Archive for June, 2010

Episode 36 and 37: The Set-Up

June 20, 2010

When Joe Durniak, the protected mob witness Starsky and Hutch are guarding, is killed, the guys uncover a plot much bigger than Terry Nash, a lone gunman seeking revenge.

Terry Nash: Jon Korkes, Joe Durniak: Michael V Gazzo, George Stegner: Eugene Roche, The Black Baron: Roger E Mosley, Thistleman: Darryl Zwerling, Debra: Heather MacRae, Dr. Hank Wachman: Jerry Hardin, Nun: Dawna Shove, Patty Nash: Katherine Dunfee Clarke, Wilson: Angus Duncan, Bumper: Richard Balin, Trucker: Bruce M Fischer, Bank Teller: Sandra George, Security Guard 1: Cedric Scott, Security Guard 2: Verne Rowe. Written By: Joe Reb Moffly, Directed By: George McCowan.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS:

Part One:
This double-episode has a big scope and is very complicated, perhaps overly so. It’s also left unresolved: in fact, some fans speculate the vague “them” in this episode are controlled by none other ultimate bad-guy James Gunther from Season Four’s series-ending “Targets Without a Badge” trilogy. At any rate, these people are a formidable force who not only manage to kill off a maximum-security-protected witness, but also seem to have unlimited financial and equipment resources, people everywhere, and a fortress in the desert. The only clue given to their identity is that Durniak, their target, was a danger to an organized crime syndicate.

In the wonderful driving scene, Starsky is indefatigably chipper while away from the confines of his regular schedules and obligations, while Hutch is singing fan-favorite “Black Bean Soup” at the top of his lungs, apparently sharing his partner’s vacation mentality (you would never see Hutch singing loudly as they drive the streets of Los Angeles, for instance). They have a brief sibling-like spat about the CB radio (“I thought we agree you weren’t going to play with that thing anymore”. “You agreed, I didn’t”, etc) which intensifies rather than sours the happy vibe. Hutch apparently does not know Starsky has given him the moniker Blond Blintz, and acts outraged, even though he really has no cause to (“the blond what?!”). The nickname has been used before and will be used again, why does he insist on being surprised? For his part, Starsky is naively puzzled by the call-out by the Nevada whores. And yet, when Hutch grabs the radio and announces they’re cops (using a flurry of numerical codes which the madame, somewhat improbably, decodes immediately) Starsky laughs in delight, as if Hutch has just performed a charming trick.

Hutch’s 10-17 to the Nevada whorehouse is a risk: 10-17 usually means “conduct investigation” in police code and it would severely compromise their undercover operation if Hungry Mama decided to broadcast the presence of police all over the CB channels.

What do “gold ring” and Starsky’s response, “good saw” mean? The highway cop means “brass ring”, of course, and Starsky’s good natured reply is almost inaudible.

Although the highway patrol says it’s Jeb’s Restaurant they’re headed for to pick up their “real cargo” Starsky and Hutch pull up at a roadside café with a large sign reading “Ham and Eggs” which looks like something out of Dr Seuss.

Starsky is cheerful in the way he was at the beginning of  “The Shootout”, and now as then his attitude puts Hutch over the edge as far as social embarrassment goes. There’s nothing Hutch hates more than his partner lovin’ life. He apologizes to the waitress (as he did in “Shootout”) and tries to fend off what he imagines as a confrontation with the guy at the next seat. It’s as if being with Starsky in one of his happy wanderer moods is the worst sort of torture. This despite the fact Hutch is the guy who claims to love Americana, country music, native vernacular, and the simple life. And yet when Starsky embodies this same spirit of adventure, Hutch acts like he has herpes.

Starsky fools with Hutch with waitress. Hutch orders, a “couple of cups a coffee, couple of sweet rolls.” Starsky then orders “only one” for himself, making Hutch look like a glutton. This is a pretty mild way to get back at his troublesome partner.

Both Starsky and Hutch seem to be carrying important documents in their caps. Starsky checks for the waybills and Hutch the coded dollar bill. What, pockets not good enough?

Joe Durniak doesn’t expect to see “Little Davy Starsky”, that’s for sure. It’s a mix of confusion and joy on his face when he recognizes him; Starsky is cool as usual. When introduced to Hutch Durniak’s first question is how long they’d been partners, and when Hutch says “about seven years” Joe’s reply is very telling. He says, “well, if he kept you around that long you gotta be okay.”
Hutch laughs, modestly, and in laughing seems to be acknowledging this is so. Now, think about it. Hutch doesn’t have a comeback. He isn’t his sarcastic, acidic self. He doesn’t say, “I coulda dumped him, you know,” or “it takes two” or anything to suggest he has any control over the longevity of this partnership. He just agrees with the unlikely fact of it, as if he himself can’t quite believe his extraordinary luck.

