Episode 50: Death in a Different Place

Starsky and Hutch investigate why their old friend and colleague John Blaine was found dead in a hotel in a destitute part of the city, and uncover a plot that involves another cop.

Alec Corday: Don Gordon, Nick Hunter: Gregory Rozakis, Orrin Lawford: Dick Davalos, “Sugar”: Charles Pierce, John Blaine: Art Fleming, Margaret Blaine: Virginia Leith, Peter Whitelaw: Colby Chester, Murph: Allen Joseph, Maxine: JoElla Deffenbaugh, LaVerne: Shelley St. Clair, ME Ginny Simpson: Adrien Royce. Written By: Tom Bagen, Directed By: Sutton Roley.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This episode is groundbreaking for its compassionate and sensible look at what was then considered the most provocative immorality in contemporary society. It’s almost inconceivable now to imagine how acceptable, even mainstream, was homophobia in the late 1970s. It was hatred of the murderous, “they all deserve to burn in everlasting hell” sort, even in the liberal entertainment la-la land of Los Angeles. Hatred against the LGBT community was so pervasive, so sickening, and so much a part of the norm that violence against these people didn’t even register as a hate crime. Assaults against gays were under-reported and under-investigated, and I point here to the notorious Upstairs Lounge arson in New Orleans which brutally killed thirty-two people a scant four years before this episode was filmed. Speaking later of the charred remains of the victims, some still clinging to one another, the chief of police joked that the ashes would have to be swept into “fruit jars”. Similar jokes were said and repeated by journalists and witnesses to try and minimize or dismiss the tragic event. Which makes this episode even more special and endearing: writer Tom Bagen has written a complex, nicely-realized, unsugar-coated story which also happens to include a slice of contemporary gay life in middle-class America. He doesn’t turn “gay lifestyle” into some vanilla concoction, he includes a relatable “everyman” hero who just so happens to be gay, and doesn’t overdo the exoticism either but instead reveals the seamier (and glitzier) underside of the culture with refreshing candor that would have been brand new for about 99% of the viewing audience at the time.

I’ve thought a lot about Starsky’s “negative” reaction to hearing John Blaine’s secret. Having him share Hutch’s sensitivity might score political points, but it would make the episode more bland, and unrealistic, than it should be. We wouldn’t get to enjoy his eventual enlightenment, and see that people’s attitudes can change from ignorance to acceptance to something even better when it comes to gay rights or anybody’s rights for that matter: the acknowledgement of commonality, that everyone is part of the same spectrum of humanity. The joke at the end implies both Starsky and Hutch, rather than “tolerating” homosexuality – a patronizing term that always gets my back up – are in fact empathetic and inclusive in a way that is far more understanding. But Starsky’s initial response is more complicated than a reflexive yuck. All signs point to his having a typical, even traditional upbringing, and with that comes traditional assumptions and values, so yeah, a knee-jerk distaste might factor into his reaction. But my guess is this isn’t just about being disturbed by his mentor’s hidden life, it’s also about his own ignorance of it, that someone close to him was able to lie so successfully to loved ones. I see his disappointment as much professional as personal, Starsky thinking I’m a detective, and I didn’t see that?

Opening scene: okay, we know it’s a heat wave, and it looks miserable, but should Hutch really threaten Starsky with the dissolution of their partnership when the Torino overheats on those asphalt-melting highways? The first spoken lines in most episodes are wonderful in that they encapsulate the guys’ personalities so well, and in this episode there is no exception: Starsky gets out of the car with a conciliatory “Yeah, wait a second,” and Hutch with a furious, “YEAH ALL RIGHT!!” Hutch then says it’s time to choose between the car and him. Hutch seems to conveniently forget his own car would be even worse in these conditions, a fact that Starsky, martyr-like, does not mention.

I wonder what John Blaine thinks of the old-married-couple repartee Hutch and Starsky indulge in at his door. How Hutch is perennially frustrated by the car, how amazed he is that Starsky offers to pay for drinks, etc. Does he think to himself, jeez, these guys are gayer than I am?

There’s a lot of addiction references in this episode and an honest reflection of what was and is going on in the gay community. For instance, Sugar Plum is on stage, nattering away. Just as Sugar says she has no drinking problem at all because she has “no problem drinking at all,” John spills his drink. Jack Ives displays his “drinking problem” spilling champagne on himself out of glasses and spilling wine on himself while drinking straight out of the bottle. It’s a good, economical encapsulation of the issue.

