Archive for May, 2010

Character Studies 12: Five Great Guest Appearances

May 27, 2010

“Starsky and Hutch” is dominated by its charismatic, handsome stars. Not only are their characters are fully realized and continually evolving, but the raison d’être of the show is the partnership itself, so there’s not a lot of room for much else. If the entire series consisted of a Pinteresque dialogue about love, death and teddy bears as Starsky and Hutch sit in the Torino, one suspects it would work just fine. Better, maybe.

As co-stars Huggy and Dobey make a nice counterbalance, often providing a kind of refreshing drollness to the action, but neither Antonio Fargas nor Bernie Hamilton are taxed much as actors. Rather, they tend to play archetypal roles with little need for variance. Huggy is the voice of invention and risk-taking, Dobey the voice of administrative rules. Help from below, help from above.

However the series boasts some really memorable guest-starring performances. Strangely, these come not from the more recognizable or “serious” actor, most of whom seem to phone it in (I’m talking to you, John Carradine. You too, Ron Moody). Instead they come from the stable of hardworking character actors who get little recognition for their work. Here are my favorites, in order of appearance. You may have others, and if so, I’d like to hear about them.

Stefan Gierasch as Artie Solkin in “Vendetta”. Nobody does sweaty fear like Stefan Gierasch. He throws himself into the thankless role of a squirming, weak, pathetic, dangerous loser like nobody’s business. Like all the bad guys in the series, Artie isn’t a cardboard cut-out of badness. Rather, he’s a complex individual with a messy past and a smidgen of principles that lift him marginally out of the “evil” category. Watch his body language, from a petulant lower lip giving him a why-me look to the way he cowers by moving his shoulders inward when seeing his nemesis Hutch. Runner-up to the sweaty villain award category would be John Quade, playing the toupee-wearing gasbag Vic Humphries in “Survival”.

Aesop Aquarian as Simon Marcus in “Bloodbath”. Looking like a psychotic member of the Beach Boys, Aesop Aquarian is riveting in his less-is-more performance as a messianic cult leader tormenting Hutch with riddles. He’s physically perfect for the role, with full beard and slight smile, his silky, even voice, the way he can keep his eyes empty of emotion. One can easily imagine him as murderously persuasive with his followers. Writers Christopher Joy and Wanda Coleman have obviously modeled him after Charles Manson, but Aesop makes it all his own. He allows a shadow of long-ago suffering to fog his performance. It makes him softer, more difficult to decipher, which in turn elevates Hutch’s fear and frustration.

Allan Miller as Joe Collins in “Psychic”. Miller’s bitter, thwarted psychic is an entirely original character written by Michael Mann. Miller imbues him with an extra dimension: he uses a strangled, teary voice that makes him sound as if he’s about to break down and wail at any moment. Miller appears four times throughout the series, and while this is obviously his standout performance, he always goes to his strength, which is the intelligent, steely-eyed, principled man caught in a bind. He’s a deft actor whose emotions can spin on a dime: witness how he slams the girl’s photo on the counter in a rage only to be knocked sideways into a vision.

Karen Valentine, as Diana Harmon in “Fatal Charm”. Actresses rarely get meaty roles in this series but Valentine has been handed a couple of juicy steaks from the refrigerator. Let’s not forget she was seen at the time as angelic and respectable, so this performance might have come as a bit of a shock to contemporary audiences. She has a nervous, energetic, high-octane presence and you can’t take your eyes off her. Mesmerizing, but more than that: surprising. The spurned-lover road is well-traveled, but there’s something about Valentine’s timing, and her expressive face with that big ingenuous grin that keeps the viewer continually off-guard. A great script by Jeff Kanter helps too.

Robert Viharo as Jack Cunningham in “The Collector”. The grinning death mask of Irish assassin Cunningham gave me nightmares for years. There’s nothing scarier than his cheery “well, bye-bye then, Joe” as he blows a recalcitrant customer into a million pieces. Viharo goes to town with his neat, exacting, suit-and-tie wearing lunatic, and of all the guest stars he appears to enjoy himself the most, and why wouldn’t he? He has none of the grime or hardness of the typical criminal, and there’s lyricism and sycophantic desperation in everything he does. He’s more leprechaun than brute, and somehow that makes it worse.

Runner up: Sylvia Sidney in “Gillian”. With her husky, life-hardened voice and little cherubic face, this elderly crime boss cuts a formidable figure. Sidney chews up the scenery with this role. She’s alternately manipulative, powerful and crafty. Her incestuous, controlling grip on her son is implied without ever being spelled out. Just look what she’s done to him: he’s a boneless, slobbering brute. All this while smiling sweetly and offering candy to Starsky and Hutch.

Not every great moment is a big one. Next in character studies: exceptional secondary performances.

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Episode 34: Bloodbath

May 21, 2010

Followers of cult leader Simon Marcus kidnap Starsky and threaten to kill him if their leader is not released from prison.

Simon Marcus: Aesop Aquarian, Gail: Patricia Pearcy, Luke: Anthony James, Matthew: Frank Doubleday, Peter: John Horn, Merle “The Earl”: Raymond Allen, RJ Crow: James Brown, Judge Yager: William Bowers. Written By: Christopher Joy, & Wanda Coleman, Ron Friedman, Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Directorial notes: David Soul has rarely looked better than in this episode directed by his friend Glaser. He’s often filmed with the camera positioned below eye-level, tilting up to emphasize his height and innate grace. Scenes such as the stride down the empty hall at the courthouse, the interrogation of Simon Marcus, beseeching the cult members at the storefront, and when questioning Crow at the ranch are particularly noteworthy: not only does David Soul physically (and aesthetically) dominate these scenes, he gets to deliver extended, beautifully-articulated lines of dialogue.

Glaser is an inventive and idiosyncratic director, and the episodes he directs are always fun to watch. There are many visual puns and tricks adding another layer to the story, especially the theme of distortion and misapprehension, which is wound throughout the episode starting with the very first shot to the last. The one of Hutch pulling up in front of the abandoned storefront, a triple reflection shot, is particularly impressive.

