NYPD Blue Summary/Review by Alan Sepinwall aka sepinwal@stwing.org

"A Little Dad'll Do Ya"
Season 9, Episode 16
3/18/02
Teleplay by Jody Worth
Story by Bill Clark & Jody Worth
Directed by Steven DePaul

Hello. I'm Alan Sepinwall. You may remember me from such summary/reviews as "The Backboard Jungle" and "As Flies to Wanton Boys Are We to the Gods/This Bud's For You." These days I'm a mild-mannered television critic for a great metropolitan newspaper, but since Amanda Wilson is taking a Blue break for a few weeks to move to a new city and job, you're all stuck with me again. Let's try to get through it together, okay? :)

A good episode, with one of the best action scenes I've ever seen on the show. More commentary after a summary.

Summary

A BIG RAY'LL BEAT YA

Connie and Rita catch an alleged rape case: a woman named Josie Toms claims she was being raped when her fiancé Ray Morris, a 6'6" mass of muscle and 'roid rage, came home and scared her attacker away. Both Josie and Ray recognized the man as Ray's second cousin Lenny Gano, and Ray has to be strongly dissuaded from going out and beating Lenny to death himself.

Our fearless heroines don't have trouble bringing in Lenny, who thinks he's being nailed for warrants related to unpaid parking tickets. Accused of the rape, he explains that it wasn't anything of the kind: he and Josie had been having a consensual fling for months, and he ran because he was afraid of getting pummeled by Ray. Connie and Rita are convinced, and they get Josie to admit to making up the rape because she was afraid of getting pummeled by Ray. A quick consultation with Lt. Rodriguez and ADA Haywood leads to Josie getting arrested for filing a false report; Haywood's willing to let it slide, but T-Rod is annoyed that so many man-hours were wasted on the case.

More than time gets wasted when Ray shows up in the squad, demanding to see Josie, who apparently called him and, sticking to the original rape story, claimed she was being held on trumped-up charges. Connie and Rita try to calm him down, but Ray flips out, sending the two petite cops flying across the room. While John Irvin practically leaps downstairs to get some uniformed assistance, John Clark and Andy try to wrestle Ray to the ground, but he's stronger than the two of them put together. Connie recovers her bearings, grabs a fire extinguisher, and pounds Ray in the head with it until he falls to the ground.

The squadroom is in a shambles, and Andy's beloved ceramic frog gets broken. Captain Fraker, the IAB cop who accused Rodriguez of having an affair with Ortiz, is back to investigate this incident, and he seems inclined to believe the paranoid ramblings of Ray, who doesn't seem nearly as imposing while lying on a hospital gurney. Rodriguez insists no excessive force was used, and offers to show Fraker Josie's original statement. Fraker mumbles something about this seeming okay, after all, but insists on more paperwork from Rodriguez before he can make a final determination.

GIRL, GIRL, BOY

Andy, John Clark (henceforth to be referred to as Junior to avoid confusion with John Irvin), Greg and Baldwin get called in when the body of a teenage girl is found buried in a vacant lot. The girl fits the missing person's report description of a Wan-Yee Quon, and her parents, both recent immigrants from China, are brought in for to confirm that the corpse is their daughter. Mrs. Quon speaks no English, but with her husband acting as translator suggests that the detectives question Travis Henning, a teen who wanted to be Wan-Yee's boyfriend.

Though he has Wan-Yee's purse in his knapsack -- which it turns out he carried because her parents didn't approve of her wearing makeup -- Travis didn't do it, and is stunned to find out she's dead. He immediately points a finger back at the parents, saying they never wanted her because she was a second daughter in a country where males are valued and where population growth laws allow families to only have two children. She had been foisted off on an aunt so the Quons could have another child, which turned out to be a boy, but when they emigrated to America, the Chinese government insisted that all three children go with them. Travis says that Wan-Yee was treated horribly by her parents and her older sister, which is later supported by a coroner's report showing signs of abuse, including whip marks, all over her body.

Older sister Wan-Mei, a student at St. John's, isn't especially broken up by Wan-Yee's death, and acknowledges that she told the girl to run away because "she was ruining everything." Wan-Mei is in a hurry to get back to school for a midterm. When Junior suggests that the school would allow her to postpone the test to deal with her grief, she stares at him like he's a talking chimp and insists that she has to go take her midterm.

