H:LOTS – S05E19 – “Deception”
“Deception” is the episode. It is the most debated, loved and loathed by fans and critics alike. It signals the beginning of the end for Det. Kellerman and the partnership between Kellerman and Lewis. It all starts with the discovery of a dead drug courier in a cheap motel room and ends with officer involved shooting and subsequent death of Luther Mahoney.
Lewis’ chilling monologue before he gives Mahoney the straight beat down:
“Never put an ass-whooping on a man unless you’re damn sure he got it coming to him. I’m going to be beating on you for a little while. I’ve been a cop for a long time. And drugs out there, we’re never gonna win that. There’s a hundred open-air drug markets in this city and 50,000 drug fiends out there. And we are taking on human desires with lawyers and jailhouses and lockups and you and I both know human desire is kicking us in the ass. So what I need to know, Luther, is why you couldn’t be happy with just the package. If you were just slinging drugs maybe you and I wouldn’t be here. But the bodies. What about the bodies? What is up with that?”
I have never known how to process this fantastic episode. On one hand, “Deception” is Homicide: Life on the Street at its most chilling best. On the other hand, the Luther Mahoney story arc, particularly how it went down for Stivers (Toni Lewis) and Kellerman has always bugged me. Kellerman shot Mahoney; that’s not in dispute. And for the record, I believe the shoot was dirtier than a bag of old gym socks. However, Kellerman got an unfair amount of the blame, given he took control of the situation once he got to the scene. A scene, that ultimately started by Lewis’ kicked in window tantrum and mad dash over to Mahoney’s posh digs. Had Lewis not gone over to Mahoney’s all rowdy and basically beat the shit out of him, despite Mahoney not be armed and REPEATEDLY staying such, Kellerman and Stivers would not have needed to race after Lewis, where they found Mahoney pointing a gun at him. What they didn’t know or care to know was that Lewis had savagely kicked and beaten Mahoney and at that point, Mahoney felt he was defending himself. While it’s true all three detectives had witnessed Mahoney go off on one of his employees – resulting in the death of both the employee and an innocent bystander – Lewis could have easily demanded uniform officers accompany him to the scene, instead of going up there all John McClaine style.
The acting in this taut, unflinching episode is pitch perfect. Big ups to Clark Johnson and Eric Dellums who portray Det. Lewis and Luther Mahoney respectively. Here’s what I said about Dellums portrayal of Mahoney:
“Take your best shot.” says the pocket sized, angel faced pistol packing mama. Det. Lewis (I know it’s confusing, Toni Lewis is the actor and Meldrick Lewis is Clark Johnson) backs down and the two have the first of many strategy meetings about the terminal pain in the ass, smug drug dealing Luther Mahoney – played with aplomb by Ivy League educated actor Erik Dellums, whom Wire fans will recognize as a medical examiner. Luther Mahoney is one of the most intriguing television drug dealers ever and much of the credit belongs to Dellums who always seems to find the right facial expression and intonation. Dellums plays the flamboyant Mahoney with nuance, infusing him with a cheekiness and eschewing tropes and cartoonishness. Mahoney is erudite, holding the camera’s attention with his perpetual half smile and droll delivery.
And because I’m such a nice person, I won’t even spoil the delicious case that has Munch running all over town, annoying Gee and Howard and digging up a parking lot at a racetrack!