Just how many drinks did Blaine have? He is drinking a martini when Hunter propositions him. Hunter buys him another drink when he spills his scotch and water on Blaine. Blaine refers to “all those drinks” having “really hit me tonight.” It may be that he drank more than usual that night. But more likely it was Hunter dropping something in his drink which makes Blaine at first sloppy and careless, and then nearly comatose. Blaine is a career police officer. Even taking into account these are his off-hours, he doesn’t seem the type to drink to the point of blackout, especially in a public place. This is far too vulnerable a position to be in. Note just how cautious he is when meeting potential-trick Jack Ives, even though he’s cute and seemingly available. Also, owing to his generation and his profession, most likely he’s a drinker and not a drug addict. Dobey later says “everybody takes pills” but is seems unlikely these barbiturates are Blaine’s own.

The whole seduction-in-a-gay-bar scene is overlaid with a touristy sort of wonderment that comes close to outright esoteric. Remember, this is the first look at a gay bar many viewers would have ever had and I would dearly love to know how many thought satan’s lair! and how many would have thought, hey, that’s actually rather pleasant (and how many 8-to12-year olds perked up and thought I’m feeling a tingle of recognition). Because, for all the dreary, faintly desperate atmosphere of casual pickups and ageing performers, it’s also rather lovely. The close-ups, the music, the sparkles and misty murmuring, it’s as colorful as Oz.

It’s nice to see Gregory Rozkaris again, after his memorable role as the junkie in “Pariah”. He’s just as good here.

I appreciate the intelligently presented scene when the two ladies of the night enter with the camera fixed on the semi-conscious youth staring into nothing; one of the girls gives him her mostly-smoked cigarette and he takes it. This tiny segue is a further illustration of the world this episode is trying to illuminate for us: a lonely, somewhat bleak place where narcotic escape can be a necessity, and small gestures of kindness are the thin threads holding it all together.

It’s very touching that when Dobey says, “John Blaine’s dead” all the detectives in the squad room come close and listen in, with obvious distress.

It’s always interesting when fleabag hotels have high falutin names, as if to mitigate their surroundings and cast a benevolent light on their patrons. The hotel John Blaine stays in is the St Francis.

Director Sutton Roley gives us a great news-footage-like POV in which the Torino arrives at the crime scene. First we hear police-radio chatter, then the camera’s lens draws back to reveal the busy street, with the iconic Torino pulling up. There’s Starsky, flashing his badge, which we witness partially through ambulance windows. It’s immediate, jarring, and effective. Mr. Roley passed away three years ago and this from a beautifully written on-line eulogy by Stephen Bowie: “I used the term “legendary” in the header, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.  More than any other director of his generation, Roley was known within the industry for his exuberant visual sense, a near-constant use of skewed angles, distorted lenses, long takes, elaborate tracking shots, and bold compositions (as with many of his contemporaries, the influence of Orson Welles and “Citizen Kane” was paramount).  This led to conflicts with more conservative producers, cameramen, and actors, but when Roley encountered equally adventuresome collaborators he could produce some of the most dazzling imagery ever composed for TV.” Roley’s style (he will go on to direct four more episodes) is never better shown than in this wonderful scene.

There’s a female coroner at the crime scene, Ginny Simpson (ably played by Adrien Royce) who, along with the gay subtext of this episode, shows how times are in the process of changing.

Sutton Roley strikes again in the staging of the crucial scene in which the truth is revealed about Blaine. Shot from below, both actors in profile, the summer heat beating down, it’s a great, compressed scene and beautifully underplayed by both leads. I like how Hutch knows about Blaine before Starsky does, and you can see him briefly holding back before he says the word “male” when listing the attributes of the person Blaine brought to his room. Starsky, predictably, begins to offer excuses, but Hutch seems to accept the fact immediately. Shift to the outside looking in, in exact imitation of how it looks from the “outside” when considering someone’s secret life. Only Hutch understands the gender of the trick is irrelevant: “buy it or not,” he tells Starsky, “Blaine’s dead. And he was with another man.”

It’s slightly heavy-handed but still necessary when the interior shot of Blaine’s house lingers on the wall of trophies, citations and medals he won throughout a distinguished career. Every member of the viewing audience at that time – and some still now – needs reminding that bravery, dignity and wholesomeness of character has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

There’s a brief, interesting glimpse into Starsky’s complicated view of things when at the Blaine household he picks up a photo of he and Blaine. “John taught me how to fight,” he tells Hutch. “Bloody nose and all.” It’s difficult to imagine a more physical activity than that, head-locks and free-throws, lots of bodily contact. What’s going through Starsky’s mind when he realizes this?

