Episode 39: Survival

Starsky searches frantically for Hutch who is trapped under his car, near death, the victim of a hit man hired by thwarted felon Vic Humphries.

Vic Humphries: John Quade, Sonny McPhearson: Tom Clancy, James Balford: Val Bisoglio, Roy Slater: Robert Raymond Sutton, Carla Iverson: Katharine Charles, Bigalow: Paul Pepper, Harry Trask: Robert Emhardt, Bobby Marsh: George Janek. Written By: Tim Maschler, Directed By: David Soul.


In this extraordinary episode, everything is note-perfect. This is the series at its best: urgent, emotional, well-acted, well-directed, perfectly paced and completely resolved. David Soul’s fluid, sensitive and occasionally flamboyant direction is well suited for the story. Even the minor characters, both noble and villainous, are fully realized, thanks to an amazing script by veteran screen-writer Tim Maschler. In fact, given the extraordinary amount of elements in this story, when you watch it the episode goes by in a heart-pounding flash, but in retrospect it seems more like a two-hour film because there are just so many wonderful details to ponder. Those details linger in the memory, fresh as the moment they happened: the kid and his radio with the phone hidden under the bed, no doubt rewired without anybody knowing. The mom on the other side of forty, whose long view is at the cost of the urgent short one, the offer of a tour of the communication system, the way Starsky cups the kid’s cheek in thanks. Even the orderly at the hospital where Sonny lives is memorable: a decent young guy who probably brings his acoustic guitar to sing “Put Your Hand in the Hand”. And also Bigalow, nursing his resentments which, one suspects, have grown dangerously toward revenge fantasies. How he must hate the two handsome cops who treat him so shabbily. The little casserole Hutch is making. The knitter in the elevator. The slimy antiques dealer with an unhealthy relationship with a stuffed owl. The two hideous teenagers with their Volkswagen. The one kid not quite as bad as the other, the one who still has a chance.  And Carla Iverson, who doesn’t have a chance at all.

Because this episode happens in a short amount of time, it has an extra undercurrent of pressure. Other “real time” episodes, “The Shootout”, “A Coffin for Starsky”, and “Deckwatch” are similarly successful.

As well an urgent time signature, this episode also has an interesting theme of people not listening to each other.  Hutch not listening to Starsky at the beginning, Bigalow not listening to either of them, Dobey’s initial refusal to listen to reason, the radio talk show topic, Bobby being unable to hear the distress call completely – and then being denied the chance to hear it at all – Sonny’s refusal to hear Hutch, and then Starsky not hearing Sonny. Bobby and his mother don’t communicate well. Bobby, as a reward, is offered a tour of a “communications system”. Hutch doesn’t communicate with Starsky when he goes to meet Lou. And due to his war injuries, Sonny’s ability to listen or impart information is compromised. Hutch’s memorable yelling into the night sky, “can anybody hear me”. Sonny’s anguished cry at the police station, “why doesn’t anybody listen any more?”

Notice that, as the guys are coming down the stairs, Starsky is urging Hutch to go over again the details of the scam, including the code-word, which Hutch, exasperated, says is “suffering succotash”, which always guarantees a smile from me. The two guys then bicker over what’s bothering them, zeroing in, I think, on the other’s private fears: Starsky accuses Hutch of being afraid of losing his “spontaneity”,  while Hutch accuses Starsky of being jealous that he’s the one going in, and not the other way around.

“I’m going undercover, I’m not decorating an office, ha ha ha,” Hutch says to Bigalow, the resentful, neglected troll of the underground prop office. Hutch’s effortless superiority is, of course, why Bigalow hates them in the first place. How well does Bigalow know them, anyway? Hutch introduces himself formally, as if they were all unknown to each other – one suspects this is for by-the-numbers Bigalow’s benefit – but Starsky calls him by the quasi-affectionate nickname of “Biggie”, and later, pointedly, a “small problem”, teasing/patronizing him throughout the scene like they’re old pals.

The two numbers for a desk lamp and a transistorized power-pack transmitter are completely different, as are the objects themselves. There’s no way for both Dobey and the guys to get it wrong and order what the other wants (presumably on the same day) by either forgetting, misreading or transposing numbers. Therefore, Bigalow (or whoever filled in the forms) must be in the wrong.

Hutch, in a moment of awe-inspiring gall, calls Humphries “Big Hump” as he gets out of the car. It’s worth noting that he is never happier when undercover as rude, self-centered boor. He seems to relish all the details of his character – shades, fancy car, disco wardrobe, bad attitude, far beyond what is professionally necessary. There’s something about this series which brings out the amateur psychologist in me, and I can’t help but wonder if Hutch is a “good boy” excited about the opportunity to be bad, and whether or not Starsky exhibits and embodies a greater range of behavior in everyday life, and thus has a healthier all-round personality. Can we say then that Hutch both figuratively and literally trapped?

For all the gun-pulling as Vic tries to rip off Hutch, there’s no shooting in the frantic aftermath of the sting operation – it’s all old-fashioned punching, tripping and wrestling. I like how Starsky is torn between helping his groggy partner and getting the job done. He’s so graceful with constantly moving hands and feet he’s practically dancing.

What does Vic Humphries think he’s doing, taking a car-loader for a get-away vehicle? Huge, clumsy, and noticeable, it makes the worst run-for-it I can think of. Perhaps he had the keys for it in his pocket, perhaps he was confused by the mayhem. Whatever, it’s totally stupid, but it does allow for Starsky to make a spectacular, and again physically graceful arrest. And to say, in a really bad Bogart impression, “Brains ain’t exactly your strong suit, are they, sweetheart.” Well, yeah, totally.

The guys are all at odds with each other – insulting and baiting each other, having typical argument about Starsky’s bad diet, etc – until James Balford arrives on the scene. Then, abruptly they merge into one, tossing jokes back and forth, sharing a laugh; Balford bitterly refers to “the dynamic duo”. Disharmony is fine when there are no pressures, but only unity can get the job done. One wonders if Balford’s nickname is shared by other lawyers, and not always in a complimentary way, across the city.

