it (like the misogynistic "All Access") but there's something annoyingly trite about watching the white knights come in to save the helpless damsels. It's refreshing to see the women on the show taking active roles here, particularly Stella, who's such a strong, capable and passionate heroine. Both Veasey and Dove have a great track record of approaching female characters with depth and insight: Veasey has penned many of the episodes that have explored Stella's background and character (including "Til Death Do We Part" and "Right Next Door"), while Dove wrote "Commuted Sentences", which proved to be a complex look at several women who make a pact to kill their rapists. One of my biggest fears for the episode was that we'd once again get the clichéd final scenes of the gun-wielding male CSIs bursting in to rescue a bunch of cowering women, and I'm glad it didn't turn out that way.

The sex trafficker himself isn't given a voice or even a name and while it's a little frustrating that he's just a nameless Very Bad Guy, what satisfying explanation could he have given? No doubt he was in it for the money, and probably would have simply come across as yet another smarmy, unapologetic villain. His voice ultimately wasn't needed. More interesting is Katie/Carolyn, who works to lure the naive girls to New York City with the promise of glamorous parties and modeling or acting success. I would have liked to see Stella and Gillian take her on in an interrogation, but with so much else going on in the episode, there probably wasn't room for it. Still, it would have been nice to hear from her, because while we can easily guess at the man's motivations, Katie is much more of a curiosity. What was driving her? What led her to this place? Did she start out just like the other girls--forced into the business--or was she, too, just in it for the money?

Julia Ormond turns in a moving performance as Gillian Whitford, and though Mac picks up on the fact that the case is personal to Gillian, Ormond didn't overemphasize Gillian's personal stake. Right up until Mac confronted her, I thought her motivations simply could have come from being dedicated to her job and horrified by the prospect of a sex trafficking ring operating right under her nose in New York City. Her pain over the disappearance of her niece is evident but understated. Though the storyline was apparently written in part because of Ormond's interest (story) in the issue of modern day slave trafficking (Ormond founded a group called ASSET, to combat human trafficking and slavery), Gillian's involvement is thankfully more routine--her niece disappeared three years ago, and she knows what the loss of a child does to a family. Though Gillian was first introduced in "My Name Is Mac Taylor", as a potential love interest for Mac, those sparks are wisely put on the back burner for this episode, where they most certainly would have felt out of place. With Ormond only slated to appear in one more episode, I can't help but wonder what Gillian's future, with or without Mac, will be.

Given that, like Nelly's character Terrance Davis (from "Turbulence" and "My Name Is Mac Taylor"), Willie Burton is a successful club owner with street connections, I can't help but wonder if the original intent was to have Nelly return to reprise the role and once again be called on by Flack for a favor. It would have been nice to see Nelly again--Terrance is a fun character, and he plays well off of both Danny and Flack--but Mykel Shannon Jenkins does a great job opposite Eddie Cahill in a raw, taut scene in which Flack does what can only be called the Flack equivalent of begging Willie to help the team set up Nemo. Cahill channels serious intensity here; it's not easy to get Flack riled up (the only incident to do so in recent memory was Danny's jeopardy in "All in the Family"), but Flack is clearly on edge here, opening himself up to Willie and allowing the man to, at least a little, see how important this is to Flack. I don't think Flack offers favors lightly, especially to criminals. "I'll owe you--just get us there," Flack says, and it's clear from the way Cahill delivers the line that it's not something Flack says easily. But it's also a genuine moment: if Flack promises someone a favor, he will deliver. It's an interesting reversal for Flack, a counterpoint to his usual experience inside the interrogation room, and Cahill gives it an earnest urgency with his delivery.

Given the serious subject matter, it's gratifying that Veasey and Dove took the opportunities for comic relief where they could find them. Hawkes makes a joke about the touristy Big Apple t-shirts, saying that he's come up with a formula for the likelihood of a person to wear one based on the distance he or she traveled to get to New York. He's pleased that his formula is proven upon finding that their victim did indeed travel a long way to get to New York. Would anyone but Hawkes dream up such a formula? Could any other character make such a statement without seeming hopelessly, well, dorky? Hill Harper always revels in his character's great intelligence, and somehow manages to make such moments come off as smooth and clever rather than just plain nerdy.

Freed at least for a week from the cumbersome burden of Lindsay, Danny perks up a bit in this episode, first joking with Stella about getting one of the Big Apple t-shirts as a kid and wearing it to school. Stella is jokingly impatient with Danny's story, which admittedly isn't all that interesting. One of my favorite things about Danny is that he thinks he's a lot funnier and wittier than he is. Flack will usually humor him and laugh at his jokes, but Mac, Stella and Lindsay more often than not will clue him in when he's being unfunny. Every now and then he gets a good one in--like his chalkboard N(E)R(D) zinger on Hawkes in "Admissions"--but for the most part, Danny's jokes fall charmingly flat. It's an unusual (at least for television), completely endearing character quirk.

As it is whenever they're paired up, Danny and Flack are a blast to watch. First the two go to round up Chen and Sun and end up on separate chases--and after Danny catches his suspect, he calls Flack to check in. Flack promises to come pick him up, but first complains to "Danno" that his suit has been ruined and that he "stinks." Later in the episode, as they interrogate drug dealer Nemo, Danny quips that Flack is in a hurry because he "wants to make the Rangers game tonight." There's an easy, comfortable familiarity between the two that underscores just how well they know each other and how comfortable they are in each other's company. Flack shows his tough side for suspects and Danny tries to impress others with his goofy jokes, but together they're at ease and actually having a good time. And when these two have fun, so does the audience.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.