NYPD Blue, Season 4, Episode 17
A Wrenching Experience

Story by David Milch & Bill Clark
Teleplay by Meredith Stiehm
Directed by Michael Watkins

PLOT ONE: TO BEAT OR NOT TO BEAT

Greg and James take center stage for a week while investigating the murder of Mel Eigen, who was shot to death at the auto-repair shop he ran with his good friend Paul DeMarco. Paul's son Danny also works at the shop, and turns up while the two detectives are surveying the crime scene, badly feigning surprise and dismay at Mel's death. He has a remarkably detailed alibi involving an ATM machine and a piece of jewelry he put on layaway for his mother, but he also has a pretty nasty cut on his hand that looks like he got it in a fight. As James quips after a uniform cop escorts Danny down to the stations, all Danny was missing was a sign on his back saying "Arrest me."

While running the case for Lt. Fancy, they find out that Mel Eigen was a big booster for the NYPD, and his friends at One Police Plaza are exerting pressure for the case to be closed fast. Greg tries to assure the Lieu about Danny's likelihood for confession by quoting James' "Arrest me" line, which James doesn't appreciate; "Nothing like raised expectations."

Paul DeMarco doesn't have a high opinion of his son, who's always been a screw-up and a loner. Mel was such a good guy that he decided to give Danny a shot at the shop, but he was terrible at it. He's not sure if Danny is really capable of committing murder, but says, "You tell him, if he did this, I hope he burns in hell." Danny, meanwhile, doesn't deviate from his story, which is just firm enough to keep him out of prison. As James walks out of the room in frustration, he turns to Greg and says, "That was easy, huh, Greg?"

Capt. Bass, feeling some pressure from downtown himself, comes in to give the detectives a locker room pep talk, with Lt. Fancy observing. He won't come right out and order the two to beat a confession out of Danny, but tells them, "Don't be shy." Fancy, interceding on behalf of his uncomfortable men, asks, "Why does that sound like, 'Don't walk him, but don't give him anything to hit?"' Capt. Bass sticks with the Lieu's baseball metaphor and cannily replies, "Arthur, if that's what you heard, you're not hearing right. I got nothing against timely hits." After Bass leaves, Fancy turns to Medavoy and Martinez and tells them "Deal with him the way you think is right."

They try another go at Danny as good-cop, bad-cop. Greg plays sympathetic and gets Danny to admit that he couldn't stand the way his father would berate him but act buddy-buddy with Mel. When Greg fails, James steps in and warns Danny that he'll start smacking him around soon, but the threat doesn't work. Out in the hall, Greg tries to convince James that they can get a statement without resorting to violence. James reluctantly agrees, but says, "The clock's running on this one, Greg. We don't move him soon, I'm going upside his head."

They play good-cop, bad-cop again, and as James has Danny moved to the brink of tears over his seemingly rotten life, Greg opens his arms and asks Danny to give him a hug and "let it out." The spontaneous gambit works; Danny collapses into Greg's embrace and gives a full confession, as Greg offers a very insincere "There, there." The Lieu congratulates the two as they're getting ready to go home. James gives Greg all the credit for his T.L.C. approach, but Greg says, "I gotta fess up: if he didn't go, having him in the hug, I was going to give him a hell of a noogie."

PLOT TWO: FULL SHEEPSKIN JACKET

Andy and Bobby handle the sidewalk murder of Tony Perez, who was gunned down right in front of his pregnant girlfriend Wanda Diaz. Wanda's account of the incident is skimpy on details beyond the fact that the three perps stole her new sheepskin coat, and refuses to go to the station to look through mug books or contribute to a police sketch. "Maybe she's holding back out of respect for her coat," reasons Andy.

At the precinct, a uniform cop introduces the detectives to Milo Guzman, who got busted trying to rob a KFC with two other guys, one of whom got away. Milo wants to cut a deal and is offering information on the Perez homicide. He's a member of a local gang called the Latin Kings, as was Tony. When Wanda got pregnant, Tony decided he wanted to leave the gang, but neglected to ask the permission of "The Crown Jewel," Leo Ramirez, who was the shooter, as well as the third guy at the KFC, and that he stole Wanda's coat to give to his girlfriend. He doesn't know where Leo is, but mentions that he often hides out with Rudy Moreno, a childhood friend with a straight job.

At Rudy's apartment, he admits to knowing Leo, but claims he doesn't know where he is now. Andy spies a row of army uniforms hanging from his closet; Rudy proudly explains that he was an MP and is currently awaiting a background check so he can join the NYPD. Bobby, seizing on this, points out that if he helps them, they can help his application; conversely, Andy says, any attempt to hinder their case could kill his chances. Rudy reluctantly offers to page Leo and find out where he is. Bobby explains that they can set things up so Leo won't know Rudy set him up; "I'm gonna know," sighs Rudy.

