NYPD Blue, Season 4, Episode 15
Taillight's Last Gleaming

Written by David Mills
Directed by Randall Zisk

PLOT ONE: A DISH BEST SERVED COLD

Lt. Fancy and his wife Lillian are driving at night through Bayside, Queens when they get pulled over for a busted taillight. Their simple driving infraction gets an overly cautious response from uniformed Officers Szymanski and McCaslin, who pull their guns and order the couple to put their hands on the hood. Art pulls out his shield and asks Szymanski why he felt the need to use his weapon to deal with a moving violation. Szymanski doesn't back down, and starts citing chapter and verse of the traffic code. Fancy takes down Szymanski and McCaslin's shield numbers and ushers Lillian back into the car while Szymanski mockingly calls out, "The two of you have a nice night."

At work the next day, Fancy calls Szymanski and McCaslin to pay him a visit to give them a chance to apologize. Szymanski, the brains of the duo (McCaslin is less than a year out of the academy), continues to claim he didn't overreact, saying that a cop never knows who it is he's pulling over. Fancy suggests their reaction was based on the color of his skin, and after Szymanski angrily refutes the charge, the two storm out of Fancy's office.

The Lieu decides to call in a favor from Captain Bass, and asks to have Szymanski transferred to the predominantly black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, so he can "earn his money" and learn how to deal with citizens of color on a regular basis. When Szymanski finds out about the transfer, he accuses Fancy of wrecking his life by transferring him to a "toilet" like Bed-Stuy. Fancy, clearly in control here, quotes Szymanski's earlier argument: "It's like you said: you pull somebody over out there, you don't know who you're dealing with."

Capt. Bass returns later and suggests that in his desire for payback, Fancy forgot one important fact: putting a cop with a predisposition against blacks into a neighborhood like Bed-Stuy is just asking for trouble, and that Fancy isn't thinking about the consequences of his actions. After some heated discussion, Art realizes that Bass is right, and comes up with an acceptable compromise: having Szymanski transferred to the One-Five. "That way I can deal every day with the consequences of the decisions we made here."

PLOT TWO: TUNNEL RAT

Andy and Bobby are getting stymied on a string of bar robberies, despite the fact that their perps are clearly amateurs, with only a pissant .25 pistol between them. In their latest stick-up, they actually shot the bartender, Tony Galasso, in the head, but the low- caliber bullet didn't even penetrate his skull, and he chased the two away.

Detective Eddie Hazel, recently transferred into the Midtown South precinct after years in the Transit police, pays Bobby a visit to compare notes, since he's working a similar series of robberies and believes they're after the same perp. Bobby gives Eddie all his notes on Tony Galasso, while Hazel does the same with his information on a bartender named Bill McGregor, but when Bobby tries to call McGregor, he gets a wrong number. Calling up an old buddy of his at Midtown, Bobby finds out that Hazel has become notorious for trying to steal collars from other detectives in order to increase his own profile. He gets the proper info on McGregor, who admits to him and Andy that the perps took a .45 semiautomatic off of him when they robbed his bar.

The detectives' concern over their suspects' newfound artillery proves well-founded when they try to rob a strip club in midtown and get into a shoot-out with Vince Gotelli, who was patronizing the bar in his off-duty hours. Vince, on his way to the hospital for chest pains, tells Andy that he's sure he hit at least one of them in the shoulder. Hazel arrives at the scene, and not only accuses the 15th squad detectives from stepping on his turf, but denies giving Bobby bogus notes. Andy tries to tell Hazel to check the emergency rooms for the wounded perp, but he defiantly insists on reinterviewing Vince himself before doing anything.

A young pregnant woman named Theresa comes into the precinct and explains that her boyfriend Carl and his brother Donny have been pulling the robberies, and are planning to hop a bus to Baltimore that afternoon. Andy and Bobby decide against informing Hazel, who nevertheless shows up mere moments after they make the collar, off of information he got on his own. Hazel suggests that now that Bobby's made Detective First-Grade, he should leave the glory to other guys; Bobby explains that he got his promotion through hard work and a lot of help from his partners, and tells Hazel to get his act together "or you'll never be anything on this job."