The next bit of dialogue is worth repeating verbatim, because there isn’t another case of Starsky’s murky past being aired like this. Durniak says, “Little Davy never knew whether to love me or hate me. I represented everything your father fought against. Some wise-guys, they shot him down one night.”
“Yeah, I know,” Hutch says. (Who wouldn’t want to have eavesdropped on that conversation, when Starsky tells the story of his father’s death.)
“Joey paid for the funeral,” Starsky says, indicating Durniak.
“Your pappa, he was one hell of a man. He deserved better than he got.”
“We better get movin’,” Starsky says, after only the smallest narrowing of his eyes to acknowledge Durniak’s praise of his father, which clearly counts less that it should. “Yeah,” says Hutch, anxious for this whole thing to be over.
“Now let Davy drive,” said Durniak, somewhat urgently, as the guys move to get into place. “I’ll sit here and talk old times with your friend. If you’re not here, he’ll only hear my side. It’ll be nicer.”

Starsky shrugs, as if it doesn’t matter. He easily allows Hutch to get into the back without any fear that something damaging might be said. Now the questions are: why does anyone have to be with Durniak? Why can’t he just ride alone? And also, did Starsky really not know whether to “love” or “hate” this man (this implies powerful emotions), or is Durniak fooling himself, thinking he was more important than he was? Durniak could have been an impartial witness but most likely he was the enemy, in close proximity to those “wise guys” who murdered his father. Maybe one of them. Is it guilt that compelled him to interfere with this family and offer condolences in the form of cold hard cash? Wouldn’t that have compromised his own standing with the mob? Even if it was a rival gang who killed the senior Mr. Starsky, commiserating with grieving victims is frowned upon, to say the least. In doing so, Durniak became an “uncle” figure, maybe even substitute parent, to this willful child and his mother. Maybe all in secret from the Boss, because guys in the mafia do not make a habit of providing restitution and fatherly advice. But maybe there were darker dealings here. Maybe Durniak and his people were Working on a questionable deal with the father, although one hesitates to speculate. Starsky Sr. was most likely on the other side of some shady racket resulting in his murder, his death an injustice spurring Starsky into law enforcement.

What does Durniak mean by having Hutch hear “his side”? Would Starsky dispute the facts of the story? Or has Starsky resolutely refused to hear that story, preferring ignorance to revelation? This sort of fits with the “if my eyes are closed it doesn’t exist” part of his personality. For instance, later on in “Starsky’s Brother” Starsky deliberately keeps himself in the dark when it comes to his brother’s nefarious drug dealing. Even when Nick directly confronts him, Starsky chooses silence over conversation. Whatever it is in this instance, Starsky has no interest in either editing or controlling this conversation or having Hutch kept away from it. Throughout, he has a relaxed, inscrutable look on his face, not hurrying this conversation or involving himself in it too much. Durniak maybe be swept away by sentimentality, but Starsky certainly isn’t.

Starsky and Hutch already know each other’s stories through and through. Nothing is new to either of them. It’s interesting, though, that Durniak refers to Hutch as “your friend”. There’s no guarantee a partner is a friend. Sometimes partners hate each other, or are suspicious of the other’s motives, and it’s fun to imagine Durniak may have some extra intel here.

Starsky knows exactly who “me” is when Hutch is on the other side of the hotel door. You can see him putting his gun away. Hutch replies with bad grace that it’s the “Blond Blintz”. He’s elected to play Starsky’s game, but why? Does he secretly like it? Later, Starsky plays the same trick with Dobey, but it doesn’t work as well.

Starsky is usually shown to be the gullible one, so Hutch really lays it on when he tells the hotel cook cannibalism story. It seems like a lot of work to do just for a minor payoff, and he’s obviously been thinking of that one for a while, but why? Hutch’s way of blowing off steam? There’s something unusually intense about his little game. I like how he’s careful to add “toast, butter” in his list of things, just as Starsky’s eating toast. The chances of hiding any parts of a dismembered body in toast is, what, impossible? But it works, Starsky is grossed out, and Hutch wins.

Throughout the series Starsky is shown to be an enthusiastic eater, mostly of junk food. The joke is he’s the one more likely to be unable to eat, either through duress, injury, a sudden call to duty or other mysterious reasons: here, and “The Pilot” (Hutch refuses to take him to dinner), “The Shootout”, “Silence”, “Bounty Hunter” (Hutch gets Starsky’s apple), “The Heavyweight” (Hutch gets his popcorn),”Iron Mike Ferguson”,”Losing Streak”, “Death Ride”, “Bust Amboy” (Starsky is prevented by eating food he likes, then given food he hates as prank), and others. There are also many times he complains about being tired or is deprived sleep. This is all a giant karmic joke on a hedonist. Likewise, Hutch, who is an aesthete rather than a hedonist, is consistently deprived of those things he desires, namely peace of mind and the beauties of nature.

