Cine Outsider header
Left bar Home button Disc reviews button Film reviews button Articles button Blogs button Interviews button Interrviews button
Life and death in Baltimore
A detailed appreciation plus US region 0 and UK region 2 DVD review and episode guide for

Part 2: Series 1 Episode Guide

The episodes are listed in production code order and as they appear on A&E's US release and divided into their original series rather than the combined one as listed on Fremantle's discs.

The episode spoilers are kept to a minimum, but newcomers to the series may want to proceed with caution, as long running story threads will inevitably have some elements revealed.


1: Gone for Goode

Screenplay: Paul Attanasio | Director: Barry Levinson

  "I've been a murder policeman for ten years. If you're gonna lie to me you lie to me with RESPECT!"
Detective John Munch

Helmed by Barry Levinson himself, who bagged an Emmy for Best Director for this very episode, this was our introduction to the characters, the squad room, the Box and the Big Board, a key visual element of the show on which the case loads of each of the detectives are displayed, open cases in red, closed in black. As mentioned in the overview, this almost never feels like a pilot – cases are first encountered in mid-flow, we arrive at conversations that are already under way, and we engage with characters because the are witty, interesting and believable, looking and sounding like the real deal rather than the just-stepped-out-of-a-boutique polish of CSI and its superficially glossy ilk. One particularly good story thread has Bolander harass Munch into re-investigating an old, long-open case.

Crosetti and Meldrick

The style is wonderfully set here, as is the character drama and black humour – as three of the detectives become the targets for a possible street robbery after a shift, Crosetti bemoans the fact that he has become an easy mark and Munch pulls out his badge and yells, "Hey, we're police! Go rob someone else!" The episode ends very nicely with new boy Bayliss picking up the phone for his first case. It's set to change his life.


2: Ghost of a Chance

Screenplay: Noel Behn | Director: Martin Campbell

"Follow the book. Follow your gut."
Giardello to Bayliss
"We're here about death, not about life."
Pembleton to Bayliss

Bayliss gets his first case, and anyone who's read Niel Simon's book will know this is not going to be one that gets easily solved. As the body of 11-year-old Adena Watson lies in a rain-drenched yard, the detective repeatedly wonders what he must have missed. He's pressured by everyone to release the body for transportation to the coroner's office, something he nonetheless does too early according to medical examiner Carol Blythe (Wendy Hughes), whom Bolander is trying to pluck up the courage to ask out. The squad's freshman becomes buried in the case but still doesn't have a desk – Giardello aggressively clears one for him and informs him that "every time you move I want to see lightning coming out of your butt." We hear the term 'Red Ball' for the first time but it's left to us to work out that it's police talk for a high profile case that mobilises maximum manpower, and we are introduced to three new recurring characters: the instantly irritating, political game-playing police chief George Barnfather (Clayton LeBouef); his compatriot Burt Granger (Gerald F. Gough); and hard working Assistant State's Attorney Ed Danvers (Zeljko Ivanek). Secondary plots involving a philosophising biker and an old woman who is dismayed to find her husband is not dead after all are engagingly handled, despite some suspect dream messages on Kay's part.

The lead story is never less than compelling, the adult elements presented in disarmingly matter-of-fact manner, and the scene in which Bayliss and Pembleton deliver the bad news to Adena Watson's mother is hauntingly handled. The final after-hours bar meet introduces Crosetti's old friend, Officer Chris Thormann (Lee Tergesen, who went on to star in Oz) and sees the squad sing their favourite drinking song "Farewell and adieu to you old Spanish ladies..." for the first time (Jaws fans will recognise this one). As Bolander ponders his possible relationship with Dr. Blythe, Munch observes that he is "an Epcot Centre of human emotions, a Disneyworld of the human heart." A superb episode all round.


