The script for this episode feels like the work of someone who saw the Halle Berry movie The Call and thought, not unreasonably, that he could improve on it. The potential victim is Sandra Nicholson (Melissa Sagemiller), a nice, pretty blond woman who works at an emergency call center. Finch is there, riding a desk and manning one of the phones. “I’m not sure what makes me right for this particular undercover assignment,” he says, a laugh line so obvious that it’s surprising that the show goes to the trouble of showing Reese and Shaw chuckling over it. Suddenly, a little boy named Aaron calls in to ask for help; ruffians have invaded his home and are bent on abducting him.
This, it turns out, is all being done to get Sandra’s attention, which is flattering, in a sociopathic sort of way. Glued to her phone, she’s soon deep in negotiations with the voice of someone who tells her that he has some chores he wants her to do, and he’s confident she’ll do them, because he has Aaron in his clutches, and he’s privy to information about Sandra’s past that makes him certain she doesn’t want the blood of another little boy on her hands, mwah-hah-hah. The voice is smooth and insinuating and creepily familiar. Whether by design or lucky accident, it may give you cause to wonder if the Moviefone guy has reacted to sudden unemployment by falling back on his Plan B-career as a criminal mastermind.
Meanwhile, Fusco is making his rounds at the homicide division, accepting the adulation that is finally his due. Everyone is awed at how he broke the back of HR and roped and branded all those crooked cops and politicians for the D.A.’s office. “Detective Fusco, what do you make of these ligature marks?” “Detective Fusco, do you think the butler might have done it?” “Detective Fusco, what is the color of love? Is it warm, is it tender, when you think of me?” Fusco accepts all this with a warm tolerance colored by just a hint of growly exasperation. He finally snaps at a rookie detective with Walter Keane eyes and peach fuzz on his cheeks, telling him to go do his own thinking while he lets his morning Danish settle. But after he sees the little fella looking downcast, he saunters over to his desk and volunteers to help him solve this mysterious death that he’s working on, just this once. Don’t forget about this, it’s going to come up again later.
Much of the hour is spent on watching Melissa Sagemiller’s face, in close-up, as she listen to the voice on the other end of her phone taunt her and issue instructions. Luckily, the actress has one of those faces that takes the camera beautifully and makes for a compelling subject as it registers confusion, dismay, and anger while struggling to stay on the right side of a crying fit or complete emotional collapse. (While bargaining with the bad guy, Sandra also has to keep up a brave front so that the other operators in the room won’t realize that something’s wrong.) Unfortunately, at some point, she has to spill the details of her backstory to Finch, the one guy in the building who knows what’s going on and is capable of lending a hand. Her acting is less solid when she’s talking than when she’s reacting, but much of the blame for that can be put down to the stuff she has to say.
It turns out that, when she was still just a girl herself, she used to babysit her neighbors’ 3-year-old, and one night, while the kid was in the bathtub, he demanded that she go fetch his bath toy of choice. “You can probably guess what happened next. The worst part wasn’t desperately trying to perform CPR before the paramedics arrived, or even when the police charged me with negligible homicide. No, the worst part was when I came back upstairs and I first saw him lying face down in the tub.” When you’re insisting on a clear distinction between the moment you saw a drowned child in a bathtub and the moment, seconds later, when you were performing CPR on the corpse, just so you can clearly establish which of these moments was worse, you’ve probably been over-thinking this for a while. “In the eyes of the law, I was found innocent. But not in my eyes, Harold.” Harold is too polite to tell her that this is one melodramatic speech to deliver just to explain why she’s prepared to humor a psycho on the phone who’s threatening to detonate a bomb he’s strapped to a little boy. If the kid she used to babysit was still alive but had been an uncontrollable pain in the ass and his parents stayed out hours later than promised without offering to pay her extra, would that justify her in telling the voice to blow the kid sky-high?
By this time, Fusco has figured out that the case he’s working on is connected to what’s going on in the call center. A woman executive whose weird, post-Invasion Of The Body Snatchers line readings have already tipped the viewer off that she must be guilty of something had Fusco’s murder victim executed for the crime of having fucked her husband, then commissioned the invisible man to come up with the most elaborate, collateral-damage-heavy plot he could think of to get the victim’s 911 call erased from the center’s data base. Damned if there’s not an actual, bona fide shot of Sandra’s finger hovering over the delete key just as the word comes down that arrests are being made and the bad guy’s plans have come to naught. In the end, Fusco seems to have acquired a new partner, and Finch has picked up a new threatening arch-nemesis in the form of the man on the other end of the phone, who remains at large. If the whole point of this episode was to add one more super-villain to the show’s rogues’ gallery, I’m not sure it was worth the trouble. Things get a little silly before the hour is up, and the rogues’ gallery itself could use a little pruning.
- Fun fact, delivered as only Fusco can: “Wait a minute, are you telling me that 911 gets over 11,000 butt-dials a day?”