A second go at Mr. Quon by Baldwin and Greg isn't very helpful. He works two jobs and is afraid of being fired from one for talking to the cops, but he admits both to hitting Wan-Li on occasion and that he was late to his day job on the day Wan-Li disappeared, but he insists it was because he was running late with his night job. "I have to go (back to work), or we go live in the street," he tells the cops, ending the impromptu interview.

Andy and Junior bring in Mrs. Quon, and with the help of a translator suggest that if she doesn't implicate the actual murderer, the entire family will be hurt in one way or another. She tells the cops and the stunned translator that she killed her daughter, who had brought them nothing but bad luck since rejoining the family. Her husband buried the body, but she says the whole incident was her fault for giving him two daughters. In retrospect, she wishes she had just drowned Wan-Yee at birth.

Mrs. Quon gets charged with murder, but the detectives endorse leaving Mr. Quon alone, because he's the sole support for his two children. Haywood wonders why Quon gets a pass for aiding and abetting a murderer while Josie Toms goes to jail for lying about a rape; Rodriguez points to the wrecked squadroom as his rationale. "I stand behind both decisions," he says.

JOHN, IS THAT YOU?

John Irvin (henceforth to be referred to as John because, well, he was here first) is nervous and excited about the impending arrival of his sister Delia, who's visiting from Boston. When she turns up at the squad, he proudly introduces her to everyone, but she declines a tour of the precinct house in favor of coffee and a private conversation.

To John's disappointment, if not surprise, Delia's not really here to see him. She's in town because their father, who has cut off all contact with John since he came out of the closet, is dying of congestive heart failure and has come to New York to see a specialist. He probably doesn't have long to live, and Delia begs her brother to put aside the old feud and come to say goodbye. John, whose only regret about coming out to the old man is that he didn't do it sooner to save himself some time and trouble, says he'll send flowers and a card, but that's it.

Once Delia leaves, John's behavior becomes distracted and erratic, and Andy finally drags him into the locker room to get the whole story. Andy, who had been told in the past by John that he and his father had a strong relationship, hears the truth and relates the story of his own estrangement from and eventual reconciliation with Andy Jr. -- the moral being that John should try to mend fences before it's too late. He suggests that Mr. Irvin might feel differently about his son now, and urges John to go to the hospital.

Andy and Delia's predictions of a reconciliation prove naively optimistic, though. Robert Irvin, bedridden and weak, seems to be happy to see John -- until, that is, John brings up the five-year-old argument. Robert doesn't want to hear about that, accusing John of not being able to talk about anything but being gay, then changes his tune and demands an apology for the humiliation John's sexual orientation brought him. John, unbelievably hurt, interrupts his father, says, "I wish the best for you, Dad," and bolts out of the room, barely stopping to say goodbye to Delia in the hallway.

A FOSTER DAD'LL DO YA

Junior is still looking out for James Kilik, the nervous teen who got sent to a youth center after Junior and Andy discovered that his mother was sexually molesting him. The place has turned out as scary as both Junior and James feared, and James is sporting a black eye when Junior comes to visit. He asks about his mother, but Junior doesn't have any real answers. James' aunt wouldn't take custody, but Junior insists that he still working on a solution to get James out. He offers the kid some magazines, but James declines, saying that the kids who beat him up also steal his stuff.

Junior relates James' sorry condition to Andy, who's still taking a pragmatic view of things. Junior half-heartedly considers taking James in himself. "You're talking out of your ass," says Andy, who later remembers that Eddie Gibson adopted two foster kids in the past and might have some contacts that could find James a speedier placement.

Gibson, who's getting ready to return to active duty, is moved by James' story -- maybe a little too moved. He's convinced Andy and Junior are trying to guilt him into taking James in, despite repeated assurances that they only want a few phone numbers, and insists that he and his wife are too old to take in another kid. Clearly, though, the wheels are already spinning in Eddie's dusty cerebrum about the idea of rescuing this victimized teen.

"I've just got a soft spot for kids," he tells Andy.

"'Cause you're a fine American," says Andy, only half-joking.

Later in the day, Eddie calls to say that he got provisional approval from his wife to let James move in with them, but he wants to meet him first, like an audition. James' stuff is already packed when Junior goes to the center to get him, and he starts panicking when he realizes that the placement isn't a sure thing. Junior insists that they bring the bag with him.

At a nearby pizzeria, James fails to make a strong first impression on Eddie on the subjects of football (James can't name a single player) and video games (Eddie vaguely remembers being annoyed when his kids played Pong), but the two start to bond when James mentions that he can cook and Eddie talks about the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches he produces with his sandwich-maker.

