Det. Francis Xavier "Frank" Pembleton
|First appearance||January 31, 1993
(1x01, "Gone for Goode")
|Last appearance||May 8, 1998
(6x23, Fallen Heroes (2)) (HLOTS)
February 13, 2000
Homicide: The Movie
|Created by||Tom Fontana|
|Portrayed by||Andre Braugher|
Homicide Detective (Formerly)
|Children||Olivia (daughter); Frank Jr. (son)|
Francis Xavier "Frank" Pembleton is a fictional homicide detective on the television drama series Homicide: Life on the Street portrayed by Emmy Award winning actor Andre Braugher. He is a primary character of the show through the first six seasons. Although the show featured an ensemble cast, Pembleton would become a fan favorite and is often identified by them as the show's signature character. He is based on Baltimore Police Department Detective Harry Edgerton, who, like Pembleton, was an eccentric New York bred African American detective in the BPD homicide unit featured in David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The character also appeared in the Law & Order episode "Charm City."
Pembleton was born into a Catholic family in New York City on July 1, 1961. It was implied that he had siblings, but they never appear on the show. He was educated first in a Catholic elementary school and then in a Jesuit high school, a reference to Braugher attending a Jesuit school, St. Ignatius College Prep, in Chicago. Frank later said that "the Jesuits taught me how to think," which comes up on the show from time to time. He knows Latin and Greek and is well versed in Catholic theology. He met his future wife, Mary, on the Great Lawn in Central Park shortly after graduating from the Police academy when he was 24. He claims that he knew as soon as he met her that she was "the one." They were married in 1986.
In October 1988, Frank and Mary moved to Baltimore because Frank wanted to be a detective and felt there was no room for advancement in the NYPD. The move caused a permanent rift between him and his in-laws, since he had moved "their little girl" so far from home. He loved working in Baltimore, however, and Mary got a job as a lobbyist and often took trips to Washington, D.C. where her family lives.
He had become a homicide detective by 1989.
Frank and Mary, once settled in their careers, decided to have a family. They were forced to see a variety of fertility specialists before Mary was able to become pregnant. They had two children, a daughter Olivia (born 1996) and a son, Frank, Jr.
Frank was the only detective to maintain a marriage — the others either never married, had their spouses die, or got divorced. Frank and Mary's did go through some rough times, owing to Frank's incredible drive for work. Even after marriage counseling, Mary felt that he had become too detached from his family. She was also bothered when he lost his faith, especially when he denied Olivia a baptism for many months. Mary left for a couple of months while pregnant with Frank, Jr. but eventually came back. She was happy that he quit the force in the Season 6 finale.
From the first episode right through to the movie finale, references are made to Pembleton's reputation as a "legend" in terms of his skills as a detective; he is especially skilled in interrogation, and is depicted as a master of getting confessions from suspects in "the Box." Pembleton retires from the force after his partner, Det. Bayliss, takes a bullet for him, but two years later, Bayliss and Pembleton (who is now working as a college professor) both come out of retirement to help solve the murder of their former lieutenant, Al Giardello. After the case is solved, Pembleton inadvertently "solves" one final case when Bayliss confesses to murdering serial killer Luke Ryland.
Pembleton and Bayliss
When Det. Tim Bayliss is assigned to the homicide unit, Lieutenant Giardello partnered him with Pembleton, who had no patience for a rookie. They were partners for most of the series, though Frank never allowed Tim to get too close. Although Bayliss had great respect for Frank, to the point of calling Frank his best friend, Pembleton was often dismissive of Bayliss' attempts at friendship.
Their partnership was strained when Pembleton investigated the accidental shooting of a foreign exchange student by Tim's cousin, Jim (portrayed by David Morse). Pembleton was convinced that Jim, if only in the few seconds before the shot was fired, was motivated by racism. Pembleton investigates the case vigorously, and is outraged when Jim is acquitted.
In the fourth season finale, Frank suffers a stroke while interrogating a suspect, and nearly dies. When he returns to duty, his speech and memory have been noticeably impaired. He is assigned desk duty until he passes his firearms exam, and is frustrated when others baby him. When his blood pressure medication impairs his focus, he takes the risk of flushing it.
The effects of Pembleton's stroke rapidly diminish over the course of the fifth season, mostly due to pressure from NBC who felt that Pembleton's halting delivery and memory lapses made his character difficult to watch. By the middle of the season, only a slight occasional stammer remains; by sixth season, the effects of Pembleton's stroke seem to have been almost magically eradicated.