Written by Noel Behn
Directed by Martin Campbell
In television shows, just as in life there are seminal events for characters---things that will change them forever. Few moments on television have helped define a character as the murder of Adena Watson would to Tim Bayliss. From the teaser where he circles the corpse looking for something that he had missed to the end sequence where he stands over Adena’s body at her funeral, we see a man who is trying to lead a coherent and successful hunt for her murderer while not being overwhelmed by the bosses, by the media, but mostly by the tragedy of the girls death. He can’t quite manage the latter, and it affects his ability to do the former.
Kyle Secor dominates the episode as he would dominate most of the shows first season. He does not overact; on the contrary he understates everything. He is clearly tormented by the image of this dead girl, but his frustration almost never emerges. For histrionics, Secor was the equal of Andre Braugher but he never got the recognition that he deserved. This is because of his brilliance at not playing the high notes.
Yet Tim Bayliss is not the entire show. We only got the bare essence of Lieutenant Giardello’s character in the Pilot; now we get to see more of how he will work. He gently and tactfully leads Bayliss through the investigation without usurping his authority. We also see how he will defend his detectives against the brass; when the higher-ups demand that he be replaced with a more experienced detective, he defends him and expresses confidence. At the same time, we see that there is a fierceness and anger to the man. In one of the episode’s high points, Giardello tries to tell Bayliss to get the lead out, to which Bayliss, clearly gasping for air, yells he doesn’t have a desk. In one swift motion, Giardello sweeps the papers and piles off another detectives workstation with the simple phrase: “There’s your desk.” Giardello isn’t like many of the bosses we see on police shows, and this episode demonstrates how.
We also see more insight into some of the other detectives. We see Stanley Bolander angrily defending a man’s death as neglect to a Medical Examiner and then trying to find the courage to ask her out.. We learn about the dogged determination that Kay Howard has towards finding justice. It is not enough for her to arrest the guilty parties; they must also go to prison (as we learn, the two terms are not exclusive) we also see her superstitious nature. We see Beau Felton’s crude behavior matched with some genuine sweetness and detective work. And there is Frank Pembleton. More than the bosses, he is critical of how the Watson case is being handled and whatever chances of success that this case be closed seem to be diminishing by the hour. There is a certain amount of condescension to the rookie Bayliss that will be present throughout their relationship.
In addition to the major characters, several minor characters whose importance to the series will be critical appear. These characters fall into four groups.
First, there are the non-detectives who are trying to help with the investigations. These include the patrolmen like Chris Thormann who answer complaints and the medical examiners . Because of the nature of the job, a medical examiner will be appearing on almost every episode. We also visit the morgue for the first time and are introduced to the first M.E., Carol Blythe. Some of the M.E’s will be brilliant, some merely capable but everyone hangs on their every word.
Then there are ‘the bosses’, represented by Colonel Granger and Captain Barnfather. In public, they will back their detectives; in private they will criticize them. They will also depend ‘demonstrations of force’, such as (in this episode) having a bus of police go every inch of the three blocks around the crime scene, things that don’t help the investigative process but look good on TV. We will also see how they will become known for craven and selfish leadership while being condescending to the rank and file. It’s small wonder that those in power at the Baltimore P.D, didn’t like Homicide; this is not a flattering picture.
Then there is the law, represented by Ed Danvers. Danvers is the complete antithesis of the take-no-prisoners attitude of other TV attorneys such as Ben Stone and Jack McCoy on Law and Order or Helen Gamble on The Practice. Rather then being eager to go into a courtroom, Danvers and his like will be more likely to work out pleas and cut deals. Danvers will appear in almost a quarter of the shows episodes yet we would see him in a courtroom less than a dozen times. Danvers is also not fiery like many attorneys, he seems worn down and depressed by his job--- which is how many big city prosecutors must feel at times. Zeljko Ivanek is good at playing the everyman (he had not yet gone into the villainous side of his career) and Danvers would be the key example of it.
Finally, there is the media. We meet the first of a series of newspeople descending on the case like they do all sensational or important crimes. We will eventually see three of them, but their presence will play a vital part in almost every investigation
The character development and introductions alone would make this a great episode. But we get much more. We see how the detectives in Homicide investigated ‘red balls’ (the classification for important cases); they are focusing all their energy on it; but death doesn’t stop; other cases like those of Thomas Doohen and Agnes Saunders play a part as well. This is vastly different from other cop shows where the entire squad would investigate a single case. The investigation process is also extremely close to the Latonya Wallace murder that formed the backbone of Simon’s book, from a mistake in the moving of the body, to the dead girls stomach contents to the investigation of the suspect.
who turns out to be a false lead. And for all the death in this episode, ‘Ghost of a Chance’ is very funny at times. Part of the humor comes from Bolander’s pathetic attempts to woo Dr. Blythe or Howard’s belief that the ghost of Agnes Saunders told her where the murder weapon was. But a lot of it comes from the crimes themselves. The marriage of the Doohen’s seems to be a big joke (with Mrs. Doohen’s explanation as to why they didn’t divorce as the punch line) and the fact that they are called twice to the same address for the same murder. Crosetti and Lewis’ reaction to Howard’s superstition. Add to this Bolander’s sexual complaints and Munch’s intervention and you have comedy about love and death in ways you wouldn’t expect.
Finally, for all the self-contained storylines that the average episode of Homicide included, ‘Ghost of A Chance’ would serve as a fine introduction to the series if you had missed the first episode. By the time, it’s over you feel like you know all the characters, and, like Tim Bayliss, are haunted by some of the things you have seen.