Character Studies 9: Hutch

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

Calm, controlled, disciplined, serious by nature and predominantly conflicted. Easily hurt, quick to anger. The child of possibly upper-middle-class parents (there is something patrician about Hutch that no serape, rubber nose or dented Ford can quite disguise), with a sister. A conspicuous risk-taker (cub scouts, sea scouts, lifeguard, first aid, wrestling, championship dart-playing, and all manner of daredevil sports) and a preoccupation with self-reliance that does much to build a portrait of a man who is trying to stabilize or even reform himself. Doesn’t like being on his own, and yet finds difficulty in forming bonds. Is prone to saying and doing things without completely understanding his own motivations, such as the perennial teasing of Starsky which verges on cruelty but which is actually a mechanism to keep himself safe. Likes to play the superiority card, which is both a distancing tactic, a test of fidelity and an unconscious ploy to be relied upon or needed. Has difficulty getting close to people – continually questioning those who profess to like him – and may be more invested in this partnership/friendship than Starsky is, if only because he feels he has fewer options. It’s possible what he dislikes most about himself is his own dependence on Starsky, believing it makes him vulnerable to hurt, to an inevitable let down, and in low moments wonders if he’d be better off alone. Hides the depth of his feelings through condescension, the opposite of Starsky, who hides his through banality. When relaxed can be wonderfully self-deprecating, but when pressured becomes proud and unapproachable. High intelligence and imagination makes him a great undercover cop. It’s all fabricated, to a large extent: the superiority, the cavalier attitude, the arrogance, the pushiness, body armor he wears every day to protect his sensitive core. Used to being the best-looking guy in every room, which is both a bane and a source of pride. Thinks it might be the only true and good thing about him, his only marketable product (as he himself would put it), which may explain the strict diet, the jogging, the tidy and occasionally flashy sartorial choices, the often-expressed cynicism about society’s superficiality. Has an affinity for the Woody Guthrie-esque wrong side of the tracks, the lowlifes and country music bars and the open road, places he feels he can be his true self, a wilder, earthier – and funnier – version of the man he presents to the world. And yet at the same time professes strict adherence to table manners, proper silverware, fine wine and other picayune class-conscious traditions that cause us to celebrate this contradictory human being (these insistences of his, it should be noted, are all served up with a healthy dose of irony: this is someone who knows his manners and can display them when he wants to, while understanding how silly this social scaffolding can be). Has an obsession with concepts of truth and authenticity because of a (persistent and unwarranted) feeling of inauthenticity and alienation. Who he is truly is, intelligent, perceptive, creative, honorable, loyal and brave, is not who he thinks he is, or fears he is. Throughout the four years we are fortunate enough to know him, he travels from the same path as Starsky: the path of self-knowledge, which rightly ends with himself as hero and savior, his fullest and best self revealed.


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12 Responses to “Character Studies 9: Hutch”

  1. Wallis Says:

    Beautiful analysis of a fascinating character, Merl! Very convincing and sensitive, and as a longtime repeat viewer, even a lot of the more speculative assertions that were never mentioned in canon feel appropriate. Your interpretation about Hutch’s dedication to fitness and health makes a lot of sense. Especially in light of his apparent neglect of it (unflattering clothes, scraggly haircut and mustache, eating donuts and cold soup) in season 4.

    However, I am curious how you came up with Hutch having an *older* sister, specifically. Why older and not younger? During the era in which Hutch’s childhood and adolescence took place (late 1940s-early 60s) with all it’s strict gender role BS, I don’t think an older sister would have the same effect on a boy’s confidence/self-image as an older brother, while a younger sister who relied on his help and made him feel needed might have contributed to his attraction (not just sexual) to damsels in distress.

    Although I know where you’re coming from with the speculation, I’m not totally convinced that Hutch is more invested in the partnership than Starsky (well, you say “may be” so I guess you’re not totally convinced either). I think he is more visibly dependent on what Starsky provides him with than vice versa, and has more urgent and immediate needs that are only satisfied by their friendship, but a large part of Starsky’s very *identity* is built on being Hutch’s friend. Even more than “cop”, “Hutch’s partner” and “Hutch’s friend” is how Starsky defines himself and a lot of his personality traits exist because of Hutch and he embodies and expresses them for Hutch’s benefit — more so than vice versa. This is not to knock Starsky’s strength of character, which I personally think is absolutely phenomenal, just to suggest that his genuinely strong, stable, secure personality is contingent on Hutch’s existence, and that Starsky (maybe subconsciously, maybe consciously) understands and embraces this vulnerability with his usual accepting nature.

    Hutch, on the other hand, has a very different problem, which is that his personality is not as built around Starsky as vice versa, and in fact, he actively and repeatedly resists allowing his personality to become built around Starsky due to, as you say, fear of vulnerability and exploitation — but his personality would actually be greatly improved and stabilized if it *was*, and if he stopped resisting it so much. I think he finally understands and joyfully accepts this in “Sweet Revenge” and will most likely be a whole lot happier and more at peace now that he has.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Wallis, thank you for this, and thanks especially for pointing out the frequency with which I say words like “maybe”, correctly guessing I am not entirely invested in many of the more provocative attitudes and ideas I propose. I like coming up with theories that may or may not be true just for the fun of thinking them up. Thoughtful, insightful ideas like yours always help in changing or enlarging my take on things. As for the younger sister, I have no idea why I wrote that! Why on earth I would say “younger” is beyond me, I admit total ignorance; your arguments, however, are so persuasive and sensitive I think I much prefer them to mine. I may remove that word “younger”, if you don’t mind, in gratitude.

