Today, Maceo re-enters the Lieu's life when he gets arrested for transporting a kilo of heroin through the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He has Fancy's business card in his pocket, and the Pt. Authority cops call him in for guidance. Maceo, now 16, has grown sullen and withdrawn, and lamely denies knowledge of the drugs in his bag.
Fancy finds out that Sherilee has moved back to New York, and when he pays a visit to her apartment, finds out that she's using again. He also notices some expensive new appliances, which Sherilee says Maceo bought her with his new "construction job." He doesn't tell her about Maceo's arrest, but when his questions start to turn too personal for her liking, she kicks him out.
Art manages to convince Maceo that the only way out of this is to get a deal and roll over on the crew he was running the drugs for. As it turns out, this particular gang is currently under investigation by Ray Kahlins' drug task force, but Ray, still pouting over the way he feels he was treated the last time he worked with Fancy's men (in "Hollie and the Blowfish," season three), tries to avoid cutting him any breaks. Ray finally agrees, realizing it's too good an opportunity to pass up, and Maceo makes a "controlled delivery" to his connection, whom Kahlins' team quickly busts.
Maceo still seems loyal to his mother, so Art sets him up behind the two-way mirror in the pokey room while he goads Sherilee into spitefully admitting that she'd rather let her son go to jail than let him live with Fancy again. He then explains to Maceo that as part of his deal, he not only has to testify against the drug crew, but against his mother -- a condition that surprises Kahlins, who supposedly designed the deal -- and that he'll spend two years at a juvenile work farm.
Later that night, Art stops by Maceo's cell and says he can sign him out for a few hours to have dinner back at the Fancy house. Maceo seems reluctant, despite wanting to meet Arthur Jr. Fancy tells him that life doesn't always deal people fair hands, but that Maceo can use his future to change his past if he wants: he can make those few months he spent in the Fancy household just a bump on his road to a wasted life of crime, or he can remember what he learned about being a man from Art and turn his life around. "Remember, this is a hand you got dealt, too," Fancy says. Maceo silently gets up and follows the Lieu home.
The next night, Diane's getting dressed for another date with Jimmy Liery when Jill Kirkendall comes into the locker room to freshen up. Jill commends her for the courage to work undercover. Diane, feeling uptight about her life, says that the hard part is trying to remember that she's a good person; Jill says that that's what she's heard from everyone around the office.
Diane meets Liery at his bar hangout, but he rebuffs her attempts to ask about his work, saying he'd trust her more if she'd stop drinking only club sodas. While Diane's not looking, Jimmy slips a pill into her drink, and as she gets increasingly tipsy, he starts telling her about the shipment of AK-47 rifles that he's trying to sell to the IRA. Diane, not realizing what's happened, asks Jimmy to take her home; he picks her up and carries her off to "Chez Liery."
Arthur says he didn't do the killing; he was having an argument with Willie over some money when a car drove by and the passengers opened fire; Arthur grabbed Willie's gun for protection and ran. Considering that Arthur vehemently denied involvement the last time around, his word doesn't carry too much weight with the detectives.
A local minister brings his friend Stanley Angrist to the squad, because Angrist was a witness to the shooting. He doesn't want to be involved officially, but his account of things jibes with Arthur's, right down to the fact that the car was a Chevy. Andy and Bobby are incredulous that Arthur was telling the truth, but compose themselves enough to get him to identify the real shooters. Arthur's free to go, and starts wondering whether he has some reward money coming to him.
Greg spends the rest of the day in a funk. James wonders if Abby might not be pulling a Lesniak - lying about it to avoid the date - but Greg feels that she was genuine. He decides to be true to his word and take her out after all, and they have a nice time. Greg's only complaint to Abby is that she didn't tell him sooner; she explains that she didn't want to scare him away from the exercising at first, and hopes that they can be friends. Greg says that he'd like that.
Endings to "NYPD Blue" episodes can frequently provoke several reactions from me: a warm fuzzy (usually an Andy/Sylvia bedroom scene), a slightly choked-up feeling (something like Andy's "I got faith" speech), or sheer awe at the writing or acting (say, the locker room argument at the end of "Where's 'Swaldo?").
But it has been a long time since I've turned off the set at 11 p.m. in a near panic about what's happening to one of the characters -- I probably have to go all the way back to those first couple of episodes of the series when the mob had a hit out on John Kelly and wanted Janice Licalsi to pull the trigger.
