Season 5 cast
Homicide‘s fifth season began with immediate changes, as NBC insisted upon a completely revised credit sequence, in which the cast members actually appeared in association with the actors’ names.
As was beginning to become familiar, there were cast changes from the preceding season. Isabella Hofman had moved on, having become pregnant by Daniel Baldwin, although the main reason for her being dropped was that, after her rollercoaster rise and descent of the promotion ladder, the production team had very little they could credibly do with her character anymore.
Directly replacing her was Max Perlich, promoted from recurring to star cast as Brodie, though misbehaviour on the actor’s part would make that elevation short-lived. In addition, the team decided to ring the changes by bringing in another new cast member in mid-season, or rather five episodes in: Michelle Forbes, at that time best known for her recurring role as Ensign Ro on Star Trek – The Next Generation, agreed to her first cast role as Dr Julianna Cox, the new Medical Examiner.
Dr Cox was introduced as another attempt to broaden the basis of the show: her character’s intent on creating closer links between Homicide and the ME’s department, was intended to give an even wider perspective on death in Baltimore, but the production team have gone on record as regretting that decision. Cox was an outsider who often had to be inserted by contrivance, or through her relationship with Kellerman, and the team later bemoaned the waste of a good actress through not making her another detective.
Guest-starring a future Hobbit
There was no return for either Stan Bolander or Beau Felton. The Big Man would be written out as having resigned, but there was simply no word of Felton. Until much later.
After Pembleton’s dramatic collapse in the final episode of Season 4, the question of whether he would regain all his old skills was meant to be an underlying theme of the series in general. Certainly, it was what Andre Braugher wanted to explore.
The series began with Pembleton’s first day back in Homicide after his stroke. Everybody, except Munch, welcomes him effusively, whilst simultaneously condescending to his slower perceptions. Munch’s refusal to make allowances is based upon a surer understanding of Pembleton, who hates being treated as a slower child.
C4 refused to broadcast the first two episodes of the series, which dealt with a hostage situation at a high school: it was only a matter of weeks since the shootings of children at Dunblane, and the subject matter was insensitive.
It was an interesting cat-and-mouse game, and whilst Braugher does a superb job of incarnating a different Pembleton, who not only talks more slowly, checking his words before saying them, but is also slower and more hesitant in his gait. He’s clearly not fit to be a detective again yet, but he refuses to accept that. Giardello’s pulled in every marker, exhausted every favour in even getting Pembleton back to Homicide, in the face of Barnfather and Gaffney’s, opposition, in fear of a lawsuit if another stroke happens.
But Pembleton isn’t grateful. If anything, he’s contemptuous of the fact that he can’t go out on the street again until he passes his firearms test – the least useful component of his role. By the end of episode 2, he’s already quit his medicine to try to sharpen himself.
But audiences – and especially NBC! – did not want to see a near-crippled Pembleton. Andre Braugher was the acknowledged star of this show without stars, and the viewers wanted him back to normal: by the end of episode 9, Tom Fontana had been forced to bring Pembleton back in full strength. It’s a welcome move too: the stroke-affected Pembleton is a one-note, whiny, self-entitled and self-pitying mess.
This isn’t going to be a happy season. The fourth episode sees the return of Luther Mahoney (Eric Todd Dellums is just so good in the part), setting the tone for a recurring feud that involves not merely Lewis and Kellerman but also Narcotics Squad Detective Terri Stivers (Toni Lewis, starting a three season long involvement with the show that, despite her moving into the Homicide Division halfway through season 6, doesn’t see her added to the cast until season 7).
It also introduces another running subplot, as Kellerman is sidelined, like Pembleton, into administration duties, when he is accused of taking graft during his time at Arson. More so even than Pembleton, Mike ends up self-pitying and whiny, combined with a resentment at the fact that he isn’t getting a free pass just because of who he is: for weeks on end, Kellerman bristles at anything that isn’t a whole-hearted endorsement.
Whilst the Pembleton story-line doesn’t go on long enough for a realistic portrayal of recovery from stroke, Kellerman’s strop is dragged out entirely too long, well beyond the point it continues to be interesting, and to the detriment of the show in depriving it of detectives able to take an active role in investigations.
But both stories, whatever their episode-by-episode limitations, continue to underpin the whole series. Pembleton’s return to form, to his old arrogance, causes problems with the two most important relationships in his life. His wife, Mary, too-long sidelined by Frank’s devotion to his job, leaves him in the back half of the season, an unforeseen step that is a massive blow to the detective.
It’s made worse by the fact that, already, he and Tim have not simply returned to the super-efficient Pembleton/Bayliss team of season 4. Pembleton’s certainly gone back to being Pembleton at his worst, and this is seen especially when Bayliss pulls another case – his third – of child abuse and murder. Once again, it fails to go down, but this time it leads to Tim’s confession as to why such cases affect him so much, because he too was abused, as a young boy, by his Uncle George, and because his Dad refused to believe him. Tim doesn’t want to partner with Frank any more.
