CSI: New York--'Sleight Out Of Hand'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at March 1, 2007 - 9:43 AM GMT

See Also: 'Sleight Out Of Hand' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Illusionist Luke Blade has arrived in New York to perform his three night show "Death Becomes Me," but during his first trick--surviving being sawed in half--the body of his assistant Vienna Hyatt turns up in a box, having actually been sawed in half. The CSIs follow up on a man she took out a restraining order against, Rupert Lanigan, the manager of magic store Magic Paradise, but he has an alibi for the time of the murder. Mac turns to Luke Blade, but he tells the CSIs he looks at his employees like family. He soon loses another member of his "family" when his stunt engineer Austin Cannon is found burned to death during Luke's four-hour stunt in which he is lit on fire.

Stella is able to trace skin DNA off a magic wand found at the scene of Austin's death to George Clark, who proves to be Luke's biological father. She's able to dig up the sad tale of Luke's past: he was adopted by a woman named Sylvia Walker but she abandoned him to the foster care system at the age of six when he showed signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, including aggressive, adversarial behavior. Realizing his final trick will be to exact revenge on his adoptive mother, Mac, Stella and Flack chase Luke to the warehouse where he stores his magic devices and stop him from drowning Sylvia just in time.

In Montana, Lindsay testifies at the trial of Daniel Cadence, the man who shot her three friends in a diner ten years earlier. Lindsay breaks down on the stand as she testifies that she was in the bathroom when she heard gunshots, but she breaks down and asks for a recess. The next day, she's back on the stand, trying to finish her testimony, when Danny walks in the door. Encouraged by his presence, she testifies that she opened the door and spotted Cadence with a shotgun in the restaurant. Cadence is convicted and Danny and Lindsay embrace before heading back to New York.

Analysis:

After watching "Sleight Out of Hand," I can't help but feel like it was two separate episodes mashed rather uncomfortably together. One is the dark tale of a man unhinged by the betrayal of those around him who comes up with the perfect alibi for his crimes of revenge. It's edgy, grim and disturbing--and at the same time, utterly gripping. The other is lifted straight out of a daytime soap opera--silly, clichéd, banal and utterly out of place in a crime drama.

To start with the former, I admit to being pleasantly surprised by how well the story played out. Stunt casting has been hit or miss for CSI: New York; while Kid Rock did rather well in "All Access" (and indeed was a bright spot in an otherwise abysmal episode), Nelly Furtado and Sasha Cohen didn't fare quite as well this season. Stunt casting also often ends up being an advertisement of sorts for the guest, as was the case when two Furtado songs showed up in "Some Buried Bones" or when Cohen performed an extended skating scene in "Silent Night".

Cleverly, John Dove and Zachary Reiter's script integrates guest star Criss Angel's illusions into the plot of the episode. Both illusions--one where he's sawed in half and the other where he's lit on fire--parallel the murders his character Luke Blade commits. It's a bit of smoke and mirrors that plays out quite well on screen: Luke's illusions, performed in front of countless numbers of people, serve as a cover for his murders, committed in private. Not only do the illusions give him the perfect alibi, but they also make it look like the killer is a copycat.

Angel acquits himself quite well as the unbalanced Luke, who has a psychotic break after he learns two members of his close-knit team have betrayed him. Angel is a little over the top in the final scene with Luke's adoptive mother, but he's supposed to be and it works. Angel is clearly having fun with the role, and in turn that makes him fun to watch.

What isn't so fun are the bad puns that are peppered throughout the episode. Mac and Stella even crack essentially the same bad pun about someone having "something up your sleeve." It wasn't funny the first time Stella said it to Sid, and when Mac echoed it later in the episode, it was downright cringe-worthy.

