CSI: New York--'Yahrzeit'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 30, 2009 - 8:22 AM GMT

See Also: 'Yahrzeit' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A bleeding man stumbles into the middle of a Felix Marshall auction and collapses to the floor, dead. When the team arrives, Flack tells them the man is Xander Green, an appraiser for the auction house. Mac picks up the man's phone and notices an active call still in progress. There's no one on the line, but he notices it began 48 minutes ago... approximately eight minutes before Green staggered into the auction. Stella and Danny follow the blood trail from the victim back to his office. Danny finds blood splatter, and Stella surmises that the office is the primary crime scene. In the morgue, Sid shows Mac eight dots on the victim's shoulder, unsure of what the pattern signifies. Sid also shows Mac that Green was stabbed and shot. At the lab, Danny notices Hawkes is upset after receiving a phone call. Hawkes tells Danny that his Uncle Frank had a heart attack and died suddenly, and Danny immediately volunteers to cover for his friend. Adam tells Mac that the bullet that killed Green came from a German Lugar and was made of steel, indicating it was an older weapon from the 1940s. Danny learns that the call Green placed went to voicemail, and he's able to obtain a recording, which reveals that Green argued with someone just before he was shot. Danny surprises Mac with the identity of the person who received the call: Michael Elgers, the Neo-Nazi Flack questioned in connection to a bombing in "Green Piece". Recalling the dots on Green's arm, Mac wonders if he, too, was a Neo-Nazi. Danny is on his way to question Elgers when he runs into Hawkes, whose plane is delayed. Despite Danny's reluctance, Hawkes insists on accompanying Danny. When they find Elgers at his shop, he's hostile and argumentative, going so far as to spit at Hawkes, causing Danny to throw him down and slam his head into the ground repeatedly.

When Elgers is brought in, he demands a lawyer, claiming he's a victim of police brutality. Watching from behind the glass, Hawkes admonishes Danny for attacking Elgers, claiming the CSI gave him what he was looking for. Hawkes leaves to catch his plane just as Mac comes in to interrogate Elgers. After exchanging a few heated words with the CSI team leader, Elgers admits he and Green were friends, and that he didn't pick up Green's third call to him because Green would accidentally "ass dial" him with his cell phone. He recalls from the previous two calls that Green was angry with someone named Abraham. This leads Mac to Abraham Klein, who was at the auction house just before Green's murder. Abraham tells Mac that he fought with Green when the man wanted to appraise a piece Abraham was selling at a price higher than what it was worth. Abraham was selling a piece of his dead wife's jewelry so that his son, David, would have money when the watch-making business stopped being profitable. Mac notices a tattoo on the man's arm and Abraham tells him that he was at Auschwitz and has shunned religion ever since. Back at the lab, Adam shows Mac a weapon the Nazis used combining a short bayonet and a pistol. During the demonstration, Mac gets a call that someone broke into Green's apartment. When he and Adam meet Flack there, they discover a hidden room behind a bookshelf filled with items from the Holocaust, including a diary belonging to a woman named Esther Schnitzler. When the print on the door handle matches Elgers, the three go to arrest him. As Flack leads the struggling Neo-Nazi away, Adam shows Mac a similar room above Elgers' shop--complete with a large collection of weapons. It appears Elgers is indeed the killer.

Unsettled, Mac pays a visit to Ben Lesnick, a representative of Israel who keeps testimonials from Holocaust survivors. After telling the man about Esther Schnitzler, Mac mentions that his father helped to liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp. Lesnick pulls up video testimonial from Hannah Schnitzler, Esther's cousin. In the testimonial, Hannah shares that Esther had arranged for a young man named Klaus Braun to help her and her family escape in exchange for a valuable family brooch. But Klaus betrayed them--he turned out to be a member of the Youth for Hitler group, and he drove Esther and her family to Auschwitz instead of safety, where they were executed. Disturbed, Mac asks for a copy of the testimonial. Back at the lab, Danny tells Mac he's been given a two-week suspension without pay for his altercation with Elgers. Stella pulls Mac aside--Adam wasn't able to connect any of Elgers' weapons to Green's wound, and Elgers' alibi for the murder checks out. When Mac notices a picture of one of the models wearing Esther's brooch his suspicions lean elsewhere. He ages Klaus Braun's photo and is surprised to discover Abraham Klein's face looking back at him! Mac brings Abraham in: the man has been posing as a Jew for years to hide from his past. He killed Green when the man recognized the brooch from Esther's journal and, realizing who Abraham was, tried to blackmail him. Abraham refuses to admit his true identity until Lesnick, from behind the glass, IDs him as Klaus and then the facade falls and Klaus says in German, "We should have killed them all." After Klaus is taken away, Mac receives an e-mail from Lesnick with a testimonial from a man who was saved by Mac's father. Mac returns the brooch to Esther's cousin, Hannah, who lights a candle for Esther...and Mac's father, McCanna Boyd Taylor.

