NYPD Blue: Summary/Review by Amanda Wilson aka Puedo01@aol.com
Episode 18, Season 6
"Mister Roberts" 4/27/99
Still hanging happily from the cliff. A unique episode that I think came off very well. This is what good writing is all about. But first....
The Robertini Chronicles
The body of former detective Mike Roberts is found face down on top of a car under the open window of his office several stories up. Mike either jumped or has been pushed.
Andy is highly agitated as he goes about the investigation. He is convinced Mike was murdered and that it is somehow all connected with the strange conversation he and Roberts had last week. Then, Roberts told Andy that he was involved with something big that was making him uncomfortable. He admitted his own failings--in particular, how things got out of control years ago with a junkie he fell in love with, supplied with drugs he stole from the police property room and who then killed herself--but he told Andy that this thing was really bad. Andy didn't press him too much then.
He, James and Greg begin to toss Mike's office (where he worked as a private "security consultant"). They haul back to the house boxes of Mike's papers.
Several theories are floated by members of the squad as they try to figure how they're going to narrow down the long list of people who probably wanted Mike dead. They're all working from the position that it's a homicide, and that someone probably drugged Roberts before pushing him.
Upstairs John is listening from his post at the PAA desk. He's horrified to overheard that Roberts is dead. John still hasn't told anyone about the warning Roberts had given him last week: Roberts told John that he should be careful because someone rich might be out to get him. Roberts called John "Rocky Marciano" in that conversation, which John took as a reference to the time he punched the rich skel Malcolm Cullinin, the man who watched (and videotaped) former PAA Dolores Mayo as she shot up and died.
John decides it's time to give this news to someone. He chooses Andy and asks for a private conversation in the locker room. Once there, John tells Andy about his conversation with Roberts. John also says he didn't tell anyone sooner because he was paralyzed with fear. Andy tells him not to worry because that's a normal reaction. John is still scared and now also feeling guilty. He says maybe if he'd told sooner, Roberts might still be alive. (During this conversation, John, distracted by his emotions, has moved in very close to Andy which makes Andy very uncomfortable. John, who obviously meant nothing untoward by his invasion of Andy's space, turns away distraught over the Roberts situation. Andy, seeming to realize that he had no reason to feel his masculinity was being threatened, gives John a friendly and comforting pat on the shoulder.)
Andy then blasts into Fancy's office with the rest of squad following. His new theory falls out of his mouth in a confusing jumble that only Danny seems to follow completely. Andy explains John's story and adds information about his own cryptic conversation with Roberts. He floats the theory that Roberts had refused to do something for Cullinin, perhaps kill John, and that Cullinin somehow saw Roberts as a threat and killed him.
Jill brings news that Roberts had a lot of barbiturates in his stomach which Andy says supports his theory. Greg and James tell that they've found a sort of journal that Roberts was keeping--they think it's a journal of his cases, but that he was trying to write them up as a novel. Roberts titled it "The Cases of Mike Robertini."
Greg begins to read the story. He has found in the book a character called "Callahan" who has striking similarities to Cullinin. He finds a part of the story that includes himself, James and Andy, and begins to read aloud with everyone gathered around. Fancy is trying to work in his office, but can hear Greg reading. Interested, he walks out to join the others. As Greg continues to read, we watch from the window in Fancy's office which looks out over the squad room, and Greg's voice begins to blend with that of Mike Roberts.
We enter the Robertini story now as told by Roberts ALA Mickey Spillane. ("Blackmail in other words.You're lower than whale crap at the bottom of the ocean floor!") We're in Robertini's 40's-style office where he's talking with Callahan. Callahan is into watching junkie hookers OD, and he's pressing Robertini to score drugs for him. He's hired Robertini, the ex-cop now doing security, because he knows of Robertini's own past with a certain junkie hooker who is now dead. He uses that information to blackmail Robertini into getting the drugs. He threatens to let Robertini's other clients know about the drugs he provided the girl and how he was forced to resign, information that would make Robertini's other clients flee.
On another page of the story, Callahan is now trying to blackmail Robertini into killing a certain homosexual who decked him at the police station. He says, "I want him pushed out a window. I want to see a fairly fly." Callahan offers him 25-thousand. Later, Robertini is sitting around his office with his good friends, Andy, Greg Medansky and James Jiminez (mangled pronunciation) drinking whiskey. Greg and James are in awe of Robertini, wishing they could have made out as well as he. James is so impressed that he not only laughs at Andy's racial slam against Hispanics, he makes one himself. (It's Roberts' world, remember.) Medansky and Jiminez leave so Robertini can have a private pow-pow with his old buddy Andy.
