Monday, July 21, 2008

Law & Order Criminal Intent “Vanishing Act”: Magically Delicious

The Law & Order Criminal Intent episode “Vanishing Act” which aired last night was quirky and funny, slightly reminiscent of the occasional humorous X-Files episodes. I almost expected the X-Files “Stupendous Yappi” to appear.

It opens with two very different magic acts, one by the popular Criss Angel-type magician Miles Stone, and the other with the has-been The Great Carmine (Christopher Lloyd). Stone is doing a stunt where he is buried for over 30 days. Carmine is doing a trick using a “blade box” where a woman hides in a box and appearances are she’s being skewered with swords. The problem is, both stunts go awry when Stone appears to become ill in the underground casket, and when the casket’s opened, Stone is not in there. Simultaneously, Carmine opens his own magic box to find Miles Stone in there, skewered with Carmine’s swords.

This episode was highly entertaining as Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) gets an opportunity to impress Eames (Kathryn Erbe) with his own repertoire of magic tricks, purposefully giving away some of the secrets of the trick, which real magicians agree never to do. Goren and Eames question Carmine, and find that his original assistant disappeared from the job for a vacation, and her replacement also seems to have vanished after Stone’s body is found. They have to bring in Carmine and hold him. But Goren not willing to break the magicians code with Capt. Ross (Eric Bogosian), and he teases him in this humorous exchange:

Ross: You have a theory, detective?
Goren: Well, I’d tell ya but…you know (shrugs)…
Ross: “The Code.”

They find it’s hard to hold a magician in police custody, when Carmine distracts a cop and manages to get the key to the cell, and he escapes. But they soon catch up with him when Goren finds him hiding in a “doll house illusion”, a trick that Goren always wanted. When Carmine tells him his assistant also worked for Dean Holiday, they question Holiday (James Frain), who, along with Stone, was trained by The Great Carmine. Holiday’s big help seems to be his advice that there is always a trick, which bring Goren and Eames back to the casket in which Stone was buried. It appears to be sealed using electromagnetism, and when disabled, the box opens. But Stone needed a tunnel in which to escape, and returning to the crime scene, they find one, which leads to a room where a duplicate casket is being held, complete with video feed, and later they find an escape route.

Jacob (Will Janowitz), who was in charge of Stone’s act, is talking with Theresa (Kristen Connolly), the apparent real name of Carmine’s mystery assistant. He’s worried that she’s leaked the secret but insists she hadn’t. When Goren and Eames later question Jacob at the secret location where Stone really was performing his trick, he denies knowing Carmine’s mystery woman. Eames, tired of their suspects and their vanishing acts, arrests Jacob for lying to the police. But, for Stone to survive, someone who knew what they were doing had to insert the central line used to deliver Stone’s IV, which was tainted with a potassium chloride, likely killing Stone. Goren and Eames find that it’s none other than their mystery woman, Theresa, who did it. But questioning her doesn’t turn up much, and she asks for a lawyer. The detectives hunt down the woman she replaced, Mercedes, who was out of the country on a cruise she won in a contest. They find this suspicious, and they return to Holiday, where Mercedes had also worked, and tell him Mercedes didn’t win a cruise, but someone wired the money from Atlantic City (where Holiday had his show) to pay for her ticket. During questioning, they become more and more suspicious of Holiday.

Returning to One PP, with Theresa’s lawyer present, she comes to the realization that she had been duped into leaking the details of the Stone’s burial trick to Holiday, who had tempted her with talk of making Jacob a star. Using that same enticement, he also got Theresa to work, without Jacob’s knowledge, for a few days for Carmine. She denies having any involvement with injecting potassium chloride, but does tell the detectives she has a relationship with Jacob, when Jacob had previously denied knowing her. While questioning Jacob, he’s feeling betrayed by Theresa, and when they confront each other in the hall, he’s clearly upset. But while Goren thinks they were involved in Stone’s death, he thinks they were unwitting accomplices.

Goren has discovered, comparing the video from the video feeds used for Stone’s burial trick, that Stone was actually dead long before the trick showed him in distress. Returning to Holiday’s show stage, Goren tricks Holiday. He uses Holiday’s massive ego against him, by attributing the whole Stone trick to others. This causes Holiday to eventually confess, his own desire for credit for the trick with Stone’s death taking over his common sense.