When Balford and Humphries are conferring, Balford refers to Hutch as “the blond cop”, even though he knows his name well, reducing him to a thing and not a person.

Why does Balford agree to help Humphries? It’s likely to get him disbarred or jailed or worse. Maybe he’s facing trouble already, but most likely it’s a personal matter; one guesses it’s an ex-wife or some other pressing legal matter needing an instant infusion of cash. You can see him calculating when he talks to Humphries in the interrogation room. A sort of hmm – maybe this will see me out of my situation.

Humphries orders Balford to get Lou Scobie to help arrange the murder attempt. Balford repeats the name with a kind of horror (although the rather genial little man, when we finally meet him, doesn’t seem the frightening type). But Scobie is also Hutch’s snitch – does Humphries know this already, or is it a lucky coincidence? If he does know, how does he know?

Lou Scobie doesn’t like the terms Hutch is proposing. “No Starsky,” he says urgently. “I don’t trust him.” Now, obviously this is a plot to get Hutch into assassination range and he is simply repeating what he’s been told to say, but Hutch doesn’t seem to notice anything odd about this. Rather than “whatya mean you don’t trust him?” it’s sighing acquiescence, as if this happens all the time; his guard isn’t up. He makes the date with Scobie and that’s that. Are the guys used to their informants have irrational dislikes and preferences? Why do some like one, and not the other? Mickey seems to like Hutch well enough, although he’s Starsky’s boy (“Fix”). And do either Starsky or Hutch really care, one way or the other?

Does Scobie realize he’s sending Hutch to his grave? I think not. He seems to like Hutch to some degree, and does not appear to be the murdering type.

Slater’s strategy to run Hutch off the road is not only an iffy plan (too many things can go wrong, and they do), but it also seems haphazard and improvised. He doesn’t even know the type of car Hutch is driving. How can he be such a well-known and feared hit-man (Huggy knows him by reputation, so does Starsky) if he doesn’t do even this most remedial homework? And why not just shoot Hutch through the car window, or is it a sadism thing to run him off the road and let him suffer?

I love the unusual cello music throughout the scene where Hutch is lured to, and then driven off, the canyon road. It’s sophisticated and unusual, and not repeated in any other episode.

Michael Jackson, on the radio, is talking about the hurricane season in the south-east, the “massive migration” of people displaced and frightened. “There’s somebody out there wanting help, needing help,” he says. And why are they not getting it?  “Because I didn’t know, you didn’t know. We don’t know who you are, where you are, or what you want.” A great metaphor for this episode, but what is this radio show about, anyway? Jackson meanders. And yet Hutch seems riveted to it.

More notes on Soul’s direction. Note the numerous “delay” tactics during this episode: for instance, you don’t see Sonny (and hence his mental imbalance) in his entirety either in the first scene he’s in (you see only his legs) or during at the veteran’s hospital. Later, talking with Starsky, he’s reflected in the water. This implies Sonny is not “all there”. Also, a piano is being tuned before Starsky talks to Huggy. The fragmented portion of the song and the fact that the tuner bends the notes also shows Sonny’s fragmented, warped state of mind as well as delaying the scene between Starsky and Huggy so that the sense of urgency is magnified. This technique used repeatedly throughout this episode and not only does it show Soul’s patience with letting events unfold at their own pace, it also builds anticipation in the viewer.

Also, there is a thread of coincidence running through the show which is enhanced by the direction: Sonny sings “Glory Hymn of The Republic” while he tramps about in the canyon while the tuner at Huggy’s plays bits of it as he tunes the piano. Dobey is getting his shoes shined (by some white guy, Smitty, who seems to be a regular in the department, and, considering Dobey has to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention, conveniently deaf) just as Sonny very deliberately shines his boots with a handkerchief. It’s a subtle series of coincidences that reminds me of the dalmatian in “Snowstorm”. And what role does this play in the story? Is it reminding us there are subliminal clues, portents and hidden meanings, if only we had the sensitivity to notice them?

Filming notes: the crew had to push a backup car down cliffs three times before they got the right footage and positioning, then anchored it, a process that took most of a day. Soul then stayed in that realistic but unpleasant angle for the 1 1/2 days of shooting.

Hutch, trapped under his car, curses “All America on wheels, what a joke.” This is the Ford Motor Company that “put America on wheels,” and Henry Ford used this slogan. It’s interesting he blames an anonymous, amorphous societal and cultural change for his own particular situation. It’s a very telling moment, a tiny hidden resentment against cars which may explain his driving such wrecks in the first place, his nonstop criticism of Starsky’s beloved Torino, his rages against society in general, his living in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, his sentimental love of the wilderness and the sea, his general sense of being lost, bewildered, abandoned and angry. He doesn’t blame criminals, or his would-be assassin, or the crime rate, or his job, all things which more directly determined his current predicament. He blames cars.

Starsky tells Dobey Hutch is a “creature of habit”. He points out he would not make a date with a woman and then leave. This is a marvelous shortcut that nevertheless plays out the missing scene in detail: the woman arriving, the casserole either well-done or burnt, her moving to turn off the oven, call around the apartment, growing increasingly concerned, and calling Starsky.

Despite his resentment against cars Hutch doesn’t seem to have the same feelings about guns, although he should. Guns have done twice the damage cars have, although maybe if he’d been shot rather than driven off the road he may have railed against Winchester rather than Ford. However, Hutch has a great attachment to his gun and feels less in control, less able to help himself, without it. Although I wonder what he would do once he got the gun in his hands – shoot into the sky, protect himself against an unknown threat, or feel safer just having it?

Later, Sonny takes the gun. What happens to it?

Hutch seems to be using his mirror to signal for help as well as using it to drag his gun over. The mirror works better, it was the flash of that thing that attracted Lance and the other boy.

“Open!” Starsky calls out, then bellows “OPEN!” as loud as he can. I like how he doesn’t give a shit about the other people in the elevator, about procedure or confidentiality or even about his own future disciplinary hearing, he’s going to confront Balford and Humphries no matter what. The old lady in between them is knitting what looks like a yellow sweater. Wonderfully, she continues to knit it, watching as the scene unfolds like she might watch television.

