Let’s revisit “The Committee”

November 13, 2016

After Starsky apparently takes the law into his own hands, leading to a staged breakup with Hutch, he is invited to join a vigilante group of cops led by Internal Affair’s own Lieutenant Fargo.

Lt. Fargo: Alex Rocco, “Dirty” Nellie: Helen Martin, Ginger: Angela May, Sam Garner: William Bogert, Willits: John Ashton, Billings: Michael MacRae, Off. Knight: Bill Cort, Off. Williams: Tony Young, Millie: Muffi Durham. Written By: Robert I Holt, Directed By: George McCowan.

I’m in a particularly pessimistic frame of mind these days and it’s cathartic to revisit one of the most astute and cynical episodes in the canon. We see it all here in spades: the fascist broom sweeping away society’s “undesirables”, the surging anger of the white working class convinced his world has been irreparably damaged by so-called liberalism (in this case uniformed officers suspicious of long-haired detectives), back room deals made by powerful but unseen forces, the perverse belief in reactionary short cuts to justice (mainly by executing those who step out of line), the poisonous hatred inside the institutional elite. I see this episode as a political fable. Evil grows when those in power use expediency to solve problems, when they have lost their humanity, when they see criminal acts as the disease itself rather than as symptoms of a larger and more complicated afflictions of poverty, ignorance and mental illness (all of which are rectifiable, at least in part, if we really want to get serious about it). We cannot build walls and shoot those we feel have failed us, and we cannot squash the rights of the people to achieve our aims, however laudable they seem. We also must retain our humanness, quirks and all – emblematic of Starsky’s pet rock – if we are to survive.

As is typical, the first scene keeps it overtly casual, even humorous, while covertly laying out the thematic intent of the episode with the brisk precision of a lawyer’s writ. Here, Starsky and Hutch’s off-hours are soured by the trembling rage of a slightly-drunk Officer Knight (the drunk part is solely my supposition) who not only does not see or understand that the two detectives are actually strategizing, and is convinced their unconventional (read: hippie) ways undermine the very fabric of a law-and-order society. It’s quite a shocking intrusion out of nowhere, and by Starsky’s laconic pleasantries we can see that this has happened more than once. Knight, who has been watching Starsky’s playful interaction with Huggy for the last twenty minutes or so (and irritated, no doubt, by Hutch’s errant cue poking into him) accuses them of “goofing around” instead of making the streets safer, then demands to know how they would feel “if a 78-year old man died in your arms after you’d been mugged by some junkie with twenty-three priors”, as if Starsky and Hutch are somehow responsible for – no, have actually somehow worsened – this situation. This long-standing grudge has a back story that I would love to see.

Are Starsky and Hutch on the clock? Does Knight have a point, however misplaced it may be?

One wonders why Huggy doesn’t even touch the milkshake delivered to him, since it’s probably free (“He’s chocolate, I’m strawberry,” says Starsky, with a grin), but maybe the real question is why they’re drinking milkshakes at all in this tough cops-only hangout where tequila shots are probably the way to go. Incidentally a place not normally frequented by Starsky and Hutch. What are they doing here? Is The Pits temporarily closed, which explains why Huggy is out of his comfort zone? Will they ever be allowed back again after exposing the members of the committee, obviously longtime regulars of the place? And why is Huggy dragging around a carpet bag worthy of Mary Poppins? Not very cool.

I was at a loss to explain what game Hutch is playing, which appears to be table shuffleboard, as there are pucks, or shuckles. The use of a cue threw me until an eagle-eyed viewer named the game as Bumper Pool.

The cop-bar must be located in the basement of the suburban-looking restaurant.

“This makes us even for the information on the drug bust, huh?” Starsky says, accepting the pet rock Huggy sells him. It’s funny that Hutch is so caught up in his sarcasm about pet rocks he doesn’t seem to see the transaction for what it is, a payoff for information, which is proof once again that Starsky knows how to play, and Hutch, who is ironically playing a another game by himself, doesn’t. Instead, he razzes Starsky about coming over to his place to buy old 78 records. Which of course leads to another question: what’s he doing with 78s? Isn’t that a little old fashioned? So many questions.

Nellie’s absurdity amuses Hutch to no end, and it’s sweet to see how affectionate he is with her. And there’s a couple of gems hidden in the whole pet-rock exchange: one, that Huggy has been hawking his rocks there before. And two, that Nellie’s little comment – “it bit me” smacks of a joint venture in salesmanship, the plant in the audience who adds legitimacy and urgency to the pitch. Are Nellie and Huggy a team?

More on this fascinating opening scene: Knight’s accusation that Starsky and Hutch spend too much time goofing around and not enough time busting heads is an interesting – and rare – glimpse into what some of the boys in blue think of the plainclothes detectives. There seems to be jealousy, resentment, and a lot of willful misinformation about the way Starsky and Hutch work. The idea is echoed later when Starsky is called up to Internal Affairs and remarks to Hutch that “we’re not exactly their favorite team.” In the earlier episode “Snowstorm” the collective antipathy of Burke, Kolwitz and Corman was more overtly about the generation gap; here, it’s more political. It would be fun to see a “third-party” episode from the point of view of the regular cops on the beat, watching Starsky and Hutch from a distance. It seems as if, post-“Pariah”, their reputations have not improved too much. Later on, during the fake-fight scene, we see tables of uniformed officers witnessing the strife and yet not one officer stands up to defend Hutch or to calm down the scene. Is this because nobody wants to be involved, or do they just not care that much? This is not at all like the respectful relationship with the uniforms we see in other episodes, with Starsky and Hutch on first-name basis with those they work with.

The number 78 has an odd recurrence: Hutch’s records, the old man mugged. Something worn out and down to a bad end, maybe?

It’s also fun to watch what Starsky does when confronted with people who try to intimidate him: he slows down, acts casual, almost sleepy, while Hutch is immediately, and dangerously, defensive.

I would like to know how “Dirty” Nellie got her nickname. I hope it has nothing to do with the state of the bathrooms in her bar.

It’s Dobey himself on the radio telling them about the screams coming from the warehouse. I wonder what it is about the scene that tells him the situation relates to the case Starsky and Hutch are working on. Perhaps a witness gave a description of the two men.

Chasing Willets and Billings, Starsky holds his gun in his usual unusual way: fingers between barrel and body of the gun, not useful if sudden shooting is required.

Doppelganger moment: Hutch goes after the blond, Starsky goes after the dark-haired assailant. Also, I’m a bit surprised the rape victim seems to understand Starsky, when he goes to her, is a good guy and not a bad one. If it had been me, I’d be punching and biting if he tried to touch me.

It’s an old story about what real justice is, in terms of the law. Lawyer Sam Garner taunts the two detectives by saying their desire for moral rectitude comes close to vigilantism, and they counter by saying the system is too strict and inhumane. Neither of them, strictly speaking, is correct – it’s only when objectivity and humanity are in balance can we be a truly just society. Too much of one, and empathy is lost. But too much of another, and we run the risk of impartiality. I think Starsky and Hutch, on a better day, would accept this to be true. But this is not a good day.

In the office with Dobey, Starsky shows his best side when he calls the escaped Billings a “sicko” and says he should be in jail, or a hospital. Even in this small instance we can see that both Starsky and Hutch are aware of the role that mental illness plays in criminal behavior.

After confronting Willets in the courtroom, Starsky changes from his “court” jacket (corduroy with elbow patches) to his old leather jacket. Hutch stays the same.

In the apartment when the two rogue cops are given their assignment, there are several points of interest. A new gun is given to an officer, which makes sense in terms of ballistics, but where is the officer’s regular firearm? Also, that officer handles the holster with its gun, turning it up and down as if to stretch out the leather holster, and the image is suggestive of an erection. Which, if on purpose, is genius. Also, we get our first glimpse of pouty Ginger, who stares out at … well, at us. Fourth wall broken. It’s very strange.

Consider Hutch’s frame of mind when he orders Starsky a tuna burger with lots of mushrooms. It takes a lot of forethought and imagination to be that mean, and one wonders how much of Hutch’s conscious life is dedicated to inventing ways to either annoy his partner or distract him from his woes. On the same subject, he replies with “who cares?” when Starsky says his rock is “igneous” (which he pronounces, charmingly, “ignatius”). That is, formed by lava. Starsky looks at him and says, “you know, you’re very hard to get along with, sometimes.” Hutch pretends not to know what he means.

Sam Garner says he thinks the person responsible for gunning down three wanted men might be a cop, and he’s ready and willing to do anything he can to blow the lid off of a fraudulent investigation – note Lieutenant Fargo nervously chewing on a knuckle, hearing this, and starting to make ugly plans in his head. Confronted by his obnoxious personality, it seems as if Starsky and Hutch don’t listen or care about his suspicions, but later we see that Hutch has weighed this very carefully in his mind, which does him credit.

“Sorry Starsky,” says Lieutenant Fargo, “but I thought you should hear what the man had to say.” Starsky is the sole focus of the attention, both in Fargo’s office and later in Dobey’s. Why? It was Hutch who arrested Willets, who later claimed to be roughed up. Why the attention on Starsky? Yes, he makes a passionate speech in the hallway of the courtroom about justice, but it’s obvious Hutch shares his feelings. Still, everybody seems to really want to pin the blame on Starsky. What does this say about the attitudes toward Starsky as a person and a cop, as opposed to Hutchinson? Do people in and around the Metropolitan Division see Starsky as somehow more violent, or impulsive, than his partner? Similarly in “Snowstorm” the three older cops zero in on Starsky and call him “pushy”, wounding his feelings. If anything, Starsky is less likely to lose his temper than the notorious intemperate Hutch, and also less likely to do anything that might be construed as unconventional or renegade. As for Fargo bringing together accuser and defendant in his office, this seems like a grievous breach of conduct, procedurally speaking.

I think it’s interesting that Hutch tells Fargo, “You probably brought the man in here just to see Starsky’s reaction would be.” Hutch has terrific instincts, and his instinct in this case is to suspect something’s afoot. Hutch allows himself to be mollified by Fargo’s manipulative speech, and bonus points for that suggestion of a wink and a grin, the “secretly I know you’re one of the good guys”. Everyone wants to believe they’re understood and appreciated, and Hutch is no exception.

Starsky is hilariously fidgety when Hutch uses the phone. “Come on, this is Sunday!” he cries out. Another instance of Starsky’s holy-weekend position toward working, although they’re working anyway so why the impatience?

“You’re thinking what I’m thinking?” Hutch says to Starsky about one second after the shooting of Willets. Starsky looks shocked, then thoughtful. So, let’s break it down: within one second after a car chase and shootout Hutch has come to the conclusion that this chase was too odd, and likely set up by someone – probably within the police department – by telling Willets that Starsky and Hutch were about to hunt him down and kill him. Precipitating his flight, and the suicidal action of firing on Starsky. So this is a set-up, and a complicated one at that. From within the department. To get both or one of them called a vigilante, in order to distract attention from the real vigilantes. Who are most likely other police officers. No other explanation for why Willets is running. All this passes through Hutch’s head in a second. And in Starsky’s too, a second later.

It’s chilling to hear both Starsky and Hutch use the word “buddy” in contempt to each other. Hutch, the alarmingly good villain, is even more horrible in his sarcastic use of the word.

This episode’s power is predicated on one thing: how grievously transgressive it is to break up the partnership. This is manipulated by the decision to leave us in the dark as to the ulterior motives for the fight. Interesting, though, that the other cops are so quick to assume this is, in fact, real, that the pair have destroyed their relationship over a difference in opinion. Do they really think Starsky and Hutch are just like everyone else, and therefore have essentially the same utilitarian working arrangement as they do? Don’t they see them as having a deeper, more substantial bond?

The horrible fight the two have at Nellie’s bar is painful to watch, but it’s worth noting Nellie’s intelligent, watchful face as the drama unfolds. You can see that she’s taking everything in, and not accepting anything at face value. This is one canny bartender. Also worth noting is Starsky’s fleeting expression of concern and regret as he leaves (when seen in hindsight, of course).

Dobey says Willits has no convictions, yet he is listed as an accomplice on Billing’s arrest record.

Ginger was arrested, Hutch remembers, four years ago. According to her police record, she was also arrested about a year ago. Did Fargo get her off of that charge as well? Also, how in hell did Hutch remember her? The entire operation – from bar fight to dinner plans – has taken less than an hour, and Hutch has to pull one face out of tens of thousands in his memory banks.

Starsky’s apartment is stellar. It has great original art plus Matisse prints and others, lots of books, great textiles of all kinds, camera, plus lots of fruit for Dobey (he must be home some time to have fresh fruit); it’s all very urbane and sophisticated, in an earthy sort of way, cozy in a way that suggests Starsky enjoys his home. The tree stump side-tables are very fashion forward. Starsky appears to be a more domesticated sort than Hutch, or at least more deliberate in his decorating.

There’s a uniformed officer guarding Willets in Starsky’s bedroom. The way I see it, Starsky, Hutch and Dobey are united in the belief that cops are behind the spate of vigilante-style murders, so I would love to know why this particular officer has their trust. And let’s face it, Starsky is being very generous when he allows Willets to lie in his bed. He’s going to launder those sheets several times afterward to get rid of the stink, both literal and figurative.

It takes Starsky a moment to choose the wine for Ginger. That means he has a few bottles. When he finally brings it over she pours it and then says, “You have good taste.” If Ginger really does have a taste for wine and isn’t just making an obsequious, flirty comment (which is likely, I admit) this is in startling opposition to Starsky’s reputation as an unsophisticated rube.

Angela May playing Ginger is duplicitous and scheming. So, apparently, is Angela May in real life. She seems like a particularly miserable creature with her bee-stung pout and cringing, intensely squirming sexuality. That Pekingese-flat face and big weepy eyes are oddly compelling, and Ginger as a person isn’t all bad – she pulls back at the last second and urges Starsky to get out. (Angela May filed a paternity suit against David Soul several months later, but it was disproved.)

“Starsky,” Ginger says. “What is it. Polish?” “Something like that,” Starsky says, in the same offhand taciturn way he says to Nancy’s mother in “Terror on the Docks” when she asks if he’s Catholic and he says “no”.

Ginger mentions “maternal instincts” prompted her to kiss Starsky – which is really, really off-putting. But she isn’t the only woman to feel that way: Dr Kaufman in “The Plague” had a similar response, as did Kira in “Starsky vs. Hutch”.

Wouldn’t Starsky, Hutch and Dobey, when hatching the plan to catch the vigilantes, to bring the guy from top in on it from the beginning? Yet they don’t, staging the “show” in Dobey’s office at the beginning of the episode seemingly for Fargo’s benefit, showing they didn’t trust him even from the beginning. Yet, why wouldn’t they trust him, when he made such a passionate and convincing speech about being a cop for twenty-five years and still fighting for justice, etc? Seems to me there’s a missing scene in here, the one where the guys sit in the Torino and talk about how Fargo, despite all evidence to the contrary, reeks of something nasty.

Clues to just why Starsky and Hutch withheld their suspicions from Dobey can be seen in the fact that Dobey tells Fargo some details about the undercover case. He precedes this with the statement “No secrets between friends.” It’s a major tactical error. Hutch is far more comfortable in the role of undercover – coolly telling Fargo they have nothing on Ginger, while Dobey is nervous acting against IA and makes it clear he’s a weak link in the investigation by spilling information he shouldn’t.

What exactly does Hutch want Dobey to do when he hands him the phone? Give Fargo some fake name, drawing attention away from Ginger and the ongoing investigation? He thrusts it at Dobey with such authority I always immediately put myself in Dobey’s shoes and break out into a sweat thinking, “now what do I do?”

One of the main frustrations with the show is the lazy habit of casting the same actors in very different roles, sometimes only months apart. What, did they think no one would remember Alex Rocco when he shows up later as the hit man Callendar in “The Plague”? He’s a distinctive face and voice, and a noticeable so-deadpan-it’s-almost-wooden acting style, and it’s a shame the producers don’t consider how disillusioning this is. (Helen Martin also has another memorable appearance as Mrs. Fellers in “Manchild”, but at least both roles were relatively minor ones). The other really bad instance of this is casting Karen Carlson as both Gillian Ingram and Christine Phelps. Only Season Hubley doesn’t bounce back after “Starsky’s Lady” as a perky waitress or a gangster’s girl.

The sunset when they take Starsky to pick up Garner is really spectacular. And the fact it hasn’t changed when they exit the apartment shows you how fast they film.

Why are Williams and Knight planning a kidnap and murder while in uniform, and driving a squad car? I can see why from a cinematic standpoint, but from a practical one it makes no sense. Why not do it on their days off, in regular clothes, in a stolen car? Garner’s hair and possibly blood evidence is all over that squad car now, and sand in the tires would be traceable to the tunnels.

If I were Knight I wouldn’t be so quick to accept Starsky as a fellow committee member, not after working in his vicinity him for so many years, watching his bleeding-heart liberal hippie ways. Yet Knight is so sure of himself and his cause that he brings him in with all the pompous self-righteousness of the true believer.

Paul Michael Glaser is truly extraordinary in the tunnel sequence, and for the reason I admire him so much as an actor: he says very little as shocking, inexplicable, and truly sadistic facts become real to him: that he is expected to murder an innocent man, that the people he trusts and believes in – fellow officers – are really and truly a part of this, and that Fargo himself not only is involved, but knows of Starsky’s opposition to their plans and intends to torture and humiliate him to become “one of us”. Glaser’s face is relaxed, even slack, throughout, but we can read his emotions as clearly as if it is subtitled on screen. His eyes widen, then soften in bewilderment, then become hard as facets as he comes to a resolution about what he must do.

At the very end Hutch’s attitude toward the pet rock is nicely improved. Starsky is panicked: “I lost my rock,” he says, and dashes off into the darkness of the tunnel. Dobey is confused. “What’s he talking about?” Hutch’s reply is friendly, amicable. “He lost his rock, captain,” he says, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, worthy of sympathy, but also amusing himself by downplaying the absurdity of the situation. Where is the cynicism? With Starsky not in the picture, there’s no need for it, and besides it’s more fun pretending to Dobey that he’s the crazy one for not knowing the score.

Tag: The episode ends abruptly, and without a joke, the clock simply running out. It’s great that Garner is not reduced to apologizing or making a speech about how he’ll change in the future or how the law needs to be responsive to victim’s rights, he simply reverts to his old irritating stuck-up ways which makes me love him even more and wish he’d popped up in other episodes. This series is not interested in sermons, and neither Garner nor the detectives give us one, but all the same there is a persistent optimism here and in other episodes that tells us that good will always triumph. I like how Hutch looks for a place to put his wrapper and then shoves it under Dobey’s phone. Dobey recommends them for a medal of valor for their work in this case, and he does that shy smile that shows how uncomfortable he is with soapy scenes.

