Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 4 Episode 12

For God and Country (2)

Aired Friday 10:00 PM Feb 09, 1996 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (2)

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  • Going from New York to Baltimore for the first time

    The crossover episode is a popular gimmick on television. Having characters from one series appear on another is often used as an attempt to boost ratings. NBC had already done a variation on this with its Thursday Night comedy line up. Producer David E. Kelley has made something of a career of it for almost every television show he has worked on.

    Homicide had already done two versions of this. Last year Chris Noth of Law and Order delivered a suspect from New York back to Baltimore in the aptly titled ‘Law and Disorder’. A more daring crossover had been done this season when Mandy Patinkin of Chicago Hope had done an internetwork crossover on ‘A Dolls Eyes’ as one of the doctors who received the dead boys donated organs. But a joint production of two series was something else together.

    For one thing, the shows were filmed in different cities (Law and Order in New York, Homicide in Baltimore). More importantly the shows, while they were both police procedurals were completely different in their approaches. Law and Order divides its action into two parts: the police investigation and the district attorney’s prosecution of the same case. Furthermore the show is far more dependent on the drama inherent in the wranglings of the legal system in the plot whereas Homicide gets most of its drama from the characters involved. Law and Order almost never delves into the characters points of view, partially because members of the cast depart on a regular basis.(In fact, by the time of this crossover, only one character from Law and Order’s first season was still on its roster.)
    The intricacies of the behind the scenes drama of the two shows are less relevant than the actual drama on camera.
    Here the success is something of a mix. The Law and Order episode deals with a poison gas attack on a New York subway. Manhattan detectives Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) have just begun their investigation when Pembleton and Bayliss from Baltimore arrive from Baltimore. Five years ago, Frank was the primary in the bombing of a similar bombing in a Baltimore church. Both attacks were directed primarily at African-Americans which is why Frank is so keyed up.

    The four detectives barely cooperate with each other. In fact, the NY lieutenant quickly shows them the door. This doesn’t stop Frank and Tim from conducting their own simultaneous investigation. As it turns out Briscoe and Curtis find the bomber mere seconds before Bayliss and Pembleton do. Frank and Tim counter this by withholding the identity of the bomber until THEY are allowed in the interrogation room. In typical Homicide fashion they get a confession out of the bomber, however in typical Law and Order fashion the confession is excluded because of the way they got it.

    If nothing else ‘Charm City’ should be lauded because it finally brings front and center the way Frank has danced around the Fifth Amendment for the last three years. This is not an issue of Maryland law versus that of the state of New York (as Pembleton argues); it is a constitutional issue. Perhaps the best scene in the Law and Order episode occurs when ADA Jack McCoy gives Pembleton a royal chewing out after his interrogation is excluded from the case. Not only does it give us a chance to see two of America’s best actors--- Sam Waterston and Andre Braugher--- in action, it shows the almighty Pembleton finally getting what is coming to him.
    The Law and Order episode ends with the conviction of the bomber. However it also races the obvious question: who did HE conspire with in both of the crimes?

    The question becomes more relevant in ‘For God and Country’ when Frank and Tim, hours after interrogating the wife and son of the bomber, return to find that the wife has been killed. Curtis and Briscoe learn this information from the bomber, who has now been transferred to death row. They show up in Baltimore hours later wanting in on the investigation. Frank takes this about as well as Briscoe and Curtis did when he showed up on their doorstep.

    Eventually both detectives capture the man responsible for both bombings and the earlier murder: Alexander Rausch: an ex-Marine black ops white supremacist. The highlight of the episode occurs when Pembleton finally gets his chance to interrogate this manipulative, lying bigot. Frank goes after him with all the righteous indignation that we have see in interrogating Annabella Wilgis and Gordon Pratt the previous season. As in this case, like those others, it is clear that there is more at stake for Frank than there is for the usual murderer. He wants to bring this monster to justice in all its glory.

    Unfortunately he never gets the chance. ADA Claire Kincaid arrives from New York to extradite Rausch to stand trial for the earlier bombings. She does so but mere minutes after they exchange him to Briscoe and Curtis, Rausch dies from a (possibly self-induced) heart attack. We then see one of the most stunning scenes of the fourth season when Frank unsuccessfully tries to resuscitate Rausch and then breaks down over the fact that his nemesis has managed to escape justice. We haven’t seen Frank get this upset over the fate of a murderer since ‘Every Mother’s Son’ in season 3.

    In many ways the crossover between the two shows works well. However, it must be admitted that the show doesn’t so much tell one overriding story as present a game that moves from one teams home-court to another. The overall case is very interesting but in changing the focus to Bayliss, Pembleton and Munch in both stories, the other characters get denied significant screen time themselves. Even Zeljko Ivanek, Homicide’s bearer of the legal system doesn’t get a significant amount of screen time. (This would be redressed in the two other crossovers between the shows that both series did.) We also get some very amusing moments between Briscoe and Munch when John finds out that the New York City detective has an affair with his first ex-wife. There is all a flirtation of sorts between Bayliss and Claire Kincaid (which, as any viewer of Law and Order would know, is a futile effort)
    The crossover was such a big success that their would be two similar ones in later seasons. A whole different kind of crossover would take place when L &O producers Dick Wolf would cast Richard Belzer as John Munch to play a role in the first L&O spinoff. So in many ways this joint effort was a great success. But ‘Charm City’ and ‘For God and Country’ are so dependent on each other that airing them in normal syndication was nearly impossible. More than that, one gets the feeling that there are too many stories going on simultaneously and it gets more than a little crowded.As a crossover the shows work well. As good examples of both shows, its not quite up to their high standards.

    ‘ ‘Charm City’ score:7

    ‘For God and Country’ score: 7.5