Monday, June 1, 2009

Law & Order Criminal Intent “Astoria Helen” Recap & Review

All Photos from the USA Network

Sunday’s new installment of Law & Order CI “Astoria Helen” was an interesting episode that seemed to solidify the Nichols/Wheeler partnership. Both seem to be listening more to each other, and Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) may find himself more attentive to Wheeler’s (Julianne Nicholson) gut feelings about a case in the future, as in this one they turned out to be right. This may have been Goldblum’s best outing with the show so far, as he seems to be getting very comfortable in Nichols' "skin" and in his head. I was amused at Nichols' commentary on one of the suspect’s photo, at the same time Nichols striking the same pose, likely unconsciously.

There were some flaws with the story and the episode itself. First of all, I wondered why dental records were not first checked for the body when Joe Gallagher tried to fake his death. Since the body had been burned beyond recognition, wouldn’t dental records be checked just to verify the identity? I would think that would – or should – be standard procedure. The fact that Frank had a cabin upstate should have also been determined earlier. Once they knew that Frank was on the run, I think I would have checked to see if he had any other property in his name – or his father’s name – elsewhere where he could be hiding. I suppose if the cabin was some sort of “off the books” purchase maybe it would not be easy to find, but I suspect in this day and age it is hard to own property without someone, especially the local government, not knowing about it.

The other thing that was somewhat bothersome to me was uneven scene transitioning. It seems that we would see Nichols suddenly appear in the park – or at a storefront – when he and Wheeler may have just been together at Major Case. It made things seem disjointed. Compounding this was quite a few names of people involved in the crime, and I found myself getting a little confused as to who was who.

Despite the fact that the episode was somewhat predictable, it was highly enjoyable watching Nichols and Wheeler work through the case. Their skills seem to complement each other, despite the fact that Nichols is very cerebral and Wheeler seems more down to earth. It’s a good pairing and I think it will develop into an excellent partnership over time.

Here is the recap:

The episode opens with a woman in a bar, the bartener buying her a drink and asking her to call him. She does, and they seem to strike up a relationship over time, with the bartender bonding not only with her, but her 7-year-old son. He appears to be using this as a chance to gain access to the woman’s computer, where he seems to be writing down information from a list.

We then see, in another location, an armored truck arrive, and three men also exit a white van, their heads covered with hosiery, and they rob the armored truck.

Six months later, we see a man opening a storage area and unlocking and opening the back of a white van, which explodes, killing him.

Later, with detectives Zach Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) and Megan Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson) on the scene, they find that the storage area was likely rented by a person with an assumed name. Nichols notices that the victim opened the storage locker and the van with keys, so the person did not break in. A material is found on the scene that is used to protect material that requires heavy protection. Nichols sees a bag with the logo “DBC” on it in the van. The man in the explosion had an ID of Alex Carlyle on him.

In the lab, Nichols and a lab technician (Mia Barron) look at a Velcro strip that was hanging off the ballistic material from the blown up van, magnified 35 times. It was tagged with nanofibers so it could be identified if the bags were stolen. The lab tech and Nichols seem to be flirting a bit. Captain Ross (Eric Bogosian) walks in and breaks it up, and the lab tech tell them that the fabric was from bags used by DBC Security Networks, and Nichols adds that one of its armored trucks was robbed 6 months ago by a three man team. Ross suspects that one of them was their victim, Carlyle, who has a juvenile arrest record for check kiting and ticket scalping. Nichols thinks it is a big leap to armed robbery, and Ross thinks it’s because he grew up. He tells Nichols to pull the files on the armored truck robbery. Nichols gets in one last flirt, which brings a smile to the lab tech’s face.

Back at their desks at Major Case, Nichols reads the file on the armored truck robbery. Witnesses described a white Econoline van, and three men, one in a red leather jacket. Ross points to a picture of Carlyle, which means one is dead and they have to look for the other two, and either they split the money…. Nichols jumps in and says or it could be that one of them has it and he is hoping to get rid of the third guy, which means whoever didn’t set this bomb may think he’s next. Ross says to Wheeler, “See what I mean? He insists on finishing my sentences.“ Wheeler nods and smiles. She adds that the armored trucks were filling ATM machines, and the bills were new and sequentially numbered. The truck was hit before the first ATM stop of the day. Nichols says this is when they would have the most cash, and suspects and inside job. Ross says that was the thinking at the time. The guys working the case said there were two likely suspects, one was Leo Cipriotti, one of the guards in the armored truck. Cipriotti “raised a stink” about PTSD and is retired on full disability. Nichols comments about Cipriotti’s picture, saying what a “mook” and notices how Cipriotti leaned his head back, creating a distance, trying to give the look of superiority. Nichols also has his head in the same pose. Ross says the second suspect is Helen Bramer, DBC office employee, delivery schedule coordinator. The detectives who worked the case said they had a feeling about her, she was having financial problems and they say on her for a few months and got nothing. Ross says she is still at DBC.