3. Night of the Dead Living

Screenplay: Frank Pugliese | Director: Michael Lehmann

"Look, it's late, it's hot. I don't need a lecture on why the system doesn't work."
Social Worker Bessie Morris

In recent years, one mark of a quality series is that about three or four seasons in, once they've built up a regular fan base, the makers will throw in an episode that deviates from the established style or formula in significant ways. Thus Star Trek: The Next Generation was able to do Family, a moving episode completely devoid of science fiction, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer could give us The Body, a gripping, almost supernatural-free study of death and bereavement. To take such chances in the first season is risky, as any programme is still finding its audience at this point and could potentially lose a portion of it that does not realise that this IS designed to be a deviation from the norm. Homicide does it just three episodes in.

Opening with the title "One hot night last September..." Night of the Dead Living is about life not on the streets but in the squad room, to which the entire episode is confined during one overheated and seemingly murder-free night shift. Personal issues are discussed, Kay fears for her sister's potential cancer diagnosis, Gee gets increasingly angry at both the failed air conditioning and Pembleton's refusal to remove his tie, and Stan repeatedly puts off calling Dr. Blythe for a date and is harangued by Munch, who is bruised after busting up with his girlfriend. A story involving a baby found in the cellar is well handled and turns out to be a sly bit of social commentary, and the Adena Watson case continues to dominate Bayliss's thoughts and you can feel the electricity when Bayliss and Pembleton for the first time connect on their thinking about the crime. The sense of place and heat is vividly conveyed, enhanced by a deliberately low key lighting and a mellow jazz score. Another great, great episode, directed by Michael Lehmann of Heathers fame.

This episode originally aired out of order as episode 9, which threw the Adena Watson enquiry completely out of sync. The episode order has been restored for both DVD releases.


4. Son of a Gun

Screenplay: James Yoshimura | Director: Nick Gomez

  "You know how it goes, Gee. Murderers lie 'cos they got to, witnesses lie 'cos they think they got to, and everybody else lies for the sheer joy of it."
Detective Meldrick Lewis

"Anyone can and will kill anyone else for any reason at all," observes Stan Bolander wearily, and as if to prove his point, the news comes in that Officer Chris Thormann has been shot in the head and may not survive surgery. Crosetti emotionally blackmails Gee into letting him handle the case and does his best to comfort Chris's wife Eva (Edie Falco, who went on to play Tony's long suffering wife in The Sopranos), to the point of lying to her about her husband's chances. Kay and Beau get a lead on a case that crosses over with one that Lewis and Crosetti have been working on, in which an old woman appears to be doing rather well out of the life insurances of the recently deceased. Stan has his first date with Carol Blythe and shares an unexpected beer with a noisy, wood-loving neighbour (played by the inimitable Luis Guzman). The Adena Watson case continues to obsess and frustrate Tim Bayliss, who tells Gee earnestly "You know, some guys, if they can't make it in Homicide they get transferred to Fugitive or Auto Theft or Fraud. Not me. If I don't make it here I'll quit the damned force, because what we do... there's nothing else a cop can do that matters as much as this." Stan's romance feels utterly real and is touching because of that, and we learn a little about the religious beliefs of two of the squad members. Once again a dramatically compelling and tightly constructed episode.


5. A Shot in the Dark

Screenplay: Jorge Zamacona | Director: Bruce Paltrow

"It's like saying 'I love you' to your wife – it's meaningless."
Detective Beau Felton

Stan and Munch work a case, but the name of Stan's old partner Mitch is repeatedly brought up as a stick with which to beat the weary Munch. Barnfather gives a press conference on the Adena Watson murder and reveals a crucial detail that the detectives wanted kept secret, and in his frustrated fury, Bayliss phones the Colonel and calls him a butthead, then has to learn to play departmental politics. Pembleton and Felton are temporarily re-teamed and get into a well-written discussion on racial identity. Frank and Tim are initially split on one aspect of the Adena Watson case, but Frank makes a discovery that suggests his partner was right after all, and in a wonderfully handled moment turns up at his door to inform him. And Munch, we learn, hates karaoke. Or does he? Another very strong episode that sets the scene for the series' masterpiece...


6. Three Men and Adena

Screenplay: Tom Fontana | Director: Martin Campbell

  "You have a block in your mind, a block saying 'I didn't do it', but I can see through that block, I can see that you did do it."
Frank Pembleton to murder suspect Risley Tucker

If Night of the Dead Living was taking a chance with the established format, then Three Men and Adena throws all caution to the wind and confines almost the entire episode to a single room in the company of just three characters. And it is, quite simply, one of the most brilliantly written, directed and performed slices of television drama you will ever see.