Durniak says to Starsky that some of his testimony Starsky won’t want to hear, “names, dates, places, some nasty little facts”. Just what might this be? Facts about Starsky’s family? It isn’t explored and nothing more is said about it. Hutch, mindful of Starsky’s private nature, interrupts with a lot of comforting talk about how good it’ll feel when he testifies, and that’s it, subject closed. Too bad for us.

“Those bombs are a trick!” Durniak says. Too bad nobody listens to him.

“I saw a man with a rifle over there!” cries an eyewitness, pointing at the hotel across the street. This seems highly improbable. Nash was over five hundred yards away, in semi-darkness, and moved from the window as soon as the shot was made.

It’s Starsky who sees the drunken security guard isn’t what he seems, or maybe of some use later, when Hutch dismisses him as an irrelevant drunk. He pushes him into the elevator with them by saying, “need a lift?” Unfortunately they don’t detain him after the scene in the apartment, or even question him further, although the guard is the only one to actually make contact with the unseen enemy in a calm way suggesting he’s part of the team and not some terrified victim of intimidation.

Signs that two weeks really haven’t gone by for Terry Nash, because the fruit basket and plants in his apartment are still fresh and he has no mail pile-up. Starsky and Hutch are detectives – why don’t they detect this?

When it all seems too much, in the aftermath of visiting Nash’s apartment, Hutch proposes they all go to his place and “get some sleep, get some food, maybe start with a clear head tomorrow”. This isn’t the first time Hutch is generous with his place, many other unfortunate characters have been welcomed there (“Little Girl Lost”, “Velvet Jungle”, etc) as well as being Starsky’s second home.

The three men discuss the case in a bar. Hutch returns and says a driver’s licence has never been issued to “T, Terry or Terence Nash” and Starsky can’t help but chime in with “Terrific.”

Hutch tells Terry “no one has ever been murdered,” in the neighborhood where Nash insists his wife was shot. Really? Never? Is there any place within the Los Angeles area untouched by murder?

Part Two:

Starsky says wryly, “I bet his carnation wilted” when Hutch tells him he threatened bank manager Thistleman with the FBI and Internal Revenue. How did Starsky know Thistleman was wearing a carnation? Good guess?

Darryl Zwerling as the unfortunate Mr. Thistleman gives a great, Don Knotts-inspired performance as the weak bank manager. This is typical casting, in which the lead actors’ power and magnetism is amplified by reedy, whimpering, skulking or otherwise imperfect secondary characters.

It’s great how Hutch picks out the anomaly with the security camera based on the cigarette smoking of someone at the teller’s window. Also of note is Glaser doing what I call the “slow dawn”, something he’s remarkably good at: his face sensitively captures how it feels when all the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. He takes the subtle approach, raising his eyebrows a fraction and allowing his face to relax into incredulity. Difficult to pull off.

The midnight visit to the psychiatrist is a great scene, economically filmed and essential to the story. Starsky and Hutch must trust this doctor wholly to ask him to open his office late in the evening and tell him the true facts of their puzzling tale. Hank Wachman is an interesting character – intelligent, a straight-shooter, well liked by both detectives, an all-round good guy if he is willing to come downtown and do what is asked of him, no questions asked – and it would have been nice if he was a recurring character, someone they could turn to for insight into other similar cases. It’s not very often we see an expert in another area who is rational and sensible and willing to help, particularly in the medical field. As part of its mandate the series tends to throw impediments into Starsky and Hutch’s path in the form of devious or insensitive professionals, some of whom are simply obstructive and some who are actively criminal.

One is boggled by the way in which these unnamed bad guys got a bunch of nuns to lie so consistently, and so believably, to the police. Or are they lying? The sister who shows them the room doesn’t attempt to cover anything up, she just stands there in silence as the incriminating hanger is pulled from the closet. You would think, if a giant donation to the church steeple repair fund was at stake, she would say something like, “oh my goodness, no, we keep our cloaks in there.” But she doesn’t.

Even in the middle of the crisis, the guys are fighting each other for the attentions of the pretty female “victim” in the dark parking lot. It shows, among other things, an unflagging optimism. I like how Hutch, in the middle of a lot of distracting, emotion-laden activity, keeps his wits about him. Questions everything. Starsky’s quick acknowledgement shows how much he trusts his partner, and how fast he adapts to changing circumstances and new information.

Starsky tells Dobey he is calling from a medical building and that the Torino has just been blown up, but Dobey doesn’t ask if Starsky and Hutch are okay. He just starts in about how much more trouble they are in due to a second set up.

