Episode 32: Iron Mike

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.

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15 Responses to “Episode 32: Iron Mike”

  1. kit sullivan Says:

    “L.A.M.T.A.” refers to the “Los Angeles Mass-Transit Authority”…the city bus lines in L.A. County.

  2. King David Says:

    This episode has a lovely little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action. As Starsky is walking up steps with Hutch, he removes his handgun and passes it behind his back to his left hand. It’s such a natural movement; his holster is under his right armpit, but in order to not display the brandishing of a weapon to anyone in front, he does the withdrawing and passing behind him.
    How is it, I wonder, that PMG had such fantastic low-rise jeans in a high-rise jeans fashion era? I can clearly recall how noticable it was, in 1977, to see this. He wears them so well…wish Hutch had had a similar pair…I love that the partners wore such decent leather belts with their skintight jeans.
    That Coyle is a snaky, oily character. Iron Mike is horrible; how come Dobey has such dodgy mates? I speculate on what those methods were, and why Hutch remembers them so vividly…he says it with a personal flavour to it. Imagine an Iron Mike harangue whilst being a junior officer forced to remain in the room till it’s over…
    Call me uneducated, but if you ever care to elaborate on ‘Freudian goldmine’ I will be happy to read it.
    Does Hutch ever speculate on the possibility that Starsky can read him like a music score and play him like a harp? Reflect on the tune…

  3. Dianna Says:

    This was an oddly ambiguous episode. We’re not sure whether Ferguson saw Starsky and Hutch in the restaurant. Maybe Ferguson wasn’t sure either. We don’t know how much of their concern they were able to communicate to Dobey before Ferguson entered the office. What does Hutch remember “vividly” about Ferguson’s methods? If Coyle’s tips to Ferguson were so good, why didn’t he know there would be two more people at the department store hold-up? Is Huggy actually a pimp? If so, how can they call that merely “bending” the law? And why would it only be mentioned in this episode?

    When Ferguson catches the guys looking at his records, why don’t they try to claim they are studying him in order to emulate him? Why does Ferguson act so menacing, only to later turn over his snitch book? Is he trying to corrupt them? To vindicate himself by persuading them to use what he sees as his superior priorities? To make up for the evil he has done by letting Coyle run around free? Would he have handed the book off to any ol’ brother cop, or has he specially chosen Starsky and Hutch to be his heirs?

    Who is the worse bad guy, Ferguson or Coyle? Is Ferguson even a bad guy, or is he just a misguided good guy? Is the guys’ toleration of Huggy the first step toward tolerating someone like Coyle? How much did Dobey know about and approve of Ferguson’s priorities? What does Dobey see in him that is admirable?

    Very different from the moral absolutes we are used to.

    My notes on viewing, and some responses to Merl and King David:

    The “Irish accent = evil” thing is a bit irritating. Ferguson is also an Irish name, so is it the “easy corruptibility of the Irish” or some sort of ethnic loyalty that gets Ferguson and Coyle in cahoots with each other? Boston’s (Irish) Winter Hill Gang was active at this time, so were the script writers thinking of Whitey Bulger when they wrote about Coyle? Also, Coyle is the second bad guy who proudly displays a portrait of JFK on his wall.

    I think Starsky may be carrying his own handcuffs, but since he’s holding down a struggling adversary it’s just easier to use Hutch’s than to get out his own.

    Perhaps what Hutch remembers “vividly” about Ferguson’s methods is simply that he is very controlling of his subordinates, which would not sit well with our free-spirited heroes.

    Prop failure: When we see the snitch book in a close-up, it is a small three-ring binder containing phone numbers only. When we see it in context during a scene, it appears to be a bound book, and clearly contains all sorts of narrative about various busts. Also, when Ferguson gives it to Hutch, Coyle’s phone number is on the back page, but when they show it to Momo, it is in the front of the notebook.

    Nice detail: Coyle receives Hutch’s call on a hidden phone, evidently reserved for his police contact. (Although I note that anyone in his office when a call comes in would hear it ringing in his desk drawer!)

    The chess scene is beautifully played, with Starsky beginning a sentence every time Hutch touches a piece. Starsky probably did learn chess that day, rather than hiding his knowledge of the game for years, and just chose distraction and needling as a winning strategy for his first game.

    All the people who think Hutch is mean would probably expect Hutch to be the one to try this tactic! Although, on the other hand, I don’t think that Starsky rattles as easily as Hutch, so it probably wouldn’t work.

    And I note that the dialog during this scene adds to the ambiguity of the whole episode.

    • DRB Says:

      Starsky’s strategy in the chess game is classic: turn your opponent’s own character into a weakness to gain the win. Hutch’s love of “argument for argument’s sake” has often been displayed throughout the series. “Boysenberry jelly. Not grape jelly.” for instance. In this instance, Starsky simply keeps him arguing instead of strategizing. A tactic that Hutch recognizes too late: “How did I come to make a dumb move like that?” A great foreshadowing of “The Game,” when Starsky categorically describes the thorough knowledge of Hutch that will inevitably allow him to win the bet.

