Homicide began its third season with an example of how it was going to work things out. Before a show would have several small stories going on simultaneously--- some crime related, some personal. From this point on, there would generally be one major police related story and several personal stories. Furthermore, these major crimes would be related in two or three episode blocks.
The first of these stories would be the ‘white cotton gloves’ murders. The Samaritan of the Year is found murdered and left in a dumpster behind a church, naked but for a pair of white cotton gloves. However, Lieutenant Giardello is not in charge of this investigation because it has fallen to the second shift headed by he newly appointed Lieutenant Megan Russert.
From the very beginning people would have problems with Russert. A lot of people found it hard to accept that a woman this young (barely thirty five) could rise to be in charge of a squad of detectives. This is hard but not impossible to accept, because (as regular viewers would have known) Frank Pembleton was considered for her job and he was her age. The real problem is that we have never even seen any sign of the second shift before. Why should we; all the characters we know are on Giardellos. That was the major flaw, trying to force a new character into places that she would normally be. Her rapid rise and subsequent fall within the department would seem more an effort to find a place for the character rather than any real skill on her part.
Once you get past the problem of Russert’s character, what you see is the same level of intense drama mixed with unusual humor that we have come to expect from the show. This time much of the dramatic tension comes from the interaction of the two shifts--- particularly Pembleton and the primary for the case Roger Gaffney. Pembleton thinks that Gaffney is a sloppy detective and its pretty obvious that Gaffney thinks Pembleton is arrogant. But unlike Felton, who has similar problems, Gaffney is a racist. It’s pretty hard to believe that the two of them might kill each other, but there is a lot of bad blood between them. And Gaffney, unfortunately, isn’t going anywhere.
For the first time the Homicide writers realized what a strong presence Andre Braugher has, and would begin to shift the balance of power towards him and Bayliss. Of central importance to Pembleton is religion--- he may be the most famous Catholic to appear on TV (with the possible exception of Dana Scully on The X-Files). When most shows fly away at the first sign of religion, ‘Homicide’ would embrace it on many occasions. They do so here through Pembleton and his views . When Bayliss asks Frank where God was when Katherine Goodrich was murdered, Pembleton responds that death is something not to be feared. When asked if he believes that, Frank’s reply is “I wear a bullet-proof vest, don’t I?” This is a troubled man and we will explore this many times---often to tremendous dramatic effect.
Despite the concentration on the red ball, we do get a couple of subplots that we will be following throughout the season. Beau Felton’s marriage, which has been showing fault lines since the first season, now begins to come apart when his wife Beth throws him out of the house. We meet her for the first time, and its pretty clear that Beth has very deep issues that probably can’t be fixed. Felton is far less concerned with the state of his marriage then that of the kids, and its pretty obvious that he is a better father than he is a husband. He certain has a blasé attitude towards fidelity; when Kay asks him if he is staying with a woman, he says: “My father always said you don’t jump ship without a lifeboat.” It does, however, come as something of shock that the lifeboat turns out to be Russert. As we will see, this relationship also has obstacles that it won’t overcome. Getting stuck in the middle of this is Kay Howard who will be besieged by calls from Beth Felton and the failure of his marriage
More importantly is what Lewis and Munch are up too. They have decided to buy the Waterfront Bar (which as we will find out, is practically next door to the precinct) Unable to get the seller to lower the price they are forced to obtain another partner. At first, they try Bolander who is adamant in his refusal not to invest his pension in this gamble but eventually they recruit Tim Bayliss. One question that is never answered by anyone is where these three detectives, who make less than $35,000 a year, manage to raise 200,000 dollars to buy the bar. We later find out that they got some kind of loan--- though how they managed to convince the bank is anybody’s guess. The obstacles in buying the bar will take up most of the season. Of course when they get it, there are more problems on the way.
Another unusual switch is done in the teaser of the episode. In which, we learn nothing about the case but more about how the detectives think. Bolander, Munch and Lewis discuss the sate of TV, the profusion of gratuitous sex and how there are a lot of new channels—while the detectives long for the good old days of ‘Hawaii 5-0’ For most of the third season, the teasers of the episode will deal with comic matters unconnected to being a cop with occasional references to police work. One wonders whether the writers were working out the kinks--- because this would disappear in the shows later seasons.
There are still some problems that haven’t quite been worked out in ‘Nearer My God to Thee’.Russert and Giardello have a hard time demonstrating who is in charge. And we’re still not quite certain how to deal with the pres (the appearance of reporter Matt Rhodes doesn’t quite jive with the workings of the episode) But ‘Homicide’, after nine months has found its feet again and will be demonstrating that there was still gold to be mined from this show.
My score 9