A&E // 1997 // 1080 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // March 2nd, 2005
"Heaven can wait. Homicide can't." -- Baltimore Homicide Detective Laura Ballard
In its penultimate season, Homicide: Life on the Street continues to examine the lives of Baltimore's Murder Police. Over 23 episodes, Season Six delivers one of the best episodes ever to air in television history, introduces a new pair of detectives to the unit, and bids farewell to one of the most charismatic and insightful characters ever created.
For those coming in late, Homicide: Life on the Street isn't a standard police procedural. It's cop show that doesn't have cops swearing vengeance, doesn't have policemen involved in crazy gun chases, doesn't have detectives hanging off the side of an airplane or a helicopter, crazy capers, or smart criminals. Instead, H:LOTS is about "The Job" and how Baltimore's Homicide Unit closes murder cases. Based on David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Tom Fontana (Oz) and Barry Levinson (Diner) created something special that's one of the apexes of drama -- television and otherwise.
Season Six begins four months after the close of Season Five. Fallout from the death/murder of a drug lord continues to plague the unit, while "redball" (i.e. high profile) cases populate the season. New hotshot Seattle detective Laura Ballard (Callie Thorne, The Wire) and veteran detective Stuart Gharty (Peter Gerety, The Wire) end up filling in the vacancies left by the rotating detective mandate handed out last season. Gone is the partnership between Mike Kellerman (Reed Diamond, Judging Amy) and Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson Boycott) in the aftermath of Luther Mahoney's murder. Fan favorites Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor, Veronica Mars) and Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher, Hack) are partnered again, only with a new level of discomfort. The rest of the cast continues their magic through a season of change.
Thanks to a desire to portray police life as honestly as possible, the show doesn't shy away from normally taboo topics such as sexuality, virtue, vice, race, politics and classism. In the season's first three-parter, "Blood Ties," über-detectives Pembleton and Gerety almost come to blows over how blacks and whites are treated within Charm City. It's not a huggy, New Age, "let's talk out our problems" squad. No, these are people with grudges, contempt, arrogance, hate, and confusion. In other words, they seem real.
The best example of what the show can do is in the award-winning episode "Subway." John Lange (Vincent D'Onofrio, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is trapped between a subway train and the boarding platform, becoming a living homicide victim. Pembleton consoles Lange while he accepts and deals with his inevitable death. What works best is Lange's portrayal as an arrogant bastard. The episode could have gone for the easy out and made Lange a family man with a terminal daughter or something equally as ridiculous. The show had the courage to make him someone you might actually want to see die, just not in those circumstances. It also toys with the disturbing premise of a victim knowing his murderer is nearby. I won't lie and write it has a happy ending. As in all murder cases, it doesn't.
The best thing to happen this season was the addition of Peter Gerety. His Detective Gharty is a tired man who's about two bad days from calling it quits. He's a conservative guy sadly stuck in the realization that his vision of Baltimore is never going to be. He's the guy at work who does his job every day, continually counting down the days until retirement. His tragedy is the audience's nugget. At first, I thought he might be a Ned Beatty (Superman: The Movie ) clone, sent in to fill the "Big Guy's" shoes. Thankfully, I was wrong. When acting with Callie Thorne or pitted against Pembleton, Gerety holds his own and makes it look easy. On the downside, we don't see near enough of him. Later, in Season Seven, we get to see a new side of Gharty.
Callie Thorne is an excellent addition to the cast and friendly rival to Pembleton for the Top Dog spot. Not since Kay Howard's closing streak in Season One has Pembleton experienced any comparable threat. She makes Pembleton look like an impetuous, jealous child -- which he generally is.
I love character arcs and growth. It can be argued that Tim Bayliss's sexual awakening came out of left field. To paraphrase my favorite lady from Wisconsin, it's when "Bayliss gets weird." Bayliss's exploration allows for an interesting twist on his perception amongst his fellow detectives and forces Pembleton into some uncomfortable situations. It also makes for a painful distancing between the two, a thing that comes to a sad head during the season finale.
The six-disc set contains the following episodes:
* "Blood Ties -- Part 1"
Everybody's back in the unit. A murder at a hotel quickly becomes a racial and political quagmire involving a black community leader while someone is shooting at the detectives involved in the Luther Mahoney case.
Watch Parts 1 through 3 for appearances by the great James Earl Jones (The Lion King) and Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat).
* "Blood Ties -- Part 2"
The Wilson case continues making some detectives question the motives and racial prejudices of fellow squad members. The Kellerman/Munch partnership begins here, ending the Kellerman/Lewis frat-boy partnership of years previous. Meanwhile, Detective Falsone (Jon Seda, I Like It Like That) investigates the findings and reports of those involved in the Mahoney case.
Watch this one as a reminder why Bayliss is probably the only detective who could ever stand Pembleton.
* "Blood Ties -- Part 3"
The Wilson case concludes. Medical Examiner Juliana Cox (Michelle Forbes, Kalifornia) re-evaluates her conclusions from the Mahoney murder.
Watch this one for how politics and policing don't mix.
I could go on, but read above about what makes this episode great. It's TV the way film should be done.
* "Baby It's You -- Part 2"
Concludes the Law & Order episode of the same name. Watch it for the legal battle between Baltimore D.A. Ed Danvers (Zeljko Ivanek, Oz) and New York D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterson, Serial Mom) and for the rapport between Detectives Munch (Richard Belzer, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the late Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach, Beauty and the Beast). Those who haven't watched the lead-in episode will have an easy time following along.