By now there are just too many things happening at once. The shadowy evildoers are overplaying their hand, setting up Starsky with the money and rifle from the Durniak shooting and simultaneously luring the guys into a potentially fatal explosion. Looked at in logical hindsight by any prosecutor, Starsky could not be guilty of the shooting if he was also killed by a bomb, unless it was some kind of crazy suicide. See? These things cancel each other out.

It’s terrible when the Torino goes up in a fireball. It’s as if a loved character has been assassinated. So why is it treated so superficially, and why don’t we see Starsky’s emotional reaction? And also, on a more practical note, we never actually witness Starsky buying another Torino and having the exact pinstriping reproduced – we know his uncle owns a car lot – although this is the sort of stubbornly sentimental thing he would have done.

Dobey orders Huggy to stay outside and watch his car when he goes into the hiding place. This imperious, rude demand is yet another instance in which Dobey treats Huggy like crap, and for no reason. Huggy stays and does what he’s told. He then tells Hutch, “I know we all look alike” when Hutch calls out Huggy’s name into the darkness. Sure, Dobey may be indulging in a little gallow’s humor, and we know he tends to implode under stress, but really, that was uncalled-for.

Why do Starsky and Hutch go bowling with Terry Nash? Nothing they did there that they couldn’t have done somewhere else, and it’s risky to show up in public. Hutch, however, seems to like the idea right away. Or maybe he just likes Starsky’s remarkably sanguine attitude in the middle of all this mess.

Thistleman begs them to believe him when he says his instructions come by phone. He says he doesn’t know who, or why. I believe him. But then he says in the next breath, “Desert Springs”, and says there’s a castle out there. How does he know this, if he only ever talks to a nameless voice on the telephone? Why don’t they push him harder to get more details? How many separate voices were there, was a name ever used, did he ever try to trace the number, what hold did they have over him – did they threaten his family? Threaten the bank? And how was he sure those threats were credible, did they ever pay him, details like that? Thistleman is the only witness they have, the only truly weak link, the only civilian (other than those nuns) they have access to. Come on, you guys, use him!

At this point, when the “we need a plane!” is directed to poor superfluous Huggy, the episode changes course, and in an unfortunate direction. Starsky and Hutch are both very quick to accept the post-hypnotic brain-washing theory, which proves they have a great imagination as well as scientific rationale, and the plot so far is as good as a cracking Lee Child novel. But somehow it all goes wrong. The plot begins to bloat to the point of irrationality. What starts out as a neat case of espionage turns into a castle-breaching, machine-gun-firing swashbuckling black comedy. And it’s a shame, too. Why not keep the action tight and close to Los Angeles? Why the silly castle, and the distracting, goofy Black Baron? Did the writers not have confidence in their story? “Do you know how many people would have to be involved in a conspiracy like that?” Dobey exclaims at one point. The answer is: too many to be believed.

An ostentatious castle in the desert is not the best place to hide a covert operation. It sticks out and is a one-stop stop which is vulnerable to being breached. One would think that a variety of average shop-fronts hidden in the city would be a better hiding place.

I like how Dobey refers to the Baron as “the African chap with the arsenal”. Dobey always has a great turn of phrase.

Who is Terry Nash, anyway? It’s unresolved. A natural follower-type without a strong sense of self (you’d have to be, to succumb so completely to hypnotic suggestion) with a thorough understanding of guns and battle strategy marks him as a member of the armed forces, possibly a sergeant. He’d have to be unmarried, a loner, unremarkable, an underachiever. Either recently discharged or AWOL (although that implies the Army is out looking for him, a complication that might make him untenable for a subject). Or maybe this is a CIA plot, and Terry Nash volunteered for it? Who knows? Do we even care? We never see who’s behind all this, and the absence of an enemy severely weakens our emotional and intellectual investment in what happens. It’s interesting that the writers see fit to leave so much unanswered. It’s the first and only time in the series an episode is open-ended. If I’d been on the production team I might have vetoed the script for that reason. It leaves the viewer with an unsettled, unsatisfied experience, more questions than answers.

If you ever want evidence of David Soul’s true acting skills, witness the scene at the end of this episode in which he lays out the facts for Dobey. The facts themselves border on the ludicrous, and said aloud even more so. If I were to recite them I’d have my audience sniggering and rolling their eyes. But Soul delivers them with absolute authority, he is one hundred percent committed to what he’s saying. Thus the story not only becomes plausible, it’s frightening too.

Clothing notes: Starsky wears his usual brown leather jacket, jeans and Adidas; Hutch wears his black leather jacket and jeans, although he’s awfully fond of a ghastly red-checkered lumberjack shirt in the first part of the episode. Neither wear jewelry.

There is no tag.

