Monday, July 27, 2009

Law & Order CI “Major Case“ Recap & Review

Law & Order Criminal Intent “Major Case” was a fantastic episode, maybe the best of the season so far. It seems to cement Jeff Goldblum as Zack Nichols, but it also made it clear that he partners very well with both Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe).

What I find very enjoyable is that the writing for both women – Wheeler and Eames – seem have just the right amount of down to earth dry wit and it plays very well off the somewhat spacey Nichols. My favorite line may be when Eames tells Nichols that Wheeler told her Nichols needed “adult supervision.” Of course, Nichols gets in his own humor by delivery the retort about “horse patrol” when Ross asks Nichols to guess which division Henry refers to as having “cowboy mentality.”

It was also amusing that Nichols, who was so aware of Wheeler being late due to possible morning sickness, makes her smell the contents of the dumpster, causing her to throw up, yet later, he is so engrossed in arguing with Ross that both men ignore Wheeler’s later has broken. Eames has the perfect one word response when she scolds them for not being observant.

And it seems the show makes an attempt to address the burning question as to what makes a major case. What I think I heard in Ross’s vague explanation was that major cases are for the affluent, the influential, or the high profile. Of course, this doesn’t always seem to be the case, so while Captain Ross seems to want to stick with the definition, it’s clear that he rarely follows his own rules, since may of the cases don’t always match how Ross defined them. It was fitting that Nichols made the comment that “Well, I could say that this is not just another murder, but that would imply that there is such a thing as “just another murder” which is a terrible thing to say since “just” and “murder” should never be used in the same sentence.” I am sometimes critical of Eric Bogosian's relatively flat delivery of his lines, but I have to admit that this season, and especially in this episode, he did a fine job and his presence actually seemed to enhance the episode for the better.

The case itself was excellent, and despite the fact that we saw the murder happen, the cat-and-mouse between Nichols and Henry Muller made it worth watching. Dylan Baker, a Law & Order “repeat offender, ” did not disappoint in his role of the forensic scientist who uses his skill to solve crime and apparently to fix them and even cover them up. Baker was very creepy in the scene where he seemingly tries to threaten Nichols with being poisoned.

This was a great episode that kept my interest the entire time, and I am really enjoying these episodes with Jeff Goldblum – I think it has truly energized this show.

Here is the recap:

Grace walks down the street under the watchful eye of her neighbor. She arrives at a club, and sells dope in the ladies room. She tells one of the women she is going away, and when she finds the woman is $200 short in paying for the dope, she takes the woman’s wallet and says she’ll return it the following morning at 10 when the woman pays her the $200. Later, when her drug-dealing boyfriend gets angry that she says she is leaving to go to the farm, and then finds out she’s $200 short, they argue, he hits her, and she runs off. Her watchful neighbor, Henry Muller (Dylan Baker) seeing her running, yells for her to get into this apartment. She does, but Henry sees that her dealer boyfriend is waiting for her outside. When Henry sees that she is bleeding, she goes into the bathroom to clean up, and then tells Henry that she’d like to take a shower. She shuts the bathroom door, but not all the way, and Henry watches as she undresses and steps into the shower.

When she gets out of the shower, she’s wearing just a t-shirt and shorts. Henry tells her that her boyfriend is gone. Grace notices that Henry has packing boxes all around, and asks if it is his mom’s stuff, and says she is sorry her mom died. As she looks into some of his boxes, Henry asks if she is in trouble, and Grace says no, he’s just mad because she is leaving to go to Vermont, her cousin has a farm there. She just wants to get her life right. She reaches into a box and pulls out a bracelet, and asks what Henry thinks. He seems flustered. Grace says she will miss her mom, and said it was fun coming over to visit and talking with him. She thanks him, and kisses him on the cheek. He moves to kiss her back on the lips, and she pulls away, and asks what he is doing. He says she kissed him, and Grace says she has to go. But Henry continues to press her, and when he gets too pushy, she asks him if he is some kind of pervert. She tries to get away, and runs to a window to scream, but a passerby, listening to music with earphones, can’t hear her. Henry pushes Grace onto the floor, and as she calls him a damn pervert, he continues to force himself on her. He beats her repeatedly, killing her.

The next day, Grace’s body is lying in a dumpster, with Detective Zech Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) on the scene. They found a wallet in her pocket, and it is the ID of someone from a “fancy prep school” with a 5th Avenue home address. Nichols says, “So here I am, Major Case.” The CSU person on scene says that the victim is dead, just like anyone else.

