CSI: New York--'American Dreamers'

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at October 7, 2004 - 10:27 PM GMT

See Also: 'American Dreamers' Episode Guide


A double-decker bus cruises through Times Square. A young African-American woman tells her bored boyfriend she wants to get a picture of them in front of the MTV studios when the bus goes by. She decides to ask a man a few seats behind them, but when she approaches him, she's in for a shock. She lifts his baseball cap to discover a skeleton!

Stella and Mac board the tour bus to examine the remains. Stella cracks a joke: "How long was this tour?" She theorizes that someone probably just wanted to scare some tourists. But Mac points out that the skeleton was not a model. The bones are someone's remains.

Back in the morgue, Hawkes goes over the skeleton and notes that it was reassembled incorrectly. He finds some putty on the skeleton used to join the fingers and hands it to Mac. There's a print on it. Hawkes determines the skeleton is that of a white male under eighteen. A fracture on his skull indicates he was possibly a homicide victim. Stella says he's been dead at least three years, while Mac finds a black sooty substance on his bones.

Danny is certain the bizarre story will make the papers, but Aiden is more interested in getting her hands on the skull. Danny takes a look at the black substance and finds multiple layers, indicating the skeleton had been lying around for a while. Mac analyzes the substance and learns it's aeromatic hydrocarbon: engine exhaust. Danny notes the skeleton was in a high traffic area, while Mac says the victim must have been dead at least a decade, which puts his murder at somewhere between 1990-1993.

Though there are multiple matches on the putty, Mac and Stella zero in on the most likely suspect, Dylan, who makes a habit of hanging around the Port Authority bus terminal. When they find him, he’s chuckling over a newspaper story about the skeleton’s bus ride. Mac, Stella, and Flack corner him, but he insists he was just playing a prank, and had nothing to do with the victim’s death. And then he refuses to answer any more questions.

Mac roams around the outside of the bus station until he finds an entrance to the basement. There, he locates the rest of the skeleton. Stella follows him and assumes this is where the victim died. Mac finds a bed and suspects he lived there as well.

Stella and Mac go over the victim’s things. They find a backpack with the initials “A.M.” on it and a pocketknife in a shoe. Mac notices a pipe that may have been the murder weapon. Stella thinks their victim was a runaway. They also find a copy of the novel Bright Lights, Big City, which Stella notes is about a man who is almost consumed by New York City, but gets out before it’s too late. Mac has never read it.

Hawkes has the full skeleton; he determines the victim was 5’10” and once wore braces. Hawkes also notes that the victim had a broken leg that clearly didn’t receive medical treatment and healed on its own. The only potential fatal injury is the skull fracture.

Aiden finally gets her skull, and begins the facial reconstruction. First she draws what the victim might have looked like, and then with the use of clay and small spikes, reconstructs his face over the skull itself. Mac takes a look when she’s finished, clearly impressed with her work. However, the fingerprints found on the pipe from the basement weren’t in AFIS, nor was the DNA from the bones in the missing person’s database.

Mac is very surprised when a couple, the Morelands, turn up in CSI, under the assumption that the skeletal remains are those of their son, Aaron. They recognized the description of the knife and backpack from the paper as Aaron, and when Mac shows them some drawings from a sketchbook found among the things in the basement, Mrs. Moreland identifies the drawings as Aarons. Aaron left home in 1987, they tell Mac. But when Stella shows them Aiden’s picture of the victim, they say he’s not their son.

Danny has dug up over a hundred arrest records from suspects who were let off back in the early 90s, but Stella sends him back to the clothing to look for the more obvious clues. If he comes up empty on that, she tells him he can go back to the old arrest records. Mac tries to decode a piece of paper found in the pocket of the victim’s pants, but to no avail. And there are no matches for him in the missing person’s database.

Mac and Stella are led by one of the drawings to a homeless shelter above Port Authority. The man who runs it tells them he can’t remember whether he knew the runaway or not-so many come through. Another worker, Joel, eyes the officers as he complains about how they’re running low on food.