When Humphries, who can’t keep his yap shut, makes the rude remark about congratulating anyone who put a hit on Hutch, Starsky throws a punch BAM so fast it’s like a bomb going off.

A piano at The Pits (there in the previous episode as well) shows Huggy has “upscale” in mind. Is he trying to improve his establishment? Is the neighborhood gentrifying? Will “The Pits” have to change its name to “The Tops”?

It’s interesting that Starsky never tells Huggy that Hutch is the target of the hit man’s intent to “blast a cop”. However, both men look sad and preoccupied, as if both know this information and yet are unable to share it.  If Starsky had told Huggy, wouldn’t Huggy have possibly found out more about Slater, and therefore might have helped more? It’s almost as if Starsky is in isolation, unable or unwilling to break out.

When Hutch encounters Sonny, he gives him his badge and tells him to go find David Starsky at the Metropolitan Division. Why he doesn’t just ask him to go to the nearest hospital, flag down a passing car, or give it to someone at the Veteran’s Administration? All of these things would be easier for Sonny to accomplish and would probably get help to Hutch faster. By doing what Hutch wants, Sonny has to a) come out of his dementia long enough to understand that going to the police is a good thing, b) get a map and find out where the Metropolitan Division is, c) get on a bus and go there, d) go to reception and get directions to the detectives department and e) bully his way through the bewildering maze of hallways and crowded spaces, fight his own inherent shyness and aggression, and raise his voice and ask for David Starsky.  Plus, he doesn’t actually take the shield Hutch offers, which means he has to rely on his memory. And it turns out badly, too: he’s shuffled around, ignored or called a drunk, and finally hustled back down to the street and away.

But Hutch has to get word to Starsky. Possibly, when fighting for his life, he’s convinced that only one option is available to him, that Starsky himself is the code to survival. It’s as if Hutch is convinced he’s been cast out of this world entirely, into a mysterious realm where only one person is able to find him. It’s moments like this that make us realize this series is never more honest and truthful as when it veers off the road of syllogism and takes a step into the dark entanglements of abstract; to me this series has only ever been superficially a crime drama. At its heart it’s a mythological journey toward completion, a series of euphoric and tragic events to be endured before the self can be said to be whole.

Starsky’s scene with Carla is incredibly affecting, one of my favorite scenes in the series and one I can watch over and over again. See how he uses his body to encompass rather than intimidate, placing his legs around hers and leaning in close, using her chair to brace himself. Even though this may seem controlling or even threatening, he does it in a way that makes sure Carla doesn’t feel re-victimized or afraid. Rather, she seems mesmerized by him, lulled by the combination of gentleness and resolution (Starsky has a way of demanding without sounding imperious, asking a question that precludes the possibility of “no”, the way he asked Terry to marry him in “Starsky’s Lady”) and ends up providing the information she probably swore to herself she’d never give. This is one of Starsky’s gifts: he’s able to channel his physical power in any direction he wants without it ever lessening. Rupturing Humphries’ kidney in the elevator one second, gently coercing information the next.

As the exact moment Starsky is leaving Carla, who used to work at the Mandalay Heights Amusement Park before she became a prostitute, Hutch, working with the wreck of his radio, hears a call out to “Ocean Eleven” regarding a disturbance at the same Mandalay Heights Amusement Park, another one of the coincidences that are so marked this script. These are wonderful little details simply because they have no real meaning: they don’t advance the story in an unrealistic or convenient way and so are like hidden gems, available to be found if anyone cares enough to poke around and find them.

In the great scene with Bobby with his CB radio, you can see the boy assiduously writing down the directions in the canyon where Hutch lies. But when Starsky eventually reaches him, Bobby doesn’t show his valuable notes, merely repeating the odd phrase “Sonny thinks he’s a colonel”. Useful, yes, and it also solves the dilemma, but one wonders if Bobby’s notes would have expedited things for Starsky, if he’d had them.

Hotel Garvey, the place Carla tells Starsky Slater’s in, has external apartment doors on the roof. Unusual.

As Starsky’s preparing to take down Slater, you can hear police sirens. Obviously someone has heard gunshots and phoned the police. Why does Starsky push on and attempt to arrest someone he knows is armed, desperate, and possibly a cop-killer and not wait for backup? It would only be a matter of a minute or so, and may have made the difference between a live witness and a dead one.

The two amoral kids rip off Hutch and go to the pawn dealer. Was it usual at the time for a basically middle-class person like Hutch to have that many credit cards? The boys seem wowed by it. I would like to think, too, that Humphries gave up the name of that dealer and allowed Hutch to get his badge back.

There’s a mirror in Humphrey’s desk drawer as he goes for the gun – for what? Lines of cocaine? Or is it some sneaky way to watch behind him while he’s ostensibly rooting around for something?

“They think he might be very important,” Starsky says, altering his body language for the Colonel, hands behind the back, at attention. A pause, then he says, “They want him. They think he might be very important … they think he might be the key to the war.” By saying this, is Starsky inadvertently, and unconsciously, defining their relationship?

“We made it, partner,” Starsky says, upon reaching Hutch and holding his head in his hands. The blurring of boundaries, the us and them, the you and me.

The tag: it’s back to all jokes and sarcasm after the harrowing incident. Starsky is the huckster, the carnival caller, pointing out the attributes of the junker he’s obviously gone to a huge effort to secure for Hutch in the few days he’s spent in hospital. I’m sure he’s responsible for the “condemned in 1847” finger-painting in the dirt of the back window, or maybe it’s some smart-aleck kid in the used car lot. He acts crestfallen when Hutch expresses joy about the car but he must be secretly thrilled that he hit the mark, and I’m sure Hutch have assumed before now that no one will ever “get” him, not even Starsky. But here it is, the perfect gift.

Starsky rarely overtly pleases Hutch, yet has an unusual endurance for his partner’s manic teasing and torturing. He is also far more likely to be happy about something Hutch has done or said. In fact, at times, there’s a paternal quality to his little compliments and encouragements, his refusal to engage, as if Hutch is fragile and in need of protection. Notice too the casual use of loaded language, when Hutch says, “you know I love you, but you and I, we have very different attitudes to wheels,” to which Starsky replies, “I know, I’m better”, unfazed by the you know I love you. It manages to slip by without a ripple on the surface, a truth that can only be said in terms of a joke, a putdown, or an aside. Until Starsky claims he loves Kira late in Season Four, this is the only time the l-word is ever used.

