Cagney & Lacey

Season 2 Episode 17

Burn Out

Aired Thursday 10:00 PM Mar 07, 1983 on CBS

Episode Recap

Mary Beth and Christine are on street patrol duty as this episode opens. It's Mary Beth who spots the phony they're looking for who happens to be connected with Mary Beth's kids' school. They stop the car and the criminal sees them approaching and tries to escape, but Mary Beth tackles her in an alley, both of them getting their jackets muddied.

Mary Beth has been very stressed, nervous, and tense these last few weeks and she is not having a good day. The woman screams obscenities at Mary Beth and insults her husband and sons and Mary Beth yells back at her to shut up as she cuffs her less than gently.

Chris sees how tense Mary Beth is and tells her to take it easy.

It turns out that the entire week has not been a good one for Mary Beth at all and she is more than ready for a long-awaited, long-planned vacation with Harvey. She's put in the notice at work several months ago also, so even Samuels knows that she is owed this time.

Chris is very worried about Mary Beth and hopes that this vacation will help her as she has noticed how nervous and strung out Mary Beth has been. Mary Beth manages to weakly joke that she knows Chris will find her easier to deal with after her vacation.

Things get worse for Mary Beth as the week goes on; she gets a call at school just before she is about to go on a case site and the principal tells her that her son Harvey, Jr. has gotten into a brawl at school and that she is needed to come to the school right away, that her son is facing suspension.

Chris, not initially realizing that the call is regarding her kid, points impatiently at her watch as they are running late and Chris is very seldom late to anything.

Mary Beth silently pleads for her to wait two seconds, then tries to negotiate a time for the next day to come to school, but the principal is demanding that she leave work right away and come immediately.

The principal even guilts Mary Beth into agreeing to come right then by accusing her of caring more about her work than her son. Mary Beth's stomach turns with this unnecessary guilt, although deep down inside, she knows it is not true.

Meanwhile, as if Mary Beth is not having enough problems, one of the detainees at the holding cell in the corner of their precinct is complaining noisily and frazzling Mary Beth's already raw nerves even more badly. Mary Beth loses patience and yells at him to shut up.

She comes back to the phone call, head beginning to feel tight with a tension headache, and with her hands shaking and sweating, agrees to come in a voice thin and high with stress and manages to hang up.

She discovers that Chris has already left for the site and explodes. Marcus Petrie asks if she's all right. Mary Beth, very embarrassed, reassures her that she is, but Marcus is doubtful since fits of rage are not typical of gentle Mary Beth.

Mary Beth manages to get time off work to go up to Harvey Jr.'s school where she's once again humiliated by the principal, who accuses her of being a neglectful, permissive, irresponsible mother and berates her to discipline her son, which leaves Mary Beth stung and very embarrassed once again. It's getting late by the time she manages to be on her way home, so she calls Harvey and tells him not to be concerned with dinner, that she'd bring home a pizza.

But she has a few other errands to run and forgets about the pizza. She staggers in the front door, tenser than a cat on poise. Harvey can see how stressed she is and gives her a gentle pat on the back. Mary Beth's hands are shaking so much that she has a hard time getting her jacket off.

To frazzle her more, little Micheal rushes up and jumps on her, his arms all over her in a wild hug. Normally, Mary Beth loves hugs from her dear kids, whom she adores, but today, she is so nervous and her sensitivity to sudden physical touch is exacerbated, so she tells Micheal not to jump on her.

The TV is also blaring with Harvey Jr. watching a loud action comedy. In early adolescence, he is at that moody, snarly phase and also lately has been bickering with his brother and parents a lot lately, which adds to Mary Beth's stress level.

Mary Beth, irritated by the noise, tells Harvey Jr. to turn that thing off and starts in on him about the call she'd gotten from school.

Her face burns as she remembers her humiliation and she lets Harvey Jr. know about it. Harvey Jr. has a comeback that it was the other kids' fault, that the other kid was trying to break into his locker and that the kid was not his friend.