PLOT THREE: ANDY MEETS HIS MAKER

A disheveled Andy wanders into a brightly-lit diner to have some coffee, and notices Andy Jr. sitting a few stools over. After switching seats with a friendly trucker, Andy embraces his son and catches him up on what's happened since the murder. Andy says he wishes he had more time to spend with him. Andy Jr. matter of factly points out that his father didn't have much time for him when he was still alive, and Andy overreacts, thinking his balls are being broken. The conversation is just starting to turn friendly again when Andy Jr. quickly excuses himself, wishing love to his father, Sylvia, and Theo before he goes. The trucker suggests that the meeting might have gone better if Andy had talked across him, at which point Andy hears a ringing...

...and wakes up in his apartment to the sound of the telephone, alerting him to news of the latest bar stick-up. Andy tries to catch some ZZZs during the investigation so he can find Andy Jr. again, but has little luck. Once they close the case, he asks Bobby if he believes the dead can communicate through the living through dreams. Bobby confesses that he used to dream about his wife after she died, but didn't find any hidden messages in them.

That night, Andy's dream takes him into Tony Galasso's bar, where he finds Andy Jr. sitting in one of the booths. Andy says that Sylvia and Theo are waiting to come out from the restrooms, but Andy Jr. suggests that Theo shouldn't see what's about to happen: Andy Jr's murder. Andy glances around the bar and sees the two punks who killed his boy drinking at another table. Against Andy Jr's admonishings not to interfere, Andy walks over and delivers devastating head blows to both killers, but his punches have little effect. When he turns around, he finds his gesture was futile: Andy Jr. is dead again. The trucker from the diner appears, and Andy Jr's disembodied voice explains that he's really Jesus Christ. As Jesus gathers up Andy Jr's bloody body, he reminds Andy of their earlier conversation. "Talk through me," he emphasizes. Andy begs for a second chance with Andy Jr.; "What did you just have?" Jesus retorts. He carries Andy Jr out of the bar and into the heavenly light, as Andy cries that he really did love his son...

...and wakes up in a cold sweat. Not wanting to disturb Sylvia, he quietly gets out of bed and wanders over to Theo's crib. He quietly pats his living son's head and murmurs, "Good boy. Good boy."

PLOT FOUR: ROLLER DIANE

James and Diane find themselves having some suspects in common when they individually take statements from two women -- one wheelchair-bound, one elderly -- who were approached by a salt and pepper team of con women who used the lure of an imaginary $60,000 to try to scam each of them out of $5,000. James suggests putting Diane in a wheelchair to pose as a mark, and sure enough, she gets approached by their suspects while rolling out of a local bank. As James and Greg record and photograph the encounter, Diane plays the naive innocent long enough to get the two women to incriminate themselves. Lt. Fancy tries to congratulate Diane on her work on the case, but she gives all the credit to James for conceiving the plan.

MISCELLANEOUS THREAD:

Medavoy encounters Abby Sullivan in the stairwell as she's coming and he's going. They exchange pleasantries, and she asks if he's free for dinner some night soon. Greg, keeping in mind the recent revelation of Abby's sexual orientation, figures it's just a friendly dinner, but Abby enigmatically suggests that it could lead to something "special."


Back in the 1980s, the two best drama series were "Hill Street Blues," produced by Steven Bochco and David Milch, and "St. Elsewhere," produced by Tom Fontana and John Tinker. "Hill Street" always kept things on a realistic, meat-and-potatoes level; the most experimental the show ever got was an episode that took place entirely while all the cops were off-duty. "St. Elsewhere," meanwhile, was almost nothing *but* experiments. One episode featured the dreams of several characters; another saw Howie Mandel's character get shot and confront God, who looked an awful lot like himself.

