When an old friend he owes asks him for help, Huggy is dragged back into a past he thought he’d escaped.
JT Washington: Richard Ward, Big Red: Roger E Mosley, Dolphin: Royce D Applegate, Boseman: Lee Weaver, Cora Lee: Francesca Roberts, Junior: Bryan O’Dell, Newsboy: Al “Jocko” Fann, Lonnette: Candy Mobley. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh and Rick Edelstein, Directed By: David Soul
QUESTIONS AND NOTES:
It’s another nice direction job by Soul, who often employs a crane-mounted camera to give us a bird’s eye view of this busy, rather insular inner-city neighborhood. In this Huggy-centered episode, Antonio Fargas gives an elegant, understated performance, perhaps his best of the series. Always quirky and expressive, he plays this one quietly and thoughtfully, and it’s great to watch. Interestingly, this episode seems more realistic than many others we have seen lately, and not only because there is an absence of fashion shows, beautiful girls, or slick, upscale locations. Here, realism is in the mundane: the many ordinary people populating the street scenes, and lovely touches like Starsky and Hutch actually getting stranded in LA traffic.
The gravely-voiced JT Washington is played by Richard Ward, originally cast as Dobey in the pilot.
Of note is the lengthly scene between Starsky and the boy delivering papers. Played beautifully and naturally by Al Fann, the boy is remarkable for his world-weary cynicism, his gangster-in-the-making indifference to violence. It’s terrible to see a mix of innocence, intelligence and chilling ambition. “When I grow up I’m gonna have a super-fine ride and a stable of foxy ladies,” he tells Starsky, his mouth smeared with ice cream. “Delivering papers is a drag. Ain’t no future in it.” Here, Starsky’s affinity with children is put to good use: he shows respect, is never preachy or even much surprised by what he hears, later describing him to Hutch as “a thirty-year-old hustler in a ten-year-old body who conned me out of two fudgicles.” The lack of sanctimony and scripted boo-hooing is a hallmark of the series and particularly affecting here – we all know where this kid is headed, and what a waste it is, and we can all see the larger socioeconomic tragedy at work, but we are not lectured to.
Huggy says Boseman is a cheater at cards, “liable to get himself killed one of these days”. Starsky tells him he did, then says, “you don’t look surprised.” Is Huggy’s explanation – that he’s never surprised at death in his neighborhood – fully or partially true? Did he know it was Boseman who lay dead in the street? (Later, he mentions to his old mentor JT that he may have recognized one of the shooters, but makes no mention of knowing the victim). If he did, why wouldn’t he be straight with Starsky about being a witness, since at this point he knows nothing about the situation? His thoughtful demeanor suggests he knows a violent robbery in that particular building can only mean one thing – his former mentor Washington is in trouble, and trouble will inevitably come knocking on his own door.
Huggy says he has a “bad taste in my mouth trying to figure out who my friends are”, which is unfair, as well as untrue. This is a murder investigation, and he knows by now how it will – and should – be investigated. He would expect nothing less from them. When feeling under threat, Huggy is particularly defensive and prickly to Starsky and Hutch, perhaps in recognition of the fact that, if necessary, they will take him down.
Of course, the plot to this episode is startlingly similar to Season One’s “Kill Huggy Bear”, in which Huggy is reluctantly drawn into covering for a friend in a plot involving stolen money. Both Red and Dolphin, and Dewey from “Kill”, drive away from a robbery in which they shoot a man in a panic. Both parties involve the “light green Ford” in a minor traffic accident: this time, it’s blocking the get-a-way car and they run into it, and previously Dewey drives the “light green Ford” into the car parked in front of him. Even more of a coincidence is that both of these episodes involve Huggy protecting someone and lying to Starsky and Hutch. In this episode, Starsky is immediately suspicious of Huggy, saying, “Huggy is a bad liar”. He also pointed the finger at Huggy in Season One, saying money has a way of turning people bad. In both cases, Hutch doesn’t disagree, yet still takes a more psychological approach. Here, he remarks, “Maybe he never had a good enough reason (to lie) before.”
Starsky says Huggy never lied to them before. Perhaps Starsky’s definition of a lie is different from mine, because it seems to me Huggy is untruthful multiple times with both of them.
This episode is unique because it has, as its scenic centerpiece, the song “Huggy Can’t Go Back”, which is played as Huggy walks through his old neighborhood. The song is written by Jac Murphy, a member of Soul’s band, and sung by Dr. John. A precursor to today’s music videos – and better than ninety-nine per cent of them – it provides the soundtrack to a beautiful montage of a vibrant but troubled black neighborhood, with fadeouts from scene to scene. This is a strikingly contemporary use of music and image, and adds to the richness of this particular episode.
“Uptown’s comin’ slummin’?” asks one of the old gang as Huggy walks the street. This unprovoked insult is an interesting glimpse into how some feel about Huggy’s desire to better himself and his world, either through his various entrepreneurial projects or through a stubborn determination to see justice done, even at personal risk. It might also underline the idea that even though Huggy is extremely loyal, he is not perceived as such by his old cronies, who feel left behind or somehow slighted by his “uptown” ambitions.
