NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 17,
Hollie and the Blowfish
Story by Bill Clark & David Simon
Teleplay by David Simon
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
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While waiting for Andy to buy some new fish, Bobby spots an old c.i. (confidential informant) of his, a junkie named Ferdinand Hollie. Ferdinand just got out of prison for armed robbery - mugging drug dealers is his specialty - so when Bobby spots him scoping out a Lexus carrying a number of Colombians, he gets suspicious and goes to chat with his former stoolie. Ferdinand promises Bobby that he'll come in to the House with good information if they'll leave him alone. Much to Andy's surprise, Bobby agrees.

Back at the 15, an uncomfortable piece of Andy's past shows up: Sgt. Ray Collins, a loudmouth who's currently heading up a federally-funded anti-drug task force. His unit's working on the Barnes case, where a 10-year-old girl was shot and killed in a drug gangwar crossfire, and they're working out of a room in the 15's Anti-Crime unit for the duration. Fancy assigns Diane to work with Collins, figuring she could use the experience, though Andy suggests she won't learn much.

Ferdinand comes in to speak with Bobby and Andy, and gives them information about several different murders. Two of them he ascribes to a 4-months-dead perp, but the perps in the other one, which is being worked by Stu Morrissey on the 4-12 shift, are both alive and kicking. Fancy's gratified for the information, but he's curious why Ferdinand would give up the info for no money. Bobby reluctantly admits to knowing about Ferdinand's extra-curricular activities, but assures a wary Fancy that Ferdinand is enough of a pro to keep civillians from getting hurt. Fancy reluctantly accepts Bobby's assurances, but afterwards, Andy's not quite as certain. According to Bobby, Ferdinand used to only go after freelance dealers; going after Colombians suggests that Ferdinand may have a death wish, possibly because he may have contracted AIDS from his drug use. And maybe if he's not being so cautious about his own safety, reasons Andy, then he won't worry as much as he used to about innocent bystanders.

Meanwhile, Diane is rapidly finding out what Andy's warnings were about; Collins seems concerned only with stretching out the investigation as long as possible so he can keep earning overtime pay. While getting a search warrant filled out by Sylvia, he implies that the upcoming raid won't produce anything, which will give him an excuse to put in wiretaps and keep the money rolling in for another six months at least. He also mentions that he served in Vietnam with Andy. Sure enough, the raid, on the apartment of one of the members of Marvin Freedlund's gang (one of the two gangs involved in the Barnes shooting) turns up nothing; Larry, the apartment's owner, smugly tells the cops to search anywhere.

Bobby brings Ferdinand in to discuss Andy's theory with him. Ferdinand admits that he is HIV-positive, but that he doesn't want to die any sooner than he has to. Bobby also asks him, as a favor, if he'll look into the Barnes thing since Collins isn't getting anywhere and he doesn't want Diane getting jeopardized needlessly. Collins isn't interested in anything Ferdinand has to say until Ferdinand casually mentions that one of Collins' suspects has been dead for a month, unbeknownst to Collins. He also says that Larry is the weak link in Freedlund's crew - they just have to hold another charge over him and he'll talk. Collins scoffs and says that they didn't find anything when they searched Larry's place that morning, but Ferdinand explains that everytime he robbed Larry, he found his stash in a hollowed-out section of his front door.

Collins does, in fact, find an impressive stash in Larry's door, and Diane manages to coax Larry into giving up the Barnes shooter (it was a member of the rival gang) by promising to keep things out of federal court and to make sure the DA's office doesn't prosecute him under the Rockefeller anti-drug law. However, as the interrogation is finishing, Collins suggests that Larry should have learned to move his stash after he kept getting robbed so many times. Andy and Bobby can't believe it; Collins just gave up Ferdinand's identity. Collins expresses no remorse; in his opinion, who cares if a crook like Ferdinand gets capped?