"If I were you, I'd tread softly, young man," Mary Beth snarls, pointing out her finger angrily at her son, who glares back insolently at her.

Mary Beth, perhaps not realizing that her son is merely imitating what he's seeing, thrusts a finger back at her as he argues back and Mary Beth snaps, "Don't you point your finger at me!"

Harvey then mentions about them all eating in the hopes of stopping the mother son fight and also to calm Mary Beth down. Mary Beth groans miserably and guilt washes over her again because now she realizes about the forgotten pizza. Harvey reassures her than it's all right, that they can head out to eat.

They do, but the kids are still bickering over where they want to eat. Mary Beth still ruefully says weakly that she should have remembered the pizza. Despite Harvey and Chris's wonderful understanding and patience, Mary Beth's guilt and stress hasn't eased up at all.

After they come back and later when the kids are in bed, Harvey attempts to relax Mary Beth by giving her a soft back message, which normally soothes her. But not this time, Mary Beth cannot relax; her muscles are taut, her brows are knotted in worry and she even shivers convulsively from time to time.

She fears that she hasn't been a good mom lately to her kids and remembers that Micheal wanted to ask her something a while ago, but now she'd forgotten. She starts to head back to the boys' room, but Harvey reassures her that it can wait until morning.

The "question" Micheal had for his mom was that he needed a cake for a baking event at school and could she please spare a little time to make one?

Mary Beth does, although it will make her late for her meeting with Christine on a site duty. As there were no cell phones back in those old days of the 1980's, she cannot call Chris to let her know of her delay.

She and Micheal fumble around the messy kitchen and she manages to find one box of cake mix, which relieves her since she won't have to make the cake from complete scratch.

She can't find enough sugar, so she and Micheal have to use a half a jar of jam. They hope the rather ratty, lumpy cake is edible and Mary Beth helps Micheal pack it for school.

By then, Mary Beth is definitely late and Chris is beginning to worry about her. Chris, however, has time to do her long nails a vibrant red and it even has time for it to dry. She's relieved when Mary Beth arrives with apologies. Chris reassures her that it's all right, that she knows how difficult things have been for her friend.

Mary Beth tells Chris about the cake rush and Chris is amused. Although Chris is single and does not have children, she is amazingly understanding of the problems Mary Beth sometimes deals with that is inherent in immediate family life.

Chris shows Mary Beth her red nail polish and guilt rushes over Mary Beth at having Chris kept waiting so long and begins to beat herself up again.

Chris, sensing that Mary Beth is dangerously close to tears, reassures her that it's all right, that she liked having this extra time. Chris, not really fussy about her appearance, does enjoy polishing her nails in bright or unusual colors.

Mary Beth doesn't feel much better since she has to tell Chris that Harvey had left for his work at construction and had forgotten his blueprints for his current job.

Mary Beth has them with her and timidly asks Chris if they can stop at the site before reporting to their court appearance in dealing with one case.

Since they both are familiar with this judge and know that he is always, always late for his cases, Chris agrees and they take Harvey the blueprint.

But luck is definitely not with Mary Beth at all this week as this is the one time that the judge IS on time! By the time Chris and Mary Beth arrive to court, the case is over and the bailiff cites both of them for contempt, which carries a fine of one hundred dollars between them.

Mary Beth, profoundly embarrassed once again, offers to pay Chris her half, which Chris turns down and once again, tells Mary Beth not to blame herself, but it still doesn't ease Mary Beth's terrible feelings.

Chris tries to cheer her up by reminding her that she just has today to go until her vacation, just to hang in there for several more hours.

They get back to precinct 14. Samuels, of course, is wondering why they were not in the courtroom and Mary Beth, almost in tears, apologizes and blames herself.

Samuels brushes off her apology and tells her and Chris that a new case came in, on of illegal drugs being pilfered from a nearby Catholic hospital. Undercover workers and/or nuns are needed and it will take several days. By then, it's late afternoon and Mary Beth was just heading back to her desk to gather her things to take home for vacation.

"Two nuns..." Samuels smiles at Chris, then Mary Beth, not realizing the impact that these words are having on Mary Beth.

