Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 5 Episode 17

Kaddish

0
Aired Friday 10:00 PM Feb 21, 1997 on NBC
9.0
out of 10
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25 votes
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Episode Summary

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Kaddish
AIRED:
A woman that Munch had a crush on in high school is found murdered. He struggles with his faith as he works with Kellerman on the case. Meanwhile, Frank also struggles with his faith and the fact that Mary has left him.

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • Munch gets religion

    8.7
    In one of those odd coincidence that sometimes befall television, a week before this episode originally aired, The X-Files also broadcast an episode titled ‘Kaddish’, which as we learn in this episode is a term for a Jewish prayer made to mourn the loss of someone else. Both episodes dealt with the rituals of Judiasm n relationship to a killing but the X-files episode was more interested in the crime. Homicide cares about the crime, of course, but they are far more interested in the personal details--- this time choosing the underused John Munch.



    Munch is using the glibbest and most quick-witted detectives but in this episode he goes through a wrenching personal journey back to his childhood. The victim of the murder is Helen Rosenthal, Munch’s unrequited high school love and investigating the crime he finds himself revisiting his early years, as well as a lot of former classmates and how time has treated all of them. The answer is, not very well. Helen married her high school boyfriend, the quarterback of the football team, and they had two children, but rather than forming the perfect couple problems came up. It turns up Mr. Perfect developed a rather serious drinking problem and one day was in accident that killed their son. Helen cut him off cold after that. Later, Helen began to see another classmate, the school bully who ragged on Munch regularly. His life isn’t much better, as he got discharged from the army for an assault, and has a pretty lousy life. He asked Helen to marry him but she turned him down cold.



    Ironically, of all the people from high school, Munch seems to have emerged the least damaged—though considering what his personal life has been like, he’s had a lot more problems then he’ll admit. Munch finds himself revisiting another part of his past--- his religion. We have never seen John acknowledge his faith (probably because he foreswore it a long time ago) but he finds himself picking it up yet again as he witnesses Helen’s daughter go through the process of burying her mother.



    Richard Belzer gives arguably his deepest and most layered performance on Homicide as we find him traversing the territory of past and religion that we have so often seen explored by Andre Braugher (We’ll get to him in a moment) Almost surprisingly, we see that he is more than up to the task as he finds that the girl he cared for so deeply in high school has been treated so cruelly by fate. But the case isn’t just about God, it is about love. The deep, wrenching agonizing feeling that we only feel when we are growing up. He cared very deeply for Helen and watching Belzer try to connect spirituality with the cold, hard facts of murder is painful for him and us. For once, he doesn’t have to go through the experience alone --- Mike Kellerman partners with him and tries to help talk Munch through some of the pain. There’s a sort of chemistry there, and next season the writers would build on it by partnering the two detectives together.



    The murder is solved in typical Homicide fashion as well. The killer is not the troubled ex-husband or the spurned boyfriend but rather a complete stranger, a repeat sex offender. Munch is so angered by this he demands to know why the killer murdered Helen but he gets no answer. Whatever peace he hopes for will not come from the solution of the crime.



    Frank’s having a bad week too. We first see him in an intense interrogation with a suspect only to find out minutes later that the killer was a different man. We have never seen Frank so egregiously wrong before and he is shaken up by this. Then, in a rare moment of openness, he invites Tim over to his house for dinner, mentioning almost casually that Mary has left him Here we see that Frank has been so greatly scarred that he is no longer sure of his identity – he’s not a husband, Tim’s partner, or anything else he thought he was. Frank is so clearly rattled that he finds himself going back to church for the first time in three years. Nor is it any church—it is the parish of Sister Magdalena Weber who we met way back in season three.



