NYPD Blue, Season 3, Episode 13,
A Tushful of Dollars
Story by Bill Clark & Nicholas Wooton
Teleplay by Nicholas Wooton
Directed by Elodie Keene
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PLOT ONE: HURT RUSSELL

Diane's frazzled - her mother's grand jury hearing is coming up in a few days, and the lawyer that Sylvia recommended sounds like she'd rather go to trial than get Mrs. Russell a good plea. Not helping Diane's disposition is the presence of ADA Cohen, who's the riding DA at the 15 for the day. Because of the Tierney case (see Plot Two), they're forced to work together, but Diane finds it hard to be civil to the man who's trying to indict her mother for murder. Cohen attempts to be friendly, and even gives hints that the prosecution of Mrs. Russell isn't his idea, but Diane's not interested in his attempts at reaching out.

Diane's lawyer Elizabeth Silver, "a real asskicker" according to Sylvia, agrees to meet with Diane at the stationhouse. She explains that while she'd rather go to trial (both because she thinks it would be a challenge and because she thinks she'd win), if Diane and her mother want to go for a deal, then she'll go out and get a deal. She also warns Diane that a plea might take a while, because the DA's office wouldn't want to look like they were going easy on a cop's mother.

Silver sweettalks Maury Abrams into giving Mrs. Russell 5 years probation for second-degree manslaughter, much to Diane's relief. As she's heading off-shift with Bobby, they run into Cohen, who claims that he was only following orders from Abrams. Diane doesn't buy it - in her opinion, if a continued prosecution wouldn't have been bad PR for both the cops and the DA's, Cohen would've been more than eager to pursue it. Cohen's indignant, and expresses amusement at the concept of being confronted by a cop whose boyfriend worked the investigation of her own mother. Bobby blows a fuse at Cohen's innuendo that he didn't do his job right because of his relationship with Diane, and he shoves the smirking ADA up against a wall. Cohen warns Bobby that he'll file charges against him, at which point Bobby lets him go - he wouldn't want to be in a position where he needed a lawyer.

PLOT TWO: THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET'S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS

In the midst of her mother's legal procedings, Diane has to finally get back to work. She's up, and when Fancy presents her with the opportunity to work a case that may entail overtime pay, Diane jumps at it.

She and Greg head out to investigate the death of a Mrs. Tierney, who was shot in her bed. By the time they arrive at the scene, her husband Theodore has already engaged the services of a particularly sleazy but effective defense attorney named Barry Ulin. Ulin refuses to let the detectives talk to his client, so they're resigned to looking over the crime scene. They notice that the bedroom window is broken, but that it was broken from the inside, as if someone wanted to make it look like someone had broken in, but didn't think it through.

David Tierney, the son of the victim and Theodore's stepson, shows up at the apartment, fighting mad. Diane manages to keep him away from one of Ulin's associates, and he tells her that he has several answering machines from his drunk of a stepfather, each one offering different accounts of his mother's death, including one where Mr. Tierney confessed to the deed. Based on that, and in an attempt to keep Ulin from talking to David, Diane arrests Mr. Tierney, but her gambit fails - Ulin manages to steer David into his car.

When Diane gets back to the station, Fancy informs her that Ulin has been quite active on his cellular phone, a fact ADA Cohen confirms when he arrives with word that Ulin has been calling the DA's office, demanding that his client be charged or released. Ulin shows up, without David, and tells an angry Diane that David has changed his mind and gone back home.

Without that answering machine tape, Diane doesn't have a case, so she calls David and pleads for him to come in. He does, in part because he seems attracted to Diane, but she's too late - he claims he erased the answering machine tape that morning. Diane opines that he wouldn't have erased it, if only so he could have some leverage over Ulin and his stepfather. David claims innocence and leaves, but not before Diane asks him to listen to his conscience.

Later that day, David comes back and tells Diane that he really did erase the tape (after listening to some bogus legal advice from Ulin) - he just didn't want her to think that he was a blackmailer. She rips into him for not standing up for his mother. He says that his mother was as big a drunk as his stepfather, and that she never would've stood up for herself - but in his opinion, Diane couldn't understand that. Diane angrily tells him that his situation isn't unique, and rebuffs his clumsy attempt to ask her out. Ulin shows up to pick up his client for release, and he and Diane have words.

