Written by Tom Fontana
Directed by Nick Gomez
What strikes you almost immediately within the first few minutes of the series premiere, are the changes. It's not just that the squadroom has a new paint job, or that the interrogation room has been completely remodeled. It's that many of the leads, even those we've known for only a season, are acting completely out of character. So much so that even the characters themselves notice it.
The most obvious change, and by far the hardest to take, is that of Bayliss. For six seasons, he has been the true north of Homicide, our way into unit, and its conscience. Considering the dual whammy of nearly dying in last season's finale, and the departure of Frank Pembleton, one can only expect that he would be reeling from the loss. Instead, his Zen approach to everything appears to be not a realistic reaction to what ever life-changing events have happened, but rather a chance to rewrite Bayliss. This seems particularly odd, considering that Tom Fontana is writing the first episode.
This would be a jarring change in itself, but Tim is only the most obvious case of what's going on here. First, there's the new detective to the unit, Renee Sheppard, late from the fugitive squad. Now, I'm not one of the people who thought that Michael Michele, like Jon Seda, was another horrible character. While initially seeming like one of those 'beautiful people' that Fontana said he'd initially never write into the series, Michele was actually a better actress than this, and throughout the season would actually seem to have more range than that.
, however, does her character no favors by
having both Falsone and Meldrick all but throw themselves at her throughout the
episode. For six years, the writers have stayed away from the cliches that even
David Milch would fall prey to on NYPD
Blue of having two detectives from the same shift have any kind of
relationship. Now, maybe trying to get to the attention that those higher rated
series got, they seem to be determined to do it. They even sweeten the pot by
having Renee be a beauty pageant winner. It's pat and its cheap and its
everything Homicide wasn't. Fontana
And it gets worse! Now, Ballard who apparently worked an entire year alongside Falsone without having any attraction to him at all is now trying to throw herself at him. Considering that the two haven't had, or ever will have, any real chemistry, it boggles the mind that the writers would go down this route either.
Honestly, with all the talk about the squadroom and the misfiring hormones, one wishes they'd get back to working old-fashioned murders. But even here, the series stumbles. It's not that the murders themselves are just more gruesome than the ones we usually get on this show, its that, for the first time, they're being tagged to someone on the squad. This is something that was old-fashioned in the days of Quinn Martin. What gives the episode its saving grace is that its tied to Al Giardello, who we only occasionally get ties to anything remotely resembling a backstory. One of the few things that the series will do right in its final year is give some more insight into the life of Al.
It stumbles a little here, too. Al's son, who has not even been mentioned on the series, shows up from Arizona, when its revealed that the third victim is one of Al's cousins. It's a shabby way to introduce a new character, but what saves it is the presence of Giancarlo Esposito as Mike. From the moment he shows up, we sense the coldness and bitterness between the two. We've gotten bits and pieces at how bad Al's family life has been ever since his wife died, but now we see the results, and they aren't pretty. When Mike wants to look into his cousin's murder, he goes first not to his father, but to Falsone. When Al learns of his sons involvement, his anger is probably not just motivated by the involvement of an outside agency, but by the fact that his son has learned a secret that he never wanted to tell.
The actual investigation is kind of second-hand for the series as well - the three murdered men were involved in putting away a mobster for twenty-five years, and when he gets out of prison, he seeks revenge - the twist being, that because he had brain damage, his family has carried it out. But at least, there's still an element of the old-fashioned Homicide as well. With no confessions from the suspects, and blood from only two of the victims on the weapons,
agrees to try the family for only two of the three murders. Gee
agrees to this, even though it means his cousins name will be in red forever. Danvers
As is the case with all season premieres, La Famigilia has too much going on to quickly absorb. In addition to all this, Meldrick is finally getting divorced, it looks like Gharty is heading in the same direction, and Munch seems to be dating Billie Lou, the Waterfront bartender we met last season. (Unlike all the other romances going on, I don't consider this one out of character for the series; Munch has always been perpetually lovelorn, and when he falls in love, he tends to punch above his weight.) Its troublesome that so much of the episode seems to be building around a dance party, and seeing our detectives troll for dates like a senior prom, much less boogying on the dance floor, really seems like Fontana and the rest are finally listening to the network for more 'life-affirming moments'. It's the fact that Fontana chooses to have the episode close as the Giardello men have their first real conversation in more than a decade - where Al reveals how he, in his own way, is responsible for his cousin's death as anyone else, how much resentment Mike has towards his father, and how the two of them take the smallest possible steps towards reconciliation - that ring far truer than anything we've seen the detectives do in this episode.
This episode probably isolated a lot of the fans who had stuck with for six years, and even the ones who were still defending couldn't have been thrilled in the evolution - Clark Johnson started the series partnered with Jon Polito, who looked like the typical detective, and is now working with someone who looks like the network's idea of a detective. And while there are good moments, the seeds of what Season 7 will look like are more present in the bad ones, and will continue to sprout throughout the first half.
My score:2.75 stars.