Originally published in the May 14, 1998 issue of The Avenue Papers, Baltimore
The Hell's Angel staggers to the bar, demanding another drink. The bartender refuses, observing that the big man has obviously had one too many. Violence is threatened. "Gimme another drink!" the giant barks.
Just when the situation looks like it's going to get out of hand, another customer intervenes. The tall, blond man in his late 20s underscores the bartender's warning to leave.
"What're you?" the Hell's Angel spits. "A cop?"
"Yeah," the Samaritan replies, "I'm a cop!" He throws open his sports jacket to reveal his badge, but it is no longer there. As two real police officers lead the drunk away, the memory of a single gunshot echoes in his brain. So ended the saga of Mike Kellerman, easily the most trouble-plagued of all the characters on NBC's critically acclaimed drama "Homicide: Life on the Street."
For this "Homicide" fan, life on these streets won't be the same without "poor Mikey" to kick around when the show returns next fall. Andre Braugher got all the press for his final performance as Frank Pembleton in last week's 100th episode/season finale. But, for my money, Reed Diamond's Kellerman had the more powerful exit. Over a year ago, Mikey and his partner Meldrick Lewis (the similarly under-rated Clark Johnson) got the proof they needed to arrest notorious drug kingpin Luther Mahoney. Lewis, though, went a little overboard in giving Mahoney a well-deserved beatdown. In the scuffle, Luther grabbed Meldrick's gun and was about to kill him.
"Drop it, Luther!" Kellerman ordered, arriving just in the nick of time with fellow Detective Stivers.
Mahoney did lower the weapon, but then he started to taunt Mike. He started to laugh at him. This, after all, was the smooth criminal who had eluded police time and again. He had judges, cops, half the city on his payroll. Who's to say these new charges would stick? "What are you gonna do, Detective?" Luther smirked, "Read me my rights?"
Kellerman stiffened up. "You have the right to remain silent," he replied solemnly. A moment later, Mikey squeezed the trigger. "Homicide" hasn't been the same since.
The Kellerman character gave the show a sexy, new look at the beginning of the 1995-96 season, following the departures of Daniel Baldwin and Ned Beatty. Die-hard fans were worried that the good-looking new guy would "pretty up" the decidedly un-glamorous series. After all, this was the show that employed Richard Belzer AND Yaphet Kotto (not to mention Jon Polito and Max Perlich. Yikes!)
Diamond, though, quickly found his niche as a rookie arson investigator turned homicide detective. Kellerman seemed to be more Baltimore than some of the other characters. He talked of O's games and sailing on the Bay. He lived on a boat down at the Harbor. But this was a troubled lad. He never could hold his liquor. Charges of bribery followed him to the Homicide unit, and he was often saddled with desk duty. The case against him had barely been dismissed when the Mahoney shooting cropped up.
The guilt of that fateful day with Luther and the subsequent cover-up were too much for Mikey to handle. His relationship with girlfriend Julianna and his partnership with Meldrick crumbled. Then, the greasy Detective Falsone began asking questions about Luther's suspicious killing. Soon after, Mahoney's sister began seeking revenge on Mike and the rest of the police, eventually plunging the city into an all-out drug war.
This sixth season of "Homicide" has been among its most poignant and powerful, thanks largely to the selfless performance of Diamond. In Kellerman, Reed showed the gradual deterioration of an essentially good man whose one rash act could never be taken back. Most actors get a two-hour movie or a three-act play to show such a character arc. Diamond had an entire TV season! Reed instilled in the character a wounded arrogance that made you root for the guy. Mikey was going to be all right, we kept telling ourselves. This is TV! Ah, but it's "Homicide." Murder, baby! I'm gradually coming to learn that the Mike Kellerman storyline is going to affect me for many days to come, yet I don't know exactly why. Could it be that Mike was my favorite character on the show, and I'm mourning his disgraced departure? Sure, that's part of it. Is it the fact that so many fellow fans believe him to a bad cop and an evil guy? Yes, it is too bad that some have seen this solely in terms of black and white.
I think it's something deeper, more personal. A fear, even. Mike Kellerman was more real to me than the other characters on the show. Most of us do not have the intellectual tenacity of a Frank Pembleton or the sardonic detachment of a John Munch. We're more like Kellerman, simpler people who don't have what it takes to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Kellerman represents the fear in us all of getting involved in something larger than our own selves - of not being able to see past our own shortcomings. Some days, you get the bear. Other days, the bear gets you.
The bear finally got Mike Kellerman, forced to quit the police force or have he, Meldrick, and Stivers brought up on charges. Here's hoping he unhooks that boat of his and goes and finds his two crazy brothers (the ones who stole Babe Ruth's uniform in Season Five) in Miami or Key West or wherever they're raising Hell. You deserve some fun, Mikey!