Homicide: Life on the Street - Three Men and Adena

Now, I won't go too much into Homicide: Life on the Street in general, other than to say that the gritty realism and the memorable characters make it my favorite cop series, that was completely unlike everything else that is on television these days. You won't find any macho characters here, car chases, repulsively cheesy one-liners followed by Roger Daltrey's shriek, or any other cliches that cop shows usually do. This is the closest that one network television show got to picture a working day of a homicide detective – most of the cases in its first two seasons were based on real events, documented and collected by Baltimore (where the series takes place) reporter David Simon, who subsequently wrote Homicide: Life on the Streets, the book on which the series is based.

Three Men and Adena is the 6th episode of the first season of the show, and arguably its most famous and for sure, one of its best. It was awarded with an Emmy for writing (well... looks like these American award shows can sometimes rightfully choose the winner; but don't worry, it is still an exception that proves the rule). It presents the culmination of the main story arc of the first season – the violent murder of Adena Watson, an 11-year old girl. Fate had decided that this dark and disturbing matter was the first homicide case for rookie detective Tim Bayliss, played by Kyle Secor. The Adena Watson case is indeed based on the real Baltimore murder of a 5-year old girl called LaTonya Wallace. The basic plotline of the episode is simple – Bayliss has to, together with his partner, the brilliant but arrogant Frank Pembleton, played to perfection by Andre Braugher, get a confession from their chief suspect in the case – a mysterious „arabber“ (arabbers were specific for Baltimore – they're not Arabs, as the name would suggest, but door-to-door vegetable and fruit salesmen). They have 12 hours to get the confession out of the arabber, if not, the incriminating evidence is not substantial and they will have to drop the case.

About 90% of the episode is happening in one room and one room only – the notorious „Box“, where the interrogations of the suspects are always taking place, and where the mindgame between Pembleton, Bayliss and the arabber is going on for 40 minutes. The claustrophobic feel of the episode is complimented by inventive camera work and great direction by Martin Campbell, the same guy who'll end up rebooting the James Bond franchise two times, namely GoldenEye and Casino Royale. But in the end, it's all about the „three men“ – these performances by Braugher, Secor and the veteran actor Moses Gunn, who plays the arabber, are definitely some of the best you could have seen on television. The terrific chemistry between the two partners – Pembleton and Bayliss, whose partnership presents the heart of the show, is brought here to perfection. Their subtle good cop, bad cop routine (Bayliss is the sensitive, inexperinced one, who is taking the case very personally, thus openly expressing his contempt for the arabber, exploding in anger in one of the episode's more memorable sequences; Pembleton on the other hand, an experienced, well-educated interrogator, is going down another path; he tries to bond personally with the arabber, playing the „good cop“ routine, trying to make him more open and honest). There are moments of disagreement between the partners, even fighting, but in the episode's highlight - the way they are almost telepathically cooperating in their pressure of the suspect – completing each other's sentences, creating a complete mindfuck for the good old arabber who is, because of this pressure, not even sure whether he did the murder or not. This alone offers a great moral grayness to the quite unethical way of the confession process – even somebody innocent could succumb, crack and confess a murder under these circumstances. This is only one piece of the moral and character complexity these 45 minutes have to offer. There are racial undertones, and in one intense and surprising twist – the arabber becomes „the hunter“, so to speak, quite accurately guessing both Pembleton and Bayliss' weaknesses, practically drawing them into a corner. Kudos to Moses Gunn, in his final performance, creating a morally ambivalent character, by keeping the balance and not letting Secor and especially Braugher to take the spotlight away. There are even some moments of humour in an otherwise very dark and bleak episode (complimented by an ominous, subtle synth soundtrack). Anyways, a must-see for anyone who's in for a good television hour, which is an understatement – Three Men and Adena is easily one of the best hours American television had to offer.

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