  4. King David Says:

    I had the feeling, watching this in 2011 after a loooong gap from the original screenings, that Starsky has the fundamentals of chess already. Perhaps he has wound Hutch up for a long time, pretending to know nothing, listening to his lectures on the finer points, and absorbed all the little nuances of the game, savouring the moment when he can finesse Hutch into checkmate.
    I also noted the bit about the notebook; Hutch even rights the booklet from upside down at one point. Back page, front page…in the original airing days, we would not have had the chance to go back over something as subtle as that, so perhaps someone in the production crew decided it wasn’t worth correcting.
    The name ‘Iron Mike’ just has such a great sound to it; he looks the quintessential clean, decent law enforcement officer who would’ve appealed to the middle class in the day; I suspect that that is what carried him for so long: like-minded people would’ve enabled him to carry on in his corruption. He must’ve known, though, that on the radar of 1970s corruption, Starsky & Hutch didn’t raise a blip, so why give them the notebook? Hoping to tarnish them? I imagine that the precinct wasn’t so large that detectives didn’t know of each other, if not necessarily know directly, each other. Decorated detective sergeants wouldn’t be invisible, and so as they are so good at finding things out, it’s a certainty that people talked to them about senior officers. Locker-room stuff perhaps, but no doubt other officers have passed on stories about Ferguson’s methods. Ferguson is proud of his track record, it seems to me.

    Upon reflection, even though I can’t see how Ferguson couldn’t have seen them through the kitchen window, we have to allow the subterfuge in order to progress the narrative trajectory [one of the best phrases I’ve heard in years and one which I intend to use ad infinitum! Thank you Merl]. Experienced detectives would note everything going on around them, and movement is one of the first things a human brain registers, so all that commotion at the doorway should’ve been well noted.
    I have had such fun looking at the department store; we had one just like it when I was twelve, although much much smaller.
    I do like this episode, even though there are some unlikeable characters.

    • Dianna Says:

      Your guess about the chess is not completely different from mine, and is just as plausible!

      I think that whether Ferguson recognized Starsky when he fell probably depends on how far Starsky’s head stuck out and what Ferguson’s angle of view was. He certainly recognized that *something* was going on, probably that someone had fallen in the doorway, and quite likely saw a mop of brown hair, but when we see Ferguson’s face, there is no shock of recognition, so he may not have been certain that it was Starsky.

      I would guess that this is deliberately ambiguous, in line with so much ambiguity in the rest of the story!

  5. Grevy's Zebra Says:

    I am shocked — shocked! — that that scene with Huggy and the motorcycle got past the brass for two completely separate reasons. One is for the fact that Starsky’s reclining back on the motorcycle in obscenely tight jeans with his legs wide open like a car commercial bimbo. The other is for the fact that Huggy’s quite obviously wearing a swastika on his vest in that scene. WTF?

    • merltheearl Says:

      It’s enjoy to read your observations, GZ. Given Huggy’s hippie denim, I’m fairly confident he is reflecting the earnest but short-lived reclaiming of All Things Buddhist, marking him as one peaceful dude. As for the other startling image, I will politely decline to comment.

  6. Sharon Marie Says:

    L.A.M.T.A. likely stands for Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority.

    Did it ever occur to Starsky & Hutch that Iron Mike may have been under cover – working? Why did they jump to the conclusion that he was dirty just from one observation. One could get the same impression of them from one glance a the dealings they have with snitches and other street people.

    People don’t just come in off the street and walk into a restaurant’s kitchen, even friends of staff/owners. It is really frowned on. Little creative license taken here.

    I think Ferguson recognized at least Hutch and it was no coincidence that he ‘borrowed’ them from Dobey right away.

    They sure did like to keep their guest actors on speed dial. Over the course of the series, Peter MacLean was in 4 episodes.

  7. stybz Says:

    I agree that it was oddly ambiguous.

    At the shootout did the man in the dress react like he got shot in the shoulder before he got up and bolted? Or was he just caught by surprise?

    I’m going to have to check the swastika. I agree it’s probably a Buddhist reference.

    I think Hutch is conflicted during the scene at the blue Mercury. I think he was hoping they would be wrong about Ferguson and Coyle.

    I didn’t have a problem with Starsky reclining on the motorcycle. It’s another framing moment. He sat on the scooter, now he’s leaning back on the motorcycle. I saw it as an Easy Rider moment. 🙂

    Did anyone notice that Gary Epper’s mustache disappears when they show him running away and into the ladder? LOL! 🙂

    I have a problem with Hutch defending Ferguson at the end of the episode. I need to rewatch that again. I do like how Starsky distracts him, but I’m not a fan of irritable Hutch.

  8. merltheearl Says:

    My thoughts as well, stybz; the insensitivity of using this symbol in any context is astonishing – and kind of funny, too, given how today’s television production is so air-tight and triple-checked by teams of lawyers.

  9. stybz Says:

    A few more comments.

    I loved how Starsky hung the hanger on Hutch in the scene at the department store. That’s something I would do. LOL! He places it there and nods at Hutch as if to say, “Perfect.” 😀

    I also liked the scene where Starsky supports Hutch’s weight as they’re spying on Ferguson. Starsky gripes about it, but he’s quick to put Hutch’s foot on his head. Then when the exchange finishes and Hutch says to Starsky, “Okay,” Starsky triple checks with him to ensure he’s ready to get down. Starsky mouths to him, “All done?” Then grabs hold of Hutch as he jumps down to the ground to break his landing. 🙂

    • KRISTEN TUITE Says:

      I love the exchange between Starsky and Hutch when they are trying…unsuccessfully….to explain what they had seen of Iron Mike at the restaurant with Coyle. Their talking over one another and Hutch trying to obtain Starsky’s food is spot on timing and hilarious! The back and forth banter is so cool!! A gem as you would say:)

      • DRB Says:

        Not only talking over each other while talking to Dobey but Hutch also interrupts to argue with Starsky. Poor Dobey. I’m reminded of the final episode when he wanders into the squad room to try to find out what was going on. Most of the time, he was “a day late and a dollar short” when it came to keeping up with his pet detectives.

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