NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 15,
Head Case
Story by David Mills & Bill Clark
Teleplay by David Mills
Directed by Randall Zisk
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Andy and Bobby's latest crime scene is an unsettling one. The body of the victim, an NYU professor named Daniel Reese, was found naked in a chair in his apartment. The head of the victim was found on the floor. After helping a young uniformed officer confront her queasiness, Bobby interviews the building doorman, who says that Prof. Reese was gay and frequently invited male hustlers back to his place.

With the NY Gay Defense League breathing down his neck, Fancy urges Bobby and Andy to close the case quickly. Bereft of any other leads, Sip and Simone head out to Queens to break the bad news to Reese's elderly mother Margaret and find out more about an angry message she left on Daniel's machine the night of his death. She doesn't seem quite prepared to comprehend the news, instead choosing to query about a car that she and Daniel jointly owned. She does, however, tell Andy that the answering machine message was about a former student of Daniel's whom he was letting crash at his apartment. Apparently, Reese was going to ask the young man (whom Mrs. Reese doesn't know) to leave on the night he was murdered. Andy gets the license number of the car in hopes that it might lead them to the killer, then leaves Mrs. Reese to cope with her loss.

Back at the precinct, Bobby discovers Reese's doorman in the company of a Joey Suarez, who apparently spent a night or two at Reese's place a few weeks back. The heterosexual Suarez claims he met Reese at a nightclub that caters to straights and gays, where Reese often tried to pick up young men in the bathroom by offering them free marijuana. Suarez says he went home to smoke more of Reese's dope, but that was it. After Bobby begins treating him like a suspect, Suarez agrees to jot down the names of other men that he knew went home with Reese at one point or another.

While Bobby's running the names Suarez gives them through BCI, Andy gets a call from Mrs. Reese, who says a uniformed cop named Litvack just dropped Daniel's wallet off at her house. Litvack, a cop at the 8th precinct, says he found the wallet in the back of his police unit when he started his shift, and didn't realize it belonged to a murder victim. The logbooks show that the only arrest made by that unit on the previous shift was of a disorderly black male named Rodney Wellstone who was wandering around with his trousers down and no underwear. Recalling that the murderer left his underwear at Reese's apartment, the detectives arrange to have Wellstone transferred over to the 15th precinct, then go to interview a Sheila Bell, the recipient of Wellstone's phone call from lock-up. Bell turns out to be Rodney's sister. She tells the detectives that he brother used to be very bright - he attended NYU, in fact - but has been experiencing mental problems the past few years. The night before, he showed up at her apartment and tried to give her a car - Reese's car.

Mrs. Reese, upon hearing that the car has been recovered, shows up at the precinct and demands to see it; Andy takes pity on her and arranges for a uniform cop to drive her out to the police impound lot. Meanwhile, true to his sister's words, Rodney behaves like a real nut in interrogation, and vows that he will make only one statement and then remain silent for 4 years and 7 months. Just in case he sticks to his promise, Fancy calls in ADA Cohen and a technician to witness and videotape, respectively, Wellstone's statement. Rodney repeatedly claims that he has been blessed by "omnipotent pyrotechnics," which he used to justify his murder of Reese, whose sexual orientation offended Rodney.

At the end of the shift, Cohen asks the detectives how they handle dealing with nutcases like that on a regular basis. They don't have an answer. Mrs. Reese shows up, more flustered than ever, because the car reeks from Wellstone's foul body odor. As she's in the middle of demanding that the car be disinfected, a group of uniformed cops walk Wellstone through the lobby on the way to his arraignment. When Mrs. Reese recognizes Rodney's scent, the fact that her son has been murdered finally hits her, and she breaks down sobbing in Andy's arms.


Chesty adult film star Vanessa del Rio shows up at the 15th squadroom to file a complaint about harassing phone calls. Luckily for James, who's apparently a big fan of Ms. del Rio's, he's up. The traditional procedure for this sort of case requires the victim to file a report first with another bureau in the department, who will then place a trap on the phone to uncover the identity of the caller. She already did that, though, but needs the assistance of a detective to obtain the name of the caller Between James' awkward compliments (which he claims are on behalf of his friend Manny), she manages to get him to help.

James checks into the matter, and finds out that the obscene caller is Rick Hart, a del Rio groupie who follows her from city to city. Vanessa thinks he's pretty harmless, and asks James to just put a scare into him. James takes Greg and does just that, warning the nebbishy Hart that if he keeps making phone calls, his employer will obtain a taped copy of some of the previous messages. Hart backs down and begs James to tell Vanessa that he would never hurt her "in real life."

