NYPD Blue, Season 4, Episode 22
A Draining Experience
Story by David Milch & Bill Clark
Teleplay by Jane Wallace
Directed by Michael Watkins
(PLEASE NOTE: Because of certain rather earth-shaking developments in this season finale, you really should consider not reading this summary until you've got seen it. If you didn't see what happened, do your best to bug your friends or people on-line other than me to get you the tape; trust me on this one.)

PLOT ONE: SUSPENSION AND DISBELIEF

The hits just keep on coming in Bobby's ongoing assignment for FBI Agent Kriegel, who informs our hero that he should expect a call IAB Lt. Shannon, who may be Joey Salvo's mole in Internal Affairs. Kriegel orders Bobby to acknowledge that he knows Salvo from childhood, but otherwise remain silent, in the hopes that Shannon will then contact Salvo and they'll have plugged their leak. Bobby insists that if that happens, he's done, and produces a document detailing the chronology of the entire operation, from Salvo's initial approach at the restaurant to everything since. After Kriegel leaves, Lt. Fancy offers to look over the paper and sign it as a confirming witness, shrugging, "I do what I can."

Andy and Diane have been bickering ever since he realized that Bobby told her about the situation and not him, but Bobby feels confident enough in recent developments to let his relieved partner know that the lines of communication will be opened again. The meeting with Shannon goes as expected, but the outcome is a big surprise to Bobby: Shannon has him suspended and orders the surrender of his gun and shield. Bobby does it in disbelief, wondering what the hell happened.

Bobby goes home to brood, but Kriegel calls him back in later in the day. By now, Bobby's realized that they never thought Shannon was dirty, and that Kriegel orchestrated the whole thing so that Bobby would feel no choice but to get in deep with Salvo -- a suspicion confirmed by his conversation with the duplicitous FBI agent. Kriegel promises to try to make things right for Bobby once everything goes down -- an empty promise in Simone's view, since word of his suspension is filtering through the ranks and no amount of spin control will ever make him seem totally clean to every cop in the department -- and then "suggests" that Bobby make the best of a bad situation by going all the way with Salvo. Bobby has no choice but to agree, but also decides enough's enough and fills Diane and Andy in on everything. In the middle of their conversation, IAB Sgt. Martens shows up, also suspended; apparently, once his bosses realized he was clean, they decided to suspend him to get the real leak to drop his guard. Andy, still stunned by the colossal screwing his partner's getting, can't muster up much sympathy for Martens.

Bobby insists on wearing a tape recorder instead of a radio unit, and while he's waiting to get hooked up, Andy comes into the locker room to try to talk him out of playing Kriegel's game. Andy knows what a bad guy Salvo is from his days on robbery, and doesn't want Bobby anywhere near him, but his suggestion that Bobby clear his name by busting Salvo won't fly; Bobby figures Kriegel would spin it in a way to make him look even dirtier. When Diane enters after the resolution of the Lakos case (see Plot Two), she doesn't offer any advice, except for Bobby to lock the door so he can work off some of his stress by making love to her -- an idea he picks up and runs with.

That night, Bobby meets with Joey in the same alley as last time, and Joey offers Bobby a job in his organization. But just as Joey's offering a friendly warning that Bobby should be prepared to break the law now and then, shots ring out and Salvo falls dead. Bobby draws his back-up gun, as a car screeches around the corner from the direction of the shots...

...with Andy at the wheel. Andy doesn't come right out and say he shot Salvo, but sneers that "They got no game now." Bobby can't think straight, and tells Andy to get the hell out of there before a radio car shows up to investigate the shots. Before Andy drives off, he warns his partner, "You better lose that tape." Bobby rips off the tape recorder and stashes it inside a rain gutter just before the radio car pulls up and a uniform cop orders him to freeze.

PLOT TWO: A PRIVILEGED PERP

While Bobby is stuck in Kriegel's spiderweb, Andy and Diane have to investigate the murder of Christine Lakos, who was found murdered in a parking lot with drain cleaner poured down her throat. Bobby briefly gets assigned the case, and winds up interviewing Dr. Herbert Wentzel, the victims' psychiatrist, who comes into the station because he thinks she's in danger from sources he can't name because of doctor-patient privilege. Bobby detects something hinky about the shrink and doesn't tell him about the murder, and Wentzel suggests that the detectives have a long chat with Christine's father, a plumber named Albert.

Albert and his wife, Greek immigrants, are devastated by the news, and none of the detectives see any signs that Albert didn't get along with his daughter. They also try to contact Christine's sister, but she's not at her job when they call.

Wentzel comes in again and when informed about Christine's death, tries to explain that he thought Christine was close to suicide over a childhood incestuous relationship with her father, and might've swallowed drain cleaner as a symbol of that relationship. Andy points out that the drain cleaner was ingested post-mortem, so Wentzel rapidly changes his tune and comes up with yet another theory, that her father killed her and then, feeling guilty, used the drain cleaner to point the cops towards him.

