NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 7,
Aging Bull

Written by David Mills
Directed by Davis Guggenheim

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PLOT ONE: THE DREADED RETURN OF STEVE THE SNITCH

Bernard Kaiser, a rich corporate executive with a dangerous heart condition, has been abducted off the street in broad daylight. Before the 15th squad has much of a chance to investigate, the FBI swoops in and takes over, much to the chagrin of Andy, who has little love for the feds.

While the G-men are off reinterviewing witnesses and setting up their own phone traps, a lead falls into the 15's lap, in the form of Steve Richards, the brain-dead skell who attempted to snitch for Martinez last year. Steve claims he heard a phone conversation about the kidnapping outside of an OTB, and is looking for a $100,000 reward should Kaiser be rescued safely. And though the FBI is now handling the investigation, Andy decides to pose as an agent to hear what Steve has to say.

Steve's first tip turns up lame - literally. The man he claims is involved in the plot is actually a club-footed gambler who sold a cloned cellular phone that he got from Steve to another OTB guy. After a bit of physical pressure from Andy, Steve reveals that this second man is probably the one who sold the phone to the kidnappers, who used it to make their ransom demand calls.

But before they can follow up on this lead, Andy and Bobby have to assist the FBI with the money drop for the kidnappers, which goes horribly awry when the pick-up car drives in the opposite direction than the feds had anticipated. At this point, Inspector Aiello has heard enough, and he gives Fancy and his men permission to resume their pursuit of the investigation.

Andy, Bobby, Greg, and James go to pick up their new OTB suspect, who gives up his involvement very easily, because he thinks that the four detectives who appear at his door are hit men hired by the kidnappers. He doesn't know where the kidnappers are, but phone records from the man's house helps the detectives figure out that they're probably holed up in an abandoned military base. By this point, the FBI has found out what's going on, and demands to be put back in charge, but Aiello tells them to stuff it. The 15th squad detectives, accompanied by a SWAT team and a number of FBI agents, raid the base, and find Kaiser scared but unharmed. He says he was kidnapped by two employees, who've already left for Bimini, which has no extradition laws, and because the FBI screwed up with the money drop, they'll have enough cash to keep them on the beach for a long time.

At least there's a happy ending for Steve Richards, who is told that he'll get a $40,000 reward for his help with the case.

PLOT TWO: REMEMBRANCE OF PIGEONS PAST

Patsy Ferrare, the old boxer who taught Bobby about pigeons, is in trouble. Fat Mike, another old friend from the neighborhood, had given Patsy a token job at his restaurant out of respect, but the increasingly forgetful Patsy wasn't even able to handle that much. His behavior had become as erratic as his memory, and after a busboy caught Patsy urinating outside the place, Patsy belted the guy.

The busboy filed charges, leaving Fat Mike no choice but to come to cop friend Bobby for help. Bobby uses his departmental juice to get the charges dropped with only a Desk Appearance Ticket, but his attempt to get Patsy to see a doctor fails - Patsy claims that with old men like him, doctors make up problems that aren't even there.

Finally, Bobby comes up with a plan - he takes Patsy over to the 15, claiming that he has to speak to "DA Monzack" before he can go free; in reality, he's contacted Dr. Monzack, who treated James' gunshot wound, and gotten him to play along with the charade. Patsy storms out of the interview after a minute or so, roughly shoving aside Diane, who's chaperoning him while Bobby works the kidnapping case. But that brief talk with Patsy has Doc Monzack convinced that he's suffering from some form of senility - in all probability, Alzheimer's.

As Bobby and Diane are heading into his apartment building at the end of the next day's shift, Patsy approaches them with a pigeon that he thinks might be one of Bobby's, but isn't. It's one of Patsy's more lucid moments, and Bobby gets him to vaguely acknowledge his problems, and suggests he try a free experimental program for Alzheimer's at NYU that Monzack told him about. Patsy says he'll think about it, then releases the pigeon from its carrier cage, and shuffles on home after it, leaving Bobby alone to shed a tear over the sad deterioration of his once-strong mentor.