Clothing notes: strikingly, Hutch wears a crushed-velvet black turtleneck in the scene in Starsky’s apartment. He’s also beautifully decked out in a blue turtleneck early on that makes his eyes turn to sapphire. Both wear leather jackets and Starsky wears a favorite burnt orange shirt with the white patch. Otherwise, all is usual, with the exception of Starsky wearing a nautical black-striped shirt in the tag (quite possibly the same one he wears in “A Long Walk”). In the hair department, Starsky’s is truly luxuriant, especially in the tag.

Let’s Revisit “Photo Finish”

August 24, 2015

Starsky and Hutch mingle with the beautiful people to find a killer when Starsky’s girlfriend finds trouble after possibly taking a picture of the suspect at a party.

Marcie Fletcher: Brit Lind, Basil Monk: Graham Jarvis, Greta Wren/ Dora Pruitt/Who Knows: Sally Kirkland, Paula: Lois Areno, Nicole Monk: Shera Danese, Landlady: Fran Ryan, John Reinhart: Hank Brandt, Troy Braddock: Jayson Kane, Secretary: Anne O’Donnell. Written By: Robert E Swanson and Michael Wagner, Directed By: Sutton Roley.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS:

I have watched this episode many times and the more I see it the more extreme and more mixed my response. I like and dislike it in ever-increasing intensity, and the fact that this episode has the ability to do that is at the heart, I think, of the magic of “Starsky & Hutch” as a series. The more attention you pay to it, the more it reveals. If you want to see “Photo Finish” as essentially a piece of classic narrative (beta male kills alpha male in a spike of sexual jealousy) that’s fine. If you want to use this episode as an example of how the series has declined over its run, that’s fine too. Both these approaches do work. But this is the episode that will haunt you if you let it. It’s not as obviously campy as “Dandruff” and not an archetypal crime-drama like “Strange Justice”. It floats somewhere in the middle, a police procedural that has the thematic ambitions of The Great Gatsby – it puts forth the notion that the American pursuit of happiness has decayed into simple desire for gratification, that wealth is ultimately corrupting, that love and fidelity have lost their meaning, and that these terrible and sad facts can only be understood through the eyes of an outsider, someone who may desire what he sees (Starsky) but who understands that it is merely a façade (Hutch). The Gatsby correlation, genuinely deserved for 95% of this episode, crashes and burns in the last 5%, as the tag merely reinforces that wealth and status – or the imitation of it – is laudable and admirable, a reward for its own sake. This is why “Photo Finish” is so haunting. It constructs its purpose very carefully, but that construction is revealed to be both flimsy and expendable as the writer’s hand abruptly crumples it up and throws it away. Whether this is a forfeiture of the narrative or the clever upending of our assumptions is left to you to decide.

There’s something timelessly intriguing about outsiders (in this case tough street smart cops) infiltrating the nutty world of celebrity-obsessed American aristocracy. And I like the fact that the answer to the case lies in a tiny technical detail (the close-up of a photo). But what I have a problem with is the fact that from the start we see Starsky and Hutch tripped up or made to look foolish. Mostly little things, and centered around Starsky’s tuxedo and the implication that he is either too clumsy for, too unlucky for, or somehow doesn’t deserve, whatever it represents (social power, I presume). It’s irritating because it’s so patently unfair, and unfunny too, to see him subjected to such embarrassment. It’s not just that pesky rental tag that has all those ladies and gentlemen laughing, but the frog toy that rebounds into Hutch’s face, the brief second when the two detectives enter the News World foyer and go the wrong way, the whole doorbell stupidity in which they repeatedly get the wrong apartment. As well, they are belittled by their suspects and witnesses, who either shrug off their questions while leaving (Marcie and Nicole Monk), blatantly lie to their faces (Basil Monk and Dora Pruitt) or keep them waiting (at the News World offices). There is very little menace or breathtaking flashes of power, and the result is they are reactive rather than proactive, distracted by the specter of wealth displayed by the various spoiled, quirky characters around them. Yes, their motives for going to this party in the first place are good – Starsky up for an adventure, and Hutch anxious to make the acquaintance of the one “with the legs”, curiosity and libido always admirable – but times have changed. Only a year or two ago they were counterculture heroes whose youth, socially fueled anger and cynicism marked them as lefty hippie-types. Here, no one ever says “you two don’t look like cops”. Instead, dressed in freshly rented tuxedos, they seem a little too at ease with the kind of people they once viewed with distrust.

So here we go, watching Starsky and Hutch enter high society, with string quartets, endless champagne and barely disguised kinks of the well-to-do. This is probably the first episode in the Fourth Season to fully exploit this new “softer” direction, and it’s as glossy as you’d expect it to be, with a curiously empty denouement and plenty of unanswered questions. The director’s stylish idiosyncrasies permeate every scene, adding some interesting layers to what could be seen as heading-into-the-80s blandness, although honestly, the few seconds of Paula, “the one with the legs” striding  purposefully toward Hutch at the party has so much erotic punch I am always caught off-guard, sure that this is some kind of intense foreshadowing of something (nope, it’s just director Sutton Roley having fun). There are fine parts to this episode, particularly the unusual female assassin and the imaginative, dangerous idea of someone getting killed in a roomful of people. As well the photography is a good aspect to the story although it isn’t explored as fully as it might be (I wonder if Swanson and Wagner were inspired by the film “Blow-Up”; similarities include a glimpse into wealthy eccentrics, the art scene, sexual shenanigans, disappearing negatives, and a surreal lack of resolution). I don’t mind the mature sexual content but I do mind the stereotypes: the bespectacled villain whose frail appearance implies a weak character, the amorous “neglected” wife, the egocentric artist whose work is impenetrably weird. It would have been interesting to change it up somehow.

Sutton, You Dirty Dog: note the salacious slow pan from Starsky’s feet to his legs and up his midsection as Starsky stands in front of the mirror trying on a tuxedo, which seems as close as mainstream television ever gets to pornography. Only better.

In the church scene commencing “Terror on the Docks”, Starsky is odd man out. Here, it’s Hutch who has no business being in the clothing store watching his partner try on tuxedos. So why is he here? For the sheer enjoyment of providing commentary?

When Hutch strips his jacket off, revealing the imposing gun in its holster, the clerk gives a most delightfully subtle double-take. It’s safe to assume Starsky is likewise armed, that both are either on their way to work or just getting off shift. If so, how Starsky manages to resist taking a shot at Hutch, who’s been making cracks about how his partner resembles “a waiter”, and that he’d look good in “Lounge-Lizard Monthly”, is a mystery. He does make a comment about how Hutch looks like a “small tip” in his tuxedo – both a waiter joke and, I think, something murkier – which I think is pretty funny if somewhat oblique.

Despite his disparaging remarks, Hutch is in his glory in this party. He gets to demean his partner, play the superior one, and insult the upper class while mingling with the cultural elite he feels, secretly, are his equals. He also has a great line: Starsky comments that the rich are “really different” and Mr. Cool replies, “sure, they pay less taxes.” Later, he advises Starsky to “suck in your cheeks and take tiny steps” in order to fit in.

Why are Starsky and Hutch allowed at this party in the first place? A photographer at a society event should never bring a date, and adding someone else is beyond the pale.

This is an episode featuring an artist, apparently the biggest thing “since Warhol”, but why all the cheap insults about modern art? Starsky and Hutch gaze at a small sculpture consisting of two cans. Basil Monk, after staring at the sculpture with a peculiar expression on his face which could be greed or morbid excitement or some combination of the two, says with undisguised scorn, “My wife paid twenty thousand (for that)”, a remark which only serves to reinforce the general fear of middle-class American society that conceptual or modern art is fraudulent and ridiculous, and the people who make it (i.e. Troy Braddock) are pompous twits who are better off dead. Writers, you’re better than that.

Braddock (referring to himself in the third person) is portrayed as a blowhard and an unrepentant womanizer. He pulls down the curtain to reveal his latest “masterpiece” which either looks like the crappiest poster in the world or a contemporary John Currin portrait. Currin really is the biggest thing since Warhol and it’s fun to think that Braddock’s moony-eyed reclining lady is a similarly creepy commentary on the insular idiocy of the rich and beautiful.

Troy Braddock is shot. Hutch goes to the victim, Starsky goes to … the victim too. Why doesn’t he turn around and see who the shooter might be? Chances are good he could have glimpsed something. Instead, he wastes time watching Hutch check for a pulse.

A man is killed. What do Starsky and Hutch do? Talk passionately about the rip in Starsky’s tuxedo. I remember when, not too long ago, murder was a tragic event, a cause for righteous anger, even if the victim is unlikable or in the wrong. Remember the solemnity and dignity afforded low-life Packrat, in “Running” (Season Two) and Ginger in “Death Notice” (Season One)? In those instances, Starsky and Hutch felt a great deal for the marginalized and the lost. Where did that empathy go?

Marcie, following the shooting, is making a run for it in order to develop her now-precious photographs. Starsky, trying to hold her back, doesn’t seem particularly surprised by her selfishness; rather, he asks for her help in a quiet and professional way and continues to have a relationship of sorts with her. Throughout this episode Marcie is every bit as morally deficient as the Monks, with dollar signs dancing in her eyes. Her success as a photographer and the resulting fame is more important to her than justice. Starsky should call her on her total lack of humanity, but never does; in fact, in the troubling tag, her ambitions are celebrated.

Sutton, You Dirty Dog (Part 2): the hot dog lands in Starsky’s lap.

“A marriage counselor with a gun” and “an accountant with a gun,” are two phrases Starsky uses (here, and later in “The Groupie”). Of the two, Starsky might be far more cynical than Hutch regarding official institutions. He’s just quieter about it.

When Nicole Monk makes her sexual come-on to Starsky and Hutch, suggesting the desirability of their knees and openness to a threesome, Starsky and Hutch glance at each other’s knees with something like amusement. It’s nice to see this relaxed indifference to someone trying hard to be shocking; not only does it highlight their seen-it-all maturity, it echoes a joke earlier in the series when we see their willingness to both go over to Sally Hagen’s place for a similar reasons in “The Specialist”, and their later (admittedly ambiguous) declaration to Kira that it’s double or nothing (“Starsky vs. Hutch”).

The as-yet unnamed saboteur goes through Marcie’s negatives. Why make such a mess, ripping down strips and dashing jars on the floor? Wouldn’t nimble fingers make more sense?

It’s amusing when Reinhart demands they “drop the Farrah cover” because he has something more enticing. It’s a rare glimpse into contemporary culture this series usually avoids.

Among the unanswered questions in this episode – and there are a lot of them – is who called the police when Marcie’s apartment was broken into. And if a call was made to the police, why do Starsky and Hutch – homicide detectives – find out about this generic-looking break-and-enter in the first place, and why are there are no signs that other police officers have been there? Marcie yells, “What are you doing here, don’t you need a warrant to break down a door?” when she finds Starsky and Hutch in her apartment. Can police come into your house to investigate an obvious break-in and burglary when you are not home, and without permission? Starsky’s excuse was the door was unlocked. Was Marcie’s response to call her attorney a good one, and if it was, why did Starsky and Hutch feel they had the right to physically restrain her from calling that attorney?

The mystery here is not why the saboteur/Assassin is so desperate to find the photograph negatives in the first place. Of course she is looking to see whether or not Marcie accidentally got a good photograph of her and therefore could link her to the murder, even though she was in disguise at that party and would not be easily recognized as a known criminal. Since Starsky and Hutch went through the photographs already and talked to all the witnesses and staff, she would know she was not on anybody’s radar at all even if, stupidly, she allowed herself to have a memorable interaction with a guest just prior to the shooting when she stuffed money down her blouse. The fact that the guest was a cop would make her actions, in hindsight, even less professional. (There is a lot of stuffing-into-bras in this episode, incidentally.) No, the larger mystery is why she shot Braddock when she did, with the photographer standing right in her line of sight with the camera directly aimed at her. I mean, come on. We see the photograph later when Marcie makes the blow-ups of “Not-so Adorable Dora” standing in full view with her tray and the silencer.

So we eventually find out that the Assassin knows she has been photographed at the moment of the murder. She suspects this might be the case, and so ransacking Marcie’s apartment seems sensible, but why attempt to run down Marcie in the car and kill her? It makes no sense at all, not from a logical standpoint and not from a technical one either, as professional hit men (and women) do not act in such impulsive, emotion-laden ways. They are studied and methodical. If Assassin wanted Marcie dead, she could have easily just hid in her apartment, waited for her to come home, and shot her with a silencer. Then she could have searched her for whatever negative was there.

Marcie complains when Hutch asks her to make an enlargement in her darkroom from the negative. Why does she still have the negative in her possession? Starsky made it clear it was police evidence and should be at the police lab. If nothing else, there are safer places to keep it than Marcie’s bra. Contact with perspiring skin would have ruined it in seconds.

Again, we see that Starsky is not outwardly upset at Marcie when she obstructs police business. Not only does she treat him poorly, she outright lies to him. She also assumes it was Starsky and Hutch who broke up her place. These aren’t the actions of a real girlfriend.

The poster of Robert Redford in Marcie’s apartment is distracting. One wonders, if she likes blond mustachioed guys, whether her swift urging of Hutch to come to the party with her and Starsky really is less innocent than it appears.

Note assistant director Eldon Burke’s turn as the silent patrolman Burke, assigned to keep an eye on Marcie.

Why does Starsky call Basil “Funk”? Does insulting your prime suspect by forgetting his name really aid in the questioning, or is Starsky letting his distaste of the man show too much, especially after the “gamey” comment?

Basil Monk doesn’t drive, it scares him “to death.” And yet he has no problem driving the police remote control car all over the table, symbolic, perhaps, of a man who is more comfortable around artifice than he is with reality, gleefully controlling the police. Writers Robert Swanson and Michael Wagner go for the easy insult when they present him as a cringing bow-tie-and-glasses nerd with a major virility deficit. Imagine how much more interesting it would be to play against our prejudices, rather than revel in them. This leads us to another mystery. Earlier in the episode Nicole Monk says she “learned the hard way” that her new husband was a dud in the sack. This doesn’t ring true, as you and I know within fifteen seconds of meeting him that Monk is an unpleasant, greedy, twisted man with zero charisma or romantic aptitude. So what exactly is “the hard way”? Is Nicole just exceptionally stupid, or is she trying to convince Starsky and Hutch that she married Basil Monk for love, or the potential of it, rather than simply for his money? Why bother with the lies as it’s so patently obvious she’s in this for the dough?

Harvey, Basil Monk’s butler, is constantly being ordered about. Contrast the symbolism of Basil telling Harvey to “show the gentlemen out” as the camera focuses on the cymbal-clapping monkey toy Basil winds up. The toy has the same yellow vest and dark arms Harvey has on.

“Greta” breezily says Troy Braddock was a “gorgeous man, particularly in extremis.” This must be a slip of the tongue – she more or less confesses she was there, because otherwise why would she use that phrase? (Unless she’s referencing photographs of the body, which she could not have seen either, something Marcie should have picked up on). And even if she found him so, or found the idea of a corpse romantic rather than repulsive, shouldn’t she keep that sort of thing to herself?

Starsky and Hutch appear to have wandered into the magic forest of the rich: not only do they attend a party in which cans are art, and artists are amoral rakes, and people who buy art are childish misfits with weird pastimes, but they now enter a wealthy publishing empire in which plants have names and publishers are murdered behind their desks.

The scene in the publishing house is perplexing on many levels. Why the loud construction, the dust flying, actors having to shout at each other over the din? One interpretation (although the cynic in me wonders if on-set carpenters were there already, prepping the soundstage for “Barnaby Jones”) is that it fits in with the modus operandi of Assassin, who now has twice used loud sound to mask the act of murder. Firstly the champagne cork, and now hammering and sawing. But again this is directly in conflict with what the secretary says, that Reinhardt comes in late and works all night. I can’t imagine there are many people in the building at that time, at best a security guard reading a magazine down in the lobby. The secretary has just come in when Starsky and Hutch arrive to question her, so this is what, 8:30-9 am? So Reinhart has probably been dead at least since midnight. So that noise plays no part in his death. Why, oh why, do writers Swanson and Wagner needlessly complicate the narrative in this way? All they had to do was have the scene take place at noon, with the secretary saying Mr. Reinhardt is in his office, attempt to phone him, get no answer, and then enter the office to find him dead. Cue the fainting. And then she comes to and cries, “I don’t know … I was only away from my desk for a moment … who would do a thing like that?”

And if that wasn’t enough of a puzzle, we are also faced with the problem of why Starsky and Hutch do not simply badge the receptionist and demand to see the publisher right away, like they have a hundred times before. He’s a key figure in a murder, there’s no need for them to wait patiently, flipping through magazines. Again, this is a major issue I have with this episode, apart from the story holes. It’s the idea that Starsky and Hutch seem toothless here, ineffectual, and it’s much more disturbing (to me, anyway) than the narrative hitches, such as when Reinhart was killed.

Hutch tells Dobey about Basil Monk, “We ran a bank check on him. We had a warrant, don’t worry.” Dobey shoots back, “You always say you have a warrant.” Do Starsky and Hutch have a history of getting information without warrants? Has this caused the obvious problems later in court? Or is Dobey crabbing for the sake of crabbing? Monk’s account seems to be a great place to start an investigation, so why is Dobey peeved?

When Starsky tells Dobey and Hutch, “Any clown could have put on a black jacket and gotten into that party,” is he unaware of how easily he is setting himself for Hutch’s nasty, “Well, it worked for you, didn’t it?” Or is he aware of his self-set-up, and providing Hutch with a little fun?

Starsky and Hutch consistently ring the wrong apartment number when trying to reach Dora Pruitt. As mentioned before, this can’t possibly add anything like “realism” to the episode. It only makes them appear more disinterested than they already are.

Strangely Brazen Dora: she puts gun in holster on upper right thigh, then spreads out on bed in front of Starsky and Hutch, hiking her robe up to what could be an inch from disclosure without breaking a sweat. When Dora makes her sexual come-on (this episode seems soaked in this sort of thing) she doesn’t seem to worry about getting the wrong kind of attention. She puts on quite a show, to the point of actually nauseating both detectives (and how different is this scene from the earlier scene in “The Heroes” when Roxy basically acts in the same way and both Hutch and Starsky treat her kindly and without judgment?). Is she just lost in her role, or she driven to reckless behavior because of mental health issues?