"I like grilled ham and cheese," James says, smiling for the first time in weeks.

"'Cause you're a fine American," says Eddie, with a wink towards Andy.

Eddie lays out the two rules of his house: Don't go in the living room and when you go to the bathroom, make sure you put the seat back down. With the matter apparently settled, Andy goes home to Theo, while the remaining trio enjoy some pizza and soda.

ON THE PERSONAL FRONT

Rita and Connie briefly discuss Don's funeral, which managed to provide Rita with some closure on the whole messy end of her marriage. Connie jokes about Rita going back into the dating pool. Rita says she's seriously dreading it, and Connie says that it is pretty dreadful.

Meanwhile, Valerie tries to thaw the ice between her and Baldwin by admitting that she handled the whole pregnancy badly. Both admit that they still think about each other, and resolve to stop pretending the other doesn't exist whenever their paths cross.

Review

A BIG RAY'LL BEAT YA

Let's talk about fight scenes for a minute, since this plot was mostly about setting up that massive squadroom brawl. There are usually two types of Hollywood fight scenes: the John Woo/Jackie Chan kind that are more elaborately choreographed than a Fred Astaire dance number, and the more "realistic" kind, which mostly feature overly-muscled guys punching each other in the face without ever hurting their knuckles. Anyone who's seen a real fight in person -- on the subway, in a bar, on the street -- can tell you that they don't look anything like either one. They're messy, and clumsy, and very, very scary.

Blue isn't big on fight scenes -- Remember John Kelly clocking Steroid Roy with one punch? -- but they always tend to feel authentic, and despite the massive scale of both the attacker and the fight, this was no exception. Ray had his way with everyone in the squad -- including our two main characters, who are usually the ones dealing out the brute force -- and only got taken down by a pile-on and Connie "fighting dirty." Stuff got broken, people got hurt and nobody came out looking cool; that's a real fight for you. This was frightening and exciting because it felt genuine. Excellent work by Steven DePaul in orchestrating all this mayhem and making it seem naturally chaotic.

For a brief second, I wondered why no one drew their weapon, but I suppose that was Hollywood conditioning on my part. In such close quarters, against a guy with a long reach who was flailing all over the place, a gun wouldn't have been very useful and could have made things much worse.

Good structure making sure Greg and Baldwin were out interviewing Mr. Quon at the time of the fight; Baldwin probably couldn't have taken an out-of- control Ray by himself, but he certainly would have made the odds a lot more even.

The rest of the story was mostly about establishing a parallel with the Quon case and the way the detectives' discretion can decide who's a collar and who isn't. That's been a popular theme this year, usually with two stories in tandem like this, usually with the different choices having to be explained to ADA Haywood. On the one hand, you probably have to use an outsider so the cops can explain their reasoning; among themselves, this kind of thing is instinctual and unspoken. But Valerie's continued cluelessness undercuts attempts to make her seem like a confident, veteran prosecutor. This might be a slot better filled by Junior, since he's already in an apprenticeship role.

I'm still trying to figure out where this Fraker thing is going. We've already seen with Sgt. Martens that the writers can create a three-dimensional member of the rat squad, so either they're backsliding into more clichéd territory or there's something more sinister at work to explain Fraker's mad-on for Rodriguez. I'm not sure how much I like either idea, but Casey Siemaszko is a good actor (I just caught him again this weekend as one of Kiefer Sutherland's sidekicks in Stand by Me), and I'm willing to wait and see.

GIRL, GIRL, BOY

Another solid, by-the-numbers story in which a particular scene stood out -- in this case, Mrs. Quon's translated confession. Interpreters, whether they're dealing with foreign tongues or hearing-impaired speakers, are usually depicted in movies and television as expository non-entities, and I appreciate any attempts to treat them as actual people. On The West Wing, the guy who translates for Marlee Matlin has this gregarious personality that makes an impression well beyond the fact that he's interpreting for her. In this scene, the interpreter got flustered the way most ordinary civilians would when they hear a woman confess not only to murdering her daughter, but to wishing she had done it when the girl was an infant. Cops are used to hearing this sort of thing; she clearly wasn't. She got flustered, lost her place several times and had to be reprimanded by Andy. It added a humanity and horror to the scene that wouldn't have been there if it was just our jaded detectives in the room. A very nice touch.

While the finger was pointed at the Quon family pretty early, it was still very creepy to see the sister, the father and the mother all act like Wan-Yee's death was a nuisance on the scale of going to the DMV. The end of the scene at Mr. Quon's job did make me feel oddly sympathetic towards him; nobody should have to work like a slave like that.