Former Hollywood bombshell Virginia Leith gives a great, understated, notably dry-eyed performance as John Blaine’s widow.

“A man is dead, Mr. Whitelaw,” Hutch says when their witness becomes obstructive. “I don’t care whether he’s gay or straight. Labels don’t mean a thing.” Whitelaw looks at Hutch immediately sees his honesty. He then looks at Starsky and just as quickly realizes there is a shadow of discomfort there too, the sense both detectives have wandered into unfamiliar territory, and unfamiliarity can sometimes cause a kind of defensive unease. As both a gay man and a politician, Peter Whitelaw has a nearly supernatural knack for digesting a complicated situation. Get this man to Washington, stat.

When Peter Whitelaw talks about the injustice facing gays, he looks accusingly at Starsky, who says he doesn’t think Whitelaw has to stand of the platform of homosexuality in order to campaign for social change. Whitelaw glances at Hutch, who seems … what? Embarrassed at his partner’s naiveté? This dialogue is still going on, in one form or another, to this day: the often unconsciously homophobic assertions people make when they say I don’t care what you do as long as I don’t have to see it, or I don’t see why they have to have a parade or variations along that theme. It’s a pernicious attitude that is difficult to change and equally difficult to define, and the fact that it is done so well here – in about seven seconds, and beautifully underplayed – is another feather in this episode’s cap.

Charles Pierce, one of the greatest and most admired female impersonators of the twentieth century (and a kick-ass actor too) leaps into his scene like a racehorse born and bred to burst out of the gate. Throughout this episode he’s riveting: charismatic, confident, startlingly bitter. It’s fascinating to see an actor turn on a dime between glamorous star and scrappy street-fighter, but he does it time and time again, and he’s a marvel to watch. (Please see a more detailed tribute to his skills in “Character Studies: Five Perfect Cameos”.) I especially love Sugar’s speech to Hutch about where he was during the night in question, culminating with complimenting Hutch’s “gorgeous hair” saying he was going to bleach his the same color. Starsky reacts in a humorous way to Sugar’s comment, while Hutch has a moment of genuine wounded pride, one of those micro-expressions Soul is so freakishly good at. “It’s not bleached, it’s natural,” he says. Starsky is amused out of his grumpy mood, and Sugar whips off his wig. “What a coincidence! So’s mine.” Half in Sugar’s voice, half in his own. One of the wonderful aspects to this scene is that even though we all know he’s a female impersonator, it’s still startling to see when the facade is dropped. I still remember the delicious thrill of it, watching for the first time all those years ago.

Sugar, for all the “let’s all just get along” attitude, nevertheless protects bad-boy Hunter, to the point of covering up a crime. Why? Is this a live-and-let-live approach, or does it reveal a profound mistrust, or even (most likely warranted) hatred of the police?

The chase scene with Hunter is another standout piece of direction: in this case the camera is hand-held, rendering everything jumpy and discordant.

There’s a deeply uncomfortable silence before Dobey says, “the department is under a lot of pressure right now to let gays on the force.” In the next breath he says, “So the department is not anxious to let the world know that one of its finest might have been a homosexual.” Dobey is making two opposing statements, which pretty much underscores how complicated it all is. What, do you suppose, is Dobey’s own opinion on this matter? It would have been interesting to hear it, although that’s asking a lot from a script that is already generous enough.

“I don’t want to know about it!” Dobey cries out as the guys say they’re going to fight to the end. Is this an early version of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

It’s too bad Blaine is presented as such a cardboard figure. Not enough screen time is given to the real person; all we know about him is in the eulogizing. There is no time to develop his character, or to know much about him other than the depth of his lonely misery.

The Gay Decorating Theme seems to start with beading curtains in the doorway. The Green Parrot has them at the bar doorway and upstairs. Orrin Lawford has them in his place as well.

What is Corday’s history with Starsky and Hutch? Hutch is immediately suspicious and hostile while Starsky glares in the background. Yet when Hutch asks Starsky later what he knows about Corday, Starsky says not as much as he should. What tips Starsky and Hutch off about a fellow cop they appear to have heard nothing negative about?

How does Hunter know Corday killed Orrin Lawford? How fast does news travel on the gay circuit?