When Starsky tells Dora “we have a couple of more questions for you” (emphasis mine) we know for sure that they already questioned her that night. Further proof that she should have left well enough alone rather than try to run down Marcie in the car. If she had simply pulled up stakes and left – she has already been paid, because we know Monk has taken $30,000 in cash from his account – and disappeared, how on earth would anyone ever find her? Without the messy burglary, the attempted murder by car, and the constant attempts to wheedle the photograph from Marcie, it’s unlikely Starsky and Hutch would have been inspired to study that photograph as carefully as they did, doing blow-up after blow-up until they saw the hidden silencer. “Dora Pruitt” is a pseudonym, she is not a suspect, and a vanishing waitress would be an irritant but not a major one for the police. Of course the answer is “Because, plot” since half the episode is depending upon these ever more desperate measures, but there could have been a better way to go about it.

Hutch throws Starsky to the wolves (or more specifically, the wolf) when he backs off from Dora’s invitation saying he’s a family man, but his partner likes to “mess around”. Hutch, earlier, made similar sport of hapless Basil Monk. Hutch has an excess of negative energy in this episode: in every scene he’s itching to hurt someone.

Again, Marcie is reluctant to really help as she complains about the cost of developing more photographs. This brings up an elemental problem: why isn’t the police lab doing this work? Making a civilian do this kind of crucial evidence gathering is downright illogical.

A note about photography: not articulated but nevertheless implied is the idea that a photograph is both factual evidence (the shot of Braddock) and a sneaky, sometimes-wrong interpreter of fact (the final scene in this episode, in which everyone is caught in poses of wealth and airs – along with a smiling “butler” – while actually possessing no wealth at all.)

Assassin leaves her wig and padded brassiere behind when she leaves. How dumb is that?!

Hutch asks the landlady (played by the wonderful Fran Ryan, in her third and last appearance in the series), “You got a permit for that cannon, Lady?” She says she doesn’t, but also can’t get ammunition for it. Is the lack of ammunition a moot point, in terms of a permit? The landlady seems to think so.

Starsky and Hutch set the Assassin up, even though we don’t see them coaching Marcie. Which is why, when she answers the phone (and says loudly “it’s her!” which makes me cringe every time I see it) it appears that she herself has invented this set-up. But it couldn’t be – Starsky gives her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek when she completes the call. Again, as with nearly every scene in this frustrating episode we are led to a secondary problem: just why Starsky and Hutch make this dangerous move when they aren’t even in place to protect Basil Monk, who is going to be in the direct path of a Very Dangerous Felon. The time signature is unknown here – Assassin talks on the pay phone during daylight, but goes to Monk’s mansion at night. But the detectives wouldn’t know that for sure.

It seems to me, and I admit this very reluctantly, that here Starsky and Hutch are guilty of two grievous errors. One is procedural and one is moral. They take a real chance Assassin won’t get there first and kill Monk. Two, and worse, they knowingly subject Monk to a terrifying experience for what could only be malicious fun at his expense. Basil Monk, reprobate that he is, does not deserve the pants-wetting terror of a home invasion.

Dora/Greta/Whoever wears a disguise when she breaks into Monk’s house even though they have had contact previously. She may just get her kicks out of looking nightmarish, or it could be that she has never revealed her real face to him for security reasons. Then she calls herself “the Snow Queen” which is perfect in this context, as Monk is very like a child, someone as corruptible as Peter from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Basil is alone in the mansion and sees the Assassin approach (that seems really improbable in a house that big, but whatever.) Notice that he’s wearing sunglasses at night. Why on earth is he doing that?

Motive Mystery: Hutch points out to Basil Monk, and Starsky, that Monk has purchased a lot of Braddock’s artwork. Shortly afterward, Monk comments about how an artist’s death increases the value of his work. Is this the motive behind Braddock’s murder, rather than the more obvious one of the cuckolded husband getting revenge against his wife’s lover? I ask this because it seems extremely unlikely that Basil Monk would be a blindsided by jealousy. He knows exactly who he is – a unlovable, weak little man whose vast fortune is the one reason Nicole married him. He knows this because it’s impossible for him not to know it. He may be deeply flawed but he isn’t stupid – he’s a shrewd businessman who knows he has spent his life acting like a child and profiting from childhood itself. He has shown no interest in Nicole as a woman, but rather a possession of like all his other toys. Given his conscious decision to languish in mean-spirited immaturity (he’s a bully, a sulker, and a brat) I rather doubt that he has any sexual interest in her at all. Other than injury to his pride, he may not even care that she’s unfaithful to him. He may be well aware that she has been unfaithful many times, with many men. So did he kill Braddock because he was sleeping with his wife, did he kill him because of the value of his artwork, or was it just a happy coincidence the two motives intersected at this party?

Starsky and Hutch make the double arrest with all the intensity of ordering a cup of coffee, and lead their prisoners out of the room making small talk about what they have on for that evening (Hutch making a literal joke in response). We know they’re not going to worry about it, so we have to. So, motive. Jealousy might make some sense, Monk taking the risk of such a public hit, wanting to hurt his wife by forcing her to watch her lover die, although we see later this is an utter failure, as she’s disturbingly unmoved by it. While ignoring the improbability of someone as shrinkingly fearful as Basil Monk (“I’m a professional coward!” he whines) orchestrating a hit in a well-lit room filled with witnesses and a photographer, maybe Monk was playing at murder the way he plays with his toys and his expensive games of backgammon – the hobby of a psychopath bored by his trinkets and tired of being publicly shamed by his philandering wife.

Setting up the toys to make distractions is a cool way to get Assassin to use up her bullets, but that’s a staging trick and nothing to do with the trajectory of the narrative. One is reminded here of three other instances in which complicated trickery is used by Starsky and Hutch in order to exhaust or distract a shooter: in “Satan’s Witches”, “Silence” and “The Groupie”.

I rarely succumb to the temptation to rewrite scenes, even if they warrant it. But I can’t help but reflect on an episode that has similar aspects, Season One’s “Texas Longhorn”, also featuring a husband who kills in a fit of marital vengeance, albeit from the opposite side. But in “Texas” we get a complicated picture of a husband who lashes out for a variety of reasons, only one of which is fidelity, and we know this because there is a lengthy scene in which Zack Taylor confesses what he has done, and why he has done it. He gives a story about tragic inevitability, and seems to say that – in his heart – he has always had the capacity, and the impulse, to kill. He is cast in a heroic light, Starsky and Hutch admire and feel sorry for him. But Basil Monk could claim the same “honorable” impulse. At the very least he could explain himself. But he is not given the opportunity to be anything other than an abject loser. How great would it have been if Starsky and Hutch brought him into this showdown, promising protection if only he could coerce a confession out of the Assassin? Basil would at last be able to redeem his masculinity, at least in part, cop to his weaknesses (“I wanted him dead … I didn’t care how”) and do something for the greater good at the cost to himself. The conversation between the two villains in a dark room, each accusing the other and excusing themselves, would have been wonderful to watch.

Impersonations: The Assassin pretends to be silly Dora, a waitress who loves to party. She also assumes the identity of Greta Wren, a well-known magazine publisher. So who is she? More importantly, why does she exhibit such peculiar behavior, attention-getting behavior? Those elaborate, dangerously inventive personalities are so vivid that she comes off as both insane and highly intelligent. As far as villains go, she’s right up there with other colorful maniacs such as the “collector” Jack Cunningham and yet while we get a glimpse into Jack’s disquieting delinquencies during his long speech to Molly, we have no such hints here. But I must remark upon Sally Kirkland’s ambitious, nuanced performance – Dora and Gwen are such shockingly different personalities it still amazes me that they are played by the same actor.

I wonder, though, if this refusal to commit to answering questions of Monk’s motive and Assassin’s identity is an attempt by the series writers to approach storytelling in a less predictable and more postmodern way. Postmodernism basically reframes classicism as a means for self-referential irony (those Roman columns in shopping malls, the playful breakdown between “high” and “low” artforms) and as a way of rethinking of once-immutable concepts as meaning and truth. Universally understood language now becomes unintelligible “signs” to be interpreted or discarded by the individual. In this context, “Photo Finish” is a perfect postmodern artifact. Meaning is fragmented, answers are not easily found, modern optimism is seen as a failure, replaced with a kind of cynical weariness and a hollow, machine-like grasping for currency. Identity is mutable, motive is elusive, money is everything. Authenticity is replaced by appropriation, the concept of originality is deemed meaningless. Braddock’s artwork is profit-driven and his death is just another performance, Monk’s toy empire mocks the very idea of the cultural elite. This is what’s so charming and so frustrating about this episode – it’s quite possible these plot holes are artistic licence rather than lapses. If so, then this episode approaches genius.

All noble allusions to either The Great Gatsby or the perils of postmodernism abruptly come to a halt, however, when we hit the tag. The guys seem to have forgiven Marcie for her greedy ways. They’ve decorated a table at the Pits with flowers, silver and crystal, which is coldly emblematic of the series’ ambitions toward the upscale. Huggy, Mr. Bear, excuse me – another amusing but head-shaking instance of faux aristocracy after an entire episode seeming to reject it – appears with champagne in an ice bucket, with the very best line of the episode, “if you two looked any sharper, you’d be black.” Everybody is drunk. Starsky makes a telling Freudian slip when he says they wouldn’t take back his mangled tuxedo “for love of money” rather than “for love or money”. The love of money seems to be the overall theme here. He then giggles “that’s a baby” when Huggy presents his towel-draped bottle of champagne, which is wonderfully spontaneous. There’s also an uncomfortable joke about whether they want Huggy in the photo (whatever shall we do about the unphotogenic help?). Hutch can’t get the champagne cork out properly, and sprays his partner, which at least is reassuringly inevitable. Who’s the rube now?

Clothing notes: The guys look great in tuxedos, wrecked or not, and the Hawaiian and bowling shirts are Soul’s own (worn loose, to hide his back brace). This was the first episode filmed for the new season, and when Glaser and Soul exited their trailers in tuxedos for the first shot, they stared at each other for a moment and then spontaneously went into one of their Laurel and Hardy routines, with Glaser (of course) playing Laurel to Soul’s haughty Hardy, swinging an imaginary cane.

This was also a time when blowsy, lace-collared frilly fashions were de rigueur for women; at the party Marcie and others are dressed more like an Indian-flavored 1870s with high-collared pleated dresses with cameos, hair in heavy buns with tendrils. All the female guest stars in this episode are remarkably beautiful. At the party, special mention goes to the gentleman with the rather culturally questionable turban, making the scenes look more like a game of Clue than they really should.

Let’s Revisit “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead!”

July 18, 2015

Starsky and Hutch try to track down escaped felon and former cop Leo Moon before he can get revenge on Dobey, the cop who put him away.

Leo Moon: William Watson, Edith Dobey: Lynn Hamilton, CJ Woodfield: Lester Rawlins, Rosie: Claire Touchstone, Cal: Eric Sutter, Lola: Taaffe O’Connell, Pommier: Kurt Grayson, Norris: Bill Traylor, Frisco Fats: Lee McLaughlin, Sheila: Marla Adams, Mechanic: Michael MacRae, Fry: Michael Durrell, Ethel: Robin Raymond, Doyle: Marty Davis, Crenshaw: Duncan McLeod. Written By: Michael Fisher, Directed By: Michael Schultz.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Prison escapes and that prisoner’s declaration of revenge on the person who put him there are always great stories. Sometimes they are fictional and sometimes they are horrifyingly real, as evidenced by the recent high profile escapes in the news. This episode is a straight-ahead depiction of a not-too-smart guy whose lust for revenge makes him easily manipulated into doing dirty work. As with most in Season One, this episode has one foot in the staid cop dramas of the late 60s and early 70s (the staccato and heavy-handed expository dialogue, the fast narrative trajectory) and one foot in the progressive, more psychologically oriented approach that would soon change the way we see televised drama. The plot is classic but the way Starsky and Hutch move through the narrative – sophisticated, unpredictable, nearly feral – is genuinely new.

Time has not been particularly kind to the character of Captain Dobey. Watching now, we’re aware too acutely of how old fashioned he is, and the haunting professional failures (his decade-long inability to bring justice to the case of slain civil rights leader Issac Douglas, as well as his own partner’s murder in “Snowstorm”), the decision to leave his family in the protection of a sole police officer, even the fact that he lies to himself about his dietary habits (understandable, even lovable), all point to someone who is not all that self-aware. Very often Dobey has to have the case explained to him (“Death Ride”, “Targets”), and very often his unthinking tantrums actually hurt the investigation (“Bloodbath”, “Tap Dancing”). Of course we must acknowledge the triumph Dobey represents and has earned, that of the African-American in a position of power, and as well we must recognize the archetypal Authority Figure (especially one that occasionally dips into comedy, as Dobey’s does) is by its very nature an unfashionable constant, while the heroic figures of Starsky and Hutch have only improved over time. Awesomely progressive then, they still seem radical, and we can thank both the writers and the actors themselves for how fresh and contemporary these characters are. In fact we are only now appreciating just how radical they were and are – their fierce independence, enlightened humanism, and barrier-breaking love and loyalty to one another is still as rare a commodity now as it was then.

A couple of interesting issues arise immediately: one, those guys in the car are dressed very well, and very warmly, for this job. A suit and a sweater vest in what looks like ninety degree heat? As well, they are awfully casual as they wait for escapee Leo Moon. They don’t position themselves by the iron manhole cover, but sit in the car. Moon has to tap furiously to signal he’s raring to get out, and precious seconds are wasted while Sweater Vest gets out of the car, gets his crowbar, walks over and opens the vault; meanwhile sirens are loudly blaring away, which should have sent them scurrying into position long before now.

How does Moon escape, anyway? He seems to have merely crawled through a super-convenient concrete tunnel system, probably some kind of abandoned sewage outflow. It seems very close to the prison and isn’t even secured by razor wire. He’s not even dirty or out of breath.

What Happened Last Night: “Just admit it,” Starsky says to Hutch, swinging his gun in its holster around in a casual way, as they sit at their desks. “You’re just ticked off after what happened last night.”
“No I’m not,” Hutch says, but he’s lying. Determined to win, he throws Starsky a manual on ways to become right-handed. “If your best friend can’t tell you, who can,” he smirks, ever the genius at undermining. “Sooner or later you have to realize this world was designed for right-handed people,” he says, after a particularly graceful lope from his desk to Dobey’s to deliver a typed accident report, “you’re just out of step.”
“I do all right,” Starsky says, all earlier confidence disintegrating.
Hutch regards him coolly. “Aren’t you a little tired of doing just all right?” What precipitates this exchange are never revealed; it’s either a marvelous script extra or lost on the editing room floor, but nevertheless this nice little scene adds much to our understanding of the characters’ complicated, amicable, and subtle dance of not-quite rivalry.

As the photograph of Issac Douglas is developed, we see it bears a striking relationship to the final photographs of Martin Luther King. It’s a great moment when Dobey comes out of the photographic room at the station and stares longingly, not at the pretty young female cop, but at the chocolate bar she’s just bought from the vending machine. The guilt and desire, it’s all about sugar and fat. His sudden craving for junk food comes immediately after a loaded emotional moment, which is both illuminating and touching.

Starsky and Hutch display an impressive social intelligence when they come to the Dobey household to talk about the Moon escape. They don’t frighten the children, they include the wife, and then discreetly leave before a marital conversation has to take place. In fact, throughout the series, they’ve shown similar sensitivities to families, particularly children.

“Who’s the boss around here anyway,” Dobey murmurs to his loving wife. “I am,” she says, but notice he does what he wants to anyway, despite her wishes he stay home.

More expository dialogue as we get a hasty explanation of who Leo Moon is and why he’s gunning for Dobey. And here comes what I consider to be the secret heart of this episode, slipped in as if it means nothing: “We went through the academy together… The beat you guys have now is the one he had.” Here, in the space of a few seconds, we learn several astonishing things about Dobey. One of his best friends was murdered. And another close friend (“we went through the academy together” must be short-hand for the kind of camaraderie that comes from such an experience) was convicted of murder through Dobey’s testimony, which is a kind of cruelly necessary breaking of that friendship. And now, years later, Starsky and Hutch walk the beat Moon once had. Dobey must be both reminded of tragic events and feel as if, on some level, he has rectified the sins of the past by replacing a morally corrupt officer with two powerfully righteous ones. He is a deeply religious man. Does he ever see this turn of events in a spiritual way?

I wish Leo Moon’s crimes were more fully explained. It would be interesting to know how a cop could turn bad, and who exactly he killed, and why. And also how Dobey managed to be in a position to know what happened. Moon and Dobey were not partners, but Dobey was partnered with the tragic Elmo Jackson, whose murder is revealed in the later episode “Snowstorm”. We never know how these time lines intersect, if they do at all, and most times I do not like to draw links too strongly between episodes unless the writers themselves do. Each episode, to me, is its own island. That said, it’s impossible not to think about Elmo Jackson and how his murder, along with Moon’s murderous acts, affected Dobey psychologically. It could be that his intemperate bumbling has a lot to do with his perceived failures. And it’s not too much of a stretch to think that Leo Moon might have been working with Stryker, who eventually had Jackson killed, which would make Dobey even more complicit in events than he says.

“I used to leave my bike out when I was a kid too,” Starsky says genially, after Dobey shouts for the kids to clean up, another example of Starsky defaulting to child status, the free spirit in a world of grownups. “I’ll bet you did,” Dobey says, in a sudden burst of emotion bordering on anger. It’s a jarring moment, and discomfiting. Nerves, or something else? Does Dobey find it upsetting to see harsh police matters intruding on his private sphere? And if this is the case, why express it in such a passive-aggressive way?

Dobey’s house is protected, but he isn’t. He’s allowed to drive himself to the television station and back at night. Sure, he’s a police officer and should be able to take care of himself, but he’s also a civic official who has been behind a desk for some time. Doesn’t anyone see him as vulnerable to attack?

Ignoring a man’s outstretched hand is as nasty as it gets, and it shows that Pommier, even though he is an expert and a trusted henchman, is not one of the cool kids in Woodfield Industries, but rather an outsider who can easily be let go.

The Fat Man’s bad attitude as he wins at pool would eventually get him into serious trouble, wouldn’t it? Cackling and grinning as he beats some poor schlub at pool is eventually going to get him killed. As well, note the tiresome amount of fat-baiting on this show, aimed at this guy and then at Dobey (twice).

At the TV studio, Hutch delights in taunting Starsky about the left-handed “midget” Maxie Malone (such an offensive word I can hardly bear to type it) who ran the show he once attended as boy scout, insinuating it was left-handedness, of all things, that brought the host down in a hail of disgrace. This sort of extended, detailed torture takes a lot of imagination. What did Starsky do to “last night” to provoke this sort of elaborate reprisal? Beat Hutch at darts? At pool? At arm-wrestling? Attracting a girl attracted to lefties?

Isn’t Dobey worried about slander on Sutton’s show when he accuses Woodfield, along with showing his photo, of murdering Douglas? Or is this the reckless behavior of someone who no longer cares about the legal ramifications of lobbing as-yet-unproven accusations?

