Character Studies 2: Yang and Yang

Outwardly the guys couldn’t be more different. Much is made of their differences, physically and economically, as well as their geographic origins, lifestyles, and social standing. Hutch plays the cultured sophisticate, Starsky the tough-guy everyman. Hutch is the idealist, Starsky the hedonist. Hutch himself calls attention to the dichotomy by calling himself the brain of the operation, with Starsky as the brawn (“The Game”). Glaser and Soul were cast for their different looks and acting approaches, in a move I occasionally interpret as the producers cynically trying to cover their bases with fans’ preferences. Yet surely the longest-running joke in the series is the fact that they’re mistaken for each other throughout. Their names are either combined (Merl calls them “Starkinson”), mangled (Eddie calls them “Starpy and Hupp”) or entirely switched (not just their own names but their undercover names: Rafferty, O’Brien, etc). Both act affronted when called each other’s names (“I’m Starsky, he’s Hutch!”) but occasionally adopt the guise of the other when in danger. Two sorts of people mix them up: officious bureaucrats with a bad attitude, and streetwise types who see a badge more than a person. In this way, Starsky and Hutch are deprived of their uniqueness by two opposing groups who judge them as “cop” first and foremost.

Even in the final shows the mayor, giving them an award, confuses them (not once but twice). Hutch’s date makes a joke about mixing them up in the opening scene of “Pariah”. They are given each other’s plane tickets in “Death Ride”. Drug kingpin Amboy misnames them. Even Dobey doesn’t know which one he’s talking to on the phone in “Death Notice”. In “The Fix”, Hutch insists he’s Starsky while being tortured. In “Foxy Lady”, Lisa Kendrick’s inability to tell them apart – the truth, for once, and not a lie, like everything else she says – nearly results in tragedy.  Even in “Partners”, in hospital beds with actual charts written with their names, the nurse gets it wrong. In an interesting twist, in “The Psychic”, Collandra, who is always right, names Hutch as the owner of the Torino.

So, how are two people, looking and acting so differently, continually mixed up, and why is this such an important element in the series? What are we being told between the lines? Because this script detail begins in the pilot and continues pretty much to the end of the series we can surmise it is an important element, maybe even a central one. My view is this happens because they are the same person. Several times throughout the series they refer to themselves as one, as in “The Psychic” when asked who they are by a bewildered cop Hutch replies, “We’re Lazarus.” At the end of “Survival”, when Starsky crouches down to an injured Hutch trapped in his car, he says “we made it” as if both of them had been fighting for their lives. Huggy says one without the other is “like a pig without the pork”. He also refers to Hutch as Starsky’s “better half”, which suggests a deeper truth, as most jokes do. Simply put, they are two halves of a whole. David Starsky is left-handed and Ken Hutchinson is right-handed, a fact that only provides amusing fodder for jokes, it also solidifies the notion this is one brain we’re talking about here, two hemispheres linked by a robust neuron-sparkling corpus callosum, fully engaged and perfectly suited for its environment, with both its abstract, language-oriented (Hutch) and pragmatic, physically graceful (Starsky) parts fully realized.

It’s also important to see that throughout the series the perceived and stated psychological differences between the two are fluid in nature. When attacked or accused one of the pair usually responds angrily while the other stays calm. It changes which partner is the one to get riled: sometimes it’s Starsky (particularly in the first two seasons) and sometimes it’s Hutch (in the latter half, more likely.) There are many scenes in which one holds the other back, usually with a light physical touch, but we can never assume this means one is less outraged than the other. It’s just a way of dividing responsibilities to ensure the best allocation of resources. You get angry now, I’ll get angry later. This is like the hydra of myth, a marvelous multiplicity that is nearly impossible to defeat: you strike out at the noisy distracting one and miss the ominous silence of the other. If we can read this series as a journey toward completion, the fragmented self is in a continual movement toward merging. So many of us never get to this beautiful place. We are stuck in isolation, unwilling or unable to merge with another so completely our own borders begin to fade. But somehow, and improbably, it has happened here. Starsky and Hutch are interchangeable, inseparable, complimentary, and also commingled. We cannot know how long it will last, whether it is integral to the exhilarating danger of being a cop, or whether it is lifelong. But for now, in this time, they are one.


