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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Prime Suspect: “Gone To Pieces”

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NBC sat on this episode for a while. It was supposed to be the fifth one to air, but it has been pushed back until now, when the network is burning off the final three episodes. The network was right to shelve this one. It’s an often-cartoonish mess with a hard-to-follow investigation, and worse, for an episode about porn and murder, it’s pretty dull. However, what it does provide is some clarity of character for the other members of the Homicide Squad, which would have been helpful if it had aired earlier. On the other hand, it would have broken the flow of improvement that was a major issue way back in late October.

It starts with Duffy landing the homicide of a hit-and-run victim named Bachman, who was nearly cut in half by a car. He wants to pawn it off immediately, seeing it as unsolvable. There is an incredibly unsexy scene of Timoney making out with her boyfriend in a half-finished room that makes it clear why people should not be without shoes or clothes in a construction zone. Back in the squadroom, Duffy tries to get Timoney to take the case, but she refuses. Sweeney comes out and yells at them, partially in Latin. There is banter. Banter!

We are treated to another unwelcome intrusion from the past in the form of the radio commentary that blabbers about the minutiae of ongoing criminal investigations. I can’t even imagine who is supposed to be listening to this. I mean, the radio commentary on Friday Night Lights worked well because it is easy to believe that everyone in Dillon, TX would listen to sports commentary on their radios. But crime is not to Manhattan what sports were to Dillon.

Timoney checks out a burnt-up Mustang, the presumed murder weapon, which is registered to a girl working at one of those TV strip bars where the girls keep their clothes on. Sorry to keep harping on Friday Night Lights, but that show had The Landing Strip, a similar type of TV strip club, which was easy to wave away because Dillon, TX was a semi-mythical place, sometimes a small town in West Texas, sometimes a small city in West Texas, and sometimes a never-neverland that hearkens back to a past that never really existed. It makes sense that the strippers in Dillon would keep their clothes on. Prime Suspect, on the other hand, takes place in an all-too-real Manhattan. Anyway, Timoney brushes off a waitress to talk with the stripper who owned the car. She has a crazy story. On the way out, another stripper runs Timoney down to tell her that Timoney changed her life when she was working Vice. The main point of this scene is to introduce Timoney to the idea of porn names, a concept that she has apparently never heard before. Despite the fact that she worked Vice. Yep. Moving on.

In the squadroom, Duffy’s former partner’s wife and kids come by. People who watched the pilot may remember the former partner as both a terrible sexist and dead. Duffy is excited to tell the wife about his weekend plans with them, part of which involves a toy boat he is making for her son. The wife obliquely tells Duffy to back off, but when Duffy is hurt, she takes pity on him and calls him Regis. Timoney overhears and thinks that his given name is hilarious.

Velerio takes Timoney with him to another homicide scene. She finds the corpse in the tub, which confused me, because I don’t know how they knew this was a homicide scene when the dead guy is behind a closed door. There is some suggestion that the super found him, but I still don’t get the suggestion that no one found the corpse until Timoney came in. Regardless, Velerio and Timoney have great chemistry in this scene. Again, there is banter. Banter! They go through the dead guy’s wallet and determine that he was a pimp named Rick Cantor in the employ of a guy named King Dickens whom Timoney knows from her time in Vice.

Dickens is, as it turns out, a cartoonishly prickish smut king who harasses Timoney about having her work in his films and then relishes in the opportunity to tell his porn-star wife Montana that her boyfriend has been murdered. She pukes. She is, incidentally, fully clothed despite being supposedly on set in the act of doing, uh, something odd involving dye. Look, it’s not that I’m desperate to see naked ladies on network TV, although the fact that this particular porn star is played by Emma Caulfield is not helping this side of my argument. It’s just the old complaint about the inequity between sex and violence. This episode has already shown a guy who was disemboweled in a hit-and-run and another guy with at least three bullets in him. That’s fake violence, sure, but the graphics are realistic. However, the strippers and porn stars are all wearing clothes, because realistic violence is fine but network TV sex work must be portrayed as a slightly naughtier version of going to Hooters.