The Morelands have returned to CSI. They want to know how the victim got Aaron’s things. Mrs. Moreland says she needs to know what happened to Aaron, but Mr. Moreland realizes they’re not looking for him. Mac solemnly confirms it.

Aiden has sent out photos of the reconstruction to the media, hoping they can identify their victim. Mac finally decodes the paper which has a date and time on it. Danny has identified the logo on the shirt, which came from a designer on 7th Avenue. However, the shirt was never actually released to the public-it wad a prototype from 1988. Their victim worked as a rack runner for one of the stores, which hire street kids at low wages.

Mac identifies the piece of paper as a receipt from a pawn shop, but when he and Stella go to the shop, they’re told they’re literally too late by a matter of hours. Someone picked up the item, a watch, just hours before Mac and Stella showed up. There’s hope however: Mac spots a surveillance camera.

Danny, Mac and Stella go over the tapes from the camera. The man who claimed the watch wore a baseball cap and a hood, but Danny catches him strumming a guitar on his way out. They’ve got DNA evidence.

Mac swabs the strings and Dr. Giles gets hit from CODUS: Aaron Moreland. Aiden ages Aaron’s picture from 1987 to the present, and the face of Joel, the worker from the shelter, appears on the screen.

Joel/Aaron is brought in, and he admits he wasn’t prepared fro the city. He sold his personal things to get money for drugs to a kid he worked the racks with who always seemed to have money. But when Aaron brought the kid the ticket for his pawned watch the deal went sour, and he killed the kid over two dollars. Aaron says he cleaned himself up and made good by working in the shelter. Mac reminds him that his mother and father never stopped looking for him. Aaron doesn’t even know the name of the boy he killed. As his parents look on, devastated, Aaron is led away in handcuffs.

Mac is reading from Bright Lights, Big City even though, as Stella notes, he knows how it ends. Mac muses sadly that they’ll never know the victim’s name. Stella changes the subject, inviting Mac to go for a drink with her and several others. Mac initially declines, but then rethinks it and accepts.


The third episode of New York is neither as powerful as the first or as uneven as the second. It’s a solid hour of CSI, and it takes a preposterous situation and makes it believable, as well as managing to add a human element to it.

The Morelands, the sad couple searching for any news of their son, ground the episode. The twist-that Aaron turns out to be not the victim but the killer-is unexpected and poignant. His parents have their answer, but Aaron is still essentially lost to them. Their devastation is palpable, as is Mac’s sympathy for both them and the nameless victim. Mac seems painfully aware of how New York can consume a person, and perhaps can relate to being lost in the big city himself.

Stella appears determined not to let that happen. Her persistence in getting Mac to join her and the others for a drink comes across as friendly concern, and, thank goodness, Mac finally seems receptive to it. It’s a pity, however, that Stella can come across as unsympathetic so often. In this episode, she chides Danny for thinking outside the box, and even though she’s ultimately right in telling him what to focus on, her condescending attitude still grates. Stella’s only bit of warmth is directed towards Mac: not the victims (like the girl in “Creatures of the Night”) or the survivors (like the Morelands). Nothing requires her to be especially kind, but if she’s a cold person, how does one explain the almost overabundance of warmth towards Mac? I’d like to see more consistency with, not to mention depth from, her character.

I wish Mac would cheer up a tad, too. The tone was just right in the first episode, but Mac needs to come into his own. Right now, the supporting characters: Danny, Aiden, and Don Flack, have more energy and verve than their superiors, and unfortunately they get a lot less screen time. Aiden’s eagerness to get her hands on that skull and Danny’s clever idea to go back to unsolved cases from that time period were far more engaging than their superior’s glum by-the-book investigations. Please, make this pair more interesting! They’re played by talented and credible actors, but they need more to work with. In the meantime, give Aiden, Danny and Don Flack more to do. And give us some inkling as to why Sheldon Hawkes sleeps in the morgue.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Kristine Huntley is a freelance reviewer and writer.