Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 3 Episode 20

The Gas Man

0
Aired Friday 10:00 PM May 05, 1995 on NBC
8.5
out of 10
User Rating
37 votes
5

EPISODE REVIEWS
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Episode Summary

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The Gas Man
AIRED:
A convict is released from prison and begins to get his revenge on Frank by frustrating the investigation he is currently working on and also by terrorizing his wife.

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • Barry Levinson directs and Tom Fontana writes. Perfect combination with the unusual feature of showing most of the action from the criminal's viewpoint.

    9.8
    The clever use of seventies music and moody, edgy atmosphere make this a fantastic finale to the series. Danny is a superb comic character who still remains believable. Plenty of little touches such as the suspicious behaviour of Frank Pembleton visiting a hotel, and the menace of the gas man hassling Mary Pembleton. Black comedy moments such as the storage of the head in the fridge are Levinson classics. Levinson really knows how to add an extra dimension to his creations. Sheer genius. Probably the second best episode ever, only surpassed by the interogation of the araba in series one. Totally different kind of episode from usual, and stands alone as a story in its own right.moreless
  • The show is unique in that it approaches the actions of law enforcement from a different perspective; that of the detectives themselves. This is what made the show a hit. However...moreless

    5.0
    as much as I like the character Frank Pembleton, this episode did not help me empathize or sympathize with him. It was a weird episode among the dozens of well written ones. It seemed disconnected from the continuity of the series. Carrying around a head in an effort to get back at the cop that put you away? Twisted, yes. Believable, no. I didn't consider it credible. Also, after this supposed "life changing" experience for Frank, you would think that he would have showed some indication for changing his ways with his family, his partner, the squad. I think this was more of a "jump the shark" for a seaon closer than something that added to the quality of the show. Now, had they stopped at Helms holding Frank hostage and closed the season that way, that may have added to the suspense for the summer!moreless
  • A neat little story that serves as Homicide's best season finale.

    10
    I'll echo everything the other reviewers said about this episode. It's incredibly tense, but also funny and poignant. And Kirby's peformance is amazing, taking a character who first seems pretty loathsome and revealing him to be a rather sympathetic figure, who's only real crime is being -- as Pembelton calls him -- a "fool." I think the reason he doesn't kill Pembleton at the end is because his speech ("You can't do something and not take responsibility") reveals how hypocrtical he is. It would have been nice to include more of Baldwin and Beatty in their final episode, but overall "The Gas Man" shows Homicide at its finest.moreless
  • An ex con that Pembleton put away for seven years is released and vows revenge, tampering with an investigation, stalking Pembleton and his wife and later putting Pembleton's life in danger.moreless

    8.7
    "The Gas Man" differs from any other episode in this series so far, as it puts the focus on the life of an ex con, seeing things through his eyes.



    I like the idea of this episode very much, but at the same time its hard to get used to not having the lives of the detectives under a microscope. The characters of the ex con and his friend are very entertaining, and resemble two mafia "wise guys", always bickering about the little things.



    Despite being an overall well done episode, "the gas man" seems a little far fetched at times, especially when the ex con takes the murder weapon and a severed head from the crime scene, i have to think that the crime scene would have been more secure. Just when we think that the ex con is psycho, making a shrine out of the severed head, he cant go through with killing Pembleton. We see a change of heart, maybe the ex con didn't want to kill Pembleton from the beginning (or had doubts like his friend said), that maybe he just wanted to find flaw in Pembletons life like he has in his own. Pembleton's rocky relationship with God that wasn't "on a first name basis" takes a positive turn when he mentions that God's work is the reason he is still alive. It becomes clearer that this relationship with Pembleton and the big man, is only kept alive when it suits him, but deep down, Pembleton is a believer.moreless
  • The creativ minds of Homicide throw their fans a curve with this season finale which doesn't even focus the castmembers of the show; but two one time only guest stars instead.moreless

    10
    Throughout Homicide's run, the writers would always divert from a regular episode format every once in a while to not get bogged down by formula. This would be done in episodes such as "The Subway", "Full Moon", "Line of Fire", and a few others. But never would they divert as extraordinarily as they did in this episode. It's not very surprising that they only did this episode because they all thought that they were going to get cancelled at the end of the season.



    While many episodes would elevate guest stars to that of costars for an episode such as had been done with Robin Williams, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lily Tomlin, Marcia Gay Harden, and Moses Gunn, this is the only time that an episode would be done almost entirely from the guest actor's perspective. And Bruno Kirby is completely up to task in this episode.



    Kirby plays Victor Helms, a recently released convict who had been sent away for installing a defective gas heater that wound up killing an entire family. The detective who put him away was our own Frank Pembleton. While away, Helms's wife committed suicide, and Helms sees himself as a victim and blames Frank primarily. Upon leaving prison, he is picked up by his best friend Danny Newton(Richard Edson). The first thing Helms does is have Danny take him to Frank's house where we see him casually kissing his wife goodbye. There, Helms vows to kill Frank.