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Character Studies 13: Five Perfect Small Roles

June 13, 2010

These performances are peripheral to the main action, perhaps have only one or two scenes, but nevertheless add color and texture to the whole picture. I’m showcasing acting performances and not script writing: otherwise I’d have to include those many beautifully-written and endearing characters who make the series such a joy (first and foremost, the wonderful Eddie Hoyle, played by Doodles Weaver). It’s difficult to narrow down the choices to five, and I may have overlooked a few – if I have, let me know.

Norman Fell as Sammy Grovner in “The Shootout”. Fell was born to play a miserable down-at-his-heels comic. Lugubrious, full of false cheer, eyes like a basset hound, he’s about as sad a creature who ever crawled out of the rain. His stutter when admitting the only truth in his life – “I love you” to his sassy, much-younger assistant – is a heartbreak. And yet he’s not self-pitying: he’s courageous and stupidly optimistic, an old-fashioned vaudevillian baffled by contemporary times.

Nellie Bellflower as Sweet Alice in “A Coffin for Starsky” and “The Hostages”. It’s always surprising to realize Sweet Alice, the perennially exhausted Southern call-girl, only appeared in two episodes. She casts such a long shadow you feel her everywhere. Bellflower undercuts her own southern charm with a nihilistic indifference, indicating she’s been through hell and back, and her melty, unsuppressed (and unconsummated) crush on “Handsome Hutch” is really something to watch. The character of Sweet Alice is a great example of how Starsky and Hutch are respectful and nonjudgmental to people others view as worthless, and she repays the favor with what seems to be a long-standing bond of trust.

George Janek as Bobby Marsh in “Survival”. George Janek is so natural as a pre-teen with an unusual hobby you almost forget he’s acting. His nonchalant performance is completely devoid of the sugariness or self-consciousness one often sees in child actors. His part as the largely-neglected latchkey kid is well-written, and he never overplays it: he’s helpful but not too enthusiastic, wary without being suspicious. It’s a balanced mix of intelligence and eye-rolling whatever that Janek gets perfectly.

Rebecca Balding as Mickie in “Class in Crime”. Part automaton, part sex-pot, Rebecca Balding’s appearance probably doesn’t qualify as peripheral  – she has more than two scenes in this episode – but she’s still in a secondary role. Mickie is a truly disconcerting piece of acting, with a strange accent that comes and goes, and a rigid doll-like cast to her face. There’s more than a touch of sadism here and I suspect Professor Gage is a tiny bit afraid of her. I sure am. Probably the only woman ever be immune to the Starsky Charm Offensive.

Charles Pierce as Sugar in “Death in a Different Place”. Pierce is perhaps the greatest female impersonator of his era, which naturally makes him a great actor too. Elegant, bitchy, sparkling and charismatic, he should have had more air time, and maybe his own detective show while we’re at it. Sugar – this gal carries more than just a gun. Even while he provides background noise as an on-stage diva he’s riveting. He absolutely commands the few scenes he’s in and is given the best jokes, too, especially the wig scene.

Runner up: Ed Bakey as Fifth Avenue in “Lady Blue”. Bakey’s been handed it all on a plate: the ascot-wearing old-fashioned gentleman crook, but he really owns it. He’s absolutely assured, and physically perfect for the part. Both Starsky and Hutch seem quite careful around him, as if he’s made of porcelain, and there is a sort of precious, fragile quality to this elderly dandy. And we can’t forget actual crewmembers who make memorable appearances, like the show’s assistant director Eldon Burke as the staring mute in “Texas Longhorn” and makeup artist Shotgun Britton as the red-satin-wearing director in “Murder on Stage 17”.

Episode 35: The Psychic

June 4, 2010

Collandra, a psychic, reluctantly helps Starsky and Hutch locate Joanna Haymes, the kidnapped daughter of sports magnate Joe Haymes.

Joe “Collandra” Collins: Allan Miller, Moo-Moo: Cliff Emmich, Joe Haymes: Herb Voland, Earl Pola: George Loros, Joanna: Dianne Kay, Su Long: James Hong, Charlie Sireen: Sylvia Anderson, Julio: Edward James Olmos, Policeman: Larry Mitchell, Fireball: Robert Tessier, Cha-Cha: Charles Everett, De Meo: Michael Keenan, Ringo: Chris Peterson. Written By: Michael Mann, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a wonderful episode in every way – the acting is terrific, the script suspenseful and tight, the characters vivid, and the ideas relating to vision and clarity are fascinating. This is an ambitious and complicated episode where we are never sure what truth is or who is capable of telling it. There is also a lot of love here, from the partnership itself to a father’s love for his daughter, a woman’s love for her doomed man, and the psychic’s martyr-like suffering on behalf of humanity.

