NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 20
A Death in the Family
Written by Michael Daly
Directed by Mark Tinker
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Andy arrives at work, proudly brandishing the latest in a seemingly unending series of Polaroids of his baby, Theo, but his jovial mood vanishes very quickly as he's sent out to Bellvue with Bobby to interview a witness in a robbery/homicide. The man explains that he had fled a bar when he saw that two men were assaulting one of the waitresses. He ran outside to get help, told a passerby what was happening, then went to pull a fire alarm while this other man ran inside. Doc Monzack takes Bobby to look at this second man, who was shot and killed in his rescue attempt. Monzack pulls back the sheet...

...and Bobby finds himself staring at the corpse of Andy Jr. Meanwhile, Andy, who had gone to examine the effects of what he assumed to be just another victim, recognizes several of his son's belongings. Bobby chokes back tears as he confirms that it is Andy Jr. who was killed, and Andy embraces his son's body, practically hyperventilating with shock as he does so.

The rest of the squad rapidly puts on the full court press to try to catch the killer, and one of the detectives turns up a similarly patterned bar robbery from a week earlier. While they're interviewing witnesses, Andy pulls Bobby into the locker room and starts beating himself up over this - how good a teacher could he have been if his son was foolish enough to try to break up a robbery without a gun? He decides to go break the bad news to Sylvia and his ex-wife and to make the funeral arrangements. As he's getting ready to leave, he tells Bobby that he doesn't think he could endure the process of prosecuting Andy Jr's killers. He says that wants whoever did this dead, and walks out before Bobby has a chance to say anything in protest.

Andy stops by the apartment briefly to see the baby and fill in Sylvia, but quickly walks out on his crying wife so he can see Katie, his ex. The instant Katie sees Andy at the door, she knows something bad has happened to Andy Jr., but the news still devastates her. Andy promises to pay for all the funeral expenses, but walks out when she, too, begins sobbing in his arms.

Bobby's managed to make some headway with the case in the interim - a derelict is found with the murder weapon, but he claims he found it while dumpster diving. The owner of the other bar that was robbed isn't helpful, but one of his patrons claims to have recognized the perps, and to have spotted them again, living in a trailer a few blocks from where the bum found the pistol. Bobby and Diane go to check it out, and once they've determined that their two suspects are at home, Diane radios for backup. Bobby, remembering Andy's locker room request, decides to go in alone, but Diane insists on following him in, at least partially. The two men are asleep when Bobby busts in, and one reaches for a shotgun, giving Bobby ample excuse to kill him, but instead he fires a warning shot in the air and pistol whips the guy into submission.

Meanwhile, Andy makes funeral and viewing arrangements at a mortuary close to Katie's sister's place. He tells the funeral home director that he wants Andy Jr. buried in his policeman's uniform - the uniform that he had been on the way to the dry cleaner to pick up when he got killed. He gets back to the precinct and talks to Vince Gotelli, who happens to be a police union delegate, and arranges for Andy Jr's police benefits to go to Katie.

Bobby and Diane have to drop one of their suspects off at Roosevelt's Hospital because Bobby gave him a skull fracture, but they bring the other back to the 15 for questioning. The Loo's very suspicious of Bobby's actions, but Diane reluctantly backs Bobby's account of events, and they're left on the case, with a warning that they'll all be under close scrutiny because of who the victim was. Diane privately tears into Bobby, suggesting that he was attempting an "execution," but agrees to continue working the case with him. Their suspect has an alibi - he was locked up until late that morning on a drug possession charge - but posits that his buddy might have pulled off a robbery with another friend of his.

Bobby's resolved to keep Andy out of the loop until they know for sure that they've got the right men, but relents and tells him, among other things, that one of their suspects is in a hospital. Andy bulls his way out of the precinct, and Bobby grabs Diane to get over to Roosevelt's as quickly as possible, figuring Andy will try Bellvue first. Their hospitalized suspect also has an alibi - he mugged somebody else this morning, and has the stolen ID cards to prove it.

Andy shows up at Roosevelt's just as Bobby and Diane are concluding their interview. Bobby relates the latest frustrating bit of news, and Andy, after brushing off Diane's repeated offers to take him to an AA meeting, heads to the morgue to make an official ID of the body. The cop working there kindly spares him from having to view the corpse a second time, and Andy heads home.

His stop there is brief - just long enough to tell Sylvia to take care of Theo on her own until he works through this. He heads out, buys a pack of cigarettes, walks into a corner bar, and begins downing whiskey shots, one after another, in an attempt to drown out the pain.


Aside from the members of the Sipowicz family, the person most broken up about Andy Jr's death is Donna, who regretfully has to add more sad news to Lt. Fancy's plate - she's decided to take the job with Apple, and will be leaving as soon as it's convenient. The Loo wishes her well, but says they'll all miss her very much.

