NYPD Blue, Season 4, Episode 16
What a Dump!

Story by David Milch and Bill Clark
Teleplay by Leonard Gardner
Directed by Perry Lang

PLOT ONE: RAGING MEDAVOY

A combination of angst over his impending "special" dinner with Abby Sullivan and a sugar buzz from too much peanut butter has Greg behaving unusually agressive while he, James, and Diane investigate a shooting incident where shots fired from a city bus hit a passing woman and child. When a gangbanger on the bus refers to Abby, who happens to be on the scene, as a "dyke," Greg goes ballistic.

That same punk reluctantly explains that the shooting erupted from a war of words between some guys on the bus and a pedestrian who threw a beer bottle through their window. Though he won't ID the shooter, he lets it slip that the original target of the shots is named Daniel Mendonca. Mendonca turns up with a gunshot wound at Bellevue, and when he refuses to name his shooter -- who he clearly knows -- Greg whacks him in the head with a phone book. A stunned James manages to sort out the situation enough to get Mendonca to name Luis Ugalde as the shooter, then lets him go rather than risk him filing a brutality charge against Medavoy.

Greg stays "amped-up" while arresting Ugalde, smashing his head repeatedly against a car hood. Ugalde doesn't flinch -- not even after Greg smacks him some more during his initial interview. James suggests that they need to try the soft sell the second time around, but while he's trying to sound sympathetic and let Ugalde offer his account of the shooting, Greg gets into a game of verbal chicken, and Ugalde clams up. James accuses Greg of blowing the interview, and points out that if they didn't already have witnesses, Ugalde would've walked free. Greg wonders why nobody yells at Andy for acting macho; James retorts that when Andy gets tough with a guy, he always walks out with a signed statement.

At dinner that night with Abby, Greg is considerably calmer, but now acting nervous over the prospect that he won't be able to bottle up his anger now that it's out. Abby assures him that he's not a violent man by nature, and changes the subject, inviting Greg to meet her lover Kathy and have dinner with them. Greg acts nervous at first, until Abby tells him that he doesn't have to be afraid of new experiences, be it interacting with a lesbian couple or occasionally playing rough on the job. Greg realizes that she's right, but when he asks whether the dinner invitation was the "special" occasion Abby had been referring to, she demurs and suggests they take things one step at a time.

PLOT TWO: WHAT A COUNTRY

With Sylvia taking time off from her job to care for Theo, Andy's taken a second job doing marshal duty at night. Unfortunately for him, his first assignment involves supervising captured drug couriers at the airport to make sure they pass the drug-filled condoms hidden in their intestines. He's able to stave off thoughts of the unpleasant duty temporarily by focusing on the murder of Marina Dawkins, a young Russian emigre whose body was found in a dumpster, in a condition similar to two rape/murder victims in the 17th Precinct.

Detectives at the One-Seven catch their perp, a twitchy skel named Gerard, who easily cops to the first two murders but denies anything to do with Marina Dawkins. Marina's middle-aged husband Earl, meanwhile, appears to break down while identifying her body, but is surprisingly unhelpful with information. Marina's boss reveals that she was having an affair with Vitaly, a cabbie and fellow Russian. Vitaly says he didn't kill Marina, and points to Earl, who brought her over to America as a mail-order bride. According to Vitaly, Marina was going to divorce the unappreciative Earl and move in with him.

The autopsy on Marina reveals that she was strangled and genitally assaulted, but without penetration. A tipsy Earl gets into a fender bender with Officer Szymanski while pulling into the precinct, and Andy and Bobby spot Marina's purse on the floor of his car. Realizing that the only woman who would go anywhere without her purse is a dead woman, Andy goes after Earl, who finally admits that he followed Marina on a date with Vitaly, then killed her in a fit of rage and tried to make it look like the crimes that were baffling the local cops. The one thing he couldn't bring himself to do was rape her: "I had too much feeling for her to do that."

With the case closed, Andy reluctantly heads to his night job, where he winds up babysitting a pair of Nigerians. Only one speaks English, and he explains to Andy that he came to America to be with his woman, that the only way he could afford it was to be a one-time drug mule, and that he planned to live on the straight and narrow from then on. He sounds sincere, but before Andy can digest this nugget into his worldview, the other prisoner -- who claimed he's a political refugee who used the drug lords as his only means of escape -- goes into a seizure when one of the condoms still inside him burst open. Andy calls for the doctor, but can do little more than watch the man die. "Welcome to America," he mutters.


Greg Medavoy has to be one of the toughest characters in television drama to write for. I'm sure it's incredibly easy to fall into the trap of writing the guy as a two-dimensional clown: an obsessive neurotic with an occasional stammer and a chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease. For most of the first half of this season, the show's writers kept falling into that trap, as Greg was only on screen long enough to yammer about how wonderful/terrible his diet was going.

