NYPD Blue Summary/Review by Alan Sepinwallaka sepinwal@stwing.org
Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

"Old Man Quiver"
Season 12, Episode 16
2/1/05
Teleplay by William Finkelstein
Story by Bill Clark & William Finkelstein
Directed by Ed Begley Jr.

Amanda remains busy off in the real world, and I had enough advance notice to pinch-hit for this one. (More at the very end about the state of the reviews.)

Only four more episodes after this one. Yeah, huh? Very strange, especially since tonight's final scene seemed like the kind of note that most series would end on. Anyway, we'll talk more about that and everything else after a brief...

SUMMARY

THE OLD DIGGER

Andy and John catch the murder of elderly millionaire Hugh Rasmussen, found by his longtime legal secretary Judith Howell, smothered to death in his bed. Hugh was 80 and frail, and his second wife Amy is a 28-year-old blonde hottie, leading our heroes to assume that she married and then killed the old man for his money.

Amy claims the relationship was genuine, and the detectives chase down other leads, including Amy's coke-snorting ex-boyfriend Richard and Hugh's degenerate gambler brother Jerry. In the end, they realize that the killer was actually Judith Howell, who had always dreamed of marrying her boss after his first wife died and resented the hell that this young stranger muscled in on her fantasy man. Judith confesses that she killed the old man after he suggested that she stop coming around to see him as much.

John breaks the news to Amy, an ex-junkie prostitute who was reformed by Hugh's love. Even though she's due to inherit half of his $120 million estate, she's terrified that she'll slip back into all her old habits without her husband around.

VET'S DAY

Greg and Baldwin catch the possible murder of senior citizen's home resident Olive Rosenthal, who at first glance appears to have died of natural causes, save for the needle puncture mark on her stomach. Olive's daughter Nora, a haughty state Supreme Court judge, tells the detectives to start with Olive's nursing aide Eleanor did it, whom she suspects of stealing from her mom. Nora pulls some strings to get a search warrant for Eleanor's place, but while the detectives do find some of Olive's possessions there (most of them, but not all, gifts from Olive to Eleanor), the investigation eventually leads to Enid, a retired veteranarian who resented Olive's arrival at the home -- and, more importantly, Olive's intrusion in her friendship with Belle. Having been forced to make many adjustments in her life over the last few years, Enid didn't want to make another by losing her friend Belle, so she injected Olive with the kind of drugs she used to euthanize dogs. Ironically, Olive's death wound up driving a further wedge between Enid and Belle, even before the truth of the crime came out.

OWEN HIM A FAVOR

ADA Munson invites John to have lunch with her and her wealthy father Owen, but the meal turns awkward when Owen expresses his displeasure at his daughter's refusal to leave her civil service job for a more ambitious private sector gig. He also doesn't seem impressed to learn she's dating a cop, but turns up later at the squad to offer John a lucrative moonlighting job playing bodyguard to some of his clients. When John tells Laurie about the offer, she flips out, realizing it's her father's way of driving a wedge between the two of them. John promises to decline the job, but Laurie's still pissed.

EARNING HIS STRIPES

It's promotion day for soon-to-be Sgt. Sipowicz, and everyone seems excited for him -- even Lt. Bale, who offers to reach out to Personnel and see if Andy could be assigned to patrol in the 15th Precinct. Andy goes about the shift like any other one, but after he dons his dress uniform, complete with new stripes, he's overwhelmed by emotion at the sight of the entire precinct standing at attention in the lobby to salute him on the way to the promotion ceremony.

REVIEW

I was in Los Angeles last week for business reasons, which included a trip to the 20th Century Fox lot to attend the farewell press conference with Steven Bochco, Mark Tinker and the remaining "Blue" cast. Bochco talked in general terms about how the show would end, saying he wanted to give viewers a sense that life would continue for our heroes; we just wouldn't get to see it anymore.

If that's the plan, it makes sense to sneak Andy's big curtain call onto the stage a month before the end. Now we'll get to see a bit of the new phase of his life, as well as how Junior, Baldwin and the rest will deal with his absence as unofficial leader of the squad.

But while I really wanted to get the intended lump in my throat when Andy's lip began to quiver on the staircase, the moment didn't exactly click for me. As a celebration of this great character and the greater actor who plays him, it was a lovely scene, but it was part of an ongoing arc for Andy that I've been having trouble buying into.