Clothing notes: Starsky wears his great brown leather jacket, a dark blue cable-knit sweater, superlights of legend, and his usual “crummy” jeans. The red sweater Starsky wears in the tag is the same one Hutch wore in the tag to “A Coffin for Starsky”, now apparently Starsky’s property, as he also wears it in the next episode. Hutch looks flash in his Scanlon look – is this the silver jacket he eventually wears in “Blindfold”? At the accident scene he wears his treasured blue plaid coat.


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20 Responses to “Episode 39: Survival”

  1. Lynn Says:

    great analysis of one of my top five episodes. Not only does it showcase the almost psyhic bond between the two, but the “real time” element heightens the urgency and angst that Starsky suffers while looking for his partner. There is so much happening here, the theme of missed communication, urgency, and the heroism in just hanging on a bit longer. Soul’s directorial skills in this one were stellar. Every time I watch this one I see a few more points of interest that I had missed. I have to say that Starsky’s punch to Humphries in the elevator is so fast that I had to review it again. Glaser certainly had the gift of athleticism. His coordination and grace are always visible in the series. His dancing isn’t too shabby either, LOL.
    Thanks again Merle,

  2. King David Says:

    I, being totally superficial, merely took Starsky’s military stance with the Colonel as Starsky recognising the best way to get the responses needed, and falling back on his own Army background to know the drill. Hutch being “the key to the war” was the only button to press which would get the result, but I really like the idea that Hutch is the key to Starsky, or is key to him, at any rate. I must go back and watch for the punch in the lift. Thank God for slow-mo dvd players.

    • King David Says:

      Had another look at this episode, and have garnered a gem of a scene that will stay with me for a long while.
      Merl, you are spot-on with the scene of Starsky and Carla; I watched (intently) as he sat right in front of her, and as he inched himself up close…it is so sinuous the way he moves in on her. And here he says that there is “someone very, very, very close to me..” and the way he says it is enough to give you goosebumps.
      At the Colonel’s residential facility, Starsky is addressed by the attendant as Sgt; usually it’s Detective. This is a lead-up to Starsky introducing himself to the Colonel as Sgt Starsky. Nice touch.
      That is a fast BAM! in the lift; you just know that he should be in line for a major dressing-down and disciplinary hearing…we don’t hear of one, however.
      I love how Starsky cradles Hutch’s head in his hands at the end. But honestly – he shouldn’t be leaning on Hutch’s chest – he might be adding to the distress!

  3. Dianna Says:

    Wow. The first time I watched this, my suspension of disbelief was quite complete, because I was really terrified when Hutch’s car went into the ravine. On repeat viewings, I’ve felt overwhelmed with emotion and had to stop playback at other points — when Hutch’s voice trembles as he begs Sonny for help; Bobby’s brief smile when Starsky acknowledges his help; and Starsky gulping down his sob of relief when he finally finds Hutch.

    This is an artfully constructed story with lots of depth and layers, and well-executed themes and resonances that rely on and reinforce each other. (Enough to keep me over-analyzing indefinitely!) I can’t believe how much I saw once I discerned three themes: Communication, Time, and Reflection.

    But first I have a question for Merl: What do you mean by “real time”? This episode shows two nights passing while Hutch is trapped, and the other episodes you cite (except The Shootout) are way more than 50 minutes of elapsed time too, even if you exclude the tags.


    I want to slightly expand Merl’s theme of “not listening”, and call the theme “communication.” The central dilemma, of course, is that Hutch doesn’t tell Starsky where he’s going, so that his inability to communicate from the canyon nearly costs him his life. This resonates into every aspect of the story, with almost every scene and every character preoccupied with communication in some form.

    In addition to the examples Merl listed:
    • The “suffering succotash” conversation is because Starsky is worried about Hutch’s ability to communicate during the sting.
    • Their visit to the stockroom is to get a communication device.
    • Bigelow wants all communication to be numerical and proper, or he will refuse to even try to understand it.
    • Michael Jackson the DJ, is of course all about communication, in both his job and his topics.
    • Hutch could attract attention with his gun… if only he could reach it.
    • The shoe-shine guy is deaf, so it is hard to communicate with him.
    • The phone Lou Scobie calls from is mounted strangely high on the wall, and Lou is unusually short, making it impossible for him to dial without standing on a chair.
    • No one wants to answer the phone in the squad room.
    • The VA orderly finds it important to communicate that Sonny is a nice guy.
    • Starsky has to figure out how to get a several people to communicate with him; he pushes away Sonny’s initial communication, and then has to track him down.


    The thread of coincidence is not just a set of random hidden gems. Instead, it is a brilliant subliminal device for magnifying and intensifying our awareness of time.

    We know that time is running out for Hutch. He is bleeding and in pain, probably in shock, is getting increasingly dehydrated, and is an easy target for both human and animal predators, and he can’t even reach his gun to fend them off. Starsky knows intuitively that he is racing against time, and runs instead of walking, whenever possible.

    All the synchronous events compress and collapse time. In addition to the ones Merl mentions, the radio says, “This is KBEX on the line with Michael Jackson. Hello,” just as Hutch shuts if off and answers the phone, skipping the word “hello,” because the radio said it for him; Bobby picks up the radio signal immediately after Hutch addresses “radio freaks” but loses it right before Starsky arrives; Sonny enters the squad room at the same time as the phone call from Bobby; Starsky reaches the crash site seconds after Humphries.

    But there are also some odd historical references that unmoor the story in time, and set us adrift: Sonny’s song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” is from the Civil War; his comments about Occupied France indicate he fought in World War II; the Bonus Army was made up of World War I veterans; and the year Hutch’s new car was supposedly condemned, 1847, is smack in the middle of the Mexican-American war.