After the end of "Unembraceable You," I felt panicked. The Diane undercover subplot had kept me on the edge of my seat for a while now, as I pondered all sorts of troubling and, in my opinion, fascinating questions -- most of which fell under the bannder of how Diane's shaky self-esteem would hold up under this stress-filled assignment -- but I never for an instant envisioned a scenario like this. Has Liery caught on to his "Mouse," or is he just such an utter piece of human detritus that he would feel the need to drug a gal to get her in the sack?
I've always liked Christopher Meloni, who plays Liery, but I never quite realized just how frightening he can be. The look on his eyes as he sat at the table with Diane was bone-chilling, and almost caused me to miss all the relevant plot details about him running guns for the IRA (interesting twist, by the way). And he's turning into a fascinatingly twisted villain, from his references to being molested in catholic school last week to the way he cowed the bartender this week. Diane is in *deep* doo-doo with this guy.
Kim Delaney, meanwhile is growing leaps and bounds in my estimation with her performance during this arc. Remember last year, when her "make love to me" request to Bobby at the end of "One Big Happy Family" drew laughter and derision here on the 'Net? I sure wasn't laughing when she said the same line in this episode's opening scene -- I very much bought into Diane's desperate attempt to connect with the man she loves in this time of trouble. In fact, I'd dare say that this was the first love scene in the history of the show that wasn't gratuitous on at least some level; there was an actual reason, both storywise and character-specific, to put those two in bed together. And Diane's nerve-ridden chit-chat with Jill Kirkendall was a good scene for both of them.
Almost lost in the shuffle by this was a compelling and poignant showcase for James McDaniel as Lt. Fancy. I don't know how many people remember "Up on the Roof," the first-season episode where Maceo was introduced, but it was, up until tonight, probably the best Fancy episode (of which there are unfortunately few). If McDaniel and Alex Bess (Maceo) seem to have great chemistry, that's because they lived out much of this particular scenario in real-life. The whole Maceo story came about when McDaniel mentioned to one of the writers that he had recently taken in a young boy who was in one of his acting classes, and it got adapted into the show. McDaniel was absolutely dynamite tonight, and possibly the best I've seen him on the show, particularly the way he played his visit to Sherilee's apartment, when he had to hide his rage and make small talk so she wouldn't know what was up. And I found his off-beat advice to Maceo about the future affecting the past (instead of vice-versa) rather refreshing and touching.
The original episode ended on a hopeful note: Sherilee really seemed clean and ready to start a new life, and Maceo seemed ready to call Art whenever needed for fatherly guidance. But life unfortunately doesn't always have a happy ending, and Sherilee went back into the sewer, finally dragging Maceo down with her. And, irony of ironies, Fancy needed help from a lazy bum like Ray Kahlins to save him. The last time Maceo appeared, it sparked a major change in Art's life: his desire to have a son of his own. I wonder whether this will impact him as much.
One of the things I like most about the formula-busting that's been going on all year is that the murder investigation no longer has to be the dominant story of every single episode. When a story warrants it (say, the faked kidnapping in "Thick Stu"), it gets plenty of play, but when it's not quite as deep, the show usually doesn't dwell on it more than necessary. Take tonight's case, which had some very well-written characters, from the two prostitutes to Mr. Angrist to Arthur himself, but not the most involving plot in the world. We got to spend enough time with all these characters to appreciate their individual quirks, but not enough so that the story ever dragged (the "wrong guy" story from "Yes, We Have No Cannolis" would have worked much better at this length). And the coffee-room scene with the hookers managed to subtly work in some characterization of Diane: she *is* a good cop like Kirkendall said, and a good person too, but she doesn't realize it because something like calming "Angela" down enough to talk probably doesn't seem that tough to her.
Last, and sort of least, we have the second time in two years in which a female cop at the precinct has caused Greg's jaw to drop with an admission of homosexuality. I'd like to believe that this is merely Milch's way of apologizing for the increasingly botched characterization of Lesniak last year -- by really showing what it's like to be gay on the force -- and I really liked Paige Turco in her first extended appearance as Abby, but I keep having this nagging fear that Greg is going to attempt to get her to "switch over to the visiting team." Let's hope I'm wrong on this, and they just stay friends, which might actually be kind of sweet.
But that's in the future, and right now I have to judge the past: namely, this episode. Oustanding, one of the best of the year.
See ya in the funny papers...