Having arrested a suspect in the Adena Watson case, Bayliss and Pembleton have just twelve hours to get a confession from him before they are forced to let him go. Moving the police procedural into the realms of psychological drama, Tom Fontana's beautifully crafted screenplay bagged the series its second Emmy, while Edge of Darkness director Martin Campbell winds up the tension to the point where the conflict between Pembleton, Bayliss and the ageing Risley Tucker (brilliantly played veteran actor Moses Gunn) takes on an almost apocalyptic feel, emphasised by Wayne Ewing's claustrophobic camerawork and a soundtrack underscored by the sort of dark tones that would two years later make Se7en so disturbing.

Kyle Secor is finally given the chance to really show his acting metal and is blasted through the emotional mill, his mock friendliness towards Tucker exploding into fury, while his first episode criticism of Frank's handling of suspects is forgotten as he drags Tucker from his chair and only just stops short of pressing his face against a hot water pipe. The tone shifts when Tim takes a break and Frank all but seduces the suspect, gently creating a bond of trust that contrasts strikingly with Tim's approach but is, in its way, every bit as manipulative and disturbing. Finally, the two men team up to assault Tucker with disorientating banter to such a degree that even he finds it impossible to say for sure that he is innocent of the crime of which he is being accused. And here lies the true power of this glorious 47 minutes of television, beyond the thrill of watching fine actors go to work with top class material – it makes you understand, emotionally rather than theoretically, how under the right type and level of sustained pressure, just about anyone could be persuaded to admit to a crime they did not commit.

The script's most memorable turn comes when Frank, as time runs low and his options narrow, encourages Tucker to talk about anything that comes into his head in the doubtless hope that he will let something slip. To both detectives' surprise, this intimidated old man turns the tables on both of them by psychoanalysing their own buried insecurities, and for a short while it is he who controls the interrogation. Referring to well-to-do black men from the city that he refers to as "five hundreds," he addresses Frank with controlled contempt:

"Yeah, you could be one of them five-hundreds. Yeah, you got the chin of a five-hundred and the way you narrow your eyes at me like right now, yeah you got it. You don't like niggers like me 'cos of who we are, 'cos we ain't reached out, 'cos we ain't grabbed hold of that dream, not Doctor King's dream, the WHITE dream. You hate niggers like me because you hate being a nigger. You hate who you really are."

It's a three-way acting tour-de-force that uses the television format to stunning effect. Although this episode should not be watched in isolation – it needs the build-up of the previous stories and an understanding of the characters for maximum impact – if anyone wants to know just why Homicide is held in such high regard, then this is what you should show them.


7. A Dog and Pony Show

Screenplay: James Yoshimura | Director: Alan Taylor

  "These guys got a particularly good look because they, in their typically low class male manner, gave this young lady a few...invitations to social and tribal rituals, to which she responded with an emphatic middle finger salute."
  Frank Pembleton qualifies the reliability of his witnesses

With the Adena Watson case taken as far as it can be, it's time for Bayliss and Pembleton to move on, and in what is almost a reversal of their previous red ball, they are assigned to investigate the murder of a police dog. Gee attends the retirement party of an old friend who wants to keep working, and Stan agrees to let Carol's son Danny ride with them for a day, but soon lives to regret it. Crosetti pays a visit to Chris and helps him deal with one of the more humiliating aspects of his condition.

After the intense brilliance of Three Men and Adena, this episode soft-pedals a little, like a sigh of relief that we're out of the box and back on the streets. It's still engaging and technically impressive – an armed police assault on a house has an urgency that matches anything you'll find in a similarly themed feature film – and a conversation Kay has with Beau about how he regards her as a woman nicely lays to rest any hint of squad room relationship clichés. Her anger at a suspect who drove his mother's executioner to her door is particularly memorable: "What are you crying for, William?" she furiously yells at him. "You got no right to those tears!" The weak link here is Carol's son Danny, a cartoon spaced-out teenager who feels completely at odds with the show's inherent realism.