    We are stretched and squished, rushed and disoriented. The synchronicity traps us with Hutch, pinned under the car and surviving minute-to-minute; the confused historical context glues us to Starsky, frantically searching, with no concept of how or where or when. All events become one event; all wars become one war.

    Clocks in the backgrounds of various scenes are obscured. We can only guage the passage of time by whether Hutch is in darkness or light. Hutch sets a timer in his kitchen, but the only times we know for sure are that it takes 20 minutes to get to Lou Scobie’s rendezvous point, and that Smitty will be back next week.

    The single clock we see clearly is the confusing 24-hour clock on Bobby’s wall. Bobby has a different conception of time than anyone else, because he listens to broadcasts from timezones all over the world. This makes him the only person capable of bringing together the pressed-for-time Starsky and the wandering-in-time Sonny.

    Even then, Starsky is only able to connect with Sonny when he crosses a bridge to Sonny’s strange timeline.

    (A final synchronous gracenote is something that Soul and his crew could not have known: Bobby was pirating his phone line the same year that Jobs and Wozniak were phone phreaking a few hundred miles to the north.)


    Merl asked why Humphries had a mirror in his desk drawer. On one level, he may use it to check his toupee, and it makes an interesting camera shot. But the question brought me up short, and I suddenly realized that there are physical and metaphorical mirrors and reflections everywhere!

    Actual reflections:
    • Hutch checks for Starsky in his mirror before going through the security gate.
    • When Hutch is on the phone with Lou, we only see him in the bathroom mirror.
    • Hutch uses the car mirror as signal and a tool.
    • Bobby’s mother checks herself in a mirror.
    • Starsky and Sonny are reflected in the pond
    • Other unusually shiny items: The desk lamp; Hutch’s mirror sunglasses and silver jacket; all the cars at Humphries’ place; Dobey’s and Sonny’s shoes; Sonny’s cooking pots (The film crew must have polished them after each take, unless that’s a gas flame or the first take); Hutch’s ID; the things prominently displayed in the pawn shop.

    Inversions & Opposites:
    • Item numbers and descriptions are supposed to reflect one another, but don’t.
    • “I’m going undercover, not decorating my office,” vs. “I’m decorating my office, not going undercover.”
    • Humphries’ concern for his name vs. Bigelow’s concern for his numbers.
    • “America on wheels” vs.”Car on Hutch.”
    • Hutch’s alternating hope and despair.
    • Bobby, who is the complete opposite of Lance; Bobby’s mother who doesn’t care much vs. Lance’s friend who cares a little.
    • The look in Starsky’s eyes as he races up the mountain vs. Hutch’s glazed stare.
    • Hutch’s car at the end of Bloodbath (when Hutch had rescued Starsky) vs. Hutch’s car at the end of this episode, when Starsky rescues Hutch. Hutch is understandably nervous about what the replacement car will be, and emotions including revulsion and anger flicker past on his face in rapid succession before he realizes, to his astonishment, that he is actually delighted.

    Repeated images:
    • Hutch’s undercover accent mimics Starsky’s Brooklyn background (except it’s a much stronger, harsher accent than Starsky’s.)
    • Starsky is upside down when he first arrests Humphries; Hutch is upside down for most of the episode.
    • The cut on Hutch’s finger from cooking; the unidentified injury on Carla’s hand; the bandage we glimpse on Slater’s finger just before he goes out the window.
    • Hutch’s new car is an image of the old.

    Knocks on the head that involve both inversions and repeats:
    • Hutch clearly gets a concussion during the sting, temporarily losing his wits, but he soon regroups.
    • Sonny was “OK till a couple of shells hit too close” during the war, and it made him lose his wits permanently.
    • Humphries keeps his wits about him (such as they are), but loses his toupee.
    • Slater clutches his head as if in pain, and then totally panics and loses his life.

    Metaphorical mirrors:
    • Introspective Hutch has lots of time to “reflect” while he’s pinned under his car.
    • Starsky enters Sonny’s looking-glass world and mirrors Sonny’s military bearing and vocabulary.

    Torino red reflecting Starsky’s concern:
    • The upholstery of Hutch’s Mercedes, in which he knows he is protected by Starsky’s watchful eye, is red. It reflects in the windshield and colors everything he sees.
    • The camera lingers on the red-and-white of Starsky’s car.
    • When Hutch drives through the gate, he pauses and watches a red car being loaded onto the trailer; when he “checks the merchandise” he passes a red-painted wheel and stands directly in front of a different red car.
    • The guy in red coveralls appears out of nowhere; Starsky slams him onto the hood of a car, while Hutch’s red upholstery dominates the foreground.
    • The light flashing outside Carla’s window is red.
    • There are little red highlights all over Bobby’s room. When Starsky gets there, he hears Communist (Red) propaganda on the radio.
    • When Starsky wheels Hutch out from the hospital, they pass the Torino and two more red cars, then a white ambulance with a red stripe (the one that that carried Hutch to the hospital?)

    Once Starsky has lost Hutch, everything in Hutch’s world becomes dominated by dusty brown. The only bits of red we glimpse near lost Hutch are Sonny’s bicycle and the red light of the radio (both of which show Hutch’s flickering hope of rescue), and Hutch’s own blood, which gradually turns brown and merges with the dust.

    The only place I see significant red that is not clearly a sign of Starsky is the garish front of the pawn shop. Maybe it is red because it draws Humphries — a malevolent false Starsky — to Hutch. When we see the front of the pawn shop, the music suddenly has repeated dissonances.


    There’s is a fascination with cars — stolen cars, shiny cars, a closeup of Starky’s car, the crashed car, the parked cars, the replacement car. I notice that a long lens was used to flatten perspective in the hospital parking lot so the cars would appear so densely packed around Starsky and Hutch. This suggests that there is something thematic going on, but I can’t figure out what.

    In past episodes, Hutch’s car had a mismatched fender, but when he drives on the canyon road, the fenders match the rest of the car. The replacement car has the familiar mismatched fender (not to mention the return of the door-horn)!

