Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Sublime to Ridiculous - Homicide Season 6 and V: The Series

During this credit crunch, where some of us lack jobs, you can use the free time to, if you're like me, try and write a novel, make an obscure film, and watch entire seasons of TV shows.

Let's start with the near great. Homicide Season 6 is the last great Season of Homicide. It was followed by an enjoyable yet patchy season 7, which I'll write about at another time. This was the drug war season, an escalating tale of revenge getting out of control following the questionable shooting of drug kingpin Luther Mahoney. Its about people compromising themselves to survive, the theme seeming to be about how people survive in hell.

In this season there were three new characters. Every year Homicide gains and loses characters. In the later years there was a large turn-around, not always for the best, as the characters became more like traditional TV characters and less like the confused strange types of the early seasons. This season was the transitional on that. What's angering in the progressive weakness of these changes is that is that the characters on Homicide were always the best part, more intriguing than plots. The Wire may be many great things but it's nowhere as complicated in character as Homicide at its best yet this is the season where Homicide started to lose its way. Three new characters were introduced, none of them quite working out, all looking a tad white-washed compared to the more established types. It was a writing problem mostly, writing becoming more broad-stroke and less specific to character failings and moments of honesty, arguments starting to state judgements and not as part of a character neuroses. The best new character was Ballard, a female cop from Seattle who was interestingly off but was never really developed beyond that slight oddness. That was frustrating as the character seemed to be very fresh at the start of the run. Gheraty was a older cop seen to be a coward and was stuck to type. He was enjoyable but not really necessary (unlike the Polito or Beatty characters from earlier seasons). Falsone was the most troubling character. He wasn't as annoying as some writers suggested at the time of airing but was meant to be the voice of justice, someone who knows that something is wrong within the unit, which doesn't work as the character is very unsubtle and never seems to grasp what is going on beyond the basics. Which might be the idea but its done gratingly and without an interesting tie to the main drama.

Luckily the wide canvass has enough passion to make up for this and has enough old-school characters to make up for the flaws. The situation set-up, of the drug war, created partially by actions by Detectives Kellerman and Lewis, is of a sin that destroys all around it, is powerful and is left to linger for an entire season before it explodes, in a police office shooting and all-out drug war that sees many police dead and careers ruined. It is wonderful. It allows you to see characters in detail, under pressure, sometimes not seemingly reacting but giving subtle indications of doubt, guilt, yearning for some kind of redemption or release. But they never get it. Kellerman is paranoid and cynical, tragically forced to be the opposite of what he once was a a man, almost begging to be caught out of his sin due to guilt which he can't acknowledge save cynicism that would have appalled his earlier self (whistling happy birthday to a corpse is the best one, in an episode where every Kellerman line is misanthropic genius). His actions indirectly lead to the shoot-out, as do Lewis', who uses police information, while on suspension, to spark a drug war. Kellerman is forced to resign, Lewis allowed to stay, even though Lewis' crimes following the original shooting, are actually far more extreme and troubling. Lewis' avoidance of responsibility and distance from his actions becomes one of the more haunting aspects of the story.

The other cops caught up in this mess is Pembleton, once the great, all-knowing judgemental super-cop who is slowly developing unwanted emotions on his cases, who is forced, in one of the show's all-time great scenes, to ruin Kellerman and get the confession, then watch the confession be covered up, have Lewis get away with all he's done, ruining Pembleton's faith in his job. What's terrific about this character arc is that Pembleton's pride is ruinous and unrealistic, is what destroys him, yet has noble aspects. Also oddly noble is the decision to hide the crime, the questionable shooting of a psychopathic drug dealer and killer in a truly messy set-up, as its a mess where nothing can be gained from more trauma's revealed. Revealing the crime would be destructive to the city and thus is necessary. It's a fascinating problem. During the final moments in this season, you find yourself on both Pembleton's and Kellerman's side. Its a tragic ruination of two complicated men.

The show never got better than this. They were other good episodes (such as Kellerman PI, which shows Kellerman out of the police, surviving) that were wonderful but the momentum was lost after this season. Essentially the firebrand characters were gone, leaving the calmer types, like Bayliss and Lewis, who came alive against the extreme characters like Pembleton and Kellerman (characters who could start a problem in an empty room). There was a lack of propulsion afterwards that no plot could really fill. The show never really had the spark to cause unwarranted trouble after this, which was the unpredictable life of the show. It was a show about the irrational under the supposedly rational investigations.

Now to the silly. V: The Series. Oh what a guilty pleasure. So many stupid plot actions (catching a killer by fingerprints when they are actually lizards in human masks and body coverings, Lizard brother of dead character recognised while human masked and then told you look like your brother, I wish I were making this up), insane alien rituals, an ability to kill off or write out any character played by someone with talent while keeping the uninteresting around. This is a show that writes out Michael Ironside, who keeps the first half of the season afloat, and keeps around Marc Singer (a man of a thousand strange moves during action scenes). This is a show that can be campier than Adam West's Batman when dealing with the psycho aliens, who wear human disguises even in private yet the entire world knows they are lizards. Everything they do with the aliens kill off any possible threat, as aliens are always easily defeated, are moronic at best. This is a show that changes what it is every two weeks, have people written in and out with bewildering speed, a show that has the crazy clone episode (a signifier of doom for any show) early in its first and only season. Yes, it's kind of depressing in how bad a lot of it is, especially as the mini-series aimed so high, yet is a lot of stupid, stupid fun. And the dialogue, oh the dialogue. I can't remember any of it but its all bad. Yes I watched all of them. (Link to Homicide is that Homicide fell only slightly, this is how bad it could have been)

So there we go. I am planning to write more another Homicide season, as well as The Wire. have promised that before but will try and actually do it this time.

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