Going to the massage parlor to track down missing girlfriend Lola, we’re treated to a lovely little scene where the world-weary madam swans around with a cigarette cracking jokes and teaching her girls chess. It’s these details that add so much to the texture of any episode, even if its whimsical view of prostitution is a tad romantic. Although, as an aside, Leo Moon leaving both his name and phone number is a pretty stupid thing to do. The guy’s an ex-cop, but apparently any cop-like skills have rusted pretty badly in prison.

The actual working police aren’t much better if Moon can get the drop on one of them so easily, especially on a clear, quiet street. But while Moon is breaking in, we get to see Edith’s bravery and fast thinking as she wards him off and then dares to race into the night to find out why they were unprotected. I really don’t appreciate Dobey’s refusal to even look at his son Cal in the aftermath, instead ordering him to check on his sister. Hopefully there was a moment we didn’t see where he comforts and praises his son. Rosey’s shy tottling down the stairs and into Hutch’s willing arms shows again how natural and unaffected Hutch is around kids, and how Starsky hangs back, in most cases more effective at acting like a child and not a parent. Their tenderness toward the child – particularly Hutch’s beatific smile – is a beautiful sight.

At the airport, chasing down the lead of the rental plane that brought Moon to Los Angeles, Hutch is seen through an office window nonchalantly stubbing out a cigarette in the ashtray before he leaves. Although the man at the desk touches the cigarette himself while taking a call, it still seems as if Hutch either took it for himself or perhaps used it in one of his patented menacing moves, stubbing out the cigarette of someone he wanted to intimidate.

When Starsky and Hutch hear about the pilot, they immediately leap to understanding the large and complicated conspiracy that is in motion. This is some pretty impressive deduction.

Talking to the Mandalay Airport mechanic, Starsky and Hutch are particularly masterful. Starsky has his thumb hooked in the pocket of his jeans as he comes around and confiscates the tool the mechanic is holding. He does this in a mildly threatening way that would make anyone shake in their boots. Both are asking questions requiring uncomfortable answers. Hutch reaches out – like lightning – to grab hold of the guy’s wrist. Both are calm, focused and controlled, all business, no nonsense about left-handedness in sight.

Leo Moon tells Lola, “The Captain’s never late for Sunday service, right.” Dobey later tells Edith, “We’re going to arrive at church five minutes late, but we get better protection that way.” It seems as if Moon has misread his adversary. This points to a common thread in the series: how criminals, especially the Big Bosses, often crash and burn when over-protected, and over-praised, by their underlings.

The film negative is flipped in the car scene, showing the car being driven from the right side. Is this a glaring continuity error or a crafty comment on left-handedness?

Harold Dobey and C.J. Woodfield are both religious but there is a difference in how they view it. In Woodfield’s mind, religion and patriotism are merged into a militaristic code of conduct, necessary to to stave off the general downfall of American society. Dobey is a humble practitioner.

“Did I ever tell you about my aunt?” Hutch says, apropos of nothing while the three of them – the guys and Dobey – sit around the Dobey table drinking tea obviously prepared by Edith. Dobey has just been pessimistic and Starsky replies with a remark about always seeing on the bright side. Hutch laughs at Starsky, and then, in the aftermath of affection, is compelled to ruin the moment. “She was left-handed,” he says.
“What did your family do, lock her in the attic?” Starsky says.
Dobey demands to know what the hell they’re talking about, and Hutch says, “Did you ever notice about left-handed people, captain, that they’re a little strange.” And allows himself The Hutch Specialty: a smug chuckle. It’s a private, inward gesture both excluding and alienating, as if Hutch is conducting a secret conversation in his head. I always love this scene, Hutch suddenly resurrecting the subject of left-handedness right in the middle of the most complex, most frustrating part of the case. They can’t pin anything on Woodfield, the case is stalled, and so Hutch makes a little trouble, decompressing by casting aspersions at Starsky. And Starsky accepts this detour, instead of fighting back as anyone else would have. He knows what Hutch is doing.

C.J. Woodfield and the Collapse of the Confederate South: Woodfield is a rich old racist, suffering from what looks like the effects of polio and living in a vast suburban pile meant to look as plantation-like as possible. Played to the hilt by Broadway star Lester Rawlins, his slight frame, reptilian face and menacing southern drawl make him one slithery villain indeed. “I’m a simple man from simple roots,” he tells the detectives after an obnoxiously showy prayer as they sit with gleaming silver service and obsequious wait staff. This specious declaration is common to many of the gangsters at the apex of the food chain: they declare themselves to be regular guys who just happen to get lucky in life, whose riches haven’t changed their simple souls. Woodfield is an interesting variation on this because of his diminished physicality and the force of his religious beliefs, which bleat nonstop like Baptist hellfire. I wonder why these two embellishments, delightful as they are, have been added to his character. It could be the withering of his body echoes his moral withering, and it could be that a hypocrite of this magnitude plays well against the Dobey family’s simplicity and piety.

At Woodfield’s “breakfast” Starsky plays it with a measure of social awkwardness and bluntness ordering on rude, while Hutch goes for the smooth superiority that comes so effortlessly to him. He still, however, wants to have a little fun at the expense of his partner – you can see him intercept Starsky for the coffee pot, and Starsky’s annoyance. Hutch eats his oatmeal the proper way, spoon out toward the far end of the bowl, letting Starsky do the dirty work, threatening Woodfield and his crony. When Starsky makes a smart-ass comment about Woodfield serving “this mush”, you can see Hutch grin, enjoying his partner’s crude ways.

Dobey takes his son Cal for granted. He’s sharp with the boy while saving all his affection for his daughter. It puts one in mind of Jackson Walter’s relationship with Junior in “Manchild on the Streets”. Cal, like Junior, is sensitive. He’s putting up with his father without complaint during these extraordinary circumstances; he’s either afraid for him or of him. But, as time goes on, he’s going to become one surly, resentful young man, maybe in trouble, and Dobey will be at fault.

I can do without the sexual undercurrent of Lola’s tackle on the bed, with Hutch smirking, “Too much for you, partner?” as Starsky holds her down. I also wonder if Lola could have played it cool when she saw Hutch at the window, maybe lying her way out of trouble, but that’s pure speculation and perhaps unfair, because it’s clear throughout that Lola is not at all prepared for the dangers of this lifestyle, even Starsky remarks on her lack of smarts.

Is shooting Dobey at a church Woodfield’s idea? There are other, less public ways to do the job. I suspect it is because religion, and its perversion, plays such a big part in this episode, as Dobey declares he’ll give his thanks to the Lord following the shooting death of Moon. Also, the funereal decorations of coffin and hearse are amusingly reminiscent of the curtain swags at Woodfield’s home.

That’s some splendid act of subterfuge that lets Woodfield’s man Pommier sneak into the Dobey home under the auspices of Tri-State Telephone Co., fooling five police officers who should have known better.

Starsky tells Dobey that Pommier worked for Woodfield Industries for twelve years as a pilot and “explosives man”. What on earth would Pommier have to do with explosives in a seemingly legitimate business like that? It’s never said, but I wonder if the illegal awarding of contracts came about through the gentle persuasion of dynamite bouquets delivered to civic officials.

That is one amazing tackle Hutch does from the airplane to Woodfield’s man – fifteen feet at least, hard on the tarmac.

It’s interesting how much betrayal there is in this episode. Woodfield betrays Pommier, Lola betrays Moon, the aircraft mechanic betrays Pommier. In a sense, Dobey betrays Moon by testifying against him.

There are strong similarities between the two characters of C.J. Woodfield and James Marshall Gunther in the last episode “Sweet Revenge”. Both are older, lonely men without friends or family, whose vast empires are about to fall thanks to the relentless, pesky interference of Starsky and Hutch. A quiet servant comes to announce the arrival of the police, each man says thank you and asks to be left alone. There is a gun on the desk, and a moment of silent contemplation before the arrest, which I cannot help but draw comparisons to the cold realization in the Führerbunker. Both men seem to consider suicide at this point, even Gunther, who holds the gun on his lap and later points it at Hutch but in a way that feels more symbolic and sad than defensive. Woodfield arranges the disposal of his most trusted deputy, just as Gunther murdered his, without qualm or hesitation. Both men long for an imperial past when things seemed simpler. Both are beyond reason, psychotic, half in this world and half in some antediluvian fantasy. In both scenes Hutch is the first one through the door. Rights are read in a way that underscores this will be an above-board, fully legal arrest without a hint of vengeance, despite the enormous emotion beneath the surface. Lastly, we can see just how far the series itself has come in the space of four brief years: while well-written and well acted, Woodfield’s arrest is straightforward, a satisfying conclusion to the plot. In “Sweet Revenge”, the entire scene is swirling in a cerebral miasma, half-spoken thoughts and long intense silences, more real than mere reality. It is not satisfying in the traditional sense, but profound and sad. If this doesn’t make you grieve for the lack of a fifth season nothing will.

Tag: Dobey is tricked into admitting praise. We must come to the conclusion that Edith is the intelligent one in this family, no matter how many demure “yes dear”s she murmurs. Dobey refers to himself as “Chief of Detectives,” but later, in “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty”, it’s Chief Ryan who has the title. Hutch tells Starsky, after learning that Rosey is left-handed, “One out of two ain’t bad,” a statement that remains a mystery to this day. Is he just making stuff up to bolster a non-existent competition persisting throughout this episode? Unable to resist having the last word, no matter what?

Clothing notes: Starsky is wearing a red hooded sweatshirt that looks fresh and modern. Hutch is wearing his green t-shirt, a short black leather jacket we don’t see very often, and the turquoise cargo pants that have made an appearance in other shows.

Let’s Revisit Our Character Overviews

April 15, 2015

The long view is always illuminating.

Part one: Hutch

So much of what we understand about Hutch we glean through a briefly-glimpsed shadow side, choices the actor makes with body language and tone of voice. Often Hutch is snappish or abrupt and just as often he is gentle and empathetic; often he is clumsy and sometimes exceptionally graceful. Very often in Season Four he works alone, very often he is the one to make the rational decision rather than the instinctual one. He likes to mar his beauty with brash undercover personas and grotesque disguises while his partner emphasizes his with cartoonishly magnified romanticism. He expresses an interest in computers, he is witty, he is emotionally variable. He is a Midwestern boy with a Swedish heritage, athletic and smart. He has married and divorced (how often we don’t know; like Starsky’s geography, this essential detail is not clear). These things we know. What we do not know, what is never told to us, is how he came to be here, in dusty, gritty Bay City, and why a man with his extraordinary good looks, intelligence and professional success is so angry so much of the time, and why has someone with so many markers for introversion let himself to be so inextricably linked, in life and career, to his colleague, partner, and friend David Starsky. And it’s these whys and hows I’ll attempt to answer here. My observations are built on quicksand, and that is both the joy and the frustration of it. I’m guessing, pure and simple, falling into the unknowable waters of the intemperate, brave, resolute and complicated Kenneth Hutchinson.

Calm, controlled, disciplined, serious by nature and predominantly conflicted. Easily hurt, quick to anger. The child of possibly upper-middle-class parents (there is something patrician about Hutch that no serape, rubber nose or dented Ford can quite disguise), with a sister. A conspicuous risk-taker (cub scouts, sea scouts, lifeguard, first aid, wrestling, championship dart-playing, and all manner of daredevil sports) and a preoccupation with self-reliance that does much to build a portrait of a man who is trying to stabilize or even reform himself. Doesn’t like being on his own, and yet finds difficulty in forming bonds. Is prone to saying and doing things without completely understanding his own motivations, such as the perennial teasing of Starsky which verges on cruelty but which is actually a mechanism to keep himself safe. Likes to play the superiority card, which is both a distancing tactic, a test of fidelity and an unconscious ploy to be relied upon or needed. Has difficulty getting close to people – continually questioning those who profess to like him – and may be more invested in this partnership/friendship than Starsky is, if only because he feels he has fewer options. It’s possible what he dislikes most about himself is his own profound dependence on Starsky, believing it makes him vulnerable to exploitation, to an inevitable let down, and in low moments wonders if he’d be better off alone. Hides the depth of his feelings through condescension, the opposite of Starsky, who hides his through banality. When relaxed, can be wonderfully self-deprecating, but when pressured becomes proud and unapproachable. Is a very good fabricator, which makes him a great undercover cop. In fact it could be that it’s all fake, to some extent: the superiority, the cavalier attitude, the arrogance, the pushiness. Used to being the best-looking guy in every room, which is both a bane and a source of pride. He protects and bolsters his looks while simultaneously satirizing them, which may explain the strict diet, the jogging, the tidy and occasionally flashy or silly) sartorial choices. Has an affinity for the Woody Guthrie-esque wrong side of the tracks, the lowlifes and country music bars and the open road he believes is truer and more authentic than his own reality of suburban ranchers and liberal-arts degrees. Is obsessed with concepts of truth and authenticity because of a feeling of alienation but in reality is intelligent, perceptive, creative, honorable, loyal and brave. Throughout the four years we are fortunate enough to know him, he travels from the same path as Starsky: the path of self-knowledge, which rightly ends with himself as hero and savior, his fullest and best self revealed. For four years he has been struggling with choices, making the wrong or hurtful one as often as the honest or courageous one. His struggles are ours. He has been cruel when he should have been kind, thoughtless when discipline was called for, but haven’t we all? And in the end he makes the ultimate choice – to go forward, to face the fear head on, to keep going when all around him tell him to stop, to allow himself to admit that what propels him, what defines him, and what gives his life meaning, is the thing he has not always wanted to acknowledge.

Part Two: Starsky

What we know about Starsky will fill a thimble, what we think we know about Starsky is immense. Like Hutch, the facts of his biography, sprinkled through four years of uneven scripts, are few and also inconsistent. The writers have chosen to make him as east coast as Hutch is west coast, which is, in American stereotype, meant to imply he is tough, bossy, urban, practical, forthright, possibly Jewish and possibly merely “ethnic” in a vague melting-pot way, possibly anchored by a large and boisterous multi-generational family unit and possibly not (those numerous aunts and uncles are awfully abstract, and the loss of a father can mean a broken or peripatetic family). We know his mother is alive, far away, probably in New York with his volatile, resentful younger brother. We do know that he is easy-going, confident, on the quiet side, and we know that he is less likely to feel the need to prove himself than his sometimes-brittle partner, which may imply a stable and strong sense of self. We know that he is emotionally centered, romantically successful, charming, and imaginative. Hutch calls him a hedonist and we have no cause to doubt it. These things we know because we observe them often. But what we don’t know is how he came to be this way, since the Facts are in opposition to the man. The facts are that Starsky’s father was murdered in something connected to the mob, a deeply fracturing event that would shatter the psyches of most people. And while I always have the feeling both Starsky and Hutch are on the journey toward enlightenment, which is why this series has such a profound sense of importance, Starsky appears to be a little further down the road than his complicated partner. Exactly why, I have no idea, but it may have something to do with a lack of weighty baggage, the sense you have that Starsky really is free in a fundamental way, what the Buddhists may call śūnyatā. And so without the aid of canonical facts, here I go into the dark:

Composed, explosive, confident, physically graceful, deeply loyal. Like Hutch, the “inside” does not match the “outside”: in Starsky’s case he is more concerned with the corporal, the factual, and the immediate than with suppositions or abstracts while outwardly advocating for the absurd and the childish. Intense, emotionally present, flirtatious, easily angered, easily calmed. “Crummy,” to use a phrase by Hutch, in his choice of clothes but exacting and neat in his private spaces.  Neat and, one suspects, neatly compartmentalized. Has the unusual ability to be comfortable in both solitude and in groups; a team player but good on his own. Optimistic by nature and rational, and can be conventional in his thinking, a strong sense of right and wrong. Can also be myopic and stubborn, lightened by a great sense of humor. Quick to blame himself, to the point of martyrdom, a trait shared by his partner. Less in need of external cues than Hutch. Doesn’t feel the need to explain himself, which is the mark of a masterful, confident man. Has a healthy, seemingly indestructible ego (ironic, since Hutch, quick to lord everything over Starsky – social standing, intelligence, etiquette, lifestyle and choice of cars – secretly harbors feelings of low self-worth). Is more natural and effortless with displays of love and loyalty than Hutch is. Withdraws when attacked. Unusually, he can be at his best when angry: his anger is majestic and controlled rather than rash or erratic, and is also almost always altruistic in nature. Put another way, he is more likely to become angry on behalf of others, or perceived injustice, rather than for his own needs and purposes. Is also sentimental, given to enthusiasms, and likes things like stuffed animals and toys and token objects, like cars and watches. Is sensitive to emotional tenor, is watchful and thoughtful. Uses charm to get what he wants, the hallmark of a favorite child (which may explain his brother’s insecurities). Seems to viscerally understand the mechanics of friendship and love, and is continually working, on some obscure and covert level, to keep that friendship working smoothly, even if it means subjecting himself to teasing and criticism. Despite seemingly to be more casual about emotions than Hutch, he is in fact deeply sincere and “in touch” with them. The more emotional he feels the less he shows it, often hiding the negative emotions, fear and anger, under a smooth veneer of cracking jokes and acting cool (while Hutch is more liable to revert to sarcasm or tension in the same situation). Loves to flirt, is simultaneously facile and oddly sincere in flirtation, a ploy to get what he desires (chiefly female approval) as well as a method of avoiding confrontation, serious conversation, or to hide social embarrassment. His balanced and durable self allows him to be, at the end of this journey, the goal of that journey. Stay with me here. He falls, and Hutch must catch him in time. He becomes, then, the rock that is thrown into the air. That rock is both weapon and instrument, object of self-preservation and empowerment as Hutch moves through the stages of bewilderment, loss, rage and finally resolution. This is the perfect last act of Starsky: his stability and selflessness is given its purest expression as he lays motionless in a hospital bed, allowing himself to be saved, and in turn, saving his partner.

Character Studies 31: Children

April 5, 2015

Children are prominent in many episodes, both as characters and as important metaphors for innocence, the bewilderment of loss as well as inevitable change. They are either the center of the story (“Little Girl Lost”, “The Trap”, “Crying Child”, “Manchild on the Streets”) or are memorably parallel to the story: Little Brother Kiko in “Running” and “The Trap”, the children in “Starsky’s Lady”, old-before-his-time huckster in “Huggy Can’t Go Home Again”, little Meg in “Hostages”, Stevie in “The Heavyweight”, Bobby Marsh in “Survival” and Richie Yeager in “The Plague”, Dobey’s children Rosie and Cal in “Captain Dobey”, the tragic Lonnie in “Pariah” and Joanna in “The Psychic”. As well, we see many characters approaching adulthood who are childlike, either because they are developmentally delayed or socially and emotionally immature and therefore in need of protection: Lisa in “Nightmare”, the pack of thieves run by Artie Solkin in “Vendetta”, exploited Mickey in “Bust Amboy” and to this list I’ll throw in Chicky in “Deckwatch” and dim-witted Mousey, also in “Nightmare”, as well as Larry Horvath, middle-aged but struggling with mental and physical challenges that have him naively stealing candy like a eight-year-old.