After talking with Christine's sister, who says Christine was seeing Wentzel to get over the trauma of a rape, and fielding a half-dozen calls per hour from Wentzel trying to get an update on the investigation, Andy asks the doctor to come in again. After a few minutes of conversation, Andy does some amateur psychoanalysis of his own, saying that it was Wentzel who had an incestuous relationship with a parent -- his mother -- and that he went around the bend and started to see Christine as a surrogate for his late mama. Because Wentzel declined a lawyer earlier in the interview, Andy says that none of them are leaving the room until he gets a signed confession, and they can do it the easy way or the hard way. Wentzel eventually starts writing.

PLOT THREE: THE FOURTH ESTATE

Greg and James take a robbery complaint from a John Highsmith, who was assaulted and had his wallet stolen by two teens -- one posing as an epileptic, the other as a concerned friend. While filing the complaint, Highsmith seems decidedly uncooperative, and at the end of the interview the detectives find out why: Highsmith works for a magazine that recently ran a story comparing the NYPD to a third-world country's police force, violating suspects' rights and the Constitution whenever they see fit.

Medavoy and Martinez aren't too keen on going to the mat for Highsmith, but when another unit picks up two kids named Jamal and Warren pulling the same scam on another innocent bystander, they have the two brought into the One-Five for questioning and call in Highsmith. Jamal and Warren are underage but have been through the system enough times to know how to manipulate it, like refusing to stand in a lineup and knowing that the police can't have their photos on file. Nonetheless, Greg snaps some Polaroids of each, and informs Highsmith that they won't be able to convict the boys, but could conceivably get his wallet back. Highsmith agrees to put his prized ethics on hold for a moment and picks Jamal and Warren's pictures out of an array.

James lays out the situation calmly for the boys: if they were to tell the detectives where Mr. Highsmith "left" his wallet, they'll be free to go. Jamal isn't too cooperative, but Warren, who may not be as young as he claims, suggests they look in the basement of a nearby abandoned building. Highsmith gets his wallet back -- minus the nine dollars cash that had been inside -- but says the experience hasn't changes his overall feelings about the police.


Damn!

In its three previous seasons, NYPD blue went out of its way to play into the conventional TV idea of the season ending cliffhanger. Season one ended with Andy sobered up and The Other Guy knocking boots with Debrah Farentino. Season two ended with Andy married and Bobby helping Diane get sober. Season three ended with Andy taking his son for his "churching" and Bobby and Diane planning a sunny vacation. Maybe not every loose end got tied up, but there was enough closure to keep the fans sated over the summer.

Well, all I can say is that David Milch picked a helluva way to muck with tradition. :)

I've already seen a bunch of people trying to find a solution to the "Who Shot Salvo?" mystery, but in my mind, there wasn't any mystery to begin with. Andy did it. No other possibility even occurred to me until I logged onto Usenet, so I went back and checked the tape, and there's no way anyone could've shot Salvo in the back, since they were standing in an enclosed alley, which meant the shots had to hit him in the front, from the direction Andy was coming. Whether or not the angle was perfect or whether or not he was too far away isn't the issue here; this is a television show, no matter how we like to pretend it isn't, and sometimes the laws of physics get thrown out the window in the service of good storytelling.

Those who think Andy didn't do it, ask yourselves these questions: 1)Why would he be "taking a left on Mulberry" at just that moment?, and 2)Why would he be so quick to say "they got no game now" if he didn't know it was going to happen in advance?, and 3)Why would he tell Bobby to destroy the tape? If I may step out on a relatively sturdy limb, I'm saying there's no question Sipowicz did it (watch, now the season premiere in October'll say it was Upstairs John and I'll look like a putz).

So, the question is, how do I feel about this? I'm a little conflicted. First, I'm not a big fan of cliffhangers, especially with a show that traditionally premieres late, so we're going to have to wait nearly five months to get some sense of resolution, but I've gotta admit that this was one damn good nail-biter.

Second, it's nice to see that the edgy, out-of-control Sipowicz from the show's early days isn't completely gone. Characters on this show have come close to executing scumbags before -- The Other Guy was willing to shoot Richie Catena to get Janice out of a similar undercover fiasco, Simone may have killed Andy Jr's murderers even if it hadn't been self-defense -- but Andy (who tried to murder Alfonse Giardella himself a few times) is the only one gonzo enough to really go through with it, especially in a situation where his own safety isn't even in jeopardy. We've seen in the past how loyal Andy is, and to commit murder just to save his partner from a situation that may have resolved itself happily in time is the kind of well-intentioned but completely wrong-headed thing which only he is capable of. And, provided Milch doesn't lose his nerve or focus, this incident is going to forever change the relationship between our two heroes.