Both Starsky and Hutch have substitute father figures with secrets, who ultimately disappoint and come to a bad end. There are a lot of contrasts as well as comparisons if we look at the Starsky/Blaine relationship and the Hutchinson/Huntley relationship in the later episode “Birds of a Feather”. Blaine shields Starsky from his problems while Huntley tries to pull Hutch into his. Blaine’s death saves Starsky from having to risk a gesture of solidarity that could have hurt him, professionally and personally, while Huntley’s actions force Hutch to take a public stand. The presence of both these older male figures – and their profound impact – underscore the fact both Starsky and Hutch accepted a mentor in their lives at some point. Perhaps the patriarchal structure of the police department encourages this kind of relationship, because it is not commonplace in most men’s lives. Of note, too, is the fact that neither Starsky nor Hutch have a father to speak of. Starsky’s is long-dead and under suspicious circumstances, Hutch’s is simply nonexistent. We can add Huggy Bear to the mix here as well, as his own father-figure JT Washington also drags him reluctantly into a dangerous, emotionally volatile situation (“Huggy Can’t Go Home”).

Dobey seems amazed at Starsky and Hutch’s access to Corday’s file. “You got Corday’s file out of Narco?” Getting an officer’s file didn’t seem to be too much of a problem for Starsky and Hutch when they got Mike Ferguson’s file from R & I. It would be interesting to know how much access officers have to their peers’ records and cases.

Huggy’s immediate recall of Sugar’s address is extraordinary. How is it he can keep all this stuff in his head?

When Starsky asks him to go undercover, Huggy makes an extraordinary statement. “I’ve been undercover all my life”. Although this is brushed aside with Starsky’s hilarious “as a gay dude in the Green Parrot”, one wonders what Huggy means. Huggy doesn’t say “for years”, which may refer to his (not so secret) life as a police informant, he says “all my life”. You have to ask the question, undercover as what?

As an aside, why do the guys need Huggy at all? Surely they could have gone together, with Hutch lounging at the bar fending off the inevitable admirers; they really don’t need to drag Huggy onto the dance floor. It serves no purpose and it puts their friend in harm’s way. Is it because they feel uncomfortable going as a pair, considering the implication? Too much pressure to dance together? If this is the case, why not take another detective with them? Another trained (and armed) professional would be very helpful in this case and Huggy doesn’t add much to the equation other than being sharp-eyed (and accommodating). Are there no departmental rules for engaging regular citizens in potentially dangerous situations? Just like girlfriend Molly’s sleuthing in “The Collector”, yanking amateurs off the street to help in the apprehension of dangerous criminals makes me nervous. Whatever the reason, Huggy shows great forbearance just showing up, ready to work when he doesn’t have to, and really shouldn’t.

I love the dueling gold medallions Hunter and Sugar wear.

Hutch seems to think dressing like the aristocracy counts as a gay disguise, as he shows up at the Green Parrot with a tweed cap, scarf, and sunglasses. Later, in “Targets Without a Badge 2” he shows up in much the same outfit, which now becomes his unemployed look. Hutch seems to believe – to his credit – that if you’re going to be on the margins of society, you might as well look like a Rothschild doing it.

How much time has Hutch been dancing with Huggy before Hunter, Sugar and Corday show up? Does he enjoy it at all? He seems to. When he’s propositioned by the silver fox on the dance floor he takes it in stride, touching the guy with elaborate, dare I say flamboyant regret on the cheek as he passes. One wonders at his relaxed and open attitude, which is both praiseworthy and frankly amazing, considering the times. This is one of Hutch’s finest moments as a human being and goes a long way to rehabilitating his reputation as contentious and difficult. It’s as if he just doesn’t care about what anybody thinks. In fact, he likes the attention. Doesn’t matter where it comes from – a compliment is a compliment.

This may be the best tag ever, especially since Hutch is being so wonderfully provocative with his partner. He also understands that the best way to educate is through empathy, and the following exchange perfectly illustrates this:

Hutch: “Starsky, would you consider that a man who spends seventy-five per cent of his time with another man has got certain tendencies?”
Starsky: “Seventy-five – you mean three-quarters?”
Hutch: “Right.”
Starsky: “Yeah. Sure. Why not. You mean that was the case between John and…”
Hutch: “No, no, that’s the case between you and me.”
Starsky: “What?!”
Hutch: “Well, figure it out. In a five-day week, there are about eighty waking hours, right?”
Starsky: “Yeah.”
Hutch: “We work, eat, and drink about twelve of those hours, right? That’s sixty hours a week, seventy-five per cent of the time we spend together and you’re not even a good kisser.”
Starsky: “How do you know that?”