Why is Joanna dressed like a 50’s girl with her saddle shoes, and why is she eighteen and still in high school, unless she’s at the tail end of it? Isn’t she a little old for all this daddy-coddling and gee-whizzing? Her father perpetuates the anachronistic feeling  by using the word “swell.” Joanna is no dummy though, despite her somewhat silly demeanor she gives a pretty sharp evaluation of her father’s football team woes and probably plays up the little-girl act because it pleases him. The fact that she is named Joanna, a feminized version of her father’s name, is a nicely subtle indication not only of being an only child but that Joe really, really wanted a boy and so may treat her more like a son as much of his generation did, i.e. draw her into his confidence, treat her with respect, and allow himself to be closer to her than he might otherwise be.

Their affectionate bond goes a long way in ramping up the tension meter when she’s taken, as well as having the effect of canceling out the invisible mother. My guess is the only reason for her being eighteen, rather than eight or ten (which would make the situation so much more frightening) is the writers had second thoughts about putting a small child in a situation that has her bound and gagged and on the way to being crushed to death in a scrap yard. It’s a sidestepping of the gruesome realities of life and crime I can never decide is laudable or naive, but most likely is simply a case of being severely restricted by the “standards” of the times.

Why did Moo-Moo and Earl need Julio in the first place? Why drag a third guy into the plan? They could have gotten a van from anywhere, and Julio, despite his familiarity with the Haymes place, doesn’t do anything special. He doesn’t get them through security gates, and he doesn’t lure Joanna anywhere, he just stalls her briefly. If they wanted information – the address, her schedule, the best time to grab her, her father’s net worth – they could have gotten that from other sources. Starsky and Hutch theorize she saw Julio and “that’s why she didn’t scream”, but in fact she doesn’t scream because they moved too fast when grabbing her – her familiarity with Julio had nothing to do with it. When Julio becomes unwanted baggage they’re forced to kill him and dump his body, which is extra trouble. One explanation may be Julio himself concocting the kidnapping plan because of serious gambling debts, then recruiting Moo-Moo and Ernie to help. Rather than a stooge this would make him the mastermind who profoundly underestimates the greed and paranoia of his compatriots (who appear, throughout, to be under the influence of crack). It’s either that or he has been violently coerced. Coercion makes more sense, if only because we later witness Charlie’s genuine grief when she learns he’s dead. Charlie doesn’t strike me as being someone who is easily snookered by a psychopath. But then again, she wouldn’t be the first.

Hutch’s burst of dime-store psychology while in the Torino – “you know Starsky, the underlying hostility that triggers bursts of temper like that is usually associated with immaturity” – is doubly amusing because it’s something better leveled at himself. This whole scene sparkles with energy, the guys really enjoying themselves and each other; Hutch is never so happy as being the Mature One, especially if it’s at Starsky’s expense.

Why is Starsky in such a rotten mood? Even the dispatcher is aware of it. No explanation is offered. At the drive-in he complains his food is “too greasy,” which is about as contrary as he can get.

“Breakfast at last,” says Hutch in the beginning of the last scene, before they’re called to a “DB” to find Huggy at the cafe. The estimated time would be what, ten or eleven in the morning? This timing is interesting because Huggy is already drinking a beer – maybe two – and smoking cigarettes, not something he would normally do during a busy work shift.

Why is Huggy at Joe Collins’ café, anyway? At first he’s a customer – itself an oddity, since Huggy’s bar serves coffee, booze and food, unless the bar has closed – and then, later, he’s an employee, although his excuse is that he’s the “sorcerer’s apprentice”, quite possibly on his way to striking it rich after learning the secrets of the occult. However he comes to be there Joe doesn’t even like him that much: at the first sign of trouble he throws Huggy under the bus, shouting derisively, “You gonna believe this two-bit hustler?”

“How am I supposed to know who he is?” Starsky says rudely when Huggy seems to assume they know who the Joe Collins is. “Just give him a chance,” Hutch says, all sweetness and light, putting a hand out to Starsky. Hutch is liking himself as the Nice One, the diplomat, the Reasonable Thinker in opposition to Starsky. (If Starsky was pleasant and reasonable, Hutch would be the irritable, contentious one.) It’s this need to contradict Starsky that puts Hutch in the uncharacteristic position of being the “believer” when normally he positions himself as skeptical of all things outlandish or supernatural. Note, however, he takes a very new-age spiritual approach to the subject, which is truer to his personality than a more Starsky-inspired “weird-things-just-happen” attitude.

“The Amazing Collins,” Huggy explains.  “He took that name after all that ethnic-pride jive here.” Hmm. What could Huggy mean by this? Collins is hardly an ethnic name, and throwing an “Amazing” onto it hardly makes him a soul brother. As an aside, Huggy referring to any kind of ethnic or cultural advancement as “jive” is hilarious, both because it betrays his deep skepticism and his pragmatism.

Hutch’s recognition of Joe Collins again shows his great memory. Atlantic City four years previously, and Hutch wasn’t even involved.

