Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 6 Episode 16

Mercy

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Aired Friday 10:00 PM Mar 20, 1998 on NBC
8.9
out of 10
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Episode Summary

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Mercy
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Homicide is called in when a woman is distressed at the fact the Dr. Turner helped her brother stop suffering from his colon cancer by injecting him with a lethal dose of morphine. Other members of her family were comfortable with the way he died. Pembleton and Bayliss investigate the issue of murder or mercy. Ballard and Gharty spot their city goats at a shopping mall, where Gharty was using Ballard as a consultant in his purchase of a gift. Stivers and Falsone catch a case where a schoolgirl and the owner of a pizza parlor are murdered during the holdup of the pizza parlor. Kellerman confronts Judge Gibbons and tapes their conversation about his ruling in making the wrongful death suit a jury case. Ballard and Gharty round up their city goats after they confront their mother. Gee warns the rookie homicide detectives, Stivers and Falsone about the baggage that comes with working their first case involving the death of a child. Pembleton and Bayliss' investigation of Dr. Turner's practice reveals that at least one of her patients didn't have a family to speak for him. Kellerman plays a tape of his conversation with the judge for Lewis. Gharty gives a gift to Billie Lou, the Waterfront bartender. Bayliss goes "home" when Pembleton puts Dr. Turner in the box.moreless

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • Hard questions for a lot of the characters

    8.9
    Way back in Season 2, ‘See No Evil’ explored the idea of euthanasia as Beau Felton and Meldrick ;Lewis decided to let what was essentially a mercy killing get written up as a suicide. In ‘Mercy’, four years later, we find an inverse of the situation, where the sister of a man suffering from terminal colon cancer accuses the assisting physician of delivering an overdose of morphine to her brother, thus prematurely terminating his life.



    The division about whether or not this is mercy or murder divides almost everybody involved. Perhaps not surprisingly, that includes the investigating detectives, Bayliss and Pembleton. Pembleton is his typical ruthless self, sticking firm to his belief that every live ended prematurely is murder. Bayliss, perhaps surprisingly, is far more restrained and far more willing to look the other way. Perhaps it has to do with the treating physician, Dr. Roxanne Turner, played by that most underrated of actresses, Alfre Woodard. If the name sounds familiar, its because this is the same character that Woodard portrayed on St. Elsewhere, the show that Tom Fontana created before Homicide. In that show Turner was an OB-GYN; she now works in a hospice. As she herself puts in, she has come full circle from welcoming patients into the world to helping them leave it. She makes it very clear that she does not believe in prolonging life at all costs and that she sees what she is doing as easing their deaths, not assisting them.



    This is a very grey area and Frank, who has a habit of seeing things in terms of black and white, does not hold with it. The show tries to present an even-handed argument, and for the more part, it does. All of Dr. Turner’s patients are in the end-stages of terminal illnesses, most strikingly in the case of a thirty-four year old woman in the end stages of MS. It is clear that most of them were ready to die. On the other hand, considering the level of pain that they were all feeling, were they in any condition to make those kinds of judgments? Most of them had families to act as their guardian, but in some case the victim died alone, indicating that Dr. Turner was the sole arbiter.



    All of this leads to a memorable ‘discussion’ between Pembleton and Turner in the box. (Bayliss begs off, clearly impressed by her reputation) Frank discusses her patients using the argument of the sanctity of life under any conditions. Turner argues just as passionately of the pain and anguish her patients go through in the end stages of their illnesses. How their he judge her? Frank counters by asking how dare she make decisions for people in their most vulnerable stages. There is no right answer; there is not even an answer, only the futility of the end of a person’s life. Frank swears that he will pursue Dr. Turner until she stops her work but this is never followed up on, probably because Frank is not with the department much longer. Despite the anguish and pain going on her, there’s more going on in this episode than this. Stivers and Falsone, relative newcomers to the department, catch their first murdered child case --- a sixth grader who catches a stray bullet from a robbery that took place across the street. They seem enthusiastic initially, but as Giardello cautions them, there is little fun in the death of a child--- something that Bayliss and Pembleton could easily attest to. By a stroke of luck, they find the killer but closing the case does not exercise ghosts. As the episode concludes, they go to a memorial where the photographs of murdered children are displayed on walls. The walls are covered with hundreds, if not thousands, of photos--- doubtless the pictures of Janelle Parsons and Darryl Nawls and Patrick Garrabrek and Adena Watson--- are up there somewhere. They will run out of room long before they run out of pictures.



    We also see Gharty and Ballard chasing down the two ‘city goats’ they like for the last month or so. Though difficult to find, they are easy to apprehend and easier still to indict--- turns out the white trash criminals aren’t any smarter than the black ones. Such are the ways of Baltimore.



    But the most critical event occurs when Mike Kellerman, after some work, tracks down Judge Gibbons. Kellerman confronts Gibbons as to being on the Mahoney payroll in regard to Georgia Rae’s unlikely civil suit. The two of them speak in the ambiguous phrases of people who don’t want to be talking about what they’re talking about, thus the conversation is open to very wide interpretation. Mike surreptitiously tapes it and plays it for Meldrick (how he tracked down Lewis is never explained) but it can be interpreted in two ways, either Gibbons asked for a bribe, or Kellerman was threatening Gibbons. Mike, hearing what he wants to hear, thinks it’s the former, and also seems to think that this means their problems with the judge are over. They aren’t even close.



