Archive for January, 2010

Character Studies 7: The Cars

January 30, 2010

This being the seventies, and smog-and-freeway Los Angeles to boot, it’s not surprising that the car as object of desire and disdain plays a major role. “Starsky and Hutch” is (mis)remembered as a car-chase show, smoking tires and bashed-into trashcans, bad guys shooting blindly through back windows, but look closer and the relationship between man and machine is wonderfully illustrative, and also quite subtle. The Gran Torino, of course, is a major part of the equation here, the first image in the very first scene of the pilot; a merchandizing dream, ridiculously photogenic, beautifully timeless (it still looks cool) the Torino’s distinctive candy-apple-red and white stripe is a major cultural signifier and the thing most people remember about this show. Often, it’s the shiniest, most bombastic object in the frame, a bit of glam in the dingy Los Angeles suburbs. It is a symbol of power and potency, but interestingly it is also symbolic of the unintended consequences of machismo, as the Torino is sabotaged throughout the series, its engine ripped out (“Targets”), tires deflated (“The Psychic”), and its distinctive appearance defeating the best intentions of Starsky and Hutch to remain unobtrusively stealthy. To this I may conclude that physical beauty and masculine power may have its downside, as improbable that may seem.

Hutch takes years of pleasure in insulting this car. Interestingly, his cynicism and contempt is not directed at Starsky, the car’s owner and tireless supporter, but rather outward, at a society that sanctions the superficial, the unreliable and the vulgar. In “Death in a Different Place”, when the Torino overheats, Hutch explodes that it’s “me or the car” and dismisses the car as a “piece of junk”. Yet, one suspects there is a dichotomy at work: in “Bloodbath”, when Starsky is taken prisoner, the Torino changes from albatross to apotheosis in the blink of an eye as Hutch drives the car until Starsky can be found. Yet he expresses great love for his own heap of junk, the battered two-tone LTD he claims has “inner flash”. Such is the enormity of his affection for it, Starsky presents him with an identical copy of this “Hutchinson Original” when it’s totaled in a crash (“Jojo”, “Survival”). These two cars become a perfect metaphor for their drivers, nearly Jungian in its complexity: Starsky, with his unambiguous, muscular, fully integrated personality, and Hutch with his complex, messed-up shadow-side.

Both Glaser and Soul were excellent drivers and often did their own stunt driving. Hutch’s LTD’s license plate was 552 LOQ, and its replacement, introduced in Survival was 018 MEL. The Gran Torino’s was 537 ONN. The mars light that they would attach to the hood of the car is held on by suction cups and a powerful magnet, as in real life. A question: was it routine for detectives to drive their own cars while on duty? Shouldn’t there have been a fleet of standard-issue undercover cars one would have to sign out as a matter of course, bland but powerful sedans, the ubiquitous Crown Vic, perhaps? One wonders if the LAPD would even allow one of its officers to hotdog around town in a car like that. Not to mention a severely unsafe, dilapidated piece of crap car like Hutch’s beloved Ford.

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Episode 21: A Coffin for Starsky

January 27, 2010

After someone injects Starsky with a deadly drug, Starsky and Hutch have twenty-four hours to find both the killer and the antidote.

Cheryl: Jenny Sullivan, Vic Bellamy: Gene Dynarski, Sweet Alice: Nellie Bellflower, Janos Martini: Seth Allen, Prof. Jennings: John McLiam, Charlie Collins: Jack Griffin, Dr. Franklin: David Byrd, Sue Bellamy: Carole Mallory, Mrs. Haberman: Fritzi Burr. Written By: Arthur Rowe, Directed By: George McCowan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This fan-favorite is the last-filmed episode of the season and the first one written specifically for the two actors. I’m guessing in previous episodes some dialogue was either modified or reinterpreted by the actors to make it more their own because the change is so seamless, so perfect. I have read in the past that the scene in the hospital at the end, when Starsky is about to be taken away, had an entire scripted conversation which was edited by Glaser and Soul into a single mute look. This shows most remarkably how both actors were able to forge an immediate personal bond; this real life relationship is indivisible from their performances, especially here.

Of note, too, is how love and affection expressed by Starsky and Hutch – here in its most pure and urgent form – is so sharply contrasted by the rough characters, lewd or ugly situations, dirty urban settings and grim dank hallways. This, for me, is the series at its best; less successful is the last season in which a persistent upscale luster has the effect of diffusing the emotional potency.

It’s interesting the first line is “I can’t.” Starsky’s voice. “I can’t”, he says. “I can’t let …” This is an important indicator of Starsky’s iron will. I can’t let him get away with it.  And he doesn’t. That’s it, we then hear Bellamy’s evil laugh and the journey has begun.

Notice the four-tube Nixie Clock, Russian-made components glowing amber numerals under a smoked-plexiglas case, on a wood base. A 70s classic.

“Hutch. Help.” Two words, that’s all it takes; not many of us can claim a lifeline like this. Picture the unfilmed scene: Hutch arriving in a panic, breaking in and rushing to the bedroom and encountering his partner with no gunshot wound, no bruising, no signs at all that he’s been injured even though he’s unconscious. (The “pre-shot” must cause his unconsciousness, and not the fatal poison; Starsky is conscious and clear by the time he’s examined). It would be a shocking discovery for anyone but for Hutch it’s amplified by the revelation that he alone will be responsible for seeking justice for this terrible crime. Look at his stunned bewilderment in the ambulance – another great moment for David Soul, who is always able to both condense a great range of emotions into a single gesture or look.

Several times throughout the series we see Starsky parking the Torino at his apartment so it blocks garages. My guess is that he knows these are storage units and not active garages or he would not have done so; Starsky isn’t the selfish type. But even so, it’s fun to imagine a tenant’s council meeting where they argue about whether allow their oddly intimidating neighbor – who keeps such strange hours, whose friendliness is overshadowed by the fact he carries a gun – to park his car in the most inconvenient place possible. I can see the decision coming to “yes” when no one volunteers to be the one to say “no”.

There does not appear to be any doubt by either the emergency response team or Hutch himself that what Starsky has suffered is, in fact, an injection of a paralyzing agent. If Hutch arrived to find his partner unconscious but with no discernible injury all kinds of possibilities would be foremost in their minds: heart attack, overdose, stroke, aneurysm. However, Starsky has seemingly regained consciousness sometime before the rough stuff happens (stomach pumping is the most obvious first step, but that never seems to have happened, luckily) in order to tell them what has happened. Did Hutch’s experiences in “The Fix” alert him faster to the possibility of poison? Did it lead him to first check for an injection site, and be the one to find the tell-tale pin-prick in the arm? I’d like to think so.

I like how Hutch tries to suppress a yawn when the doctor leads him out of the room, a hint of the fatigue he’s fighting.

Notice how Franklin says formally, “I understand you and Detective Starsky have been partners for some time now” and Hutch reacts calmly, saying “that’s right”. But when Franklin changes his tone to the more personal, “yes, he says you were his best friend” Hutch nervously interrupts, actually waving an impatient hand in Franklin’s face to stop him. He says a curt “Doctor, what are you trying to tell me.” It’s a lovely, subtle moment: formality is good, but don’t try anything else. Franklin is unswerving, though: he says, “I don’t think your friend is going to make it.”

Why does Starsky say he “hate soapy scenes” and makes Dr. Franklin give Hutch the bad news? It only takes a second for Hutch to open the door and confront him with the situation. The soap is in the aftermath, and not in the moment of the telling, something he knows he will not escape no matter who conveys the news.

Original script details included Hutch’s realization that he was intended to be Jennings’ first victim, the revelation that Starsky’s toothpaste was drugged, and a lot of dialogue in the farewell scene (including Starsky making the connection about Bellamy’s education), which was replaced by the long look that couldn’t be scripted.

Hutch, when questioning Starsky, says, “what about the voice? Did you … did you fix a pattern?” This sounds like air traffic control. Maybe Starsky is right when he says Hutch can’t handle this. Remember how Starsky confronts Hutch in a similar – if not more difficult – situation in “The Fix” when he tries to make Hutch remember details following a disorienting trauma. Getting into his face, barking out commands. “Names. Names.” This is much more effective and emotionally real than tentatively asking to “fix a pattern”.

The whole conversation with Hutch, Starsky and Dr. Franklin has the undercurrent of sexual assault. In a way it is, because a rapist inflicts pain for no other reason than the pleasure of inflicting it. “Whoever it was wanted to enjoy himself,” Starsky says.  And then, with a touching attempt at bravery he adds, “It’s about as dirty a laugh as I’ve ever heard.”

Hutch tells Dr. Franklin he assumed because Starsky was in the hospital, that he would be treated successfully. Later, he rails about doctors, “You get sick and they can’t even cure the common cold!” While under a great deal of stress, he has now said two opposite opinions in five minutes. Starsky displays similar ambiguous feelings in “Black and Blue” about the medical profession as well: when calling to find out Hutch’s condition after being shot, the nurse comments Starsky apparently doesn’t trust doctors.

We now come to the only scene in this harrowing episode with a glimmer of humor, and it’s wonderful. Starsky’s display of pique as he releases himself from hospital – “You mean you want me to hit the streets with no pants, no badge, no gun – no dignity?!” shows that he, too, uses Hutch as a means of releasing tension, although more rarely. Hutch plays his part admirably by lamely holding up the watch, the only thing he’s remembered to bring, enabling Starsky to hit the roof. It’s a complex but tidy little moment and terrific fun to watch. A lot of things seem to be happening all at once: Starsky blaming Hutch for something he couldn’t possibly be expected to do – Starsky is so sick it’s inconceivable that he’d be released at all – Hutch acknowledging the importance of a watch to his partner, despite his constant scorn on the subject, and the use of explosive temper at the other as a way of decompressing and focusing on the task at hand. We can see both Starsky and Hutch have the ability to absorb tension and transform it into useful energy. Plus, it’s effing hilarious. Also, it’s entertaining to see how Hutch is able to be subdued by Starsky’s criticism. He recovers quickly, though, bitching as they walk down the hospital corridor about how impossible it is the choose between Starsky’s “equally crummy blue jeans”. Fighting back and refusing to apologize is a way of equalizing the partnership again, Hutch indicating he now feels his partner is strong enough to be trusted, and so his retort becomes both a compliment and a stimulus. The whole scene has a joyous energy that practically zings off the screen.

Hutch knows Charlie Collins well when he calls in, is impatient with him to the point of rudeness. When gently remonstrated by Starsky, who as usual plays the peacemaker, Hutch relents and softens his tone. He doesn’t tell Charlie what it’s all about but tells him to check with Dobey and mentions the hospital, which is almost the same thing. Of note is Hutch’s authoritarian ease even though Charlie is at least twenty years older than he is, and has double the experience. Later, bringing in the files, Charlie apologizes for “the static”, but to Starsky and not to Hutch, and then proceeds to hover anxiously in later scenes.

The name ‘Bellamy’ is an in-joke on quiet director Earl Bellamy.

“The way I see it,” says Starsky, “it’s who-do-we-trust time.” And the two of them proceed to give each other a deeply penetrating look. A stops-time look. The look very, very few people will ever get a chance to either give, or receive, in their lives.

Starsky tells Huggy someone broke into his house last night and gave him “a shot”. Huggy doesn’t ask “a shot of what? Bourbon?” which would be the logical thing to say. No, he looks genuinely upset, doesn’t press for details, and quietly gets on with it.

“11:36,” Starsky says, in the office with Hutch and Dobey going through files of suspects. Dobey tries a joke: “I always did think you were a clock-watcher.” Then, when his joke fails, Dobey does something uncharacteristic and tries for informality. “Now Dave there must be something remember about this guy.” This too falls flat. This catastrophe has drawn Starsky and Hutch so tightly together there is no room for anyone else. “You hear that?” Starsky says to Hutch, “he called me Dave.” Hutch has the death’s-door humor ready to go: “The things people will do to get on a first-name basis.”  “Really,” Starsky says, deadpan. This exchange is for their amusement only and has the effect of pushing Dobey even further to the margins, forcing him to do what Hutch refused to do earlier: apologize.

When you think about it, do you wonder why they call each other by their last names? It’s a custom long gone out of favor by the swingin’ seventies. People, particularly California people, are all about being casual and friendly, hugging people they’ve just met, for instance. Granted, the cops sometimes call each other by last name, but usually it’s senior-to-junior, and Starsky and Hutch aren’t cops to each other. Besides, the guys call the uniform cops by their first names all the time (“Fix”, “Lady Blue” and many others). Are Starsky and Hutch exhibiting an old habit from the academy which is hard to break, is this about keeping up formal appearances, or could it be an acknowledgement of some deeper, hidden truth about each other?

Speculate on Dobey’s miscalculation, calling Starsky “Dave” because he wants to be a real friend, even though Hutch, closer to Starsky than anyone will ever be, only uses his last name. Dobey’s social ineptitude in difficult circumstances is one of the more entertaining aspects to his character. It reminds me of a scene far off in the Fourth Season, in which Dobey is so thrilled by a compliment from a FBI bigwig he forgets to lead an urgent meeting (“Targets, 3”).

Dobey announces, “Twenty possibles reduced to these three primes.” This calculation has always made me nervous. Who’s doing the figuring on this one? Someone had to input information into the police computer system, so how did they know what variables to add? How come Prudholm isn’t on this list, and why do Starsky and Hutch accept this dramatic reduction as a given? Would they be tempted to look at the other names in case something rings a bell?