Collins calls the Torino “the red tomato”, which is the nickname Hutch has for Starsky’s car. This is eerily accurate, although he incorrectly identifies Hutch as the owner of the car, something neither Starsky nor Hutch don’t appreciate, for opposing reasons. One can really go to town speculating on why Collins makes this error after being so dead-on about his earlier statement about the body at the fairgrounds. Could it be proof that Starsky and Hutch really are a single entity, and that Hutch has as much ownership in the Torino and all it represents as Starsky does? Or does it mean the Amazing Collins is not so amazing after all?

The two young kids trying to steal the Torino’s wheels are like miniature Starsky and Hutch, blond and dark, curls and straight, plaid-shirt and not. Afterward, in happy lecture mode, Hutch throws his arm around Starsky in genuine affection, and keeps his hold on him for a long time.

“And you think I do some very weird things,” Starsky says, beginning to enjoy his bantering with Hutch, which appears to be dragging him out of his bad mood.
“You know, I had this dream one time,” Hutch says as they get into the Torino.
“You know,” says Starsky, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”
The conversation is cut off, which is bad news for fans.

If Joe truly is psychic, it’s difficult to believe Starsky and Hutch didn’t return in other episodes to exploit his talents, although it’s likely Joe disappeared from Los Angeles, driven out by the misery of his own success.

It’s interesting to note the psychic’s powers flare only because the facts concretely replicate the Atlantic City case (same perps, same circumstance). He’s successful because he knows the facts already, and because he’s become familiar with Julio over time. Therefore, this is not some out-of-the-blue flash with no connection to the mundane and ordinary. This lends a kind of grim realism to a story that could easily become far-fetched.

Starsky attempts to take Hutch’s shirt and use it to open the doors of the van. This is the sort of boundary-obliterating details that define their partnership, and Starsky, generally, is more comfortable with the intimacy than Hutch is. It doesn’t matter to him that Hutch is wearing that shirt. He just dives for it. But Hutch recoils, says irritably, “I can do it, I can do it.” “I can do it, I can do it,” Starsky mimics, frustrated by his partner’s temper.

I love Starsky’s neatly timed flashing of the badge to the car wash owner. He later flashes the photo of the guy in the same manner, like a magician with a trick set of cards.

“He went to the Elysian Fields where little fat babies play harps,” says Hutch, in – perhaps unconscious – mimicry of Collandra’s psychic premonitions. He adds, dryly, “the man’s dead.”

I like how both the guys tap him on the shoulder in exact imitation of each other.

I like how Starsky interrupts Joe Haymes talking about how you can’t negotiate sensibly with terrorists by saying “(but) she’s your daughter”, and then shooting a look at Hutch, although there’s no real reason for it, other than the need to connect during a difficult conversation.

Are we to make anything of the fact that both Collins (hero) and Haymes (victim) are named Joe?

Joe Collins’ speech about the fears and frustrations of being a psychic is one of the greatest moments in this and any other episode. The speech is affecting, bitter and real, and a beautiful moment for Allan Miller. Interrupting the litanies of his own misery to slap the photo violently on the counter and say “twenty one,” and then amend it to “two-one-one” is genius. Note that his vision of an armed robbery comes in as police code, which is something he probably doesn’t consciously know (how many citizens do?). This implies his skills have less to do with something purely supernatural and more to do with an extreme form of empathy. In a flash, he sees through the eyes of the detectives. He is, briefly, embodying them. Which is why, I suppose, he uses their private “tomato” slang for the car.

Charlie Sireen is a real character, yammering on about fish and whales, the Call of the Siren, doing a routine that is as much about smoke-and-mirror distraction as it is about flirting.  (The old-timey magic show allusions flood this show: carnivals and sleight-of-hand, death-defying stunts and trick motorcycle riding, Charlie’s stage patter and even Su Long’s exotic “Chinaman” act). Her reflexive, almost compulsive speech has the quality of a long-practiced routine, used to great effect on every guy she meets. Wails, whales, whatever. But beneath the show-offy act she’s a sweet girl; when faced with awful facts she shows real grief, the only one to show respect for poor Julio. This is also another instance in which a “man” turns out to be a woman, a gag repeated many times throughout the series which reflects the rapidly changing sexual politics of the times.

It’s stated Su Long is Korean, but everything about James Hong’s character, including his name, seems more Chinese than Korean.

And now, dropped like a rock in the middle of the show, is the ransom run. It’s a transcendent, marvelous, self-contained set piece that can be viewed independently from the rest of the episode. Beautifully conceived and directed by the legendary Michael Mann, it’s a little movie unto itself. If pressed, I would admit this is my favorite scene in the entire canon, because it not only has all the best elements of the series compressed into a few intense minutes – action, grit, love and loyalty – but also because it has other, less definable components to it. Call it a kind of environmental sensitivity. There is empathy with the neighborhood and its denizens (the gay couple in the laundromat, for example, is a priceless detail) which both Hutch and Starsky must blast through and destroy like a meteor blazing through the cosmos.