Chris sees Mary Beth's mounting distress and reminds Samuels that Mary Beth is about to leave for her vacation; can't Samuels have someone else take Mary Beth's place?

Mary Beth looks at Samuels with her large brown eyes pleading. She whimpers that she'd planned this vacation with Harvey.

Samuels, although he often means well, can at times, be thickheaded and oblivious. He is been largely oblivious to Mary Beth's growing strain these past few weeks and now fails to see Mary Beth cracking before his very eyes.

He tells Mary Beth that she can postpone her vacation, that he is sure Harvey will understand.

Chris, angered by this, tells Samuels that Mary Beth needs this vacation and has been counting on it, to let her go.

Samuels lightly jokes, gesturing around the male-dominated room, "Do you see anyone who could pass for a nun around here?"

"WHAT ABOUT AN ORDERLY!?" Chris blows up at Samuels with the obvious, as there would logically be male orderlies in any hospital. Although Chris is aware of Samuels' periodic lapses in sense, she is astounded by Samuel's thickness this time.

Samuels, unfortunately doesn't budge, telling Chris that he'd told the hospital that two new nuns would be "joining" their staff and were expecting them.

Chris breaths sadly to Mary Beth, "I'm so sorry..."

Mary Beth, however, is numbed by this news and like blind person, walks unsteadily to her desk, her heart pounding desperately in her chest and the sounds around her, fading into echoes.

She is clutching her brown and beige coffee mug tightly, but drops it on her desk. On automatic pilot, she picks up her jacket and purse, closes her desk, and her body and mind seeming to shut down, leaves precinct 14, only vaguely hearing Chris mentioning to someone else that she used to think nuns could fly when she was a child.

Mary Beth heads for home, but is so overwhelmed that her mind nearly shuts down and she cannot remember her stop. Her train reaches the end of the line and with a bit of assistance, stumbles off the train like a blind woman and finds herself on a secluded beach. It is mid-April and still very cold, so there is no one at the beach. There she crumples onto the sand and cries uncontrollably, overwhelmed with hopelessness, desperation, and despair.

Meanwhile, back at precinct 14, no one initially realizes that Mary Beth has left until Samuels notices her empty desk and figuring that she's merely in the bathroom, tells Chris to look for her.

Chris does, but with a mounting sense of dread. She checks the bathrooms, although deep down inside, she knows that Mary Beth is not there. She goes to Mary Beth's empty desk, where she sees her dropped mug, then sees Mary Beth's calendar marked for vacation. Chris's stomach tightens as she sees how intensely Mary Beth wrote this and she fears that Mary Beth may have gone off the deep end.

She calls Harvey, who also has come home, but is also beginning to wonder about his wife. Christine shakily asks if Mary Beth is home, but Harvey, becoming worried himself, tells her that no, she isn't there, which frightens Chris even more.

Harvey tells her that the boys are in bed and that he doesn't want to alarm them just yet.

Both Chris and Harvey are feeling very guilty at this point, each one afraid that they may have "made" Mary Beth take off. Harvey lies down beside the phone, prepared to grab it when it rings.

Just as he thought, a while later, the phone does ring...with a tearful call from a broken Mary Beth. She is still on the beach. Harvey asks her if she's all right and Mary Beth sobs that physically she is, not to worry about her, that she just needs time alone for a couple of days. She also weeps about the vacation being postponed and about what an awful day she'd just had. Harvey tells her not to worry about the vacation.

Mary Beth gulps thickly and tries to catch her breath, but it's difficult. She pleads with him to listen quietly a minute, then explains about how dazed she'd been by the time she'd gotten to the train and temporarily forgotten how to get off.

Harvey can see what Mary Beth has been through this week, and still worried about her, tells her how much he loves her. This makes Mary Beth start crying again, this time so hard that she can barely speak.

"...Harv, I...t-t-told you not to...s-s-say anything..." she hangs up and cries harder than ever, walking unsteadily back to the beach area, where she can't stop crying for a long time.