The funny thing is, with the after-hours socializing at the Pits and other places, weekends playing basketball and going camping and fighting off Satanists, plus all that double-dating and taking naps at Hutch’s place, it’s more like ninety per cent.  And while we’re at it, when Starsky says “John and …” what does he mean? John wasn’t with anyone, but perhaps Starsky was just listing off the names of the people at the Green Parrot.Hutch starts this amusing conversation in the first place because he is trying (subtly, sensitively) to rock Starsky’s conventions a little, perhaps dislodging the very last trace of prejudice his partner may have. And when Starsky makes his little joke, we know he has succeeded. Starsky being in the back seat during this exchange is another funny little joke, no doubt staged by either cast or crew.

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21 Responses to “Episode 50: Death in a Different Place”

  1. King David Says:

    The part where Starsky talks about how Blaine taught him how to fight; there’s a lot going on in that statement. Fighting is a blokey thing, masculine, and so Blaine must’ve come across as decently masculine and unthreatening to Starsky (in his younger years, possibly not very worldly-wise at the time), and I think, too, that Blaine may have taught Starsky as much to make sure he had police-life skills, as to make sure that Starsky would be safe generally, as Blaine cared for him. Or even to fend off unwanted advances should they eventuate, as he’s certainly attractive. Layers and layers.
    I too believe that Starsky isn’t anti-gay so much as he’s stunned that a man he must have revered and admired, for police work as home life, had been able to so successfully conceal that other side of himself no inkling got out. Still, it’s true that we often don’t see what we’re not looking for. Given that the Dept would’ve been hidebound in it’s staidness, it may not have occured to Starsky that there would be any gay cops in the Force.
    And neither one of S&H sees anything strange in how they look at and touch one another all the time (well, not S4 unfortunately.) They are so an old-married-couple. I can’t see any reason that they couldn’t have gone dancing together; a perfectly acceptable venue for close contact…it can’t be that they didn’t want to have to be close together, can it? Perhaps they felt that they wouldn’t manage the easy, comfortable fitting-in they needed to pass, which is of course daft, as they are the pinnacle of comfortable with each other’s bodies and personal space.
    Would Sugar’s jokes been funny at the time?

  2. Dianna Says:

    I was really struck by the fact that a schoolteacher would be “accused” of being gay, and that it would be shocking enough to make it into the newspapers. Whitelaw’s clean upright presentation (and name!) is a nice contrast to the gay bar scene, showing that seedy promiscuity is not the entirety of being gay.

    Like Merl, my 2013 sensibilities are stunned that the Department would fight so hard against letting gays be cops when, as Dobey can’t help but point out, they have already seen that a gay can do a really good job. Except he may not be gay as much as bisexual. And he was undeniably unfaithful to his spouse; I have an issue with that, no matter what the genders of the three of them.

    Huggy’s statement that he’s been undercover all his life hints at a fascinating and complex backstory, and I want some of it. This simple statement helps tie together all the weird businesses and scams that Huggy gets into. What is he really, on the inside?

    For that matter, Blaine was undercover all his life too. I wonder if being undercover in one’s own life is a sort of a theme here. If so, I wish it had been developed just a bit more.

    Hutch not caring what anybody thinks? He is surprisingly relaxed about almost everything in this episode, except the implication that he dyes his hair. In his regular life he’s pretty self-conscious, but when he goes undercover, even for an hour or two, I think he is able to release all his inhibitions, because he’s not going to be judged as Hutch, but as his undercover persona — Or has he also been undercover all his life, playing Hutch? Which is the real person, and which the persona?

    The bust in the Green Parrot seemed really sloppy to me. Why did they put Sugar in such direct danger and create a hostage situation? They should have had Sugar get the heck out as soon as Corday came down the hall.

    I think King David is right, and that Starsky’s paralysis at the thought that his mentor was gay stems from his never having considered that anyone in a respected position in society could be gay. He’s clearly dealt with people with all sorts of sexual quirks, persuasions, perversions, and orientations, but those people have been perps and snitches and lowlifes, not people he respected as equals or especially mentors, and now he sees Blaine and Whitelaw, and he has to re-orient his views and his assumptions about how the world works. And then Hutch has the gall to directly address the question of whether they themselves are or look like a romantic couple!

    (The tag indicates clearly that have not been, and I think Hutch is just needling Starsky — or, sure, highmindedly trying to rock his conventions and dispel his prejudice — but I bet there is a lot of slash out there about the two of them experimenting directly after his scene).