They head over to DBC and talk with Helen Bramer (Arija Bareikis) who insists she already told the original detectives everything she knew. She said she told no one about the armored car routes. She tells them that they should talk to Leo Cipriotti. She said Leo was always asking for information about her love life, her kid, and then he would ask about work. She admits that she just had a couple of dates with him despite the fact it is against the rules, and says she can’t lose this job.

Nichols and Wheeler catch up with Cipriotti, who is shooting hoops by himself. He spots them as cops right away, Nichols saying it is because of the shoes. He says that Helen was the weak link, that there isn’t much she would do to get attention. He went out with her a few times but doesn’t like women who expect him to “daddy up” for their kid.

Back at Major Case, Wheeler thinks Nichols is right about Helen Bramer, she is afraid. She said Helen seems tired and beat up. Nichols begins to psychoanalyze Helen, saying she always picks the wrong guy; probably she was insufficiently praised as a child and says this gives attachment problems. Wheeler asks Nichols “Were you insufficiently praised as a child?” Nichols responds, ‘Me? No. They praised me all the time, which, uh, backfired and made me think too much of myself.” Wheeler says, ‘You over that?” and Nichols says, “I’m working on it.” Ross enters and tells them the lab lifted two partial prints off the van but there are no hits. They did manage to get a VIN number and found the van had been reported stolen 6 months ago, from Frank Stroop.

The detectives head to over to talk to Frank Stroop (Domenick Lombardozzi). He has a new van with elaborate graphics painted on it. He says his new van is more than a business. He said losing the old van was a good thing for him. They tell him he other van was found but not to worry, no one will make him take it back, Nichols adding that it is “kind of out of commission anyway.” Frank says he was in Florida in early June fishing like always. Nichols notices the elaborate painting of a older man with Frank on one side of the van. Frank says the man is his father. Nichols verifies that Frank’s van was stolen while he was in Florida, and Wheeler asks if anyone knew he was gone. Frank says it’s not like he keeps his movements secret, and then asks Nichols not to lean on his van.

Later, Wheeler catches up with Nichols in the park, who is watching a bunch of guys playing a board game. He tells Wheeler that they got information on Frank Stroop and his Florida alibi checked out. Wheeler says they got a hit on the prints on the van for a Joe Gallagher, but he died in a fire in June 4.

Back at Major Case, Nichols adds Joe Gallagher’s (Creighton James) picture to the board, (and it’s the man who was seeing Helen and her son). He died in a fire two days after the armored truck robbery. They now believe suspect #1 is Alex Carlisle, and # 2 is Joe Gallagher. They think the third man got rid of both of them, but the money is too hot to spend. Nichols says they will need a court order to disinter Gallagher’s body.

At the morgue, ME Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix) has the exhumed body, and drops the bomb on them that the body is not Joe Gallagher. Dental records show the body is Richard Greenwood, a veteran who was in and out of shelters. It appears Gallagher used this body to make it appear he was dead.

Nichols and Wheeler head to the bar where Gallagher worked, and when questioning a woman there, find that Gallagher was quite the ladies man and liked to hear about his good looks. Nichols suspects that Gallagher needs to impress women, and everyone else, making him an easy mark and recruit for the third man.

In a run down room, Joe Gallagher reads a newspaper headline about the van explosion being linked to the armored car robbery. He is on the phone telling someone he is alive and asking if he is surprised. He said it wasn’t him who died in the fire and figured the person on the other end of the call would get him the first chance he had. He says he wants his share. He knows what happened to Alex and is taking measures. He says if the other guy runs, he will talk to the cops before he leaves Jersey. He makes another phone call, and Helen's phone rings. Kevin moves to answer it, but she tells him not to, it is probably another wrong number. She lets the phone ring, and Joe hangs up on the other end.

