NYPD Blue, Season 4, Episode 21
Is Paris Burning?

Written by David Shore
Directed by Paris Barclay

PLOT ONE: JAM SANDWICH

Bobby gets some bad news upon arriving at work: Internal Affairs is investigating him off the license plate he ran for Joey Salvo. He figures he's in the clear, that he just has to tell the Rat Squad that he's working for the FBI, and everything will be okay -- until Lt. Fancy and Agent Kriegel inform him that he's not allowed to tell IAB anything, since there's a suspected leak in the unit. Bobby can't believe it -- if he refuses to cooperate with an IAB investigation, his career could go in the toilet and get flushed before Kriegel will get a chance to set things right. Once Kriegel leaves, Bobby accuses Fancy of not standing up for him more, and announces that he's going to tell Diane. Fancy warns him against it, since Diane could get caught up in this, too, but when he realizes that Bobby's going to do it no matter what, convinces him to make Diane his only confidante.

Andy knows something is up with his partner, and when he realizes that both Russell and Fancy know what's up and he doesn't, his resentment grows -- and then reaches epic proportions when IAB Sgt. Martens comes to interview Bobby. Bobby does his best to do a verbal dance around Martens, and, reminding him of their earlier conversation about how "everything's a situation" (c.f. "Cold Heaters," season three), gets Martens to realize that Bobby ran the plate at someone else's request.

Things don't get better, however. Not only does Joey Salvo somehow get ahold of Bobby's unlisted home phone number, but Martens continues his investigation and starts going through all of Bobby and Andy's paperwork. By this point, Martens has figured out that Bobby is working for the FBI to get Salvo, but he can't stop the wheels of the investigation turning unless Bobby cops to it, which Bobby can't do. When Martens starts interviewing the other detectives in the squad, Andy's already volatile temper reaches a boil, and he tears into Medavoy for even talking to Martens, despite knowing that he had no choice. Fancy tries to calm the troops by explaining that IAB wants them to be squabbling amongst themselves, but his words have little effect. When Martens makes an official request to talk to Sipowicz, Andy insists on contacting a lawyer; Diane invokes the same privilege when the same request is made of her. Bobby suggests that Diane spend the night at her mother's, because he needs some time to figure out what the hell to do.

PLOT TWO: SUPER SACRIFICE

The tension between Andy and Bobby couldn't have come at a worse time, as they wind up in the middle of a major fiasco involving a rape/assault in an apartment building. The super, a nervous type named Steven Cameron, reluctantly ideas the perp as Gary Wilder, a tenant in one of his other buildings, but is terrified out of his mind by the thought of Wilder coming after him. Because the victim is on life support and not likely to survive, Andy asks ADA Cohen to arrange for Wilder to get an extremely high bail so he can't get out, but despite Cohen's note in the file for the DA handling the arraignment, Wilder gets out with only $2,000 bond. The victim dies a short time later, and Andy can't get ahold of Cameron, despite having four phone numbers and a pager number. Fearing the worst, he and Bobby head over to Cameron's apartment, and when they don't find him there, Andy bolts to Wilder's place across the street, where he finds their perp washing blood off his hands after having hacked Steven Cameron into 27 pieces and depositing them into garbage bags. Andy is so overcome with rage that he nearly beats Wilder to death, but Bobby comes along just in time to stop him. Having heard of the disaster, Cohen comes to the station to try to apologize and handle the case as a favor to Andy, to avoid having Sylvia (the riding DA that day) involved. Wilder sits on the catching bench waiting to be processed and tries to complain to Fancy about how he was beaten. "Probably not enough," Fancy sighs.

PLOT THREE: GET ON THE BUS

Greg and James catch a bizarre case involving a bus-jacking. Apparently, a latenight city bus pulled over for an unscheduled stop so the driver could take a leak. While he was gone, one of the passengers complained to her seatmate that she needed to get home to look after her pets, and the drunken fellow passenger decided to take over the wheel and give her door to door service. One problem: the drunk driver tried to take a shortcut down an alley that was too narrow and wrecked the bus.

The detectives follow some leads to a nearby bar where their mysterious driver apparently stopped, only to realize that their perp is none other than Vince Gotelli, who's still tying one on. They quietly bring him back to the station, and Fancy, upon hearing the scenario, suggests they get a statement but not file it yet.

The Lieu strikes up a compromise with the bus driver's supervisor: the transit authority won't press for a closure of the case, and Fancy won't leak news of the incident to the press, which would make the city look just as bad as the department. Vince comes back into the precinct after having sobered up, and Fancy tells him that while he's taken care of this particular mess, Vince has to retire, despite being only two months short of his 30-year pension. Art explains that Vince's heart condition is at least in part work-related, and he'll be able to get a three-quarters disability, which woks out better than the pension. Vince, upset that his career is going to end this way, asks for a minute to compose himself, and Fancy goes out into the squadroom, which has emptied out after all the hubbub surrounding the IAB investigation.


I'm sure right now you're all wondering what the hell alternate reality we've just travelled into. "Didn't he just quit in a blaze of glory?" you're probably asking. Allow me to essplain... no, is too long.... allow me to sum up...

As I said last week, I fully intended to keep watching the show, so tonight I sat down in front of my TV set and turned on our favorite cop show. I cringed through most of the cold opening, as Greg continued on about his sperm count and other penis-related functions. And then something happened: I found myself starting to get into the episode, so much so that I had to rebuff a call from my father, so much so that I could barely bring myself to channel surf during the commercials, so much so that when the penultimate commercial break came, I turned to my roommate and told her, "Maybe I'm crazy, but this is the best episode I've seen in a LONG time. I have to review it!"