JOHN, IS THAT YOU?

Because John is usually on the outside looking in (literally), we don't hear that much about his personal life, and that meant we got an awful lot of backstory dump in a single episode. We had never heard about his sister or his father before tonight. (His mom was still alive and well at the end of season three, where she attended his going-away party in "He Ain't Guilty, He's My Brother." Presumably she died not long after.) Those are two very deep, important relationships to not only establish, but trade on emotionally in a single hour. Thankfully, Bill Brochtrup is such a good actor -- and has helped to create such a well-liked, albeit underused, character -- that it worked in spite of the last- minute nature of it.

Because we almost always see John interacting either with cops or criminals, it's interesting to see how he carries himself in front of other people. He seemed a lot less timid when Delia showed up, even before she brought up old business, and he carried that confidence into that emotionally perilous reunion with his father. In certain ways, I think the John we see on the show every week isn't the "real" John; "our" John is him at his most guarded, both because he doesn't really fit in and because he feels he can do his job best by staying out of everyone's way. Whenever the camera pans over to him for one of those silent, Greek chorus reaction shots, you can always tell that John would like to say something; he just recognizes that, under the circumstances, he shouldn't. This episode gave him a chance to really speak his mind.

I was a little nervous myself about how the reunion scene would go, especially because we had never met Robert Irvin before. When Andy retold the Andy Jr. story, it was a reminder that their reconciliation spanned several episodes over half a season. When the two finally hugged, it was a big moment because the show had spent time on the buildup. I think if Mr. Irvin and John had kissed and made up, it would have felt cheap, like manufactured sentiment. But the stubborn iciness of it worked under the circumstances; the last few lines and John's exit were like a punch in the gut.

A FOSTER DAD'LL DO YA

Here, we get three happy endings in one. The obvious is that poor James gets liberated from purgatory. While I appreciated the dark ending of "Oh, Mama!" -- Junior's "What did we just do?" may be my favorite moment of the season -- it's also good to see it eventually turn out better for James. Like the Andy/Andy Jr. thing, this story couldn't have been satisfyingly told in a single episode, nor would it have had the same impact if it hadn't ended on that note of despair a few weeks ago.

The second happy ending involves good ol' Eddie Gibson, who's turning out to be some kind of All-Star-caliber utility player for the show. First, he spends the early part of the season as great comic relief and as a means of establishing Connie as a tough, independent character. Then he introduces Andy to Mrs. Hornby (and the show to an entertaining subplot). Now he's not only ready to return to work, but he's shown that even complete doofuses can have their hearts in the right place. John F. O'Donohue is so good in this part, so real and funny and (in this case) endearing, that I doubt this is the last we'll see of him; the writers like him too much, and for obvious reasons.

The third happy ending wasn't so much for Junior, though he's certainly pleased that he was able to correct his mistake (assuming it was a mistake in the first place). I think this was a happy ending for Andy more than his partner. At the beginning of the show, Andy's basically washed his hands of James Kilik; he feels bad about what happened, but he doesn't know what to do about it and understands that there's only so many wrongs a man can successfully right. It hasn't even occurred to him to call Gibson until Junior prods him to find a solution to the problem. Though Junior's been on the job for a while, he hasn't really lost his innocence yet; Andy hasn't seen his in decades. That last silent exchange at the pizzeria, with the two trading smiles and Andy giving Junior a chuck on the shoulder, was all about Andy being happily reminded that persistence and wearing your heart on your sleeve can sometimes work out.

This was, of course, a very strong John Clark story -- one in which Mark- Paul Gosselaar continued to show depths I never suspected he had -- and another step in building an interesting foundation for the Sipowicz/Clark partnership.

I like the way the writers are acknowledging that the two come from completely different life experiences, more so than with Andy and any of his other partners, including Danny. Danny was weird and tortured and angry and in a lot of ways just as screwed-up as Andy. Andy and Junior don't have much in common other than being good cops, and Junior is more plugged into contemporary culture than any of his predecessors (Kelly or Simone never would have admitted to listening to hip-hop), so it's like there's a multi-part generation gap here.

Junior is young and eager to learn, but he's also savvy enough to recognize that not only is Andy not always right, he's also a little ridiculous. He disagrees with Andy, but he also likes to rag on him, like the priceless bit with the ceramic frog (more on that below). Danny was too depressed to tease Andy. Bobby did it only on special occasions. Kelly, to the best of my recollection, didn't have a sense of humor detectable by modern science. This is a new thing we've got here, and I'm enjoying it. A lot.