    Lingering effects from this episode could, in fact, account for the two of them touching less (as I have heard) in the fourth season. Perhaps the question of whether they are a couple puts a bit of hesitation into their physical closeness. If so, it would be Starsky’s hesitation, evidently not Hutch’s.

    When the guys are in Hutch’s car, Starsky has a habit of squirming around, facing backwards and digging through the junk, or even climbing in the back seat, as he does here. He just doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s not behind the wheel. It is perhaps a bit surprising that Hutch doesn’t snap at him to hold still and stay put.

    • King David Says:

      Oh joy!

      Your comments, Dianna, are such a pleasure to read.

      I wonder why Hutch is so all-fired-up man-of-the-world with Starsky; could it be that he is trying to convince himself that his own feelings for Starsky are perfectly legitimate, and this opportunity allows him to appear so laid-back casual in his understanding of the world.
      Starsky is straight as a die, yet I don’t want to say two-dimensional in his approach to the gay issue of his mentor and friend Blaine; in so many respects he is in touch with the world in which he lives that this surprise (or more to the point, his denial) of who is what and how they can deceive even those close to them, is in itself a surprise.
      Starsky is wonderfully close to Hutch, and not afraid of showing it, because it never occurs to him that anyone else might read someting else into it. The moment that his eyes are opened to the fact that someone can be one thing on the surface and another beneath has him unsettled to the point of personal retreat. (This is my reading of the lack of touchy-feely in the later episodes. It may well be that the producers copped sufficuent flak that they had to downplay the gay element, going so far as to avoid any possible innuendo. Or it may be that DS & PMG were over it all and were drifting apart. Pity.)

      I have always thought that Hutch needs Starsky more than the reverse, and for more complex reasons that Starsky’s mere enjoyment of a friend and colleague’s company. For all his naivety about gay/bi-sexual ‘regular’ people, Starsky is the more emotionally mature of the two, by-and-large.

      • Dianna Says:

        Perhaps Hutch — who is so beautiful that he certainly has had passes made at him by both genders — has no insecurity in this one place, despite his many insecurities in other places. He has simply decided that he loves ladies romantically and loves Starsky platonically.

        He’s thought this through. He has decided the best way to do it. It is time to instruct Starsky. (Not an unusual process for him!)

        Starsky, on the other hand, is so much less self-conscious than Hutch that he has never really thought about how their relationship might look. That is part of his delightful childlike personality, and is more than a little ironic, considering how many rather suggestive things they say to each other.

        He’s mature and childlike at the same time. No wonder we (and Hutch) love him.

        You may be right that Hutch needs Starsky more than the reverse. In other posts I’ve speculated about how Hutch would implode of Starsky weren’t there to help him release all the things he internalizes about his job, and about how Starsky’s silliness helps Hutch make connections between clues. I’ve been trying to work out what Starsky needs from Hutch. Maybe Hutch’s need to be *right* gives Starsky the freedom be silly and generally carefree.

        The silly and carefree aspects of his personality certainly disappear when he thinks Hutch might be in trouble. Hutch doesn’t change as much when Starsky is in trouble.

      • King David Says:

        Your last paragraph takes me to how serious and purposeful Starsky is when hunting for Hutch in ‘Survival’; nothing childlike here. Starsky is chameleon-like in a lot of ways, acting the fool or child but with the intention of winding Hutch up to a point that Hutch may have a realisation and be right in something, or work out the answer, and I always imagine Starsky smirking knowingly behind his hand. That’s crafty manipulation.
        Hutch just out-and-out needs Starsky as he knows that without him Hutch is just the bolt without the nut, as it were.
        These two come from conservative America, and so they too are products of that conservatism; if the scripts with all their innuendoes could pass under the radar of seventies audiences, then S&H, as contemporaneous characters, could also be forgiven for having missed any suggestion of gayness on their own radars.
        There is love – mateship (an Australian term dear to every Aussie bloke)
        and there is love – romantic and sexual, involving desire and passion.
        I love Starsky to pieces, but one of my favourite images of all time is the slo-mo of Hutch in ‘Sweet Revenge’ as his hair flutters in the breeze and the lift doors close. An expression is worth a thousand words. And because we’ve been on the journey with them from the beginning, we know what those words are likely to be.

      • Dianna Says:

        King David, that was really beautiful! Yes!

        Your point about manipulation is supported by Starsky’s smirks that escape from behind his hand, for us (but not Hutch) to see. For instance, look for Starsky’s triumphant smirk in A Coffin for Starsky, when he tells Dobey that Hutch wants to apologize and Hutch protests; look for another at the very end of Murder on Stage 17, after he hands Hutch the film. I bet there are other visible smirks, but those two are particularly delightful.