MISCELLANEOUS THREADS:

Andy and Greg make a $25 bet over whether Mr. Kaiser will be found alive; surprisingly, Greg's the optimist here and bets that he will be safe. When Kaiser is rescued, Andy tries very hard to weasel out of paying, complaining that he did his job properly and it cost him money, and even tries to get the newly-flush Steve to pay for him, but eventually has to fork over the money himself.

Donna's back from her word processing course, and she and Greg have a typically awkward conversation about what's been going on with his life - his girls are doing well, but he and Marie are still "a disaster" together.


I found it interesting that, a few days after threads on that first-season Christmas episode featuring John Kelly's visit to his Alzheimer-ridden mother, that this week's show focused on Bobby trying to deal with his senile father figure.

I actually found the story of Bobby trying (and failing) to help Patsy quite touching - yet again, Bobby finds a person he loves sick and dying, and there's not a damned thing he can do about it. And I felt it had more impact than the Kelly scene did, just because we were given more background and more time. Plus, Smits was gangbusters here, particularly in that final scene.

However, while I enjoyed the episode (and I'll get to the rest of it in a moment), I have to bring up something that occurred to me as the closing credits flashed. Is the show repeating itself? I'm not talking about the way the police procedurals work - I'm talking about the subplots. We had Andy recovering from alcoholism, followed by Diane dealing with the same problem; now we have a redux of the brief but terrific scene with Kelly's mother.

Now, I realize that very often in life, a small sampling of people (in this case, the detectives at the 15) will find themselves facing similar problems, but this is television, and I think they have to try to give you something new each week. Now, individually, I don't object to either story, as Diane's recovery has been handled far differently from Andy's, and we got to see far more of Patsy than we did of Mrs. Kelly. But it does trouble me a bit. Am I the only one?

Anyway, back to "Aging Bull." As I said above, I thought Smits was fantastic, as was Brad Sullivan as Patsy. If you think Sullivan looks familiar, that's because he is - he's been doing movies and TV shows for a long time (highlights include "The Sting," "Slap Shot," and "The Untouchables." And he was the wrestling coach on "I'll Fly Away"). He and Smits played off each other perfectly. As they were walking out of the 64th Precinct and Patsy was telling the story about the second time he was arrested, which I'm sure Bobby had heard a million times before, I didn't doubt for a second the bond that these two had. And the final scene's use of the homing pigeon, which will get home before Patsy not only because it's faster, but because it will always remember how to get there, was perfect.

The story also was rich with a lot of incidental detail that the show rarely gives you. In general, you're told what characters' relationships are to one another, and what their current situation is, but little else. Here, we got that aforementioned story about Patsy's collar, as well as Bobby's speech to Diane comparing Patsy to his father. That added a lot of emotional heft to the story, and I hope that David Mills (who also wrote the season premiere, and "Innuendo" last year) can influence some of the other writers to add the same kind of "extras" to their scripts.

As for the kidnapping story, I have mixed emotions. If you take out Steve Richards, I would have enjoyed it immensely. There was some nice tension between the feds and Andy. There was a well-defined guest character in Kaiser's head of security, who kept trying to use his knowledge of the Bureau and Mr. Kaiser to help the investigation, and kept being brushed off. And there was a wonderfully staged action scene at the end with the raid on the kidnapper's hideout.

But, lord do I hate the Steve Richards character. Last year, I dismissed him as a clone of Hill Street Blues' Sidney Thurston. This time, Mills bothered to give Steve his own tics, but I still don't believe this man exists for a second.

I'm willing to cut the show a lot of slack when it comes to certain things in the name of realism, like the occasionally awkward dialogue, because that's apparently how a lot of cops talk (at least, that's how Bill Clark seems to talk). But when you bring in a phony, overplayed, cheap laughs character like this, it shatters that whole illusion of realism, and you step back and think, "this is just another TV show." And it's not like the episode was in such desperate need of humor; Andy and Bobby's masquerades as FBI agents and Andy's bet with Greg were more than enough, in my opinion.

So, in all, I had a mixed reaction to "Aging Bull." There was a lot to really love, but there was also something to be concerned about and something to hate.

Shorter takes:

See ya in the funny papers...


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