Episode 7: Pariah

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, Off. 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. 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 as a way of exculpatory explanation, echoes what is happening today. We also see the moral dilemma of allowing the media access to the officer’s identity and the procedural details of the investigaton, and the incendiary emotions emerging from issues related to race, justice, and the troubling economic divide between white and black America. However, this is where the similarity ends. The “wrong place, wrong time” shooting death of young Lonnie shifts to a father’s overwhelming madness and grief, and how he uses an unrelated tragic shooting to further his own ends. Starsky, therefore, must not only try to forgive himself for what he has done to a young man in the primary situation, he must try to understand and then forgive someone who has caused him tremendous anguish in the secondary one. At the end of the episode I’m not sure he has done either, although he gives it a heroic try.

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 sad 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 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. Obviously 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 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) 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 aim a loaded gun at the 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?

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, 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 coronor’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 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 can’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 (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.

Funny how Prudhom starts killing cops and then, at the apex of his rage, threatens the families of cops, “Maybe an old granny too”, 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 afflict 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 – 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 with 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 it 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 process Hutch’s disobedience with relief or irritation. 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 show up.

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 points 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.” I love this moment for many reasons, only one of which is its breath-catching suspense, and Glaser’s remarkable acting. I also love it because it shows us that those we hold in the ultimate of esteem, our heroes, are also human, and have moments of frailty. Starsky is a great man, heroic and stable, a police officer, upholder of justice. But in that moment he also wants to destroy.

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 the opposite of that, a hedonist. (To which Starsky replies, “Just so long as I enjoy myself.”) Both labels are accurate, if simplistic. There is something in Hutch that requires his continual atonement. Starsky, on the other hand, has no such private torments. He’s engaged in the world and content with temporal delights, while Hutch’s punitive routines and habits suggests his need for control is compensatory somehow. But for what?

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 is 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 that any fashion-conscious hipster would happily wear today. Note that somewhere in the middle of the episode he adds a small gold band to his usual silver pinkie ring, which I can’t help but imagine tells a romantic back-story.

Advertisements

10 Responses to “Episode 7: Pariah”

  1. hutchlover Says:

    It is the same Michael Jackson. He was an LA radio host at the time.

    Prudholm does attempt to kill Hutch in ‘Starsky’s Lady.

    The silent love and support that Hutch shows Starsky is a great part of this episode. When Starsky needs to be the emotional one, Hutch steps back and stays calm. When Hutch needs to be not headed, the roles are reversed.

    • merltheearl Says:

      I observe later in “Strsky’s Lady” and elsewhere that Prudholm goes after Hutch. But in a very abstracted way, in my opinion. Prudholm seems focused on proving to Starsky he knows his routine almost as much as he wants to murder his partner. Of course, this guy’s MOs are all over the place, bombs and guns, sniper-like precision and messy blasting. Who knows what’s going on inside his chaotic head.

      Thanks for the insight into Michael Jackson. I never knew that!

  2. Sandra Says:

    a wonderful portrait of a close relationship! I also love the scene where Hutch quietly waits on the Torino’s hood for Starsky to make that call at th grieving mother’s house and later joins Starsky with a half hug when he comes back from that!

  3. stybz Says:

    Another great episode. Definitely one of my favorites.

    I’m inclined to think that Hutch does want Starsky to eat better. He tossed the chili dog in Savage Sunday, bought Starsky a tuna burger in The Committee and tricked him into drinking the shake in this episode. Sure, there are times when he’s just playing with Starsky, but I think for the most part he wants his partner to eat healthier.

    Merle, your question about why the uniformed police were at the robbery before Starsky and Hutch is an interesting one. I often wonder why S&H are called to break up a robbery like that. I’m used to seeing uniformed police be the “first responders” on the scene with the detectives showing up later to investigate the aftermath if need be. Had the scene played out differently (perhaps on another show) there would have been uniformed cops in the front and the rear expecting one or both boys to escape the back way. They should have also had the crowd cleared ahead of time.

    I loved loved loved that long pause in Dobey’s office before Hutch moved to sit at the edge of the desk to try to cheer up Starsky. Starsky raises his eyebrows just as Hutch walks over, as if he was trying to brighten his expression for his partner, putting on a brave face. He fails, of course.

    The use of “your friend” is a flip remark that I’ve often disliked. I think Dobey is simply being sarcastic. In fact if the tables were turned I totally can see either Starsky or Hutch calling someone who bugs Dobey his “friend”. Granted, in this situation, Starsky is too overwrought to play along with the pun, so I do agree it’s inappropriate.

  4. Patricia Ackor Says:

    An interesting aside that I’ve never heard anyone mention: Paul was actually the health food guru; David was more into burgers and fries. But they actually did that a lot, borrowed each other’s characteristics and foibles. Paul drove something of a beater (an old Datsun, as I recall) well into 2nd season, the backseat filled with newspapers and coffee cups. David drove an immaculate BMW, a deep red (no stripe).

