Character Studies 10: Starsky

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

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


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8 Responses to “Character Studies 10: Starsky”

  1. Dianna Says:

    He enjoys temporary, intense enthusiasms and wild ideas, and loves watching “sensible” Hutch respond to them. In fact, sometimes he seems to dream up wild ideas and silly things to say just to entertain Hutch — which may have the added benefit of keeping Hutch from internalizing too much of the ugly side of their work.

  2. Wallis Says:

    Beautiful summation, Merl. I am particularly fascinated by the bit you mention about the intricate Rube Goldberg-like system of delicately interlocked psychological gears and pulleys that make up the mechanism of this marvelous friendship, and how Starsky knows more about how it works and how to keep it running than Hutch. I hadn’t explicitly thought of it that way, but I agree – both that it is a really complex creature that takes work to maintain, and that of the two of them Starsky “gets” it better (although I think neither of them *completely* understand how it happened to them). I think Starsky intuitively understands friendship – what its value is, what its duties are, why it is worth such a complete giving of himself and his autonomy – a lot better than Hutch. Perhaps he learned it in his childhood, or in the army, or something. Maybe the trauma of Laura Anderson’s death was part of it. Hutch, I think, probably was never lucky enough to have very good friends or relationships before Starsky and isn’t completely sure what Starsky sees in him, and doesn’t quite logically understand this whole friendship thing – but he knows that he values Starsky’s friendship immensely, and his natural caring and thoughtfulness allows him to instinctively reciprocate and be a good friend to Starsky under all the porcupine quills. And of course Starsky knows this as well – I think they both know each other better than they know themselves.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Wallis, thank you. I agree Starsky has perhaps a better intuitive grasp of friendship than Hutch – we certainly see evidence of this in many episodes. But what got me thinking is Hutch’s devotion to, and willingness to put the hard work in to maintaining, his friendship with Kiko. This is no small feat. Is it because he understands the ins and outs of paternalism while Starsky is perhaps better at equality? Is this why Hutch relentlessly (and affectionately) belittles Starsky, because he is most comfortable when Starsky is at a disadvantage, figuratively speaking?

      • Wallis Says:

        That makes a lot of sense! Hutch is a very empathetic and dedicated person, so he has the motive and ability to make and maintain friends, but he has so many insecurities that he’s not very confident/comfortable with spontaneous friendship among equals, but does better when he’s in control — either because the person he’s interacting with is disadvantaged in some way (youth, socioeconomic status, emotional stability), or in the case of Starsky, by making out that Starsky is deficient in some ways and therefore needs Hutch — even though this stuff is mostly all in jest, even jokes usually reflect *some* kind of truth. He’s also more defensive and verbose in explaining himself when somebody attacks or dismisses him, which makes me think that he’s in the knee-jerk habit of thinking of himself as inferior or accustomed to people telling him he’s inferior, and so equality may feel precarious and murky to him. Whereas Starsky, as you say, doesn’t feel the need to explain himself and isn’t self-conscious or insecure, because he likes and accepts himself. He doesn’t feel threatened by other people’s position relative to him — he probably wouldn’t mind much if everyone around him was better than him at everything, as long as he lived up to his own standards. It also occurs to me that while Starsky has an undeniably quick temper, personal attacks on *him* don’t get a rise out of him as often as displays of stupidity/cowardice, or attacks on his values, his friends, or victims. Protective/territorial rather than defensive. I don’t think Starsky is as comfortable as Hutch with being paternal — he’s certainly *capable* of it, but he only does it for his job or when he’s dead serious, not when he’s relaxed or having fun. His personality kind of shifts into a whole different “mode” when he openly takes charge — like in The Plague, or Gillian, or Manchild on the Streets, or Survival, or The Game, etc.

        I wish Kiko had appeared in more than two episodes. Actually, I wish a lot of Starsky and Hutch’s friends (and enemies!) had appeared more often.

  3. Mary Anne Says:

    I’m surprised that you did not mention that Starsky had very different taste in women than Hutch. Hutch was always falling in love with women he had to save, whereas Starsky fell in love with women who were nurturing and strong, Rosy Mallone, Vicky, Teri, and Meredith. The only exception is Sharman, but that connection went back to a fantasy of Starsky’s more than a reality. I think this also speaks of Hutch’s insecurity and Starsky’s deep security in himself reflected in the women they fell in love with.

    I think Blindfold was a wonderful episode delving into Starsky and his deep conscience and sense of responsibility.

  4. DRB Says:

    “Is more natural and effortless with displays of love and loyalty than Hutch is. ”

    Starsky’s physical expressions of affection are a bright spot throughout the series. If the theory posed about Hutch’s upbringing (cold, remote relationships) is true, then Starsky’s uninhibited displays must seem like water in a parched land to Hutch.

    Starsky frequently relies on touch to make sure that Hutch is listening to him. Two examples spring quickly to mind (out of many). In “Shootout,” as the partners enter the restaurant, Hutch looks around, and Starsky grabs his jacket to get Hutch to look at him while he is extolling this wonderful place. At the infamous burrito stand in “Bust Amboy” Starsky slaps Hutch with the menu because Hutch is focused on flies instead of Starsky.

    There are many occasions where Starsky’s touch is either to offer comfort or to ask for it for himself. In “Shootout” for instance, as Starsky drifts in and out of focus, he often reaches for Hutch. This blog with many comments has documented the wonderful moments between the two men. However, recently as I watched “Survival” again, I thought about the (as Merl would say) throw-away line as Starsky is presenting the Genuine Hutchinson Original. Starsky is preparing to demonstrate the open door/horn feature of his gift when he says he is throwing this in “just because I like your face.” The phrase is not rare amongst salesman, but it is an interesting choice for Starsky. I began to remember how often Starsky cradles Hutch’s face with his hands. It is usually in moments when Hutch is hurting: “The Fix,” “Survival,” “Black and Blue,” “Targets without a Badge.” He also touches Hutch’s face in “Moonshine” as he exits the bar; it’s a comical moment when he connects as much with the cowboy hat as his partner’s face. All this caused me to wonder if PMG is just as fascinated with DS’s face. Merl has pointed out how beautifully Soul is filmed when Glaser directs an episode. Could be just coincidence, I guess.

    Hutch is far more likely to touch Starsky’s shoulder or arm, although he reciprocated Starsky’s touch to his hair in “The Psychic.” He also gently ministers to Starsky’s face in “Shootout.” His most affectionate gesture comes when he leans his head against Starsky.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Very perceptive, DRB! The “I like your face” is a line that often pops, unbidden, into my head and always makes me smile. The two often touch at the waist, particularly while going through a tight space like a doorway. When I think of how rarely men touch each other, it makes these moments even more precious.

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