    That description makes this episode seem very dark, but this episode, in fact, contains some of Homicide's best humor in the series's run; most of it coming from the hilarious back and forth conversations between Danny & Victor(take special notice of their argument over how they get the caffeine out of the coffee bean to make de-caf coffee). Hoping to find a flaw that Helms can exploit for his revenge, they begin tailing Frank and wind up at crime scene where a Gypsy fortune teller has been decapitated. They sneak around the building while Frank and Tim are interviewing witnesses and stumble upon the murder weapon & missing head. Victor decides to take it as a means of humiliating Frank.



    What makes the episode even more interesting is while to two criminal masterminds are certainly making it up as they go along, that they really do discover very intimate things about Frank. For example, they discover that he is seeing a fertility doctor because he's unable to get his wife pregnant. In a scene of devestating cringe humor, Frank is having his sperm count analyzed with a microscope which projects a blank screen. Slowly you see one crawl by, and the doctor optimistically says "Hey, we got one." Frank is not impressed.



    Surprisingly enough, Victor's plan ends up working pretty well. Frank arrests the real murderer at a restaurant who promptly confesses. Victor responds by sending a tape of the head and the murder weapon to the local news station making Frank and Homicide unit look ridiculous. Victor than makes it personal by confronting Frank's wife at the grocery store making a thinly veiled threat and turning the gas on at their house so as to send a message. He leaves a message for Frank demanding he meet him alone. Frank obeys and arrives at a building lit up entirely with candles. In a devestating scene, Victor actually gets the drop on him with a knife to Frank's throats, and he just vents all his anger out at Frank in an excellent monologue, but he's unable to kill him. Frank arrests him and brings him in.



    If there's one thing even slightly dissapointing about this episode, it is that the regular cast isn't given much to do. Braugher the only one with significant screentime, and Secor has a few moments where it's shown that he and Pembleton are still very much at odds due to the previous episodes events. The entire cast isn't seen until about fifteen minutes into the episode. However, this episode wound up being the last one for both Daniel Baldwin & Ned Beatty, and while it may be one of the show's best, it's certainly not a satisfying exit for these two great characters, but Fontana & co. can hardly be blamed for that.



    Kirby and Edson carry this episode as the two criminal companions, and they develop a great comraderie. Kirby finds just the right mix of patheticness, intellect, and anger. An early scene where he tries to explain why he's not responsibly for that family's death is both pathetic and humorous at the same time. Edson is great as the pushover sidekick, who near the end works up the nerve to tell Victor he's lost it, but still remains loyal to the end.



    This episode's director was the man, himself, Barry Levinson who came aboard when it was believed to be the series finale. Here he shows that knack for blue-collar comedy that he demonstrated "Tin Men", and "Diner". His being the director is even more ironic seeing as how this episode probably used music more than any other episode in the show's run through Danny's appreciation of 70s pop songs, since one of his main points when he first came aboard the show, was that he didn't want to use a lot of music.



    "The Gas Man" is one of the most unique hours of television I've ever seen. That nothing-to-lose attitude that allowed them to make this episode might've been what ended up getting the show picked up for its fourth year, but I doubt it. What remains is probably the best season finale the show ever produced.



    My rating: 10 out of 10moreless
Andre Braugher

Andre Braugher

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

Kyle Secor

Kyle Secor

Tim Bayliss

Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer

Det. John Munch

Ned Beatty

Ned Beatty

Stan Bolander (Seasons 1-3)

Daniel Baldwin

Daniel Baldwin

Beau Felton (Seasons 1-3, recurring subsequently, TVM)

Isabella Hofmann

Isabella Hofmann

Megan Russert (Seasons 3-4, recurring otherwise)

Bruno Kirby

Bruno Kirby

Victor Helms Sr.

Guest Star

Richard Edson

Richard Edson

Danny Newton

Guest Star

Tyler Buckalew

Tyler Buckalew

Victor Helms Jr.

Guest Star

Ami Brabson

Ami Brabson

Mary Pembleton

Recurring Role

Herb Levinson

Herb Levinson

Lausanne

Recurring Role

Ralph Tabakin

Ralph Tabakin

Dr. Scheiner

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

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  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (1)

  • NOTES (2)

    • This is the last episode for Ned Beatty and Daniel Baldwin. Baldwin's character is the subject of a storyline in the season 5 finale, but he is only present there via archival material. They will both return for the TV Movie, where Bolander will participate in the investigation and Felton will appear in Gee's vision at the end.

    • Music in this episode: The Spinners "Workin' My Way Back to You" & "Forgive Me Girl" alb: One of a Kind Affair - Anthology; Blondie "Heart of Glass" alb: Parallel Lines; Chic "I Want Your Love" alb: C'est Chic; Gloria Gaynor "I Will Survive" alb: The Collection; Electric Light Orchestra "Sweet Talkin' Woman" alb: Out of the Blue; Earth Wind & Fire "Boogie Wonderland" alb: I Am; The Bee Gees "Tragedy" alb: Spirits Having Flown. Blondie "Call Me" alb: Best of Blondie.

  • ALLUSIONS (0)

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