Detective Megan Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson) apologizing for arriving late, but Nichols says it is understandable. Wheeler tells him being pregnant is not an excuse. And Nichols tells her dryly, “Of course not.” He tells her to look at the body, and to smell, and see if she smells what he does. She picks out the odors of egg foo young, wet nylon, dog crap, and bleach. Wheeler seems to be looking a little nauseated. She says the killer bleached the body, and Nichols confirms this is what he thought as well. Wheeler excuses herself to Nichols and then goes off to the side to throw up. Nichols says to the other CSU person on the scene, “It’s understandable.”

At the home of Sessy Madison, Wheeler and Nichols speak with her about the body, and she says it is awful. When they press her that her wallet was found on the body, she tries to get them to go away. Nichols pushes his way in, and when her mother asks who is there, she gets even more rattled. She tells her mother someone stole her wallet at the library, but her mother gets suspicious and presses the issues, saying she thought she was done with dope. Sessy admits the girl’s name was Grace and she dealt.

At the ME’s office, Rodgers (Leslie Hendrix) tells them that the cause of death was blunt force trauma, and there were also large cuts on her body. Nichols thinks someone wanted to cut the body up to dispose of it, the killer was angry enough to beat her to death, but not to cut her up. Rodgers said the killer gave her a bath inside and out with bleach, and washed her clothes, and adds because the body was in a dumpster they will have issues with cross contamination.

At Major Case, Wheeler tells Captain Danny Ross ( Eric Bogosian) that the prints came back as Grace Purefoy, and she lives two blocks from where her body was found. She dealt drugs to private schools uptown. Ross sees she has a juvie record for possession. Ross tells them the case kicks to the 9th precinct, but Nichols balks, stating that Sessy Madison is a major case but Grace Purefoy is not. Ross tells him that is correct, and asks if Nichols differs. Nichols says, “ Well, I could say that this is not just another murder, but that would imply that there is such a thing as “just another murder” which is a terrible thing to say since “just” and “murder” should never be used in the same sentence.” Meanwhile, Wheeler is standing by quietly, and looks down to the floor. Ross responds that using that logic would mean every case is a major case. When Nichols says, “Yes” Ross says this is why Nichols is not in charge. Ross add, “We are not the low level drug dealer from the East Village case squad, we’re called Major Case for good reason. “ Nichols continues argue his point, asking what if the victim doesn’t give them a reason, the killer does because his used of bleach and putting the body in the dumpster is not run of the mill ad it could be pretty major. Wheeler continues to stand silently but looks uncomfortable. Ross states that the killer may watch too much CSI. He gives Nichols 48 hours, and then says Grace kicks back to the 9th. Detective Eames (Kathryn Erbe) walks in, and announces that Goren called from Tennessee, and adds he needs the captain to call that sheriff. Eames looks down, and sees a puddle of water at Wheeler’s feet – her water broke. She asks Wheeler,” What hospital” and Wheeler tells her St. Vincent’s. Eames asks if she has a bag packed, and Wheeler says it is in the locker room. As the two women walk off, Eames turns back and scolds Nichols and Ross, saying, “Detectives!”

Meanwhile, Henry Muller is at home, scrubbing his floor and using what seems to be luminol to see if he left any blood or traces there. He finds a fiber and pulls it out, continuing to scrub.

Later, Nichols asks Eames how Wheeler is doing, and she says she is in labor and her sister is with her, and in between screams she told Eames that Nichols fought to keep the case. Nichols asked what else she told her, and Eames says, “That you require adult supervision.”

They enter the home of Grace Purefoy’s mother, who is upset her daughter is dead, and clearly she has been drinking a lot. While Nichols checks Grace’s room, her mother tells Eames that Grace had a friend that she called Paj. Nichols finds a picture of Grace on the farm with her cousin, and her mother tells them that Grace went there last year. Nichols also found a bus ticker to Montpelier. They hear a knock at the door, and Grace’s mother’s friend Nate arrives with more booze. When Nichols makes a comment about her being more sober later, she says her baby girl was killed, what is she supposed to do?

As the detectives leave the apartment, Nichols comments that she was drunk now because her daughter was dead, and was drunk before because her daughter wasn’t. Eames asks if he is sure he doesn’t want to kick this to the 9th, and Nichols brings out the picture at the farm, saying he found it on her pillow, like it was her dream to get away from all this. When Eames comments that Nichols got away for a few years and wonders if he fells Grace is a kindred spirit, he says he tries to avoid transferential relationships with dead people, it’s always so one sided. But he adds that Grace’s mother, Sessy Madison, the bleach, Vermont – it is all so unconnected.