    Slater is only told that Hutch’s nondescript car is brown and is a ’72 or ’73 Ford; but he doesn’t even ask for a license plate number. Does he already know what Hutch looks like? How did Humphries not know Hutch when all the people he associates with know him? Slater’s reputation is not that he is particularly efficient, but that he is unusually nasty, which advances Merl’s thesis that his plan includes sadism. However, the lawyer approves of running Hutch off the road, so I think it is an attempt to make it look like an accident rather than a murder.

    Huggy’s new restaurant is named The Pitts because it is in a cellar.

    Mildred the Dispatcher must work approximately 24 hours a day. Is there a significance to the fact that the “Zebra” cars she addresses are 6, 9, and 12, all multiples of Zebra Three?

    I don’t understand why Bobby takes such careful notes but is so vague when Starsky questions him. Does his mother know he’s called the police, or is she still out when Starsky comes?

    Hutch asks Sonny to go to “Sgt. Starsky” because it gave Sonny a military-sounding reference that evidently resonated with him more effectively than asking for an ambulance. Sonny doesn’t need to acquire a map to find Starsky. He’s been “doing reconnaissance” for 30 years, so he has collected and studied maps of the area carefully. He doesn’t need a bus to police headquarters because he bikes long distances in the hills.

    King David points out that Starsky shouldn’t lean on Hutch’s chest. He also shouldn’t lift Hutch’s head and move it around because, having just arrived at the scene, he does not know whether there is a spinal cord injury.

    Starsky gives the right reward to each person who helps him: Carla won’t have to see Slater again; Bobby gets a tour of the communication system; Sonny feels respected and important.

    Re-used props, sets & tropes: The VW bus that Lance drives is parked at Reliable Transport. The outside of Carla’s hotel is the one where Alex Drew stays in The Specialist and Artie lives in Vendetta; Humphries’ office seems to be the the one used by Huggy and the Turkey. Also, this is the third episode in which Starsky has caused the death of “the only one that knows.” (c.f. Coffin; The Psychic) Humphries isn’t the first bad guy named “Victor.” (cf. Coffin)

    Nice details that don’t fit into the major themes: The normally graceful Starsky is so intent on searching for Sonny at the VA that he stumbles off the path. The cut on Hutch’s head is still apparent when he is discharged from the hospital. And three awesome flying leaps!

    Speculation #1: Bigelow would prefer if all officers gave their badge numbers, rather than their names. The secret humor of “What did you expect, a wastebasket?” might be because of a numerical relationship between the two items’ stock numbers.

    Speculation #2: When Hutch gets home and has to get up the stairs, he is going to wish he hadn’t moved out of the house by the canal. Will Starsky sleep at Hutch’s place for the next few weeks to help out, or will he merely check in on him multiple times each day till Hutch yells at him for fussing so much?

    This episode is “Beautiful. It’s just … beautiful.”

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you for this detailed reading!

    • King David Says:

      This has been the best antidote to a wet day in winter that I could hope for. How you manage to see all that defeats me (my analytical skills are so superficial!) but when it’s all laid out as you have, it all makes sense.
      I like the idea of whenever we see red we are being reminded of Starsky; and how often do we have dusty brown reminders for Hutch across the series?
      So much is crammed into each episode; I just love that we can get so much more from each one than merely watching the surface story. From the pilot onwards, once you know how things are, you can, if you care to, see the deeper story going on.

      *Audrey: thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. I enjoyed that. Imagine the IA drama if that were today.

      • Dianna Says:

        King David, your mention of winter had me a little bewildered till I remembered you’re in Australia — which complements the temporal disorientation created by this episode!

        I can see these things because of obsessively watching and re-watching, with Merl’s questions in mind.

        The best stories in any medium have multiple thematic threads, so when I re-watch or re-read, I try to pick them out to see how they make the story work. Once I see 2 of something odd I want to know *why*, so I look for more and try to tie them together. (However, there are two bad guys with cleft chins in this episode, but I don’t think it means anything.)

        This habit greatly enhances my enjoyment. For instance, Starsky’s scene with Sonny didn’t make me teary the first time I watched it, but it does now that I understand the thematic elements.

        When I was a teen and watched the series with my sister, we knew we loved it, but only understood part of why it was so good. My mother thought we just liked the Glaser and Soul eye candy, and bought us little Starsky and Hutch dolls for Christmas! Hmm.

        I am really glad I can now watch episodes on demand so I can catch all the details, and that I’ve got this forum that encourages me to look for the deeper understanding.

        BTW, after I wrote the long essay, I noticed 2 continuity glitches. Sonny’s rank insignia indicate that he is a corporal, not a colonel. (Or maybe this isn’t a continuity glitch: perhaps he gave himself a whole bunch of promotions since the real war ended, because what he really wants is respect. Boy does Tom Clancy do a beautiful job portraying him.)

        Also, the yellow trailer Hutch observes being loaded is the same one that Humphries tries to escape in, but the red car being loaded when Hutch watches is not the red car he stands in front of when inspecting the merchandise.

        And here’s another spot of red: The trailer with the covered cars, the one Hutch stands next to when inspecting the merchandise, and under which Starsky swings to trip the red coveralls guy, and off of which Starsky makes his flying leap, has red-painted hubs on its rear wheels.

      • King David Says:

        Guess what I’ll be watching on the weekend!

        It really is fabulous to be able to analyse shows in this way, because it helps analyse other aspects of life too. I doubt that there’s anything on television today which could grip me as this did then and now. How much of what we’ve discussed, do you think, was premeditated by the writers and production crew, and how much was input by the two leads PMG & DS? And how much is our modern sophistication at work?
        Every episode I saw in the seventies was in B&W, so even if I’d had the smarts to see deeper into the series, I’d’ve missed all the colour connections. We knew the Torino was red and white (from pictures in the magazines) but everything else was guesswork, and colour was fairly new to audiences then, certainly in Australia, but maybe not quite so new in the US and Europe. I suspect that the strong bold colours such as red, blue and yellow, with a lot of white or light, was utilised as there were still a fair amount of B&W television sets around. Once you know what each looked like in B&W, you could ‘see’ it. Perhaps too this is why so many things were re-used, and carried over – we got to associate things with people.
        I never got a doll of S&H (wow! Would’ve loved one in 1976!!) but have the little matchbox car.