First, why does Andy want to go back in the bag at his age? At first, he decided to take the sergeant's exam as a way of escaping the thumb of Lt. Bale by becoming a leader instead of a follower. But he and Bale have mostly patched up their differences (more on that in a second). More importantly, Andy loves being a detective too damn much to give that up, especially when he has to know that the odds of him returning to the detective bureau before he retires are somewhere between slim and none.

If the show had gotten into Andy's head a little more on the change, I might be willing to go with it, but the guy I've been watching for the last dozen years doesn't give up his current gig so lightly. At the very least, there needed to be more of a sense of finality to him working his last case as a detective, his last case as Junior's partner, etc. Maybe the big moment shouldn't have been the lobby salute, but Andy typing up the DD-5's one last time. I know they essentially had Andy say farewell to the squadroom a few weeks ago (in a scene that choked me up much more than this), but maybe it needed to be here instead. It would be one thing if Andy's desire to be a sergeant had been a running theme from early in the series; then him getting the stripes would be worthy of this kind of epic fanfare. But until recently, Andy didn't give a rat's ass about making sergeant. His dream was always to get promoted to Detective First-Grade, and he got that four years ago.

Meanwhile, Lt. Bale is now Andy's bestest buddy, to the point of arranging the very unusual move of letting Andy stay in the precinct after his promotion, even though that's not standard department policy as presented by the show. (Martinez had to transfer out because it's considered awkward to put a cop in an authority position over people he used to work alongside as an equal.) I know it's a storytelling convenience to keep Andy in the other characters' lives for four more weeks, but the fascist, policy-worshipping Bale of a few months ago -- even a few weeks ago -- would never even consider this. I suppose we're just supposed to accept that the credit card incident from "Bale Out" provoked some kind of radical shift in Bale's attitude and behavior, but that hasn't been conveyed well enough in the scripts. One minute, he's a rigid bully; the next, he's a laid-back softie. When Bale showed up at the start of the season, I was looking forward to the inevitable moment when he and Andy started to see eye-to-eye, and I feel like we skipped straight past it. (And Andy, naturally, hasn't been forced to change at all.) Whatever happened to Bale's supposed assignment to clean up this "rogue squad"? At the very least, we needed to see a scene at some point where one of the people who got Bale this job asks for a progress report on Operation: Tightass, only to have Bale stand up for his people. Again, it seems like a lot of the big moments are happening off-camera.

One last thought on the applause line, and it's more of a nitpick than the other complaints. It's been a running thread on this show almost since the beginning that Andy's not the most popular guy in the precinct, especially among the uniform cops. (TNT reran "Upstairs, Downstairs" a few days ago, and while that episode had Andy coming into conflict with the uniforms because he was investigating one of them, there was also the sense that most of these guys had been looking for an excuse to unload on him for years.) I know that he's cleaned up his act in the last decade and become a kinder, gentler Andy, an elderly icon of respect for his fellow detectives, but at the same time, are the uniforms that he's brow-beaten and sarcastically dismissed for forever going to enthusiastically line up to salute him? Maybe the line should have been a little smaller -- or, at the very least, we should have seen a few uniform cops in the background just ignoring the whole thing and talking over coffee.

Maybe we'll get some of that next week, when Andy starts his new job. We know that he can be a good teacher when he wants to -- his lessons in policework to Andy Jr. at the end of season three were some of the best scenes this show has ever done -- and we'll see how much these guys want to listen to him. Still, I find myself wishing that the show had gone in another direction for the end, even if it was simply Andy continuing to work cases.

And speaking of cases, both of this week's stories telegraphed their endings -- the first Enid scene in particular should have come with neon subtitles reading "SHE'S THE KILLER! HER! THE OLD LADY RIGHT HERE! THE ONE WHO HAS NO OTHER BUSINESS BEING IN THE EPISODE! YEAH, HER! SOMEONE GET HER!" -- but I kinda liked them in spite of that. I guess William Finkelstein has the elderly on his mind for some reason, considering how both stories dealt with the plights of senior citizens struggling to deal with forced changes to routines they've known for decades.