He takes Eames to see who is says is “go-to criminalist for unsolved cases” involving minors, kids who fell through the cracks, but he is sure he will have time for this. Eames comments that he wrote a book and is not a TV talking head. Nichols says he deserves it, it’s the best lab guy her ever met. When they enter, we see that the man they are going to see is none other than Henry Muller.

In Henry’s office, Nichols is going through Henry’s book, talking about the amazing work he did on some of the cases Henry listed in the book. He shows him the information on the case, and while Eames tells him what they had found with the body so far, Henry opens the file and sees Grace’s picture. Henry complains about his tight budget, and we see he is wearing on black shoe and one white. He tells the detectives he will see what he can do.

Back at Major Case, Ross gripes that the last time he spoke with Henry that Henry told him he was too busy for him. Nichols says he begged in the right way. Eames says they may have to upgrade Grace’s mother from totally useless to functionally clueless – they fond Paj in the alias registry. He is a drug dealer with priors out on bail for an assault case, and his name is Justin Lennox who sells uptown as “Park Avenue Justin” (PAJ). Ross says it looks like they may make their 48 hours.

Later, the detectives speak with Justin, who says he doesn’t know the person in the picture, Grace. Eames suggests they continue the discussion at their place, but Justin says he is out on bail, and this is harassment. Nichols tells him to take another look, grabbing his hair forcing Justin’s face into the picture. He still denies knowing her, and Nichols says if he did this they are going to get him. Justin refuses to talk.

Back at Major Case, Ross is in his office on the phone, clearly having a hard time with a caller. Henry walks in, and brings information in to Ross on another case. Ross says he is honored by the special delivery, but Henry tells him not to tell Nichols, he will expect the same. Henry tells Ross he is surprised he is letting Nichols run the case, and asks if they have anything going on it. Ross tells him that they are on one guy. Ross steps out of his office, and Henry stays there, seeing the find on Justin Lennox on Ross’s desk. He leaves Ross’s office and they chat, with Nichols looking on.

Henry goes to the evidence file area, and asks to examine a file. The attendant let him in to the area to search for the file, and he heads to another file, that of Justin Lennox. With gloves on, he opens the box and takes out a cut of a bloody shirt and puts it in a vial. He puts the shirt in a new evidence bag and closes the seal, taking the old bag with him.

Later, Nichols enters Henry’s office, excited that Henry found something. Henry tells him that he got a viable tissue sample from under one of Grace’s fingernails, and matched it to Justin Lennox. Nichols tells Henry he is a god and leaves with the file.

Back at Major Case, Justin is in interrogation with his lawyer present. He admits he had an argument with Grace saying he was trying to get Grace to stop dealing, and said Grace attacked her. But Nichols says Grace was leaving to go to Vermont, and wonders if that was what the fight was about. Justin’s lawyer says he wants to talk to Justin alone.

Outside interrogation, Nichols says Justin is a moron and he is calling the DA. But Ross tells him not to bother, Justin has an alibi. Justin was with a drug dealer who someone in narcotics was tailing. Ross tells them that starting tomorrow, everyone goes back to where they belong, Grace goes to the 9th, and Nichols will catch the next major case.

At the morgue, Rodgers is telling Nichols that she went over the body again from head to toe and there was no DNA. She doesn’t not know how Henry got his results or any result. She doesn’t want to get into an interdepartmental play with Henry, their group plays ball with his. But Nichols says Henry may be playing with an invisible ball – no evidence on the body. Rodgers implies that Henry may be finding evidence that is not there to catch a bad guy who was just lucky enough not to leave any evidence. Rodgers adds the guy is writing books and is on TV, and Nichols sees that as incentive to keep his “batting average” up.

Back to Major Case, Nichols tells Eames he thinks Henry might be fudging evidence. He sees the obituary for his mother who dies last month, refereeing to him as a notable forensic scientist/ He notices Henry’s mother was a lifelong resident of 7th street and lived on the same block as Grace. Nichols wonders why Henry never mentioned that.

When Eames and Ross take this to Ross, he tells Nichols he has officially lost his mind. Nichols states his case, saying that Henry frames Justin, and telling Ross Henry saw Justin’s file on Ross’ desk when he was in there the other day. Ross asks them, besides Henry and the shooter on the grassy knoll, are there any other suspects? Eames says they should look at Grace’s mother’s boyfriend Nate, and Ross tells them to check it out. He also adds that it is a girl, and Nichols says, “Oh, we should…” and Ross finishes, “You sent roses.”