20 Responses to “Character Studies 2: Yang and Yang”

  1. Lynn Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. As I said in an earlier post, they are like litter mates who were never separated. They know each other inside and out, they love each other, and one is not whole without the other. They depend on one another, and most importantly, they can count on one another 100% of the time. Who among us have someone like that in our lives? The two separate men, while beautiful, brave and competent in their own rights are nothing compared to the whole that they make together.

  2. Survivor Says:

    Amen to that, Merle. As I see Starsky and Hutch, they are imperfect halves of a perfect whole.

  3. hutchlover Says:

    Your last line sums them up perfectly.

    And they always seem to be what the other needs at any given time (Fatal Charm & Ave.H notwithstanding). They also have the ability to switch. When one needs to be emotional, the other stays rationally.

    It’s so beautiful to watch.

  4. June Says:

    Beautiful as always, Merle. One thing: In The Fix, I think Hutch was saying Starsky’s name because he was asking for his partner, wanting him to be there to save him. Perhaps?

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you, June! And what an interesting take on “The Fix”. Your comment about Hutch saying Starsky’s name as a sort of invocation is very, very moving.

      • June Says:

        Thank you for replying, Merle. I’m quite addicted to Ollie and only very recently discovered I could post. Will post again, if that’s all right. Btw, I’m first gen fan and Australian.
        Bye from June.

      • King David Says:

        Wow. Yes, using Starsky’s name as a mantra and a means to focus attention away from the interrogation is quite moving.
        I certainly believe that they are perceived by others who know them as two halves of the same unit, and I think of them as a see-saw. A see-saw only functions with both ends balanced, and when one end is down the other is up.
        Still, in “The Game” the hotel desk clerk puts Starsky as the brighter one. Perhaps they are different things to different people, and when a situation arises the one with the more suitable approach handles it, ie gruff and serious for ditherers, soft and caring for those who are hurting, childlike for the children, downright scary for the holdouts.
        They are both Prince Charming in Texas Longhorn.

  5. Grevy's Zebra Says:

    This is so perfect. Just…yes, absolutely yes. And really, the implications of such a bond aren’t all sweetness and light either. We get all caught up in the amazing side to their relationship — the love, the unconditional support, the absolute loyalty, the devotion and self-sacrifice, the caring and kindness, the attention, the completeness, the faith and security, the ability to be almost everything the other needs and wants, the near-psychic connection that comes with deep psychological and emotional intimacy and familiarity, the knowledge that you are the most important person in the life of someone who has no blood connection to you — but this inseparability must by necessity include a lurking, brutal, punishing dark side, and not just with regards to the risk in that ever-present whisper “what would one do if the other died?” (which is a whole other question I’m not sure I even want to speculate about, for fear of the answer I might come up with) but even in just living their day-to-day lives. What does it mean to exist so symbiotically?

    Being two halves of a whole, being one person in two bodies, is not exactly a common state of existence. It’s like being the psychological equivalent of Siamese twins. And when you add their professional partnership on top of that and recall that it is also completely entwined with their friendship, they barely have any identity that is not fused with each other. Anyone remember Sam and Eric, the twins from Lord of the Flies who later in the book cease to be referred to in the plural and simply become identified as Samneric? There’s more than a little of that going on with Starsky and Hutch. They actively and proudly assert their differences when they have the wherewithal to do so, but they have an unconscious tendency to meld into Starskyanhutch. They are not quite intelligible as people unless they are partially defined in relation to each other (in your own character studies of them, remember how many essential aspects of their personality are defined by how they relate or compare to each other?) Their inseparability is a promise that they will never, ever be alone, which means they will always have each other to count on, but on the flipside, it means they will never be free of each other, never be singular individuals.