At first, Pembleton acts like Pembleton; he’s free of the partner he never wanted, free to return to being the loner he was first introduced as being. But this doesn’t even last an episode: Frank wants his partner back, and it’s like a game as he tries to tempt Tim into working with him again. But Bayliss stays at a distance, until Mary pleads with him, by which time it’s all but too late for Pembleton and his marriage.
The move also affects Bayliss. Something Frank says in relation to a case they’re working, partnering, but not as partners, leads him to confront his past, confront his Uncle George. The idea of revenge dissipates in the reality of what George now is, old, broken, fragile, with nothing to be taken away. Bayliss becomes his carer, taming his demons by that route. It’s a rite of passage that will lead the naïve, straight-arrow detective much further on in remaining seasons.
As for Pembleton, he and Mary, pregnant with their second child, reconcile in the last episode, as Frank restates just what truly is most important to him.
Kellerman is not in line for any such redemption. He is released from his ordeal in somewhat contrived circumstances, a last minute, defiant offer to the DA to testify and throw away the only career he wants improbably leads her to abruptly drove Kellerman from the case. Mikey can go back on the streets.
But though he may be cleared, Kellerman hasn’t been vindicated. He’s only not Guilty, not Not Guilty. Gaffney, the shitheap that walks like a man, taunts him in the squadroom. Street scumbags look on him with disgust. And Kellerman can’t get past the fact that none of his colleagues gave him a whole-hearted, unequivocal pass before he was cleared. There’s no going back from what has happened, no way to restore the unblemished existence he had. Things that were starting to go well with Julianna Cox now turn lumpy (by the end of the series, the pair’s relationship will be poisoned beyond recovery by the increasing amounts of booze they each consume).
A very vulnerable Police
It comes to what might have been an early head when Lewis, going in search of his partner, finds Kellerman obsessively cleaning his boat, with his service revolver in plain sight. Lewis, who has already had one partner commit suicide on him, jumps to the correct conclusion, and succeeds in pulling Kellerman back (though the scene itself is overlong, and is spinning its wheels for several minutes before reaching its inevitable end).
And almost immediately, the partners are confronted with the murder of a Korean grocer for trying to shift drugs-sellers from in front of his store. Only the sellers are working for Luther Mahoney…
Both detectives take yet another defeat deeply to heart, as does Stivers, but it is Kellerman who is the most angry.
Before going any further, although this is a season in which underlying currents flow through most of the stories, Homicide continued to fulfil its promise to NBC that there would always be one story complete in each episode. There are crimes in each episode, but as usual, there are also individual episodes of great strength. These come mostly in the first half of the season, as plots are being wound out, and their consequences are as yet far from fruition.
As early as the third episode, the squad are called to investigate the death of two inmates at the State Penitentiary, an episodes that reintroduces killers caught in previous seasons, lets us see them as they have become in prison. It’s a very thoughtful experience.
But not as much as is the seventh episode, ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’ (taken from an early Tom Waits song). A therapy group meets, victims who have all lost family members – husband, wife, daughter – to random, inexplicable death. Their discussion of their feelings, of loss, hurt, anger, misery and more, are interwoven with the investigation of the crimes by the Homicide Squad, the feel of these segments being completely different, these being past cases, completed, names in black. Late in the episode, the missing member of the group arrives, apologising for being held up: she is the relatively new ME, Julianna Cox, who returned to Baltimore to be nearer the father who we saw died in her first episode: only now do we learn that he was a victim of crime.
It’s a patient, thoughtful episode whose nerve-endings are exposed, for it is the families, the ones left behind, who are the focus here, the other, too often barely seen victims of homicide.
The new title caption
In total contrast, ‘The Documentary’ (episode eleven, midpoint of the season) is primarily comic, even as it is deadly serious. It’s New Year’s Eve, the squad are on the graveyard shift but, just as in ‘Night of the Dead Living’, so long ago in season 1, the phones aren’t ringing. So Brodie pulls out his video-tape, and shows the squad the documentary he has made of them, warts and all. Working, talking, arguing. Quoting David Simon directly in his advice from the book as to why you shouldn’t waive your right to silence.
It’s funny, its fearsome, it’s deeply disturbing to all assembled, especially Gee, who confiscates the tape, only to learn that it’s not the master: Brodie has already sold that to PBS, for broadcast.
The two best moments come when Brodie reveals the identity of the infamous Lunchtime Bandit, thief of hundreds of lunches from the Squadroom refrigerator, and who else could it be but Gaffney? (The aural commentary to this episode praises actor Walt McPherson as being the absolute opposite of his walking offense character, as one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet).
And, in the grand Homicide tradition of taking events directly from real-life, there’s a scene where Lewis and Kellerman, in hot pursuit, chase a runaway into the arms of uniformed Police – a location shot for an episode of a TV series called Homicide, directed by Barry Levinson himself: it’s a steal from an incident where Baltimore Police chased a felon onto a Homicide: Life on the Street shoot, with the runaway giving himself up to John Munch/Richard Belzer.