    ‘Mercy’ is a very complicated and dark episode, mainly because the issues discussed are very ambiguous and have no easy answers. It features some truly fine acting, particularly in the last scene between Braugher and Woodard (who earned an Emmy nod for her performance) and some strong, even-handed writing for both sides. This is true because of the contradictions we see in the characters. Frank Pembleton is a Catholic thinks capital punishment is wrong, but as a cop thinks that its necessary. Roxanne Turner is a doctor who believes in the sanctity of life but also believes there should be some dignity in death. There are no easy answers to the issues raised, but the writers know that the questions must be asked.



    My score: 8.9moreless
Andre Braugher

Andre Braugher

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

Kyle Secor

Kyle Secor

Tim Bayliss

Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer

Det. John Munch

Reed Diamond

Reed Diamond

Det. Mike Kellerman (seasons 4-6)

Peter Gerety

Peter Gerety

Stu Gharty (Seasons 6-7, recurring previously, TVM)

Clark Johnson

Clark Johnson

Det. Meldrick Lewis

Alfre Woodard

Alfre Woodard

Dr. Roxanne Turner

Guest Star

Kathryn Kelley

Kathryn Kelley

Donna McCord

Guest Star

E. Dawn Samuel

E. Dawn Samuel

Alberta Wells

Guest Star

Toni Lewis

Toni Lewis

Terri Stivers

Recurring Role

Harlee McBride

Harlee McBride

Dr. Alyssa Dyer

Recurring Role

Ellen McElduff

Ellen McElduff

Billie Lou Hatfield

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

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  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (5)

    • Munch: Gharty, Ballard, cest que ce?
      Gharty: Remember Douglas and Rodney McCord?
      Munch: Those two hillbillies, who iced that Jamaican Bernard over some faux cocaine?
      Ballard: Yeah. They are back in Baltimore. We spotted them down at the Inner Harbor.
      Munch: Guys, two city goats smoke some Jake baker over a five dollar vile of powdered milk and you pursue to the ends of the earth like Inspector Javert after Jean Valjean. Victor Hugo? Les Miserables? Am I the only one around here that can read.

    • Bayliss: That Sam doctor's Florence Nightingale.
      Pembleton: Florence Nightingale wasn't a doctor.
      Bayliss: Whatever. You gotta admit she's impressive.
      Pembleton: Pain of modern existence.
      Bayliss: What's that? Non dairy creamer?
      Pembleton: Euphemism.
      Bayliss: If they called it 'petroleum by-product', think you'd put it in your coffee?
      Pembleton: I don't know, I'd think twice about it. Which is my point. Euphemism lets us off the hook. 'Non dairy creamer'. 'He passed away'. 'We put the dog to sleep'. We didn't put the damn dog to sleep, we killed the dog. He didn't pass away from drinking too much non dairy creamer. He died a messy, agonizing death from ingesting carcinogenic substance unfit for human consumption.
      Bayliss: You're in a good mood.
      Pembleton: Living will. Living will. You have a living will, right?
      Bayliss: Yeah, I do. Do you?
      Pembleton: Absolutely. Not about to let the college money go down the drain keepin' daddy on a respirator in a semi-vegetative state.

    • Munch: What do you hate more the rubber dam they put in your mouth to open it or the sound of the drill.
      Kellerman: I think the worst part is when I scream like a little girl.

    • Dr. Turner: Given the choice, I think that most people really would rather die at home, or a hospice. Better than some anonymous institution like a hospital or nursing home. Here come on, sit down.
      Pembleton: Oh, thanks.
      Bayliss: You know I think given the choice I'd rather die on the dance floor fruggin' the night away.
      Pembleton: Fruggin'
      Bayliss: Yeah. New Years Eve, strobe light, big glitter ball, sexy partner. I mean, I have a massive aneurysm right at the stroke of midnight and I am dead before I hit the ground.
      Pembleton: Well if you're fruggin' the night away you deserve a massive aneurysm.

    • Billie Lou Hatfield: I come from a place where people think the moon landing was fake and pro wrestling is real.

  • NOTES (4)

    • A viewer notes another of the rare continuity errors found in the series. In his interview with Dr.Turner, Pembleton walks in drinking coffee and places it on the table as he sits down. When he gets up telling Dr. Turner (Woodard) that he absolves her of murder, there is nothing in his hand. As he turns around to say "Come on doc, we all need absolution..." He can be seen holding a cup of coffee in his left hand.

    • The city goats' mother was again played by Kathryn Kelley, only in the episode "Shaggy Dog, City Goat" she was credited as Katherine Kelly.

    • Alfre Woodard recreates her character of Dr. Roxanne Turner from St. Elsewhere. That series was also worked on by Homicide's executive producer Tom Fontana.

    • Music in this episode: Chris Whitly "Big Sky Country" alb: Living With the Law.

  • ALLUSIONS (0)

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