CSI: NY--'The Past, Present And Murder'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 16, 2009 - 8:36 AM GMT

See Also: 'The Past, Present and Murder' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

Media mogul Robert Dunbrook pushes a man through the window of his high rise office and calls his son, Connor, telling him to get a hold of his lawyer. When he looks out his window again, the body is gone. When the CSIs arrive on the scene, Dunbrook insists the act was one of self-defense. Stella and Hawkes puzzle over the absence of the body, finding several teeth and certain that the man couldn't have survived the fall. Danny lifts prints from the biometric security system, noting a strawberry smell on the device. He also recovers a box cutter from the office and a magazine chronicling Dunbrook's empire's success. Danny confirms the only prints on the security system are from Dunbrook and that it doesn't appear to have been wiped down, but Mac can't shake his suspicions of the mogul. Stella recovers a piece of trash bag art with blood on it stuck in a subway grate near where the body fell and takes it back to the lab. Danny doesn't recover any prints from the box cutter, but he does find sucrose on it. Flack tells Mac that the last person before Dunbrook to touch the security system was Ann Steele. Mac is shocked--Ann was a consultant who was murdered seven months ago. The body of the man Dunbrook pushed out the window turns up at Pier 40, with grate marks on his face and his fingertips cut off. In the morgue, Sid recovers his last meal: red, strawberry-flavored candy of some sort--with finger print ridge detail on it! Stella runs the prints and matches them to Ann Steele. When she shows Mac, they posit that the man must have replicated Ann's prints and used them to gain access to Dunbrook's office--and then ate them to hide the evidence. Mac recalls that Ann was on Dunbrook's payroll.

Dunbrook drops by Chief Brigham Sinclair's office to request Mac be pulled from the case. Sinclair is sticking up for the department when Mac comes in and asks Dunbrook about Ann Steele. Dunbrook offers that Ann was probably just not removed from the security system after her death and tells Mac to stop focusing on him and instead look for the man who tried to kill him. After Dunbrook leaves, Sinclair points out that all the evidence indicates Dunbrook acted in self-defense. Dunbrook goes outside and begins to speak to the press about the attack. Just as Mac joins him outside, shots are fired and Mac pulls Dunbrook to safety. As Dunbrook assures the press he's okay, Mac gets control of the scene and recovers the bullet fired at Dunbrook. He takes it back to the lab, where Stella identifies it as a .38. Danny brings Mac the results of the bloody print on the trash bag art: it's a match to FBI Agent Johnson, who, along with his partner Agent Walsh, pulled Mac aside about the theft of Ann Steele's flash drive six months ago. When Mac looks at the facial reconstruction Hawkes is performing on the computer on the man from Dunbrook's office, Mac recognizes him as Agent Walsh. Mac, Stella and Hawkes go over the flash drive case, recalling the sensitive information on the drive, the theft of the drive six months ago and the murder of property clerk Kevin Cross. Mac speaks with FBI Agent Ellis Park, but the man stonewalls him, only letting slip that Johnson and Walsh were fired six months ago.

Hawkes cross checks news stories run in Dunbrook's publications with scandals he recalls from the flash drive, and finds seven that were published after Steele and Cross's deaths. Danny is able to match ink from the magazine in Dunbrook's office to trace found in the gunshot wound that killed Cross. Mac takes the evidence to Sinclair, but the Chief says it's not enough for a warrant. Frustrated, Mac confronts Dunbrook, but just as the man is about to kick him out, Sinclair comes in with a search warrant. The two find a .38 in a safe. Back at the lab, Stella isn't able to match the striations on the bullet she fires from the gun to the one that killed Cross. She finds degraded DNA on the gun that matches Dunbrook. Flack calls Mac: Agent Johnson has been in a car crash. Mac rushes to the scene, where a dying Johnson tells the CSI that he and Walsh were set up. Agent Park finally comes forward to tell Mac that Agents Johnson and Walsh were building a case against Stiegel Tech--and that it got them fired. Stella goes back to the gun and finds it's been scraped up inside. She's able to get a striation pattern from deep inside the gun, and it matches the bullet that killed Cross. When Dunbrook's alibi for the time of Cross's murder checks out, the team turns back to the DNA from the gun and find it matches Dunbrook's son, Connor. Connor is arrested despite Dunbrook's protests. The team still isn't able to find the flash drive which, unbeknownst to them, fell from Walsh's hand through the grate to the subway tracks below.