Far worse than the bad puns is the missed opportunity for a bit of insight into Stella's past when she discovers that Luke was in the foster care system. Stella reached out to a troubled young man who was bitter about being in the system in "Til Death Do We Part" by sharing a bit of her own story about being an orphan. She sympathized with the boy but dealt out a good deal of tough love, not considering his circumstances to be an excuse for criminal behavior. I would have loved to hear her thoughts about Luke, but we never get to, perhaps because valuable time is taken away from the main story in order to show Lindsay's trial in Montana (more on that later).

The best moment of the episode comes when Flack and Hawkes bicker in the magic store. Flack, trying to be funny, muses about the phrase "pulling a Houdini" and how the great magician would have felt about his name being appropriated by the mob. Hawkes grimaces and Flack, who is used to Danny humoring him and Stella bantering with him, takes umbrage and asks Hawkes if they should be talking about "DNA vs. RNA." The hilarious exchange feels natural and spontaneous, and it hints at the potential these two have as a comedic duo. After all, are any characters further apart in temperament than the sophisticated doctor and the urbane cop?

What has gotten more than "sleightly out of hand" is the juvenile romance between Danny and Lindsay, which has become so prominent that it takes over whole plotlines now (witness "Love Run Cold" and "Oedipus Hex"). The Grissom and Sara naysayers may say what they will, but the CSI writers really have struck just the right balance with those two, wisely keeping their romance in the background--present, yet made evident with subtle glances or snippets of dialogue. I absolutely believe they are two people who happen to be colleagues who are conducting a discreet affair outside of work. It's realistic, it's adult, it's compelling.

Not so with Danny and Lindsay. Either he's whining about her standing him up or she's taking advantage of his feelings for her to get him to cover for her on the job--what it all adds up to is two purported adults acting like teenagers. In this episode, we have Danny carrying on about how tired he is and finally getting his supervisor to let him off of his shift--only to see him turn around and fly all the way to Montana to sit in courtroom to support a woman who's rejected him twice. Is this nonsense really in a CSI show? Really?

The crux of the problem is that Lindsay is barely a character in her own right; even her big storyline--the "dark secret" that has been teased from all the way back in "Manhattan Manhunt" when Lindsay gloomily declared she had seen bloody crime scenes before--is reliant on Danny for its big finale. It isn't enough to see Lindsay overcome her demons and testify at the trial of her friends' murderer; Danny has to ride in to be her pillar of support. To me, that shows little faith on the part of the writers in Lindsay's character.

To be fair, it's hard to expect them to rely on an actress as uneven as Anna Belknap, who gave such flat performances in the other episodes that addressed Lindsay's past, "Silent Night" and "The Lying Game". Though she's slightly better here--she actually gets her voice to crack during Lindsay's first testimony--the plotline has exposed her shortcomings as an actress. In the scene where Lindsay breaks down on the stand, Belknap isn't even able to muster up any actual tears, though it's clear Lindsay is supposed to be crying. Is there another actress on a primetime drama that can't even cry when the script calls for it? I highly doubt it.

Sadly, the romance plotline has all but done away with the rich storylines Carmine Giovinazzo used to get. Gone is the complex, absorbing conflict Danny had with Mac. Also apparently gone is Danny's torment over his own past, and his tortured relationship with his older brother, Louie. (What ever happened to Louie, anyway? Still in a coma? Dead? I guess it doesn't matter much to the writers in the face of the 'will they or won't they' storyline that has been done on almost every other show on primetime and daytime alike.) Now Giovinazzo is saddled with silly hallucinations, having to mumble to himself on camera and making googly eyes at Lindsay across crowded rooms. What a waste.

The only good thing about the trial is that Lindsay's past is finally behind her--and the audience. For all the build up, there's little emotional investment in the story, and no drama where the trial is concerned, as it's already a foregone conclusion that the killer will be found guilty. Now that we're done with the long, painful unveiling of Lindsay's secret, hopefully the show can get back to the more compelling personal storylines--Stella's HIV scare, Mac's relationship with Claire's son, Flack being at odds with his department--any of which are far, far more interesting than watching Danny and Lindsay play the tired "will they or won't they" game.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.