“Survival” is an excellent episode that features children in a variety of interesting ways. There is Bobby Marsh, the 12-year-old whizkid who helps Starsky with his ham radio, and there are the two teenagers who ruthlessly plunder the belongings of severely injured Hutch. Both Bobby and the lawless teenagers are dispossessed in some way, the suggestion here is they are cast out into a world of their own making, alienated from parental controls and surviving as Hutch must survive: by their wits, through sheer determination. When neglected they degenerate, and when loved they are self-actualized – even Hutch, briefly helpless as a child, goes through this traumatizing experience, only to be saved by his partner at the last moment.

Ninety-nine per cent of the children in this series are orphaned, acting alone, or in a single-parent home. This is no surprise, as this is a cop drama and happy families enjoying picnics have no part in that. I mentioned earlier that children are emblematic of change, both positive (transformation or innocence) or negative (grief and loss). But it is more personal than that: I think I remember the episodes featuring children so vividly because, like many fans of the series, I was a child myself when watching for the first time. Because of severe parental neglect I felt a strong connection to these scrappy orphans and streetwise tough guys, longed for rescue, and watched with a mix of jealousy and disappointment (boy or girl, who didn’t wish they were trapped in a barn fighting the bad guys with Starsky and Hutch?). These feelings of alienation are certainly not original – most children, especially the outsiders, the weirdos, the kids stuffed into lockers because of their haircuits or their teeth or some invented bit of cruelty, felt forsaken and misunderstood. In the 1970s the gap between child and adult was both vast and dark. Parents were aloof and strange, their lives indecipherable, children spent most of their time running wild in fantasyland. Popular psychology was just beginning to recommend having an empathetic relationship with one’s child, to see and understand the world through their eyes and give advice more productive than “he hits you because he likes you” or “boys don’t cry” but progressive parenting had a long way to go before filtering down to the average household. I don’t know many parents who approved of television generally and “Starsky & Hutch” in particular; the show was made for and intended for adults but it was mainly the secret province of teens and preteens, watched and loved and remembered with the particular intensity of those years. Sometimes I wonder if the inclusion of child characters was a way for series producers to acknowledge, and by proxy include, the majority of their fans.

But there is something even more important: these children, or childlike adults, allow Starsky and Hutch to rewrite the definition of heroism. From antiquity to the 19th century the Warrior Hero was admired for overcoming – with single-minded, steely zeal – those impediments to God or State, but by the 1970s the corrosive horrors of war and a general feeling of cynicism had a marked effect on the definition of heroism, from slashing and beheading your way through obstacles for Crown and Country to something much less definable, and much less “noble” in the traditional sense. Starsky and Hutch perfectly personify this new stateless hero. They have no external object of worship, are led astray by authority (“The Committee”, the “Targets” trilogy, among many others) and their private motto, “me and thee”, tells us they know very well that those in power can be as iniquitous as the criminals they chase. (They are not, however, anti-heroes. For all their independence and skepticism they are not self-interested, and never fully disengage from or believe they are better than those institutions employing them.) This new model of hero, then, is someone capable of rejecting power as well as embracing it, someone who can break down, who can cry, who expresses love, who protects the weak, whose vision is complicated by shades of grey rather than black and white. The presence of children, both as victims and little helpers, allow Starsky and Hutch to become true heroes in this way: ethical, protective, creative, empathetic, and nurturing.

But it’s their very different approaches to children that make the subject so fascinating. Simply put, if there was a conference table of in the boardroom of life, Hutch would sit across from a child and discuss matters reasonably, and Starsky would crawl under the table and make a fort from the cushions. Both methods are equally successful, both require insight and rapport. Both get the job done, depending on the circumstances. And above all both these approaches emphasize each man’s fundamental outlook on life: Hutch as rationalist, Starsky as fabulist. So while Hutch documents, Starsky invents. He magnifies pain (“Coffin”) and minimizes it too (“Shootout”). He uses humorous anecdotes as a way of consoling his partner, and also as a way of clarifying his version of reality (“Coffin”, “Plague”, “Golden Angel”, among others). A perfect example of this is in “Nightmare” when Hutch talks honestly and forthrightly to Lisa while Starsky distracts her with playtime. Even within the partnership Starsky can lapse into playfulness that suggests childishness, allowing Hutch to be the stern adult. For example, Starsky fondles money, Hutch slaps his hand (“The Psychic”, “Las Vegas Strangler”, “The Action”). This ritual seems to be a stress reliever for the both of them, and if I crawl onto a psychological branch here (unstable and unsupported) I might suggest that both are getting what they were denied in earlier life: Starsky lacking a father to support and direct him, Hutch’s natural inclination to be caring (and controlling) negated or ridiculed by others. A strong partnership such as theirs not only allows them to flower into what we now understand to be heroic, they are allowed to reclaim what has been lost in their own childhoods.

Let’s revisit “Nightmare”

February 14, 2015

A young, mentally handicapped woman is raped and her attackers may go free when their case may not hold up in court.

Lisa Graham: Diana Scarwid, Nick Manning: Gerrit Graham, Mitzi Graham: Karen Morrow, Mousy Loomis: Zachary Lewis, Ass’t DA Sims: David Knapp, DA: Jim Gruzalski, Al Martin: Carl Weathers, Mr. McDevlin: Jerome Guardino. Written By: Steve Fisher, Directed By: Randal Kleiser.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a compassionate episode about a rape and its terrible aftermath, and the triumph of the often fragile human spirit. It’s also a story about the dehumanizing, desensitizing nature of fundamentalism, in which rules must be followed no matter the cost (we see this in the court scenes). Both these are recurring themes throughout the series and addressed in depth in other episode summaries, so let’s investigate another long-running idea that is much less flashy and entertaining but still important: the perils of nostalgia, or specifically, what happens when we rely too much on sentiment or a rose-colored view of the past, or fear change too acutely. “Nightmare” is a wonderful example of how people are caught up in their own assumptions and ideals, even at the cost of real growth.

“Starsky & Hutch” is and was very modern in its approach. It marks a significant change in the way popular culture was presented to the masses. Brash and bold, it upturns old assumptions left and right and shows us how contemporary life (as seen through the lens of network television, mind you) has profoundly changed in the last decade, and largely for the better. The series tackles tough political and moral issues, shows men being emotional and caring toward one another, and casts a cynical eye on the once-immovable concrete foundations of the old elite – bankers, politicians, lawyers and even the police themselves. Starsky and Hutch are part of the new breed of idealistic, sensitive, skeptical heroes whose moral compass necessarily points far to the left. And as if to emphasize this point the series repeatedly goes out of its way to show us that the old ways weren’t as great as they seemed, and reliance on old-fashioned “ideals” do not work well in these times.

I would say “Nightmare” is a perfect encapsulation of this, and it begins with a beautifully-written and acted set-piece about Starsky diligently searching out an old toy store he remembers from childhood in order to find the perfect present for their friend. The two argue about memories and changing times, with Hutch calling out Starsky for his persistence in finding something that is no longer there (the scene includes Starsky doing a delightful Harpo Marx-like trailing of a pretty blonde walking down the street). Uncle Elmo, once purveyor of children’s toys, is now selling adult novelties, and continues with the introduction of the angelic Lisa whose developmental and intellectual delays keep her permanently in little-girl stage while her body grows into adulthood.

This episode shows that change can be a malevolent force as well as a positive one, bent on destroying innocence. But it can also be a mistake – sometimes a fatal one – to continue to act as if nothing changes. “You know what they say, don’t you,” Hutch comments. “You can never can go home again.”

When Hutch suggests they go to another toy store, making the sensible remark that the owner would know Lisa, Starsky accuses him (not for the first time) of being a man without a heart. “There is a thing called loyalty”, he fumes, which of course means he’s more or less faking this display of temper, because if Hutch understands anything, it’s loyalty. (It’s also in stark contrast to the scene in “Las Vegas Strangler” where Starsky says he’s “sick” of Hutch’s extreme sense of loyalty.)

In one of the finest and funniest scenes in the entire series, we see the laundromat bust, a high-spirited, perfectly performed set piece which necessitates, to fans’ delight, Starsky undressing. “Of all the high falutin ideas,” Starsky gripes, even though Hutch’s idea to walk directly into the line of fire is a brave and practical solution to an urgent problem.

Hutch’s acting skills are showcased once again – he’s totally convincing when he walks, whistling, into the hold-up. Both guys show a remarkable willingness to adapt to the situation and adopt unconventional ideas and techniques. Note how his cowed reaction gives the thug with the gun an ugly flush of power, which is a great little detail. In fact the whole scene is filled with amazing details: the old lady with no teeth, the towel found on the clothing line, the “drop it, sweetheart,” shouted by the beat cops at Starsky. It has both brutal realism and cinematic flair.

Although nothing emphasizes how times have changed more than when Hutch goes into his pocket for his badge and the two uniformed cops do not start blasting away.

Starsky and Hutch are not in their regular beat because they don’t know the whereabouts of the toy store, and the uniformed cops don’t recognize them following the arrest in the laundromat when surely every cop in the neighborhood would recognize the infamous duo (they do in “The Fix” when Hutch is spotted running down the street by the squad car). And they’re not familiar with Uncle Elmo’s new adult book store either. But it is Starsky’s childhood neighborhood, despite the fact we are told in several episodes that he was raised in New York. This could mean Starsky was born in Los Angeles and then moved east with his family to New York at a fairly young age, perhaps around the age of ten or so, but that would go directly against later episodes such as “Targets Without a Badge”. When he tells Lisa he played in his back yard his tale could be judiciously altered (“I played on the fire-escape/dirty stoop/grimy storeroom” not being entirely appropriate for his purposes), as people tend not have a back yard in New York. In “Shootout” Starsky mentions he lived over an Italian restaurant in an apartment. My speculation is Starsky came out to Los Angeles on summer holidays, perhaps to visit his uncle’s family (“Snowstorm”, “Jo-Jo”), and got to know this particular neighborhood very well.

In this episode, as in the series as a whole, Hutch is clear-eyed and cynical, Starsky is more likely to be stubbornly sentimental. Hutch lectures Starsky on how things inevitably change, speculates the singing goldfish grew up and their voices changed. He also comments the bratty kid at the toy store will grow up and Lisa will stay sweet. “Kids grow up…the world marches on.” With Hutch, Starsky seems to revel in a certain kind of childishness. He quotes outlandish “facts” from books, appears credulous and trusting, tends to dislike change and is more conventional, sulks when upset and is cheered by silly things like ducks and toys. Hutch may act impatient at his partner’s ways (and Starsky may exaggerate for effect) but the dichotomy allows him to be the protector, the parent, teacher and sage. It also allows Starsky to relax and be himself. With his wholehearted affections and fetishistic objects, and the childlike wonderment in spite of the violent, dangerous world he inhabits, Starsky is not just a sentimentalist. He is a complicated character whose quirks and compartmentalizations are every bit as self-preserving as Hutch’s prickly exterior. How to be a good cop and not let the darkness consume you is something every detective and officer in uniform struggles with, and both Starsky and Hutch deal with this struggle in different but equally successful – and sometimes unsuccessful – ways.

Starsky’s act, if you can call it that, is somewhat dispelled by the intensity of his concentration when he plays with the trains. He really is enjoying himself, and not like a serious train-collector either, but immersively like a child. When confronted by little Tommy saying, “this is for kids. You’re not a kid. Starsky replies easily, “I’m buying a present for a kid. I’m going to a birthday party.” Amusingly, he isn’t actually buying anything: Hutch is in the background, diligently looking at proper girly presents for Lisa. One imagines a few moments before this scene opens, indulging his partner. The all right, play with the damn trains. Later the kid says, pointing, “are you with him?” Meaning Hutch. “Yeah,” Starsky says, with obvious pride, quirking a smile, as if acknowledging the question is that your dad? “He’s my partner. We’re policemen.” “Policemen” being a phrase like “fireman” or “astronaut”. A word a child might use, Starsky inhabiting, briefly, that marvelous space between past and present.

“Having problems, little boy?” Hutch says, when things go wrong. As ever providing the sarcasm (here, gentler than usual) for his own complicated reasons.

Hutch later comments that things will be all right, that by next year the boy who makes trouble for Starsky at the toy store will have outgrown both the train-set and Lisa. Starsky, who has obviously not outgrown anything, still makes an effort to concede to Hutch’s need to instruct. Who’s the adult now?

Two points of interest in the story thus far: we are never tipped off that Lisa is not a child, and for all that kid’s peevishness in the toy store, notice how he too accepts Lisa for exactly who she is on the inside.

One of my favorite little exchanges occurs when Hutch relates the doll’s attributes to Starsky, beginning with, “You punch her in the stomach she says ‘ma’”. Now, I may not know much about dolls, but punch her in the stomach? “You pull a string in the back that says ‘don’t touch me I hardly know you’”, continues Hutch, making this up. All this is highlighted by a very annoyed woman watching two men fuss with a doll. The whole scene is starting to look like a metaphor for their undercover work with hookers, junkies and abused women. The kicker is Hutch holding up a pink gingham dress. “How does this look, huh?”
“I like you better in red,” says Starsky.

Filming notes: Glaser and Soul reportedly went crazy while shooting the scene in the toy shop, putting rattlesnakes down people’s backs and having a pea shooter war.

How do Starsky and Hutch know Lisa and Mitzi? The relationship seems very mature, as if they’d all gone through something together. Given their record of volunteering with youth, could be it be that they knew her through some kind of outreach or school program? And yet other cops, especially Dobey, are especially invested Lisa, and seem very fond of her. Dobey has gone to the trouble of buying a gigantic panda bear, despite his admonishing the guys about soft-hearted cops ending up broke. Was Frank an ex-cop, maybe, or one of the support staff? Heart-attack at fifty-four sort of thing?

Nick and Mousey wait for Lisa to come by. Nick seems to know Lisa because he remarks “she’s fair game, just like any other girl.” He knows she’s different and wants to capitalize on it, knows her daily routine. It seems their paths have crossed in and around the bus Lisa has ridden every day for two years, because he tried to steal the cash box from that bus before. But why does Lisa catch the bus at the lot, rather than the stop? The driver senses they shouldn’t be there before he knows of trouble, so obviously there aren’t a lot of pedestrians.

The buses in the lot say RFD but the driver’s hat says MTL.

I’ve been thinking recently about the terrible prescience of having Lisa’s rape take place on an empty bus. A bus is a critical detail here. Not only is it the one form of transport that brings together all kinds of people, a culturally and socially rich environment enabling all kinds of unlikely meetings to take place, in car-centric Los Angeles particularly it is a mode of transport largely for the poor, the disadvantaged, the very young. But it is the spate of recent rapes on buses that makes this scene even more horrible than it already is. In many countries in which women are denied the ability and the right to drive, a bus is a life saver and a death trap all in one. Women are harassed, stalked, and otherwise bothered on buses all the time; in many restrictive countries a bus is the only place a woman interacts and is dependent on her (male dominated) society. In Mexico, a self-styled vigilante who calls herself Diana the Hunter rides the buses in rural Mexico, targeting and killing men who have defiled female passengers. As I write this, I hear on the news that a young Turkish woman was raped and murdered by the driver as she was the last one on the bus in the evening.

Back at the station, the guys are wrapping Lisa’s present, and from the sight of Starsky’s exaggerated yelp of pain when Hutch ties the bow around his finger, and Hutch’s equally exaggerated irritable, “Keep your finger there, will you?” this is a comedy routine that has gone on for several minutes before we join them. One can imagine the other cops’ private reaction to the undercover detectives clowning around and wasting time in the squad room. It most likely runs the gamut between “what a coupla great guys” and “fuckin think they’re movie stars”.

The bus driver picks out “Robert Emmett ‘Mousey’ Loomis” from a large mug-shot book containing thousands of photos and Hutch not only knows who he is, he knows the guy’s habits and tendencies. This is impressively knowledgeable. Both Starsky and Hutch pick up on the “they” when the driver complains about the cash box “they” tried to steal and Starsky reveals the same encyclopedic knowledge of small-time hoods because he immediately knows who Mousey’s partner is. There is a small procedural slip up though, when the driver remembers the pale curly hair and Starsky gives him a mug book with only one photo on it showing a man with similar hair, which could be seen as leading.

Hutch says it doesn’t make sense when bus driver identifies Mousy as a rapist. Hutch comments, “From what we’ve heard from the joint from the time that he spent in there, he has a tendency to go the other way.” Hearing about Mousy’s sexual preferences, at least while in prison, is fairly detailed information. How much information do Starsky and Hutch get from the joint anyway? Huggy is usually pictured as the snitch-above-all-other-snitches, but there are a lot more that we never see, which is too bad. An episode in which the detectives visit a prison would be really great.

There are seat belts in the Torino but they’re never used.

I understand the kind impulse, but that is way too much for a girl to endure in one day. I’m surprised they all thought it was a good idea, and that the doctor actually recommended it – severely traumatized, then a birthday party. All the adults involve show a great deal of emotional tone deafness to Lisa’s anguish. They are trying to jolly her out of something that should have been understood and acknowledged, which is another example of a kind of fear of change that can prove paralyzing. Lisa has changed. But no one wants to admit it.

There is perhaps no more touching and heartfelt statement than when Hutch tells Lisa they may want to hurt her attackers but they never would because it would make them no better those they detest. “We’re policemen, you know?” he says gently. Given the current state of police-related violence throughout the United States, this attitude is both heartening (fiction is always a panacea) and bitterly ironic.

I try to see each episode without what I sometimes call enlightenment bigotry, a judgmental discomfort that extends from smoking in hospitals to blatant sexism. But even so, I cringe every time I see Huggy’s latest enterprise, the sad, dimly lit pet store. I hate to think where he got these poor animals and how he can possibly adequately care for them, and what happens when he loses interest or too much money and moves on to something else. Still it’s amusing when Huggy refers to a crow or raven as an African canary. But thinking about this scene, if Huggy’s so anxious to bust the “scum”, why does he wait for Starsky and Hutch to find him? A phone call would have been quicker.

Mousey Loomis has a low intelligence and is easily manipulated. In a sense, he’s as much a child as Lisa, once can easily imagine him as poor, uneducated, probably from a troubled, violent home, with undiagnosed learning problems, kicked out of school and easy pickings for an amoral predator like Nick Manning. As an aside, I’m always astonished at the manhandling Starsky gives him – Glaser really goes to town with an exhibition of physical power here, dragging 150-lb Loomis along like he was nothing.