They find Leo hanging with his girlfriend, who's sporting a sheepskin jacket, but he doesn't seem concerned about the prospect of a conviction, since Wanda, the only credible witness, will be too afraid to testify against him. He seems to be correct, as Wanda refuses to identify him out of a lineup, even though she makes it clear she knows Leo did it. Andy mentions that he heard that the head of a local diaper company has offered to help pay for the baby's expenses after she gives birth, and points out that the diaper exec, a regular publicity hound, would likely pony up a lot more money if she helps them convict Tony's killer. Wanda agrees to look at the lineup.

Rudy Moreno shows up at the precinct at the end of the day to talk to Bobby. Bobby tries to assuage his guilt by saying that this incident will make him a better person and put him in a better position to get on The Job, where he'll be able to help people. When Rudy asks if Bobby's offer to help get him in was BS, Bobby mentions the name of the investigator handling his case and says he has an appointment to talk with him in the morning. Rudy smiles and thanks him. Bobby shakes his hand and says, "I'll be seeing you again, Rudy."

PLOT THREE: SHAKE, RATTLE AND WOE

Diane and Jill Kirkendall get called into Bellevue to investigate a possible shaken baby case. One-year-old Tina Zheng is in critical condition and not expected to suvive, and though her babysitter, Amy Chu, claims Tina fell off a couch, the injuries are inconsistent with a fall. Tina's parents arrive at the hospital and scream at the babysitter for not keeping a close eye on their child.

In the interview, Amy keeps sticking to her story about a fall, and to prove what good care she took of Tina, produces a daily journal she kept, containing all of Tina's feeding meals, diaper changes, baths, etc. Jill, a mother herself, sees this and can't help but see that Amy really did care for Tina. Eventually, she notices that one thing is missing: accounts of when Tina slept. She quizzes the Zhengs on this, and they admit that they ordered Amy not to let Tina sleep during the day, since they wanted to train her against that particular weakness. Jill tries to explain that all babies need to nap, but they leave to go back and be with their daughter.

A few hours later, word comes in from Bellevue that Tina died. Amy doesn't take the news well, and breaks down crying. With some very gentle prodding from Jill, she explains that the Zhengs had threatened to fire her if they caught Tina sleeping during the day, and that she couldn't afford to lose the job since they'd loaned her money for medicine when her own mother was sick last year. That morning, when she saw Tina dozing off, she tried everything she could to rouse her, and, when nothing worked, shook her to keep her awake.

PLOT FOUR: MY DINNER WITH MEDAVOY

After six weeks of trying to get schedules to mesh properly, it's finally "zero hour" for Greg's dinner with Abby Sullivan and her lover, Kathy. Greg is buzzing trying to figure out what the special surprise is, but the friendly dinner turns out to be just that. Kathy, an ad agency copywriter and aspiring novelist, takes a shine to Greg despite his usual social ineptness (when she tries to burst some of his stereotypes about lesbians by joking that they're going to sing sea chantys after dinner, he bursts out singing an old sailor's tune). Feeling a little too comfortable, Greg points to a piece of abstract art on the wall and asks, "Is that a vagina?" Kathy and Abby are mortified, but before Greg can really start beating himself up for the faux pas, Kathy reassures him, "Greg, you're a cool guy." Abby and Kathy trade glances and apparently decide to shelve whatever else they were planning on discussing. Kathy and Greg switch places so he won't have to look at the painting and get embarrassed, and the three get ready to have dessert.

PLOT FIVE: SHOW US THE HAPPY ENDING

While working the Tina Zheng case, Jill mentions that it looks like Bobby and Diane are doing well; Diane agrees, and says they have plans to go to the movies that night. At first, it looks like their respective cases are going to keep them from keeping the date, but both get closed with plenty of time to spare, and the couple catches an evening showing of "Jerry Maguire." After the movie, Diane can't get over how cute young Jonathan Lipnicki was, and says that she wants a child of her own. Bobby says that he wants to give them to her. Diane, reveling in the moment and echoing Cuba Gooding Jr's character, shouts, "Show me the engagement ring!" Bobby's obviously pleased, but there's one problem: he doesn't have it on him, despite Diane's frantic search through his pants. It's back at his apartment, so they hail a cab and giddily hop in, as Diane kisses him and says, "I love you, Bobby."


The concept of absence making the heart grow fonder can be a two-way street. With "Blue" off the air for six weeks, you would figure that I would be so starved for anything with the gang at the One-Five closing cases that the first episode back would get an automatic rave. But the other side of the street is that my expectations for the show's return could become so high that nothing short of "The Backboard Jungle" would satisfy me.

Well, I got both sides on "A Wrenching Experience." There were times where I was willing to overlook some serious flaws in the stories -- and each of them had at least one problem -- because of my glee at seeing everyone back on the job again, but there were other times where I got really frustrated because I was expecting an epic and got what I like to call a "meat and potatoes episode" instead.