A cop is, for all intents and purposes, the victim of premeditated murder. This is about as heinous as a crime can get and the one thing, other than a child murder, most likely to rile up the entire police department. Surely there must be ten, a dozen, even fifteen other cops racing around chasing down those “twenty possibles”, turning the city upside down trying to find information that might help a fellow officer. And yet the squad room seems blurry, inert. There are no ringing phones or slamming doors. The other detectives, when we glimpse them, are abstract background shapes. Even Dobey is merely blaring noise that passes for language; he may as well just go “blah blah blah” for all the sense he makes. There is only the two of them, isolated inside their own world, intent on each other and their quest. Nothing else matters. This is when the series reveals its true nature: it is, in fact, abstraction rather than realism. For all its gritty detail, this has nothing whatsoever to do with real life. This may be exculpatory of me to say so, and perhaps is due solely to the privileges of hindsight, but to apply the measuring stick of realism to “Starsky and Hutch” is beside the point. Sure, there are continuity errors and lapses in logic, and anyone can point a finger and say undercover cops don’t do this or that, or list procedural errors and oversights. I have done the same on occasion. But when we notice that all extraneous details have been blacked – other officers working the case, or whether someone as sick as Starsky would even be allowed on the premises – shows us how reductionist this series is prepared to go in order to keep its emotional integrity. (However, when issues become distracting – as in the case of “The Trap” and that rickety impractical barn, or the silly prosthetic in “Quadromania” – does it make sense to criticize.)

How did Janos fit in with the “primes”? There is no mention of him ever threatening to waste Starsky or Hutch, and when confronted he seems genuinely weak and ineffectual. He’s merely a purveyor of pornography with a penchant for assaulting women. Yuck, for sure, but does he really fit the profile?

Hutch first notices Starsky starting to suffer as they walk up the staircase to Bellamy’s apartment. See him take note of a brief lag in Starsky’s step, then the sweat Starsky quickly dabs away as they approach; he checks again as they stand in front of the door – a swift, subtle look that’s easy to miss if you’re not intent on finding it. His face gives away very little, and yet you can read his mind: here it comes.

Sweet Alice is one of the reasons Starsky and Hutch is such a groundbreaking show. She’s smart, sensitive and likeable but also frail and obstinate, a well-rounded portrait of a complex person. I like how she says, in a casual way that implies both are more or less the same, “did you just come by to bust me, or just for a little friendly conversation?”

Is that a mezuzah outside Sweet Alice’s door? It can be seen when Starsky is counting to twenty and waiting to knock.

The whole vaudeville scene at the front of the pornography studio is an excellent example of the psychic energy going on. Starsky and Hutch couldn’t possibly have cooked this banter up beforehand – who is “stupid” and who is “creepy” etc. It’s obvious this a mutually gut reaction, both knowing simultaneously what is needed in the circumstance. I figure most of us trundle along in life with a unique set of instincts based on past experiences, genetic predisposition and learned skills. It’s our own psychic recipe shared by no other. But this is not the case with Starsky and Hutch. Somehow, against all odds, and for reasons I will now spend thousands and thousands of words trying to explain, they have forged and inherited the same instincts. Starsky drives this point home with his comment to Hutch that he tell Janos “a funny story”. Hutch knows immediately what he means and goes for it.

Filming Notes: In the alley, for the sake of realism, Glaser went down quicker and harder than Soul (who was to catch him) expected, bruising himself and genuinely startling his costar.

Starsky feels the need to cut through the intense emotion of the scene with an acerbic tale of his aunt Rose who made him just as sick from the chicken soup she couldn’t “get the hang” of, although she made a good won ton. His jokey response to trauma is a mainstay of his character. Does he do this for his own sake, or because he knows it’ll make Hutch feel better?

I would really like to know what a gum movie is.

“Softly,” Starsky says to Hutch, who is railing away about the inadequacies of the medical profession, “don’t antagonize the people I need.” This quiet admonition is enough to stop Hutch in his tracks – he acknowledges his stupid outburst with a nod and that’s that. Later, when Hutch is ill in “The Plague”, it’s Starsky who antagonizes the people they need, causing Hutch to call him off.

The police lab is shown rarely, despite how useful it would appear to be. We see it again in Season Four, during “The Game”, when the effects of botulism are explained to Starsky.

“How you doing, huh?” Hutch says in the lab. “I’m scared,” Starsky says, and you can tell from Hutch’s reaction that he’d hadn’t been expecting – or really wanting – an honest answer. (This is another example of Soul’s uncanny ability to transmit a complex emotion in a micro-second.) Interestingly, Starsky seems to twig to Hutch’s anxiety because he then gives what Hutch wanted in the first place: sarcasm, much like his face-saving wise-ass comment about Aunt Rose earlier. “Just enough time to catch a double feature at the Riverley and finish the book I’ve been reading,” he says. Hutch responds to this with a gesture of nearly unbelievable tenderness.

Why does Bellamy only get a year sentence when caught with the drugs with Jerry? He had already been convicted of pimping, pushing, armed robbery and suspected of two homicides.

What’s the story with the blue carnival dog Starsky has in his desk? I’ve read it actually belongs to Glaser, which means it has the same mystical properties of teddy bear Ollie. It’s spectacularly ugly, and seems to be at the ratty end of its life. Starsky takes it out of the desk drawer and stares at it, as if it encapsulates a memory, then roughly shoves it back in.

Starsky, in a wonderful moment, says “if this was a cowboy movie, I’d give you my boots”. Using 1950s pop culture references to express deep emotion is something Starsky often does. At the hospital in “The Plague”, for instance, he compares a dying Hutch Captain Marvel. This was a kid, I suspect, who spent a lot of riveted moments in front of a television forming an earnest, black-and-white sense of righteousness, which is why he became a cop in the first place. (Hutch has no such illusions; his childhood was compromised and troubled, his boyhood heroes disgraced – as in Maxie Malone).

It’s really incredible that they are, for a very long time, holding hands in the squad room.  Hutch is so reluctant to break the hold that he practically slams Starsky’s hand down on the desk when Mrs. Haberman comes forward with the photographs, exploding “Lady – !” and then, in frustration to another officer, anxious to get her away from him, he says, “Ted, will you …?”

I like how Hutch unloads Starsky from his arms at the doorway to the Bellamy apartment.

Bellamy says, from his hiding place on the roof, “what’s the matter, Hutchinson? You lose your piece?” And then gives the exact laugh the two have been searching for the entire time. Read piece as peace, which means war.

After Starsky kills Bellamy (an example great shooting – it’s dark and he’s so ill he’s lost much of his vision and coordination) Hutch comes up to him. In what is one of the most beautifully staged scenes between them, he gently reaches down and takes Starsky’s gun, then lays his head against the concrete, leaning into him. Harsh shadows and strong light make this all look very noir. Starsky begins to lose consciousness and they both go down against the wall, and it’s almost romantic, although the word seems inadequate, in the way he locks eyes with Hutch as he does so.

Franklin tells Hutch he has to bring Starsky “upstairs”, which I suppose echoes a death/heaven image; Hutch is trying to be professional but doesn’t want to let go. He goes over to Starsky, leans down close, and says “Hey buddy, I have to go now.” Not you, but me. Starsky has something more to say. He says, “hey.” Hutch leans in closer, but there are no more words. Instead there is a long look that speaks volumes.

It’s always surprising to hear Dobey say, “well, that’s it, huh” when Starsky is back in the hospital. Hutch is right to fly into a rage. But notice this is the emotion that vaults him into a moment of transcendent revelation, solving the case. It seems anger helps Hutch as much as it impedes him: the surge of adrenaline clears his mind and allows him to shut out all extraneous information. “We only have two hours,” says Dobey, to which Hutch yells, “I don’t care if we have two minutes, we don’t give up.”

Why doesn’t Hutch drag the professor back to the lab with him? It would seem he would be of some help in diagnosing the antidote.

Let’s analyze the professor’s thinking throughout this whole thing. Why, if he was so angry at Starsky and Hutch because of what happened to his son, did he not just take a gun and shoot them both? Or get Bellamy to give Starsky an immediately lethal shot rather than a slow-acting one? Why take the risk of the discovery of an antidote? If he wanted them to suffer over a period of time, as he himself suffered, and as he believed his son suffered, then why not give them both the shot at the same time? They would be far less likely to solve anything if both were incapacitated, and Bellamy could have easily gotten to them in the same night. Perhaps the professor understood that one of them watching the other in misery was the worst sort of trauma he could inflict, a sort of “watch your loved one die as I had to watch mine die” manner of thinking. And yet, how would he know how much they loved each other? Did he spend a lot of time in secret observation, drawing his own conclusions as to the way to inflict maximum pain? Why didn’t George Prudholm think this way?

Also, why did the Professor not do the injection himself, and instead bring another person into his plan? Did he doubt his ability to creep into Starsky’s house and do the deed? He’s old but he’s not infirm, and besides, Starsky was already compromised by an earlier dose of something. Was Starsky just coincidentally the first to get it, did Jennings just look at a map and think, he’s closer, let’s do him first and then lose his nerve when it came to Hutch? Or perhaps there was a purpose to his actions. He certainly is calculating, cunning, and nothing he did was by accident. Maybe he thought Hutch would be more destroyed by Starsky’s suffering and death than the other way around. Or maybe it was Bellamy’s idea. Maybe he was nursing an even more poisonous grudge than Jennings. After all, it was Bellamy who really “seemed to enjoy himself”, according to Starsky.

The professor’s daughter Cheryl exclaims, “They tried to protect you in this report,” meaning the report of Jerry’s death and the accidental shooting, and Hutch ameliorates this by trying to explain how his gun accidentally went off while they were struggling with Jerry, who was in a drug-induced delirium. Hmm. First, this means it was Hutch who directly caused Jerry’s death, furthering the questions as to why Starsky was the one to get hit. Secondly, it’s unlikely Jerry grabbed for Hutch’s gun, or if he did it was probably a clumsy, half-hearted swipe at it and certainly nothing to worry about. Hutch has faced thugs a lot quicker and more dangerous than a stoned college student whose brain was “soup”. It’s more likely Hutch shot him on purpose – although why he felt forced to do that will always be a mystery. It’s possible his account was slanted to make the events seem more accidental than they really were as a way of shielding Jennings from the true horror of the incident. Possible, but unlikely, since both Hutch and Starsky have a reputation for honesty above all else, and Jennings does not seem to be a particularly close or valued friend. If Hutch has even a fraction of culpability, for whatever reason, this might explain the very slight, but noticeable, shadow over him this whole time – a sense, not of guilt, but frustration that his own actions might have inflamed the circumstances.

Clothes: Hutch wears one of his best outfits of the entire four seasons throughout this show: brown pants with hip pockets, brown shoes (white socks, but all is forgiven), midnight-blue turtleneck, and a caramel-brown leather jacket (collar up, of course). Starsky wears a tan shirt with a periwinkle t-shirt beneath and his “crummy” jeans. He wears the awesome brown leather jacket. Huggy looks great in the “what it is” scene with his red-brown leisure suit, tortoiseshell glasses, and white hat.

 

Episode 20: Running

January 25, 2010

Starsky risks his badge when he takes a witness and an old friend of his, Sharman, secretly home with him to dry her out.

Sharman Crane: Jan Smithers, Vernon DuBois: Robert Viharo, Ella: Lana Wood, Kiko: Guillermo San Juan, Texas Kid: Don Plumley, Packrat: Martin Azarow, Orange: Connie Lisa Marie. Written By: Michael Fisher, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a fine episode because it has many of the best elements of the series: interesting minor characters, good action sequences, rich psychological content, and best of all we see a stable, contented partnership with little or no tension. Starsky makes a risky move and Hutch, other than pointing out the pitfalls, accepts his decision and helps him as best as he can. The action never flags, the dialogue is good, the subject matter is fresh and contemporary (celebrity with a substance abuse problem, fresh as it gets).

This episode is about running away, and running to. Kiko initially runs from Hutch, only to return. Sharman self-medicates to run from her grief, and uses her respite at Starsky’s place to run from decisions about her life. She is running from someone who wants to do her harm, and in the end runs toward her waiting family. Starsky is running from duty, choosing to help in a more personal way. He may also be focusing on Sharman’s distress to run from his own secret wounds. Hutch, (ironically the only one who actually physically runs, as he is a dedicated jogger) stands with both feet firmly on the ground.

As low-life thief Vernon creeps through the hotel it’s difficult – almost impossible – to place Robert Viharo from his future role as the maniacally charming pseudo-Irishman in “Collector”. They look like different people. This series often recycles its guest stars: you can count on at least half the roster being repeat visitors. As previously stated elsewhere, this can be irritating, mostly because it interferes with our suspension of disbelief when someone from one episode is recognizable from another (the most egregious example being Karen Carlson, because of the heavy emotional investment viewers are asked to make in “Gillian”). Here, along with Viharo, Lana Wood as Vernon’s girlfriend will pop up again as Sid in “Ninety Pounds of Trouble”.

This episode is about the restorative powers of love, and how crucial it is not to give up on people during hard times, and the scene with Kiko underscores the theme beautifully. Hutch has been a volunteer big brother to Kiko for two years when he’s summarily rejected because Kiko, approaching the acutely self-conscious teenage years, is embarrassed he’s a cop. It’s great how Hutch doesn’t attempt to talk him back into the relationship at all, and nor does he lay a guilt trip like someone else might, the self-pitying ” what about me?” attitude which only makes situations like this one worse, because it suggests the child has both the power and the awareness to fix the situation. Instead, Hutch is respectful, and lets Kiko make his own decisions, gives valuable advice (“It’s just about time that you find out who your real friends are”) and trusts that things will turn out all right.

One gets the feeling Hutch is driving his car, insisting on it, because he doesn’t want the flashy Torino gliding around the canals looking for a bunch of kids. He may think it’s too visually pungent, too much a symbol of masculine authority, or he may not want it to distract from his gentle message.