Donna eventually decides to make this her final day, and writes farewell notes to everyone in the squad - Andy's becomes a combination between a good-bye and a condolence card. She gives the remainder of the messages to Lt. Fancy to hand out, but decides to at least tell Greg in person that she's leaving. He's flabbergasted, but she won't elaborate, saying that this is the way she wants to go, and that any other questions will be answered in her letter to him. But when Greg finds out he wasn't the only one in the squad to receive a letter, he decides to pocket his for later reading.

I generally watch TV in one of two modes - as the head viewer or the heart viewer. Occasionally, like tonight, I find myself watching in both modes at once. And the head and the heart were sending out pretty conflicting signals all night.

My heart was at once sad and angry - sad that Andy Jr. got killed, sad that all the progress Andy's made in the past three years went down the toilet in just one day, angry that Bobby even thought about indulging Andy's request, and angry that the writers would put us through an emotional wringer like this. My head, meanwhile, was saying, "Shut the hell up, heart! This is great f&*^ing television! Both Andy and the show have become too complacent - they need a major kick in the ass and this is it!" In the end, the head won - this was a FABULOUS show - but my heart can't help but feel a little heavy.

I was pretty sure this was coming - even without the lousy spoiler protection around here lately, the foreshadowing has been fairly heavy. It's obvious that all of Andy's lessons were leading to *something* major, though I kept hoping it wasn't this. But regardless of how well prepared I was for this, the look of horror on Bobby's face, followed by the shot of Andy Jr's corpse, was still extraordinarily powerful.

Andy Jr's been around practically since the beginning of the series, and if anyone's been a barometer of Andy's rise from the gutter, it was him. When we first met him, he could barely stand to be in the same room with his father, coming to him only because he desperately needed some money. The old Andy would have just used his son's bitterness as an excuse to go on another bender, but this new Andy whose rebirth we were witness to went out of his way to try to regain his son's trust, if not his love, and by the end of that first year he'd gotten it. Andy Jr. was even on hand at the moment of Andy's finest triumph, when he finally cracked the Bucci kidnapping case. It was Andy Jr's proud announcement that he was entering the Air Force that was the impetus for Andy to finally propose successfully to Sylvia. And it was through Andy's lessons to his son that we got to see just how proud he had become about his job and his family.

And Andy Jr's death may have just shattered the new life foundation his father had built. His trip to the bar was no casual thing, like Diane's brief fall off the wagon back in "One Big Happy Family" - he was belting back those whiskeys like there was no tomorrow. If Andy's drinking again, his job's in jeopardy and his marriage is in jeopardy. He may have suggested to Sylvia that he would work through this on his own, but going back to drinking and smoking isn't a way to heal himself. It's a way for Andy to punish himself for his perceived role in Andy Jr's death. And unless the writers go for a total cop-out on the last two episodes of the season, something tells me it may take quite a while before Andy has the strength to pull himself out of that bottle again. This is not like the death of Diane's father, an unrepentant wife-beater whose death in all likelihood improved the quality of his family's life - this is a Tragedy, with a capital T.

And, as for Dennis Franz's performance, only one word can even remotely describe it: Wow. And maybe one more: Emmy.

In a way, the arc of Andy dealing - or, rather, failing to deal - with his grief, was fairly predictable. The power here was in the details: the way Andy kept beating himself up for pumping the boy up with heroic ideals, the fact that the clay imprint of a young Andy Jr's hand happened to be the centerpiece of Katie Sipowicz's coffee table, the awkward responses of the mortician and the morgue cop when Andy started talking in detail about the murder, etc. No opportunity was missed here to paint this in very real, human, terms. The fact that, for once, the killer wasn't caught, only added to that.

Even if Andy's story was somewhat easy to predict, Bobby's certainly was not. At first, Andy's adamant request that Bobby be the lead investigator struck me as nothing more than his desire to have, in his opinion, the best available detective working things. And while the revelation that he wanted Bobby to avenge his son's death wasn't surprising, Bobby's willingness, even partial, to oblige the request certainly was. This is one instance where Bobby's natural stoicism was a bit maddening - would he really have killed the two guys in the trailer if it had "felt right"? He certainly had a good excuse to kill the one with the shotgun, and the fact that he instinctively fired into the air might strike some as reassuring. But to me, the mere fact that he tried to put himself into a position where he would be able to perform an execution with no witnesses if he wanted to disturbs the hell out of me, quite possibly more than any other action taken by any character in this series.

However, the fact that I was deeply saddened at Andy Jr's death and Andy Sr's latest self-destructive bent, and was extremely troubled by Bobby's actions just illustrates how fantastic "A Death in the Family" was. Great entertainment, be it books, music, movies, theater, or television, really stirs you up. The best episodes of Blue do that. "A Death in the Family" was one of the best-ever episodes of Blue. 'Nuff said.

Shorter takes:

See ya next week, folks!

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