It's the 90s now, and the two best drama series are probably "NYPD Blue," produced by Milch (with help from Bochco), and "Homicide," produced by Fontana (Tinker now runs "Chicago Hope"). And for a while, the works of the producers stayed true to form: Milch's "Blue" stuck with the slice-of-life format, while Fontana's "Homicide" tried to stretch the form (albeit not on the level of "St. Elsewhere").

And until tonight, if anyone had asked me for a one-line definition of the difference between the two shows, I might have said, "Sipowicz is never going to meet God."

All I can say after watching "Taillight's Last Gleaming" is "whoops." :)

I am, quite frankly, rather stunned that Milch, whose work has always seemed thoroughly grounded into reality -- sometimes to a fault -- would try such a novel approach to dealing with Andy's ongoing grief. And I sure can't wait to hear the Rev. Donald Wildmon's reaction to this episode. :) (That is, if Wildmon -- who hadn't watched the show before he started protesting it the first time -- hasn't already forgotten it exists in his quest for another headline.)

There was almost something off-putting about those two dream sequences, which I think was the point. No one really understands the mysteries of what goes on while we slumber, no matter how often scientists try to quantify and qualify our rapid eye movements, and to try to make Andy's dreams fit within the bounds of comfortable, conventional storytelling, would have been a horrible mistake.

We don't know if Andy really did encounter Andy Jr. and Jesus in a pair of heavenly eateries, or what Andy said that forced Andy Jr. to leave the diner so suddenly, or why Andy Jr. seemed so concerned about Andy tussling with his killers. I'm sure the psych students among us could have a field day dissecting every frame and line of dialogue in the dreams, but I prefer to glean only two messages from it. One, that Andy, can't keep living in the past and trying to bring Andy Jr. back to life; like any other person who's lost a loved one, he has to "talk through" God -- i.e., pray -- whenever he wants to be with his son. Two, that Andy should stop beating himself up for his perceived role in Andy Jr's death -- note the way he repeated the "What did I do?" line from last year's "A Death in the Family" during the second dream -- because none of his actions or lack thereof would have made a difference; it was God's will that Andy Jr. be taken from him.

Speaking of God (a phrase I never thought I would use in a "Blue" review :)), I also liked the embodiment of Jesus as a trucker. Some people believe that just as God created mankind in His image, we create Him in ours. So while Fancy, for instance, might envision Jesus as an dark-skinned, erudite gentleman, Andy saw Him as a blue- collar Joe just like himself.

This is all getting a little theological and philosophical for a Jewish former communications major, so I'll put the breaks on my musings now. Suffice it to say, I not only appreciated the extremely radical break from the norm, but I found it quite moving. Just seeing Andy and Andy Jr. hug again had me choked up, and the idea of Andy Jr. serene and happy in Heaven made me glad. I shouldn't care this much about fictional characters, should I? But dammit, I do in this case. Here's hoping that Andy Jr. eventually meets his little brother, but not for a long time to come...

While I'm sure the "Andy meets Jesus" scene will likely be the talk around watercoolers all over the country tomorrow, I hope Fancy's story doesn't get short shrift. Stories about our beloved Lieu are so few and far between that I think most of us are predisposed to liking them no matter what. Well, Fancy's run-in with his own faults doesn't need that extra dose of goodwill to get a rave from me. It was, simply, dynamite.

Because he gets featured so rarely -- as opposed to, say, fellow supporting character Martinez, who's usually at least seen working a case each week -- Fancy has had to be defined almost entirely by what James McDaniel has done with his expressions and tones of voice in minimally-written scenes, and the reason we like the character so much is because of how much he does with them.

Tonight, he had the words to back up his usual stellar performance, and we got to see an unexpected and rather ugly side of Fancy. The idea of an innocent black man being harassed during a traffic stop is nothing new to either real life or television -- "High Incident" used the same premise only a few weeks ago with Blair Underwood's character -- but as I've said lots of times before, "Blue" has a habit of taking old-hat situations and making them fresh because of what is done with the characters in them, and that's exactly what happened here.