    Just how much do they need to sacrifice to pay the price of their inseparability? And…I want to say ‘yes’, but if I’m honest, I can’t really give a confident, canon-based answer to the question: do they even have the freedom to choose whether to stay together or to separate, or is separating unfathomable and impossible for them? What happens if they hurt each other badly enough to damage the assumptions that make their friendship worthwhile in the first place, and turn the whole partnership into an exercise in self-mutilation? (recalling season 4, and ‘Starsky vs Hutch’, this isn’t a purely academic question). Would they have even the choice to separate then? Are they capable of it? Does unconditional love and loyalty really mean there are NO conditions on their dedication to each other whatsoever? In practice, their partnership makes them better, stronger, and healthier human beings, but theoretically, I wonder if the price of their inseparability is their self-worth and self-belonging. I’m not making an absolute assertion of this, but like Starsky in The Specialist, I seem to be compelled to ask “what if”?

    • merltheearl Says:

      GZ, reading your comment has caused me to glance at this Character Study for the first time in awhile, and I have to say your comment is much, much better than the original post, which seems to me now to be rushed and a bit sparse. I hardly deserve this lovely and thoughtful response. But I must say I wholeheartedly second it, although I wonder… Canonically speaking, they are in their late twenties, barely thirty by the time Sweet Revenge comes about. Which is so very different than being forty, and fifty. The unceasing trauma and elation of life events causes even the most profound friendship to change, especially those that are dependent on a particular time and place. When I get the time (and these days that is increasingly difficult to do) I must rewrite this particular study to give the subject its proper due. Thank you.

      • Grevy's Zebra Says:

        Sparse? I don’t think this post is sparse at all! I think it’s *concise*. You succinctly summarize the core of their uniqueness and touch on everything that really needs to be said about their union in a totally straightforward way. I think that’s better than my groundless speculation, which I can indulge in because I’m just a commenter who doesn’t have to come up with ideas of my own. 🙂

        I think they are at least 32-33 and possibly a bit older by Sweet Revenge — Allison May/Laura Anderson “died” when she was eleven, 21 years before Targets, which would make her 32 or 33, and Starsky definitely isn’t younger than her. Less definitively, their level of seniority at their jobs and the way they behave in situations like Hutch’s relationship with Vanessa, and their level of authority with other police officers and stuff, and their amount of frustration in season 4, leads me to believe they were a bit older than late 20s.

        Wondering about their possible futures and how they could change is fascinating, but I doubt they really would/could change enough to get unstuck from each other. For one thing, I don’t think their bond depends on their time and place. Their jobs may be how it was formed in the beginning, but I think that by the end of the series, they’d be joined at the hip even if they were sushi chefs flaying tuna in downtown Honolulu. Now if (though it’s a big ‘if’) they got jobs with more reasonable hours/demands, they might get married, which would definitely make them change a lot, but even then I don’t think any marriage would last unless the woman in question was happy having the other partner as a major presence in her husband’s life. But now that I think about it, I don’t think they’ll ever willingly quit the lifestyle. Even if Starsky does get dumped from street duty after SR, they’d keep on with their crimefighting together in a different capacity, either as private investigators like they were in Targets, or in different less violent positions on the force, still too married to their jobs to settle down (a claim which I’m totally stealing from your Food Fight study haha). I kinda suspect that they’re destined to be lifelong bachelors, who will probably run out of luck and get killed by one of their countless enemies before they pass middle age, or, if they’re VERY lucky, wind up as Those Two Old Basically Married Dudes Who Go Everywhere Together And Keep Bickering About Nonsensical Shit Incomprehensible To Any Outsider Who Eavesdrops On Them And Reminiscing About Life Without Cell Phones. But of course, that’s all pure speculation, since Sweet Revenge gave us no hints about the future except that they are even closer than ever.

        Argh I rambled on for way too long again…I’ve gotta quit doing that.

      • merltheearl Says:

        This made my day, thank you.

  6. Anna Says:

    Merl, I agree with GZ – I don’t think this post is sparse or rushed. In fact, I think it might be one of the most unique and insightful of your character studies. A lot of other fans tend to get caught up in their odd-couple-ness, their differences, but it’s their unearthly indivisibility that makes them really incredible.

