H:LOTS – S6E01/02/03 – “Blood Ties”
“Blood Ties”, the three part season six opener, which could have easily been titled “C’mon, rich black people!” steers H:LOTS examination of race and power in a new direction: all the way to Huxtabletown! It wasn’t enough to show black folk styled to the hilt receiving awards and being extra fancy. Oh no. Our intrepid team of writers and producers wanted to make sure the affluence was loud enough for the cheap seats to hear it. Naturally this required the sort of anvilicious casting usually reserved for a TV movie event broadcast during Black History Month! Sadly, H:LOTS had already cast such blacting luminaries as Joe Morton, Mario Van Peebles, Alfre Woodard (later in season 6), Hazelle Goodman, Moses Gunn, Charles S Dutton and whatever others I forgot.
Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together for Mufasa, Chief from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and the chocolate dipped answer to Gary Oldman – Jeffrey Wright. If Idris is too sexy, Danny’s too old, Morgan too busy, Will too goofy and Wesley too ‘hood, Jeffrey Wright is apparently the guy. Wright stars as the son of a prominent Baltimore black family who finds himself embroiled in the investigation of a family employee who is found murdered in the men’s bathroom of the fancy hotel where Mufasa is being honored at a gala dinner.
Before we can talk about this trio of episodes in depth, let’s discuss casting changes. Out with Det. Howard and everyone’s favorite wannabe documentary filmmaker Brodie and in with Det. Ballard (Callie Thorne), Det. Gharty and the terminally polarizing Det. Falzone. The introduction of this trio of characters – most of whom were not particularly beloved by long time H:LOTS fans – was handled as well as any of the previous disruptive casting changes.
Compared to season seven, these casting changes seem downright inspired. Hey, at least the first shots of the season are of fan faves Pembleton and Bayliss. It softens the blow of their rotation out of robbery homecoming, which is decidedly cooler than they anticipated. Upon entering the squad room, Pembleton and Bayliss are greeted by Gee who is all smiles as he boasts clearance rates higher than they’ve been in the last five years. All thanks to Ballard. What’s that singeing smell? Is that Frank’s pride?
Speaking of pride, there’s trouble brewing for Mufasa’s! The elements making “Blood Ties” fantastic also make it uncomfortable: namely its unflinching examination of race, class and black male sexuality. Felix and Hal (James Earl Jones and Jeffrey Wright respectively) are both implicated in the death of the Melia Brierre, which makes sense given they both had romantic feelings for her. Though, it is revealed only Felix acted on those feelings. Further complicating matters is Pembleton’s preferential treatment of the Wilsons despite it being increasingly clear no such treatment is warranted. Racial tensions turn detectives against one another as they seem unwilling to consider the possibility they are viewing the case through a racially biased lens.
For Ballard and Gharty, Felix and Hal are the most likely suspects and in their defense, the evidence does support their theory. However, their lack of nuance with regard to the way race and class intersect means each brings a lot bigotry to table. Conversely, Pembleton seems unwilling to entertain the notion the Wilsons might be involved in Brierre’s death, which causes him to devalue viable leads that point towards the Wilsons’ guilt. Considering how doggedly Pembleton searches for the truth, regardless of what it might reveal, his behavior results in some costly mistakes. Namely, the Wilsons – who are guilty as HELL, by the way – are able to flee Balitmore and avoid prosecution. Thanks, FRANK!
Despite the meaty subject matter of the Wilsons’ story arc, for some inexplicable reason, the writers sought to toss in some B and C plots deserving exploration in their own right. Lewis has another auto related mishap. The good news: it wasn’t his fault. The bad news: someone shot out the back window of his unmarked patrol car. The even badder news: Someone wants him, Kellerman and Stivers dead. The even worse news: Falzone just happened to be with Lewis when it happens and is slowing figuring out its connection to the Luther Mahoney shooting of season five.
Poor Munch! Once again, standing over another partner shot in the line of duty. In fact, they were just dishing the topics moments before someone – okay, Mekhi Phifer – shoots Kellerman in the arm, foreshadowing events of the season finale!
Things are going from bad to worse for Kellerman. Sadly, this is the beginning of the end of the glorious partnership that was Lewis & Kellerman. I have so many feelings. I think one of the reasons I’ve resisted finishing these recaps was I didn’t want to revisit so many of the gut wrenching story arcs, the characters going bad places and of course, some flat out unsatisfying episodes. While there are a few bright spots of season six – HELLO, SECOR IN GLASSES – at times season six is devoid of some of what made H:LOTS appointment television for me back in the day.