As she and Bobby are preparing for bed (after the confrontation with Cohen at the precinct), Diane asks Bobby whether she thinks she could've blown the case because she was so wrapped up in her mother's legal troubles. She also starts to wonder whether she'll always be tied to where she came from and who she used to be. Bobby offers her words of comfort, but Diane doesn't seem prepared to listen.

PLOT THREE: BADFELLA

Andy and Bobby's latest case lands them smack-dab in the middle of the wonderful world of organized crime. Vincent Del Marco, the oldest son of noted mobster Carmine Del Marco, was shot in the head in the family kitchen. When Carmine comes home, he allows Andy and Bobby to survey the crime scene, but makes sure that no one talks to them.

That influence doesn't stretch to one of his neighbors, who (after talking to James during a canvas of the building) comes to the precinct and tells the detectives that Mrs. Del Marco told her that her other son, a bad seed named Jimmy, shot Vincent, a good boy making a legit living as a plumber.

Jimmy's rap sheet shows that his general MO involves sticking up gays outside bars in the East Village, so Andy and Bobby go from gay bar to gay bar doing interviews. The bartender at one establishment suggests that Jimmy's going to be forced into leaving town by his father, and one of the patrons (a former victim of Jimmy's) tips Sip and Simone to the vanity license plate (DR. FUNKY) of Jimmy's regular wheelman.

At the station, Bobby runs the license plate through Motor Vehicles, while James approaches Andy - it turns out that the prime suspect in the robbery homicide at a bridal shop he and Lesniak are working is none other than Jimmy Del Marco. Andy speaks to the owner of the store, who says that Jimmy came in, took the wallet and jewelry of the two customers, then shot them anyway. The storeowner only survived because Jimmy's gun jammed and he ran out to a getaway car that matches the description the bar patron gave.

It turns out that Jimmy may have been even busier than that - a gay hustler's dead body is found in a dumpster with $12 in singles wedged between his buttocks, and a police search of the victim's apartment turns up photo negatives of the victim giving Jimmy oral sex, as well as a few balled-up variations of a blackmail note. Bobby connects the dots and figures Jimmy graduated from muggings to murder in order to keep his secret safe, then found he didn't mind killing people.

Jimmy's wheelman, Joe Karlen, is brought in. He's upset - not at the cops, but at Jimmy. Apparently, Joe was just attempting to drive him out of town (per Carmine's orders) when Jimmy hopped out outside the bridal shop, and the next thing Joe knew, he was an accessory to a double murder. But despite that, he refuses to give up Jimmy's whereabouts.

Fortunately, Sip and Simone don't need Joe's help after they get an anonymous call (which sounds like it was made by Carmine speaking through a handkerchief) telling them that Jimmy's playing cards at a mob social club. Fancy tells the two to have the Emergency Services Unit back them up on the bust, but they're not needed - the club bouncer lets Andy and Bobby in without even blinking, and none of the mobsters inside lift a finger to help Jimmy.

In interrogation, Jimmy's smug, claiming his father will get him out of it. Andy tries to explain to Jimmy that Carmine turned him in, but his words have no effect. Carmine himself shows up and asks to speak to his son. He tells Jimmy that he can't believe he would shoot Vincent just because he was afraid people would find out he was gay, and urges his son to take responsibility for his actions - just as Carmine feels responsible for the boutique murder because he didn't personally handle Jimmy's departure. His pleas fall on deaf ears, but despite his anger over his son's actions, he still gives Jimmy the card of a sharp mob defense attorney. Jimmy, oblivious to everything else his father said, gleefully informs the detectives that he won't be giving a statement, because his father's attorney is going to get him off.


Now *that* was a darned good episode.

In case you folks don't know this by now, I'm a big TV watcher outside of the realm of NYPD Blue, and I also frequent lots of other alt.tv.* newsgroups. One thing I often notice when reading the works of other Net TV critics is that they go fairly in-depth into the characters' motivations and actions. I sometimes ask myself why I find it so hard to do that most of the time. The answer is usually that NYPD Blue is a very simplistic show, morally - our guys go out and catch the bad guys. Period. Complex analysis beyond whether I was entertained or kept in suspense by a particular storyline often doesn't seem to apply.