  5. Laura Says:

    Merl, while reading your comments above about Starsky believing that Molly didn’t know which was Starsky and which was Hutch, I had an epiphany. We see “I’m Starsky, he’s Hutch” played out numerous times throughout the series, starting with the pilot. It suddenly came to me that the reason for the confusion is that they are not two people, they are one entity. It almost doesn’t matter which is which because without each other, they are incomplete. Of course, they both had distinct personalities, but what truly made them special was the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Their flaws complemented each other’s and made them a near-perfect team in a world where an awful lot of crap was thrown at them. While no man is an island, perhaps these two, together, could be.

    Sandra, I really like that particular scene, as well. Their coming together in the street makes it so much more poignant that Hutch lets him go talk to the family on his own. His faith in him says without words “you can do this.” Yet still, he’s there for him in case the situation goes bad. After all, though Starsky’s motives are pure, it could be seen as quite incendiary for the police officer who killed a teen to show up at his mother’s house after the funeral. We understand Stewart Tidings’ desire to protect the mother, especially after the way his testimony turned out, almost as well as we understand Hutch’s desire to protect his partner in this no-win situation. While Hutch allows him the moment with the family alone, he meets him half way across the street on his way back to the car. It’s as though waiting by the car was as difficult for Hutch as it was for Starsky to go over there by himself. This scene must have really resonated with the fans, because it shows up in many of the Starsky and Hutch music videos posted on YouTube.

    Merl, thanks for pointing out “The Donut Show.” I never saw it during the original airing, but it gave me a chuckle when I saw it on the DVD. Whatever that is, I’m in!

    I think Prudholm didn’t directly attack Hutch because he’s reduced Starsky down to a character with a single moment – a cop who arrested his son, resulting in his death. He seemingly forgets that Hutch was there, their “first assignment out of uniform,” just as easily as he forgets that his son is responsible for the actions that put him in that situation and his death is really not Starsky’s fault. A single-minded obsession with the poster-boy for his son’s death means he doesn’t even delve into what makes Starsky tick other than the fact that he is a cop. Of course, in “Starsky’s Lady,” he has had time (in a mental institution) and incentive (lingering, unfulfilled anger) to learn more about him.

    When I watched the whole series again, I couldn’t help but wish Prudholm had forced the issue harder at the abandoned zoo, putting either of the boys into a situation to shoot him in self defense. If he’d been killed, it would have saved Starsky the pain and suffering he later endured in “Starsky’s Lady.” I held my breath the first time I saw the scene where Starsky has his gun aimed at Prudholm after he is subdued. I remember thinking, “he wouldn’t, would he?” I recently gave this particular moment a lot of thought. Would Starsky’s life have turned out better if he had pulled the trigger? Alas, Starsky wouldn’t be the man we know he is if he had. If he had crossed that line and become that person, someone like Terry never would have fallen for him, and I think it would have irreparably damaged the relationship between Starsky and Hutch. I think the writers got it right here, even though it plays out quite tragically later. Despite the passion of that moment, when the scales could have tipped toward revenge instead of justice, we all know in our hearts that Starsky and Hutch are the good guys, and even when personal sacrifice is the cost, in the end they will always do the right thing.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Laura, thank you for these thoughtful comments. As for Starsky and Hutch essentially being one in the same, I have myself made that point numerous times throughout this blog. The fact that the two (physically disparate) men are continually mistaken for one another – and are irritated by that fact – is a neat little irony in the classic sense. We know, even if they consciously do not, that they are indivisible.

      • Laura Says:

        Merl, sorry, I hadn’t come across any of your two-as-one observations yet. I’m working my way through your postings somewhat haphazardly. Sorry to be redundant. There’s so much thoughtful content here, that consumption is a slow, but thoroughly enjoyable process. All the commentary really has me re-evaluating and coming to a greater appreciation of the depth of the series, which I don’t feel ever received the critical claim it deserved.

  6. DRB Says:

    One theme I congratulate this show on is that personal choices affect many people and can affect them very negatively. Our modern cry seems to be, “It’s my life, and I’ll live it the way I want to!” The writers don’t always deal truthfully with all choices (I’m thinking specifically of the ignoring of the often tragic results of the sexual revolution–diseases, etc.), but they never gloss over the results of drug abuse, and I applaud that. Lonnie’s decision to become involved in the drug/crime scene does not affect just himself. He breaks his mother’s heart, damages others in his neighborhood, and even causes additional deaths as a result of the fractured society traumatized by his unnecessary death. If there is a truth that needs to be hammered into our society it is this one: Your choice always matters! There is no such thing as a “neutral” decision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: