The fifth season of Homicide saw tragedy strike every single member of the squad, making for the series' darkest, most introspective year. The two hardest hit were Frank Pembleton and Mike Kellerman. Pembleton, who was felled by a stroke in the previous season's finale and spends the first half of the fifth season regaining his basic ability to write, talk and move properly, also struggles to regain his top-notch investigative prowess in the box solving murder cases. But just when things return to normal for him on the job, his marriage falls apart at home ("Valentine's Day.") Andre Braugher's portrayal of a recovering Pembleton proves him to be one of the finest dramatic actors on television during Homicide's run. Meanwhile, Kellerman finds himself grounded when he is the target of a police corruption investigation stemming from his time in the Arson unit ("Bad Medicine.") To make matters worse, Kellerman finds himself facing his old drug lord nemesis Luther Mahoney, who keeps slipping through his grasp again and again. These events drive Kellerman to a suicidal night on his boat ("Have a Conscience") and ultimately, to a violent confrontation with Mahoney ("Deception") that will reap consequences for Kellerman throughout the following season.
The other members of the Homicide unit have their share of problems as well. Lewis' surprise marriage is also in trouble and he finds himself tempted by a female cop (Teri Styvers) assigned to help him nail Mahoney ("Control.") Bayliss finds himself struggling with demons from his past when he works yet another child murder ("Betrayal.") This case ultimately leads Bayliss to drop Pembleton as his partner, destroying the strongest relationship in the squad. Munch must face his past as well when he works the brutal murder of his old high school crush, leading him back to his Jewish faith ("Kaddish.") Also, the new Medical Examiner Juliana Cox (Michelle Forbes) meets with tragedy in her very first episode when she loses her father to a long illness ("M.E., Myself and I.") Even recurring D.A. Ed Danvers (Zeljko Ivanek) watches his fiancé get shot down during a botched robbery in a bridal shop ("Blood Wedding.") SGT. Kay Howard nearly escapes tragedy, but in the heartbreaking season finale ("Partners and Other Strangers"), she finds herself solving the murder of her old partner, Beau Felton (Seasons 1-3.) This two-part closer would see the return of former cast members Daniel Baldwin and Isabella Hofmann, as well as future cast regulars Jon Seda and Peter Gerety.
Some fans felt the show began to decline at this point in the series, but the personal drama does not intrude on Homicide's basic formula of success. In some ways, it helps to enrich the characters that made the show so special. We are treated to intense interrogations, gritty realism and unexpected twists. A particularly noteworthy episode is, "The Documentary," in which crime scene videographer Brodie pays homage to the cops that speak for the dead. His documentary went on to win a fictional Emmy and would be his reason for leaving the show at the end of the fifth season, along with Kay Howard. Other noteworthy episodes include "Prison Riot," a foreshadowing of Tom Fontana's bloody HBO prison saga, Oz. Also, "Double Blind," "The Heart of a Saturday Night," and the two-part premier, "Hostage."
As always, the video presentation is superior to VHS and the scenes are a bit less gritty since Homicide's first two seasons. I was glad to see that A&E took care to present the episodes in chronological order, since many story arks run throughout multiple episodes. I was also glad that they finally included the previouslies, even though they are separate from the episodes. The commentaries by David Simon and others are always interesting. I do have to blast A&E for not including song lists in this package. The music is an important part of the series and if they did it before, they should stay consistent. Still, its good drama and definitely worth adding to your collection.
*Prison Riot (guest star Charles S. Dutton)
*M.E., Myself and I
*The Heart of a Saturday Night (guest star Rosanna Arquette)
*The True Test (guest star Elijah Wood)
*Have a Conscience
*Woo's On First
*Partners and Other Strangers 1 (guest star Daniel Baldwin)
*Strangers and Other Partners 2 (guest star Isabella Hofmann)