Back at Major Case, they discuss that Gallagher set up the fire to fake his death. Ross says he put the story out to the press and he wants to see if this will flush anyone out. He thinks all the guys are local. Nichols gets a call telling him that Frank Stroop has been shot. Nichols and Wheeler go to the hospital, and Stroop says someone tried to shoot him in the head, and he took the gun off the guy and shot back in self-defense. He described a skinny guy, not real tall, it could have been a kid. He had a jean jacket and a Yankee cap and a stocking mask.

In Frank’s driveway, Nichols and Wheeler discuss this latest event, and he wonders why if Frank was in Florida that Wheeler seems to have doubts. She thinks if he’s not involved then he is having a run of bad luck. She also wonders why Frank doesn’t have a better idea of who would have tried to kill him. Nichols thinks Frank is a grifter and a hustler, and Wheeler suggests they check his legitimate business.

At Major Case, they go over some of Frank financial documents and receipts, to which Frank had given them access. Nichols finds a receipt for a pickup for a Sandra Bramer, and Wheeler connects it to Helen Bramer. Meanwhile, Helen is at the school waiting to pick up her son Kevin. Joe Gallagher is watching from his car.

In the interrogation room at Major Case, they ask Helen about Frank. She says he is a moving guy who helped her move her mother’s stuff after her mother died. Nichols asks if she stayed in touch with Frank, and she asks why would she? Wheeler tells her the van that was used in the DBC’s robbery belonged to Frank. She says Frank picked her up at work so he knew where she worked. Nichols shows her a picture of Joe Gallagher and she glares at him. Nichols decides to leave so Helen can talk freely to Wheeler. Helen admits that Frank asked her out for a drink but he wasn’t his type. He contacted her later and said he wanted to connect her with someone who she might like. She met Joe and they hit it off and she and Joe dated a few weeks and all of a sudden he just disappeared. She says she told Joe nothing about the armored car route, but she did see him on her computer one time. This gets Wheeler to press Helen on the fact that she brought it up now because she knew something was going on but she did nothing. Helen says she would have done anything to get him to stay. Wheeler says Joe used her. Nichols is impressed when Wheeler gets really pushy with Helen when pulls out all the stops to get Helen to talk. Helen said she thought he would be a good father because he was such a good son, and tells Wheeler that Joe did everything to get his mother’s approval and called his mother once a week on Sunday like clockwork.

Nichols and Wheeler are at Joe’s mother’s home. She said she last heard form him a few weeks before the fire. Wheeler says they found she has been getting calls once a week from a disposable phone in Queens. Nichols notices that some of her knickknacks are very dusty, except for one, that looks like it is not as dusty as the rest. He asks where one of the knickknacks with a birthday card came from, and she says it was from Joe from last year. As they leave the house, they suspect that the gift came via UPS, Fex Ex, DHL, and Nichols suggests checking the local post office.

Meanwhile, Helen is waiting for Kevin to get out of school, and is alarmed when he never exits. She asks to check inside.

Wheeler and Nichols have located Gallagher’s place, and while they look around, Gallagher arrives and sees them, and runs. Nichols and Wheeler chase him with Nichols looping around and tackling him, knocking him down. Later, as Joe is being taken off in a squad car, Nichols says they just got a call from Helen Bramer, and her son is missing,

Back in the interrogation room at Major Case, Nichols questions Joe, telling him they know about the DBC job. Joe is silent. When Nichols says he killed the vet, Greenwood, Joe says he did not kill him, he was already dead, he found him by the dumpsters. He also says he did not rig the van explosion. Nichols reminds him about Kevin, telling him every second he gets in deeper and does he want to add accessory to child murder to his charges? He tells that “he wouldn’t kill a kid” and when Wheeler presses “Who’s HE” Joe?” he remains silent.

Outside a store where Nichols is watching woman set up nesting dolls in the window, Nichols comments about how it reminds him of the layers in people, the child inside the adult, each need, each disorder encased in the next. As he watches a group of priests exit a building, he is deep in thought.

Back at Major Case, Nichols asks Wheeler what she calls a priest – your priest – and she says “Father Bill.” He says he should have listened to her, and sits down at his computer. He realizes that the Frank Stroop that was in Florida was Frank’s father, Francis Stroop. Frank is the third man, he used his credit card to buy all the tickets and hotel for the trip for his father. Nichols suggest they fax a picture of the father to the hotel, and Ross says he will have Frank picked up. Nichols adds that Frank knew that Joe cared about the kid and knew how to keep Joe quiet and that is why Frank took him. Nichols goes back to Joe in interrogation and confronts him with everything. Joe says he can’t tell where Frank took the boy because Frank could kill him. Joe continues his silence. Nichols leaves the room and talks with Ross in the next room. Ross tells them it was confirmed that it was Frank’s father in Florida, and that Frank is now gone. Nichols thinks he knows someone who can persuade Joe to talk.