Kellerman meets up with some blackmail while Pembleton anxiously awaits the birth of his second child. Kellerman's tragic ending begins here.
* "Saigon Rose"
A Vietnamese restaurant marks spot of a multiple homicide. The unit investigates the possibility it might be a fellow cop -- one that may only be there because of her skin color. Also, shellfish vs. Ballard -- see who wins. Falsone begins panicking Kellerman.
See how my favorite show of all time isn't afraid to take on the heavy stuff?
* "All is Bright"
And so this is Christmas and what have you done? Ballard and Gharty look into the murder of man who has AIDS. Bayliss and Cox partner up in a different kind of way. One of Munch's ex-wives loses her mother. The best part is, this is the same ex-wife that slept with New York detective Lenny Briscoe. Love must be given to a show that branches out like that.
Watch for some amazing performances by Katheryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Carol Kane (The Princess Bride).
* "Closet Cases"
Bayliss ends one relationship and begins another. Things get really bad for Kellerman on the Mahoney front.
I'm sure this was the source of many a slash-fiction story.
* "Sins of the Father"
What happens when a white man is lynched? Pembleton and Lewis partner up to find out.
Best bit in the episode revolves around Pembleton's being confused by and defending his partner's sexual preferences.
* "Shaggy Dog, City Goat"
Using a clever framing device, Cox woos her M.E. colleagues at a conference with a case that could be a murder or a suicide. Georgia Rae Mahoney sues the police department for the death of her brother.
* "Something Sacred -- Part 1"
The priest murder investigation continues. Look, guys, yet another "redball."
* "Something Sacred -- Part 2"
The detectives dress as priests to uncover the identity of a killer. Kellerman loses it bad, leaving it up to Bayliss and Cox to help him out.
* "Lies and Other Truths"
John Glover (Smallville) takes the department to spy school. Sadly, this episode marks the final appearance of my favorite M.E. We won't see her again until Gee's shooting in Homicide: The Movie.
* "Pit Bull Sessions"
The Mahoney lawsuit gets going.
Watch for Paul Giamatti's (Private Parts) guest appearance.
The Tom Fontanaverse grows with Alfre Woodward resuming her role as Dr. Roxanne Turner from St. Elsewhere. Bayliss and Pembleton investigate a possible euthanasia case, bringing Pembleton into personal conflict with Dr. Turner. Kellerman finally gets a break.
I found Woodward amazing. She and Braugher really go the distance in The Box.
Another "redball" case, this time involving the kidnapping of a young boy.
* "Full Court Press"
Remember that kid Steve from Blue's Clues? If so, watch this episode for a completely different guy.
Look out for the worst partnership of all time: Ballard and Kellerman.
* "Strangled, Not Stirred"
Ballard and Gharty take center stage when investing pair of possible sexual homicides. Lewis comes out of hiding and comes clean about his recent activities.
Kellerman gets some freedom back as Lewis returns to the squad -- only never again as Kellerman's partner. Bayliss comes clean about his new views to Ballard over dinner.
* "Finnegan's Wake"
A decades-old case -- similar to one that's been plaguing Bayliss for all these years -- is reopened.
Best bit: When the dead girl's name goes back on the board.
* "Heroes -- Part 1"
The sadness begins here. The Mahoney organization is hitting back when the judge that dismissed their case turns up dead. The squad's chief suspect manages to take out a couple of detectives and uniform in their own house. Gee declares war.
* "Heroes -- Part 2"
It all comes to a head. Keep the handkerchiefs at the ready, as we lose two detectives for good and bid good-bye to one of the greatest partnerships of all time.
I'd give this episode higher marks if I could.
A&E does a good job of keeping the picture grainy and "street." The sound is up to par with very few pops. For a show that's nearing a decade, it looks and sounds terrific.
Special features include one commentary on "Subway" by its writer and director, as well as its PBS featurette Anatomy of a Homicide. Both are equally brilliant and bring out how wonderful the show could be without interference. Still, despite network mandates and changes, the show is still a dramatic juggernaut and a benchmark for quality. Also included are cast and crew biographies available to those who would like to see more work from this incredible ensemble. Admittedly, the DVD set is light in the special features department, but on a show this good the extras are just a dog and pony show. It would be nice to hear from some of the cast, though. Maybe for Season Seven?
I like Jon Seda, I do, but there is an awfully big push for him this season. Many of the storylines revolve around or involve him. Maybe it was due to the departure of Pembleton and Kellerman. Maybe it was because this show needed to appeal to a younger demographic. Whatever the case, too much Falsone is not a good thing.
It's a nitpick, really, but the show dropped the ball by not exploring the Ballard/Pembleton rivalry. It was about time someone gave him a run for his money.
How many "redball" cases does one season need? The best thing about this show is it how deals with "mundane" murder.
Homicide: Life on the Street assembles the finest ensemble of writers, directors, and actors on television. An oft-neglected masterpiece in a mire of formulaic refuse, it's a show that deserves a second chance on DVD.
Case dismissed. I sentence everyone to catch up and watch the first six seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street. It's never too late to see the best TV has to offer.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Gutierrez; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1080 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on "Subway"
* Anatomy of a Homicide PBS Featurette
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Tom Fontana's Official Site