Of special note is the wonderfully named Aesop Aquarian, who is mesmerizing as cult leader Simon Marcus (the names in reverse work even better, amusingly enough). Obviously based on Charles Manson, his performance is calm and nuanced. He doesn’t overdo the creepy and keeps his voice silky and hypnotic. You have to look hard to see even a hint of Marcus’ hatred, madness and rage, and yet it manages to permeate every scene he is in. His unflappable introversion is a wonderful foil to the hair-trigger temper of Hutch, and their scenes together are unforgettable.

Merle’s car business has a different name in each of the episodes it is seen in. Earl’s Custom Car Cult and Body Shop, Merle the Earl’s Custom Car and Earl the Pearl Auto Repair. Continuity error, or is it Merle’s idea to keep changing the name of his business? (here, as well as “Jojo” and “Game”.) This goes, too, to the misspelling of Merle’s name on his own sign. Perhaps he changes his mind so often the sign-painters just got it wrong. Merle’s a star with his deathless line (uttered from beneath the car): “I’ve seen cars on Mars, and I’ve seen peanuts in the White House, but I’ve never seen anything so disgusting.”

Merle refers to them as one person, “Starskinson,” when stuck under a car and requesting help.

“It’s tough being a celebrity, huh,” Starsky says as they dodge the press going into the courtroom. An inside joke, surely. They both look frustrated and resigned at being bothered by shouting reporters. Despite this scene, Starsky and Hutch dealing with reporters is kept at a complete minimum throughout the series, even though one would think juggling the media’s demands would be a much bigger part of their job, given all those dramatic cases. It could be a sign of the times that the press is kept at a more respectful distance than we’re used to seeing now, or a choice the writers made, but nevertheless the absence is notable. Even in “The Heroes”, the only episode to deal overtly with journalism, they are merely stock characters in Chris Phelps’ story rather than the focus of it.

Why are Starsky and Hutch in the courtroom at all? This is the sentencing portion of the trial for Simon Marcus and they’re not required to give testimony. I can understand Dobey being there – the arrest being a feather in the department’s cap – but the two detectives? Also, in thinking about this court case, I wonder if any ex-members have given testimony, or if any other “lieutenants” in the cult face similar charges. In these sorts of organizations there are usually others who are just as evil as the bigshot in the center.

What does the judge think when the bailiff brings him the handwritten note: Where is Starsky? From all appearances, nothing at all. I realize he’s obviously spent many hours preparing for and writing his detailed sentencing report, but how can he be so disinterested in such a menacing handwritten note? He just points to Hutch and keeps going. Is he a cool customer, myopic, or merely indifferent to anything outside court procedure? And by the way, how would he even know enough about the detectives assigned to the case to be able to point out one of them to the bailiff? Is that usual?

The courtroom is empty of the various retirees and law students and serial killer fans who would love to see the sentencing phase of this notorious case. This means the judge has decided to close the courtroom to spectators and the press. Of course the judge can do whatever he wants, but it’s fun to speculate why he made the decision in this case. From his sour demeanor, I’m guessing he despises anything that could be termed “hoopla”.

Hutch is amused by Starsky’s odd habit before sentencing. “When it works, stick with it,” he tells Dobey. This absence of disdain is much like his reaction to Starsky’s loss of a pet rock in “Committee”, proof of his true sanguine nature, hidden carefully under outward bitterness and sarcasm. Much of the time these displays are mere performances for Starsky’s benefit anyway.

Marcus has an inverted cross on his forehead during sentencing. He does not have it when Hutch later questions him in prison, which means it was impermanent, that he drew it on during his trial as Charles Manson did during his (an X, either carved into his forehead or drawn on, frankly it makes me too ill to do dig too deeply into the facts).

Twice Starsky’s name is written in red on something as a message. (here, and in “Plague”). One is a threat and one is a reassurance, both are meant to invoke a powerful emotional response in Hutch and spur him to action.

What exactly do the cult members think Hutch can do after they kidnap his partner? You don’t ever want to get him mad. Most importantly, he has no control over the legal system. Even if he withdraws his testimony there is probably a lot of forensic evidence and other eyewitnesses. There’s just no way someone accused of multiple murders in the first degree would ever be freed over one detective’s actions or inactions.

Dobey is shouting in an uncontrolled rage into the police receiver. “One of my men has been kidnapped!” This right in front of a gaggle of onlookers and reporters, which is extremely bad judgement on his part. The chief of detectives losing his cool and making inflammatory statements should be headline news, but Dobey is saved from infamy because the clueless reporter has not heard it.

The interrogation scenes between Marcus and Hutch are really the core of the episode. There are many excellent choices made by the actors and director, including the chalky mint green of the room itself, which flatters Hutch’s chlorinated blondness to an extraordinary degree. The calm and quiet of these scenes, with Hutch’s powerful emotions simmering below the surface, provide a nice balance to the action taking place elsewhere. It’s wonderful to watch Hutch battle an adversary with the same level of intelligence and linguistic ability. It is a titanic clash of wills and every moment is magical.

A note here about the unusual trio of names Marcus’ followers give him. For reasons never explained, they vary between the traditional Simon, the French-flavored Simone, and the quasi-sexual variant of See-men. The last is always at the climax of rhythmic chanting, which causes me to wonder if there is subliminal homoeroticism thrown into the already-pungent mix.

The persistence in this episode of sacrifice, physical torment and a certain sadomasochistic prurience gives a distinct mythological or even Biblical flavor to this episode, even beyond the foggy theology of the cult. Starsky’s capture, restraint, ritualistic bathing and chase through the caves has many classical elements of Greek myth involving descent into the underworld as part of a painful and complex journey of self actualization. Hutch, too, is on a similar journey through hell, but his is more illusory, the dark chambers of a tormented mind in which he must immerse himself in order to find truth. While Starsky’s trials are physical, Hutch’s are psychological – even his desperate aggression against Marcus as he throws him against the wall is useless, and he knows it. Starsky and Hutch, therefore, are two parts of a whole: body and mind. One is below ground, one is above.