Hutch shares the easygoing attitude of many – an attitude long changed – when he doesn’t seem to notice, or care, that Kiko is playing with a knife.

Starsky is hard-hearted about Kiko’s defection from Hutch’s tutelage – or, more precisely, he appears accepting, even dismissive of it – which ties in with the fact that he himself can often act like a child, especially with Hutch (“Hey! Look at those ducks!” he cries out while they’re driving). He takes this role because Hutch is always (or is allowed to be, in this complicated partnership) the long-suffering adult. The irony is, of course, that it’s Starsky who goes the extra mile for someone else in this episode, holding on even when when the vulnerable subordinate refuses his ministrations.

There’s a nice shot of the handmade bumper-sticker on the LTD, first seen in the previous episode: “Cops Need Love Too”. Unusually plaintive for Hutch, and not great for undercover work.

Dobey’s explosions into the phone when being bothered for snacks are especially funny because neither Starsky nor Hutch give any indication they play a role in this elaborate practical joke. They don’t even privately grin at each other. It’s all straight – until the end of the episode.

The West Side Psycho has committed seventeen burglaries and three homicides in thirty days? This makes him a seriously deranged, high-profile criminal in anyone’s books. It always seems strange to me that there isn’t more of a city-wide effort to find him. Rather, his case is thrown to Starsky and Hutch along with petty shoplifters and small time hoods. Is this lack of interest because he targets the poor?

Why does this burglar also commit murder, and three times no less? The script tells us he kills because his victims surprise him in the act and therefore could identify him to police, but what about the nurse or lab worker in the first scene? She’s oblivious to his presence, her back is to the door; he could easily make good his escape before she even saw him. The killing is not necessary. It keeps him from getting away with the loot, dramatically increases his chances of getting caught, and apparently rape is not part of his plans. Is he so panicky and illogical because he’s strung out? Also, if he wanted to avoid being identified he could wear a mask and gloves; he does neither.

Vernon is not what you’d call smart. He’s stealing to feed his drug habit, but he’s knocking off rooms in a fleabag hotel because, it’s what, easier than a suburban house with porch lights and better locks? At the Leland Hotel people are so poor they’re extremely unlikely to have much in the way of cash or belongings, so Vernon has to rob three times as many people to get even a meager take.

When he sees Sharman’s diamond bracelet why doesn’t he assume it’s just costume junk, given the dismal surroundings? And if he knew it was real, wouldn’t be bypass someone like Packrat and hold out for a better offer from someone higher up the food chain?

“You still on a downer because of that kid?” Starsky asks Hutch. “Listen, why don’t you take me on a camping trip?” Hutch snaps back at him but Starsky’s method of distraction seems to work: note the smile that Hutch tries to suppress. Of course Hutch eventually does take him camping, and what happens? Witches!

If we needed any more evidence of the respect the guys pay to all people, even those outside the margins, see how Hutch carefully – and with some tenderness – drapes a cloth over Packrat’s body in the aftermath of the shooting.

It’s a nice cut between Starsky’s admiring “she had class. Always did, always will” to the sight of the bedraggled, hollow-eyed Sharman staggering into the street.

It’s another lovely cameo (last seen in “Losing Streak”) by the eccentric Orange, a working girl who never goes anywhere without her loyal Sandy, which might make a lot of her clients uncomfortable, much in the same way her assuming the role as a child to elicit sex makes me uncomfortable.

You might ask how Sharman gets into her room without the key she dropped at Frieta’s, but of course she got into all this trouble in the first place because of habitually leaving her door unlocked. Because she places no value on herself she doesn’t value her space either, although she does kick up a pretty good fuss when attacked, which shows there is a shred of self-respect in there somewhere.

Apparently the girl (and the episode) was originally named “Jennifer”, but the writers wanted an instantly recognizable name and ended up borrowing the name of series producer Joseph Naar’s daughter, Sharman. Otherwise Starsky would not have picked up on the engraved name so fast; there can’t be too many Sharmans running around.

They pull up in front of the Leland Hotel and Starsky stares at the depressing hotel in silence for a second. Hutch immediately understands what’s going in and says, “It’s probably nothing that a good drying-out will take care of.” It’s astonishingly empathetic from someone who so often takes delight in being contrary.

“Go!” Starsky orders Hutch when they’re flummoxed by shots ringing out in Sharman’s room. Hutch goes. How often is Starsky in charge? Is it about 50/50?

Hutch displays some amazing visual acuity when he reads off a licence plate two stories up and half a city block away.

Starsky tells Sharman he knows her real name, and “not the name you checked into this dump with” despite the fact he and Hutch don’t know that name either, as they didn’t stop at the desk. However, they both know how the game is played: famous model with a problem, wanting to disappear. Of course she isn’t going to check in under her real name.

Starsky grabs the bottle and smashes it. “You have no right!” Sharman shrieks. She has a good point. He has no right to make decisions for her, to impose himself – a stranger – on her. He has no right to be physically violent, to shout. And he has no right to manipulate the situation, even if it works to her benefit.

Four times Starsky grabs a woman’s upper arms and tells her to “shut up” or “be quiet”. One he even threatens to “bust in the chops.” The women are Sharman (this episode), Emily (“Blindfold”), Fifi (“Deadly Imposter”) and Rosey Malone. All four times are with women he cares about, and all four times he does it for their own good. All these times happen when Hutch isn’t in the room – although here it continues, albeit in a more panicky, pleading way, Starsky seemingly to regret his own actions even if he’s unable to curb them, when Hutch returns and stands in the doorway.

Glaser’s body-language is particularly effective in the scene with Sharman at the hotel. Given that Starsky isn’t as verbally showy as Hutch is, Glaser must rely on movement and gesture to convey the depth and complexity of emotions. It’s all here, and in spades: his lunging at Sharman, the smashing of the bottle, the drop of his shoulders in shame when Sharman cowers on the bed, and in the tight, compressed way he talks when under stress.

When Starsky suggests he take Sharman to his place Hutch is vehement. “What happened to all your talk about kicking your guts out for someone who’s not worth it?” Obviously Starsky’s earlier comment has stuck in his head, rolling around, tormenting him; he shoots it back nearly verbatim. Was he secretly wounded by Starsky’s dismissive attitude about Kiko’s disavowal of him?

It would have been interesting to know how Hutch covered for Starsky when the hotel is swarmed by scene-of-crime officers and others taking witness statements and combing the room for evidence. How on earth could he explain away someone yelling, “I heard shouting, glass breaking, and then that girl was taken down and shoved into a shiny red car driven by that policeman”?

Starsky’s determination to take Sharman to his place for a “drying out” shows us how far we’ve come in the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism (this episode is careful not to say drugs are in the mix as well, even though Orange says so; Sharman is only ever seen crying out for a drink, not a fix, which may be an attempt by writers to make the viewers better able to identify with her). Abrupt cessation of alcohol can prove fatal, a fact not well understood then as now, and suicidal ideation is frankly dangerous for a layperson like Starsky to handle. Coffee and cold showers don’t cut it, but at least Sharman doesn’t claim to be cured after a few days in Starsky’s bed, she acknowleges she has far to go.

It’s disappointing, from a narrative point of view, that Sharman Crane is famous because she’s a model and not something more interesting – politician, maybe, or novelist, something more cerebral. Because of this fact, the audience is asked to mourn the loss, not of self necessarily, but of marketable looks. Of course she’s in danger too, but that seems like an  ingredient added to the plot in the same way fiber is added to sugary cereal to make seem healthier. Sharman has been valued solely for her looks, exploited because of them, and in turn is destroying those looks by destroying herself. Starsky tells Hutch “it would kill her” to be hounded by the press if they brought her to the station in the condition she’s in. But isn’t the irony here that among the complicated reasons he has for getting her clean is so that her modeling career – the career that might have played a role in her destruction in the first place – could continue?

What role does modeling play when it comes to Sharman’s troubles? She might have been introduced to drugs and alcohol by the very people who then condemned her for it when it got out of control. She wouldn’t be the first model introduced to cocaine to stay thin, and urged to drink to stay socially pliable.

This is a nice look at Starsky’s apartment, with its warm and inviting jumble of soft furnishings, art, salvaged materials and warm colors: lots of art (drawings of old cars), cushions, rugs, plants and pottery. There’s a blinking traffic signal, and wicker chairs. It shows a private man who takes care of his private space, and apparently spends a lot of time there. This is a side of Starsky we don’t often see.

Why does Starsky park the Torino at his apartment so it blocks three garages?

Motives: Starsky feels such a strong pull toward Sharman that he’d risk his badge to protect her. He talks a lot about her being famous, being a kid watching her from afar, and it’s clear his mother has fanned the flames of this non-existent but intoxicating “relationship” by sending him magazines (or so he says; I have my doubts his mother sent them all). But as with most things Starsky, motives are murky. After all, she split after the ninth grade. How many of us have such powerfully protective feelings for someone we knew way back in the ninth grade, even moderately famous ones? And not only that, one class (wood shop, amusingly) and one semester of that one year. Starsky is unusually loyal. He has proven that in other episodes. But in my opinion this has very little to do with loyalty, and a lot to do with Starsky’s inability to have insight into his own psyche. When he tells Hutch “everyone that she’s ever loved has either moved away or died” it sounds profoundly personal in a way that may have nothing to do with the situation at hand.

Hutch comes to Starsky’s place and asks for a glass of milk. Starsky offers him coffee. Hutch says yes. Starsky then pours a glass of milk, and drinks it himself. Interesting.

It’s possible Starsky overly identifies with Sharman, who is outwardly successful and privately hurting. It’s possible he too feels let down and abandoned by the people he loves (we get clues of this, from a murdered father to a drug-dealing brother to Helen Davisson, who could have been “the one” only to die on the job). It’s also possible he has an exaggerated, irrational need to save those he feels are weak, “Mother Cabrini”, as Sharman sarcastically calls him, an aspect of his personality that – if controlled – is the reason he’s a great cop. And it’s also possible he has a visceral and entirely unconscious disgust for women he judges as failures, women who reject their own beauty, who stray outside the accepted norms, who behave in ways he feels are unfeminine. All these motives go a long way to understanding his successful partnership with Hutch: here is one person who is mandated to stay with him (through official procedure, shared experiences, common interests, united goals) and so is less likely to leave, who is as powerful – or even more so – than he himself is, and so does not require saving. Here is someone who is, by the very fact he is a man, exempt from disgust.

Are we to make anything from the fact that Starsky forms a lifelong bond with Sharman around the same age Kiko rejects – and then comes to accept – a similar lifelong bond with Hutch?

Starsky has no sexual chemistry with Sharman. The kiss just seems wrong, somehow. “What do you want from me?” she asks, and he answers honestly, “I don’t know.” (Notice he doesn’t say “I want you to get well.” In this moment Starsky is closer than he has ever been to seeing himself honestly – as deeply conflicted. He just doesn’t know what those conflicts are.) She says she knows, and kisses him. He kisses her back, but there’s a brotherly quality to it. Does he kiss her back because this is his default position with all women, is he trying to light a sexual fire, or does he kiss her because not doing so might hurt her feelings? Or is this perhaps a secret pact he’d made with himself as a thirteen year old kid, one he’s determined to make good on? And also, how sad is Sharman that she assumes his only motive is sexual?

Sharman and Starsky have their conversation on the sofa. Sharman is bathed and clean, is wearing nice clothes, is rational, thoughtful, and alert. But yet there is no attempt by Starsky to do what he promised Hutch: namely, bring her in to the station for a formal interview. By doing so, Starsky would advance the search for a murderous thug, possibly saving the life of a future victim. You’d think that would be the priority. And yet, it never happens. Does Starsky keep telling himself not yet, not yet even as he himself is urging her to make a difficult but socially responsible step forward? What’s he waiting for?

One has to wonder if Sharman ever knew the diamond bracelet she obviously holds so dear (after all, it’s really the only thing she has with her) was bought by husband Tony’s illicit funds, and if that changes her attitude toward it. Does she eventually sell it, I wonder, in an attempt to return the money? And was Tony driven to embezzlement because he felt emasculated by his wife’s ability to earn more than he did?

This is Starsky’s chance to help a famous fashion model. Hutch as his chance in Season Four’s “Cover Girl”. Both stories are very similar to the point of replication. Both are girls from the guys’ distant past, fellow high school students. Both men harboured boyhood crushes. Both girls are in serious physical and mental danger resulting from poor choices in their alternative, secret lives. Both girls exhibit a suicidal lack of self-worth despite fame, money, and physical beauty. Both accept help from Starsky and Hutch (Sharman reluctantly, Kate gratefully), then seemingly walk away without a backward glance to resume a presumably fabulous career.

I don’t know that much about the reach of the police departments back in the day, and I certainly don’t expect the script to allude to this, but surely Sharman must have had access to bank accounts during her missing months. Could she have been tracked by the FBI, do you think? Was she ever, in fact, officially missing? It’s possible she was in contact with friends, family or her management team letting them know she hadn’t been kidnapped or killed, which may explain the absence of a full-scale state-wide search.

Starsky admits to Sharman, “Everyday of my life, at some time or another, I say that (I’m not ready) to myself,” telling her sometimes “you just gotta do.” Does he really mean this or is he trying to talk Sharman into making the phone call to her parents? He also makes a similar comment to Carol Wade in “Crying Child”: “Guess sometimes you just have to jump in”.

As Vernon approaches the apartment, Sharman comes out of the shower and – strangely – puts on Starsky’s clothes. The shirt I can accept. Many girls wear their boyfriend’s shirts. But his jeans too? This goes beyond a romantic gesture and toward something else, an attempt to absorb through proximity Starsky’s innate power, perhaps. But it does imply Sharman and Starsky now have a sexual relationship, despite Starsky’s earlier pulling away. This is a detail that makes me a little queasy. Sharman is under intense emotional and physiological distress, and Starsky has too much authority over her. It’s all wrong.