  2. Sharon Marie Says:

    My take is that these two are co-dependent. They thrive on each other’s negatives, challenge each other’s positives and are, essentially, enablers for each other’s idiosyncrasies. The more one challenges the other’s obscure ways and behaviors, the more they are exhibited. One in behavior science might say that this is a form of passive aggressive attention seeking from each other. While Starsky is more apt to be the emotional one – and better communicator in public, in private, Hutch espouses that role. He is a confusing one, that Scandinavian Midwestern blond.

    • Wallis Says:

      Is co-dependent the right word? Co-dependent is defined as the situation that arises when a doormat is emotionally ensnared and manipulated into catering to the needs of a narcissist, an addict, or someone else with dysfunctional behavioral problems. Starsky and Hutch are more what I’d call “mutually dependent.”

      • Dianna Says:

        I agree with Wallis. “Enabler” is also the wrong word. I see their relationship as mutually beneficial, not as one that drags either down.

      • Sharon Marie Says:

        “Co-dependent” has broadened in scope beyond the drug addiction mode these days. And “enabler” in context with the remainder of my thought is correct, in my view. They do enable each other’s idiosyncrasies. One can hen peck words out of context. Perhaps I did not stretch my thoughts enough to defend them. But should I have to? We have to agree to disagree.

      • Wallis Says:

        Ah no, don’t get me wrong, I was just trying to discuss and clarify, not attack. “Enabler” tends to be assumed as a negatively-loaded word. Even though it is possible to enable positive or neutral behavior, people seem to generally use different words for that — “support” or “enhance” — forgive me if I mistook your meaning!

        I checked on the definition of co-dependent, and it seems to be “technically” defined as an unbalanced destructive sort of deal – one member being dependent on enabling the needs of another, who takes advantage of the first one, usually characterized by stuff like emotional blackmail, controllingness, spinelessness, denial, for an outcome that exacerbates negative behavior. But perhaps people use the word more colloquially than I realized — it sure isn’t a very accurately descriptive word. From “co” and “dependent” it *ought* to mean something like “can’t live without each other,” IMO.

        On the subject of idiosyncrasies, I don’t think they exacerbate each other’s negative behavior, but rather neutralize and deflate it — think Hutch calming Starsky down or refocusing him when Starsky’s temper flares too hot, or Starsky prodding Hutch into harmlessly taking out his frustrations on him so they don’t fester and make him bitter. They do express their ugly sides around each other more, but mostly as a safety valve, to process and purge negative energy with an understanding and trusted friend, rather than unloading it on other people who might take offense. I guess their idiosyncrasies are briefly exaggerated when they are alone with each other (probably as much for entertainment as for natural free expression), but the result of this is that they are more balanced and well-adjusted the rest of the time.

      • Dianna Says:

        Beautifully written, Wallis. I too think they help each other grow and process the negatives in themselves and in their jobs in a safe way.

  3. Five Things Starsky and Hutch Have Taught Me About Friendship | CloserThanBrothers Says:

    […] Hutch than to Starsky, in that Hutch really is the more flawed character. (See The Ollie Report’s excellent analysis of the character of Hutch, and Starsky too). Hutch often lords himself over Starsky, claiming he is more dignified, fit, […]

  4. Carol Says:

    Dear Merl. I am very much enjoying your blog after rediscovering S&H via DVD box set. We had not seen the episodes for some considerable time and had forgotten just how good they really are! We have just started on season 4 but I have had to rewatch some of the episodes after reading your observations and theories on them.

    Following on from this and the speculation on Hutch’s character I wondered if anyone had considered whether he was previously a medical student of some kind? I thought this might work on a number of levels;
    We know S was in the army before joining BCPD and S&H presumably met at the academy. Being the same age, where was H during this time. Was he at medical school?
    – he seems to have advanced first aid skills, notably in The Shootout where he ministers to S and in Deckwatch where he removes the bullet from Harry’s leg.
    – Did something happen to disillusion him regarding this career choice so that he dropped out? Is this why he is so bitter with the doctor in Coffin for Starsky?.. his comments about when you need them “they can’t even cure the common cold”?
    – would this explain his estrangement from his family? I could imagine proud parents describing him as ‘my son the doctor’ or ‘my son the medical student’. Did he have to move away from familial disappointment when the t didn’t work out that way? … I would be interested to know your thoughts.

    Finally, have you read Kipling’s Thousandth Man? Almost written for them I would say

    • merltheearl Says:

      Carol, I absolutely love this theory. It explains so much about Hutch, who is intellectually-driven enough to have gotten into medical school without a problem. The hints also are that he came from an upper-middle class background, and “cop” isn’t necessarily on the expectations list of parents. He also plays the part of the paramedic very well in “Deckwatch”. Good thinking!

      Your closing remark about the Kipling poem is so appropriate as well. It could very well define the two of them, and beautifully. Wouldn’t you be tempted to title the poem “The Ten Thousandth Man” or maybe “The Millionth Man”? So rare is that kind of friendship. Thanks so much for writing.

  5. Carol Says:

    I’m glad you like my ideas. I’ve enjoyed analysing S&H in the same way one would classic literature. I know what you mean that Thousandth Man is numerically inferior but Millionth Man might have caused problems with the consequential change to nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine!😀

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