Why does Marcus aid Hutch? Because he does, repeatedly. “Start where it stops. Begin your search at the ending.” There is very little chance he feels remorse for what his followers have done. He has no interest in Starsky’s life. He seems to believe he stands a good chance of release, either through a mistrial or charges dropped if Starsky – who is obviously his main witness – is killed or otherwise prevented from testifying (legal impossibility notwithstanding). So why does he provide so many useful clues? Does teasing make him feel powerful? Is he so sure the White Knight will fail? One thing we all know for sure is that cult leaders and other monumentally egotistic ripoff artists love the mind games, and of course Simon is no different. History is rife with sex-obsessed miscreants with God complexes, but here Simon is portrayed with an unusual spiritual, even supernatural power I find fascinating. He’s almost beautiful, and with a charisma that makes it easy to imagine he’s quite good at attracting followers – much more believable than the craven Rodell in “Satan’s Witches”. But if he enjoys tormenting Hutch so much by offering glimmers of hope, then why not point him in the opposite direction and see what entertaining mishaps are caused by that? Or is this an impossibility, since he claims he cannot lie?

Starsky gives a clue to the true extent of the crimes committed by Marcus and his cult when, blindfolded and tied up, he wonders if they’ve given up “molesting children” and are going after cops instead.

This is the first of two frightening dolls built by bomb-makers in the series (here, and in “Golden Angel”). Whose idea was it to go to all that trouble in this case? Rigging a jack-in-the-box with Starsky’s badge is a bit of time-consuming nonsense that doesn’t advance the cultists’ efforts, and shock value aside, all it does is make Hutch even angrier and more determined than he already is. Maybe this points to a basic tenet of the cult’s theosophy. After all, Marcus is also cuffing Hutch around, verbally. Perhaps if we stumbled upon the Book of Simon Marcus we would discover this: Ch 62, V 9: thou shalt prove dominion over those who condemn you as a cat does with a mouse.

As Hutch realizes the blood probably came from a ranch and starts trying to find out where it might be, there’s Ollie sitting on the filing cabinet, staring out with its black button eyes.

We can see the Gail character is based on Patty Hearst, infamous heiress whose allegiance to her captives is a well-known example of Stockholm Syndrome, and we understand her actions, however cruel, aren’t really her fault, that she is probably just a nice girl drugged or brainwashed into following orders. Yet she is more like a whiny, extraneous and annoying bother than a tragic victim. Throughout, she does things supposed to be spooky and culty but instead are eye-rollingly dumb. Why doesn’t she just unbutton Starsky’s shirt? Why cut the buttons off with a big scary knife? If Gail has status within the organization, as it appears she does, why is she always whimpering?

Aside from looking cool, why does Hutch make a 360 degree spin in the dust by the ranch in the Torino and waste valuable time when he goes after van?

“I really like being in deep water,” Starsky says from the bath. “Loosens everything up. Especially the ropes.” Hmm. Seems to me water would swell the ropes, making the knots tighter and more difficult to undo.

The bear, like Gail, is an unnecessary complication. Don’t the writers have enough confidence in a bunch of murdering, molesting, cow-mutilating nutbars? Why throw a bear into the mix? What, burning spears, bombs and communal insanity not scary enough? Of course on a purely metaphorical level the bear could represent the malevolent forces simmering in the unconscious, and we could make a solid point that this is so, but there’s something so very earthy, even brute, about this episode, something that resists the abstract. For instance, the cult members are less spiritual than they are physical, both Starsky and Hutch encountering a violent mass of yearning and despair that feels remarkably carnal. Marcus, who has presented himself as a demigod, nevertheless rots in jail playing useless mind games. So, the bear. Metaphor maybe, but I just feel sorry for this bear and wonder where they got such an exotic animal in the first place and how these idiots can possibly care for him. Was he left over from the old zoo? How could the city lose a black bear? Are they feeding him stolen cattle from Crow’s ranch? Feeding him at all? When the cult is violently dismantled – and you know that’s gonna happen – what happens to the bear? Are there rehabilitation centers able to take him, or will he have to be destroyed? Isn’t the bear as sad a case of Stockholm Syndrome as Gail is? These concerns prove the addition of a bear does not add to a viewer’s concentration or aid in the suspension of disbelief. Although the shock on Starsky’s face when he sees him is sort of worth it. You can read his mind. Oh shit, I’m wet, I’m in a dumb wet bathrobe, I’m injured, I don’t know where I am, I’m surrounded by lunatics, and now there’s a bear.

Starsky’s habit of falling back on charm and flippancy when in mortal danger is one we see often. The glib comments that probably serve to focus his mind and fool his enemies into thinking he’s less dangerous than he really is. I like how one of the followers says, about the bear, “be careful, he bites” and Starsky says, “so do I.”

Why do Simon’s followers abandon the van by the ranch? Dobey thinks it is by accident while Hutch seems to doubt it. In any case, it is a forensic bonanza and a bad move by the cult members, who should be more savvy by now considering they have been operating for years. But of course it doesn’t help the immediate problem.

The second conversation with Marcus is as good as the first, as Hutch goes deeper into the mind, asking Marcus to remember his past. Here, the emphasis is on Hutch’s expressive hands, which he uses to both magnify and clarify his words, and – remarkably – symbolize that he has now given himself over to Marcus. It’s not just a police interrogation trick. At the moment Hutch lays his hands on the table he puts himself deliberately at a disadvantage. He lays his weapons down. He surrenders. This is an extraordinary gesture in a man as headstrong and powerful as Hutch is, and shows his sensitivity and intelligence far better than swinging punches or grabbing the throats of the cult members. He is willing to sacrifice himself, just as Starsky is an unwilling sacrifice. He’s saying take me instead.