At Grace’s mother’s apartment, they question Nate, and he denies anything went on and Grace’s mother backs him up. Nichols looks through the apartment while Eames talks to both of them. Nichols bags up some of Grace’s clothes and asks if he can take a few of her things.

Outside, Eames tells Nichols that it’s nice to see him keeping an open mind by taking Grace’s clothes to see if there are any traces of Nate on them. He seems surprised at her comment, and says that he guesses he can do that too. Eames gives him a questioning look.

Nichols heads back to Henry’s lab and tells him that Justin had an airtight alibi. Henry gets distracted when he sees a young girl standing over in the hallway on the phone. Nichols senses Henry is distracted, and Henry haltingly adds that they have to hope the case gets solved.

Back at Major Case, Ross and Nichols are watching Henry on television, saying there is a “cowboy mentality” in some police divisions and that he has asked the commissioner to get them to stand back, that they can’t jump every time they call. Ross asks Nichols if he has any guess as to what division Henry is talking about, and Nichols asks, “Horse patrol?” Ross is livid that Nichols has alienated Henry and worries that they will have problems getting forensics support. But Nichols says that Henry is striking back, he’s cornered, and he’s guilty. Ross says Nichols is endangering the division and his career. Nichols says when Ross was his partner he trusted him on things like this, but Ross says when he was his partner, Ross almost got suspended once a month. Ross says he is calling Henry Muller and getting right with him, and he tells Nichols he is off the case.

Later, Nichols is back in Henry’s office and Henry tells him Capt. Ross called him last night and said Nichols was handing off the case. While Henry brews tea, Nichols tells him that he is going to continue to work the case, nights and weekends if he has to. Henry says it sounds a bit obsessive, and Nichols asks if that is what some people also say about Henry. Henry says yes. He moves to hands Nichols a cup of tea, but then remembers he likes sugar in his own tea. He turns to add sugar, with both cups, and Nichols sees the various sugar cubes and other items that Henry has. Henry tells Nichols about a case a while back where an immigrant bride was poisoned by her chemist husband, all while handing Nichols a cup of tea. He says it can be so darn easy to kill someone if you really know what you are doing. Nichols takes the cup, and moves to take a sip, but stops, saying that if you brew green tea too long it turns bitter. Henry takes a sip of his own tea, and says Nichols may be right, and takes the cup out of Nichols hands.

Back at Major Case, Nichols is listening to one of Henry’s books on audio. Eames enters and Nichols says he went to see Henry that morning and is pretty sure Henry tried to kill him. He thinks Henry might try again. Eames tells him she took some of Grace’s clothes to an FBI lab and called in a favor. They found male DNA. Nichols is surprised she did this since they are off the case, but Eames reminds him Ross took Nichols off the case, not her. They found male DNA on the clothes and she still wonders about Nate, who has an outstanding warrant in Ohio, which will get them his DNA. Nichols seems happy about this and says they should go arrest him. They do so, in full view of Henry’s apartment, where he watches this all do down.

Later, Henry sees ME Rodgers standing in line in the forensics area. She tells him Nichols is driving her crazy about the Purefoy girl. She tells him Nichols called in a favor to Columbia Medical school who ran a CT and MRI scan on Grace’s body and they did a virtual autopsy and found a small area of internal bleeding maybe form when she was being cleaned up, and whoever was in there left a hair. She comments that she gathers Henry is backed up, but he takes the evidence and says he will give it his personal attention.

Back at Major Case, they have Nate in interrogation with Eames, with Nichols and Ross looking on. Henry enters the observation room, and Ross tells him they are questioning Grace’s mother’s boyfriend but he is not giving anything up. Henry asks why he didn’t come up earlier, and Nichols says they got distracted by bad theories. Ross says they found his DNA on Grace’s clothing. When Henry says they already looked at those, Nichols tells him these are clothes that they took from her apartment. Henry tells them Rodgers found a hair on the girl’s body and they needed a reference sample from Henry. Henry takes the sample from Nate.

Back at the lab, Henry has the hair sample from the unknown person and from Henry, and looks them over.