8. And the Rockets Dead Glare

Screenplay: Jorge Zamacona | director: Peter Markle

  "Stan, you ever been high? There's a reason it's called high. For some people it lifts them out of whatever low rent depraved helplessness they're stuck in. There's a short respite from reality, from the stone cold reality that they live in a racist country run by bigoted old white guys who won't give them a break on education and then bitch when they go on welfare because they can't find a job."
  Detective John Munch
  "So we're supposed to let them do drugs because they're feeling depressed?"
  Detective Stanley Bolander

When a Chinese student is murdered and a connection to the Tiananmen Square massacre is suggested, Lewis and Crosetti head to Washington to interview a smiling but stonewalling representative from the Chinese embassy and argue the toss with Secret Service Agent Gruszynski, who falls out with Lewis over the politics of their case but delights Crosetti by taking him to the site of Lincoln's assassination. A narcotics bust leads to questions from colleagues about how John Munch knows so much about drugs, and Kay gets nervous about a court appearance, only to find she has a thing for ASA Danvers, much to her partner's child-like glee. In a particularly intriguing development, Pembleton is offered a promotion but is asked by Barnfather to keep the news from Giardello, which kicks off off a conflict between the two men when Gee realises that Frank is lying to him. There's fun mileage in the hints about Munch's private life and Kay's initial embarrassment at (and denial of) her feelings for Ed Danvers, but it's the strained relationship between Frank and Gee, a story strand that would be developed in future episodes, that gives the episode its dramatic bite.


9. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Screenplay: Tom Fontana, James Yoshimura | Director: Wayne Ewing

  "Oh my God, you quit smoking. You committed this madness without consulting me first? Are you nuts? No, you're selfish. You ex-smokers are more relentless than AA, or the Moonies or those born-again vegetarians! Well I'll tell you what, I'm not gonna let you bully me about this. I don't wanna hear about how your lungs are pinker than a new born baby's or how you're free from mucus and phlegm. It's all a bunch of crap, it's all a bunch of nonsense. I don't want you counting the number of days you've gone without a cigarette when you're supposed to have been watching my back. You're putting my life on the line! I'll put in for hazard pay. Yeah, you know what? I'm gonna put in for another partner!"
  Detective Beau Felton digests the news that his partner has quit smoking

Kay and Tim quit smoking and are driven half mad by the nicotine addictions of others. When Gee nips upstairs for a drink and finds the whole floor being cleared of asbestos, he goes ballistic on Barnfather, demanding compensatory action and invoking an old Sicilian revenge threat. In a particularly funny sequence that has serious overtones about police interrogation techniques, Bolander and Munch interrogate a suspect using the "Electrolyte Neutron Magnetic Scan" test, which in truth is nothing more than a rigged photocopier. Munch complains that too many cops like country and western music and quips "What do you get when you play a country and western song backwards? You get your wife back, your job back and your dog back," while Stan admits to being an Elvis fan.

Giardelo delivers a Scicilian threat

Largely a character piece but a terrific one, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is alternately engaging, gripping and, when appropriate, very funny. Cinematographer Wayne Ewing directs his first and only episode and does a lot with suggestion – we work out that Kay has just given up smoking before she admits it though a neatly understated use of props, camerawork and editing. In a nice piece of Baltimore filmmaker solidarity, cult director John Waters makes a guest appearance as a barman.


<< Part 1: Series 1 overview | Part 3: Series 2 Episode Guide >>


Homicide: Life on the Street
Series 1

47 mins each
Barry Levinson
Martin Campbell
Michael Lehmann
Nick Gomez
Bruce Paltrow
Alan Taylor
Peter Markle
Wayne Ewing
Paul Attanasio
Tom Fontana
Frank Pugliese
James Yoshimura
Jorge Zamacona
Ned Beatty
Richard Belzer
Daniel Baldwin
Melissa Leo
Clark Johnson
Jon Polito
Andre Braugher
Yaphet Kotto

See all of Slarek's reviews