Marcus responds. He tells a story about his childhood, and then provides, in riddles, clues to Starsky’s whereabouts. Again, we’re reminded of his remarkably potent spiritualism, which mingles unsettlingly with the shifty, treacherous look on his face. Even more remarkably, we believe his story. However he is trying to manipulate Hutch, this story still has the undeniable ring of truth. It’s easy to imagine Simon Marcus was once a small, underweight boy bullied into making the kind of vows that shifts an unremarkable person into a power-hungry psychopath. I’ll get you all. Two things become clear at this point: that Marcus, despite everything, still believes he’s going to win. And that he may understand faith – he says it often enough – he doesn’t understand love.

Dobey and Hutch sit in all night in the office talking about the clues in Marcus’s speech. They both talk about tapes. And yet are no machines in the interrogation room. Perhaps the writers felt it was an intrusion into the simplicity and power of the scenes to have Hutch operate a tape recorder, pressing “play” and “pause” and changing tapes. Or maybe this is another example of the continuity sloppiness that is both a bane and a joy for close observers.

Dobey shows his derisive and antagonistic feelings for Huggy. Dobey is old school, and obviously doesn’t approve of Huggy’s lifestyle, but it seems if there’s some ethnic discomfort there as well. This is proof Dobey is better suited for bureaucracy than hardcore detective work. He’s downright obstructive in accepting Huggy’s help; when Huggy makes a comment about the old civic zoo, Dobey snaps, “that’s you live, isn’t it”, which is unnecessarily hostile, especially since this is the clue that solves the case. Hutch is annoyed by Dobey’s childish behavior enough to say, “oh, come on” when the squabbling goes on too long.

Isn’t it unusual to have a citizen like Huggy come into the inner echelons of a police station – the office of the chief of detectives, no less – to go through evidence? Why did Hutch feel Huggy would provide something he couldn’t, and how could anyone guess Stony Black, a small-time coke dealer, would be a pivotal clue?

Ever the perfectionist Glaser had himself really tied up and dangling, so that his hands were swollen and discolored by the end of the scene.

It’s too bad Gail is stuck between the two at the end, so the pieta is imbalanced. One wishes Hutch would just gently toe her away with his shoe.

Tag: Why does Merle goes to all the trouble to outfit Hutch’s car interior with the hilarious variety of faux-fur upholstery, including the steering wheel, if he hates the car so much? “Garbage belongs with garbage!” he shouts. Oh yeah? Why the artistic treatment, then, if it’s all a practical joke? From Starsky’s bewilderment we see he didn’t put Merle up to it.

But the real payoff in the tag is the fact it mirrors nearly exactly the episode as a whole. It is the light side after all that darkness. Merle uses the same inventive, synonym-rich style of speech as Marcus does (instead of forest, granite and Polaris, now it’s “in the bottom of the sewer, in the basement of a glue factory”). He also runs a “car cult”. He has been holding the car hostage, transforming it into a more elevated state through extreme measures. Instead of bearskin, there are tiger stripes. He acts in direct opposition to Hutch, similarly pushing him to anger (which may be partially theatrical) and an act of violent retribution. Like Marcus, Merle is immune to criticism and does not listen to authority. He believes he is right above all others. He believes he has a gift that marks him as special, outside society’s rules, which gives him dispensation to do what he likes. The car is covered in a black shroud much like Starsky’s sacrificial black robes.

Clothing notes: Hutch is a sartorial star in this, wearing brown leather jacket, pinkish-brown shirt and tie with aqua, white and brown diagonal stripes, brown slacks and brown shoes. Starsky is notable for briefly having no clothes at all.

Episode 33: Little Girl Lost

May 13, 2010

Hutch opens both his heart and home open to an orphaned girl after her father is killed by his two robbery accomplices.

Molly Edwards: Kristy McNichol, Flent: Matt Bennett, Duran: Richard Dimitri, Kiko Ramos: Guillermo San Juan, Nick Edwards: King Moody, Mrs. Ramos: Milcha Scott, Perkowitz: Rebecca Balding, Mike: Lou Cutell, JJ: Paul Pepper, Mrs. Williams: Patricia Wilson, Roy: Ken Sidwell. Written By: Ben Masselink, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

I’m particularly fond of this episode because it has a tough criminal case to break as well as a glimpse into the guys’ private lives. There is also an unexpected nod to the season in a series that conspicuously avoids specifics. The passionate “euphoric sentimentalism” speech Hutch launches into as the guys drive is one of the classic scenes of the series, and shows both Starsky and Hutch falsifying or at the very least exaggerating their identities as both diversionary entertainment and as a way of hiding or disguising their intimate knowledge of one other: Hutch as curmudgeon, Starsky as optimist. Just why this role-playing is so important to them both is a complex issue and central to the series as a whole, an issue that is worthwhile to examine from all angles. One reason is they simply enjoy irritating each other – and in turn enjoy being irritated – as it keeps them alert and united in a way that is not too emotionally or mentally taxing. It’s also a way of codifying their relationship, as if repeatedly acting out these roles is a form of succor in a world that is, for police officers, extremely dangerous and unpredictable. For another, and I’m drifting into meta territory here, arguing and nit-picking is a way of appearing less compatible, less affectionate, and therefore less threatening to a severely homophobic society. Besides, men in general are less likely to have serious conversations, preferring instead to josh and tease. A fifth and even more complicated reading suggests they instinctively adopt opposing views as a way of becoming a single united entity, two sides of a coin, as it were, and therefore more powerful.

I like how Starsky has both Christmas ornaments and a Star of David on his dash, in joyous contrast to Hutch’s grouchiness. Starsky is relentless in his quest to discover what Hutch has gotten him as a gift, and although there is not a whiff of actual evidence that Starksy knows this gift will likely be both pedantic and disappointing, there is something subtle and truly marvelous in Glaser’s performance that suggests this is true. I don’t know exactly what it is, which is typical of Glaser, but it’s there. Too much credulity, maybe. “You got me that sweater!” he exclaims, not listening to Hutch’s extended rant against commercialization.

At the scene of the shoplifting, Molly, despite her bravado, is genuinely frightened. This is really the only time she shows fear. The rest of the time she’s merely irritated even though life gets exponentially more dangerous for her.