    It puts me in mind of a great line I once read in a classic old fanfiction: “Just a man, another cop, a partner, an accidental adoption at first – on whose part, he still didn’t know. Then, so close a bonding that for eight years others had seen one being which cast two shadows, so confused by the fact that it had two names that they could never keep straight which identity belonged to whom.”

  7. Laura Says:

    Merl, I loved your original post, very insightful, please don’t sell yourself short. I also enjoyed all the comments on your post, expanding on the topic and GZ’s thoughtful writings.

    Another trait that Starsky and Hutch have in common is their kindness toward the disenfranchised. Not impressed with bureaucracy, position, power or money, they support those they serve, the people of their community. They have a mutual desire to truly make the world a better place. Their moral compasses almost always point in the same direction. Certainly they have some differences in their beliefs, but they both can depend on the fact that their intentions are always noble. There is no doubt that neither of them could ever become a dirty cop. While I’m certain we still have this problem today, back in the 70s I suspect it was much more common.

    I think the series was influenced a bit by the true story of Frank Serpico, the lone cop who fought corruption in NYC police department, primarily in the 60s. Working on his own, with few allies, he was a man apart, separated by his strong convictions and stubborn refusal to be anything other than an honest cop. His compelling story is at times funny, at times heart-wrenching, and one can’t help but envision his loneliness during his ordeal. Imagine, though, this one person split into two characters, and you have something that would be pretty close to Starsky and Hutch. At times they can only trust “me and thee,” but at least they have each other. While their co-dependence definitely has a negative side (ask any mental health professional about the subject), imagine how lonely their existence would be without each other. With different partners, less committed to their cause, I doubt either would have lasted long on the force.

    One other quality they have in common is their love of being cops, at least most of the time. This, too, brings me back to Serpico and a paragraph from the book that greatly reminded me of Starsky and Hutch. Peter Maas wrote, in regards to Serpico’s relationship with one of his few allies, Assistant Chief Inspector Sydney Cooper, “they both had the same love-hate relationship with the police . . . he [Cooper] had not been able to bring himself to quit the police force. What made him stay was a special quality that every really good police-officer seems to possess – an almost boyish delight in playing cops-and-robbers. ‘What the hell,’ Cooper once growled as he tried to explain it, ‘where else can a grown man have so much fun?’” I think the series, as a whole, due in great part to the acting ability and adlibs of Glaser and Soul, captured the element of fun that is one part of being a cop.

    • Anna Says:

      Oooh, great comparison, Laura! Yeah, it really is great that they have each other to count on when they’d otherwise be quite alone in a lot of their fights. While I think the closeness and intimacy of their relationship is by choice, I always get the feeling the “only me and thee” is by circumstance — they make friends with all manner of people so easily, and put themselves out there for their friends and girlfriends so much, and are so loyal to and trusted by all the many old friends that turn up, that I think they’d be happy to have more people around them, more often, though not at the cost of their work and beliefs, and I guess that’s where the rub is. The other real-life comparisons I would bring up would be the “Untouchables” of the prohibition era, whose incorruptibility made them pariahs. Starsky and Hutch are of course not as extreme as that, but they are to some extent. They even get obstructed and bullied by fellow law enforcement in the Pilot, Snowstorm, Iron Mike, and Targets without a Badge, just to name a few.

      I guess in reality the show couldn’t handle bringing guest actors back again and again, so we don’t get a revolving cast of supporters even though some one-time characters are people that obviously have close and long-term ties to them (for example, Jackson Walters’ family, or Kiko Ramos) as discussed in Merl’s post on “Family.” But it’s interesting to look at it from the perspective that maybe their unique approaches to their jobs means that an important chunk of their lives is simply inaccessible to anyone except each other, and that’s the chunk that the show focuses on.

      • Laura Says:

        Thank you, Anna. You make an interesting point on guest actors. I’ve noticed that while we don’t see the same characters come back very often, we see the same actors come back quite a bit, playing different roles. It seems in the 70s, or at least with the structure of Starsky and Hutch, that minor characters didn’t often return, even ones that they apparently had close ties with, like your examples above. I suppose that’s due, in part, to the variety of writers they had. Perhaps someone with production knowledge could comment on this. Today’s shows seem to have better continuity and often they will have a season-long story arc that alternates with stand-alone episodes. Compared to current shows, there wasn’t much reference to events in previous episodes in Starsky and Hutch.