Robertini tells Andy about Callahan's offer to kill someone. Andy figures since Callahan thinks he can "force" Robertini out of his "values," he must have some kind of blackmail. Robertini confesses it's over his former junkie hooker girlfriend, and adds that Callahan has a thing for junkie whores himself. Andy puts it together that Dolores was a junkie whore....hey! Robertini tells how it's Dolores' replacement Callahan wants him to kill. He asks for Andy's protection. Andy leaves the office without a word.
Back in the real world, the squad members now know what Roberts wouldn't tell Andy and what he meant when he warned John. Andy figures that Cullinin was afraid Roberts would turn him for soliciting the hit and killed him. Jill comes up with a plan to trap Cullinin. She'll pose as a junkie hooker, get set up with Cullinin and then get him either to spill the beans about Roberts or at least get him to provide drugs.
The use an old contact of Diane's from her vice days, a Madame that Roberts also knew. He'd described her in the Robertini Chronicles and Diane recognized her. She's the one, they find, who set Cullinin up with Dolores. Diane gets her to set Jill up with Cullinin.
Jill gets dolled up, and as Danny puts fake needle marks into her arm, they along with Diane, Fancy, and ADA Leo Cohen, watch the tape of Dolores with Cullinin. (For those who don't recall: Cullinin took Dolores to Atlantic City, gave her drugs, and videotaped her shooting up. The drugs were bad and Dolores died. Cullinin swore it was all an accident, and his lawyer, James Sinclair, was able to make it all go away.) Leo is completely on edge. He's extremely upset about Jill's undercover work and makes several snide comments about it. She confronts him in private, telling him not to treat her like garbage for doing her job. He's not any happier. She tells him she knows what she's doing, but Leo won't relax. He leaves very angry.
Greg and James are in the locker room, preparing to sit outside Jill's undercover operation. They're talking about Roberts' book, imagining him hawking it on Oprah. Greg tells James that he's also thought of writing down some of their cases and calling it "Headcases of the NYPD." They wonder then if it shouldn't be a book about co-workers instead of perps, and decide they could dedicate an entire second volume to Andy being nuts. It seems they do admire Roberts after all.
Later, Jill arrives at an apartment with Cullinin. She's got a camera in her purse. Fancy and Diane are outside in the van watching. James, Greg, Danny and Andy are outside the door waiting.
Cullinin tells Jill about the apartment--it belongs to a friend of his who's an architect. He says he's going to pay her double, and tells her he's full of surprises. (That comment prompts Fancy in the van to remark "This guy must have a one inch dick.") Cullinin now tells Jill he knows she's a junkie. He's becoming very nasty with her. He gets up and stands behind the camera. He tells her he wants to watch her get off on the drugs. He gives her some smack, but she says she has her own. He won't let her use her own. He threatens to beat her if she doesn't use his drugs--he takes away the money he's given her and throws her purse aside as he does it. Their camera angle is gone and Diane now calls for everyone to go in.
The boys bust through the door and cuff the surprised Cullinin. Jill, enraged by the whole scenario, begins taunting him with memories of Dolores. He demands his lawyer. Danny, meanwhile, finds a note from the apartment owner telling Cullinin where he is, how long he'll be gone and asking jokingly if Cullinin wants to join him. Fancy tells Danny and Andy to go pick him up quickly. They want to talk to him before Cullinin can get to his lawyer. Fancy promises to bring Cullinin in very slowly so that Andy and Danny will have time.
Andy and Danny bring in Trent Knox, the apartment owner. He's been out seeing the movie "Life is Beautiful." He's never, ever, gosh-no-gasp, been in trouble with the law. Andy's not impressed with Trent's name, nor his manners, nor his perfect hair. He's in Trent's face from the get-go and makes the man cry in about one minute. Trent begs Andy to stop intimidating him, please, he knows nothing! Danny comforts Trent by saying that Andy intimidates him too, not to worry. Andy agrees to step out for a minute, but not before puzzling Danny again by telling him that this Trent looks just like that Norman Bates Danny keeps asking about. After Andy's gone, Danny asks Trent, "Who's Norman Bates?" Trent responds by looking at the door after Andy and remarking, "What a complete asshole." Trent then relaxes a bit. Danny gets to him more calmly, asking if he'd like to experience prison or just tell what he knows. Trent says he knows nothing about the drugs and the girls, that Mal (short for Malcolm) just uses his place sometimes. Danny says even his knowledge of the drugs and girls is enough to get him in trouble. Trent realizes he's been manipulated and talks.