That being said, the way the scene was presented bugged me a bit. Unlike the drunken Andy with nothing to lose from the first season, Sipowicz now has "responsibilities" in Sylvia and Theo, so if he's going to kill a guy, he's gotta make himself absolutely invulnerable to suspicion. He's been a homicide cop a long time, and is smart enough to do that, but what does he do? He drives right up to the scene of the crime immediately afterward and gets his voice on tape commenting about the good that's going to come from Salvo's death. Sure, it made for a killer (pun intended) ending, but now Andy may have screwed himself, and, at the very least, has screwed Bobby. If he'd just fired from a distance and driven away without being seen -- or, if he had to let Bobby know right away (and Milch had to let the viewers know), driven by silently with a finger across his lips -- no one but Bobby would've been the wiser. But the FBI is damn sure going to want that tape, and Bobby can't give it to them, even if he somehow manages to record over the last bit (technology is advanced enough to detect that sort of thing). So there's Bobby, already strung up for IAB, now the only witness and possible suspect in a murder, refusing to surrender a crucial piece of evidence for reasons he can't reveal. If he thought he was jammed up before....

But that's something to be resolved come fall. In the meantime, we've got the rest of a generally outstanding (with one dull subplot in the middle) episode to dissect.

Last week, I was noting that the undercover story had a rather large flaw, since the only real leverage the FBI held over Bobby was the threat to have him or Diane transferred -- which, if you think about it, is probably healthier for their relationship in the long run -- and he could get out at any time with minimal damage to his career and reputation. Well, he reached the point of no return right around the time Lt. Shannon asked for his gun and shield. Like Bobby says, no matter what kind of spin he or Fancy or Kriegel puts on this, there's always going to be some guys who wonder about him, and with The Job, your reputation is everything. I've compared this story to the mess that Janice got into with Inspector Lastarza back in season one, but I think Kriegel is turning into an even better villain than Lastarza, simply because he doesn't telegraph his punches. Bobby (and the audience) knew that Kriegel didn't have his best interests at heart, but I doubt anybody saw in advance that the soft-spoken fed was setting Bobby up to get suspended so he would have no choice but to go in deep. Bobby has a lot more self-control than I do, since if I was in that situation -- and had Jimmy Smits' physique (though I'm getting there, thanks to a recent workout regimen ) -- Kriegel would've been a bloody pulp against the coffee room wall the minute he suggested that I try to make the best of a bad situation.

And while I often think that the sex scenes on the show are gratuitous and distracting, this one really worked for me, mainly because it was about as unsexy as they come. Here's Bobby, his career rapidly flying into the dumpster, unable to think of how he's going to get out of this mess and getting more and more tied up in knots. Diane comes along, and the only thing she can think to do to help is at least get Bobby's mind off his troubles for a few minutes with some good lovin' -- which has also been the part of their relationship where they've emotionally bonded the most, so she's also trying to give him some support -- but it doesn't work, as Bobby looks and acts completely robotic while doing it (though he has to be at least partly worked up to get L'il Bobby to cooperate, I suppose). Very, very disturbing.

As for the rest of the episode, I thought the Greg and James case worked nicely while Andy and Diane's was a real snoozer. The stuff with Dr. Wentzel re-travelled territory we've been over a million times, and without any kind of originality. Last week's case with the twitchy building super was also kind of tired, but tied in so well to the ongoing tension between Andy and Bobby that it worked well; aside from a small bit of added surliness from Andy, this case could've been done on any week, though I would've found it just as dull then.

The stolen wallet case, on the other hand, was a very good example of how to write an interesting minor subplot to keep the supporting characters busy. Not only did Greg and James come off as competent detectives -- without a single mention of semen samples, mercifully -- but there was some nice tension and snappy patter between them and Highsmith (who, considering all the civil liberties violations we've seen on the show in four years, is pretty much right on the money with his assessment), a nice bit of irony in them having to bend the law a little to get his property back, and two very-well drawn perps in Jamal and Warren. And it didn't take up so much time that it started to distract and detract from the ongoing Bobby story.

In all, while some may say it was too little, too late, the fourth season ends on two very strong notes, and I'm damned curious to know how on earth they're going to resolve all of this.

Quick Hits:

As for my own plans for next season, I have no idea. I figure I already inadvertently chased away half the people who read these things (the ones on the Web, at any rate) with my jumping-the-gun "farewell address" two weeks back, plus I doubt my schedule will get any freer, plus I have no idea whether the show will continue to hold my interest nearly as much as it has the past two weeks. The way I figure it is this: I'll definitely be around to weigh in on the season premiere, and then we'll take it from there. If I don't have anything to say about a particular episode, I won't do a review, and if I do, I will. Simple as that, though expect a much bigger delay in posting them -- unless, of course, the episode is so good that I can't go to bed without putting finger to keyboard about it (like with "Is Paris Burning?").

I'll also likely be back sometime next week with some brief (especially in comparison to last year's opus) thoughts on the season as a whole, so watch the newsgroup and/or the website sometime after next Wednesday.

See ya in the funny papers...


Alan Sepinwall * e-mail: sepinwal@force.stwing.upenn.edu
Homepage: http://www.stwing.upenn.edu/~sepinwal/
NYPD Blue page: http://www.stwing.upenn.edu/~sepinwal/nypd.html

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