CSI: New York--'ReCycling'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at January 13, 2005 - 8:20 PM GMT

See Also: 'Recycling' Episode Guide

Synopsis:

A bike messenger careens through the streets of New York, but his journey ends not with a delivery but when he crashes into a newsstand. When Stella and Danny arrive at the scene, Detective Thacker tells them the messenger, Michael Starling, was dead when the officers arrived. Stella notices both the fatal stab wound in his pelvis area and a high tech heart monitor. Danny finds his delivery manifest and goes to the messenger station where he questions the dispatcher. The man can't tell him much; he's more concerned about finding a replacement for Michael.

Across town, Detective Flack shows Mac and Aiden the body of Elaine Curtis, a dog handler for a prominent dog show. She was stabbed through the back with a knitting needle. Ross Howell, the on-site vet whose station is nearby, found her, but he tells the CSIs he didn't hear anything. After being pulled aside by an irritated owner, Howell complains that the dogs at the show are each on nine to ten different kinds of medication. Mac begins to go through Elaine's grooming kit. Aiden brings him a purse with a knitting needle that matches the one that killed Elaine. The purse belongs to Millie Hanford, but she seems surprised to discover her knitting needle was the murder weapon.

In the morgue, Dr. Hawkes pulls part of the murder weapon--half of a set of scissors from a pocket knife--out of Michael Starling and hands it to Stella. He theorizes that adrenaline kept Michael going for a while before he plowed into the stand and died from his wound.

At the dog show, Millie tells Mac that Elaine was not well-liked--Millie and others thought she was too 'showy' and that all the focus at the show should be on the dogs. Millie tells Mac that animal people are harmless--no one at the show would have hurt another person, she claims. Aiden notices paw prints leading away from Elaine's body. Elaine's own dog stayed with her after she died and was found by her, so another dog must have been present.

In the lab, Stella examines the pedals on Michael's bike and finds blood on the left one. Danny gets a granular substance off the tire. Stella finds two gray wool fibers on Michael's jacket and decides to take the blood to DNA analysis. Danny notices red paint on Michael's jacket and thinks he can trace the bike messenger's path using the heart monitor.

Dr. Hawkes confirms that Elaine died from the stab wound: it ruptured her aorta. He finds skin under her nails but no defensive wounds. He finds foreign hairs under her clothes and a small piece of latex in her mouth. But it's a bite mark on her leg that draws Mac's attention: the teeth marks are from a human, not a dog. Mac and Aiden head back to the dog show to figure out which dog was with Elaine when she died. After careful examination of all of the dogs, Mac zeroes in on one who has blood in his paws. The owner admits he was involved with Elaine and that they had to keep it quiet because they worked for rival owners. He and Elaine play-acted during sex and he was pretending to be a dog when he bit her.

Danny and Stella trace Michael's path and based on blood spatter on the street, determine exactly where he was stabbed. While a newsstand owner grumbles, they put up crime tape and begin searching the scene. Stella discovers a pocket knife in the gutter; back at the lab, Danny matches it up with the piece found in Michael and confirms that it was the murder weapon. DNA has a hit on the blood: Brett Stokes, a female bike messenger.

Aiden tells Mac that Elaine had two different kinds of anti-depressants in her system: one that she had a prescription for, and one that she didn't. Mac theorizes that the two combined could have caused a bad reaction in Elaine, making her nauseous and disoriented and causing her to fall on the knitting needle. Mac suspects she may have been poisoned.

Brett seems disappointed that Stella and not Danny has come to question her and she immediately suspects Stella will try to befriend her. Stella immediately dispels that notion and asks how Brett's blood got on Michael's bike. Brett complains that he slashed her tires after the dispatcher gave her Michael's route the week before. But she says her blood got on his pedal in an innocent way: they raced through the streets of Manhattan. Brett won when a cab door opened in Michael's path and that was the last time she saw him.

Jane Parsons has DNA results for Mac from under Elaine's fingernails: the skin belonged to Ross Howell. When Flack and Mac bring Howell in for questioning, they make note of his gambling history. He admits he was gambling on the results of the show and that he tried to get Elaine to help him throw the show, but she wouldn't play ball. When he grabbed her arm, she scratched him. He admits he wasn't in the vet station when Elaine died; he pretended he didn't hear her so that no one would know he had been absent from his station.

Stella and Danny trace DNA on the pocket knife to a convicted child molester named Theodore Gates. They find Gates in a cafe with a child, whom Stella promptly sends back to her mother. Danny immediately takes a hostile tone with the pedophile, asking him about the knife and where he was at the time of the murder. Gates claims he lost the knife and has an alibi for the time of the murder: he was at a model airplane convention and produces a receipt from a store there to corroborate his story.

