Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 5 Episode 20

Narcissus

0
Aired Friday 10:00 PM May 02, 1997 on NBC
8.8
out of 10
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28 votes
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Narcissus
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There is a major police chase after an armed suspect, as he holes himself up in a row house that is the headquarters of ARM (African Revival Movement). The head of that house, a former cop, calls in a favor, high in the police department. Munch and Pembleton try to work the case as Bayliss seems to be missing. Their investigation seems to be thwarted every step of the way. Stivers' has second thoughts about what she saw at the Mahoney shooting. An attempt to serve "Burundi" Robinson an arrest warrant breaks out into a war between the police and ARM. Gee goes into the house to confront Robinson and finds out who and what he knows.moreless

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • A surprising look at the corruption of power and racial strife

    8.7
    After a series has been on the air for long enough, it is common for actors on the show to step behind the camera--- Clark Johnson and Kyle Secor have already done so this season. It is much rarer, though, that an actor will write an episode of a series. Indeed, I know of only two series where this has happened --- The X-Files and Homicide. In this latter case Yaphet Kotto would be the only actor to do so, and he would do it three times, starting with ‘Narcissus’.



    The episode that Kotto delivers is a thought provoking one for many reasons. The first is that it deals with tricky racial issues. Despite the fact that a third of the leads, half the regulars and a goodly amount of the guest cast was black, Homicide did not often show episodes involving racial strife (which is especially ironic considering how many murders are caused for that very reason). Here, Kotto delves in to it deeply by having the episode center around a black organization called the African Revival Movement. Headed by an ex-Baltimore police calling himself Burundi Robinson (members draw their names from African countries) the movement involves itself with reaching out and trying to help the black community from soup kitchens to finding jobs for the homeless.



    But there is an ugly side to the Movement, as we find out when one of its members is murdered. Talking with a witness, Munch and Pembleton learn that Robinson has been sleeping with many of the young women in the movement. Because of this Robinson had him killed.



    But there is far more to this case than just the murder. When Frank and Munch show up on the crime scene Colonel Barnfather is present, trying to curtail the search for the killer. When the killer—another member of the ARM is found Captain Gaffney talks to him after which he refuses to talk to the police. Later, he fouls up a wiretap on Robinson by demanding the name of the witness.



    These scenes show some stunning insights into Barnfather and Gaffney. We know from past events that Barnfather is a manipulative and political animal but here he reveals he has a conscience. Arriving at the crime scene, he allows Pembleton to quote procedure on him and stop him from pulling rank. For the first time on the show, he draws a line in the sand as to what he thinks it right. Gaffney, on the other hand, reveals what a cruel and mercenary bastard he is. Not only does he pull rank on Gee repeatedly, he bullies Ed Danvers and near the episodes climax, is willing to go over Barnfather’s head. This is the first time that we have seen all the brass not on the same side and we realize that even though they don’t show it often, sometimes the high ranking officers have consciences of their own



    Frustrated by this, Giardello comes up with a brilliant idea as to make the killer talk. He, Pembleton and Munch call the murderer into the box, and then have a conversation about the case as if he isn’t there. After revealing some brutal truths they spook the murderer into giving Robinson up. But when they try to arrest Robinson, he barricades himself in the ARM headquarters and it is only through Frank’s actions that a riot doesn’t break out.



    Realizing the potential for a massacre Gee goes in the building—without a gun--- and asks to talk to Robinson. And here we have one of the most shocking revelations that the series would do, period. The man who has been manipulating the brass to protect Robinson is none other then Deputy Commissioner Harris. Turns out Harris and Robinson were partners twenty-five years ago and after they busted a major dealer, Harris stole those drugs from evidence control and sold them back to the dealer. With both of them on the hook, Harris convinced Robinson to handle ‘damage control’-- Robinson took the rap for Harris in exchange for the money. From this incredible corruption, Harris has risen to great heights in the Baltimore PD. And now that he has his feet to the fire Harris has no trouble betraying a case—and authorizing QRT to kill his former partner.



    They never get the chance, though. Giardello tries to convince Robinson to surrender but the most he does is release all the women and children. Hours pass as the tension mounts. Finally, QRT and the squad storm the building. In the basement they find Robinson and fifteen of his followers dead in a mini- Jonestown.



    However, the most stunning element is the denouement. Gee can rage all he wants about bringing down Harris, but in the end the average American watching at home doesn’t give a damn about black people killing each other. A couple is shown watching the news unfold on television. They look at it dispassionately and change channels, utterly uninterested. We never learn if this ever goes any further than this episode, but after this Harris was written out of the series--- small justice for those involved.



    Kotto clearly demonstrates in this episode that he has the rhythm of Homicide down cold. Issues such as the Mahoney shooting and Bayliss’ absence from the squad are dealt with briefly but in style. Stivers is having trouble coming to grips with the murder of Mahoney--- she hasn’t been sleeping or eating. Kellerman, however, has no problem with it. But the downward spiral is still to come. Kotto also shakes things up by having Frank tell a bizarre news story that Munch is known for telling occasionally.



    More than that he demonstrates that he understands the hierarchy of the PD. Ultimately it plays like a typical episode—which is what he was aiming for. The sequence between Robinson and Giardello is the most unrealistic but Kotto and Roger Robinson (playing Burundi) make it work very well--- particularly in their last exchanges when Burundi bets his final actions on the flip of an imaginary coin --- and then tells him ‘You lose.’ Watching it still sends chills down my spine.



    The one flaw of the show comes by the fact that again half the cast is ignored—Kyle Secor, Clark Johnson and Melissa Leo are given nothing to do. Still, ‘Narcissus’ is a fascinating story that shows a lot of different twists on characters that we would not expect. It also asks the question about what role the black man really has in society. Put another way, is Gee a black man who’s a cop or a cop who happens to be black. For him, the former seems to be true. For Frank, the latter seems more relevant. And for someone like Harris, he doesn’t seem t be ether. Sometimes power means you lose parts of yourself, and in Harris’ case he gave up everything.



    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)

Roger Robinson

Roger Robinson

Burundi Robinson

Guest Star

Regi Davis

Regi Davis

Malawi Joseph

Guest Star

Marc Freeman Hamm

Marc Freeman Hamm

Benin Crown

Guest Star

Zeljko Ivanek

Zeljko Ivanek

ASA Ed Danvers

Recurring Role

Toni Lewis

Toni Lewis

Terri Stivers

Recurring Role

Gary D'Addario

Gary D'Addario

Lt. Jasper

Recurring Role

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