        Audrey: you are a gem! I have saved the link to watch them all when it’s quiet here at work. Merci beaucoup!

      • Dianna Says:

        We started watching in black and white, for at least the first part of the first season, too, because I remember family discussions about what color the Torino was. (We must have missed the mentions of the striped tomato!) When we got back to having a color TV, my mother felt very clever for being correct about the color!

        I wish I knew what happened to those silly Starsky and Hutch dolls! At the time, we were horrified. Too bad we didn’t know to send them to you!!

    • Legless Owl Says:

      Wow! That’s impressive!

      I’m currently rediscovering the show after about 25 odd years. I used to watch this when i was a kid back in the late 80s/early 90s. I hardly missed an episode at that time. Two months ago, for a reason I can’t even recall, I tried to remember some épisodes and realised I would love to watch them again, with adult eyes. So I bought the dvds and here I am, nearly done with season 2.

      And it’s so nice being able to watch it in English! It’s so much better than the French version! Still, I’ve watched a couple of scenes in both languages just out of curiosity (to see how some dialogues had been translated into French, as I couldn’t remember them of course) and it is amazing how each time one of the characters says something which implies that there may be something more than friendship between our guys, the French version has them say something entirely different (ie when Gillian says it would be nice to be Hutch, having two people loving you so much, in French, she just says Hutch is lucky to have Starsky as a friend! I understand you have to consider lip synch and all but this happens in so many scenes that it is too obvious!). Oh well…

      Anyway, I’ve been reading every single review by Merl so far and always find them a very interesting read. Thank you Merl for all your analyzes. Love em!

      And thanks Dianna for that long analyzis too. I just re-watched The Survival (which happens to be one of the épisodes I remembered) and I had noticed that thing about mirrors without really knowing how to interpret it. Now it really makes sense, thanks!

      I had also noticed the communication and time themes, but missed on the “red” one. That’s really interesting and now I appreciate even more that Starsky is wearing a red sweater in the tag! Not to mention, as Merl pointed out, that it is the same sweater Hutch wore in the tag for Coffin. Considering the two épisodes Mirror each other (Coffin: Starsk is fighting for life and there is the same urgency, every minute counts and the one witness who could lead to important clues is killed. Rings a bell?), I can hardly see that choice of sweater as a coincidence…

      That’s really nice to find a place to talk about a show that was broadcasted 40 years ago!

      Oh, and I do have the S&H dolls. Though I got them from EBay as I wasn’t even around in the 70s haha (born in 83)

  4. Audrey Says:

    King David, : ) go back and watch for the missing scene in the lift,that is here:http://starskyhutch.kassidyrae.com/SurvivalMS.wmv

  5. Audrey Says:

    King David,here more missing scenes for you:http://starskyhutch.kassidyrae.com/missingscenes.html i am always enjoy the details what you and Merl providing :)Actually the french translation so bad,many times i got lost,if you and Merl not explain certain stuff,i’d understand what happened and why.So thanks for your work people.

  6. Wallis Says:

    This is one of those episodes where the roles are beautifully fitted to the character. Being immobilized under a car is such a very Hutch type of harm — you can just imagine him being trapped in his own mind, unable to stop thinking of all the horrible lurid possibilities and doubts and fears. His loneliness and despair is so well done. It’s very…*raw* I think is the right word. His sense of helplessness and frustration at said helplessness and growing exhaustion as he grows less and less capable of caring about what happens to him after enduring the endless, tedious misery.

    Starsky meanwhile, is never short of electrifying in any situation where Hutch is forcibly taken from him, and it’s beautifully done in this episode. The way he can switch from light-hearted and jokey to deadly serious and on the warpath is one of the most impressive aspects of his character. Whenever one partner is hurt or missing or endangered, the other one always seems to absorb the compromised partner’s strength – since they are a unified whole, it’s like the strength that drains out of one flows into the other automatically. His intensity and determination and firmly-controlled panic that rises and rises in ferocity throughout the episode (as, far away in the ravine, Hutch grows weaker and weaker) is just brilliant.

    “We made it, partner” is literally correct. If Hutch died, he’d take some undefined part of Starsky with him, never to be recovered again (and vice versa, of course). It’s echoed again and again in the show. The death of one will spell the end of the other’s life as he knows it, and the endangerment of one always brings the other’s life to a screeching halt for the duration of the crisis.

    Of course, it couldn’t bring the other’s life to a halt for the duration of the entire recuperation — if that were so, they’d both be out of a job, given how many injuries they’ve gotten which probably required a number of temporary partnerships with reassigned replacements (and unless they were all as badass as Joan Meredith, woe betide the poor suckers picked to be Starsky or Hutch’s temporary partner during the real partner’s recovery). This injury — a broken leg, probably broken in more than one place, most likely accompanied by other complications from the extended pressure of the car and Hutch’s struggles to free himself, left untreated for two days, on top of exposure and dehydration, probably spelled a pretty long recovery period, (hey, a just-for-fun idea — perhaps Starsky fell in love with Terry during Hutch’s recuperation? You just know that she wouldn’t be annoyed or jealous at Starsky spending all his time fussing over Hutch, but would be the type to jump in alongside him to lend a hand).

    • Dianna Says:

      Wallis, that is so beautifully written and insightful. I love the image of the flow of strength. And I heartily endorse the idea that Starsky fell in love with Terry while Hutch was recuperating. His nurturing of Hutch would have been one of the wonderful reasons Terry fell in love with him, and your idea would explain why Hutch also felt so close to her.

    • DRB Says:

      After reading comments, I watched the episode again and noticed this time around how far into the episode we get before we see the credit “Directed by David Soul.” He chose to place it on the scene where Hutch is shown driving to the sting. Hutch looks like a million dollars and is calm, confident, and in control. I thought how ironic it is that now that David is in control, Hutch is going to lose control throughout the event.
      He loses control
      * of the sting
      * of his senses (obviously concussed when Starsky asks, “How many fingers am I holding up?” Hutch: “Where?”)
      * of his knife (Is the cut finger to offer a little stage business? Hutch is bothered by it while driving up the mountain. Or is it just contrast to the major injury later?)
      * of his snitch
      * of his car
      * of his mobility
      * of his voice (by the time Starsky finds him)
      The one thing he has control over is his choice: whether to give up and die, or to hang on and suffer.