Meanwhile, attorney James Sinclair has arrived to await the arrival of his client. John politely calls him a whore. (see LOW below)
The rest of the team arrives with Cullinin, and he and Sinclair go behind closed doors. Leo arrives still pissed of at Jill. Probably figuring his earlier explosion might have passed by now, Jill offers a sexy little olive branch in the form of asking him if he'd like her arrive home dressed as she was for the undercover job. He is not amused and brushes past her saying, "I don't care what you do."
Danny has finished with Trent. He tells Andy that Trent has seen some of the girls Mal has been with at his apartment. He says that about three months ago, right around the time Dolores died by the way, Mal got different--seemed strange and into something weird. Trent didn't want to know what that was all about, so Mal quit bringing girls to his apartment. Danny and Andy figure out that Cullinin planned to watch Dolores die, that's his thing, and that Dolores was probably his first. They figure he was cautious that time taking her to Atlantic City, but that lately he's become more bold and willing to do this thing on his own turf (that being NYC). They aren't sure whether he's killed anyone in between Dolores and his attempt on Jill. They don't get an audience with Cullinin, and they don't know what Leo and Sinclair have talked about regarding the case.
Meanwhile, Jill is unloading her Leo grief on Diane as she changes out of her hooker clothes. Diane understandingly tells her what a caveman Bobby could be in situations like that. Jill's very upset. She says she'd hoped things would work out with Leo, especially because her children look up to him so much. Diane asks if that means Jill will dump Leo. Jill responds by saying her kids admire Mark McGwire (McGuire?) too, but that she wouldn't take that kind of crap off of him either.
The detectives all go home wondering, as Fancy puts it, what kind of backbone Leo will show with the case.
Everyone is gone except for Greg who has stayed behind to pour over Mike's book a little more. He turns back to some earlier pages and a story Mike must have written when he was just starting out in his security business.
"Here I go, trying to break my cherry...." the story begins in Roberts' voice. We're back in Robertini's office now, cigarette smoke curling around his face. A shapely woman walks through his darkened doorway. Robertini watches with anticipation as she slinks out of the blackness and into the light cast off the small lamp on his desk. "Hiya Mike," she says in a babydoll voice. Robertini, of course, isn't much surprised. He says, "What are you, Donna, moonlightin' as a bill collector besides being the PAA in the detective squad of the police station house where I formerly worked?" Donna tells Mike that she's got a crush on him and that she's quit her job hoping that he'd hire her as his secretary. He tells her it's early in his work and that he doesn't have much work yet. Now perched on his desk, she tells him she wants to encourage him just by being there. He likes that. She leans over, cleavage in his face, and tells him she believes in him and will believe in him even when he doesn't believe in himself.
Back to Greg now, sitting alone at his desk with just the light from his own small lamp. He smiles at the story as we hear Robert's voice finish it "....maybe I can do this."
The Robertini Chronicles
One great story here, instead of the usual multiple subplots, but with enough extra tossed in to satisfy and/or pique the curiosities we have about the people behind the badges in the 1-5.
I felt in this ep like I haven't in quite a while--like I was watching a movie. I found only one slightly awkward place....get to that in a second...but mostly, I was completely into this story and found myself at the end saying, "It's over? Already?"
For me, the very best thing about this story was the way Milch (had to be Milch) wrote the writings of Mike Roberts. They say you have to have perfected a skill before you can convincingly pretend you're bad at it. Milch's talent as a writer then is confirmed all the more by the pathetically bad writing of his Mike Roberts.
And that cheesy, cornball style so fits the Roberts character. It's just perfect. None of us should be surprised at the way Roberts' met his end--his life was a train wreck. He was one of those people you meet from time to time and might describe as a living caricature. He thought he was so much more than he really was. You might think a man like him to be arrogant, but that big fake ego of his was a poor cover for a man filled with self-loathing, unable to control the impulses that eventually led him to a window sill in a seedy office building in lower Manhattan. How might a man like that put words to paper? Just the way Milch said he would. Like this: "What are you, Donna, moonlightin' as a bill collector besides being the PAA in the detective squad of the police station house where I formerly worked?"
Not only do we get confirmation of Roberts' complete lack of class through his writing, but we get confirmation that Roberts is totally unaware of it, for he paints himself as Robertini, a cool customer who's just a victim of happenstance. While the name Robertini makes us twitter and raised the eyebrows of the sqaud members, it must have sounded grand to Roberts himself. I can actually see him with a self-satisfied grin as he thinks up that name and says it aloud a few times. "Robertini. Robertini! Yeah.." And then I can see the confusion on his face after getting laughed out of a literary agent's office--probably unable even to get past the first secretary.
