Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 5 Episode 15

Wu's on First?

Aired Friday 10:00 PM Feb 07, 1997 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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out of 10
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  • Isn't on a first, but a solid hit

    If we needed any more proof that Frank Pembleton was back to his old self, we get a very clear illustration of it in the teaser of ‘Wu’s On First?’. Frank is in the middle of leading the investigation into the murder of a Calvert County cop and the new crime beat reporter Elizabeth Wu starts asking leading questions about the dead policeman and the crime scene. Frank (who’s probably been pissed at the media since Annabella Wilgis manipulated them to her benefit in season 3) treats her like he would a parasite even though, like him, she is just doing her job.

    Unlike most of the other media Wu has a very aggressive attitude and approach to that of the Homicide detectives she reports on. Indeed, her job is very similar to that of the detectives --- interviewing witnesses, checking their stories, using whatever tricks she can to stay ahead of her rivals (as we see in a memorable bit involving her and a TV reporter), struggling with bosses who care more for image than reality, all while trying to get to the truth of the incident. In many ways Wu is very similar to Frank, which explains why he is so hostile to her and why Giardello is so admiring of her efforts.

    Unfortunately for Wu, she is as capable to be used by people as anyone else. Her initial story is that of a good cop becoming another victim of the drug wars; it turns out that the cop got shot because he was buying drugs. Her next story involves a source who claims that the killer acted in self-defense. Unfortunately, the source turns out to be the killer. Adding to her humiliation Colonel Barnfather is pissed for being, well, a good reporter so he publicly embarrasses her at a minor press conference. As a result of these manipulations, her editor throws her off the police beat even though nothing that’s gone wrong is her fault.

    Joan Chen provides energy and spunk in her work as Wu. There are a lot of potentially interesting elements about her character and her job that give us insight into a very different angle on the Baltimore homicide. NBC announced that she would become a recurring character but Chen never appeared again on the series. Its rather a shame, because Wu was a much more interesting character with a much clearer detail into the media then we got from Brodie, to name the most obvious example.

    But Elizabeth Wu isn’t the only person in this episode who is having a bad day. Mike Kellerman has spent the last couple of days on vacation trying to recover from the enormous tension and depression he’s had over the last few weeks. Suddenly, his family pays him a visit, in the form of his older brothers Drew and Greg. Mike has never mentioned his brothers to his partner or anyone else and we quickly find out why.

    Drew and Greg are incredible lowlifes, convicted of nearly a dozen felonies between them. No one in the family has heard from them in three years and the only reason they have resurfaced now is because they are trouble. Drew owes a large sum of money to a bookie and in order to pay off the debts Greg has come up with the idea of stealing Babe Ruth’s uniform from another bookie, planning to pay him off with the sales of that theft. Now the two brothers are on the run from both bookies and show absolutely no compunction about letting Mike get in as deep as them.

    We get an enormous amount of insight into Mike from his relationship with Greg and Drew. Mike is the ‘good’ brother of the family and the other two have always resented them for that. We learn very quickly that both brothers have no real moral center at all, with no signs of remorse or guilt about bringing their brother in on this impossible scheme. But they have enormous power over him, even now. When Drew and Greg say that they want to see a dead body, Mike takes them to the morgue where they make even bigger asses of themselves, if possible. They express perfunctory concern when Mike tells them his life sucks but they clearly don’t want to hear the details. They feel (and quite rightly as we see they visit their parents) that the family has basically disowned them and that Mike will always do what they ask of him because that’s who HE is.

    Eric Stoltz and Tate Donovan are two well-versed character actors who were at the time of this episode just beginning to work in television. They have a clear affinity with Reed Diamond ever since the three actors were cast in the film Memphis Belle in 1990.There is a very clear sign of a bond between all three characters, even though Mike seems flustered and irritated by their behavior. (This was in part intentional; Stoltz and Donovan improvised a lot of their dialogue to keep Diamond off-balance). We get a lot of insight into Mike especially when both brothers reveal Mike’s desire since childhood to be a cop as well as his determination to be a white hat for nearly as long. We also see how Mike loses some of his morality when he’s around his brothers.

    ‘Wu’s on First?’ is a well written character driven episode, whose main drawback is that most of the characters don’t have much to directly do with Homicide. What we gathering is from observation of other people’s actions. Gee’s admiration toward Wu’s aggressiveness, Pembleton’s disdain of her and Bayliss’ flitting between these two extremes based on what he reads in the paper. We see Lewis’ concern for his partners well-being when he learns of Drew and Greg’s criminal records and Dr. Cox’s alarm and anger at them for showing up at her morgue.

    In a sense this episode is taking at a look at the police from a completely different point of view, like it did in ‘Heart of a Saturday Night’ and ‘Blood Wedding’. The overall effect, however, is one of amusement rather than grief. It’s a good enough episode and it shows some very good work from the three guest stars but after it’s finished your glad that this isn’t something the writers do very often.
    My score: 8.3