As Huggy talks with Washington, the ever-present sound of the city interferes: barking dogs, children, traffic, sirens. Throughout the entire episode this jumble of noise continues, often just below conscious recognition. Wonderful, too, is the reverberating sound of the gunshot following the murder of Boseman. The sound echoes for a long time, giving the impression of flapping wings as it bounces off the walls, adding another dimension to the emotional impact of the shooting. I give credit for this to the director, who no doubt had a hand in such a creative use of sound.
Washington tells Huggy to help him get “his” money back, lost when Boseman ran after the cash. Earlier, during the all-night game, the players insinuate Boseman was cheating, one saying he’d just lost “eight grand”. One assumes the others were similarly losing equal amounts, which would explain the large take. However, none of this really belongs to Washington, except the money he himself lost, if any (most likely a small amount, seeing as he is a canny, cautious sort with deep suspicions about his fellow players). Therefore, he is asking Huggy to steal the jackpot for him. His pathos and moral indignation is pretty much an act since he is no more the legal owner of the cash than anyone else.
This episode also echoes very strongly “Birds of a Feather.” Huggy and Washington are very much like Hutch and Luke Huntley. Both older men are mentors, calling in a favor that puts their young protégée at great risk and both wanting the “their” money back for their old age. Both older men use emotional blackmail to get what they want. Both also represent an antediluvian society in which father-son bonds are unbreakable. Both see themselves in their younger charges, while both realize, on some level, they will never achieve the moral certainty necessary for a break from the past.
There are many nice details in this episode, beginning with the liquid eyes of the children staring after Starsky and Hutch as they walk off in the aftermath of the shooting, and now here, in the café, as Huggy is mauled by the pretty Cora while another customer watches up close and personal. Later, when Dolphin picks up the order of gumbo, he’s stared at by a young lady at the counter, with whom he tries to flirt. There’s a sense, in these little non-sequitirs, that Huggy’s world is closely monitored by every one of its citizens. Even as Cora leaves with her scooter, a young man helps her with the door, and stares at her as she leaves.
Cora Lee’s efforts to help Huggy remind us of his foray with the Turkey. Yet Cora Lee’s efforts to help Huggy in the detective racket is not only more effortless, and a whole lot more fun, she is also a more enchanting character all round. Her plaintive “c’mon Huggy, we’re partners!” quickly turns to an ice-cold reminder that she alone has the hotel room number.
Again we hear the similar voice of “Michael Jackson” on the television (“Survival”) narrating the hilariously titled soap “Tales of the Disenchanted” on the television, as Dolphin knocks on the hotel door.
There’s an interesting dynamic at work in the criminal partnership of Dolphin and Big Red. Red, who is black, is in control, while white Dolphin struggles with the inequity of the relationship. This is a remarkable inverse of the outside world and again shows the insularity of this neighborhood.
As in “A Coffin for Starsky”, the computer spits out the correct list of probables in the case of the shooting, zeroing in on Dolphin and Big Red. This presages the use of technology in future crime fighting. It also provides the background to why Starsky and Hutch have been working separately on this case from the beginning. Starsky takes the street, Hutch takes the paperwork. This correlates with their personalities: Starsky is more likely to be physical, Hutch cerebral.
Dobey reprimands Starsky and Hutch, “Don’t tell me the about the word on the street until you have spent as much time out there as I have.” Is Dobey speaking of time on the force or literally “time on the street”? Starsky and Hutch seem to have more street knowledge than Dobey at this point. Dobey always looks clumsy and unconvincing as soon as he gets out of the office.
“Because JT’s his mentor,” Dobey shouts, explaining Huggy’s irrational loyalties. “Taught him everything he knows.” Dobey says this with the utmost confidence, begging the question: how in the heck does he know this, barring an intensive interrogation session?
When Dobey threatens to remove both Starsky and Hutch from the action, this may be the first time he has threatened to take both men off a case. However, it’s half-hearted; he basically pushes them back onto it.
Interestingly, this is the only time during the run of the series in which Starsky and Hutch do not charge in at the last moment, guns blazing, and save a friend in need.
Big Red dies (in a startling, naturalistic way, the moment between life and death a mere wisp). Huggy is alone in the room with him and the bag of money. We hear Starsky and Hutch call out for him. Cut to the tag, and a late-night drinking session at the Pits in which Starsky seems slightly worse for wear. Huggy dismisses Cora Lee because her mother was too fat (implying she will inevitably be as well – as if this is a romantic deal-breaker, which is sad, as well as ignorant). The guys then try to squeeze Huggy for information about why JT suddenly got the funds to open a dry cleaning establishment, but Huggy lies (again), which pretty much sums up why he will never really be close to the two detectives. This tells us Huggy not only stole the money but also managed to escape mere seconds from being tracked by the two detectives. This seems improbable, and is the only moment in this fine episode that doesn’t quite ring true. On a lighter note, it’s quite touching to think that becoming a dry cleaner counts as getting “out”.
Clothing notes: both Hutch and Starsky are sleekly attired in various sweaters with zips, jeans and jackets. There is a lot of symbolic red here, emphasized in both clothing and props: Huggy’s remarkable red Cadillac, Big Red drinking a red pop, Starsky with a red napkin at the bar, Huggy’s sweater and t-shirt are both red, “Big Red” wears a red shirt to the robbery, the red blood stains JT, the light shining through the red liquid in the basement bottle, the bag of money is stained by blood.