        And yet he is so darn delighted when Hutch succeeds in a non-cop arena, or when he acquires the the spotlight in some way, that he simply can’t contain his excitement — such as in the tag for A Long Walk on a Short Dirt Road, or when Hutch gets a line in Murder on Stage 17.

        Hutch is so lucky!

        (I haven’t seen Sweet Revenge yet, so I can’t comment on the image you describe.)

        I just realized that the end of Death in a Different Place is one of the few times that Hutch gets to successfully tweak Starsky. He constantly pokes at Starsky’s habits and choices, but I can’t think of another example of a time when his poking succeeds in unnerving him!

    • Anna Says:

      To be honest, I have a really hard time seeing their stand-offish-ness in season 4 as stemming from this episode, for three main reasons:

      1) since when has Starsky ever given a rat’s ass what anyone, even Hutch, thought of him? This is a guy whose self-assured comfort with himself is so integral to his character that the scene of him happily waving his arms like a lunatic and singing off-key at the top of his lungs in a crowded bar while dressed like the costume closet of Bonanza threw up on him was chosen to appear under his actor’s name in the credits of every episode of the last two seasons.

      2) The two of them are still incredibly touchy-feely and emotionally open with each other for the rest of the season. Hell, most of The Plague is basically Starsky unnecessarily broadcasting “I LOVE THIS GUY TO DEATH” at every person he stumbles across, and that’s not touching episodes like Manchild on the Streets (where they can’t stop touching each other) and The Trap and Hutchinson for Murder One where their declarations of tenderness and loyalty feel one step away from breaking into a sudden musical number like Turk and JD’s “Guy Love” on Scrubs.

      But 3) the biggest reason is, well, I can’t really imagine that this was the first time they’ve had to think of their relationship in light of homosexuality. In an environment like a police station, let alone an environment like the crime and gang-infested streets, homophobia is rampant and virulent, and wielded as a psychological weapon to intimidate, to haze, and to jockey for respect and reputation. Frankly, I’d expect that insinuations of homosexuality would be thrown at them all the time in a small-minded effort to crack their united front and their psychological edge of self-confidence. I’d bet that when they were younger they’ve had “FAGGOTS” painted on their lockers more than once by resentful or jealous colleagues. Starsky being caught off guard seemed to have a lot more to do with the fact that *Hutch* was the one doing the insinuating this time, and doing it cleverly and as something playful and innocent rather than as a predictable attack.

  3. merltheearl Says:

    I have thought many times that these two characters are encapsulations of the vagaries and complexities of human nature as a whole – socially, emotionally, politically and sexually – and this episode certainly proves it. It’s part design and part accident that the series’ writers (and the actors themselves) created such a wide range of behaviors and beliefs, only to unite them all so beautifully and believably. And during such a stuffy, conservative time in American cultural history! And, might I add, right under the noses of 99% of the TV-viewing population.

  4. Dianna Says:

    Merl, how is it that there are so few of us who look beyond the squealing tires and the violence and the sex appeal of the leads, and see the things you are describing?

    • merltheearl Says:

      Good question. Nothing makes people stupider than prejudice, and this series has suffered more than most in that regard, back then as now. I think hindsight helps too.

  5. Wallis Says:

    I think Starsky’s reaction in this episode is a really natural-feeling portrayal of someone who is homophobic in the mix of subliminal cultural conditioning and I-never-really-thought-about-it-like-this-before way, rather than the conscious, argument-ready, has-set-opinions-about-this-stuff way. It seems a fair bet that he takes for granted an association of gay culture with seedy holes and hustlers, and defines homophobia as overt violent gay-bashings, since that’s the extent of his contact with them — his “but it’s private!” response to Whitelaw’s campaign, superficially sensible and well-intentioned but woefully myopic, is a big hint that he’s probably not very familiar with homosexuality in a non-criminal context (since I doubt someone as liberal and compassionate as Starsky would have that opinion if he had ever stopped to think or read or talk about homosexuality as a social issue in depth).