Is might be just me, but when a woman betrays another woman – as Ella does here when she fires at Sharman – it seems particularly nasty.

I like Sharman best when she’s feisty to the point of rude, when she snaps at people or when she stabs at Vernon’s hand through the door. Sober, and nicer, she can be forgettable.

How quickly Starsky understands he’s just a chapter in Sharman’s life, maybe even just a footnote. I can never tell if he wants it that way – after all, he has finished reforming this dangerous creature – or if he is just not the possessive type. As they pull up to the rehabilitation center he seems to have already accepted the inevitability, even though Sharman is outwardly grateful and affectionate. Perhaps he knows her better than she knows herself. He pulls away before she can introduce him to her parents.

Where, exactly, are they? Is this a detox clinic, a hotel, a convenient meeting place? It’s never said.

Sharman said everyone who ever loved her had left her. And yet, her mother and stepfather are there to greet her, loving her unconditionally, no questions asked. And she put them through hell for six months.

The tag: Oddly, Starsky phones his mother from Hutch’s place. If it’s a habit to telephone her every Friday, as he implies in the call, why didn’t he do it before he left his own house? It’s obviously long-distance, and Hutch would be paying for this. Maybe he has also phoned her from every bar and club in town, as he is hardly ever home on a Friday evening, so phoning from Hutch’s place is no big deal. Hutch is playing a beautiful song on his guitar and punctuates Starsky’s attempt to shut his mother up with an ironic pluck of the strings, which is very amusing. From Starsky’s tone, his mother seems to be the superficial type, and just slightly irritating to him. All she seems to care about is Starsky’s failure to get Sharman’s autograph. One suspects she spends a lot of time in a dark apartment with the television on. Starsky is patient with her but dismissive: she’s a duty to him, a probably nothing much more than that.

Interestingly, this is the second phone call to an emotional mother in this episode. While this may be accidental on the part of the writers, this nevertheless draws an even stronger correlation between Starsky and Sharman as two wounded people trying to make the best of a fractured past and must carefully negotiate a relationship with that past through emotional (single) mothers.

When Kiko shows up – is this planned? Or completely unexpected? – Starsky is wonderfully nonchalant. “Oh hi,” he says, as if this isn’t a big deal, which is the best way to handle kids anyway. Kiko says he’s sorry, and Hutch is great with him as always, calm and respectful while not talking down to him. Everything is nicely resolved. And it’s shown that the guys really are behind the big joke against Dobey – they giggle like schoolboys.

Clothing notes: they wear their iconic jackets: Starsky in his battered leather and blue t-shirt, Hutch in his collegiate dark-green-and-white jacket. Starsky wears The Sweater during his hole-up with Sharman, when Hutch comes to visit. Huggy looks dashing in denim and striped shirt, with a jaunty little necktie.

Episode 19: Jojo

January 20, 2010

Starsky and Hutch try to put away a dangerous rapist despite his frightened victims, who won’t testify, and the Feds, who are protecting him as an informant.

Jojo: Stephen Davies, Agent Bettin: Alan Fudge, Linda: Linda Scruggs-Bogart, Stella: Fran Ryan, Dombarris: Robert Riesel, Molly: Terry Lumley, Elaine: Sherry Bain, Merl “The Earl”: Raymond Allen, Sulko: Brad Stuart, Dixie: Jude Farese. Written By: Michael Mann, Directed By: George McCowan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

There is perhaps no crime perpetuated upon a person more devastating than rape. While it is generally defined as forced or nonconsensual sexual contact, it is purely an act of power and dominance and not about sex. Rape is a hate crime, its psychological and physical effects lasting a lifetime. A rape survivor is not only devastated by her attacker, she can be hurt from within in the form of fear, guilt and shame; she can also suffer from the cruelly misinformed opinions and beliefs from her society at large (I am using the feminine pronoun here, but I understand rape is not at all a gender issue). Rape can be minimized, it can be dismissed. Certainly when this brave and uncompromising episode was filmed rape was not well understood, accepted or even part of the everyday conversation, which makes this even more admirable. In the United States the laws were inconsistent and soft, and there were few resources dedicated to the complicated aftershocks. This episode is especially important in the light of contemporary “rape culture” and “victim shaming” which have now grabbed headlines around the world. Politicians still dismiss rape as a non-crime and in many parts of the world women cannot hold their attackers responsible. Rape is still used as punishment for the imagined transgressions of a woman. Around the world girls and women are defiled and destroyed in an unending nightmare of sexual exploitation. The ghastly and frustrating events in this episode are relevant and contemporary, and a reminder that we need heroic figures like Starsky and Hutch more than ever.

This episode about rape and its terrible aftermath would be special on its own, but there is more to the story of “Jojo” than a serial rapist and his victims. Michael Mann has added a layer of political insurrection to an already potent story as Starsky and Hutch battle the Feds, who are personified by uptight Agent Bettin (the marvelous actor Alan Fudge, in a thankless role). Throughout this series, and in this episode in particular, Federal Agents represent the hulking, overbearing status quo. Rules must be followed, the structure must be maintained at the cost of the individual. There is a strict hierarchy of crimes and at the top is anything that threatens the stability of society, in this case drug use and trafficking. The Big Picture that Agent Bettin sees may be disagreeable, but it is not unreasonable: to him, a single rape victim cannot equal the thousands of people injured or killed because of the dispersal of those drugs. Getting Jojo off the streets is imperative, we all agree with that, and stopping the attack on Molly is the right thing to do. But Bettin is not the bad guy here, as much as Starsky and Hutch would like him to be. If there is evil here, it is in his ruthless adherence to duty – his lack of imagination, or possibly his inability to multitask, and not the duty itself.

We can see the bad attitude right off the bat when Hutch calls them “federal space rangers” and Starsky deliberately says “Command Ralph” which actually does sound sillier than Command Robert.

It looks as if the police have not warned the secretary about either their surveillance or the robbery going down, which seems unfair.

These are two ill-prepared, lazy thugs who hold the secretary hostage and prep the area for Dombarris. They move like they’ve been woken from a nap, wear no disguises or gloves, even while using that phone. Jojo gives his real name in front of the secretary and then names his employer. This is inexcusable. My only conclusion, watching this is that they intended to murder the receptionist as part of the plan, even though this would make a whole lot of trouble for Dombarris he didn’t need.

Starsky observes that Nick Dombarris won’t trust anyone but himself to drive the truck, and that people who work for him are so stupid “they couldn’t tell a raw amphetamine from a cough drop”. Nick Dombarris tells Jojo he will be at Brooks in two minutes and Jojo is going to rape Molly in that time? It seems like a short window. Does Nick already know of Jojo’s tendencies (coupled with his low intelligence) and fine with them as long as they don’t interrupt the drug heist, or is he unaware he has a rapist on board? Would it matter to him either way as long as the job was done, do you think?

I love how Bettin says, “Stay put. That is an order,” and Starsky and Hutch give each other a look before exploding from their hiding spots at exactly the same time.

Why didn’t the feds with their army of uniforms get in their cars and rush to the scene? If they had, maybe they would have caught Dombarris, who peels out of there in his van. Or maybe they had nothing to charge him with; after all, the heist never took place. The uniforms don’t seem to think this, however: their guns are drawn at the van, and they seem itching to fire.

Terry Lumley gives a great performance as a smart girl whose refusal to testify does not mean she’s weak or self-centered, but rather in a terrible no-win situation the guys understand, even if they don’t like it. They are respectful and gentle with her, but maybe she would be more receptive to pressing charges against Jojo if Starsky and Hutch had talked to her in a different room than “Interrogation.” It is a scary, cold room reserved for criminals, not the most conducive to making her feel at ease and comfortable. It’s a major failing. They don’t take her clothing for forensic examination and she’s forced to wear that horribly disfigured shirt throughout, which seems unfair to me. Neither detective offer her much in way of comfort, either. There is no Styrofoam cup of coffee or a blanket or even a female officer in the room. Even Linda Mascelli gets a cigarette from Hutch.

Why are the guys driving in Hutch’s car during this episode? There’s no reason for the Torino being out of commission and, given the fact the guys have to rush here and there throughout this case, the Torino would be a much better option. Plus Starsky belly aches throughout on the sad state of the car. What if they had to be discreet? Also, there is no rear mirror – it’s been removed at some point, which makes it dangerous to drive. The horn goes when the door is opened. It actually does alert Dombarris, in the end – he twigs to Starsky and Hutch and is able to react – get and load his gun – far sooner than he should have.

On their way to talk to Linda a gold mustang stops right in front of them while they’re walking across the street. “Go ahead,” Starsky says affably to the driver, but Hutch chuckles. Unexpected? Spontaneous? Or just a lovely detail added by the director?

Hutch makes a big deal out of saying “after you” to Starsky as they talk in front of Linda’s door. This is a set up to Starsky being thrown by the surprised Linda while Hutch is spared. “Why does this always happen to me,” Starsky says. “Well, you wanted to go in first,” Hutch smirks. Does Hutch really know what Linda will do? Just a lucky guess?

If Linda is so on edge, why does she work with her back to the door?

Those are the ugliest no-talent paintings ever on the walls of this artists’ studio. Let’s hope Linda didn’t paint them.

Since Jojo hasn’t been identified as her rapist, how does Linda Mascelli know there were “other girls”? Is the fact he sprays them with orange paint a well-known detail? It would be the only reason Linda knows of multiple victims, through the newspapers exhorting the “Orange Paint Maniac Murders”.

Let’s take a moment to think about the central figure in this episode: Jojo. With his head of curls, piercing blue eyes, giggling and nervous chewing, Jo-Jo looks genuinely crazy – Stephen Davies really goes to town on his role. Throughout, he’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s a smart move to make this so-called “petty” criminal (as Bettin would phrase it) so much more striking than the rather bland, forgettable Dombarris. He has a sing-songy childish nickname which fits his impulsive, nonsensical character. He is not an adult and not rational; Hutch clearly says he’s a “psycho” and should be put in a mental institution, yet there is not the tiniest residual of compassion shown to him either by Starsky and Hutch or by the episode’s producers. In similar episodes featuring a mentally ill perpetrator there is a hint of sadness around them, as if they are helpless victims of bad genetics, past trauma or a horrible childhood, not quite responsible for their monstrous behavior. Commander Jim in “Lady Blue” brutally murdered women, torturing and possibly raping them, yet Starsky and Hutch plead for his safety and feel genuinely moved by his death. Artie Solkin in “Vendetta” is a pedophile and an all-round creep, and while neither Starsky not Hutch show him a shred of good will, he is nevertheless interpreted by both writers and the marvelous Stefan Gierasch to be capable of both suffering and even something that passes for love. Jojo has no back story, there are no telling details to allow us to understand him. We never learn the origin of his unusual fetish for orange spray paint, although later in the episode he wears orange pants which match his hair color. Even his murder is a case of “good riddance”. The overall superficiality – all flash, no substance – to both his character and his impact in the episode, therefore, is anomalous and quite interesting.

Jojo talks to Bettin after hours at the police station. He’s escorted into what looks like a visitor’s room, not in handcuffs and not guarded. I know that charges are pending – Starsky and Hutch would have a limited time in which to find the evidence necessary for an official charge – but this informality is striking. Is it even legal? Their conversation is not recorded and Bettin does not take notes. It all happens under the radar. My legal knowledge is scant, but I wonder if this clandestine meeting leaves Bettin vulnerable to accusations of procedural errors, thereby hurting his own case.

Hutch’s backseat is a mess. There are last week’s newspapers, laundry, large six-spoked wooden wheel, two poster tubes for his roses, an empty cardboard box, a football, a red hard hat, a baseball mitt, high-protein candy wrappers. Oddly, both Starsky and Hutch have a similar wheel: in “Running”, Starsky’s is on his apartment wall. Imagine a conversation or reason they each have this in their possession. Maybe it’s the same one, and they’re sharing. What is Hutch planning to do with his wheel? He starts to tell Starsky, who interrupts him, which is a shame.

I love Starsky’s dive out of the moving car. And nothing Linda did to Starsky equals his dramatic and painful-looking tackle of Jo-Jo over the hood of Hutch’s car – they both crash to the pavement really hard.

The division between the guys and the feds is perfect in the scene in which Hutch says, “Those are people out there, not projections.” Said with his patented blood-curdling sarcasm, the scene is especially riveting. Starsky sits back and lets his partner do the work for both of them.

Linda says Jojo called her last night. She says it wearily, as if cynicism has overwhelmed her, which seems odd. After all, he was just identified as her assailant twelve hours previously, and she was impressed and assured by Starsky and Hutch’s vehement avowal to put him away permanently. When did her distrust of the police happen? When asked what Jojo said she replies alarmingly, “the usual lewd ramblings-on.” Now, Linda could be referring to the “typical” stalker or rapist. But it doesn’t sound like that. Rather it implies Jojo has called her before. If this is the case, this is a frightening detail that makes no sense.

Hutch tells her it was the Feds who put Jojo back on the street. Linda doesn’t ask why. Is she so disinterested in this case that this unexpected detour doesn’t rouse any interest? This makes Linda more passive than I like, personally. I want the ass-kicking ninja back, not this detached bystander.

Dombarris’ industrial loft has to be one of the all-time great sets in the history of the show. For some reason – perhaps to depict him as some kind of rat king in his stuffed lair – Dombarris lives in dazzling, colonial-inspired mayhem. Zebra patterned hammock for two, tiki masks, a large reel-to-reel, African drums, ship lathe walls, several brass hookahs, totem poles, tiger-skin rug, various plants and vines, telescope, French filigree, Oriental sculptures. Tiffany-style hanging lamps, possum fur throw, tiki bar, a blinking light sculpture, and lounging musclemen.