By the next day, Samuels realizes that he has no choice but to substitute for Mary Beth since she is clearly not at work the next day. But he does this with many mutterings about charging Mary Beth with AWOL and a black mark on her record.

It takes a few threats from Chris and her temper to get Samuels off his ranting on Mary Beth. Samuels has Victor Isbecki go with Chris as an orderly and Chris as the nun.

The habit is very uncomfortable for Chris, as it is long, white and rather old-fashioned. The collar threatens to choke her and the habit itself is very itchy and it takes all of Chris's will not to scratch herself or choke.

Victor and Samuels are amused at secular, non-religious, sexually active Chris in a Catholic habit. Chris can't wait until this case is solved.

A while later, an angry Harvey charges into the precinct and confronts Samuels about the vacations cancellation. Samuels talks down to Harvey and even has the gall to mock Mary Beth, saying, "I'm not going to pamper her because she's a woman..."

The usually patient Harvey, in a rare display of temper, blasts Samuels and reminds Samuels of his own marriage falling apart and says that he will not let the Lacey marriage be pulled apart like this. This mollifies Samuels, who admits that he's also concerned about Mary Beth and that yes, she is a hard worker who does not expect pampering and that it is out of character for her to take off like this.

At the hospital, Chris introduces herself as "Sister Laurette" to the head nun, all the while fighting to keep her hands down and hoping that the stiff collar won't squeeze her Adam's apple and strangle her before the case is solved.

She asks the head sister about access to the drugs and the nun tells her that they keep the illegal medicines in a locked cabinet at all times.

Chris sees an unattended key at the desk and brings it to the nun's attention, which the nun thanks her for.

Isbecki investigates patients as an "orderly" and Chris begins to notice that although the cabinet is kept locked, it is often unattended. It is possible that a staff member is gaining access to these drugs and using them illegally.

Meanwhile, at the secluded beach, Mary Beth is still feeling miserable. Her tears have slowed for now, but she is not ready to return to her life. As she is brooding, a woman approaches her and introduces herself and starts talking about how she'd been on the beach herself and how she'd been watching Mary Beth for some time and comments on how lovely Mary Beth looks staring out over the ocean.

This makes Mary Beth uncomfortable and also bothers her; she is in no mood for idle chitchat or small talk about the ocean. She quavers that she'd rather be left alone.

The woman stops talking, but sits uncomfortably close to Mary Beth, who is still huddled in her coat and her purse still at her stomach. The woman plays a tape recorded instrumental song loudly, which jangles Mary Beth's already raw nerves. So, Mary Beth gets up and walks as far away as she can, rattled by this strange woman's intrusion.

Meanwhile, although Chris is hard at work on this case and they have a few leads, Chris can't stop worrying about Mary Beth. Harvey has been keeping Chris updated, but both of them are feeling very guilty about Mary Beth's emotional state.

Chris visits Harvey at work during her lunching hour and they talk and exchange worries, each apologizing for any "role" they might have played in Mary Beth's meltdown.

At this point, we begin to see how Harvey and Chris can relate as in-laws since Chris in many ways is like Mary Beth's older sister and an aunt figure to the Lacey kids. They part with promises to keep each other updated.

Chris goes back to her "work" at the hospital, putting the stifling itchy habit back on. While she is there one of the doctors flirts with her a little, which amuses Victor. Chris manages a weak smile, a bit taken aback by this doctors' boldness.

As Victor and Christine roll carts down the hall, Chris' worries and fears about Mary Beth return so suddenly and with such full force that it brings tears to her eyes. She turns toward to wall, hoping that Victor has not seen her tears, but he has. In a rare show of concern outside himself, he asks Chris if she is all right since he does know that she has been worried about Mary Beth. Chris fights back her tears and reassures Victor that she is and wills herself not to brood too much about Mary Beth's problems.

Back at the beach, Mary Beth is still mulling, thinking that she's alone again. But the music slowly comes up and the woman is back to bother her again in trying to start a conversation with her.