    At that time Frank was no longer sure of God and the sister told him to look for it from his wife. But now Mary is gone, Olivia is gone and there seems to be nothing left to find peace it. The sister tells him to look for it in his job which seems a bad place to look for anything resembling faith. Then the next day he gets a sign (or at least as close to it as he’s likely to find). Called in on the death of an old woman, he finds her lying peacefully in bed with a piece from Ravel playing on the radio. In the context of everything we have seen on Homicide this is a beautiful aberration. And it does mean something--- Frank will begin to partner with Tim again, though their problems won’t be resolved until the end of the year --- or at least as resolved as anything gets on this show.



    Considering all the pain that’s going on, we hardly notice that neither Gee nor Meldrick is anywhere to be found. However, the work of Belzer and Braugher is so impressive that we are prepared to overlook these minor problems. We also get a good look at Munch as a high school student, where’s he pretty much what we expected—geeky, uncoordinated, awkward around women, talks too much. (Interestingly, there’s little evidence of the radical that he would become just a few years later; the atmosphere seems to be more of the late fifties than the sixties, particularly in music.)



    At one point while talking to TV Guide, Tom Fontana said that ‘finding God is an ongoing adventure’ In ‘Kaddish’ neither John or Frank find him or much solace in their faith. But they find solace and small signs that he is there in some form, and in this world, a little is probably all you’ll get.

    My score:8.7

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Max Perlich

Max Perlich

J.H. Brodie (season 5, TVM, recurring previously)

Andre Braugher

Andre Braugher

Det. Frank Pembleton (seasons 1-6, TVM)

Kyle Secor

Kyle Secor

Tim Bayliss

Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer

Det. John Munch

Michelle Forbes

Michelle Forbes

Dr. Julianna Cox, CME (1996-1998)

Reed Diamond

Reed Diamond

Det. Mike Kellerman (seasons 4-6)

Jean Louisa Kelly

Jean Louisa Kelly

Sarah Langdon

Guest Star

Pamela Payton-Wright

Pamela Payton-Wright

Sister Magdalena Weber

Guest Star

Robert Riggs

Robert Riggs

George Young

Guest Star

Kristin Rohde

Kristin Rohde

Sally Rogers

Recurring Role

Richard Pilcher

Richard Pilcher

Sgt. Mark Deutch

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

FILTER BY TYPE

  • TRIVIA (1)

    • In the library, young Johnny Munch is writing Helen's name with his left hand, but later (and in other episodes) we see that Munch is actually right handed.

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Kellerman: High school hasn't changed that much since I graduated.
      Munch: When was that, about two years ago.
      Kellerman: Haha, it was 1984.

    • Munch: "The only thing I have in common with Judaism is we both don't like to work on Saturdays."

    • Munch: What happens to us that we forget how wonderful it is just to hold another human being's hand?
      Kellerman: We get older.
      Munch: We get older. We forget who we used to be, what we used to believe in. Love, peace, the Colts would always be in Baltimore...

    • Munch: Come on, do it for me just one more time, please, and I won't ask you again.
      Kellerman: Would you give it a rest?
      Munch: Just once more, please?
      Kellerman: Oy vey iz mir, I'm so meshugenah I could plotz.
      Munch: Do it again.
      Kellerman: No.

  • NOTES (3)

    • This episode bears the same title as an X-Files episode, also dealing with the Jewish community, that aired on February 16 the very same week.

    • Clark Johnson and Yaphet Kotto do not appear in this episode.

    • Music in this episode:
      Little Anthony "Shimmy, Shimmy, KoKo Bop" alb: The Best of Little Anthony & the Imperials;
      The Shirelles "Dedicated to the One I Love" alb: The Fabulous Shirelles;
      The Shadows "Frightened City" alb: Various.

  • ALLUSIONS (1)

    • Title: Kaddish is the name for a number of Jewish rituals praising the name of God. The most familiar form is the rite for the dead, the Mourner's Kaddish, which is evidently the one referred to here. On the death of a relative or spouse, it is recited daily for thirty days and on the anniversary of death (for a parent, it is performed daily for eleven months).

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