That night, Andy, Bobby, Sylvia, and Diane get together for dinner; unfortunately, the bar they choose also happens to be where Collins and his unit are celebrating the closing of the case. Sylvia asks Andy about Collins' Vietnam comment; Andy rapidly excuses himself, pulls Collins to one side and demands to know what unit he served in. Collins eventually admits that he was only there in a maintenance unit, and Andy tells him in no uncertain terms that he doesn't care what other lies Ray wants to throw around, but he will not let him make up stories about Vietnam.

Before his tirade can go any further, he and Bobby get beeped; Some Colombians just got robbed at gunpoint. None of the three want to make a statement of any kind, figuring to settle the matter themselves. But a call on the radio tells Bobby that they won't ever get the chance - Ferdinand just got shot and seems like a goner. He and Andy race to the scene, where Ferdinand is refusing to let anybody but Bobby come near him. Bobby tries to apologize, but Ferdinand says that it was a favor, and he had a chance to turn it down if he'd wanted to. He ID's one member of the Freedlund gang as the shooter, and says he got off a few rounds himself at the perp and the wheelman. He asks Bobby to not try to make any paper clearances using his name, then dies.

Bobby storms back to the bar and demands to have words with Collins. As Collins' men (none of whom hold him in high regard) shuffle out the door, Bobby tells Collins about Ferdinand's murder. Ray still doesn't care, until Bobby punches him in the midsection a few times and slams him against a wall. He threatens to bring charges, but Bobby suggests that he'll have a hard time finding witnesses to tell his side of things.


James' latest case, a stabbing murder in a basement on Hester Street, is one he's uniquely qualified to handle. Like James' uncle, the victim was a santero, a priest of a religious sect that still sacrifices animals and practices "white magic." A local Catholic priest who often works with santeros identifies the victim as Miguel Marquez, who apparently didn't have any enemies. At Marquez's apartment, Greg and James find a parole officer's business card with an appointment date and time scribbled on the back, but according to Marquez's mother, with whom he lived, he had never been in trouble with the law. The card was in a pot used in the casting of hexes, so James assumes that someone hired Marquez to place a hex on his PO.

The parole officer, after shuffling through the mountain of paperwork in his briefcase, tells the detectives that the appointment was with a parolee named Gabriel Moda, only Moda never showed. Mrs. Marquez picks out Moda's picture from a phot array, and explains that Moda hired her son to cast a spell that would make him invisible to the police. A few days after that, Moda got pulled over by some cops, and became furious with Marquez, who claimed that every spell wears off eventually. According to Mrs. Marquez, Moda didn't buy that excuse and remained angry. James puts Moda's description on the radio, and later in the shift, two uniforms bring in a confused Moda, who keeps asking them if they're really cops. Greg and James figure that Moda got another santero to cast a new invisibility spell, and decide to have some fun with him before putting him in a lineup for Mrs. Marquez to ID. They enter Interrogation 3 and act like they can't see him, then complain about the "security guards" who brought him in. Just as Moda's walking out the open door, they drop the act and point him towards the room where they'll do the line-up.

I've known for a while now that David Simon - the journalist who wrote the book that Homicide: Life on the Street was based on and who is now a staff writer for that show - had written a freelance script for Blue, and I've been waiting to see it, if for no other reason than curiosity over whether it would seem out of place, like the time David Mamet wrote an entertaining but ill-fitting script for Hill Street Blues.

Well, I'm happy to say that "Hollie and the Blowfish" felt very much like it belonged, and I'm even happier to say that I think it was terrific, among the best of what is turning out to be a stellar season.

I think the one aspect of his script that did feel a bit like an episode of Homicide was the denseness. There was a lot going on here, and much of it was interconnected - I tried very hard to summarize Ferdinand and Ray's stories seperately, but it was a nearly impossible task. I think that's part of what made the episode feel special. It would have been easy to keep the two stories unconnected - have Ferdinand die at the hands of the vengeful Colombians and have Andy's rant about Vietnam be the end of the Collins plot - but it takes a real talent to be able to weave them together like that, especially since it let Andy make the very wry observation that "The world's on its ass when some stick-up guy is more stand-up than someone you work with."