Who knows? Maybe this is just (as a friend suggested to me last week when I expressed some post-resignation doubts) buyer's remorse, and I'm having trouble letting go. Maybe next week's episode will be abominable, and I won't want to spend a minute writing about it afterwards. All I know is that I have to write about this one; for at least tonight, I have my words back. (I feel like Superman after Jimmy Olsen throws the kryptonite into the lead box that's fortunately sitting nearby.)

So why exactly did I find "Is Paris Burning?" so compelling? Because, for at least one hour, I felt like I was transported back to the early part of the first season. Suddenly, Andy and Bobby were at each other's throats, but unlike some other recent dust-ups between the two partners (like in last year's "Heavin' Can Wait"), this didn't look like something that could get smoothed over by a few mumbled locker room pleasantries at the end of the shift. This is a big, big mess that Bobby has gotten himself trapped in, and I was loving every minute of it.

I remember watching David Caruso's final episodes a few months back and being struck by how charismatic Scott Allan Campbell was in his earliest appearance as Martens, when it looked like he was going to have little trouble ripping The Other Guy's career to shreds. In the time since, Martens evolved into a bit of a cartoon before getting brilliantly redeemed at the end of last year's "Cold Heaters," where he casually told Bobby that he'd just let him off the hook for queering a cocaine bust, because "Everything's a situation." Tonight, both those memorable appearances got blended together, as we not only got an evocation of the bond developed between Simone and Martens, but again got to see Martens as the bull in the china shop. And what made the whole thing compelling -- aside from two great performances by Smits and Campbell -- was the fact that Martens knew Bobby was on the side of the angels and didn't want to hurt him, but nevertheless was forced to systematically pick his career apart. That's the kind of murky morality that got me hooked on the show in the first place, and it's a welcome breath of fresh air from the usual good guys/bad guys dynamic.

What I particularly found interesting was the way that Joey Salvo didn't appear for even one second (unless you count his Richie Cunningham-ish presence on the other end of the phone call). This whole case has taken a very sharp and unexpected left turn from where we started; it's not longer about Bobby reluctantly being forced to get undercover with a nasty thug from his old neighborhood, but about a colossal interdepartmental game of chicken, with Bobby trapped right in the middle, unable to think of a way to get out. Considering my recent cynicism, I should probably be thinking right around now that David Milch is going to wave his magic wand near the end of next week's season finale and Bobby's record will have all black marks removed and his relationship with Andy will be back on an even keel. For all I know, that's exactly what's going to happen, but the supercharged emotions from tonight's episode at least gives me more than a faint glimmer of hope that our overworked creative genius has calld upon one last bit of inspiration with which to end the season.

But all of this wouldn't have made the episode half as good if there hadn't been a couple of other major catastrophes on the horizon. What made early Blue feel so special was the way that our two heroes were trying to hold back the apocalypse on several fronts at once. In "NYPD Lou," it wasn't enough for Kelly and Sipowicz to be tracking a sexually abusive child murderer; John also had to be comforting his ex-wife after her government witness got murdered and helping a local vagrant solve another murder, while Andy also had to try to stop his estranged son from marrying a manipulative golddigger. Tonight, Bobby didn't just have to contend with the grenade the FBI and IAB dropped in his lap, but with the Gary Wilder case. Maye I'm reading too much into it, but there was something of an implication that if Bobby hadn't been so distracted, either he or Andy might have actually been able to appear at the arraignment themselves and make damn sure the DA asked for higher bail, since Andy seemed even madder at Bobby than at Cohen over the tragic outcome. And for Andy's rage to be that great in the bathroom scene, he had to have a lot more inner turmoil than just your average lousy case. Dennis Franz hasn't had much to do recently, but he scared the hell out of me in that scene; I really thought there was a chance Sipowicz was going to kill the guy (and partly out of his anger with Bobby, which made it even scarier).

Finally, we come to the final farewell of Detective Second-Grade (one assumes) Vince Gotelli. Vince was pretty much always a comic relief character, dating back to his very first appearance (ironically, in David Caruso's final episode) when he and Lesniak (remember her?) had a disagreement over his breast-adorned coffee mug. But despite the usual silliness of the character, I liked Vince, in part because I think Carmine Caridi is a fine actor and in part because Vince always struck me as the opposite end of the spectrum from Our Heroes. Simone is supposed to be the ideal cop: compassionate, hardworking, usually getting his man and always caring that he got him. Vince, on the other hand, was the representative of some of the less-rosy elements on the job: a dimwit often more concerned with his own standings in the office political scheme than with doing the job properly. Whether he was always this way or just got lazy with old age, we'll never know, but at least in his mind he was once a great cop, but now he'll always be remembered as the yahoo who got bounced two months shy of his pension because he hijacked a city bus.

More importantly, Vince's story provided a good Fancy showcase. Too often in the course of the series, someone (usually Sipowicz) would accuse our Lieu of one fault or another -- in this case, not providing enough support for his men -- but for once, that angle didn't end when one of the detectives walked out of his office. We got to see Art try to find some solace; if he couldn't do anything to help Bobby, maybe he could at least rescue Vince. But in the end even that seemed like a hollow victory, since his prized day tour seems on the verge of imploding, as evidenced by that haunting final shot of the empty squadroom.

Now, I feel all sheepish about spouting off at length last week and guilting all of you into writing me nice letters of thanks -- and getting David Mills to decloak for a minute to say his own goodbyes -- but the fact was, a week ago, I had no desire to ever write about the show again, and for now, at least, the juices are back (maybe me and Milch are shopping at the same health food store). I'll definitely be back next week to weigh in the finale -- I promise -- and, come fall, we'll play it by ear.

Sorry for the confusion. :)

Quick Hits:

See ya in the funny papers (I promise)...


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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