Milch tells us how Roberts' deals with the rejection that we know is a part of his everyday life by taking us into his sad little fantasy world: a world where everyone admires him, a word where Donna, who spurned him viciously in real life, comes to tell him she wants him and believes in him. What a unique window into a character this is. The mere fact that Roberts wrote at all tells us a lot about him: Roberts' life was a train wreck, to be sure, but as he stumbled dull-wittedly about it, he never gave up hope. God, I love that kind of writing.
As much as Milch painted Roberts' sadly cheesball world with words, director Mark Tinker executed that same feel visually. How would a man like Roberts see himself and others? Just like we saw. Just as Roberts' fancied himself a dark and mysterious man, Robertini's world was dark and mysterious. Robertini was always perfectly groomed; Andy, James and Greg were rumpled, as we'd imagine Roberts would have wanted them to seem in comparison to him. And Donna--that was a classic moment. Any other man sitting there would have has his jaw on the floor and his desk several inches off the ground as Donna appeared out of the darkness, but not Robertini! No, he sat there like he expected it. All of that fitting perfectly into the kind of man Roberts wanted to be, wanted everyone to think he was.
The transitions into and out of the Robertini stories couldn't have been easy to execute, but they looked it. Tinker did his usual best with all of that. The first transition, which was probably the most difficult since this is a very new thing for Blue, was perfect. We're in Fancy's office with him, overhearing the story as it begins and watching as the other squad members begin to gather around. Fancy gets hooked, too, and gets up leaving us in his office to watch through the window. As Roberts' voice blends slowly with Greg's, we linger at that window, not really a part of what's happening in the Blue world but instead being drawn more into the realm of Robertini until finally our view is of that world. Very, very cleverly done. And the other notable transition was at the end, coming out of Robertini's encounter with Donna. Greg's physical surroundings mirrored those of Robertini--alone at the desk with one lamp on, and we draw away from that slowly, out of the squad room, down the hall a bit and then we gaze back through a window at Greg still reading as we hear Roberts' voice finish the story. Nothing bumpy about that ride, either.
All this, and a story in our "real" Blue world that moves! The case wasn't solved. It's still going on. Nothing here was wrapped up neatly, except maybe for the fact that Diane recognized from Roberts' writing the madam she once knew from vice and that madam just happened to be the same person who set Dolores up with Cullinin.
My one and only awkward moment was the scene in the locker room with Greg and James discussing the book they'd write. When it was over I thought to myself, "Those two really do admire Roberts." And then right away, "Bozos."
Anyway....I've gone on so long about this Roberts thing that in the interest of getting this epic posted before next Tuesday, I'll take of the rest of my thoughts in:
Returning to Blue in roles we know from recent shows: Michael Harney as Mike Roberts (another bang-up job done here); Daniel Benzali as James Sinclair; Todd Waring as Malcolm Cullinin; Michael Buchman Silver and Leo Cohen; Gail O'Grady as Donna Abandando. Lee Garlinton played the Madame Lea Chambers (good choice of last name there, fellas). Lee appeared in Blue's "Three Girls and a Baby" last year. She had a stint on The Practice in 98 too.
Matt McCoy played Trent Knox, and as much as he may look like Norman Bates, I recognized this guy from "LA Confidential" in which he played Brett Chase, the star of Badge of Honor. He was also on LA Law in 1993. Nelson Mashita made another appearance as the TARU tech (the guy setting up the video of Dolores and getting Jill her lipstick camera). Philip Angelotti, who's played Officer Johnson on Blue three times prior, appeared again in uniform. And Anthony A. Devito as the bum.(My thanks again to Alan Stamm for the cast list info!)
Lines of the Week
I've got two, though I know there were many:
Fancy, after hearing Cullinin tell Jill he'll pay her five grand and that he's full of surprises: "That guy must have a one inch dick."
John, exchaning "pleasantries" with attorney James Sinclair: "I'm thinking of prositutes."
Sinclair: "Your deceased friend Dolores Mayo."
John: "No, the one standing in front of me."
In summary...(finally!)...I'll say that this Roberts book thing was risky for a show like NYPD Blue, but I don't think there's any doubt that it came off very well. It looked right and it was written right.
Just a handful of eps left this season....looks like we're in for a few more surprises.
Amanda Wilson - Puedo01@aol.com