Helen Bramer arrives while Joe is in the holding cell, and she screams at him to tell them where Kevin is being held. Joe breaks down and says that Frank has a cabin upstate.

Later, they have the cabin surrounded when Nichols and Wheeler arrive. They are told that Frank wants to drive his van with an escort to the Canadian border and he will let the kid go then. But Nichols says he will let the kid go now. Nichols leaves his gun behind with Wheeler and calls to Frank that he is coming in, unarmed, he says they know he didn’t do it. Frank is in there with a gun on the boy. Frank says it was all Joe’s idea. Nichols calls Joe a double-crossing son of a bitch and to let Kevin go. But Frank says he was afraid Joe would kill him, he was only trying to protect himself. He said he would never hurt the boy. Nichols tells rank “that’s not who you are.” He tries to let Frank give him the boy, and suggests Frank keep him in exchange for the boy. Frank let’s Kevin go and tells Nichols to stay. He points the gun at Nichols, and says Joe was behind all of this. Nichols says they know that Joe looks for desperate people and uses them and when he needs to, he kills them. Frank says Jo scared him, and Frank adds that he needed the money for his business and now he can help them. Nichols says that is perfect. Frank says Joe promised him his own moving company. Nichols says Joe manipulated him. Frank puts the gun to his head, but Nichols says to let Joe go down for this, not you. Nichols takes the gun from Frank’s hands, and leads him outside. But when outside, Frank is restrained and cuffed as Wheeler says he is under arrest. Frank seems confused at this, and Nichols says he lied and manipulated him. He adds, “The trouble with being a malignant narcissist, Frank, we forget other people manipulate too. I wasn’t talking about Joe using people, I was talking about you.”

Back a Major Case, Nichols is showing a knotting trick to Kevin as his mother arrives. They reunite as the squad looks on. Later, Nichols hits the down button on the elevator, opening it for Helen and Kevin. Helen expresses her gratitude, and Wheeler says that the DA will not be pressing charges, and she hopes everything works out. Helen says they will probably head to Maine to be with family, she is going to stop looking for something here she will never find. As he walks into the elevator, Nichols wishes them both luck, and Helen returns the sentiment. As the detectives walk away, Wheeler asks Nichols how he finally got to Frank. He says, “Priest, father, Russian dolls, and you in Frank’s backyard. You know what they say - the mind is a relevance making machine,” Wheeler says, “Well that’s a good thing your mind works that way.” He responds, “Yours too” and as Wheeler smiles we fade to black.

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Shelly said...

Overall I liked this episode too, and you're right, I especially enjoyed the interaction between Wheeler and Nichols. And the fact that the story made HER gut feelings right made me happy.

Thanks for printing the name of the actress who played Helen Bramer (Arija Bareikis) so I wouldn't have to look it up. I recognized her right away as Kim Triandos in the MS ep Matrimony during the Lennie/Rey years, and she's on Southland now. But when I saw her I thought... uh oh.... she's going to end up being the bad guy... lol...

Btw, very slightly off topic. Should we read anything into the fact that C.I. wasn't mentioned when NBC did their schedule a few weeks ago, or are updates about the future of the show usually made by USA Network first?

All Things Law and Order said...

Shelly, I think since the show does first runs on USA that NBC won't be covering it as part of their normal new scheduie. It seems that they only use CI as a fill in for whenever they get in trouble and need fill in programming. So I am not worried about Criminal Intent right now - unless USA brings out their fall/winter schedule and CI is not on it! (Then I would worry!)

Jachelle said...

I absolutely love this page - perfect for Law and Order Fanatics. I also enjoy your recaps of all the shows. I agree that Nichols and Wheeler seem to be meshing as partners now. I liked it when he told Wheeler that her mind worked that way too.

It was good to see Arija Bareikis on the show - she was also in the CI episode "Stress Position". She's really good on Southland.

Anonymous said...

Is NBC bothering at all to promote CI? I haven't seen any. Then i don't watch much NBC or any network these days.Mostly cable, PBS and DVDs. Are they useing the USA net. promos? Jeff Goldblum's "Was it good for you?" or episode specific ads like "the more they lie the cleverer he gets"? Anything at all? The reruns seen on USA net.frist are actually doing better in the rateings then most of NBC's line-up.Which includes there brand new programs. :D