Well, "A Tushful of Dollars" (and I'm gonna have a hard time getting that title out of my head for a while) gave me far more material to talk about aside from whether or not I'm tired of Andy and Bobby always catching the bad guy - ironically, since this episode may mark the first time in show history where both the bad guys seem certain to get off.

Nicholas Wootton's script revolves around two different themes: dysfunctional families, and the often adversarial relationship between cops and lawyers. And each theme gets not one, not two, but three examples of said to examine.

Diane looks at the Tierney family and sees a near-mirror image of her own. If Doug hadn't given her mother her gun, her mother could've been dead just as easily as Mrs. Tierney - and even though her mother was in the right, Doug's attempt at covering things up was just as bad as David Tierney's confused erasure of the answering machine tape. And while none of this was explicitly stated, it was pretty obvious, both from Diane's comments to David about her understanding his situation better than he might think, and in her nervous conversation with Bobby at show's end. If her father had succeeded in killing her mother, would Diane have wound up helping his defense? And did the similarities in the Tierney case to her own situation cause her to blow it? I can't definitively answer the first question, but judging by the relative lack of action Diane took in the past to stop her father, I wouldn't be surprised if she would have helped him if the positions were reversed. As for the latter, it's safe to say that Diane's instincts weren't at fault - she tried her best to keep David away from Ulin, but as soon as he got in Ulin's car, the case was out of her hands. But even though I think she did nothing wrong, Kim Delaney played Diane's self-doubt perfectly - when I watched her this week, the phrase "soap opera" didn't cross my mind even once.

The third screwed-up family is, of course, the Del Marco's: a Mafioso father, one son who lives life on the straight-and-narrow yet still lives at home, and a third son whose crimes are generally so disgusting that not even his father approves of them. And just as David Tierney couldn't bring himself to help the police bring his stepfather to justice, in the end, Carmine Del Marco felt compelled to let Jimmy use one of his attorneys.

The second theme revolves around lawyers, and we were presented with three very well-defined members of the bar here: Elizabeth Silver, supremely confident of her abilities and aware of the general disdain with which defense attorneys are viewed, yet taking all the cracks in with good humor; Barry Ulin, prepared to do anything to get his client off, even if it means arranging for the destruction of a key piece of evidence; and ADA Cohen, the cog in the machine who claims his job is not to decide guilt or innocence, but to present evidence so that a jury can do so.

Interestingly, the most sympathetic character, at least from the cops' point of view, was one of the two defense attorneys, Silver. Admittedly, the fact that she was defending Diane's mom had a large part to do with that, just as the fact that Cohen was prosecuting her had a lot to do with Bobby and Diane's dislike of him. Even Ulin got cut some slack, however; when Diane yelled at David for helping his stepfather, she noted that at least Ulin was doing his job when he did the same. But when Cohen, who was handling a case Diane had a personal stake in, tried to express the same notion, she didn't care to listen. And for all of Cohen's smirking attitude, he was far more in the right than either Diane (who couldn't see past protecting her mother) or Bobby (who refused to acknowledge that his being assigned to work his girlfriend's father's murder was a major conflict of interest). It was a very effective role-reversal, ala IAB Sgt. Martens' conversations with Bobby back in "Cold Heaters."

Even though I occasionally got tired of Joyce Davenport getting on her ethical high horse each week on Hill Street Blues, I could never deny that her character presented a moral yin to the cops' yang. For a while during the first season Sylvia (and, to a lesser extent, Laura) was used in a similar capacity, but since she's become relegated to being merely Andy's Wife, we've been presented things entirely from the perspective of the cops. I hope that in the future, either we start seeing Sylvia on the job and in conflict with the cops more often, or else ADA Cohen, babyface and all, starts appearing fairly regularly.

Nicholas Wootton's name sounds new to me, but I hope that it becomes familiar very quickly, because this was quite possibly the best script of the season. "The Backboard Jungle" hit harder, but "A Tushful of Dollars" has a terrific multi-parallel structure, as well as some of the best-defined guest characters in show history (certainly, there haven't been this many in one episode before, from the three lawyers to David Tierney to Carmine Del Marco). Good, good stuff.

Briefer comments:

See ya in the funny papers, folks...


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