Analysis:

A departure from the average CSI: NY episode, "Yahrzeit" is a powerful, sobering look at the long-reaching effects of racism and prejudice, both in the past and the present. The Holocaust may have happened over sixty years ago, but "Yahrzeit" illustrates how it is still very much alive, in vastly different ways, for both victims of the genocide and people like Elgers and Green who idolize and imitate its perpetrators. It's risky subject matter since it's both sensitive and oft-covered ground, but writers Peter Lenkov and Barbie Kligman pull it off with a strong script and a surprising twist with initially sympathetic Abraham turning out to be a very, very evil man--the very opposite of what he first appears. It's a brutal slap in the face that Klaus Braun has spent sixty years hiding in plain sight by pretending to be one of the very people he persecuted and murdered.

As Abraham/Klaus, Ed Asner turns in a powerful performance, segueing with chilling ease between the adamant Abraham to the decidedly evil Klaus, who goes from proclaiming he's a Jew who was at Auschwitz to stating in German that "we should have killed them all." Klaus clings to his insistence that he's Abraham Klein longer than would be expected in the interrogation, to the point that it's obvious that he's been wearing the "disguise" for so long that it truly has become a second skin to him. But clearly not in any way that has caused him to regret his part in the Holocaust; once the mask finally slips away, all that is revealed beneath it is ugly racism and cruelty. One can only imagine how horrified Klaus must have been when his son David embraced the Jewish faith, assuming that it was his heritage. It's poetic justice that David turns away from Klaus in the end, choosing his faith over the father he's just discovered was a Nazi.

Mac is once again spewing plenty of indignation, but at least this time around we can see concrete evidence that it's justified. Klaus and Elgers are certainly worthy targets of Mac's disdain and anger. Interestingly, the episode shifts a little past the halfway mark, once Elgers is apprehended and presumed guilty. It slows down a bit to allow Mac to visit Ben Lesnick and view Hannah's testimonial, taking what seems like far more time than would usually be allotted in a CSI show episode for visit to the past. Of course, the information proves to be crucial when it turns out that Abraham is Klaus and that it was he who took Esther's brooch and delivered her and her family to their murderers at Auschwitz. Wisely, the flashback scene and Hannah's testimonial aren't rushed--the audience is allowed to take in the tragedy, and sees in detail the coldly gut-wrenching scene in which Esther, her husband and two young children are shot in the head one by one.

The story proves to have a personal connection for Mac, as his father was part of the unit that freed the victims at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Lesnick sends Mac a testimonial from a man who was saved by his father. Veteran actor Shelley Berman, who regularly wins laughs as Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm, turns serious here to give somber insight into his character, a man who has never forgotten the man who carried him from the camp and gave him food over sixty years ago. At the end of the episode, Mac joins Hannah Schnitzler in lighting a candle in celebration of their dead relatives--a Yahrzeit. Mac doesn't often get personal with people, but his visits to both Lesnick and Hannah are clearly more of a personal than professional nature. Opening the stoic CSI up a bit is always a good thing, and Gary Sinise rises to the occasion.

After making a chilling impression in "Green Piece," Matt McTighe reprises his role as the sadistic Elgers, who turns his provocative rhetoric on Danny, Hawkes and Mac. Whereas Flack was floored by Elgers' attitude to the point that he was at a loss for a trademark snarky comeback, Elgers is able to play Danny like a marionette, goading the CSI into attacking him by insulting Hawkes and then spitting in his direction. Hawkes keeps his cool, guided by the example of his Uncle Frank, but when has Danny ever been able to keep his cool in a stressful situation? Not only does Danny pounce on Elgers, but he repeatedly slams the man's head into the concrete floor. Both Flack and Mac go to bat for Danny, the former telling Elgers he heard Elgers resisted arrest--a boldface lie at worst, gross exaggeration at best, but when has Flack ever hesitated when coming to Danny's rescue?--while the latter works out a truce with Elgers: information and backing off Danny in exchange for not writing Elgers up for a parole violation.

It is Hawkes who comes down hardest on Danny, telling Danny that he simply gave Elgers what he was looking for. Hawkes, grieving for his beloved uncle, who is able to rise above the ugliness Elgers perpetrates. As Hawkes tells Danny when he insists on joining him to question Elgers, the Neo-Nazi's racism is "his problem, not mine." Later when they watch Elgers in the interrogation room, Hawkes tells Danny he feels like the incident was his Uncle Frank "testing" him and reveals to Danny that Frank was in Memphis as a child on the day Martin Luther King was assassinated. It's an interestingly spiritual observation coming from someone who for the most part has been presented as a man of science, but Hill Harper's impassioned delivery sells the scene.

After seeing Danny's rather brutal attack on Elgers, I really have to wonder, "Is Danny ever going to grow up?" I love Danny's hotheaded tendencies as much as the next person, and in general think that passion makes him interesting to watch, but lately he's just been reckless and irresponsible. First he participates in the blue flu walkout in "The Party's Over" while his teammates--including his pregnant girlfriend--go to work. Then he forgets his bulletproof vest and recklessly chases a suspect without it into a warehouse, where he gets into a shootout in "Point of No Return". And now he's brutally slamming a suspect's head into the ground, risking not just his job, but a lawsuit that could impoverish him--again, with a child on the way! What Elgers said to Hawkes was disgusting, but Danny's hotheaded response was an overreaction. What if he had killed Elgers? How would he have been any different from the people he arrests every week? Danny's recklessness has been building all year, and with the end of the season rapidly approaching, I can't help but wonder if he's headed for a big fall.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.