Gratified by the outcome, Vanessa drops off an autographed portrait of herself, signing it for James and his "little friend Manny." But Manny is, in fact, a real person, and is ecstatic when James gives him the picture. Adrianne is less than amused by the whole thing, and when she catgorizes Manny's fandom as "pathetic," James gets ticked off.


In the middle of working the Reese case, Andy gets a visit from Andy, Jr. Andy the younger isn't wearing his Air Force uniform, and any attempts by Andy the elder to ask about his son's military career are met by a change of subject. Andy Jr. says he'll explain everything at dinner later that night.

Andy spends a good deal of the rest of the day angsting over what could have happened to Andy Jr. Is he using drugs? Did he run afoul of some officer? Despite the assurances of Bobby (while on the job) and Sylvia (at home), Andy can't stop imagining worst-case scenarios. When Andy Jr. does show up for dinner, he confirms that he has left the Air Force - but because he tore his rotator cuff and got a medical discharge. He also says he's enrolled in the academy for the Hackensack, NJ police department, and asks his father for any job-related advice he might have. While Andy digests this news, Sylvia invites Andy Jr. to put his hand on her belly and feel his baby brother kicking.

I expect that "Head Case" is going to invite yet another round of "Man, the show sucks these days!" posts. It was fairly business-as-usual, and also gave semi-prominent play to the rather unpopular James and Adrianne romance.

Well, I wasn't head-over-heels in love with the episode myself, but I thought it had its good points. It's probably the weakest of David Mills' scripts this year, but when the others include the season premiere and "The Backboard Jungle," that's not too bad.

I was wavering back and forth on the episode for a while, and I think what tipped the scales in its favor was the final scene. When Andy Jr. explained that he got a medical discharge, I was all ready to grumble about how it was another predictable case of Andy getting all worked up over nothing. But Andy's reaction to the second piece of news was very moving. On the one hand, his son the ex-screwup was going to be following in his footsteps. On the other hand, maybe one day Andy Jr. would have to work a case like the one Andy dealt with today. Does Andy want his son to examine decapitated bodies? Console emotionally devastated relatives? Interview psychos with messiah complexes? Probably not, and the beauty of the scene was that Andy didn't say any of that, but with Dennis Franz's usually brilliant performance, he didn't have to.

The rest of the episode had its highs and lows. We got several rare glimpses of the detachment that you would expect a homicide cop to have to employ when dealing with a particularly nasty murder - particularly in Andy and Bobby's joking manner in the pre-credits sequence and their brief conversation with Cohen (who I'm liking more with each appearance, even if I do think Leo is a dweeby first name) on the precinct staircase. While it's easy to generate drama by having Andy or Bobby (or both) get worked up over the horrors of their latest case, it can be almost grimmer to have them cracking wise while holding up a decapitated head.

But the downside of going with the low-key approach is that it can make some scenes feel flat if you don't have anything to contrast that cynicism with. The reason the pre-credits scene with the female cop and the bit with Cohen worked is because Andy and Bobby were working with a much younger, less world-weary character. Maybe if James (or some guest star playing a young Anti-Crime cop on loan to the detectives' squad) had been working the case with them, or if Cohen had taken a more active role in the investigation, we might've gotten a starker - and more dramatic - contrast. But despite the occasional flatness, the A story was buoyed by some strong guest performances, notably Monti Sharp, who was pretty spooky as Rodney, and Anne Haney, who played Mrs. Reese's delayed grief perfectly.

James' storyline was a bit more troubling. If not for the tie-in to his relationship with Adrianne and her newfound obsessiveness, it would have worked as a silly but entertaining bit of fluff - I can totally buy James being a porn movie buff and having a friend like Manny (who reminds me more than a bit of an ex-boyfriend or two of one of my relatives who shall remain nameless). But while Adrianne's new personality doesn't seem totally out of character - she would have to have a well-defined character to begin with - it sure is annoying as hell. I sure hope this is just a tool for the writers to end this story quickly, much to the delight of fans everywhere. And I'm still trying to figure out which Mad Magazine Book of Snappy Comebacks to Stupid Questions contains the line, "This is a large nation" that James told Adrianne after she called Manny pathetic.

So, in all, "Head Case" was a mixed bag - not the season's best, but far from its worst, and it had some very nice moments along the way.

Shorter takes:

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