Hutch, who moments before has been railing against the season, tells Mike the Shopkeeper (further evidencing his good memory – they have likely attended to thefts at his store before) that he’ll probably get the “Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Christmas Award”. This tells us Hutch is not antithetical to the season, but instead has been wearied into cynicism by the selfish and antisocial actions of his society. It’s the tenderest among us who sometimes come across as the toughest.

From the first, Starsky is a kid with Molly, Hutch is the adult, and Molly gets this right away. She treats Starsky with affectionate disregard (she calls him “corny”), like she’d treat a kid brother, but she views Hutch with reverence.

Nick Edward’s girlfriend, Peggy, calls Molly to tell her of her father’s accident. That is the last time you see or hear of her, making her a pretty lousy girlfriend.

Nick’s prison sentence was three years. Flent and Duran say it has been two years and six months since they have seen him. Add this number to Nick’s release two months ago. Either Nick got time off for good behavior, or they came to visit him in jail during the first four months of his term.

Why would they let Molly approach the dead body of her father? Even if there wasn’t major gore – and there might have been, the guy might have been shot in the head or through the eye or something – it’s still a dead body, and a child shouldn’t be allowed to just run up and hug it right there on the street like that.  Who’s in charge here?

What is Starsky and Hutch’s knowledge of Juvenile Hall based on? Although it could be simply the sad image of a child being detained during the holiday season, it seems more likely they must have heard some truly harrowing stories or maybe witnessed abuses first hand, because Hutch can’t stand the thought of Molly being there.  And they can’t stand the thought of Guy and Vikki there either in “Crying Child”, to the extent they put Carol in an illegal situation by having her take the children to her house.

Molly seems to have a bit of a Nazi thing. She yells at Starsky and Hutch for being “Gestapo” when they try to arrest her, and say the Williams family run a concentration camp. What are the chances that she’s reading “The Diary of Anne Frank”?

I like how Starsky takes Molly’s boyishness in stride, telling her that hot chocolate will “make a pitcher” out of her. He calls her “Tiger” too.

Starsky puts his hand in Molly glove and she doesn’t seem very alarmed. Are the diamonds in there at that point or does she hide them later? Did Nick ask her to keep them, and if he did, isn’t that a really, really bad idea, even for him? If he did, then he willingly put his own child in danger. And if she knows they’re there, and in fact is the one to hide them in the first place, do you think she knows they’re contraband, and not only that but life-threateningly so? We know she trusts and loves Starsky and Hutch as guardians, but how she feels about them as officers of the law, and how she views The Law itself, remains a mystery. She seems to have inherited her father’s us-and-them mentality, assuming she is alone in solving a problem, even though she has some excellent role models right in front of her.

Neither of the guys are dating Perkowitz, but both make big plays for her. Is this just a default position, there being a woman under thirty-five in the room?

Hutch sits in the dark listening to Molly cry. It’s heartbreaking to witness a child in pain and Hutch is a deeply caring person, but there might be more to this scene than sympathy. He seems half there, and half somewhere else, possibly remembering something he’d rather forget. When Molly asks him point-blank why he took her in, he gives a lame excuse about it being Christmas. She clearly doesn’t believe him, and shouldn’t. Something else is going on here, and it’s fun to speculate. Hutch may be trying to rectify an old personal injustice, perhaps, undo the sins of his own past by helping her with her very present dilemma. This between-the-lines thinking may not have been intentional by Ben Masselink (he may have only intended to show us Hutch’s much-protected softer side) or any of the writers, but it’s inevitable when the actors are so intense, as Soul is in this scene, and when the script itself has so many tantalizing holes.

Flent is tweaking badly as they sit around wondering what to do. It’s never said, but the guy’s a heroin addict along with everything else. Both men are sweating and strange, but Flent is off the charts. Later, as a priest, he’s gotten hold of himself again, becoming eerily calm and in charge. Does this mean he’s high when kidnapping Molly?

Hutch is making his breakfast drink. He has done this a thousand times before. And yet he turns on the blender without the lid, splashing himself. Incredibly, this is the second time he’s done this: he did it in “Pariah”, too.

Starsky asks for salami right after Molly does. Two kids. Hutch makes a hilarious gesture of annoyance.

When Hutch explains to Molly why she can’t live with him, it is for all the reasons he needs Starsky to move in with him. Someone to come home to, someone to cook for, a remedy for loneliness.

Starsky and Hutch should have alerted to being followed to the Williams house. Those two guys don’t seem clever enough to be really subtle or stealthy. And they parked just up ahead. Didn’t the guys think it was strange, two men sitting together in a car on a suburban street? Or was Molly just too distracting?

Why, oh why, do they get Dobey a toilet for Christmas? Not that it isn’t sort of funny, but one wonders if Dobey’s bathroom habits have become legendary. Perhaps he’s on the toilet for a remarkable length of time. Perhaps he had a famous bathroom mishap. Maybe he’s a well-known germaphobe. Whatever it is, it’s about the most humiliating joke ever. A big man and his toilet habits should never be the source of either common knowledge or humor. Coincidentally, in the other episode in which Kiko appears (“Running”), the guys play a similar joke on their boss, giving his phone number on a plumber’s business card. Poor Dobey.

Hutch comes into the room where the uniforms, one guy in a suit, and Starsky are wrapping Dobey’s joke gift. Everyone’s giggling and having a good time, which Hutch proceeds to ruin by saying Dobey was headed that way; they scatter. “Hey,” Hutch says to Starsky, pulling him back. He tells him Dobey was elsewhere and Starsky says, “you really do have a cruel streak in you, don’t you.” For a normally genial, patient person he is actually angry; it’s a brief and fairly harmless flash of temper but it’s there. It’s also interesting how he knows Hutch’s announcement was a way of curtailing everybody’s fun for his own private, punitive amusement.

Even though Hutch is being bitchy, Starsky is indefatigable. He’s singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” as they pull up to the Williams house right after Hutch royally pissed him off, and teases Hutch about knowing the names of the reindeer. Hutch sighs and gives a bitter, genuinely hilarious answer: “Donder, Blitzkrieg, Spritzen” (again, another Nazi reference). “Forget it,” Starsky says. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Hutch gives him an inscrutable look, which seems to imply, if I’m reading it right, that he is ashamed of himself on some level.