Back at interrogation, Eames is back in with Nate, with Nichols watching. Henry walks in and tells Nichols that Nate’s hair was a match, no doubt. Nichols knocks on the mirror, turns on the intercom and tells Eames it’s done. She stops the interrogation and lets Nate go. Nichols tells Henry they are done with Nate, not with Henry. Henry seems confused, and Nichols tells him the hairs don’t match, because the hair Rodgers gave him came from Nichols himself and he didn’t kill her. Henry is upset, and Nichols tells Henry that Ross lied to Henry too, Nichols does not have a prior molestation conviction. Nichols says that Henry knew Grace, and Henry says he is nuts and moves to the door. Nichols blocks his way and tells him that Henry’s mother lived across the street from Grace. Henry seems trapped, and Nichols tells him that with Grace’s mother being an alcoholic, Grace probably spent a lot of time outside playing. Nichols says Grace was a young girl, so innocent and so pretty. Henry tells Nichols he lives in a world of stories, fabricating narratives. Nichols presses on, saying that Henry has always liked young girls and spends all his time on cases for young girls. Henry says he works on evidence, and Nichols that Grace had a fight with Justin and he saw Grace run away in the direction of Henry’s mother’s apartment. He adds that Henry said they found Justin’s DNA on her body but there was no usable DNA on her body because it had been bleached, which he knows how to do. He adds he got Justin’s DNA from an evidence file which Henry entered on the pretext of looking at a stabbing in Soho even though the detective working that case never asked him to look at the evidence. Henry said he wanted to nail things down. As Nichols goes through all the names on the cases Henry worked – all young girls – Nichols asks, don’t boys get killed, and where are the boys? Henry asks, “Who are you?” Nichols says Henry could not trust himself to be around live young girls like Grace; she was not a lab sample or an autopsy photo, she was real and beautiful and alive and in hi apartment, he could see her, touch her, smell her. Nichols continues to press and says what Henry wants to do with these girls isn’t allowed, and he found a way to be with them, but this time he was with Grace all alone. Henry gets angry, and says “She kissed me.” Nichols asked if he kissed her back, and Henry says he didn’t understand. Nichols asks if she called him a pervert, and Henry says he is not a pervert, he catches murderers. Nichols shows him the picture of her body and Henry says he does not know how that happened. He says he never wanted to hurt her. He begins to cry . Nichols tells Henry he is under arrest,

Later, Ross is waiting at the elevator and Nichols approaches. Nichols tells Ross, “Thank you” and Ross smiles. Eames walks out of the elevator, and says that it is official, “Margo Jane Wheeler.” Nichols and Ross step in, and Nichols asks if the mother knows they closed the case. As the elevator doors close, Eames said, “She wondered what took you so long” as we fade to black.

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Jachelle said...

When was the last time I laughed out loud several times during an episode. It seems like forever. I agree this was the best Nichols/Wheeler episode of the season and having Eames in the episode where Wheeler has her baby was perfect. The story was very good, too. I like the ones where you really care about the characters. I even felt a little tiny bit sorry for the bad guy. Muller wasn't just a one-dimensional creepy bad guy, but a repressed, awkward man not sure how to have normal relationships. Thanks for the great recap as always. We all appreciate what you do.

Anonymous said...

I love how Eames was like, "Detectives!" when Nichols and Ross didn't even notice that Wheeler's water broke. Although, really, shouldn't Wheeler have caught that?

By the way, I think that line was a send up to "In Treatment", where Wheeler realizes that Ross and Nichols know that she's pregnant. Ross says something like, "We are detectives, my dear."

Excellent recap, by the way. It's cool how you can absorb an episode in just a few hours and write what we're all thinking as we're watching it. I agree with you that this probably the best episode yet; I kind of like Nichols/Wheeler episodes more than Goren/Eames ones. I compare this episode to the last episode, "All In", where I can't figure out how Goren figures out who the bad guy is and how that confession would be admissible anyway. The only Goren/Eames episode that I liked was "Family Values" from this season.

All Things Law and Order said...

I think Wheeler did catch it, she seemed distracted and she actually looked down at the floor while Nichols and Ross were debating the issue. I think she was just a little stunned, and also was waiting for the "boys" to stop bickering.

alynch said...

Bogosian's line delivery works if you view it as a droll semi-comedic performance. I was initially put off by him at first, since I was expecting him to be much more gung-ho confrontational, just based on the types that Bogosian usually plays. But instead he ended up playing him as an extremely weary, "counting-backwards-to-retirement" type.

I found that when I viewed the character from that perspective, he became rather amusing. He's a guy who just wants to do his job and head home for the day, but instead he has to deal with people like Goren & Nichols. That "ah shit" expression that registers across his face whenever one of them walks into his office is always good for at least one laugh per episode.

Aaron said...

Just caught this one on USA. Makes me feel that this show could have gone past a season 10 if they had jettisoned Wheeler and Goren and just paired up Nichols and Eames.