Analysis:

When the flash drive was first introduced in "Sex, Lies and Silicone", I was intrigued. After all, Sinclair was personally involved in the case, telling Mac that there was information that was potentially damaging to him on Ann Steele's drive. The introduction of the FBI agents in "The Triangle" as well as the murder of Kevin Cross added another layer to the mystery--clearly this flash drive was a Big Deal. But "The Past, Present and Murder" is a tangled web of confusing exposition, conspiracy theory and a heavy dose of self-righteousness from Mac. I'm still not sure why Dunbrook wasn't charged with manslaughter for throwing Agent Walsh out the window. I don't really understand why Johnson and Walsh were fired. I don't know why Park decided to turn over the evidence he had to Mac. I don't even know why Sinclair did an about-face on the issue of the warrant. While some questions serve to add intrigue to a storyline, the ones here only puzzle and perplex.

This is definitely a plot-driven episode as opposed to a character one, and while some episodes that put more emphasis on clever plots as opposed to character development prove to be exciting installments--like "Hung Out to Dry" or "DOA for a Day"--this one plods along, anchored only by the increasingly convoluted plot and Mac's tedious grandstanding. The problem lies in the fact that much of the suspense is anchored to a murder that didn't even take place in this episode. We know from the teaser that Dunbrook threw the victim out of the window. The murder that ends up becoming the priority halfway through the episode is that of Kevin Cross, the property clerk who was found with a bullet in his forehead in "The Triangle." I'm a big fan of arcs that stretch out across episodes, but would anyone but the most dedicated viewers remember the guy who Mac talked to in one scene eleven episodes ago who was found shot to death towards the end of an episode that revolved around a completely different case? The problem here is that, unlike the episodes involving Shane Casey and Suspect X, there isn't a memorable villain. And unlike the 333 stalker back in season four, one of the main characters isn't directly affected by the outcome of the case. At the heart of it is a flash drive with important information that doesn't really affect anyone we care about. It simply doesn't feel important enough to anchor an entire episode.

Though they seemed on civil if guarded terms at the end of "The Party's Over", the episode that introduced Dunbrook, that relationship has apparently deteriorated in between that episode in this one. Dunbrook is instantly suspicious when Mac shows up at the crime scene, asking Mac if the scene isn't "beneath his pay grade." Mac is more than willing to meet him halfway, instantly skeptical of Dunbrook's story, saying that it "doesn't seem to be a typical B&E." Talk about stating the obvious: a man went through the window--and then his body disappeared. Of course it's not a "typical B&E." Gary Sinise and Craig T. Nelson chew a lot of scenery throughout the episode, though to be fair, the episode sets them up as Adversaries with a capital A. Dunbrook goes to Sinclair to demand that Mac be removed from the case and threatens to run incendiary stories about Mac, while Mac taunts Dunbrook by telling him he thinks that his act of throwing the man out the window was one of self-preservation, not self-defense.

Mac is at his most insufferable when he gets on his high horse. Oh, sure, he's always justified, but he's so full of himself and his self-righteous anger that it's hard to sympathize with him even though it's a safe bet that his anger is justified. While Sinclair's politicking wasn't exactly sympathetic either, Sinclair did come across as much more rational than Mac's insistence that Dunbrook was guilty, guilty, guilty. A proverbial Ahab hunting his newest White Whale, Mac's fixation on Dunbrook quickly became tiring. Seeing this side of Mac is only interesting when it's being explored in a way that reveals that it's as much of a weakness as it is a strength, as it was in "...Comes Around". We're clearly supposed to sympathize with Mac here, but when he was sparring with Dunbrook, his fervor left me cold. Dunbrook is little more than a cartoon villain at this point, neither particularly creative nor compelling. CSI: NY has offered up far more interesting adversaries than the rather stock Dunbrook.

The rest of the characters are reduced to mere cogs in the wheel in this episode, following the winding trail of evidence and reminding the audience of the complicated backstory behind the case. There's nary a biting quip from Flack to be found, and Adam isn't on hand to provide some charming nervous befuddlement. Sid is all business, and even Danny manages to shut up about the baby--by now I was sure he'd be ditching work to paint the walls of the baby's room Pepto-Bismol pink. There's not a bit of humor in this episode, unless you count Hawkes and Stella's exchange about one man's trash being another woman's evidence. Humor is something CSI: NY does well, particularly when it comes from Flack, Adam or Sid. It's noticeably lacking in this installment.

There's simply not much to be excited about here. The arc doesn't affect any of the characters personally--unless you count Mac's Ahab-like quest to bring Dunbrook down and make sure he doesn't get his twenty-million's worth out of the NYPD--and it's mired in political games that aren't particularly compelling. I can't say I'm overly excited about the other major arc this season, the Greek coin smuggling, but at least it allowed Stella and Angell to team up in a creative quest to take down the men trying to get their hands on the ancient coins. At the end of the day, smaller, more personal arcs like Flack's interactions with his wayward sister or the way Danny's struggles with the death of a child in his care last season are simply more compelling.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.