        On your point of their jobs being such “an important chunk of their lives,” of course, that’s what the show is primarily about. No one tuned in to watch them go grocery shopping or do household chores; we wanted to know about their lives as cops, including the personal impact that type of job would have on them. Your comment that that “important chunk of their lives” is “simply inaccessible to anyone except each other,” is even more perceptive. Unusually close, Starsky and Hutch spent much of their off duty time together, as well. I think such an intimate connection to their work is something that few people really understand. The camaraderie they have is almost addictive. I recently read an online article about what veterans miss when they leave the service. Non-veterans don’t find it hard to imagine the things they wouldn’t miss (the politics, being separated from family, dire working conditions), but find it hard to relate to missing their service. As the article points out,, they miss the feeling that they matter, and they miss the social connections and brotherhood of service, primarily the fact that someone always has your back. I think that’s one of the most special bonds in the relationship between Starsky and Hutch, that, come hell or high water, they are always there for each other. It’s no surprise then that the strong work connection they share, which outsiders often wouldn’t understand, would bleed heavily into their personal lives.

      • Blunderbuss Says:

        Laura, than you for that link and those great comparisons. There is definitely a lot of “brothers in arms” about Starsky and Hutch. It’s almost certain that many of the merged and shared, two-operating-as-one qualities merl discusses so well in this post and others were forged by their shared experiences of danger, violence, and emotional extremes — perhaps such enmeshment with another would be a problem for someone with a ‘normal’ life, but for them, with their lifestyles and missions, their bond makes them stronger, happier, and more vibrant and stable (at least outside of season 4). They seem to just accept each other as a part of each other, because well, who else can empathize and help with the most difficult and traumatic aspects of their lives? Their shared lives and history is mentioned in dialogue too – Starsky pleads “how many years have we known each other?” when Hutch rejects him and claims that he’s lying to him in Gillian, and tells Hutch that he knows “where, when you eat, walk, sleep, talk, who you know, what you know and how you know it, and there ain’t no hiding behind that” when Hutch insists that he can, in fact, separate himself from their relationship fully enough to hide himself from Starsky in The Game, and Hutch reminds him that the ones they can trust are the “same people we always trust, us” when Starsky’s view of the world and the police force is upended in the Pilot. There are many reports of cops’ and soldiers’ marriages and family bonds suffering not only because of the stress and the time spent away from home, but because many of them experience a loss of emotional intimacy since their spouses and family members have not experienced and cannot understand the things they go through.

        Your comparisons to Serpico — both the isolation he suffered due to his principles, and the sentiment expressed by Sidney Cooper about the fun of police-work even amidst its frustration, are spot-on! You have inspired me to go research Serpico and his work in greater depth. Isn’t it great when fiction helps us relate to real world issues?

    • Laura Says:

      Blunderbuss, thank you for your comments. I saw a movie about Serpico back in 70s, but only read the book recently. It reminded me what a high price is paid by someone who sticks to their values despite peer pressure to do otherwise. His story is truly inspiring.

  8. Tanya Says:

    How apt and symbolically satisfying to the secret lit buff inside me. The part about their hands is wonderful. Another could be that even though their outside appearances, like hair color, skin tone, build, hairiness, are so different, their eyes, “the windows to the soul,” are both blue.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Tanya, so true. As a side note, I have made the remark in one of the posts how interesting it is that Hutch is continually referred to as “Blue Eyes” or “Baby Blue” (by Starsky many times, but also by other characters) even though Starsky has the same startlingly bright blue eyes. I wonder if calling Hutch by that name somehow is a catch-all for “ultimate Caucasian”, something I find very amusing.

      • Tanya Says:

        That is funny! It also reminds me of the movie Fiddler on the Roof. In that movie, Perchik, the character who PMG plays, has dark brown eyes (via contact lenses of course) — as if the director thought that blue eyes did not look “Jewish” enough! 🙂

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