Is Big Bad Dombarris intimidated by his suddenly-returning girlfriend who orders him around and storms off? He keeps his cool but something tells me he’s either a tiny bit afraid of her or is seriously inconvenienced and pissed off. It’s horrible when the hit he traps Jojo with is the very same girlfriend. Cold, man.

This is the only case of a successful criminal boss-type does not work out of a “classy” office with paneling and ferns; instead Dombarris’ pad is a retro-explosion of thrift store finds. Curious.

Starsky tells Jojo they’re coming into the café to have a “little tête-à-tête” and Hutch says, “your Spanish is improving.” “Thank you,” Starsky says , and Hutch grins. It’s a great little moment and one of the few times Hutch makes fun of his own pretensions.

Starsky is wearing a bright red hardhat when they kidnap Jojo from the street. Something he found in the back of Hutch’s car, and decides to wear.

I love it when Stella the waitress busts Hutch’s chops. He just looks so astonished. He’s so used to being the crabby one, the one who makes trouble, and he just can’t believe it when someone turns the tables. Stella lays into him, perhaps sensing his distaste for his surroundings, and more-or-less manhandles him in a way that obviously pleases Starsky to no end. One wonders, despite Starsky’s rhapsodizing about the café’s “color, a sea of color in a grey world”, he really brought them here in order to set Stella on Hutch. His pleasure, and Hutch’s distress, is pure joy to behold in such a grim episode. This little incidental scene is when the series really shines. Also, throughout this episode Starsky and Hutch get on extremely well. They joke and laugh together, are united in moral outrage, understand each other’s near-invisible signals, and are generally loving. It’s enjoyable to watch and very different than the tetchy edge that develops in later episodes.

Stella calls Starsky “Dick Tracy”. Now, what purpose does it serve to let people in on the fact you’re a police officer? It seems to me it’s a hindrance and not a help.

Starsky threatens Jojo that if he comes near Linda “a lot of bad things are going to happen to you. Fast.” Hutch adds, “We have half a dozen ways to turn you into a disaster area.” Let’s speculate about how true these threats really are and how far Starsky and Hutch would go to hurt Jojo, or any criminal they find repugnant. Throughout the series both are tempted into retributive violence and every single time they resist. But they really have it out for Jojo and have no respect for him as a person. Jojo’s terror is real, and presumably it wouldn’t be if word on the street said Starsky and Hutch were all talk and no action. So how far would they go? I’m guessing it wouldn’t get much beyond simple harassment – getting him evicted, spreading rumors about his instability, tailing him excessively, making his jail time worse that it would ordinarily be. I can’t imagine those “half dozen ways” would amount to anything physical.

When Jojo is driven to the apartment to attack Elaine, he is carrying the can of spray paint even though he does not plan to use it. This means he is both spontaneous and primed at any given moment. I don’t know why but this detail is extra chilling.

It’s funny but also strange when Starsky says, out of the blue, “guess what” and Hutch guesses Starsky’s uncle has a souped-up short for sale. What Starsky meant to say had to do with the memorable souped-up short Dombarris’ man has. This is such a near-miss it verges on the psychic.

Starsky and Hutch race up the stairs in response to a “DB report”?, which seems a tad excessive. At this point, there is no connection between Jojo and Elaine, and a dead body isn’t going anywhere. But they react as they do because they’ve been arguing for hours about Hutch’s car, how Hutch should replace it, and Hutch is getting himself worked up about it. When Starsky teases him about getting to the DB in “two and half minutes – better make it three”, Hutch is so incensed he guns the car and burns rubber to the site. “Temper temper temper,” Starsky says in sing-song voice, grinning at him. It makes me wonder how many people are intimidated by Hutch’s temper, and how important it is that Starsky isn’t. Is this one of the reasons Hutch is so attracted to him, and so loyal? A recognition that Starsky is the one person who won’t be put off or frightened by his rages?

There’s no need to cover the body with a sheet at the crime scene. It might interfere with the scene itself and confuse the detectives. However it does make Hutch’s discovery of the spray paint more dramatic.

I love it when Hutch walk by one of the uniforms at the scene and touches him in the midsection. It’s a lovely gesture of solidarity without making a big deal about it that tells the cop they’re all on the same side here, and you can see the guy appreciates it. He looks down where Hutch touched him and then watches the pair leave.

Later, at Elaine’s, tempers play out the way they usually do: Hutch explodes, while Starsky simmers. It’s an act they play over and over. As an aside, note that ribbon of smog hanging over the neighborhood.

Why does Bettin come to Elaine’s murder site? There was no connection with Jojo at that point, and Bettin is a busy Fed. Who tipped him off?

Why aren’t Starsky and Hutch notified when Jojo’s body is found? They only discover this by driving by Linda’s place, and when they enter, fully expecting to see Linda dead, no one informs them. Is this Bettin, out to unnerve them and keep them guessing?

It seems like an unnecessary complication to kill Jojo in Linda’s studio. As far as I can tell Dombarris didn’t have a personal beef with her, so implicating her for the murder seems a little like extra work. You have to kill him with your bare hands, for one, and then you have to make sure Linda has no alibi, both things using valuable manpower and time. If Dombarris was irritated by Jojo’s predilections he should have simply taken him out on the street. JoJo knew all kinds of nasty characters. Any one of them could have done it.

That said, it really is thrilling when Hutch within half a second of seeing Jojo under that sheet, “So Dombarris made Jojo.” His (and Starsky’s) brilliance as detectives is never more obvious in this one tiny moment. Bettin’s sputtering denial and wrong-headed explanations only underlines this fact.

Soul really enjoyed lighting the cigarette to give to Linda. You can see him taking a quick inhale before he extracts it from his lips to hand it over. Hutch should have been a smoker, but this was a role-model situation so it would never fly. But think of the opportunities offered by angry exhaling, the rake of match in the dark, the feisty arguments about smoking in the beloved Torino.

Linda says she walked four hours on the beach, not seeing a single soul. Is Starsky and Hutch’s reaction to her admission surprise that in hours, she saw no one, or that a jumpy woman who was raped on the beach would spend hours there alone? Or are they both wishing they knew of a beach one could go to have that much privacy?

Linda gives a tearful why-me speech when she’s fingered for Jojo’s murder, but why is she surprised? He was killed in her studio, she herself threatened to kill him.

Even so, the lack of any injuries on Linda’s hands would clear her of any wrongdoing, especially since Bettin implies she must have done it bare-handed, and there is no evidence of an actual weapon being used. But I’m quibbling.

I like how Hutch says they’re going “to see a bear.” In this case, the bear is Huggy in a pseudo-padre outfit selling glow-in-the-dark crosses. I wonder if this hilarious scene is in fact a joke about the impotence of the police to protect women. Huggy cries out the usual crucifixes and mezuzah are all well and good in daylight, but when it’s dark “the Good Lord can’t see you.”

Starsky says his uncle Al, who owns a car lot, has a buddy, “Earl’s Custom Car Cult And Body Shop.” Hutch hears the word “Cult” and says it sounds like a religion. Does this make Father Merl the only religious figure of integrity Starsky and Hutch run into in Bay City? Other than the suit-wearing feds, there is no other members of the orthodoxy more reviled than churchmen of all stripes. One wonders what estimate Starsky was getting at Merl’s in the first place, since the Torino was already striped. A different paint-job perhaps?

Merl’s sign reads “Lacquers, Candies, Pearls, Metal-Flakes”, all auto body paint terms but still managing to look wonderfully surreal. Logically, Earl should have been the one to customize the Torino, but obviously he hasn’t because he says dismissively, “I saw that jive cheap stripe you got on your tomato”.

Hutch makes a hand gesture in the middle of the fire-fight with Dombarris, a vague flick of the wrist that never-the-less translates to Starsky as: “get down off the boat and go around, and draw his fire”. Starsky does.

Tag: The humor in this tag is not only welcome but appropriate; the comedy doesn’t feel forced and neither does it negate the grim storyline. Rather it feels optimistic and brave. Life goes on, it tells us, and we have to enjoy the small moments when we can.

Merl is as hilarious here as he was during his earlier scene, yakking a mile a minute in his patented exasperated and colorful street lingo. He’s utterly unintimidated by the police, as he says in disgust to Hutch, “Let me find me something to hit you with.” It’s funny when Starsky says Merl’s refurbished car equals the work of Leonardo and Da Vinci, to which Hutch replies sarcastically, “who?” Starsky is obviously putting on his ignorance, because he goes on to mention (and pronounce perfectly) Rodin. When Hutch stands up to Merl and complains that the car being shown to him is “an old lady’s car” Starsky seems genuinely amused. Funny how Hutch gets all worked up about having a car with “some flash to it”, a car with “juice”, that isn’t “straight” or “quiet”, but who actually prefers crap like he’s driving, a car he insists has “inner flash” and “soul”. Because cars are so crucial, metaphorically, to this series, it’s intriguing why Hutch would insist this is so. Is it a long, complicated joke he’s perpetuating on himself, and Starsky? Does he really not know how bad his car is? Or is he genuinely convinced that the grey and brown, dented, used-up old Ford he seems to love somehow really does have class and valor? Of course we all know his determinedly plebeian outlook on life, possibly in opposition to his upbringing, but still his question at the end – “how much do you want for this piece of … ah (shit?) sculpture?” is not to be taken seriously, as he would never be caught driving something so outrageously stylish.

Character Studies 6: Cherchez La Femme

January 16, 2010

To quote Dumas, if there’s any predictable instigator for all manner of explosive plot twists, it’s the presence of a sexually available woman. From the pilot onward, these women are seen as sort of psychic splinters: a minor irritant capable of becoming a giant, unmanageable pain.

The thesis seems to be that romantic love (or lust) is dangerous and debilitating to male power and autonomy. The love Starsky and Hutch have for each other is heroic, stabilizing, and indivisible, and it’s obvious without it the center would collapse. But love directed outward is a recipe for disaster. Even so, in what may be the network’s (largely unconscious) wish to forestall any hint of homosexuality, as well as decorate the tough-guy landscape, the series is replete with concupiscence. There have been happy no-strings-attached affairs (the long list includes various stewardesses, cute-girl pick-ups, anonymous one night stands), and these cause no problem. Starsky and Hutch are single and in their prime, which means they are free to have as many casual affairs as they want. This does not besmirch their characters, as they treat their dates with respect. But if a woman is similarly intent on seeking unconditional sex, they are often portrayed as either troubling, imperiled, or just plain embarrassing, such as barracuda Catlin in “Class in Crime”, ill-fated Madeline in “Deck Watch”, Monique in “Avenger”, hungry Judith in “Discomania”, Nicole Monk in “Photo Finish”.

But enter the seriously desirable woman and very bad things begin to happen. Either the guys lose their focus and act like idiots (Kira in “Starsky vs. Hutch” and Chris Phelps in “Heroes”) or love itself is a catalyst for tragedy (Gillian and Terry primarily, but let’s not forget homicidal Diana, ex-wife Vanessa, old classmate Sharman, and Bad News Jeanie Walton, even silly Lisa Kendricks in “Foxy Lady”). Even women who don’t deliberately mess things up for the guys have a way of unintentionally precipitating major problems. From innocent Abby, childhood friends Nancy (“Terror on the Docks”) and Allison (“Targets Without a Badge”), to just-trying-to-help nuisances like Helen Carnahan in “Murder at Sea” and lovestruck teen Joey Carston (twice), life would just be so much simpler without them around.

There have only been three women whose presence has made life easier and not harder in the entire run of the series: Dr Kaufman in “The Plague”, Detective Meredith in “Black and Blue”, and the chemist Cheryl in “A Coffin for Starsky” (we can add, but only just, reporter Jane Hutton in “Murder Ward”). Coincidentally, or maybe not, these women are preoccupied with work and have little time to futz around with the boys. They help because they have to, it’s part of their job. It’s not that they don’t find the boys attractive, they do (Joan Meredith has a brief fling with Starsky), it’s just that they have more important things on their mind. Only Cheryl is what I would term unequivocally equal, that is, existing outside the realm of objectification, in that she is seemingly too plain, and too intelligent (plus, to be fair, the circumstances are hardly conducive to romance).

An interesting complement to all this is the recurrence of the fragile-but-resilient victim, the various prostitutes and addicts who display remarkable dignity, morality and insight: Sweet Alice is the mainstay here, but also look at scrappy Mickey in “Bust Amboy”, Angel in “Texas Longhorn”, Carla in “Survival”, Roxy in “Heroes”, Belinda in “Losing Streak”. Kate Larabee in “Cover Girl” is deeply confused yet manages to transcend her situation. Even poor “Avenger” Monique, in her lucid moments, shows courage and tenderness – she honestly doesn’t mean to be a schizophrenic mass-murderer.       

In their attitude toward women, both Starsky and Hutch are easy and confident when it comes to sex, happiest in the absence of demands or expectations, preferring pluck to wiles, capable of both great loyalty and of-its-time sexism (I’m thinking here of the prevailing attitude toward Sally Hagen in “The Specialist”, which not only applies to the guys but to the entire department as well). In both men, extraordinary good looks is both a curse and a charm; both men flirt as a sort of default position when in the presence of all women, young, old, beautiful and not-so. They flirt to distract, to get what they want, to cover up social embarrassment, to exercise power. Both men sigh in martyrdom when women come on aggressively, yet feel insulted when ignored. Starsky pays extra attention to older, maternal-type women, Hutch pays extra attention to damaged goods. Both can show great sensitivity on one hand and shocking callousness on the other. Yet, in “Starsky vs. Hutch”, when Hutch tells Kira, “We’re tired of being treated like objects, having our lives determined for us by women” and Starsky responds, “loved for our bodies and not for our minds,” is this a joke, or do they really mean it? Are they better off with each other? Both the fates and the fans certainly think so. Starsky and Hutch may think so too, as they leave that scene with their arms around each other.