Since I'm not feeling particularly imaginative this week, let's just take the stories in order, starting with the best of the bunch: Medavoy's ongoing struggle with the concept of sanctioned violence. There are a lot of moments where I think to myself that someone needs to just put a bullet in Greg's head and put him and us out of our misery -- the dinner scene tonight being one of them -- but the most interesting running subplot in the latter half of this season has been the attempts of sensitive guy Medavoy trying to find his way on a job where he's supposed to enforce the law but sometimes ordered to break it, like tonight.

I find it very interesting that the real NYPD seems to consider the show such a great advertisement for it -- witness Commissioner Howard Safir's recent appearance -- considering what an unflattering light the show has portrayed it in lately. It's one thing for a John Kelly or an Andy Sipowicz to get rough with a guy in the room, but when you've got high-ranking officials like Bass here or Fancy a few episodes back, you're dealing with an institutionalized problem, and one that's very disturbing. What's particularly chilling is the way that favorites get played. When Gina got beaten, Lt. Fancy sent Sipowicz in to clobber her attacker, but in this case, where he didn't have any attachment to the victim besides the abstract fact that he was a police supporter, he bristled at Capt. Bass doing the exact same thing. You can't have it both ways, Art.

I had two problems with the way the story played out, however. First, while Greg got a nice character workout, James was largely left in the dust. Over the course of the series, James has been established as just as firmly anti-violence as Greg (his desire to kill Gina's attacker aside), but aside from his brief reference to the "clock running" on how long before he'd have to beat Danny, we never got a good idea about his feelings here (the scene in the locker room where he and Greg were shifting about uncomfortably was a start, but it needed to be spelled out more).

Still, that's a minor point. The big problem was that the story played in the same episode as Medavoy's dinner date, so all the good stuff was sandwiched inside a couple of scenes of him acting like a blithering idiot. It's really hard to take Greg's struggles seriously when he's acting like a schmuck all the time. I think even the resolution of having Greg hug Danny was hindered a bit by this; it would've worked as a slightly off-beat and humorous coda to a grim story, but instead played like Another Wacky Medavoy Moment. So a mixed bag there, though I really liked Joe Marinelli's performance as Danny.

Greg's dinner date, on the other hand, completely turned me off. While "artificial inseminator" seems to be the most likely role Abby and Kathy have in mind for Greg, each extended meeting he has with one or both of them has me asking why on earth two sane, relatively intelligent women would want this well-meaning but socially retarded man's DNA anywhere near their child. Unless the big secret is something else -- and I did get a glimmer that maybe Kathy just wants to use Greg as source material for this novel she's writing -- Kathy's "You're a cool guy, Greg," rang extremely false. He couldn't have made more of an ass of himself if he tried, and aside from a clever exchange or two and the very interesting and appropriate revelation that Greg really wanted to be a teacher instead of a cop, that scene was pretty painful to watch.

Getting back to the casework, I definitely preferred the shaken baby subplot to Andy and Bobby's investigation, which was pretty much paint-by-numbers aside from the presence of Rudy Moreno. And even he wasn't used as much as he could have been; I kept waiting for Bobby to reassure him at the end by mentioning that he grew up with a lot of bad seeds himself, but his comments felt a little too generic.

The death of Tina Zheng, on the other hand, worked very well for me, with one very large problem. I abhor political correctness most of the time, but the behavior of the Zhengs just smacked of blatant stereotyping about demanding Asian parents. I realize that a lot of stereotypes have a basis in fact, and that every bad guy on the show can't and shouldn't be white, but the revelation that they were sleep-depriving the kid made me extremely uncomfortable.

Still, like "A Remington Original" a few weeks back, this one presented a very thorny and interesting legal and moral dilemma: what kind of punishment is appropriate for Amy Chu? She very clearly loved the kid and took good care of her, and was acting on the orders of her parents and out of fear of losing her job, but she still killed Tina. On a moral level, I'd find the Zhengs a lot more guilty than her, but what do you think will happen to her in the criminal justice system?

Finally, we have David Milch's unabashed plug for "Jerry Maguire," aka Diane's long-delayed acceptance of Bobby's proposal. You all know that 'm much less interested in romantic subplots than I am in the police work and the characters' approaches to it, but for fans of Bobby and Diane, this was a nice moment, and I can even forgive the overuse of "Show me the money!" variations, since I was doing the exact same thing after I saw it for the first time way back in December. One interesting question for the future: Sharon Lawrence has talked a lot about how she feels the writing staff lost interest in Sylvia as an active participant in the squadroom after she gave birth; if Diane sticks with her desire to have a kid, will she be similarly marginalized?

Anyway, it's great to be back. What did everybody else think?

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