Loomis says Manning plans to kill Lisa so she can’t identify him for the crime. This might not have saved Manning at all, since Lisa was examined at a hospital and even in the late 1970s there was such a thing as a rape kit, with careful collection of blood, semen and other samples that could have led to prosecution. I’d also like to think Lisa bit him, which would have also been useful too. Plus there was the bus driver as witness. Later, uber-evil Assistant DA Sims suggests no jury would convict, but there is a strong possibility they would. With a mountain of psychiatric evidence, character witnesses for Lisa, plus Lisa’s own affecting testimony and the lengthy criminal record of Manning (plus his grotesque smirk, which I bet he can’t hide even under duress) I tend to believe they could win their case. I also think Mousey is the weak link here – with the proper interrogation, a few incentives, he could be the key to the whole trial. It’s really a shame trying to turn Mousey isn’t part of the story here.

Starsky holds his gun in his unusual way: palm over the top, fingers loose and high.

Lisa alone in the house: why 911 was invented.

Because rape is such a contentious and unremitting horror, it’s always interesting to see how the it’s portrayed throughout the decades. Here, we see how the victim of the crime is revictimized on the stand, with lawyers relentlessly chipping away at her dignity and self-esteem, cruelly twisting truths into lies and questioning the moral character of someone who has been raped by suggesting it was encouraged or consensual. I believe the title refers not only to the act of rape but the experience of not being believed or taken seriously by those in authority.

The fact that this is a pretrial rather than a trial is an interesting one. Perhaps the parties involved are assessing Lisa’s ability to be cross-examined, or maybe there are numerous issues to be resolved before trial can begin.

The role of comforter and protector are shared equally between partners, as Starsky does the dirty work during the arrest and Hutch goes to Lisa. This changes when Starsky coaxes Lisa from her despair during questioning, talking her gently about how great it is to be ten, and the “Doodletown” of his childhood, with Hutch at a respectful distance. Notice, though, Hutch’s comfort of Lisa consists of gently-administered Hard Facts (they can’t beat up her assailants because that would make them just as bad, and besides, they’re Policemen and have to follow rules) while Starsky’s consists of a distracting fantasyland that makes the real world go away.

I always find it interesting that Mitzi allows Starsky to take over the immediate care of Lisa. It shows a woman who has learned to relinquish control if necessary for the good of her daughter. She calls herself “selfish” a little later on but this is a practiced, even specious joke I’m sure she’s made often as a kind of justification for her choices. Truly, though, I think Mitzi letting Starsky take over at this moment is about as unselfish as it gets.

Diana Scarwid’s performance is perfect here. Not only does she have the delicate, nearly transparent look of a child who has spent most of her life indoors, she has a sweet and endearing way of repeating words spoken to her, murmuring them to herself as if to memorize them, incorporate them into her own vocabulary. We see it here particularly when Starsky tells her about Doodletown. When she repeats his words you can almost see them coming to life in her imagination. It seems like a genuine way Lisa might find her way through the world. I would love to know if this is scripted or Scarwid’s own uncanny instincts.

I love Dobey’s crooked grin when admitting that the guys could bring Nick Manning in on another charge. He’d been laying back while the whole assaulting-the-lawyer scene went on, and now he pretty well gives his blessing for anything slightly illegal the guys might do. Which brings up the issue of how Dobey views his reckless detectives and their methods.

If he isn’t calling the station but rather a personal number, Huggy calls Starsky, not Hutch, with the tip. How often does he seem to favor one over the other?

It’s nice to see a young, handsome Carl Weathers, looking like he’s about to go to the opera in both his scenes.

When a beaten Manning makes his accusation, nothing much is done about it, not even by DA Sims, who acts like he believes it’s possible Starsky and Hutch might be guilty of assault. It’s possible their hands are examined for wounds, their alibis checked, but we never see it. A serious accusation like that should have at least caused them a visit to Internal Affairs.

Oh, the exemplar of masculine power: Starsky and Hutch breezing past a secretary crying out, “You can’t go in there!”

“What do we know about law and order and graphs and charts?” Starsky says, when the he and Hutch have been left waiting over an hour, both chewing hard on gum (which, in itself, is unusual; what, was there a dusty pack in Hutch’s pocket just in case of long, frustrating waits like this one?) Which is a bit ingenuous, because they both can be very analytic and contextual in their thinking although this sentiment does drive home the idea of being outside the norm.

Is there no moment more thrilling than when Dobey says “Go get ‘em” and Starsky and Hutch burst out of the room like they’ve been shot out of a cannon? Interestingly, though, this is one case that doesn’t depend on Starsky and Hutch gathering evidence, making deductions or tracking down the bad guys. All that had been done in the first fifteen minutes of the episode. Rather, they spend most of their time hampered by regulations and made to wait.

“Fioremonte Bail Bonds” is an inside-joke on location director Gene Fioremonte’s name.

How much of Mitzi’s statement that she loves being a mommy and is glad Lisa will never grow up a real feeling or a rationalization for circumstances that can’t be altered? While nothing would be gained by Mitzi mourning the loss of something that will never happen, her speech to Hutch as they sit at the table still seems a tiny bit saccharine in an episode that is, elsewhere, very honest.

Two gifts from earlier in the episode reappear: the puppy from The Ark and the train set, which Tommy, the bratty kid at the toy store, insisted no girl would ever want. I wonder, though, if giving Lisa a puppy has more weight to it than the scene might suggest. It might imply that Lisa is in fact older now, these experiences, as horrible as they were, have ushered in a new kind of maturity. This new phase is marked by her ability (and interest in) taking care of something even younger and more vulnerable than she is.

Of the four major players in this episode – Lisa and her mother, Starsky and Hutch – Lisa herself is the only one who acknowledges that change, even unwelcome change, is inevitable. She does it when she asks Hutch if she was raped because she looks older than she is, when she cuts her hair in order to destroy her beauty, and also when she overhears the callous Sims talking about “mental deficiency” and cries out, “It isn’t something I don’t already know!” All these things point to a level of self-awareness that does her credit. Instead of frankly acknowledging the dichotomy of experiencing the world as a ten- year-old while looking twenty, the adults around Lisa are intent on keeping her safe and happy and to a large extent insulated from any hint of adulthood. Understandable, even laudable, but Lisa herself is capable of handling both realities simultaneously.

You can read Hutch’s mind when Mitzi talks about the joys of having a child who never grows up. “How about two children?” says Hutch. “He’s all yours,” says Mitzi, and Hutch laughs. It’s one of the most charming tags in the series, allowing us to see just one of many sides to Hutch’s complicated feelings about his partner, in this case paternalism mixed with a kind of exasperated fondness. In his own way he is as sentimental as Starsky, only less overtly. Would he ever want Starsky to grow up? My guess would be no.

Clothing notes: of course, no clothes are the best clothes when Starsky does the take-down at the Laundromat. The guys look great in the court ensembles, Harris tweed jacket and emerald turtleneck for Hutch, a great corduroy jacket and jeans for Starsky. They both don their iconic leather jackets in the final confrontational scenes.

Character Studies 30: Divisible and Indivisible

December 27, 2014

I have made the point many times that Starsky and Hutch are essentially the same person despite their many and celebrated differences. Those differences, blond and dark, brain and brawn, aesthete and hedonist, are simply exceptions proving the argument. Differences disguise unity, and both Starsky and Hutch employ those differences to their advantage as police officers throughout the run of the series. A beautiful example of this is in “Hutchinson for Murder One”, in which Starsky seemingly plays along with institutional regulations while hatching a truly transgressive plot against that very institution. Similarly, they pick a public fight in “The Committee” as a way of secretly working together, and do the good cop bad cop thing fairly often. This playing up differences is also an useful internal structure, allowing one partner to take umbrage (usually over something trivial) as a way of healing or regrouping in a safe and practical way. Thus, Hutch goes on a tirade aimed at Starsky in “Lady Blue” and Starsky does the same to his partner in “Coffin”, each peacefully allowing themselves to stand in the way of the storm. The ultimate expression of this is in the horrifying aftermath of Gillian’s murder in which Starsky allows Hutch to physically and emotionally brutalize him as a way of quickly moving through the stages of grief so justice can be sought and won.

When this mechanism does break down, it breaks for a very specific and fascinating reason. It is when one of the partners has gone through a prolonged undercover operation alone. When they are undercover as a pair the episode is often light-hearted, verging on goofy, with Hack and Zack or versions thereof romping through the scenery. There are also other times in which one is undercover but the other shadows the action closely, allowing both men to regularly meet and re-establish their partnership (“Quadromania”, “Class in Crime”, etc). Somewhat off-topic but still similar is the uneasy separation in “The Game”, when Hutch allows his undercover self to resist Starsky’s urgent attempts to recall him. Here, they come back together in a most intense and unusual way by figuratively getting into each other’s heads during a meditation exercise, a “game” every bit as conjoining as the previous one was divisive. But when circumstances dictate that one should go and the other stay, bad things begin to happen. The huge personal cost of undercover work is one of the most realistic aspects of the series, as many police departments report drug and alcohol abuse, divorce and depression as common hazards. A good undercover detective has to undergo a dissolution of self to integrate convincingly. They must isolate themselves from all that is familiar, and become a new person, and this dissolution and isolation has a profound and ugly impact on both Starsky and Hutch. I believe separation from each other is an unnatural state for them both. The closeness of the partnership is not a crutch or a convenience. It doesn’t feel stifling or stunting, like identical twins with their own secret language, who, once separated, are crippled by insecurities. It has nothing to do with dependence at all, and it’s not a matter of utility. It doesn’t even have to do with compatibility or expediency. It is nothing less than lifesaving, and life-giving, and without it they both begin to falter and fail.

Every solo undercover operation – or any action one takes which is in direct opposition to the work routine of the other – the partnership suffers. Sometimes it’s really nothing, as in “Running” in which Hutch tentatively questions Starsky’s involvement with Sharman but overall supports him, or in “Survival” when the two light-heartedly bicker over who gets to be the flamboyant buyer of illegal goods. Besides, who wants to watch two people get along perfectly all the time? Arguments, missed opportunities, misunderstandings and somewhat male-specific silences are what make a partnership interesting as well as dynamic. But the longer the separation goes the worse the fallout, the deeper the cracks. Starsky is isolated from Hutch when he is involved in a civilian shooting in “Blindfold”, in “Rosey Malone” he is working alone for perhaps a week or ten days, and in both instances the two erupt in a violent argument over Starsky’s role as a police officer. The same thing will happen when Hutch is involved in a prolonged undercover operation in “Ballad for a Blue Lady”, and there is a resulting fight for very similar reasons. In “Starsky vs. Hutch”, although both are involved in the case they work separate aspects of it to the point of not conferring at all.

In all incidents both Starsky and Hutch make the mistake of alienating themselves from the partnership by including the other, however obliquely, in a bitter criticism of the undercover operation. They blame the job for turning them into “hypocrites,” as Starsky says in “Rosey”. They view the other as the enemy, a personification of the dehumanizing bureaucracy that has brought them so much pain. Starsky lashes out at Hutch for wanting to bring him to the station to discuss the case in “Rosey”, and Hutch likewise views Starsky with blood-curdling contempt in “Starsky vs. Hutch” for the exact same thing. In “Ballad” Hutch snaps at Starsky to get off his case when Starsky tries to get him to bring in Marianne. Starsky says to Hutch: “You’re a cop.” He means this to be comforting – Hutch takes it as a slap in the face. It’s interesting to see in “Ninety Pounds of Trouble” Hutch, undercover as a hit man, coolly “kills” Starsky, whom he calls the cop, to prove his authenticity. This could serve as a metaphorical murder, the act of someone who is walking away from his old identity – and if Hutch was in the role for much longer it might have taken on a greater significance.

Yet in “The Plague”, when Hutch tells Starsky he is a bad liar except when undercover, Starsky understands this as both a compliment and absolution, because at this moment the partnership is strong and intact, they are united in one aim and he is thinking rationally. But separation from one another erodes rationality. The chilling solitude becomes masochistic, an act of self-harm. It’s similar to the way an adolescent will alienate himself from family, believing no one understands his pain. He thinks the things he once loved or caused him to feel safe are not real. When Starsky and Hutch fight it has a similar feel of immaturity, a regression into brute emotionalism rather than intelligence, and it serves as a glimpse into what might happen if that separation was permanent. There is an oft-hidden but palpable bitterness to both Starsky and Hutch (more precisely, petulance in Starsky’s case and rancor in Hutch’s), partly due to the misery both witness daily as police officers but partly, I think, due to the memory of loneliness, the sense of incompleteness, both felt before meeting one another. The solitude of an undercover operation must feel in some ways like a Dickensian peeping into an alternate reality. And it is not a happy one.

Because of script limitations we never see the partners reunite or cement their bond after these temporary breakdowns, so we have to content ourselves in what the the final episode shows us: the bond is finally and completely indestructible, defeating even death itself.

Let’s revisit Snowstorm

December 9, 2014

Cocaine missing from a bust and the murder of their informant lead Starsky and Hutch to suspect either Stryker, a drug lord, or two fellow officers, Burke and Corman.

Marty Crandell: George Dzundza, Phil Corman: Richard Venture, Burke: Paul Benjamin, Kalowitz: Bill Sorrells, Stryker: Gilbert Green, Rodgers: Eric Mason, Freddie: Jim Bohan. Written By: Robert I Holt, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a great, punchy early episode with many wonderful scenes. The story, for all its complications, is tough and believable, there is a strong emotional component to the narrative, the clash between generations is always fascinating, and best of all Starsky and Hutch (and dare I suggest the actors as well) are particularly upbeat. There’s a barely suppressed joy here, much laughter and grinning, little jokes and a general sense that both are fully engaged with this story and enjoying themselves immensely. For instance, in the scene in which Starsky and Hutch are menaced by Stryker in the underground garage, the grim realism of the moment is made even better by Starsky’s laughter at the end of it – you get the sense Starsky (and Glaser, for the line here is a thin one) is saying, “can you believe how great this all is?” As well the talismanic Dalmatian Hutch sees repeatedly, and Starsky doesn’t, is a lovely touch and not something employed ever again. This metaphor for the whim of fate, or maybe a concrete sign that Hutch really is under a lucky star, doesn’t affect the brutal realism of the plot. In fact it adds to the idea that life – and death – is precarious, ineffable and impossible to decipher, much less predict. The fact that Robert Holt gets away with using this magical device in an otherwise gritty, hard-boiled crime story, is a testament to how great this script really is.

The first scene is wonderful for many reasons. One, Starsky is sitting on that garbage can in a neat perch that only youth and graceful athleticism allows. I like the binocular pan of the desolate, ugly landscape of dusty, weedy lots and aluminum shacks. The fact that we see firsthand that police work is largely boring, and that cops get hungry too, is a nice bit of realism and one that was at the time subtly revolutionary for television.

Starsky throws Hutch a sandwich and Hutch catches it expertly like a professional baseball player (and Soul is a very talented one).

When Crandell and his partner drive up to the drop with their contraband and the shark-like green sedan cruises up, Starsky and Hutch quickly take off, leaving the other officers hidden inside the building. They then drive quite a long way away, only to turn around the return for the bust. This always strikes me as interesting but not very practical. The long drive back, dust flying, gives the bad guys extra seconds to look up and assess the situation. They then calculate the risk and go into defensive mode faster than they should have, pulling guns and blasting away. It would have made more sense to hide the Torino on site and simply wait at the scene for the deal to go down, then ambush quickly and silently.

Kalowitz says Edward Crown “had you cold, Starsky,” and notes Starsky should be grateful to Corman for shooting him. It appears Starsky saved himself ably and with plenty of time, making Kalowitz’s statement patently untrue. Is this symbolic of Kalowitz’s limited vision and bad judgment in hanging around Corman and Burke? Even if it’s proven he never took part in this scheme, Kalowitz is still shown to be one of the Old Guard, that is, deeply suspicious of Starsky and Hutch and eager to put forth the idea that his cronies still have what it takes.

Leaving a premonitory bad taste in my mouth is Phil Corman’s quick demand Starsky buy him a drink in return for ostensibly saving his life. Most cops would shrug and say, “it’s nothing” if their actions were singled out, and the greater the sacrifice the greater the nonchalance, and so Corman comes off as a self-centered prat in this small moment. Robert Holt’s script is full of these nice details. The scene continues with Corman’s racist joke at the expense of his partner which pretty much tells us this is one reprehensible human being.

In a wonderfully deft bit of comedy, Starsky and Hutch are sharing a cup of water as they debrief in Dobey’s office following the bust. They continue to hand it back and forth throughout, and then, at the conclusion of the meeting when Starsky gestures for it, Hutch refuses to share. This adroit little comedy bit not only enlivens a dialogue-heavy scene, it allows us to see that Starsky and Hutch exist in a world of their own, a part of – but somehow separated from – the environment around them. Sharing also emphasizes the intimacy of the partnership as well as its good-natured competitiveness (and Hutch’s often punitive sense of humor).

Dobey says the informant has to keep feeding information to Starsky and Hutch until they get Stryker, the big boss. Starsky and Hutch vehemently disagree but Dobey tells them about a statutory rape charge pending against the informant they should use as leverage. It seems to me a mistake that Dobey knows the name of their snitch. They should have – and easily could have – kept that in confidence, although I guess that legally Dobey could have forced them to reveal the name or risk prosecution. Although I can’t imagine Dobey doing that, this is, as we discover, is an unusually urgent case for him. The clandestine, undocumented and “casual” nature of undercover detective work pretty much depends on secrecy. Starsky and Hutch should not have been made to be accountable for unrelated crimes committed by Crandell. They should have kept his identity secret. They want to catch Stryker as much as Dobey does, but I wonder if they would have gone through with the Philadelphia rape charge threat if Dobey hadn’t forced them to.

I love how Hutch slaps Starsky’s back as they go through the door at Huggy’s.

Huggy’s responsible for one of the great nonsensical lines in the series when he announces, “Huggy Bear’s is where the elite meet and come to greet the deet and fleet of feet who are so sweet with the finer things of life, beep, beep, bee-beep, beep.” Equally amusing is the blank look both Starsky and Hutch give him. It’s great, though, the guys have one ready for him at the tag end of the episode: Hutch saying, “He can’t cut loose without his juice,” and Starsky plays along: “He’s fine as long as he does wine,” and Hutch says, “Otherwise he’ll drink turpentine,” with Starsky, joyously adding, “And go blind!”

The guys are walking through the bar toward Crandell. In the foreground is a woman wearing kind of a dumb-looking African-style cloth cap and matching dress. Just as you notice it, Starsky does too, giving what seems like an improvised double-take, Glaser managing to telegraph bemusement and disbelief without changing the blank look on his face. Later, much later, Starsky also notices a guy walking down the street talking to himself. He gives the same look of fatigued disbelief. This ties into his complaint to Hutch that he’s too tired to be Bad Cop. Incidentally, Starsky is much more likely to keep his thoughts to himself while Hutch is inclined to express his opinions and frustrations.