Episode 18: Omaha Tiger

January 14, 2010

When an old friend dies under suspicious circumstances at a wrestling arena, Starsky and Hutch take on the case.

Eddie “The Omaha Tiger” Bell: Dennis Burkley, Ellen Forbes: Barbara Babcock, Tessie: Mary Jo Catlett, Al Taft: Wynn Irwin, Carl Boyce: James Luisi, Mac Johnson: Bob Wilkie, Felton: Thayer David, Barnes: Nicholas Worth, Mummy: Richard Kiel, Harold: Christian Grey, Fireball: Robert Tessier. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Dennis Burkley gives a stand-out performance – both naturalistic and authentic – in this only-in-LA intersection of weirdness and murder, showbiz and violence.

The episode begins with a charming apropos-of-nothing chase scene with hapless small-time criminal Fireball ducking into a greasy spoon, and the spaghetti-all-over-Starsky routine (for some reason Starsky, far more than Hutch, is the victim of any gags having to do with messy spills; he deflects this one by affably advising the chef to use “about twenty more minutes and a dash more oregano”). The car chase rips through the typical grungy LA periphery with its ominous ribbon of smog, ending in the restaurant backyard. This scene, for all its playfulness, manages to  underscore several important points about the show in general, both thematically and stylistically. It pays homage to slapstick, something both Soul and Glaser admire, and it’s also a kick-ass car chase, which is pleasingly cinematic. When Fireball cries out in despair, begging Starsky and Hutch to shoot him and spare him years behind bars, the guys are both lenient, sympathetic and humane, signaling the “new generation” of post-1960s liberalism the show espouses. And to top it all off there’s a neat psychosexual joke about Hutch “looking rather nice in basic black and pearls,” which Starsky comes up with awfully fast, considering Fireball is wearing a blue jersey dress. The guys, it seems, are not afraid of dipping a toe in dodgy gender waters.

Kudos to Edward Lasko, who comes up with the immortal line: (Hutch, arguing with Starsky about the “art” of professional wrestling): “Starsky, I went to college. That’s not art. That’s effort.”

The guys have mentioned to Fireball they’re on their way to the wrestling match. But the next scene shows them in an empty theater, hours before any match was to start, or perhaps some time after. They have a brief chat with old friend Mac but nothing really happens. Why are they there, and did they even see the match?

Hutch throws Starsky in the ring in an attempt to prove wrestling is stupid. They both go through the moves, including an arm-on one-shoulder, arm-on-the-other-shoulder move Hutch uses that would make any other straight man wary or uncomfortable but has no effect on Starsky, who does what he’s directed to do with no hesitation. Hutch pins his partner neatly and makes him say that he’d been collegiate champion three years. Starsky repeats it, hamming it up. This is a wonderful scene, and not merely because it sparkles with humor and provides insight into the back-story of both characters, but also because it depicts a level of friendship that many people in this lonely, often alienating world are in need of, and may never find. Unless you have a best buddy you are comfortable joking with, abusing, knocking about and generally being intimate with, it’s impossible to watch this little interaction without a frisson of envy.

Then, as Mac comes down the aisle, the two guys squash themselves together on the ropes, and it’s clear, once again, how unusual their physical comfort level with each other is.

Later, when Mac walks off, Starsky challenges Hutch to a fall. Hutch says no. Starsky says, “what are you, a chicken?” Hutch says “Yeah.” It sounds so completely off-the-cuff it could be ad-libbed.

The next scene opens with several notable details. First, the marquee advertises Andre the Giant, the late and lamented actor and wrestler. Then inside, two little people – both men in their thirties, it looks like – are fighting pretty hard, and it’s disturbing to think of such sideshow entertainment in the latter half of the 20th century. Plus, the scene introduces Tessie, the female wrestler, (women wrestling is obviously in the same crass, jokey category as the previous example). Strangely, she’s training not with a woman opponent, but with a man in a wig and false breasts. Basic black and pearls, indeed. Tessie cries out, “cutie!” when Starsky interrupts her, and Hutch has a marvelous moment of gesturing “does she mean you, or me?” to Starsky, as if it matters. Which it does to Hutch. Vanity dies hard.

Tessie says, when they wonder how she knew they were cops, “I felt your gun”. The combination of looks is priceless – Starsky’s raised eyebrows, an almost involuntary pride despite his distaste of her and what she’s just done to him, and Hutch’s knowing snort.

Hutch wants to make a passionate speech about morals with Taft and the Omaha Tiger, Starsky calms them all down with a brief word.  Afterward, Hutch does one of his pretty left-hand-on-left-shoulder moves with Starsky, not-quite-hug that does just fine in a situation like this.  “Thanks, partner,” he says, acknowledging that his temper doesn’t get the job done.

There’s really no need for Iggy, the Russian Mummy (Richard Kiel of “James Bond” fame), to be lifting weights in full mummy regalia. Sweaty, or what.

Starsky twice saves Hutch in a boxing ring. Here, Eddie the Tiger nearly suffocates Hutch in the wrestling ring, Starsky sharply calls it off, saving Hutch. Later, in “Golden Angel”, Dobey nearly strangles Hutch in wrestling ring by pulling him through two twisted ropes, Starsky sharply calls it off, saving Hutch again.

Hutch equips himself very well in the ring, considering his opponent is 80 pounds bigger than him.  “You did good,” the Tiger says.

The classic airtight room scene is a rather overdone but nevertheless enjoyable example of their different styles, the intellectual approach versus the practical one. While Hutch sits down to calculate how much air they have left, Starsky gets to work and makes a battering ram. Which culminates, of course, in the quintessential Starsky-blown-into-Hutch moment.

There’s a nice running joke in several episodes in which Starsky and Hutch are called out for “not looking like cops”. Presumably this means they look like hippies or drug dealers. It’s an underhanded compliment, a product of its time and always good for a hilarious comeback. “Cops, eh?” says the stooge. “You don’t look like cops to me.” “Well,” says Hutch, “we believe in understatement.”

Again Starsky waits for Hutch to finish his fight, gun in hand, just like he did during “Losing Streak”.

Tag: a recap of the gay subtext that has charmingly persisted in this episode: Iggy, thanking Starsky for prompting him to marry, grabs him in a full-body lock and kisses both his cheeks; Starsky is supposed to return the favor. Which he does, squirming the whole time.

Sartorial notes: Starsky in his iconic brown leather jacket with faux-fur collar and dark blue sweater, Hutch in his so-dark-green-it’s-almost-black and white collegiate jacket, green pants and plaid shirt with the green t-shirt underneath. 

Episode 17: Silence

January 10, 2010

The phony Father Ignatius tries to pin a series of robberies on friendly deaf-mute ex-con Larry, but Starsky and Hutch don’t believe it.

Father Jonathan Ignatius/Marty: Carl Betz, Larry Horvath: Chuck McCann, RC Turner: Jason Bernard, Jessie: Helena Carroll, Kim: Steve Kanaly, Bessinger: Jack DeLeon, Watchman: Russ Grieve. Written By: Parke Perine & Donald R Boyle, Directed By: George McCowan

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Dobey is furious that the guys are booking the weeping Larry Horvath.  “You mean you guys busted him for stealing candy?” he says, with maximum outrage. And yet there’s no reason for Dobey to know who this guy is, that he is sweet-natured and deaf and all that. Larry doesn’t appear to be a regular at the station: despite the fact he’s been arrested three times, Starsky and Hutch have never seen him before, and therefore it’s unlikely Dobey has. But if Dobey does know who Horvath is – stay with me here – and knows he already has a record, why the indignation?

On that note, why does Larry feel the need to steal candy in the first place? He and RC have a good, steady jobs as owners of a print shop (“PDQ”, which is a pretty great name). Not even employees, but actual owners. They live over the shop and the rent, if anything, is probably nominal. So why the shoplifting? Larry is an interesting person, both canny and innocent, stubborn and pliable. Lovable, no doubt about it, but there’s also a core of steel to him, the suggestion of violence that is implied but never seen. Larry Horvath as a character has a Frankenstein’s-monster-like complexity. He is a hulking, lonely figure damaged by society’s indifference and cruelty who cradles tiny innocent creatures in his huge hands when no one is looking, incapable of understanding rules, and whose lurching, clumsy attempts at tenderness are misconstrued as dangerous by those around him who think they know better. There must be hidden depths to the man to inspire the level of devotion given to him by RC, who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. All this insight, however, doesn’t change the fact that Larry is still stealing candy from a corner store. If he is stealing because he is childlike and children steal because they have not yet developed societal morality, then we can say he is more blankly innocent than suffering, say, kleptomania, along with all his other challenges? The writers seem to want you to answer “yes”, but I have my doubts.

The Looks. When Father Ignatius demands to know what Larry is charged with, Hutch does one of his priceless reactions, a sort of embarrassed frown that manages to covey frustration, shame, and defensive it’s-not-my-fault all at the same time. Well, he sort of deserves it, which is what Starsky silently tells him with his own complex glance across the room. I asked if you wanted help, you said no, you got mad, so

Father Ignatius already knows the facts of the arrest, because he’s already gone and gotten the charges dismissed by paying for the stolen candy. Why the hard-ass routine, then? Why bluster in making trouble, especially if he’s a criminal trying to keep a low profile? And also, if you think about it, how would he a)know Larry’s been arrested in the first place and b)where the theft occurred? Larry can’t use the phone. He has had no time to contact anyone. Was it RC who went and got the good Father? If so, how did he find out?

Heads up for the Christa Helm cameo as the drive-in waitress. You’ll have to read for yourself the details of her short, brutal life to appreciate what I mean. It’s eerie to see how desperately she tries to imbue this tiny role with something memorable, and she succeeds, too; is it her doom that gives this scene its retroactive power, or the gleam of anxiety in her eyes?

Starsky enjoys Hutch having the miserable job of writing up Larry Horvath for the $42.32 candy stealing, while Hutch enjoys Starsky being mocked for his bad Bogey impression. One could go at length about the intensity of this mutual schadenfreude.

Hutch’s reply to being asked about his forty-hour fast has always been one of the funniest moments in the series. Hutch may fundamentally dislike himself but is superficially vain, and this exchange provides he is capable of self-parody.
Starsky: “You really think eating nothing for forty hours and drinking a lot of water is gonna make you healthier?”
Hutch (dryly): “It’s not just to make me more healthy, it’s to maintain my already fantastic physical condition.”

Torino showdown: Starsky’s own and the bad guys’ 4-door.

Direction Gold Star for George McCowan: Hutch walks with the Torino’s door open, lights flashing, gun drawn in a beautifully staged, color-saturated, iconic scene.

Jessie quotes St. Matthew, “Beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing and inwardly are ravenous wolves.” She is saying this about Starsky and Hutch and plainclothes cops in general, but her instincts are way off in regards to Kim and “Father.” Then again, she has been convicted of armed robbery, which perhaps puts her good judgment in question. Or maybe she has lousy judgment in general. (Other than the nice hair, Starsky looks nothing like Paul Muni.)

Starsky walks in the next morning with a tray of food. Hutch makes a sarcastic comment about it but Starsky explains how he’s missed meals and “couldn’t eat that meal you invited me to at your place last night”. Hmm. If Hutch is fasting (for another twenty-nine hours, according to him), it seems odd to invite Starsky over to eat. A bad case of loneliness, to the point of cooking for someone while you yourself are starving? Or is it even darker than that – could Hutch be ensuring, by making some kind of dessicated liver protein shake under the pretense of cooking – that Starsky too will be fasting alongside him?

There’s no rule about eating on duty. There can’t be. Then why does Starsky fall for it? And does Dobey lie because those sandwiches look really, really good?

Either Bessinger has his sport jacket in the car or he makes a stop at his house for it. Apparently he feels the need to dress up his look from the bar to crack a safe.

“Well, well, well, my two favorite detectives,” Father Ignatius says as he walks into the room.  “Holmes and Watson, isn’t it?” One wonders which is which, in his estimation. This Father Ignatius is a cigar-smoking, cold-hearted, rude and altogether un-priestly man. Perhaps Starsky and Hutch assume running a halfway house for former inmates would harden anyone, even a priest. They don’t like him, that’s for sure, but they never really note how odd he is, how badly he’s miscast himself in this role. Kudos, though, for the fact that, when RC makes the sign of the cross outside the burger joint, the guys think bck to all those little details about the ersatz Father and instantly know he’s right.

Starsky should have paid the guy polishing the Torino (played by Assistant Director Eldon Burke).

RC was badly beaten in jail by guards, and the force of his hatred and post-traumatic stress seems to be literally strangling him, but I wonder if his deaf-muteness is more psychosomatic than physical. He makes simple throat sounds when wound up, when trying to help; if properly counseled, would some of his disabilities may be remedied? His gradual – and begrudging – realization that Starsky and Hutch genuinely care about him and Larry is one of the best things about this episode.

Hutch gets into the Torino and starts it before Starsky even gets there. Also, Starsky does a graceful leap over the car’s hood to get to the driver’s side, but when Hutch did the very same thing earlier he was sternly rebuked for it.

When RC says Larry is not only his friend, but his only friend, I can’t help but wonder what Starsky and Hutch are thinking about each other.

People sure got out of the theatre fast. It couldn’t have been more than eight or ten seconds since Hutch made the command before Starsky goes back inside, gun drawn, and the place is empty. There had to be at least thirty people in there, and children, too.

Both Starsky and Hutch get their gun arms tangled in the theater curtains at the Nuart as they enter the auditorium, two sides of the same coin.