But let’s now turn or attention to the end of the series. Homicide: Life on the Street had the security of a 44 episode order, a two season renewal. The security this gave enabled them to take more risks than before, gave them the freedom to do things that were irrevocable.
Episode 19 returned to the running war with Luther Mahoney. By sheer luck, an angle opens up. A dead body in a motel turns out to be a carrier for Mahoney: his stomach is full of 77 condoms packed with pure heroin (the 78th burst, which killed him). The decision is taken to replace the package with baking soda, deliver it, and hope that the fall-out will give them a lead. It works almost perfectly. A no-longer cool, smooth, detached Luther calls a meet in the open, in the park, for himself, the lieutenant who let this get by him and the Nigerian suppliers. Everyone’s denying responsibility. Luther blames his lieutenant, who tries to walk away, but Luther takes a gun for his bodyguard and guns him down: a third shot misses the already dead man and kills a woman playing ball with her young son.
It’s suddenly a freaking disaster. Luther’s running. Lewis is tearing after him, Kellerman and Stivers in a third car. Lewis catches Mahoney at his penthouse, interrupting his flight, but before taking the drugs lord in, Lewis is going to administer a beat-down. For Mahoney’s arrogance. For the unnecessary deaths. It’s a brutal, thuggish, one-sided kicking, until Mahoney snatches Lewis’s gun and points it at him.
Which is when Kellerman and Stivers, guns trained on Mahoney, arrive, telling him to drop the gun. The beaten, bloody, dishevelled Luther, half-crazy with anger, looks still ready to shoot, but, recovering his poise, he lowers the gun until it points at the floor, turns to Kellerman and sneers, “What are you going to do, detective? Read me my rights?” He’s already laughing, he’s beaten so many raps before, and Lewis’s assault will no doubt see him through this one, he’s already convinced. He’s Luther Mahoney.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Kellerman says. And shoots him, once, through the heart.
“Anyone have a problem?” he asks. Lewis has none. Stivers, shocked by what she’s seen, eventually agrees.
It’s a moment that is both shocking, yet inevitable. And it’s a moment that, having taken place, will have to be pushed aside. Very intelligently, episode 20 is about something else entirely, a one-ff episode, written by Yaphet Kotto, beautifully played, all the better for being totally out of line with what’s preceded it, except for one very short scene in which it appears that Stivers is having problems, despite the fact that everything has been wrapped up. Their stories have been accepted. The Mahoney shooting has been written up as good. There’s an abyss, yawning, beneath our feet, but for now we will step around it, pretend nothing is wrong, pretend nothing has changed.
And this is further emphasised by the season-ending two-parter. It begins simply enough, comically enough, a conversation between Pembleton and Brodie en route to a dead body, a clear suicide, a man whose face has been blown off by a shotgun. Clean, simple, an obvious dunker. Except, it’s Beau Felton.
All hell breaks loose. Auto-Squad Detective Paul Falsone (Jon Seda) angrily accuses Felton of having been dirty: his team has been chasing a car-theft ring for two years now, but someone kept tipping Cantwell off. And Beau Felton was working for Cantwell since he left the Police.
Everyone has memories of Beau, none more so than Kay Howard, who defends him doggedly. Even more so after Julianna Cox is able to prove the suicide was faked, that Felton was murdered. This is enough to bring Russert back from Paris (dressed for that city, not Baltimore), to help the investigation.
And there’s another twist, as the investigation is briefly put on hold by the arrival of IID (Internal Investigations Division) in the form of Detective Stu Gharty (Peter Gerety). Felton was not dirty. He was working undercover, for IID, trying to identify the real dirty cop. And yes, that is Gharty, the overweight patrolman whom Russert charged with neglect of duty in season 4, the one who failed to intervene to stop two kids killing each other. No-one likes him, no-one trusts him.
But in the end it will be Gharty and Falsone, who share the same stoolie, unbeknownst to either, who bring the case home. The stoolie betrayed Felton to Cantwell, who executed him. The stoolie goes down, Cantwell is raided, but everybody and everything has gone. Felton’s case will forever remain red.
The season was over. Change would, once again, be in the air. A stupid, drug-fuelled and very public incident with Max Perlich meant that his contract wasn’t being renewed, and nor was that of Melissa Leo, officially because the team decided that, as Sergeant, she was an anomaly that no longer worked, unofficially because she too had suffered bad publicity, indirectly, linked to a national scandal over a custody case affecting her partner. Jon Seda and Peter Gerety were presented in the season closer as a backdoor introduction to characters who would join the cast in season 6.
And the vehicle for such change was introduced in an unnecessarily melodramatic manner right at the end. Echoing the real-life step taken by Baltimore PD, Gee announces that the brass have introduced a policy of rotation: some detectives will be rotated into other divisions for three months spells (three months being the length of time the series would be off the air).
“In three months time,” Gee intoned, “We none of us may be here.”