The Clark/Munson stuff still feels like filler to me -- especially since Janet Jackson's nipple seems to have eliminated the show's sex scenes -- though I'm stunned it's taken me this long to notice that the show is ending, as it began, with a main character named John romantically involved with an ADA named Laurie. How could I have missed that circle of life?

There does seem to be some trouble in paradise, and I have to wonder if Amy Rasmussen might be another complication. There were two different scenes where Junior was practically drooling over her, and the scene where he tried to warn her away from guys like Richard hinted at the idea that Amy might find her next dependable man right in front of her. If the show is going there (and I haven't seen the previews for next week), it may be too late. The writers spent more than half the season setting up the Clark/Munson relationship and still haven't given us much of a reason to invest in them; why should a potential break-up (caused either by her dad or Amy) get us worked up with only four weeks to go?

QUICK HITS

-Ed Begley Jr., one of the most reliable comic actors in the business ("St. Elsewhere," "A Mighty Wind," and lately showing up eyebrowless on "Arrested Development") stepped behind the camera for this episode and did a damn fine job. Whatever problems I had with the story reasons behind Andy's big hurrah, the moment was staged and acted perfectly.

-Before I figured out that Judith Howell was the killer, there was a nice moment where one of the detectives gave her the standard issue "Sorry for your loss" line and she lit up like it was the most thoughtful thing anyone had ever said to her.

-Did anyone catch Bill Clark (executive producer, 25-year NYPD legend and the inspiration for most of Andy's cases) behind the sergeant's desk applauding Andy? Clark popped up in the background of a lot of scenes in the first two seasons, but it's been a long time since I've noticed him on camera.

-Think they'll bother bringing in another detective character for the last four episodes? The show went a half-season between Andrea Thompson and Charlotte Ross, and one or two episodes (plus a hiatus) between Kim Delaney and Jacqueline Obradors, but for the most part, the show has gone out of its way to fill the void in the very next episode. Still, seems pointless to add one more character at this late date, especially since we'll be spending at least a little time with the uniform cops.

GUEST CAST LIST

Lisa Lackey as A.D.A. Munson, Nichole Hiltz as Amy Rasmussen, Julie Payne as Judith Howell, Joe Sabatino as uniform, Herb Irvine as uniform, Anna Berger as Belle, Nan Martin as Enid, Phil Abrams as Dr. Marra, Octavia Spencer as Eleanor Jackson, Rachelle Carson as Lillian Jacobs, Josephy Carberry as uniform, Tim Halligan as John Fitzsimmons, Rikki Klieman as Nora Rosenthal, William McNamara as Richard Pencava, John Aprea as Owen Munson, Ed Lauter as Jerry Rasmussen, Ray Anthony as Bettor and Andre Marcellous as desk sergeant.

Because I'm filling in last-minute, I didn't have a chance to hook up with JL Garner for more details, but a couple of notes on the guests:

-Ed Lauter is one of the classic Hey, It's That Guy!s, best remembered by me for playing the bullying head of the prison guard football team in the Burt Reynolds version of "The Longest Yard."

-Nichole Hiltz has been on the show once before and has been a steady primetime guest star overall for the last few years, popping up everywhere from "The O.C." to "CSI." For a woman as pretty as she is, she's good at changing up her appearance; I never recognize it's her until I see her name in the guest credits.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Andy wonders why John is so eager to buy Amy's story: "How many times you gonna take orders from your little captain down there?"

NEXT WEEK (AND THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS)

Next week's episode is titled "Sergeant Sipowicz's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which may be one of my favorite episode titles from the last dozen years.

Hopefully, Amanda will be back next week, but I would appreciate if people would calm down and stop sending me e-mails demanding that I "replace her" because she's missed a couple of reviews and been late with some others. This isn't an easy thing to do, if for no other reason than the time it takes, and frankly I'm amazed that Amanda has been able to pull it off virtually every week for the last seven years while also working a day job and dealing with all the other hassles of adult life. Even if I could find someone with the enthusiasm, the time and, most importantly, the talent to do it, I wouldn't want to bother this close to the finish line. It's Amanda's job till the end, and she's more than entitled to a week off here or there. (If this were a real job, she'd have accrued seven years worth of sick time.) No matter what, some combination of Amanda and myself will be around for the finale.

See ya in the funny papers,
Alan Sepinwall