But just as fabulous as the script was Giancarlo Esposito's role as Ferdinand. I've been a big fan of his since his Spike Lee days (he played Buggin' Out, the agitator in "Do the Right Thing," among other parts), and this was one of the best performances I've seen him give. He made Ferdinand seem so vivid and alive that his death - which I could see coming even before Collins' faux-pas in interrogation - still was painful. And his final request to Bobby was a very touching one. I'm a bit torn here, though; as powerful as I thought the end of the show was, I really wish Ferdinand had lived - I liked him and hoped that he would pop up on occasion, much like Joe Pantoliano's occasional appearances last year as Vinnie Greco. That's the mark of a great performer - always leave them wanting more.

The Ray Collins half of the story was equally effective. In the Homicide book, Simon talked a lot about how detectives like to work tough cases not just for the challenge but because of the opportunity for overtime pay they provide. Still, in all of those cases, the detectives weren't looking to bide their time and rake in the money - largely because they knew there was more money to be made from a successfully prosecuted case (which also entails being paid for court appearances) than from an artificially extended open one. It's too bad nobody ever bothered to explain that to Collins, a real hump if ever this show's seen one. The brief Vietnam aspect of the story was icing on the cake - we already knew how slimey he was without it - but it gave us an extremely rare glimpse of an often-forgotten aspect of Andy's past (I don't think it's been mentioned since season one's "A Sudden Fish").

[Side tangent: Andy's understated anger actually had an extra impact for me, because it reminded me of one of my favorite Dennis Franz film roles, in "The Package". He played a Chicago cop who was willing to stick his neck out in order to help a fugitive Gene Hackman only because they had served in Vietnam together. One line in particular, where he told Hackman that the 18 months they'd been in country together were more important than the 18 years since then, has always stuck in my head as one of the more definitive bits of movie dialogue about the war. End tangent.]

"Hollie and the Blowfish" (at first I thought the title meant that Holly Snyder would be coming back) wasn't all doom and gloom, thankfully - as much as I am usually in awe of Blue's bleakness, some comic relief to break the tension can be very welcome. Here, we had two different bits. One was Diane's sexual arousal at Bobby's "evolving" and enlightened attitude towards her going into dangerous situations like raids on drug dealers' apartments. I appreciated this for three reasons: 1)Because the overprotective attitude of every single guy on the show was starting to get more than a bit old; 2)Because we got to see Bobby and Diane in a purely social setting, which hasn't happened in a while; and 3)Because the scene in the restaurant where Diane was giving Bobby a hand job under the table while he tried to order was *really* funny. I betcha Simon won't get to write anything like that for Homicide. :)

The other funny subplot to this week's show was James and Greg's search for the "invisible" Gabriel Moda. This case was the only aspect of the show that really reminded me that a Homicide scribe had written it, especially James' lectures to Greg about white magic. At times it felt a little bit off - some of James' dialogue was very much intended for the audience only - but I liked seeing the two schlubs work a murder case by themselves, as well as seeing that they have enough of a sense of humor to pretend Moda really was invisible for no other reason than to mess with his head. The payoff of that scene wasn't as strong as it could have been, but it was still amusing.

It's a shame Simon is now working for Homicide full-time. He really seems to have a handle on Blue: the way the characters tick as well as the sense of urban despair that drives the show. Still, getting one great episode out of him is better than getting none at all. Besides, David Milch isn't writing enough as it is - do we want another talented new writer in the stable (along with Theresa Rebeck, David Mills, and Nicholas Wooton) to crowd him out? :)

Shorter takes:

I've checked the TV Guide, and there is a new episode next week, which means that we'll have reruns for the rest of April after that. See you next time!

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