But lately, Greg's been allowed to grow and change, and Medavoy subplots have gone from unbearable to compelling. First, he rather surprisingly accepted Abby's homosexuality with a minimum of hand-wringing, and actually seemed to welcome the prospect of a strictly platonic female friend. Then, he found himself questioning his entire approach to the job after Fancy let Andy take over one of his cases so he could beat a confession out of Greg's suspect.

Tonight, we saw a fascinating blending of the two storylines, as Medavoy's career angst merged with concern over Abby's dinner and released a darker, angrier side that sent him spiralling out of control on the job and continuing to question his personality off it.

Watching Andy beat on a guy is routine; seeing Greg whack a guy with a phone book disturbed the hell out of me, not just because he's usually so meek, but because he very clearly stated a few weeks ago that he doesn't like Andy's way of doing things. For Greg to so cavalierly -- and routinely -- start smacking suspects said to me that something was seriously wrong with him. The entire bus shooting storyline reminded me of last year's "Heavin' Can Wait" (also written by Leonard Gardner), where a variety of personal problems had Andy so out of sorts that he nearly bit the head off of everyone he encountered, including Bobby. Gordon Clapp played Dark Medavoy very convincingly -- he's had practice with this sort of thing in his work for John Sayles (check him out as a nasty union-buster in "Matewan") -- and I was engrossed througout.

His dinner with Abby was another kettle of fish. I confess, I must've been the only guy in America with a computer last week who didn't see that Abby wanted Greg to play sperm donor for a possible baby, but it was spelled out pretty clearly in Abby's one step at a time line. And while I'm not sure I'm comfortable the idea of Greg viewing police brutality as just another new experience to embrace, the restaurant scene had me laughing so hard throughout that I didn't notice too much. I think Leonard Gardner's been wasting his career writing bleak drama; this man has a serious future in screwball comedy. Greg and Abby's dialogue flowed so quickly, and in such a snappy fashion that I felt I was watching a Hepburn/Tracy movie. "I was hoping we could have you for dinner some night." / "Really? What course would I be?" was the best exchange, and was capped off by the waitress' final line: "So, who's for dessert?" And I'm glad that Abby didn't notice Greg's "three-way dinner" line...

The investigation into the murder of Marina Dawkins was your basic long on characterization, short on plot type of case. The actual story was presented in a very routine and unimaginative fashion (aside from Andy spotting the purse because of the fender-bender with Szymanski, who I was glad to see hasn't changed his sunny disposition since transferring in after last week's episode), but man, were all the characters well written. From the fidgety garbageman who wants to know if he should take the trash from the murder scene to eerily serene killer Gerard to fiery Vitaly, these were all people given flesh and blood existence with a real minimum of screen time.

And while the murder case itself wasn't particularly engrossing (hands up, those who didn't have Earl Dawkins pegged from the minute he appeared), there was a very interesting Andy thread running throughout that continued in the drug courier scene at the end (which is why I included the two together in my summary). Andy gets into beefs with both the restaurant owner and Vitaly about immigrants causing trouble in America, and both of them wonder what kind of a country they've come to. But everyone's still desperate to get over here. Marina wanted to come to America so badly she allowed herself to essentially be sold to Earl Dawkins. The two Nigerians -- one coming for love, the other for political reasons -- found their only avenue of entry was to break the law and help smuggle drugs. It's the old "streets paved with gold" idea updated to modern times. Andy's lucky; he was born in America, not in Poland. He didn't have do something unsavory or unethical in order to come to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Would Andy have done the same if he was in the Nigerian's position? And who's to say that the English-speaking mule wasn't telling the truth about becoming a model citizen? And even if he was, does that mitigate him playing a role in the drug trade? None of these questions have easy answers, but at least Andy may start looking for them now.

Quick Hits:

And so it begins: the hiatus. Once more, for those coming in late: this is the last episode of NYPD Blue for the next six weeks. ABC will be temporarily replacing it on the schedule with a new legal drama called "The Practice."

You can do all sorts of things with the extra hour a week: read a book, join a charitable organization, excercise, call an old friend or relative with whom you haven't spoken in quite some time, learn to tend bar, etc. But if you're looking for a drama fix for the next six weeks, here are some suggestions. In my day job as a TV critic, I've gotten to see all the midseason replacement shows already, so these aren't just guesses:

Remember, NYPD Blue will be back on the air in mid-April (either the 15 or the 22, I'm not sure which). When I know the exact date, I'll be sure to post it here early and often. Until then, keep the faith, and I'll see ya in the funny papers...


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