Mary Beth starts crying again and through her tears, tells the woman, "I'm trying to have a nervous breakdown here!" She wonders why this woman is following her and bothering her.

The woman, unfazed by Mary Beth's tears and outburst, shows Mary Beth a portrait that she'd drawn of Mary Beth. Mary Beth is very uncomfortable by this and wonders if the woman is coming on to her. She crumples the picture and gives it back to the woman, telling her that it's intrusive and rude to draw others without their consent. Then she takes off even further down to be alone. She is still wrapped tightly in her coat and her purse is still in her blouse somewhere hidden against her abdomen.

Back at the hospital, Christine discovers that the doctor who'd been making the pass at her is the one who is pilfering the drugs and selling them illegally.

Victor and Chris begin the arrest process. The man shoves Chris hard and Chris falls over right into Victor. Chris quickly leaps to her feet and she and Victor run after the "doctor" aka drug dealer.

The habit hampers Christine's running ability, causing her to trip a couple of times and swear under her breath. So she has to pull up the skirt and tuck it behind her knickers, so she can catch up with the fleeing criminal, who has now fled the hospital and is now out in the parking lot.

The dealer attempts to car flee, but crashes and Victor and Chris make the arrest successfully. Chris is VERY relieved to be free of that smothering, itchy, choking habit; she can't get it off fast enough once they come back to precinct 14.

Mary Beth wanders off the beach and into a cafe. Her tears have stopped for now and she sees the woman again, but doesn't flee from her this time; she senses that there is something vulnerable about this woman. Maybe she's troubled and needs therapy or something.

The woman spots Mary Beth and asks if she has some change for her meal. Mary Beth kindly gives it to her, then smiling weakly for the first time in weeks, she tosses a few more dollars in the woman's direction. The woman is amused and they both laugh. Mary Beth is surprised that she remembers how to laugh and begins to feel slightly better.

They have snack and the woman tells her that she'd run away from controlling parents and had dropped out of college to rebel since it was her dad's choice of a college, not hers.

The woman also tells Mary Beth that she would be leaving New York soon and taking the bus to another city. They walk back out onto the beach and Mary Beth tells her a little about her own youth...she, like the woman had grown up in the rebellious, idealistic sixties and Mary Beth had recalled always wanting to do something to change the world.

She ruefully comments that real life took over and she'd married, had her kids, and had work. She remembers at that point just WHY she'd become a policewoman in the first make the world a better place by fighting crime.

The woman gives her the tape she'd been playing and her little bubble blower bottle, which Mary Beth clumsily blows a few bubbles out of. Mary Beth is suddenly feeling a whole lot better; her heavy heart has become lighter and she is no longer so overwhelmed.

After the woman leaves, Mary Beth feels strong enough again to call Harvey and tell him that she'll be home that night and she heads to the train and comes back to work.

Chris comes back from a break and Samuels, perhaps feeling a tad bit guilty for his part in Mary Beth's state, tells Chris briefly, "The bathroom..."

Chris, subconsciously, knowing just who is in there, goes and is very happy to see Mary Beth in there. They hug and Chris asks her where she's been and like an older sister, even admonishes her how worried they'd all been.

Mary Beth tells Chris a little about her beach experience, then says that she is feeling a lot better and is glad that she's in the profession that she's in.

She also tells Chris that Samuels is finally letting her go on her vacation that night, which relieves Chris.

The Laceys take their vacation, which both Mary Beth and Harvey enjoy tremendously.

The week after, a relieved, light-hearted Mary Beth returns and a few people even clap, genuinely glad to see her back. Mary Beth blushes slightly and holds out her hands, a genuine smile on her face this time.

Chris beams also, glad to see her in good spirits again. Mary Beth sits and tells Chris about her wonderful time with Harvey. Chris, although very single and having no intention of marrying any time soon, always loves hearing about her friend's happy marriage and enjoys listening; she's often amused and touched at how romantic both Harvey and Mary Beth are.

The episode closes with Samuels putting a backlogged pile of work on Mary Beth's desk and Mary Beth being ready to tackle it, glad to be back at work.