Mac and Aiden use Elaine's stomach contents to determine that the medication must have gotten into her system in liquid form. They find a baby bottle she used to give the dog she showed water and determine that someone put the medication in the bottle. Elaine, who would have sucked on the bottle to get it ready for the dog, must have ingested the medicine that way. A dog hair stuck in the bottle cap gives Mac a major clue.

Danny is going over beauty magazines looking for lotion he found on the knife. The lotion is only available in magazine samples--it hasn't yet made it to the market. Danny and Stella head back to the man who runs the newsstand where Michael was killed. As they arrest him, Danny notices his wool gloves. Stella asks why the vendor did it, and he rails against bike messengers. Stella rolls her eyes, even as she curses a bike messenger who cuts her off as she tries to cross the street.

Mac brings Millie Hansen in; her dog's hair was found in the bottle top of Elaine's bottle. She admits she put some anti-depressants in Elaine's dog's bottle to slow her down. She protests that it wasn't her intention to kill Elaine. Their cases wrapped up, Mac asks Stella when the last time was that they had a sit down dinner. Stella warms to the idea, but it surprised when Mac takes her to the dog show. Mac is in his element and suggests he and Stella bet on the dogs. When Stella's choice wins and she makes him pay up, he balks.

Analysis:

Whoever finally took the initiative to lighten CSI: New York up deserves a big pat on the back. Not only does "ReCycling" feature two engaging mysteries, but it shows us something that's been mostly missing from the show up until this point: genuine chemistry between the characters. I actually got the feeling in this episode that these people enjoy working together and actually like each other. I know that's not necessary in real jobs, but on television it sure helps the audience get to know and like the characters.

Both cases were particularly enjoyable this week, perhaps because they both featured so many twists and turns. Bike messengers, a regular feature of big cities like New York and Chicago, where they are almost as hated as cab drivers. Travis Hugh Culley wrote about the job in his memoir The Immortal Class for those interested in reading about the fast-paced job. This particular case, with the CSIs chasing down a number of suspects who might have had reason to kill the messenger, had a distinct big city feel to it. Even if bike messengers aren't exclusive to New York City, the case did a good job of utilizing the cityscape.

Stella and Danny worked well together in this episode; prior to this, I'd almost gotten a hostile undercurrent from this pair. He made snarky comments about her lack of a social life ("Creatures of the Night") and she condescended to him whenever he tried approaching a case from any route other than the most direct one ("American Dreamers"). But in this episode, they joke easily and even tease each other, like when she comes across him reading the beauty magazine and asks, "If you wanted beauty tips, all you had to do was ask." Both of these characters sometimes come off as a bit prickly, so it was nice to see them a little more relaxed with each other.

One instance where it was nice to see Danny's prickly side was in the scene with the child molester. Maybe it's his thick New York accent, but Carmine Giovinazzo is just so good at delivering the barbed one-liners. His comment to Gates: "What's the matter? Am I too old for you?" wasn't perhaps completely professional, but given that he and Stella discovered the man tracing designs in sugar with a young boy, it was certainly warranted. Brad Greenquist was ultra-creepy as Gates; everything from the look of concentration on his face when the child was with him, his low, monotone voice and the way he eyed Danny was pitch-perfect and completely sinister.

The dog show provided plenty more terrific guest cast performances. The guest cast this week was uniformly good: we got plenty of quirky and odd characters, and the actors playing them hit all the right notes. Zach Grenier was delightfully glib as the disillusioned vet, while Julia Duffy's reactions, from her snobby comments about Elaine to her flustered reply that it wasn't her intention to kill Elaine at the end, were dead on. All of the actors playing dog owners did a good job of getting across the fussy, obsessive nature of their characters.

The scenes at the dog show were priceless as well. Mac visibly loosened up and livened up, especially in the scene where he and Aiden examined the dogs to determine which one of them found Elaine after she died. Aiden's reactions are just the opposite: she's clearly no dog lover, and Vanessa Ferlito conveys Aiden's discomfort and revulsion in her facial expressions. Those who want more than a peek into the world of dog shows should take a look at the mockumentary movie Best in Show. It's likely the New York writers took a few notes from this film when creating the characters in "ReCycling."

They certainly saved the best for last in this episode: Mac suggest to Stella that they grab a bite to eat. She probably had something in mind other than a dog show, but the scene provided for New York's lightest moment and the first actual chemistry I've seen between Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes. In this scene, they had a light, easy interaction and I actually saw evidence (to throw out CSI's favorite word!) of their friendship. It was a perfect way to end the episode.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.