I can understand why the idiotic Mrs. Williams falls for the fake priest thing, but Molly never would. She’s too smart. So how in hell did Flent manage to drag Molly from the house?

Hutch has about six Christmas cards on his piano as well as a variety of seasonal decorations. He can’t be a total scrooge.

When the guys arrive, Kiko and Molly are sitting on Hutch’s couch watching TV. Kiko would have had to be there anyway, to let Molly in, which begs the question why he’d be at his big brother’s place without him being there. And yet, later, Kiko is forced to wait in the hall when Molly asks him to go to Hutch’s place, meaning he doesn’t have a key. How did he get in the first time, then?

During this scene, when Starsky teases Hutch about his anti-Christmas feelings, Hutch caves in and grins. He just seems, at that moment, to give it all up. While it’s mainly relief that Molly is all right, it was also probably too much work anyway, being grouchy all the time. Even Hutch needs a break once and a while. Although he picks it up again, irritated by Starsky’s “bm-bm-bm-ing.”

If everyone’s so worried about Molly’s safety, to the point of not letting her return to the Williams house, then why do they allow her to go to Kiko’s house by herself? Twice?

Starsky must be awfully familiar with Mrs. Ramos if he knows about her homemade burritos; he’s come a long way from dismissing Kiko as “not worth it”.

Hutch is upset by Molly’s situation. He sits by himself for a moment, then mutters, “Christmas joy.” Another clue that there’s more going on with him than is obvious. It seems like a familiar refrain, having seasonal expectations crushed. Perhaps this is a reflection on his own unhappy childhood, private anticipation coming to nothing. Or it could be more of a habit with him to blame the peripherals, the way he said, “all America on wheels, what a joke” when pinned under the car in “Survival”.

Starsky lays back and lets Hutch take control of the investigation. But after their meeting with Huggy, he nicely peels off some extra bills. Huggy’s thrilled, but Hutch says nastily, “You didn’t have to tip the help.” Which has unpleasant racial overtones, along with a general bad attitude. Note the ever-cheerful Starsky ringing the decorative bell as they walk away.

The hotel rent must be paid for till the end of the month for Molly to walk in there again.

I love how depressing everything is in this Los Angeles Christmas season, with the sagging decorations, dirty bars, back alleys and junked cars.

After the guys handcuff the bartender and saunter away, can you imagine what the drunken losers in the bar would do? Trash the place, steal the money, and god knows what else.

Molly’s plan has holes. Why doesn’t she take Kiko with her to the hotel, rather than leading the bad guys back to Hutch’s house? It would have been better that way. Also, as the two guys are wrestling with the ice trays – thank god she knew Hutch even had ice, because there’s a good chance he wouldn’t – why doesn’t she make a run for it?

Actor woes: Soul broke his ankle tripping over an iron bar during the chase scene but gamely finished the scene nevertheless. Afterwards, Glaser had to almost threaten him to make him go to the hospital and get it seen to, but as this episode was one of first shot in the season, Soul had to do all the running and jumping in “Murder at Sea” on that taped ankle. Of them both, Soul was the worst for injuries, suffering a broken back (off-season) and other injuries, pneumonia, several bouts of the flu. But they were both injured, and often enough for fans to think ABC’s workplace safety standards were set a mite too low.

“Merry Christmas, Sid,” Starsky says as he presents the prisoner to the uniformed officer, exhibiting an admirable memory for names, then tops it off with a friendly slap on the butt. Overly friendly?

Tag: Everyone celebrates a very California Christmas and exchanges gifts. It’s heartening when Miss Perkowitz mentions the promise of adoption for Molly, and Kiko is lovely when he says having Molly as a sibling is as good as having a brother – it rings true and seems sincere and accepting. However, I have a major problem when someone (Mrs. Ramos, perhaps?) gives Molly a girly type shirt as a gift. Molly seems pleased and says it “wouldn’t hurt” to try it on – and she practically skips out of the room. On her merry way, we surmise, to being a “real girl”. This is both patronizing and deeply sad. Much in the same way Joey is abruptly “refrocked” in the “Ninety Pounds of Trouble” tag, we are supposed to celebrate when a strong, resourceful girl begins to embrace a more stereotypical “feminine” role.

What is Hutch thinking when Starsky reacts with such excitement at the thought of Hutch’s gift? Is there even a moment’s guilt at the principles he’s insisting on? Note that the two of them are wedged together tightly on the sofa even though there is plenty of room to separate. Interestingly, there is not a single mention of the guys’ own families, or any sign of them returning home for the holidays or even calling their mothers.

Episode 32: Iron Mike

May 4, 2010

Starsky and Hutch reevaluate their definition of justice when they discover a link between decorated police chief Mike Ferguson and criminal kingpin Matt Coyle.

“Iron” Mike Ferguson: Michael Conrad, Matt Coyle: Peter MacLean, Johnny Lonigan: Ric Mancini, “Skinny” Momo: Marc Alaimo, Laura Lonigan: Shannon Wilcox, Lucky Lester: Buddy Lester. Written By: Ron Friedman and Arthur Norman, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

The show opens with classic baiting by Hutch. “I must have a death wish,” he crabs when Starsky leads him to the restaurant.  “Why is it we have to go through the back door? Why can’t we go through the front door, like everybody else?” The two battling over choice of restaurants, and food in general, is one of the more fascinating comedic mainstays of the series. An added bonus is the hinted-at back story of Starsky’s enthusiastic secret-handshake familiarity with line cooks and fast-food vendors.

What does “L.A.M.T.A. employees only” referring to? It is seen as Starsky and Hutch go into the alley behind Gung Ho’s.