ON THE PERSONAL FRONT

A good try to have Connie reach out to Rita and establish more of a personal relationship between the two, but Rita's still not working for me. I think it was a big mistake to introduce her this way, so tied into the relationship with Don that she had nothing else intrinsically interesting about her. Don's dead, and, yes, the show needs to acknowledge that Rita is taking time to grieve, but it's still yet another episode where Rita is only defined in terms of her relationship with Don. Enough, already. If Bochco & Co. had established who Rita was before Don went all creepy, then sleazy, then permanently sleepy, I might be interested in her mourning period, but we were told to care about the Don/Rita marriage before we were given a chance to care about Rita, period.

Speaking of not caring, can we move on with Baldwin and Valerie? Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? Yes, they're both tall, they're both really, reeeally, ridiculously good-looking, and they're both black. But, in case anyone hasn't really been paying attention to this subplot, they have absolutely no chemistry together. None. Zilch. I like Henry Simmons as an actor and appreciate the way that, like Jimmy Smits before him, he's had to mostly invent his character out of whole cloth (there's never been much to Baldwin on the page), but he and Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon together are about as exciting as taking a valium. Why continue to waste valuable screen time on whether these two are or are not going to say "Hello" to each other? They tried it, it didn't work out, move on. Even the best actors can fail to click in an on-screen romance. When the producers recognized that Rick Schroder and Kim Delaney didn't have any chemistry, they pulled the plug on Danny and Diane in about five seconds. What's the delay here?

Quick hits

* Did you notice that, immediately after Rodriguez defended his calls on Mr. Quon and Josie Toms to Valerie, he turned to Andy for affirmation? Fancy never would have done that -- but then, Fancy wouldn't have needed to. Rodriguez does a good job of always seeming confident and in control, but he's still pretty new at this squad thing, and I appreciate little acknowledgements of that.

* Was Bill Brochtrup a gymnast at some point in his life? During the brawl, he leaped over the catching gate like he was trying to impress the Swedish judge. Nifty acrobatics from a man in the middle of a very busy personal episode.

* I don't share Amanda's slavish devotion to Hank -- I was always more of a Josh Astrachan man, myself -- but since she's not here ... HANK! And he even spoke!

* Gordon Clapp mostly got the week off, but he was desperately-needed -- and perfectly-used -- in the exchange about Andy's frog. Greg is, after all, the only other current member of the squad who was around when Geri Turner gave it to him all those seasons ago. It's funny: Despite Andy's fear of and disgust for Geri and all her weird sexual fetishes, he held onto that damn frog through three partnerships (Danny even commented on it during his first day in the squad, remember?) and got upset when it was damaged. Hmm ... Andy's now single, and Geri presumably is as well. Might we see this old fire rekindled? :) (Note: It's since been brought to my attention that the frog Geri gave Andy was a rubber one to match the ceramic one he already had, and that he declined the gift. Still, I'm leaving in the above paragraph because the image of Andy and Geri getting together greatly amuses me.)

Guest stars of note

Peter White (Robert Irvin) is a soap opera veteran (All My Children, Dallas, The Colbys). He is not, by the way, related to Cheryl White, who played Delia Irvin, but she's a long-time friend and former high school classmate of Bill Brochtrup's.

Jeff Chase (Ray Morris) is a stuntman -- he would almost have to be, given that monstrous build -- who usually doubles as an actor in his films. (He's currently in the Ice Cube caper All About the Benjamins, and got beat up a few weeks ago by Jennifer Garner on Alias.)

George Kee Cheung (Mr. Quon) has been acting steadily since the '70s, both here and overseas. His resume's too long to list here, but you can look him up on IMDB. For some reason, the role that jumped out to me was a tiny bit in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, as part of the montage of double-entendres about Dr. Evil's phallic spaceship. (He's the Chinese teacher who scolds a student named Wang.) He was also on NYPD Blue once before, in the Chinatown- centered "Cop Suey."

Line of the week

A busy, mostly dark episode without a lot of room for Sipowitticisms, but this exchange about Andy's frog probably would be the winner most weeks:

Clark: "Burial at sea?"
Sipowicz: "A little superglue, and she'll be fine."
Rodriguez: "'She'?"
Medavoy: "He's had her for a long time."
Clark: "Too long."

Next week

Clark revives the 15th squad boxing tradition, while Rodriguez has more problems with Internal Affairs.


See you in the funny papers,
Alan Sepinwall