Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 4 Episode 8

Sniper (1)

0
Aired Friday 10:00 PM Jan 05, 1996 on NBC
8.9
out of 10
User Rating
27 votes
2

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Episode Summary

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Sniper (1)
AIRED:
Jay Leno stops by the Waterfront Bar while in town visiting his cousin Mary; Munch and Bayliss don't want to bother him. A new year starts out with a clean board and Brodie begins his work taping with the detectives. A sniper takes the city hostage, threatening to and executing people every 8 hours. The sniper uses Hangman as a way to leave clues for the detectives. Bayliss is the primary and his back is giving him trouble as he worries about surgery his doctor wants him to have. To combat the pain, he keeps taking muscle relaxants. A suspect is found and cornered and he shoots himself before they can take him into custody. Russert gets demoted when Barnfather doesn't like the way she handled the investigation.moreless

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • Jay Leno visits Munch and Bayliss at their bar and isn't impressed. The detectives are on the lookout for a serial killer /sniper with excellent marksman skills. Russert gets demoted when the suspected sniper takes his own life. Even more killings occur.moreless

    8.7
    The theme of a serial killer in season four of this series has become all too common and in "sniper" we see this yet again.



    The first part of this twofer starts off exciting when tragedy strikes multiple times and panic is felt throughout Baltimore.



    Although innovative, i wasn't a big fan of the game of hangman left at the crime scenes. It would have been nice to know the significance of this game and why the serial sniper who appears to be figuring something out is trying to do so.



    Russert gets demoted, i for one am happy with this decision and am waiting to see where this goes in the coming episodes.



    Jay Leno makes an appearance in this episode, if you know anything about him, you are not surprised to see him in a "biker" attire, you are also not surprised when he makes an exit after Munch and Bayliss fail to make conversation with him.moreless
  • Is on target but ends up firing dry

    7.6
    As I mentioned when I began writing this study of ‘Homicide’, ‘Sniper’ is the episode that helped make me a ‘homicidal maniac’. Watching the detectives try to stop a sniper who punctuated his killing people by playing a demented version of hangman reeled me in and gradually made me full-fledged convert to the Church of Tom Fontana and all his works great and small.



    Seeing the episode a second time with more than eight years of perspective and wisdom, however, has caused me to reevaluate my overall opinion of the show. There is no question that is one of the most cinematic and well-edited episodes of the fourth season, the story is typical of the later Homicide’s, namely, involving a predictable crisis story. A killer is murdering innocent people, the victims have absolutely nothing in common with each other (except, as Pembleton wryly points out, they’re all dead) and the killer follows a pattern of striking over and over again, causing the detectives to constantly reevaluate their original theory of the crime. Furthermore, the episode has the most elaborate ticking clock with the killer striking in eight-hour intervals. This all makes for a great deal of tension (and the suspense and pace is exceptionally well done) but it doesn’t have the realism of the shows first few seasons.



    There are however several elements of the show that make it more intriguing and interesting than the average episode. For one thing, there is the pure and utter absurdity what is happening. The gunman turns out to be a forty-year old accountant, husband and father of three, lives in the suburbs who for some reason snaps and starts killing completely innocent victims as part of a game of hangman that he is playing with himself. It is not until the episode’s conclusion that we learn what the word in question is--- ‘eromitlab’, or Baltimore backwards. While this serves as an explanation for the events, it’s not an answer that is going to make any sense at all to any of the detectives. Which I guess is the point. Anyone who goes this far over the edge isn’t going to make sense to the average man on the street.



    Another strength of the episode is the brilliant work of Kyle Secor. Under the strain of a red ball investigation that keeps getting more and more complicated, popping pain-killers for his still aching back

    Bayliss is under more pressure than he has been for a very long time. Furthermore, when the squad finally tracks down the killer Bayliss is in the house trying to negotiate with him—only to be forced to stand helplessly by as the killer ‘finishes’ his game and bLows his brains out. Yet none of this overwhelms him and he manages to work through it. This episode more than any other this season shows how much Bayliss has grown as a police and Secor is up to the task.



    Another key part of this episode is the way that the bosses handle the crisis. Captain Russert is put under the harsh glow of the spotlight as Barnfather leaves her to squirm under the pressures of being involved in a red ball. Russert remains fundamentally loyal to her troops--- but at a really severe cost. When the sniper commits suicide, she gets most of the blame for allowing it to happen. As a result of this Russert gets demoted all the way back down to detective. While this doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility for how the brass handle the ones who screw up, in retrospect it seems more like a desperate attempt to find something for Russert to do. After her demotion she finds herself drifting back towards--- you guessed it--- homicide. Even now Russert wouldn’t be given a requisite amount of work and her character would disappear from the show.



    And of course, there’s the problem that just as soon as we think that we are finally done with the case--- bang! The last thirty seconds announce that three more victims have been shot and the case must go on. At the time I found this very intense. Now I find it really stretching the credibility of the show--- especially considering what we eventually learn about this killer.



    So now I am of two minds about part one of ‘Sniper’. On one hand I find it very cinematic, well directed and for the most part very well acted. On the other hand the spotlight is focused so intensely on Secor, Braugher and Isabella Hoffman that the other characters are almost shut out. It would have been especially interesting to see the reactions of Howard and Munch, who only a year earlier were involved in a similar shooting. (The writers will briefly touch on this in the next episode) Furthermore, a lot of the dark comedy that the series usually provides is somewhat in poor taste, particular in the incident involving the’ suspects’ involved in another game of hangman that turns out to be a false lead. And the crisis is predictable bordering on formulaic.



    There is one unique thing about this episode. At its beginning, for the first and only time in the shows history is the board completely empty. In a way this serves as a reminder of the ‘clean slate’ that the writers of ‘Homicide’ would be creating for the viewer who, like me, were joining the show for the first time (and therefore didn’t know what they had missed) Some of what they did would be brilliant, some terrible, but a good deal (like this episode) would be closer to the middle, disappointing for a show that was truly excellent its first three seasons.

    My score:7.5

    moreless
Jay Leno

Jay Leno

Himself [uncredited]

Guest Star

Carolyn McCormick

Carolyn McCormick

Linda Mariner

Guest Star

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks

William Mariner

Guest Star

Max Perlich

Max Perlich

J.H. Brodie

Recurring Role

Clayton LeBouef

Clayton LeBouef

Col. Barnfather

Recurring Role

Gary D'Addario

Gary D'Addario

Lt. Jasper

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

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