When Starsky tells Hutch to “play the bad guy for a change,” is it because he feels he ends up playing the bad cop more than Hutch, or is it pretty much 50/50? It’s Starsky, frankly, who slides most easily into the menacing role in the interview room, due to his mastery of the slow burn. When barking accusations are called for, Hutch is the one who steps in.

You have to really look for the moments in which Starsky controls Hutch, but they’re there. Hutch is more obviously bossy and manipulative, but Starsky matches him point for point in his own quiet way. It’s Starsky who almost imperceptibly motions to Hutch when it’s time to let Crandell out of the booth. Hutch smiles and obeys.

Also, I like when Crandell leaves Hutch slides from his side of the booth, where he’s been blocking him, and goes to squeeze next to Starsky on his side. There’s no real reason for this except to be closer to him. They share a joke – “I didn’t even get a chance to get into my character,” Hutch, consummate asshole-actor wannabe, complains – and Starsky kicks him lightly and gives one of his all-too-rare big grins. This is a wonderfully unguarded spontaneous moment.

The dog is seen again at night, at the other side of town, as the Torino glides into the underground parking lot of what might be Starsky’s brief flirtation with high rise apartment living (not that there’s much proof in this supposition; this is the one and only time he’s seen here, and it’s not as if the scene is entitled “Starsky Drives Home For a Sec”). Starsky says, “I’ll be down in a second; need anything?” “No,” says Hutch, genially enough. Two questions. What, if this is indeed Starsky’s apartment, is he needing at night in the middle of the case? Money? Bullets? And two, why ask Hutch if he needs anything? Does this imply Hutch keeps something there, like an extra t-shirt? Of course all this is moot if this is a parking garage for a grocery store, or if Starsky is running in to pay a phone bill. While the front exterior of the building nominally resembles the police department, there is a notable absence of police cars. Besides, how and why would Stryker risk entering the underground parking lot of the police station? He’s a lot of things, but nuts he isn’t.

All right, let’s talk about the dog for a moment. This is the first and only time a truly magical element is introduced to the series and it defies all rational explanation. Even Joe Collins’ visions in “The Psychic” can be mostly explained away rationally (I try to do just that in Character Studies 29). The dog is a complete mystery, but it’s fun to look at it from several different angles.

If we want to stay in the worldly realm it’s possible it is not the same dog Hutch sees multiple times. Hutch may be alerted to the unusual sight of an apparently stray Dalmatian and then begins to see Dalmatians everywhere, stray or not. We can all relate to this – many of us hear an unusual word or see something out of the ordinary and then it seems as if we see and hear it everywhere. The human brain is wired to make patterns out of nothing, which is why pure coincidence is such a difficult concept for people to accept. I once heard the same obscure 80s pop song three times in one day in different locations.

It might be an amusing bit of karma that Hutch, who can be a bit of a know-it-all, comes off like a bit of a lunatic when he keeps claiming to see a dog Starsky is sure doesn’t exist. The dog is indeed real, if unusually watchful, staring at Hutch as if to transmit a message. For most of the episode the dog is also a precursor of duplicity. He is first seen as they walk into Huggy’s and talk to Crandall, who, as a three-timing snitch is the very model of duplicity. Second as they enter the underground parking lot to be ambushed by Stryker, who tries to recruit them with bribery. Third just before getting a call to the murder scene – a murder perpetuated by the police officers, a murder Stryker believes is proof that Starsky and Hutch are lying about the cocaine. In the tag, he appears when Starsky and Hutch are slipping out of Huggy’s to avoid paying a bill.

But beyond that, Hutch’s ever-increasing sensitivity to the dog’s seemingly arbitrary appearances means that by the time he sees the watchful, solemn Dalmatian at the really crucial moment, on the street outside Crandall’s apartment, he is fully and instantly attuned to the oddity. (And let’s remind ourselves that the Dalmatian itself is a dog closely associated to both comfort and lifesaving as the mascot of fire stations, known for beauty and intelligence, the canine equivalent to Hutchinson himself perhaps.) Each time the sighting grows stranger and more intense, and now when he sees the dog here he is flooded with adrenaline. And it is this flush of alertness that saves his life. Determined to solve this mystery, he bends just slightly to encourage the dog. The bullet zings past the top of his head.

I like how unimpressed Starsky and Hutch are when they realize the specter in the garage is Stryker, who would most likely strike fear in the hearts of most other men. This masterful seen-it-all bravado (whether it’s real or put on) is still deeply impressive after all these years.

Dobey tells the guys they are under investigation by Internal Affairs along with the three other detectives involved in the case. Now, here is where the plot gets a little complicated. Stryker tells Starsky and Hutch there is one million bucks in cocaine missing. It’s not as if he has informants within the department who were there when the shipment was brought in and weighed, because we find out later the missing cocaine was never part of the “official” bust. It might have been so much easier for Corman and Burke to skim off the top during the chaos of the arrest site at the same time they steal the gun, but we eventually we learn that Crandall himself has stolen the cocaine even before it was baled into the cotton shipment. So how did Internal Affairs even know there was missing cocaine? There may have been solid information about the weight of the shipment from someone inside Stryker’s outfit but Stryker himself dismisses this idea and I’m inclined to believe him. The guy Stryker bailed out wouldn’t know – how would he? So how does Stryker know?

Starsky mentions to Dobey that Corman used the missing drugs to set up a rip-off deal. A large amount of cocaine like that would be carefully monitored by secure lockup personnel but Starsky says it like he knows for sure. This turns out not to be the case, so I’m curious where Starsky got this information and why he repeats it so confidently.

I just know someone smarter than me will point out the obvious. But I admit I’m stumped.

I wonder, when Dobey compares himself and his partner Elmo Jackson to Starsky and Hutch, if is implying they too had the same depth of love and trust. It’s possible he just meant a good working relationship, but even so comparing himself and Jackson to Starsky and Hutch provides a crucial clue to the essential character of Dobey. Later, in “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead!” we will hear a similar story of a cold case and Dobey’s failure to bring a criminal to justice, and how it eats away at him. At the end of the episode Dobey is present at the arrest of Stryker for the murder of his old partner – “and best friend”, he says angrily – in order to provide closure for a long term injustice. I always wonder how much guilt he suffers because of his inability to arrest Stryker back in the day for the torture and murder of that best friend. I wonder if he questions his own ambition, the roads he has traveled since, from fiery street cop to desk-bound administrator. If those failures eat at him, does he in turn eat to smother the guilt? Do those little rages of his – gusting unexpectedly but dying down just as fast – give an indication that he is, at all times, angry on some level? Think ahead to future episodes in which either Starsky and/or Hutch is in danger, possibly in danger of death, how weak Dobey can be, how after a burst of shouting he just seems to give up like the air’s been let out of him. He’s bewildered in “Bloodbath”, and in “Coffin” says, “well, that’s it then” when there is still time to fight. He goes out for the evening when Hutch is suffering a heroin overdose in “The Fix”. He thinks “missing officer” trumps “missing partner” in “Survival”. He seems deflated and defeated when Starsky lies near death in “Sweet Revenge” while Hutch keeps ramping up the energy. And simultaneously he coddles the two detectives, favors them and covers for them, gives them all kinds of leeway, some legal and some not. In a sense he is living through them, enjoying their power and freedom from behind his lonely desk. All these elements are more complicated when juxtaposed with the brutal truncating of this early and formative partnership with Elmo Jackson.

There is no scene that shows the divide between Starsky and Hutch and the rest of the department better than when they are driven off the road and verbally attacked by Corman, Burke, and Kalowitz. Out of nowhere a powerful latent resentment rears its ugly head and the three older and more established cops – in their rumpled suits and ties, about as old-school as it gets – reveal just how jealous and defensive they are. It’s easy to imagine how Starsky and Hutch would rub these guys the wrong way. Kalowitz, Burke and Corman must sit at their local and pound back their bourbon shots and grouse about the bewildering way these “young punks” gain the confidence and trust of informants while overtly ignoring petty crime. It’s interesting how Starsky is singled out specifically as “pushy”, even more so than Hutch. We see this resentment worsen later in “Pariah”, when Starsky is unfairly condemned by fellow officers. Of the two, Starsky seems more visibly shaken by the incident, and not only because the insults were directed at him; in these earlier episodes he is simply more likely to lose his temper when provoked, thus unintentionally living up to his reputation as “pushy”. Hutch is more likely to show his anger in later seasons – here he is cautious and vigilant rather than outwardly angry.
“Buy me a beer, will you?” Starsky says, squinting at Hutch. “Yeah,” Hutch says, agreeable as ever in this episode.

Corman and Burke say they would have only waited another fifteen minutes for the apparently tardy Crandell and they “would have split.” This would have saved Crandell from getting shot five times and dumped in a field. At least for now. Freddie was also after Crandell and there was talk of Crandell getting tortured for information. And finally, Starsky and Hutch were also on Crandell’s tail, wanting him to set up his boss. All three scenarios make Pennsylvania in the winter seem positively benign.

Crandell was dealing with three different people’s “interests” and doing some pretty nifty deals. He managed to rip off Stryker, out-think Corman and Burke, and keep Starsky and Hutch in the dark. His only mistake was not hiding half the cocaine somewhere else and tipping off Corman and Burke on the telephone to its location. Showing up in person, and then digging out both packages from the hiding spot, was a dumb move on his part, but I wonder if that was the only way he was sure to get paid.

Is there anything more gruesome than the phrase “hamburger machine”?

Waiting for Crandell, Hutch and Starsky engage in a little argument about Hutch’s crappy car. The window handle has just come off. Starsky begs Hutch to go to his uncle’s car lot “just have a look”. Hutch says, “you just want me to be driving a striped tomato like you got.” (Stri-ped, amusingly, Hutch briefly channeling Richard Harris) This may be the first example of this phrase, because Starsky is incredulous. “My car is a striped what?” he says. And even Hutch has the decency to back off. At the response to the code 3, Hutch performs an extremely satisfying squealing u-turn, smoke billowing like an angry dragon, and you get an idea why he might like that car.

Times have changed in Los Angeles. This dirt-road-and-ragweed parcel of land does not seem far from the city.

Dobey says he has “something (you guys) might want to see” when he knows damn well it’s Crandell under that sheet. Passive-aggressive, or what?

Why do Corman and Burke bother dragging Crandell’s body outside after they kill him in the shack, and exactly how do they get his body outside? The door is locked and the window seems an unlikely choice, since it’s boarded up. If they kept the body in the shed or even ripped out a section of the floor to dump the body (there was room to stash the cocaine, there might have been room for a corpse), it might not have been found for weeks, even months, and would likely be unidentifiable.

I love how the blood-thirsty conversation between Stryker and his henchman – in which Stryker proposes murdering police officers – is undercut by Sryker urging him to have some cheese and the amoral assassin says, “No thank you, I’m on a diet.”

Stryker’s motivations throughout make sense, but the narrative could use some clarity, as I am forced to make assumptions about why Stryker cares enough about a couple of stolen packages of cocaine he was never going to get anyway, care enough to risk everything and a) attempt to negotiate with a couple of detectives he must know are on the up-and-up and b) kill those same detectives when he feels let down by them. What does it matter to him what happened? My answer to that is twofold: one, he is a proud man, and has a reputation to uphold, so gossip about loose merchandise would hurt his feelings. And two, more practically, cocaine that pure getting sold on the street would dilute his own distribution aims.

Dobey seems surprised hearing Corman and Burke are going to go fishing together. It could be he sees it as a team building exercise, or maybe because he too has a little cabin in the woods and longs to chat to someone about it. But more likely it’s because he knows Corman is a racist little shit and he wonders why Burke is spending time with him.

Hutch is careful to ask where exactly the cabin is. Even if Hutch wouldn’t admit to it if you asked him, this means they are already harboring suspicions about the older detectives.

“There’s that dog!” Hutch exclaims and, when he bends to call him, just misses getting assassinated. Diving to avoid bullets he cries out, “Did you see that dog, Starsky?” Wanting, desperately, to be proven sane. “Yeah I saw it,” Starsky says. “I’m beginning to love that dog, Starsky!” Hutch yells. “Me too, Hutch,” Starsky replies, phlegmatic as usual.

I love the single take when Starsky and Hutch enter the Adams Hotel from one side, Rodgers leaves from the other, and a moment later the guys emerge on the rooftop to find it empty.

I wonder if this is the last time Starsky and Hutch believe in the concept of “brother cops”.

Starsky refers to “button, button, who’s got the button,” an old children’s game in which a button is surreptitiously passed around and hidden.

When Huggy makes his bogus call, which is rerouted to Dobey’s office, he asks for Starsky. Starsky answers and Huggy pretends to think it’s Hutch. “It’s me, dummy,” Starsky says, charmed at first and then realizing this mix-up of them – which will plague them for the rest of the series – is a code-word for danger. Of all the mixing-up of their names and identities by other people, this is the only time in which the mix-up is both deliberate and and extremely helpful.

Endemic racism is an issue on both sides of the law. Crandall treats his partner Burke with cruel disrespect, and Starsky tries the same tactic when he dismisses Huggy as “that black fink”. Both must have an inkling the goons around Stryker are southern yokels – Hutch refers to them as “rednecks” – and so would more than likely believe in such a bigoted dismissal.

It’s mighty strange when Hutch tells a tied-up Huggy he might be charged with conspiracy for making that phone call. Sure it’s a joke, but it’s painful to hear it. Huggy was kidnapped and had a gun to his head and they knew it, and to make light of it seems way over the line, even for acerbic Hutch.

Which department does Hutch call when he says, ‘Hutchinson, send an ambulance to Huggy Bear’s restaurant. Tell Captain Dobey to send over a backup unit”? Switchboard? Desk? Why doesn’t he request the back up directly? At that point they had all the time in the world.

Describe what could be going through Dobey’s head when he gets the call: he knows Starsky and Hutch went to Huggy Bear’s because there was trouble there. He then receives a call requesting an ambulance, backup and no other information.

Starsky is the one who grabs the bottle of whiskey and the glass in the middle of the chaos of the take-down. He pours Rodgers a glass in a way that makes it clear that this is a meeting – albeit bloody and violent – between like-minded compatriots. Then he brings up the name Elmo Jackson. Hutch may know nothing about this turn of events, despite the fact he pours the booze. Quite likely he is thinking only about arrest and prosecution of the thugs who held Huggy. When he twigs to what’s really going down – and, wonderfully, it’s no more than a second or two – he gives Starsky a nod and a particularly warm look to indicate that he believes in, and in fact endorses, what’s about to happen.

I’d like to believe Rodgers’ testimony against Stryker will stick, but it’s awfully tenuous to rely on the memory of a felon who is also angling for a deal, especially when it comes to a decades-old cold case murder.

“Never pick on a man’s partner,” says Hutch. This ties a bow around the idea that Dobey has finally brought justice to his partner’s murder. However, the scene lacks something. It could be Bernie Hamilton’s acting limitations, it could be Dobey’s A-B emotional range, it could be the script’s refusal to risk bathos, whatever it is we do not get the sense that a twenty-year search for righteousness has just ended, or a man’s grief, guilt and private fears can be laid to rest. Instead the moral wrath is saved for Starsky and Hutch on their quest to bring down Corman and Burke.

Starsky remarks that Corman and Burke are like “The NAACP and the Ku Klux Klan having a togetherness rally,” which neatly sums up the contentious, racially-tension-filled partnership. It’s also perceptive: although he was there when Corman made the nasty remark early on to Burke about “totin’ those bales” he didn’t appear to react to it, or even hear it. But of course he did, and tucked it away for later. Also goes to show that although Corman and Burke were partners, with the same dark/light yin/yang as Starsky and Hutch, there is no love or loyalty between them.

The set dec people really go to town with the branches and dead grasses all over the ground. What are they hiding, a parking lot?

Starsky is forced to shoot Burke, who cries out, “we could have made a deal!” “Haven’t you heard by now? Hutch and me don’t make deals,” Starsky says, bundling him up and shoving him roughly back toward the cabin. Not only is it great that he is speaking with absolute certainty on Hutch’s behalf, he is acknowledging, ever so slightly, the gossiping in the department, gossip that Burke and Corman heard and probably participated in for their own purposes.

It’s moving that Hutch looks so crushed when Starsky returns to find he has killed Corman. There’s only sadness and loss, no triumph or told-you-so. They have lost rather than won.

Tag: Dobey reminds the guys that next time they have to do it “by the book” and Starsky lightly dismisses the idea of Internal Affairs having any sort of a problem with how things turned out. But honestly, going off like that on their own to confront fellow officers, resulting in the shooting death of one and the severe injury of the other, is a procedural and political nightmare. It could reflect poorly on the department and result in years of inquests and paperwork.

I like how Starsky says “condemnation” when he means “commendation”. It rather nicely ties in with his much later mixing up of penguins and pelicans in Starsky’s Lady, but also Starsky is acknowledging the fact it doesn’t really matter to Huggy either way. A piece of paper is useless if your upstairs room has been trashed – he’d rather take a monetary donation.

The beautiful dog reappears, which Hutch calls “my dog” and “lifesaver”, but there’s no resolution (and no owner either!) It’s wonderful to see the two of them interact with the dog with such joy and caring. Pretending not to see the dog when Huggy claims to is a nice twist on the mystery. For the first time the dog interacts with them instead of slinking away, and the wagging tail tells us the danger, for now, has passed.

Character Studies 29: Marvelous Minnie

October 4, 2014

Police officer Minnie Kaplan, played by Marki Bey, has more cameos than any other actor, as far as I can figure, and her all-too brief appearances are striking, not only because of Marki Bey’s beauty and charisma (both of which are considerable) or even the terrific lines of dialogue her character gets. It’s because she is inserted into an episode for a specific reason: to magnify the action in some way. Sometimes she gives voice to an unspoken issue, sometimes her very presence is a catalyst. Minnie, as a character, is a kind of pixie in the folkloric sense, immune to spears and arrows, whose appearance heralds – or identifies – trouble. She is both tangible and a little unreal. Even her name is cartoonish. Never out of uniform, keeping her hair short and wearing heavy black framed glasses, of indeterminate cultural and socioeconomic background, she is neither particularly (what this series likes to think of as) feminine, nor is she masculinized. Instead she is both, and neither. She’s unpredictable, deftly dodging our assumptions and our categories, a jokester, a jester and a confidante, an unexpected treat in every episode she in which appears.