This was a great case, not being overly complicated by too many characters. While the outcome was somewhat obvious, it was a highly entertaining trip to get to the end, with Vincent D’Onofrio portraying the fun side of Goren, who seemed gleeful at tipping off the secrets of the magic. It seemed to be the perfect episode to further diffuse the tension between Goren and Eames, a matter that Holiday tried to bring back up to the surface but Eames wasn’t playing his game.

It’s very rare, especially as of late, for Criminal Intent to be a little on the light side. The past season the show seemed to have been spiraling down further into the troubled psyche of Robert Goren. While I would never want a show like Criminal Intent to become a silly crime comedy like “Monk,” an occasional break from the depressive timbre of the show can’t hurt. Even Capt. Ross seemed to loosen up a bit, something they should do more often. This episode also seemed to put Goren and Eames back on track as partners, with Goren having some fun and Eames looking like she’s glad about it. And frankly, seeing Goren actually enjoying working a case was just – magical.

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Music Wench said...

Agreed! I really enjoyed this episode and was relieved to have some fun with Goren and Eames for a change.

Nice to see them smiling so much and every once in a while it would be nice to have this. I'm just glad we had this respite because from what I've been hearing, the season finale is going to be intense.

Christina said...

D'Onofrio always loved magic tricks when he was growing up, I have read. He has been quoted to say that 'if he hadn't been an actor, he would have liked to have been a magician'.

jhjenn said...

Fun episode. I really enjoyed. It was nice to see James Frain; only after seeing him on The Tutors did I start to find him interesting. It was also great seeing Christopher Lloyd. And of course, the child like Goren.

More more.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a nice episode myself as a subdued Goren tries to reach out almost childishly for his "Mama's" approval(aka Eames)

I thought it was a clever touch to have the blonde policewoman in some of the scenes between Goren and Eames when Goren is demonstraying some of the tricks, and having the policewoman start laughing appreciatively at his antics allowing Eames to soften up and smile also!

Judy "the foodie" said...

Fabulous re-cap. The show was highly entertaining as you said and I too appreciated how Eames was impressed with Goren's magic tricks.

I feel the need to gossip about Capt. Ross. Is he playing the field within the department? I love how some shows have been hinting to that end. Couldn't help but wonder what the note was that one of the gals in Major Case slipped him.

Anonymous said...

Yes, something does seem to be going on with him. I just hope he doesn't get caught "cheating" on ME Rogers. She could do some serious damage to him..and make it look like an accident!

Anonymous said...

Not only do Goren and Eames solve puzzles, they provide one, which is what makes this show worth rewatching, namely: just what is it that makes this team work?

"Vanishing Act" shows that Goren's hope that the sheer passage of time will eventually make things right again between himself and Eames may be a vain one. At the end of "Purgatory" she's barely speaking to him; at the start of "Betrayal" she'll speak to him, but without looking at him; at the beginning of "Vanishing Act" it initially appears the problem has been forgotten, but by the end we see that they have merely learned how to disguise it from themselves and others.

As the detectives wait for the magician Holiday to return to his dressing room, Goren amuses Eames with card tricks, just like in the good old days when she admired everything he did. Then Holiday decides to illustrate how "mind-reading" works. He draws Eames in, getting her to acknowledge by the slightest of movements that she agrees with each of his ever-more specific statements: "There are some unresolved issues ..." - she turns ever so slightly to face him - "with a man ... in your life..." - her head moves slightly forward - she's paying attention. "Some trust issues." She looks at him intently. "He's betrayed you, hasn't he" - her smile disappears. "He's kept a secret from you..." Goren, sitting next to her, glances up - nervously?, sees she's ignoring him, completely hooked, and he looks down again immediately at the pack of cards he's been fiddling with. Holiday is clearly delighted with his results - he's found a weakness in the team, and one that affects the self-confidence of his rival.

This is a beautiful job - neither says a word, neither moves more than an inch or so, and yet they reveal more than either of the characters has any intention of saying in words.

Then, in the final scene, the two put on a performance for Holiday: Goren shows off for Eames and she laughs delightedly as he demonstrates how the magician's props work. See, there are no weaknesses here to be exploited. They collaborate in a put-down of his performance - "you're phoning it in" - that could be a vaudeville routine it's so perfectly timed: they're back in sync. Eames wears a fixed, bright smile that doesn't waver even when the magician tries using the magic word "betrayal" against her - whatever the tensions between the two, they are going to present a united front to the world. As she says a bit later, "We learn our lessons, too." And like most of life's lessons, they're more sobering than exhilarating.