What I particularly liked was how the usually squeaky-clean Fancy got some dirt on his image; despite occasional evidence to the contrary (his near eternal patience with Andy's less than enlightened barbs), the man is human just like everyone else. The actual traffic stop was rather low-key; yes, Art and Lillian had guns pointed at them, but the crux of Szymanski's bad behavior was much subtler, in the way he talked down to Fancy even after learning he was on the job. I'm sure I would have felt humiliated if I were in Fancy's position, but I also think that if Fancy were an accountant or a commodities broker, he would have eventually gotten over the incident. But because he happened to be in a position to get revenge, he took it, not thinking too clearly about what effect Szymanski's transfer could have on an entire community of unwitting innocents (though it was the first thing to pop into my head as soon as Fancy made his request to Bass). Didn't I once hear something about power corrupting? Near the end of the story, Fancy told Bass, "I think we've looked enough into my heart and soul." I sure hope the show's powers that be don't think so, and find more ways to bring Fancy back to center stage.

I particularly liked Fancy's compromise solution, which is what I'm sure he would have thought of in the first place if he weren't so pissed off. Considering the show's track record on following these things up -- particularly stories involving Fancy -- I have a feeling we won't see Szymanski again, but just the thought of the Lieu innocuously smiling to him each morning on the way into work put a bit of a grin on my face. Hey, maybe Fancy's kid brother Reggie -- the cop who hates white people, remember? -- can transfer into the One-Five and be Szymanski's partner. :)

When it takes this long in a review to get to any crime investigations, you know the formula's pretty much been thrown out the window for a night. :) Though it fit into the series' all-too-predictable pattern of making all detectives not in Fancy's squad either jerks or incompetents or both, I rather liked the Eddie Hazel story. Admittedly, any story that turns Vince Gotelli into a man of action, I'm going to rave about, but other parts of it worked for me, too. :)

I got a few more inner laughs from a mental image with this story: in this case, Tony Galasso chasing the two bungling burglars out of his bar with a bullet stuck in his skull. What a great character. Tony Todd was also very good as Eddie Hazel in the later scenes, when we got to see Hazel for the weasel he really is, but for some reason, I knew there was something hinky about him even in his first scene. Maybe it's because I'm too used to seeing the whispery-voiced Todd as a nasty guy (as Worf's brother on "Star Trek," and as a bloodthirsty mercenary in "The Rock," to name just two places). I also didn't like that Andy and Bobby were handed their perps on a silver platter rather than through actual detective work -- which would have driven the point home a little further -- but the idea of a glory- hungry detective made for a nice story that filled the gaps well in between Andy's dreams and Fancy's revenge.

The con artist subplot, on the other hand, did absolutely nothing for me. I realize that it was an attempt to counterbalance the Hazel story by showing the effects of detectives cooperating to solve a series of crimes and how they don't mind sharing the credit, but the execution was very dull. James was in his bland boy scout mode, and Diane's brief return to undercover work was pretty routine and uncompelling. Despite attempts to give some of the guest characters interesting quirks -- particularly the wheelchair-bound victim and her overly critical sister -- none of them was on-screen long enough to really register with me. I'd have rather seen the time spent on any of the other three plots (maybe another scene with Fancy and his wife).

But, keeping in the spirit of the episode, I am a merciful reviewer who believes that even meek subplots have the potential to one day inherit the earth. And to get back to the show's usual vernacular, I don't mean to break balls when I thought the rest of the episode shoulda got a major attaboy. :)

Quick Hits:

Don't forget to catch next week's episode, folks; if you miss it, you'll go seven straight weeks without Blue, instead of the six everyone else is going to be stuck with (again, in case you're just joining us, ABC is taking the show off for six weeks at the start of March to try out another show in its timeslot).

See ya in the funny papers...


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