How come none of the other inmates at the halfway house know that the Father is a fake? Just how long had his ruse been going on? It would have to be at least a year for the old inmates to leave and new ones come in with no memory of what the father genuinely looks like.

Hutch purposefully fasts forty hours. Starsky ends up fasting the same amount of time. He doesn’t get the candy bar, the hamburger order a the drive-in, the tea or cookies at the Dismas Center, says he missed breakfast, said he wouldn’t eat the so-called meal at Hutch’s the night before, doesn’t get to eat his meal from the cafeteria or the Chinese restaurant next to the Glitter Club, doesn’t get to eat the hamburger meal at the stand with R.C. His fast is finally broken by a mouthful of popcorn before he throws it at the priest. How symbolic is his lack of food? How symbolic is the popcorn thrown at a fake priest? Spurious wafer, spurious priest?

Marty and Kim get Larry ensconced at the theatre with the plan to go to shoot him there later. Surely they could have planned something simpler than that, i.e. drag him somewhere deserted, and do it there. Also, Marty wears his priest get-up throughout the whole nefarious enterprise – didn’t he think this would make him memorable to witnesses?

Clothing notes: Hutch is wearing a periwinkle turtleneck with his brown leather jacket, Starsky wears a blue shirt and his great leather jacket, and also, in several scenes, a remarkable black, red and yellow sweater that his mom might have knit, if she was the knitting type (unlikely).

 

Character Studies 5: Family

January 7, 2010

Traditional family in this series is a troubling and nefarious thing, all the more remarkable if you consider only a decade before the television version of the American nuclear family was not only precious and admirable but staunchly patriotic in a way. Deviation from the norm was risky, a staple of comedy, as the single girl pratfalls her way to marriage (there are exceptions, of course). In “Starsky & Hutch” family takes on another, more challenging definition, perhaps indicative of the fractured times in which it was made, but also because the writers (some consciously, some not) understood those old notions were inauthentic to begin with, fraught with disappointment and emptiness. The integrity of the partnership of Starsky and Hutch is emphasized by the fact that their main consanguinity is with each other. Here, the outside world of ancestral obligation has ceased to matter. Both men have been seriously ill or wounded and there’s never any mention of letting family members know. Hutch, particularly, during “Plague”, is very ill for a prolonged period of time but never mentions family or other friends when it seems he’s going to die. I can understand in “A Coffin For Starsky” where every second counts and it would be a major distraction to engage others (here the doctor pointedly recommends contacting family members only to be studiously ignored by Hutch). But the long days and nights during “The Plague”? What about “Sweet Revenge”, when Starsky is in the hospital, in serious condition, for weeks, maybe months? Only Huggy, it seems, and Dobey, are on the list, included and even cherished but somehow expendable, lingering on the edges of the action like cousins at a wedding.

When Starsky claims he calls his mother every week one wonders how much judicious editing is involved in his rundown of the week’s events. And, given his past – a father gunned down – I bet his mother is a bit of a nervous wreck and probably doesn’t want to hear the details anyway. Possibly they don’t have much of a close relationship, despite the impression he gives of being a loyal son. When the only close family member to either man appears it’s a bit of a shock and not a nice one: the arrival of brother Nick just brings a lot of trouble. Despite a nice rough-and-tumble quality to their interaction with each other, Nick is just a pain in the ass and everybody, Starsky included, is glad when he’s gone; he’s never mentioned again. Starsky also entertains Hutch with a series of stories about erstwhile uncles and aunts (notably won ton-making Aunt Rose) in such a colorful way one is tempted to believe these are Scheherazade-like stories not to be taken literally, Starsky’s endearing attempt to distract and entertain his partner through the rough times. The death of Starsky’s father is a pivotal point in the confusing and rather long-winded “The Set-Up”, but the details remain hazy. Fans like me can make up whatever stuff we want, but the fact is we never know Starsky’s father’s name, his occupation, or the manner of his death. It is a plot device and nothing more; as much as we want “father gunned down by the mob” to form the bedrock of Starsky’s heroic determination, it’s just wishful thinking on our part, an attempt to fill a very big blank. Hutch, on the other hand, never gives an impression of anything other than solitary: ex-wife Vanessa’s intrusion is just that, an intrusion, and an unwelcome one too. Although there is an oblique mention of a sister (in the tag of “Starsky’s Lady”) there is nothing much to that, either. He mentions his grandfather was a farmer in two episodes, a generalized comment without any emotional significance. His only familial association outside of Starsky is with Kiko, a bond formed through a social outreach program and therefore fitted with the tight regulations and shut-off valves Hutch requires. Hutch, like Starsky, has redefined what family is.

That said, how great would it be to have a few episodes when they go back to their childhood haunts, dragging the other along; how would Starsky behave, sitting in a Minnesota kitchen with a bunch of awkward twin-set-wearing suburbanites?  And just how often would Hutch get the air squeezed out of him by voluble big-hearted aunties? One can imagine the action: murder disguised as an ice-fishing accident in one, a gangland slaying in Chinatown in the other. One partner needing the other to interpret the local vernacular, the skeptical locals against the foreigner. Baseball-cap-wearing yahoos menacing the oh-so-urban Starsky, and, conversely, Hutch lost in the fidelities and complications of the big city.

The absence of family is another insulating barrier between Starsky and Hutch and the rest of the world. Already isolated from the police department by their liberal attitudes and the politics of the New Male, unable or perhaps unwilling to forge serious romantic attachments to any number of anxious volunteers, and now turning away from the so-called traditional family, it’s basically an us-against-the-world situation. This is both a perfect encapsulation of its time and an essential element to this most unique partnership, Loners rarely come in pairs, but these ones do.

Episode 16: Losing Streak

January 5, 2010

Starsky and Hutch try to find and help Vic Rankin, a pianist childhood hero of Hutch’s, who gets in over his head when he steals counterfeit money from mobster club owner Gil White.

Vic Rankin: Dane Clark, Evelyn Rankin: Jacqueline Scott, Garth (Gil) White: Arthur D Roberts, Belinda Williams: Madlyn Rhue, Foote: Zitto Kazann, Oscar: Henry Slate, Toby: Rozelle Gayle, Dealer: Don Sherman, Banker: Frank Geraci, Orange: Connie Lisa Marie, Olivia: Adina Ross, Lemke: Gene Labell. Written By: Michael Fisher and Robert Holt, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

It’s a beautiful opening shot of a bridge silhouetted in a so-beautiful-it’s-lurid Los Angeles sunset, just the voices of the guys requesting directions to a hamburger joint, which gives a jazzy feel to the whole show.

Of course, the one time Starsky is right, according to Hutch, that the hamburgers are terrific, he’s beset with a toothache that robs him of any pleasure (there is a further elucidation of this motif in Character Studies 19: Food Fight!)

The beautifully named Rozelle Gayle, as regular pianist Toby, is beaming at Vic Rankin’s piano playing. He calls Vic “the greatest”. Vic’s a fan favorite too, according to the henchman. We learn later he’s had a famous past. Then why do his tinkling ivories sound so generic?

Oh, those wall-to-wall-carpeted wood-paneled rooms. With the brandy snifters and brass fittings, and minor Impressionist paintings. And bad guys in suits and ties. This, as I’ve said before, is the apex of evil in the Starsky and Hutch world.

It’s not great security that a crucial back window to White’s sanctuary is not only unlocked but swinging free. Also, Vic is able to open a locked filing cabinet with a few jogs of a letter opener. This is one crime outfit that needs to rethink its strategies.

It’s a great scene when Vic finds the suitcase with the money: he’s going to steal the whole thing, before conscience interrupts and he just takes what is owed to him. This is important when setting Vic up as a basically good man despite his many weaknesses and faults.

It’s very typical of this series that the guys are particularly gentle when talking to Vic’s wife Evelyn, when they learn the extent of Vic’s problem. They go from gun-brandishing cops to quiet listeners in the space of a second.

Starsky asks Mrs. Rankin why Vic waited so long to get his take if he worked for White six months previously. How in the world does Starsky know this? They only just heard about the connection between White and Rankin a second ago.

“Anyone tell you,” says Olivia, putting a hand to Starsky’s face, “that you’re as cute as a teddy bear?”
“I can’t help it,” Starsky says to a smirking Hutch, then laughs and pinches him as they walk. It’s a great friendship moment, with no jealousy or one-upmanship. But Hutch does play the shoulder-tap, shortly thereafter, apropos of nothing. Or something?

Olivia, ostensibly a waitress, gives off a powerful sleazoid vibe when she coquettishly asks the guys if there’s anything she “can do” for them. Her choice of phrase, coupled with the not-quite-clothing she’s wearing suggests there’s something else going on here along with the jazz and covert gambling. Just how iniquitous is this place, anyway?

“Now that,” Starsky says, “is weird.” This while Hutch is watching two older ladies walking by in each other’s arms. “It is?” Hutch says, thinking about lesbians, which these women seem to be; Starsky says impatiently, pointing at White’s door, “No.” “Oh, yeah,” Hutch says, still examining the women. Hmm… Later, in the aftermath of the ill-fated poker game, in which Vic accidentally shoots someone, one of the players says, “we caught him playing with queer.” “With who?” Hutch says, all interested.

“Poker is sure getting popular,” Hutch complains as they go from game to game. Imagine what he’d say now when it’s actually broadcast on television.

They were actually going to murder Vic for few lousy bucks at a poker game? His fellow player sure goes for the gun fast.

The scene with the nosy witness at the dregs of the game is priceless. The comedic timing is perfect, the guys both masterful and hilarious, and there’s a suppressed joy in the whole scene that makes it jump off the screen. It’s a perfect foil for the grim storyline.

Evelyn Rankin is an amazing character. Played by the steely Jaqueline Scott, Evelyn is a resilient woman who is both stronger and more compassionate than Starsky and Hutch initially give her credit for. I love how her slapping Hutch – which is actually a serious crime, an assault on an officer – changes them from a kind of sympathetic condescension to tough realism, treating her as an equal.

Hutch says he had Vic Rankin’s records in high school. This would have been extremely unusual at the time, marking him both as a bit of an outsider or rebel. Most of his friends would have dismissed jazz as old fashioned and snooty.

Hutch goes directly to the photo of Belinda on the wall when indicating that he recognized it long before but didn’t think to mention it until Mrs. Rankin says so. This shows both his good eye for detail and an instinct for discretion.

Vic says sadly, “how did we end up like this,” putting himself and Belinda in the same leaky boat. The show has always been very good at depicting life’s losers with great compassion and understanding. Even as Belinda betrays Vic, there’s a strong element of sympathy for her actions.

Filming notes: on the marquee for Ziggy’s Jazz Café, the names belong to real production/technical assistants: Larry Warwick (art/production), Raul Bruce (sound), Alex Klinsky (craft service).

“What are you going to do when you find all that bogus bread,” says Huggy, “buy yourself a dental clinic?” Hutch then laughs with inappropriate glee, again taking pleasure in his partner’s pain.

“Orange” is a weirdly plausible Los Angeles character, Orphan Annie complete with Sandy, the dog. Why she isn’t called Little Orphan Annie is beyond me. Trademark problems, maybe. Starsky and Hutch seem to take this character in stride, like any seen-it-all cop; they’re relaxed as Huggy leads Orange away to question her, curious but not too curious.

Dogs aren’t normally allowed in commercial establishments, particularly those selling food and drink. Yet Orange seems assured this isn’t a problem. Is this a regular hangout for her, with an understanding from the management? Is this why Huggy arranges the meeting at Ziggy’s? Also, it’s quite unusual that Huggy feels the need to question Orange away from Starsky and Hutch. Normally he would just introduce them, and straight-out ask the question. Does Orange require special handling?

Hutch is grabbed by one of White’s guys (Ernie Lemke, we find out later) when they bust Melinda. When assaulted, he looks at Starsky who is coming up the stairs. Starsky slows down, not even interested in the other guy now running away. He leans on the wall, relaxed, enjoying it as Hutch pummels the guy, finally hitting him in the kidney. This moment is difficult to extrapolate. It’s sadistic, it’s also oddly joyful. At the risk of over-analysis, one gets the sense they are participating in a complicated ritual of truth or dare, that this fight has less to do with solving a crime or getting out of a sticky situation than it does about proving worthiness within the context of the partnership; in fact, during the entire fight scene, Hutch does not take his eyes off Starsky. It’s like, see? Look what I can do. “That was foolish,” Starsky says casually, when the guy is on his knees.

It’s interesting that White’s henchman does all his evil deeds while wearing a red velvet three-piece suit.

“What would you know about it?” Belinda tells Hutch when he comments that she needs a fix “real bad”. What is going through Starsky and Hutch’s minds as they remember Hutch’s experience with heroin? Even though they deliberately don’t look at each other, you can almost hear the snap of the connection between each other.

Belinda and Evelyn are two peas in a pod. Both are strong women who have made mistakes, both are using cynicism and toughness to hide their feelings, both feel as if they’re trapped in an ugly reality they can’t get out of. And both care deeply for Vic Rankin even as they publicly voice their hatred of him. Evelyn tells Hutch she doesn’t care if her husband gets killed, Belinda insists he’s just a “guy who used to play the piano.” Most importantly, both are women greatly damaged by a man’s world of money, sex and power.

“What am I going to do?” Belinda says, shivering, shaking, and rocking. Starsky seems ready to get up and leave, but Hutch isn’t. Once again, he shows his empathy, getting out a bill – a fifty, a twenty? – and pressing it into her hand. “Go on, Belinda,” he says quietly, “die a little.”