      The insights about the other themes, communication, etc. are thought-provoking, too. I really appreciated the thought about Starsky’s line when he finds Hutch. In similar situations in many films, tv shows, books, and so on, the relieved character would cry, “Thank God, I found you.” Or perhaps, “Everything’s going to be okay, now.” or variations of the 2 thoughts. This final line shows that when the writers got it right in this series, it is ultimately satisfying. The theme of the entire series is voiced: “We made it, partner.”

  7. stybz Says:

    This was one of my all-time favorite episodes as a kid. I was a huge Hutch fan at the time (still am to some degree, but I migrated to Starsky when I saw Paul in Fiddler on the Roof).

    I watched it again for the first time in a long time last night, and for some reason it felt so much shorter than I remembered. LOL! I thought there were more scenes with Bobby hearing Hutch on the radio. It must have been the fanfic in my head at the time, filling in “missing scenes”.

    I also thought there was a scene where Hutch is shown using the mirror to reflect the sun and send for help. Granted, hearing the young thieves say they saw a flash and seeing Hutch holding the mirror helped. Again, I probably concocted it in my imagination.

    I thought it was interesting that Humphries went after Hutch himself in the end, rather than sending another lackey to finish him off. Maybe the other guys were in prison.

    I think Humphries’ lawyer was scared of him. Knowing that Hutch was an intended target put Balford on the spot. If he didn’t agree to help do the task, Humphries would have had him killed. He had no choice but to be an accomplice.

    Did anyone notice the little trick David Soul played to “cheat” the scene where he’s cutting the vegetables for dinner? He used the knife in his *left* hand. This is an actor’s trick. The easiest way to fumble something is to use your less dominant hand to hold/use it. First, we can’t see him actually cut his finger, as his fingers are mainly away from the camera. Since they had shown little or no real blood gushing on this series, this afforded David a way to conceal the actual act of cutting his hand. It also made faking the cut easier, because he’s not left handed. So fumbling with the knife works out better because he was using his less-dominant hand to hold it. 🙂

    I love the scene in The Pits as Starsky was lost in thought worrying that Hutch was dead. He knew in his gut that something terrible has happened to Hutch, and this news floors him.

    I do think Carla was intimidated by Starsky at first until he connected with her by telling her about “someone close” to him and how he will make sure Slater stays away from her.

    Diana, I love your analysis of the colors and reflections in this episode. 🙂

  8. Ruth Says:

    “Starsky rarely overtly pleases Hutch, yet has an unusual endurance for his partner’s manic teasing and torturing. He is also far more likely to be happy about something Hutch has done or said. In fact, at times, there’s a paternal quality to his little compliments and encouragements, his refusal to engage, as if Hutch is fragile and in need of protection.”

    I have noticed this pattern too. And this is just playing around with the idea at this point, but I have also noticed (with the help of the other more sharp-eyed commenters here), that Starsky, on many occasions, is overprotective of Hutch: he goes behind Hutch’s back or lies to him to keep him from emotional pain (Gillian, Terror on the Docks, Plague), sometimes acts as if he needs to “handle” Hutch for his own good (Vendetta, Ballad, Black and Blue, Game, the interrogation part of the Fix) makes hard decisions (Targets part I, Murder One, Deckwatch, Coffin, Fix) and declarations (the Pilot, Snowstorm, Specialist) on Hutch’s behalf, and attacks people for insulting or dismissing Hutch (this ep, Murder One, Black and Blue). I think it was Louie in the Plague review, who pointed out that (coincidental?) appropriate placement of the “GUARD DOG ON DUTY” sign over Starsky’s shoulder when he’s outside Roeper’s house.

    Hutch’s protectiveness of Starsky is just as intense and highly attuned, and his desperation and power and focus in pursuit of making a rescue when Starsky is hurt or missing is very obvious, but in those cases his actions are still an appropriate level of protectiveness, not excessively protective the way Starsky is. (Though, excessively *vengeful* may be another story…) In fact, in episodes like Shootout, Coffin, or the Trap, where he would be justified in completely going over Starsky’s head, he goes out of his way to confer and collaborate with Starsky rather than take over. (Of course, Starsky has never been as helpless and mentally deconstructed in Hutch’s presence as Hutch was in The Fix, but still…) He usually doesn’t fight Starsky when Starsky does the things in the previous paragraph. In Murder Ward, he completely defers to Starsky’s insistence on keeping up the operation, even though he’s the only one who has mobility and agency at that point in the episode.

    This is pretty different from how they act in “normal” situations, where Hutch is bossy and overbearing and Starsky is indulgently deferential and encourages Hutch’s collaboration and input. But I think the great bit of merl’s review that I quoted creates continuity between Starsky’s different ways of behaving towards Hutch – both behaviors are somewhat “paternal” as you call it. A strange trait of this show is that so many surface impressions about the partners and their relationship are very different deeper down or in more vulnerable circumstances.

    Is Starsky’s overprotective streak warranted or not, though? He judges Hutch’s needs and predicts Hutch’s emotional reactions dead-on most of the time. In one instance where he isn’t as protective as he usually is (Fatal Charm) it almost ends in tragedy. Perhaps Hutch has some tendency to self-neglect. But Starsky screws this up a couple times too. In Black and Blue, his insistence that Hutch should rest and not concern himself about the case backfires. And in The Plague, Hutch kicks him out of his hospital room to keep looking for the cure, when Starsky can’t bear to see Hutch suffer without comfort, reminding Starsky that he can handle his own suffering and that Starsky doesn’t need to coddle him with comforting lies, which suggests Starsky goes at least a little overboard.

  9. Mike Says:

    Very well written, great insight! I clearly remember watching this episode when I was 11…

  10. DRB Says:

    Very small point, or not? In “The Game” Hutch’s note to Starsky is signed with the L-word. Another throw-way of loaded language?

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