The grab-and-duck move – “Look but stay back!” – when Hutch glimpses Mike is really great. Starsky is so bendy he seems made of rubber. This precipitates one of the funniest moments in the series when the guys are forced together in a mashed-up Laurel-and-Hardyesque tango as waiters come and go through the swinging doors. The waiter who makes a big scene complaining to Ferguson and Coyle is saying in Cantonese something akin to: “These two crazy guys came in here and are blocking the way. I told them to get out but they won’t, and now everybody is having to go around them.” Both men laugh in a patronizing isn’t-that-cute way at his frustrated outburst.

Did Iron Mike recognize Starsky and Hutch from Harry’s restaurant or not? Maybe so. “Doesn’t it seem strange that Ferguson suddenly needs us?” says Hutch as the Captain appears out of nowhere in his weird menacingly friendly way. It’s possible that, on a subconscious level, Ferguson wanted them killed to protect his deal with Coyle. He put them in two very dangerous situations with multiple guns pointed at them. Which is why, I think, as he lay dying, he gave them his notebook. Hoping to exonerate himself at the end by making them his heirs.

As usual Hutch twigs earlier than Starsky that all isn’t right with the deal Ferguson is offering. Starsky, ever the optimist, is a beat behind. Hutch, while expressing his suspicion, takes Starsky’s egg salad sandwich and starts eating it with gusto – what he’s been trying to do for the last fifteen minutes back in Dobey’s office. Freudian goldmine aside, it’s a wonderful metaphor for the riffing off each other the guys continually do. “Hey, don’t worry, it won’t happen to us,” Hutch says, mouth full of Starsky’s lunch. No clue as to what “it” might be, and why Starsky seems to know what “it” is. What, compromised morals, legal trouble, back-stabbing, getting set up to take a bullet, what? “Oh yeah?” Starsky says as they begin to walk down the hall. “How can you be so sure at five-twenty-five this afternoon (the time of the department store armed robbery)?” “Because we have something Ferguson doesn’t have,” Hutch says.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“Each other,” Hutch says. And even though he feels obliged to add, “you lucky dog,” as a sour note, the fact remains Hutch has just succumbed to an incredibly rare sentimental moment. Why is this? Why feel compelled to express fidelity to the partnership at that moment? I have the feeling it’s because Ferguson, and all he represents – the instability of power, maybe, or a kind of hierarchical cruelty – really gives him the chills.

A clue that this may be noted in the previous scene when Ferguson says, referring to his insistence on preparation and readiness, “you may remember my methods,” to which Hutch replies coldly, “vividly.” This, incidentally, is the only overt reference to Ferguson being anything other than a genial, hardworking, reliable cop: one small flash of disgust across Hutch’s face.

Mike Ferguson “works in the same department” as Starsky and Hutch. Dobey says he is Mike’s best friend. So why haven’t Starsky and Hutch seen him for a year?

Coyle meets with his assistant Johnny, who asks him how lunch at “the club” was, and Coyle entertains him with a story about ulcers and cottage cheese. But the fact is he wasn’t at the club, but lies imaginatively and at great length about it, for no reason. There’s a certain something about Coyle. Call it malaise, verging on depression, a wily coyote bored with the domesticated good life.

It seems that putting on an Irish accent marks you as an agent of evil.  Coyle does it, and so does Jack Cunningham later in “The Collector”.

At the department store, Hutch seems to think a camouflage fishing cap and blue-tinted shades qualities him as Mr. Ordinary Shopper. This is a tad ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as Ferguson, whose alarming black sunglasses and bad attitude makes him look like a sniper wearing a Halloween costume. You might as well slap an I’M A COP sign on him.

The guys seem charmingly preoccupied with each other in this episode. Case in point, the lingerie exchange (“It’s not for me, I’ve got this weird partner, and I’m not sure if he likes black or pink”), and the plaid-shirt tussle (“I don’t like plaid,” Starsky saying as Hutch –  in a plaid jacket – holds up a shirt, to which Hutch replies irritably, “it’s not for you” and “it’s not for me either” as Starsky hangs it on him). Physically, too, they’re inseparable, from being squashed together in the restaurant to climbing all over each other in the alley next to Coyle’s.

When filming, Glaser and Soul put on wigs and hats and held mock interviews with the mannequins in the department store scene.

Notoriously clumsy Hutch is very graceful during the department store shoot-out.

“That’s a pretty good disguise, Huggy,” Hutch says as Huggy fixes a dilapidated scooter. “Who’d ever think to look for a pimp on a motor-scooter.” Hey, you want unprovoked bitchy, look no further than Mr. Hutchinson. This, notably, is the first and maybe the only time Huggy is referred to as a pimp. Or is Hutch making a joke?

What’s the deal with the swastika on Huggy’s jean vest when he is outside Matt Coyle’s apartment? One hopes it’s a Buddhist reference and not a political aspiration.

Ferguson finds out the guys have pulled his records. His reaction – a furious speech about being honest and above-board and how dare two punks in his own department check up on him – seems extreme, given the circumstances. Guilty conscience maybe or, more chillingly, good acting? If Ferguson really didn’t see them at the restaurant there’s no reason for him to think the guys are suspicious. For all he knows they may be chasing a lead that lies buried in his own records. But if he knew what they were up to all along, this looks more like Ferguson outwardly making a lot of distracting noise while inwardly calculating. Patronized and humiliated, Starsky and Hutch don’t even try to make something up. They look guilty and miserable, telling Ferguson all he needs to know.

“My conscience is as clear as any man’s” Mike Ferguson says to Starsky and Hutch. Watch the look on Hutch’s face as this is said: he looks completely unconvinced. This comment about having a clear conscience maybe be as sure a sign of malicious intent as a bad accent, as in “Murder Ward”, when Dr. Matwick claims, “My conscience is quite clear … the work I do here is of the utmost importance.” Ferguson rationalizes because he gets results, Matwick rationalizes to make himself seem better than he is. Who’s worse?

“Whatsa matter?” Mike says with a grin as they approach the apartment building. “Scared I’m setting you up?” It’s odd that he’s amused by Starsky and Hutch’s wariness, nearly relishing it. Does it appeal to him to be the guy with the dark cloud over his head? Does he feel more powerful when people are afraid of him? What is Ferguson getting out of this, anyway?