Both partners often use sarcasm to offset or distract themselves from fear. They throw barbs at each other as a way of both hiding their own trepidation or bolstering the other with a “you’re not in trouble, because if you were I wouldn’t be so mean” kind of inverse (masculine-specific) logic. And Hutch’s routine starts immediately as Starsky arrives at the site. He remarks irritably, “what are you doing with that?” when Starsky puts down the rifle. Starsky explains with equal asperity about needing “extra reach” (which is, I suspect, a back-handed compliment regarding his partner’s speed and agility), then mentions a having motorbike, and Hutch says, “you got a bike too, huh?” with disdain, as if he didn’t know and now that he does, he’s disapproving. But he must know, because this is a carefully orchestrated police procedure. But he isn’t finished yet. “Will you put that away,” he gripes as Starsky looks at the ransom money. Then grabs it from him. “Whatya going to spend it on.”
“I thought I’d get some flowers for you,” Starsky says, mock-hurt, playing the role with his usual good grace.

It goes on, too, as they exit the van and Hutch watches Starsky prepare the bike. In a sarcastic, nearly demeaning tone, he makes the following statements: “You sure you know what you’re doing on that thing, huh? What you got a dirt bike on the street for? Got enough gas? Check the oil? How about the chain? Tight enough? Air pressure?”
To which Starsky replies with phlegmatic yeps and nopes, then mimics Hutch’s questions by saying, “Shoes tied?” Hutch looks down at himself. He deflates. It’s a lovely micro-second in which he gives up the act and thinks Hutchinson, you’re an a-hole. “Yeah,” he says.

In the end it’s Hutch who amps up the emotional content of the moment – and also signals that the game of fake-insult is over – by telling Starsky to “be careful,” staring at him intently and then touching him on the arm. Starsky looks shocked by the gesture, unpleasantly reminded of his own feelings and how much is riding on this risky endeavor.

How often does Hutch make it “real” in the middle of ersatz bickering, and when does Starsky do the same thing, and is it evenly matched?

Filming notes: David Soul ran the actual grueling ransom route himself, as filmed. He is never better than here, managing to balance extreme athleticism with emotional subtlety, and best of all make it look entirely real.

I wonder who the kidnappers think is the stand-in for the ransom run. Surely they don’t think Haymes is running the route – he’s in his late fifties and out of shape. “Not bad, clown,” smirks Earl as Hutch gets to the phone in time. There’s no indication of suspicion, of Earl thinking, who the hell is this guy? So why do they so easily allow other people to be involved?  Why not set it up so Joe has to drive to a drop-off? That would be the sensible thing to do. Or is this an exercise in sadism? Does Earl get off on seeing somebody go through a tortuous obstacle course while suffering verbal torments?

“Get moving, Baby Blue,” Earl says as Hutch heaves for breath at the Laundromat – exactly what Hutch has been called many times in the past, and it’s about as startling as Joe Collins and the “tomato” remark. Is he close enough to see the color of Hutch’s eyes, or is he just making a supposition? Is there more than one psychic here?

Yet, when he sees the police car, Earl freaks and cries out, “Man, you called the cops.” And then announces “she’s dead”. It seems as if he really does assume Haymes hired a civilian stand-in (maybe one of his football players) programmed to do his bidding exactly. The idea of being double-crossed really shocks him.

Do you think Starsky meant to kill both kidnappers as they drive away in the car, or is the spectacular conflagration a lucky gas-tank hit? It seems most likely he only meant to stop the car, but it’s possible there’s a more troubling reason, that he fully intended to kill them in an act of revenge (I say this even though there is no evidence for it, and in fact would go against his compassionate and rational nature) because he says later to Hutch, almost as an explanation, “I thought you were dead.” But killing the kidnappers means almost certain doom for Joanna, something Starsky would never deliberately cause.

Hutch refers to himself and Starsky as “Lazarus” when uniformed officer says “who are you guys?” It’s Hutch who’s been shot and returns to life and not Starsky. And yet he is inclusive when he says Lazarus refers to both of them. I wonder if he’s thinking back to the time earlier in their career (“Pilot”) when Starsky announces to the bar crowd – all of whom are expecting them to be dead – that he’s tired of being looked at like “we’re Lazarus – the day after.”

The series has never had a good record of keeping details straight. But here Hutch keeps coughing, in obvious distress, long after being shot in the bullet-proof vest.

Clothing notes: nothing special, although they both wear their iconic signatures: the brown leather jacket for Starsky and the dark green t-shirt for Hutch.