We first meet Minnie as a meter maid – sorry, traffic coordinator – being hit on by Starsky and Hutch in “The Collector”, hit on, not for a date, but for a dicey undercover operation they are trying launch without official approval. Minnie’s friendship can be bought with coffee cake, but not her sensibility; she rejects their offer with a wry joke about being snowed. She’s on to them, it seems, she knows their devious ways. Rejected, they pout a little but she is unmoved. It’s a while until we see her again, in “The Avenger”, in perhaps her funniest cameo as Minnie dancin’ her way to self defence with her one-woman kung fu disco dance party. It doesn’t seem as if Hutch recognizes her, and she doesn’t know him either (she calls him “sir”). This moment is significant for many reasons. It’s the only light moment in a bleak and brutal episode. The suddenness – bam, there she is, lunging and screaming alone in the forensic lab – is in shocking contrast to the previous scene. Unlike Monique who is using men as both salvation and a kind of murderous indemnification, Minnie doesn’t even turn the volume of the music down when talking to a superior. By having fun by herself, making the best of long, boring shift, she then can be seen as troubled Monique’s exact opposite: a woman who in charge of her own life, who doesn’t need a man to feel whole, and who uses dancing not to ensnare or victimize men but to take charge of her own safety, her own sense of self. All this in a scene that lasts less than two minutes.

In “Cover Girl” Minnie has achieved the promotion promised by Starsky and Hutch, and is a fully fledged police officer with computer expertise and a crisp, no-nonsense manner enlivened by a gleeful zest for life. Starsky overtly checks out her figure and makes a suggestive comment and Minnie is unfazed. She is neither much flattered nor insulted, but breezily dismissive. She later helps Starsky with a vital clue involving the post office, and when Starsky offers to let himself into her place and “have a fire going”, the sexual banter is capped off by Minnie concluding (to herself, as he has left the room), “you’re a trashy boy, Starsky.” This is said not with either disgust or admiration, but rather with insouciance so broad it’s comic. Minnie and Starsky are play-acting. The flirtation may be real, but you always get the sense Starsky isn’t particularly serious – he isn’t interested in dating her (she might be too sassy for him, I think). His flirting is much like her teasing in this easy-going prefeminist world – it conveys respect rather than desire, it is code for “you’re one of us”.

Minnie has her smallest part in “Birds of a Feather”, but again it’s replete with meaning. She arrives to take horrible Gertrude down to get booked. Gertrude is suspicious but Starsky assures her, saying “Minnie never lies.” This is a pretty substantial comment and implies again that Minnie is more important than her brief appearances may suggest. In “Ninety Pounds of Trouble” Minnie is again prankster and know-it-all, pretending innocence as she tells Starsky “someone” won’t talk to anybody but him to report “a hit and run.” The hit and run, of course, is Minnie’s joke on Starsky: she knows all about Joey’s wretched puppy love. “Ta dah!” she says happily, throwing open the door to certain misery. In medieval times a jester was able to make pointed or political statements disguised as jokes, the only one allowed to take a poke at the king and get away with it, and Minnie, who never lies, can be seen as a similar truth-teller and king-poker.

In her last appearance in “Starsky vs. Hutch”, Minnie appears in the squad room as Starsky wearily sits, marking time, late at night. Sympathetically she hands him a cup of coffee and asks where the “beautiful blonde sergeant” is. Hilariously, she could be referring to either Kira or Hutch, implying, in her mischievous way, the factors in Starsky’s love life are pretty complicated. Reading Starsky’s discomfort she proceeds to needle him a little, trying to make him confess his feelings. This time, however, Starsky doesn’t rise to the bait and simply leaves. “Hmm, guess that answers that question,” Minnie says to herself, again commenting on the scene like she did in “Cover Girl”, electing herself as an ironic Greek Chorus. Minnie is amused by his behavior, but not in a mean or judgmental way. She understands there is tension simmering and goes on her merry way, no doubt to tease and torment someone else.

In all these encounters we note the same factors. Minnie has friendly, or sexually-loaded interaction only with Starsky but does not engage with Hutch, who is more cerebral and intemperate, although she likes him (interestingly, their one scene together in “The Avenger” is not personal in any way). She is either disruptive, insightful or supportive, never bland or invisible. Remarkably, in a series with a complicated and not altogether laudable relationship with its female characters, she is completely unfazed by flirting, appearing to give as good as she gets while absolutely not inflaming or even participating in the seduction. This is an important distinction because it’s Starsky who sexualizes their encounters, who half-heartedly but inventively makes his play: Minnie does not play, not even a little. Her appearances are always work related, no after-hours fraternizations. Minnie Kaplan is enigmatic but earthy, smart but inscrutable, teasable but untouchable. How I wish we could see more of her.

Let’s Revisit “Pariah”

September 13, 2014

After Starsky fatally shoots teenage felon Lonnie Craig during a hold-up, a man from his past, George Prudholm, begins killing cops in revenge.

George Prudholm: Stephen McNally, Joseph Tramaine: Gregory Rozakis, Eunice Craig: Hilda Haynes, Off. Edwards: David S Milton, Collins: Graham Jarvis, Cecil: John Alderman, Tidings: Jay Fletcher, Molly: Anitra Ford, Officer Lee: James R Parkes. Written By: Michael Fisher, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a terrific episode with a focused storyline and clear, uncluttered emotional content. The series is always at its best when a crisis allows the partnership to coalesce and intensify and we see it here, in spades. The series is consistently successful, particularly in the first two seasons, of showing how a personal issue can reflect a larger, societal wrong. Here, Starsky’s actions reveal the troubling racial divide in American society. And if we want to pull back our lens even further and encompass the whole classic tragedy, larger than any one society, we can come to understand the pain of responsibility, and the redemptive power of forgiveness.

Like many if not most episodes in the “Starsky & Hutch” canon, “Pariah” depicts shockingly relevant issues; here, it is the shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer, followed by public anger made worse when the police reveal that young man’s sketchy past. We also see the moral dilemma of allowing the media access to the officer’s identity and the procedural details of the investigation, and the incendiary emotions of race and justice, and the similarities to what is happening today is striking, if not depressingly familiar. However, this is where the similarity to contemporary events diverges, as the troubling case of Lonnie shifts to a (white) man’s overwhelming madness and grief, and how he uses a tragic shooting to further his own ends. Starsky, therefore, must not only try to forgive himself, he must try to forgive someone who has caused him tremendous anguish. At the end of the episode I’m not sure he has done either.

The opening scene in this episode is low key and genuinely funny, and a nice start to a brutal episode. In the first season the writers get the emotional temperature just right, and we see it here. Everyone is relaxed and good natured, nothing is rushed, and there is a brilliantly subtle foreshadowing when Starsky muses about “one of those days.” Anitra Ford may be a Playboy bunny (of the year, no less) but she’s also a pretty good comedienne. She comes off as smart, laconic and funny, and you can see Hutch and Molly have a genuine thing going on the way they share a look in amusement when Starsky arrives and it’s time to start the routine. But you have to wonder what she makes of the whole set-up, if she wonders if perhaps this is all a little excessive, this practical joke which has taken so long to organize, to practice and perfect, which Hutch is pursuing with such enthusiasm. Hutch has no real interest in having Starsky adopt a healthy regime. One suspects if Starsky were to suddenly take up a yogurt-and-granola approach to breakfast Hutch would be bereft. Because what he wants is to win, no matter how inconsequential, or fleeting, the prize.

It must not have been much of a party if Starsky so easily believes she doesn’t know his – or Hutch’s – name. Or maybe it’s a sign of the casual times.

The shoot-out at the grocery store is a bit of a puzzle. For one thing, the robbery takes place in a tight-knit poor-to-middle-class black neighbourhood, and the bystander immediately recognizes Lonnie Craig, which means Lonnie and his accomplice were robbing their own friends and neighbors. Which explains the balaclavas, of course, but not the rationale behind robbing people who a) will most certainly recognize you by your voice and mannerisms, and b) that you have had years of friendly interaction with. Of course this happens all the time, especially if people are driven to panicky extremes because of drug addiction, but nothing is said about Lonnie and drugs, (although it’s very probably drugs had some kind of impact on his life, but what impact we don’t know, and it doesn’t appear that Lonnie had a bad habit) only that he was a promising young kid with a loving mother. So why rob a small corner store in your own neighborhood – with your own mother steps away – and be stupid enough to attempt to kill police? Lonnie, if Tremaine is telling the truth, had his own thing going. He was running numbers and had a clientele, and probably plenty of money. He had a comfortable home and a future. So why throw it all away for a two-bit robbery, and in your very own backyard? If this was a matter of friendship (you can easily imagine Tremaine begging and pleading for help “with this one little thing”), Lonnie was prepared to go a very long way to prove his loyalty. A little background would have been nice, if only to paint Lonnie as a hero-worshipping kid who would do anything for his only friend.

It always bothers me when the uniformed patrol officer interrupts Starsky’s professionalism to say accusingly, “He’s just a kid. You killed a kid!” This is immature and inflammatory, and it stops everyone from doing their job. Behavior like this from hysterical bystanders I understand, but from a police officer it’s inexcusable.

“If throwing me to the wolves is what it takes, let ‘em do it,” Starsky says to the furious Hutch when it becomes clear that the coroner’s inquest will be made public.  “Besides, I don’t go down so easy.”  And he gives a very slight grin, and an upward twitch of his eyebrows, and in an instant the world has shrunk to just the two of them, and no one else; Hutch gives an even smaller, less noticeable grin in response – mirroring Starsky’s expression – and for a second there is nothing else, not a sound, not an intrusion, time has stopped, space has contracted, and it is only them.

Is the department right to insist on complete disclosure, including allowing public access to the coroner’s inquest? This is a question not answered here, and not answered fully to this day. Being exposed to public judgment before all the facts are in can lead to erroneous, emotion-clouded conclusions, but institutions policing themselves without outside scrutiny can allow corruption and to flourish.

When Dobey and the DA leave there is a long moment of silence that is all too rare in this series, and every second of it is wonderful.

It’s a great moment in court when Starsky, looking trapped in a pinstripe suit and a rather nice lemon shirt, looks behind him to see Hutch in the gallery. Hutch acknowledges him with a smile, and does the tie-wave motion, which seems to work: Starsky noticeably relaxes.

Stewart Tidings, the bystander/witness who changes his story on the stand, is a notable character. Intelligent and hotheaded, but with a moral core, not above pushing an anti-cop agenda if he thinks it’ll stir up trouble, the paradigm of racial frustration. I love it when he acknowledges he thought Lonnie was trying to surrender because that’s what everyone else was saying, and he got swept up in the group dynamic. It’s extremely difficult to go against not only your original accusation, but the accusations of the angry mob around you, but he does it. Later Stewart elects himself guardian at Eunice Craig’s house during the funeral, standing at the door and refusing Starsky entry. Even though he’s admitted Lonnie’s guilt he’s not yet ready to relinquish his dislike of cops. He does, however, shake Starsky’s hand, showing a facility for change (and grudging forgiveness) that does him credit.

When meeting after the inquest at Huggy’s it’s interesting to note that Hutch and Huggy are having coffee – it must be around 10 or 11 in the morning for The Pits not to be open yet, although it could be later – but Starsky, never what you’d call a drinker, is having a beer.

In this episode we see many scenes of empathy, reassurance and solidarity between the partners. Of particular note is the beautiful scene following Starsky’s giving his condolences at the Craig house, when Starsky is lost in thought behind the wheel of the Torino and Hutch gently suggests starting the car because “it works better that way.”  Then offers one of his sweetest smiles.

It takes every bit of Starsky’s courage to enter that yard and walk up those stairs, and when you think about the danger he faces on a daily basis this is even more poignant; facing a family’s private grief and disapproval is a hell of a lot harder to do than the violent necessity of law enforcement.

Hilda Haynes has such a uniquely beautiful and haunting face – her huge eyes are unreal – that you just cam’t stop watching her.

They chase Tremaine out of the window and down the alley, and lose him. Starsky’s furious. Hutch grabs Starsky’s wrist to check the time – a gesture used more than once, since Hutch often doesn’t wear a watch. “Tempest fugit,” Starsky says as they stand panting after the chase. “What?” Hutch says. “Time flies,” Starsky says, and Hutch, with perfect comedic timing, says (without surprise, even those his apparently proletariat partner has just spoken Latin), “Oh.”

Dobey tells Starsky, after Prudholm kills a second cop and calls Metro, “Your friend called again,” when he is trying to keep Starsky’s head together, which seems unnecessarily provocative to me.

Is the announcer is the same one who is “Michael Jackson” in Survival?

Why bring uniformed officers to get Tremaine at the grocery store? He’s going to twig to it and panic. Also, this points to the major inconsistency of backup. Sometimes, as in this instance, Starsky and Hutch have extra backup they don’t really need. And sometimes, as in “Iron Mike”, they have zero backup when they could really use it  as they attempt to arrest four, maybe five armed felons, at night, with low visibility and in dangerously unfamiliar terrain.

I can’t help but appreciate the sign that reads “The Donut Show.” I would probably stick around and see that show three or four times.

Drug withdrawal turns Tramaine into a big, frustrated baby. He’s twenty-two and has the deep husky voice of an old man. It’s great when, in exasperation during the interrogation scene, he bunches his hands into fists in a tantrum. But of course it begs the question: if he’s needing to score so badly, why was he calmly grocery shopping and examining that salad dressing like a gourmet?

I love how Hutch can stop Starsky’s violent assault on Tremaine with a miniscule lift of an eyebrow. Starsky sees this and relents, completely, all anger evaporated.

It’s always struck me how Prudhom starts killing cops and at the apex of his madness threatening the families of cops, raging away like an Old Testament prophet about taking out “maybe an old granny too” in order to exact his vengeance, without ever mentioning Hutch. Later, much later, he’s going after Terry in “Starsky’s Lady”, again no mention of hurting Hutch. Why not? Why not the one person in the world Starsky really cares about? Is this a case of something being so outside his reality he can’t even imagine it?

Starsky swears for the only time in the entire series, although one can imagine an HBO-version filled with all kinds of imaginative language. Either a method-acting slip or a nonsensical hiss meant to simulate swearing, it happens when Hutch, quite brilliantly – a foreshadowing of his wild guess in “Bloodbath”, again listening to a taped message – picks up on “ex-con” and “in his fifties” and figures the caller might be Prudholm. Starsky says “Shit!” and picks up the phone.

It’s interesting how Hutch and Dobey are eating, but Starsky, heartbroken, isn’t.

Why does Hutch ask Officer Bill in R & I to call “Parole” to get Prudholm’s current address? While Parole certainly has this information, why doesn’t R & I have it? And if R & I doesn’t keep current addresses, then all of those types of questions would require a call to Parole.

The only time Prudholm seems shaken out of his murderous rage is when he calls his own apartment and Starsky says in ten minutes his (Prudholm’s) face will be in every newspaper and on every TV screen in town. Prudholm stops, his hands tremble, then he abruptly agrees to meet Starsky face-to-face. This small moment has always been as bit of a mystery. Does Prudholm change his mind because Starsky has goaded him, or because he’s afraid of having his face and his story splashed across the front pages of the newspaper? Is he mortally afraid of having his grief exposed, and with it his son’s weaknesses and mistakes?

There is much similarity between “Pariah” and “A Coffin for Starsky”. Both have, at their core, a father grieving the loss of a wayward son at the hands of Starsky and Hutch, and both men concoct elaborate schemes that nearly kill Starsky. In both cases the son is involved in drugs, and neither father acknowledges this fact. Both men have been distant fathers: Prudholm in jail for his son’s entire adult life and Professor Jennings (it’s implied but not said) is an aloof intellectual out of touch with both a drug-addicted son and a daughter whose professional triumphs appear to be invisible to him. Both men inflict pain in a horribly impersonal way: Prudholm through taunting phone calls and sadistic “lessons”, Jennings through a proxy assailant. Both think the object of their hate will suffer more if the pain is more mental than physical – Jennings times it so that Starsky has to suffer for as much as 48 hours before succumbing. Both men use elaborate and fussy plans to hinder them. And both men do not get what they are so desperately searching for – lex talionis, to be exact – because torture will never equal justice.

One of the great “there are no words” moments in the series happens when they look at each other over the hood of the Torino before Starsky rushes off.

Such a creepy zoo. All those too-small cages and brutal rocks symbolic, perhaps, of Prudholm’s misery, how he’s been locked away both figuratively and literally all these years. As well, the cruel architecture of this old-fashioned zoo – somewhat remedied these days ad the result of of a more progressive understanding of the mental health of animals in captivity – also echoes how the modern urban world can alienate and make crazy its inhabitants, from poor Lonnie Craig, the “loner” whose only friend (if you can call him that) was a junkie who abandoned him when the going got tough, to Prudholm himself, allowed to fester without psychiatric intervention.

Starsky goes alone to confront Prudholm. Hutch secretly follows, and his presence proves to be life-saving. In the aftermath of events, I wonder if Starsky processes Hutch’s disobedience with relief or irritation or maybe a mix of the two. Yet, when they stare at each other over the hood of the car and Starsky gives that nearly imperceptible nod, he may have known all along his partner would gnore his command and show up, and was acknowledging the inevitability.

The arrest of Prudholm is typical of the series as a whole. Rather than triumphant, the brief adrenaline rush of chase-and-capture gives way to deep sadness. Starsky does not feel like a hero, he doesn’t even have a sense of completion of a job well done. Rather there is a lingering sense of culpability, and the frustration that no matter what they do the parade of human misery goes on. Nothing has been solved, no one has gotten justice, the already over-burdened system will once again required to care for and house the criminally insane. It’s a form of existential nihilism that even Starsky recognizes in these final moments. It’s a moving moment when he actually aims his gun as if to shoot Prudholm in the head, and looks so murderous that even Hutch, who knows full well his partner isn’t going to actually shoot, says quietly, and warningly, “Starsk.”

Tag: Starsky says, “The notion that something’s got to taste rotten in order for it to make you feel good,” implies Hutch is a masochist. Hutch, in “Body Worth Guarding”, calls Starsky a “hedonist.” Starsky replies, “Just so long as I enjoy myself.” Both labels are accurate. There is something in Hutch requiring his atonement, and although Starsky can be broody it’s not at the same level: he’s engaged in the world and contented with temporal things, while Hutch’s punitive routines and habits suggests he has been the victim of a wounding at some point in his life.

I find it difficult to imagine Hutch doesn’t pick up on the booze in the cocktail Starsky makes him; he might be professing confusion in order to allow Starsky his moment, which is a charming act of friendship.

Clothing notes: Hutch looks great in his blue zippered top and later in his caramel leather jacket. Starsky is mostly all-blue in his cloth jacket, and denim shirt in the last scene, great-fitting low-rise jeans, and the Adidas. Both wear clothes than any fashion-conscious hipster would happily wear today. Note that somewhere in the middle of the episode Starsky adds a small gold band to his usual silver pinkie ring, which I can’t help but imagine tells a romantic back-story.