Michael Conrad makes interesting and not altogether rational choices when playing an end-of-career cop in a moral bind, in my opinion. He skews his performance toward the reprehensible rather than the merely pragmatic. Every line he utters is dripping in sarcasm. Despite Ferguson’s stated outrage at being tagged as a bent cop, you can never quite shake the sense this man enjoys his sadistic manipulation of people, and has done much, much worse in his career than protect a slimeball like Coyle.

Funny how in this and other episodes (“Foxy Lady”, for example), Starsky and Hutch appear to share handcuffs: Hutch tosses his to Starsky who’s got the perp on the ground while barking “cuff him”. It seems as if Starsky has kept the cuffs: he uses them later on Lonigan, and then on the driver at Coyle’s cocaine-for-cash meeting.

Hutch is a very good shot to have nailed that guy who shot Mike. His gun, a Colt Python, is especially accurate because of its long barrel construction, which also makes it a particularly heavy weapon, and not practical for everyday use.

Hutch does what Ferguson asks him to, he flips to the last page of the snitch book. He looks at the phone number and says, “this is the whole set-up for the scam today.” All right, so this is supposed to be the heart of the matter, but what exactly does this mean? What is Hutch extrapolating from a number that we don’t know?

When Starsky and Hutch promise Mike, as he is dying, that they will use his black book and not tell Dobey, was the promise to use the book or  not tell Dobey? Both? Neither?

That really is a very good painting Hutch examines in Coyle’s office. In fact Coyle is surrounded by very fine mid-century abstractions.

Coyle is far more attracted to Hutch than Starsky – in their initial meeting he focuses only on him despite the fact that Starsky is asking the questions.

Coyle entertains himself with a story about growing up poor in Ireland, and adopts an acccent while doing so. More shades of “The Collector.”

What the heck is Hutch doing and saying as they arrest Lucky Lester in the blue Mercury? He appears agitated. Mad that they’re using Coyle’s information or, more likely, crabbing away at Starsky for something unrelated to the arrest at hand – say, the state of the Torino’s brakes, the breakfast burger joint, or the fact that Starsky beat him in pool the night before?

Shades of Gray: “Huggy might bend the law a bit, but he’s not a monster like Coyle,” Starsky tells Dobey. Coyle himself tells Starsky and Hutch they should be grateful he got the “hard cases” off the street. How far is this from the rationalization Mike makes to himself regarding Coyle from the one Starsky and Hutch make about Huggy? In both cases, decisions about guilt and who should remain on the street remains a purely individual matter.

How much of Starsky and Hutch’s anger at Mike Ferguson is due to his inept way of dealing with his underlings, and then finding out he was “cheating” to get his results? Would they have been more forgiving if he was a better boss? If Dobey, for example, had a similar black book, would they have forgiven him? Starsky and Hutch went into this with an idea and came out the other side older and wiser, and less likely to see things in sharp contrast.

Interesting how Huggy reappears with a much more impressive motorcycle, indicating that, along with the quality of the information he gives, his lifestyle has also improved. Why, and how?

Hutch takes a sip of Coyle’s champagne when he wants to “own” him, to show he’s the boss and has grazing rights, like a lion with dibs on the gazelle. Is this why he eats Starsky’s sandwich earlier?

“Let’s just say, we know you a little better,” Starsky says when Coyle gives up Lonigan. A fine scene where the guys pretend to scoff at “abstracts” such as morals and individuals; Starsky then leaves by stepping over the coffee table and exiting. Hutch plays this perfectly by saying “sorry about that”, secretly taking pleasure in Starsky’s rude behavior.

Matt Coyle sends Starsky and Hutch to Schulz’s Bar to sneak on Johnny Lonigan. The bar’s address is 1326 Devon. Years later, in “Moonshine”, Starsky and Hutch hear of a “211 in progress” over the police radio at the same address.

Where are the other five cops, not including the security guard, while it was all going down on the floor?

The “C” on the shield on Coyle’s car door is the same as the one on the side of his warehouse in “Coyle’s Provisions” which is a nice touch.

The hired muscle Hutch brings down is played by his stunt double, Gary Epper, who also appears as the unfortunately inquisitive bum in the alley during the incredible running scene in “The Psychic” and as Hutch’s doppelganger in “Starsky and Hutch are Guilty”.

Coyle is awfully confident about doing very little time for a large cocaine bust. Are his books so squeaky clean that no one is going to find a whiff of any of his numerous criminal activities?

He says he’s happy to wait until the guys are “older and more weary, just like Iron Mike was”. Across the divide, Starsky and Hutch look at each other. Speculate on what they’re feeling, whether it’s grim determination or just a tiny bit of fear.

The tag is quiet, as it rarely is. The two guys are happy in each other’s company, the violence behind them now. All is evening and houseplants and bottles of beer, and what looks like a bowl for cigarette butts or maybe peanuts. Starsky shows his uncanny ability to press Hutch’s buttons with his exaggerated calm and his “jump all over your pony” comment. Hutch is defending Mike but is losing the game, calling Ferguson a cop “who stayed out too long”. Starsky plays the prosecutorial role, using the “big picture” as his defense. He wins the game. It’s left open whether this means Starsky is correct in his belief that Ferguson committed a major sin or whether Hutch’s urging for a more complex take on the subject is the right one (interesting, since Hutch has the more obvious dislike of Ferguson), and it introduces something neither Starsky nor Hutch has previously expressed: the fear of being corrupted by too much time on the job.

Is this a great example of Starsky’s beginner’s luck – Hutch teaches him something and he always bests him? Or, more likely, does Starsky already know chess and is more than happy to be seen as the rube, the joke, the unsophisticated one Hutch has to manage and control?

Clothing notes: the guys are great in their classic leather jackets, t-shirts and jeans. Hutch wears his guitar shirt at the squad room. Huggy is unusually clean in a pair of camel slacks while repairing an oily old scooter. Hutch wears a startling yellow thing in the tag.