Timoney and Velerio bring Dickens and his wife in for questioning, and Augie is excited to see her in the flesh, so to speak. There is an interlude where Jay Mohr plays an assistant D.A. who follows Timoney into the ladies’ room to ask her to testify in a case. The detectives question Dickens and Montana, where she talks about how she and Cantor came up with a plan to improve their lot in life, but they stole the money from Dickens to make it happen. The guy who plays Dickens mostly overacts like a turducken made of Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and Sean Penn. That would be a hamhamham, though.

Out in the squadroom, Duffy meets Timoney’s boyfriend, who has brought in his son to take her to lunch. Duffy wants to know if Timoney ever mentions him. Just then, Dickens sees his wife and starts threatening her, and Timoney has to put him down. The kid sees this and thinks it's cool. Later, Duffy and Timoney share a scene where he is feeling sorry for himself while he works on the toy boat. Shortly after that, Timoney and Velerio figure out that the hit-and-run victim and the shooting victim are connected. As she breaks the news to Duffy that they are connected, she tells him that she is finally taking the case from him.

Assistant D.A. Mohr appears again when Timoney needs an expedited warrant to check out the apartment of Bachman, the hit-and-run guy. Afterward, she goes straight to the strip club from earlier, where the rest of the Homicide squad, other than sad sack Duffy, are trying to impress the ladies. Noticing for some reason that the waitress she blew off the other night isn’t there, Timoney gets her address and goes to her house with Velerio. The waitress is a single mom with two kids. Although everyone else at the strip club knew Dickens, she claims that she does not. Timoney clearly does not believe her. Back at the squad room, she has the rest of the detectives watch porn and go through computer files to establish some sort of connection between the waitress and Dickens.

Calderon thinks that he has found the waitress on the computer. Remembering the waitress’ dog’s name and that crazy new idea about porn names that this ex-Vice detective just learned recently (seriously, are the writers afraid that they are going to lose the 80-year-old portion of their audience?), Timoney has Calderon search for the waitress’s possible porn name. They find a clip with Bachman working as cameraman while Dickens chokes and beats the waitress, who is most definitely not having a good time. She is, I have to mention, fully clothed in the shot. Although everything about the clip suggests that the director of this episode (who is the actress Laura Innes, by the by) has never seen any porn before, the weirdest part is when the two guys mention on tape that her 14-year-old daughter has porn star potential. I don’t hang out with many guys who make smut, but I seriously doubt that even the most cartoonish of them would be caught on tape talking about a minor.

The detectives bring in the waitress to look at the tape. She tells Timoney that Bachman and Cantor came to her wanting to get her daughter into porn movies. Again, that’s hard to believe. People do hard time for that sort of thing. So she killed them. In another unbelievable twist, Timoney coaches the woman on how to make an insanity defense by telling her another story about woman concerned for safety of her kids. It’s like a Coach Taylor moment, except, you know, with murder.

This episode has two finales. In the first, Timoney, Duffy, and Mohr arrest Dickens for rape. Apparently, choking and beating women against their will negates consent. In the second, Sweeney asks Duffy if Timoney mucked up the murder investigation, but Duffy covers for her. Sweeney then gives Duffy the advice to back off his partner’s wife and let her move on. Duffy responds by giving Timoney’s boyfriend’s son the boat he has been making.

I wish I could say more good things about this episode, but very little of it worked for me. I had to watch it twice to figure out why the waitress killed the second guy. The guy who played Dickens was unbelievable and over-the-top. Emma Caulfield was a little too flat and reserved for her character. I have no idea why Jay Mohr was cast in such a bland role. On the other hand, I do not want to oversell the negative side. There was nothing absolutely horrible about this episode. If it were a major deviation in quality from a stellar show, that would be something, but it was simply a mediocre episode of a sometimes-good show, and that’s not worth getting worked up. It is a shame that the last two episodes have been on the crappy side, because that will make it easier to remember Prime Suspect for the crappy and dull stuff here at the end than the decent work around the middle of its run.

Stray observations:

  • “Wow, it’s a real Renaissance corpse we got here.”
  • “Women just got to be there, but guys got to practice.”
  • “Since when do I need some website to help me get my swerve on?”
  • Wow, Augie is a lot creepier than usual in this episode. Still: “Oh my god, I hate sex” and “Jane, I’m going to need to look at dolphins and rainbows for the next 24 hours.”