All television series go through a certain amount of accelerated pace in order for the dramatic effect of events to take place in the allotting time. Homicide did this occasionally (most notably in the recoveries of Bolander and Howard from their shooting in season 3) but for the most part they allowed events to occur in a realistic fashion. Which is why the events in ’Valentine’s Day’ are so surprising as they call for an acceleration so rapid in two separate storylines that one might expect you’re watching NYPD Blue.
First there is the apparent suicide of Nick Bolanetera, a grad student in a local college. Munch seems more than willing to let the case go down as it appeared but Brodie, surprisingly, seems convinced that there is more to this then meets the eye. He talks to some of the dead man’s friend and learns that his roommate Alan Schack had issues with him beyond who used up the hot water. Schack is a nasty piece of work--- in addition to being unpleasant to Brodie and the detectives, he is the local coke dealer and he brags about playing Russian roulette with the dead man. When Brodie starts sniffing around, Schack apparently gets so pissed he beats the videographer with a segment of pipe sending him to the ER. However, he comes up with a bit of detective work so neat that he goes through a miraculous recovery.
Using videotape and sound wizardry, Brodie shoots a tape that supposedly reveals that Schack was in the apartment at the time of the suicide—an act which rattles Schack enough to confess. This is so neatly done that Brodie, who was heavily bandaged at the hospital, seems perfectly fine when he shows up to tape Schack’s confession. We are so busy gaping at this particular miracle that we don’t question whether evidence of this nature would even be admissible in a normal investigation. But what apparently irks Brodie the most is that even after doing all this nice work no one bothers to thank him. (Never mind that Munch says thank you about as often as he has a solid romantic relationship.) Brodie has always been a little too much of an outsider for the bluntness of the homicide unit. Perhaps this is the case that convinces him he’s never going to get the respect of his peers and convinces him to move to Hollywood at the beginning of next season.
An even more impressive time compression occurs in the second case being investigated, a series of bombings that kill a factory foreman and a prominent Baltimore defense attorney. We learn that the two men were connected through the murder trial of the man who killed Korean grocerer Tommo Roh. Justice moves swiftly but this is a bit too fast even for television
If we believe the calendar less than a month has passed since Roh’s murder which wasn’t solved by the time ‘Diener’ aired. So, in less than three weeks, a suspect was found, indicted, tried and acquitted. We have seen the courts move fast before (witness last seasons ‘Justice’) but there just doesn’t seem to have been enough speed
for this case to have moved this quickly.
It’s a shame that there appears to have been a time warp in these investigations because there’s some good stuff on display. We get to see Melissa Leo do a bit more than she usually gets to work with as she interrogates Schack. We also get to see some good work from Michelle Forbes and Max Perlich on stuff that isn’t strictly speaking case related—for example Cox is still reeling from the death of her father nearly three months ago. We also get a very creepy performance from Neil Patrick Harris as Alan Schack, even though he bears more than a passing resemblance to Elijah Wood’s character in ‘The True Test’. And more than that we see how Luther Mahoney continues to destroy lives even when he isn’t involved. The bomber turns out to be Roh’s son, angry at his father’s killer getting off. However, instead of going after the men responsible—the shooter and Mahoney, he goes after the people in the system that failed him. Had he gone after Mahoney right away instead of saving him for last, his vengeance might have been more understandable and acceptable. (Conjecture is pointless, but one wonders how the next season would have proceeded if Ben Roh had killed Mahoney)
But the most critical thing going on surrounds Frank Pembleton, even though he is not working on either of the cases. Apparently giving in to his wife’s concerns, he agrees to see a marriage counselor. Once there, however, he is incredibly hostile to the therapist’s questions about their sex life and more surprisingly, almost angry at Mary for having problems now. Mary claims that Frank has been detached from her and Olivia since even before the stroke as well as claiming that Frank’s accelerating his recovery for his job’s sake more than his family’s—a claim which probably is true. Frank is aware that he is walking on thin ice with Mary but he apparently doesn’t see the danger until he makes one last blunder. After reluctantly agreeing to have Olivia baptized (he is still hostile to the church and God) he then proceeds to miss the ceremony because he was working a case. This is the final straw and Mary leaves Baltimore for her parents, taking Olivia with him. In a rather shocking indictment Mary claims that Frank cares more about dead strangers than his own family, and even though Frank denies it, we can almost believe it. The pain on Braugher’s face when he hears this from his wife is so apparent that the viewers heart aches. Frank, who has gotten back so much, has now suffered a far harsher loss than anything he has before. And this one, like the stroke, will take a lot to recover from. Not until Frank acknowledges that he is a husband and father first, and a detective second will reconciliation be possible.
There’s not a lot of love going on during ‘Valentine’s Day’, is there? In addition to the separation of the Pembletons, Cox and Kellerman are still dealing with a rocky romance, and Meldrick’s marriage, though supposedly improving, will take a huge downturn soon. (This is the last episode we see Barbara Lewis, though they will not divorce until the beginning of Season Seven). The time lapses of the episode hurt the overall realism of the show and the actually cases are not as interesting as they usually are. The insights into Frank and Juliana are good, but not as deep as usual. So the overall impression one gets off the episode is just average television and not quite as good as the standard Homicide.