The “three different people at four locations” conversation in the Torino is a wonderful exercise in absurdity and a nice break from the action. Starsky putting clove oil on his tooth, a feeling of relaxed affection in the air. Strategizing, thinking, leading to a plan with the Rolls Royce that obvious needs no discussing.

The guy with the humorously aimed hose is like the nosy witness, a not-strictly-necessary but lovely ingredient to the story adding extra flavor.

How often is Hutch in charge, or seeming to be in charge? He appears to take the lead in every scene in this particular episode.

How does Huggy know so much about Spaceman Sam and his conversation with Vic Rankin? Did the guys give him a directive, which he followed? Or is Sam just really nervously chatty? Anyway, Hutch’s encyclopedic knowledge of the local jazz scene really comes in handy.

Starsky trades walkie-talkies with Hutch in a strange scene that has him begging Hutch not to talk him out of a dentist, Hutch in lecture mode, “Starsky, it’s your own fault, you know that”. Then Starsky, in a pique, exchanging his walkie-talkie for Hutch’s for no reason at all, possibly linking (however unconsciously) the receiver and the sender, needing to control the moment and be the aggressor for once.

No Dobey in this episode, which gives the impression the guys are completely independent on this one. In fact their success here, and in many other instances, has more to do with a combination of luck and empathy than the science of deduction.

In the tag, Hutch keeps shooting exasperated looks at Starsky, even though the conversation doesn’t warrant it. Vic’s wife seems to understand this, either laughing at Hutch’s controlling ways or Starsky’s (inexplicably) nervous attempts at conversation.

Clothing notes: Starsky is great-looking in the battered motorcycle jacket (which he zips as a punctuation to his meeting with White), and dark blue turtleneck; Hutch, as usual, is resplendent in a bright blue jersey shirt with the collar, with the green t-shirt underneath, tan khaki pants, reddish-brown leather jacket. Huggy is wonderful in the closing scenes in a green velvet tunic and red scarf.

Episode 15: The Hostages

January 4, 2010

Starsky and Hutch discover a plot to blackmail armored car driver Tom Cole by kidnapping his wife, Ellie.

Tom Cole: John Ritter, Ellie: Linda Kelsey, Sweet Alice: Nellie Bellflower, Belle: Jean Hagen, Madame Yram: Susan Peretz, Meg: Kristy McNichol, Ames: Will Hare, Conrad: Clay Tanner, Amy: Melissa Newman, Tobin: Madison Arnold, Gibson: Richard Foronjy, Miller: Art Burns, Manager: Chuck Hollom. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: George McCowan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is my favorite kind of episode: tightly written, fast moving, case-oriented, with a lot of great partnership moments and no negativity. The episode is inward-looking and timeless, with no cultural markers, no acknowledgement of the era in which it is set. As well, there is an element so special to the series as a whole: a way of looking at the marginalized, the sad, the down and out, society’s refuse, through a special lens that renders them interesting and worthy.

Harry Johnson, the first driver, does something quite poignant in the opening scene: he throws a towel at his assassin to ward off gunfire.

This is one of the rare times the guys accidentally stumble into a case, rather than having it assigned, or, in the case of personal tragedy, forced on them. The coincidence is believable and inventive. Plus, because they check on Harry as a favor to someone they don’t know all that well, it highlights their humanity. Many other cops would dismiss Amy, or fob the call off to a patrol car, but they don’t.

Hutch tells Starsky, in “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead”, says “Two out of three isn’t bad,” in relation to being left-handed and discovering Rosey. He repeats this now when Starsky tells him waitress’s horoscope says she’ll meet a “tall, dark and handsome stranger”. Which of the three attributes is he eliminating for Starsky? It would probably mean handsomeness, judging by the smirk, and besides one can’t really dodge the facts, as Starsky could be classified as both tall and dark.

When the guys enter the café, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder, in an intense squish that has nothing to do with actual available space. Unusually, Hutch is genuinely charmed by his partner’s high spirits rather than irritated by them. He’s also supportive when the pursuit seems to be falling flat.

“Looks like the moon just flew right past the cusp of your Venus,” Hutch says when Starsky learns he’s struck out with Amy, the horoscope-loving waitress; amusingly, this line sounds very dirty.

That’s a long time for the kettle to be whistling on the stove: Harry would have put it on before he took a shower, and presumably it’s at least twenty minutes later when the guys show up at his door. Logically, it should have boiled dry and possibly started a fire.

When Starsky and Hutch visit Mr. Ames, the owner of the armor truck company, they also squeeze together at the dispatch desk as they did earlier in the café.

“I was once almost as pretty as you,” Belle tells Ellie. You can see right away she identifies with her much-younger captive. Their names sound similar, and Belle is a great example of the empathy we often associate with women, especially when the issue of pregnancy is part of the mix. They also share the same unusual hair color, although you can bet Ellie’s is natural while Belle’s is dyed, which we can take as symbolic of corruption, or more precisely the pretense of corruption Belle has necessarily assumed over time, given her profession and lifestyle (and by that I mean indifference to suffering, commodifying sexuality, the preservation of self over others).

You can see Belle is totally out of her depth in this situation. She spent years honing her tough-gal exterior, which came in handy in her role as a madame, but she could never really hurt anyone, and it shows. Why did they recruit her, then? As with poor Julio in “The Psychic”, the addition of a third person into what is essentially a two-person heist is a complication that deserves examination. Adding Belle as co-conspirator will reduce their take, as well as introducing the possibility she will rat them out at some point. You could speculate they needed a woman’s touch with a female hostage, but why bother, if they’re going to kill Ellie anyway? Do you think they were planning to kill Belle too?

Tom enters the office, Starsky and Hutch are waiting for him. He protests his innocence. They look at each other in silent communication, and the positive evaluation of Tom Cole – his involvement, his innocence – is signed, sealed and delivered in about a second. Hutch gets down to business, handing him the clipboard.

“I’ll pretend to be an encyclopedia salesman,” Starsky says, preparing to enter the Cole household.  “Uh, Starsk,” says the impeccable Hutch in his green-grey turtleneck and soft camel suede jacket, “maybe you better change that to a plumber, huh?” Causing Starsky’s ego to collapse, which is always Hutch’s intention.

Notice Starsky’s graceful little quick-step onto the retaining border wall to glance into the window.

The scene with Meg, the nosy kid neighbor trying to fix her bike, is interesting. The guys, when they see Meg is a tomboy, have a noticeable increase in affection for her. They obviously like her a lot more in dungarees and a cowboy hat (and later with a mitt and runners, still later in a tough-guy jacket) than if she’d been wearing a dress and playing with a doll. This is a guy world, and guys rule. Girls who act and look like guys are almost as good. They don’t have to be charmed or protected. You can depend on them to be realistic, and straightforward. They’re allies, even when they’re bothersome. They can be trusted to tell the truth, and not get caught up in a lot of emotion. Girly-girls are trouble. They’re ex-wives and hookers, schemers and brainless twits.

Did they take Meg to look at mug books without parental permission? Seems incredible. Maybe they called her parents as part of the deal, although that too seems improbable, as any parent would insist on accompanying a young child to a scary place like a police station.

Starsky lets Hutch do all the menacing during the meeting with Dobey and Ames. How often does this happen? Is it pretty well fifty-fifty?

From the Useless Advice Department: being told to “relax” during a stressful experience has the opposite effect. It makes things much worse and not better. The guys tell Tim to relax when they first meet him during the cash run, Belle tells Ellie the same thing after Tom’s phone call.

Why does Starsky laugh so much at Hutch’s dry comment that Dobey might want to buy two thousand dingle dollies? Is it a metaphor of some kind, or a comment on Dobey’s gullibility and good nature? Or perhaps it’s just funny hearing a dignified guy like Hutch say the words “Dingle Dollies”.

Look how Starsky falls back when they enter The Brig to see Sweet Alice, letting Hutch do his magic. In many circumstances throughout the series both Starsky and Hutch know when to give the other plenty of room, and this is obviously Hutch’s turn. The fondness and respect both men pay her is really something: not only is it unusual for the times, it’s unusual for police in general.

Sweet Alice is a real character. I like her opening remark to the bartender: “One sip of scotch and the whole world just mellows right up.” Her adoration for Hutch is so transcendent it approaches the spiritual, most likely providing an antidote to the degrading physical demands she endures daily. He is her warrior, her dream lover, but also her saint. It’s safe for her to flirt so relentlessly – and so sincerely – with the one person who will not give in. One wonders, though, how much of Hutch’s tenderness toward her is mercenary, and what’s real, and if he even knows the difference, and if it matters either way.

Starsky is much less comfortable as the object of a woman’s affection: he squirms throughout the encounter with Mary Polanski. His discomfort with the situation is played for laughs, but that’s not my issue here. My issue has to do with the more subtle and poisonous undercurrent of can you believe this one really thinks she has a chance? Mary is a joke, and we are all invited to laugh. A version of this can be seen in Season Four’s “Discomania”, in which a woman also judged to be beneath Starsky and Hutch in the desirability department makes a doomed play for both of them, only to be rejected. Even though Mary is in a similar situation as Sweet Alice – she fakes her way through encounters designed to make people feel better about themselves – she is seen as vulgar, even horrifying. In contrast, Sweet Alice’s come-ons are not only acceptable but considered flattering. Is it because Sweet Alice is perceived as an ephemeral being, while Mary is more the earthy sort, is it a simple matter of physical beauty, or is it because Mary comes off as a charlatan, selling something that isn’t real, as opposed to Sweet Alice’s demonstrable merchandize?

Whatever the reason, it’s worthy of note. So, there are four kinds of female entities here, all of whom are defined by their relation to the Male Gaze (and for an exciting procedural episode about an armoured car heist, this is an interesting detour): the Innocent, exemplified by the Madonna-esque Ellie, who, even if pregnant, is seen to be wholly pure, possibly because she has been victimized. There’s the Corrupter, Belle, the Whore who is capable of deceit but whose power is entirely transient, and who, if left to her own devices, will choose leniency. There’s Sweet Alice and Mary, irrevocably tainted and whose attempts at recovering their dignity through sexual means have a queasy aura of futility. Finally there’s the Worldly Child, chaste and pre-feminine, and therefore utterly dependable. It’s quite depressing if you think about it for too long.

Hutch is amused enough by his partner’s discomfort to call him by the name of the moving company they’re supposed to be following: “Angel”. This use of a substitutive nickname is very common throughout the series. Both call the other a series of endearing or jokey names as a way of communicating affection while being outwardly demeaning. Starsky’s nicknames for Hutch tend to the physical: Blondie, Blue Eyes, and the like. Hutch’s nicknames for Starsky are more varied and complicated and often relate to the immediate situation: Gordo, Charlie, Dummy, etc.

Belle must be doing all right if she moved her brothel operation out to the rather grand suburban estate. The rent is a lot higher here and her operation is more visible, more likely to raise the ire of her neighbors and more likely to be under suspicion. And yet Alice remarks that Belle was worn out and looking to retire.

Starsky and Hutch have notably good instincts about potential suspects or offenders who are, for all their iniquity, essentially good. They immediately trust Belle for this reason. They know she wants things for the best and don’t hold her profession against her.

This shades-of-grey attitude toward crime and criminals is an interesting sidebar to the series, and must cause both Starsky and Hutch a lot of trouble with the brass. Today, they are the sort of cops who would support harm-reduction agendas such as safe-injection sites, alternative sentencing programs and certain legalized drugs. We do see instances of uniformed cops or higher-ups accusing them of excessive liberalism or show-boating. In “The Committee”, for instance, it’s said that the pair do too much clowning around with suspects and not enough tough enforcement, in “Snowstorm” the older detectives accuse them of being “punks”, and Captain Ryan in “Iron Mike” says some pretty nasty things about the possibility that Starsky and Hutch’s successes are due to playing fast and loose with the law. In “Pariah” the uniformed officers accuse Starsky of knowingly causing harm to their own, causing them to refuse his donation to the widow’s fund, and in “Heroes” the unflattering newspaper article causes a lot of unkind they-deserve-it laughter in the squad room. All of this is caused in large part to jealousy, because Starsky and Hutch’s way of dealing with crime and justice – subtle, empathetic, and anti-authoritarian – is what makes them far more successful than any other officer in their city.

Hutch has an awesome moment of getting out the Torino before it comes to a stop.

Starsky and Hutch never discuss, at least not that we see, the method for dealing with the armored car. They never mention a plan to Dobey when they have him on the phone a few moments earlier. And yet they execute it perfectly: Starsky blows out the tire, Hutch crosses the street and points it out. How do they understand each other so perfectly? It couldn’t be a discussion in the car on the way – they don’t appear to have had one. This is an interesting parallel to the many instances throughout the canon, including wonderful “Nightmare” laundry scene, the argument in front of Dryden in “Hutchinson for Murder One” and in the “Survival” car warehouse, when the psychic bond is revealed to be not only predictable and useful, but life-saving.

This is a personal favorite take-down scene, not only for neatness but nerve. Starsky’s perfectly-executed kick of the rifle, the quick turn only to have Starsky’s gun right in his face, Starsky saying calmly, “like your chin? Want to keep it?” Surely one of the most gruesomely funny lines ever, and the guy’s right to nod nervously. Nothing in Starsky’s demeanor suggests he won’t blow it off at the slightest provocation.

“I thought I looked pretty good in green,” Starsky says mournfully when Dobey criticizes them for their uniforms. That should be the end of it, but it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. Hutch has to weigh in somehow. “With blue tennis shoes?” he sneers.

Clothing notes: Starsky is unusually, luxuriantly rumpled: overgrown curly hair, blue cloth jacket, unbuttoned blue-striped shirt – unbuttoned maybe a button more than is necessary. Hutch wears his brown cords with the thigh pockets, camel suede coat and greenish-grey turtleneck, and aviator sunglasses.