    I find portrayals of this kind of realization and dilemma to be particularly enjoyable, since I dislike how prejudice is often treated as an absolute either-or way — either you’re a completely prejudiced intractable dickhead, or not prejudiced at all. And because I have a big soft spot for the idea of adults being able to change their views when shown that they are wrong, and that they aren’t doomed to be set in their ways and carry on prejudiced views if they weren’t lucky enough to dispel them in their youth (and therefore having the responsibility to work to dispel them — no “but, back in my day…” excuses.) I know Starsky doesn’t do a big 180 in this episode or anything, but knowing him, he mostly likely slowly and methodically integrates this new information into his worldview like the open, unrepressed guy he is. He sure doesn’t go into any kind of macho fit over Hutch’s joke at the end (hey, one Hutch’s typical blow-Starsky’s-mind jokes finally not only works, but is a good thing!)

    However yeah, I think what bothered Starsky /most/ was that he never realized Blaine was gay, and more than that, the fact that Blaine intentionally kept it from him because he either didn’t trust Starsky not to be disgusted, or didn’t feel Starsky was close enough to him to share such a personal secret, which are both /ouch/. That scene when Hutch asks him how he would have felt about Blaine if Blaine told him is pretty painful, not because Starsky thinks he would have reacted negatively, but because he seems to have no idea how he would have reacted and now will never get the opportunity to know how he would have reacted — he could be thinking that maybe he *would* have been accepting, and perhaps Blaine has been stripped of the opportunity of ever experiencing the joy of having this old friend of his accept him, but now neither of them will ever know and that opportunity for connection is lost forever.

  6. Mary Anne Says:

    I loved this episode! I thought Hutch was so amazingly insightful and truly kind. Soul really lucked out with the way this was written and the end was great, but I can’t help but think that this episode was inspired by Harvey Milk, who sadly, would be assassinated the following year. I think this episode was really ahead of its time.

    Yes, I wanted to know Blaine, but works better the way it was written, since he lived much of his life in shadows. There is such a beautiful haunting quality to this episode that, sadly, reflected the times.

    I don’t think Starksky is homophobic, but just unaware and clueless. It’s so foreign to him that he doesn’t quite know how to make sense of it. He has to see himself in a different light, which is hard for anyone. Starksy represents the society in it’s present state and Hutch represents it’s possible future. That was a very nice touch by the writer.

    I see the relationship of Starsky and Hutch as a true example of Aristotle’s ideal of phila “friendship of the good.” It’s the authentic friendship of two characters recognizing each other. Of course, I would have loved there to have been a flashback episode where we could have seen where they began. How their friendship was built.

  7. Sharon Marie Says:

    Not a whole lot more to contribute to the great comments above, except the directing. I really appreciated the thoughtful camera angles – many of them from below looking up giving the impression of authority. The close ups and choppy ‘reality’ type single camera use also led to a very serious tone, especially when Hunter was running from S & H. It’s almost as though he was running while holding the camera in front of his face. And a couple uses of single camera steady-cam before steady-cam was even invented as we know it today (such as the shot at the beginning through the ambulance window and then around to meet Hutch’s arriving car).

  8. stybz Says:

    I saw Starsky’s comment to Whitelaw and the teacher/politician’s reaction differently. I think Starsky isn’t saying he’s homophobic. Instead he’s showing compassion for Whitelaw who has essentially been forced to fight for his beliefs, when straight people don’t have to. To me what Starsky says is that homosexuals, including Whitelaw should be treated like anyone else and should not have to be punished for it, nor have to use it as a platform for a campaign just to make a statement.

    The look Whitelaw gives Hutch after that seems to me to say, “He’s got a point.”

    • merltheearl Says:

      Stybz, I guess we’ll have to differ. Especially in decades past a lot of well-meaning people believe homosexuality is fine as long as it ever mentioned or made into a topic of public discussion, which is a polite way of saying, “just so I don’t have to look at it.” My own father, who is 82, once said, “I just wish they didn’t have a big noisy parade to make their point.” I laughed and said, “so, you don’t think the civil rights marches in the 60s were a good idea either?” I have a strong feeling this is what is happening in the script in this scene, although I have no proof of it, which is why either of us could be correct. I do have to emphasize in no way do I think Starsky is homophobic; rather, in this episode at least, the writer is using his character to voice the beliefs and assumptions of many average people with little or no knowledge of the reality of contemporary gay life. You have to ask to get the answer, and he does. By the way, when reading your insightful comment, I went back made a few changes to the original post that clarify my position better. This is why comments are so valuable – they keep me on my toes!

      • stybz Says:

        Thanks, Merl. 🙂 I’ll agree to disagree. 😀

        It is something I will have to rewatch. I did like the episode (and I agree that the director was fantastic), and felt that Starsky and Hutch handled the whole situation very well considering the times.

      • stybz Says:

        Merl, I watched again last night and can see where you’re coming from. I could be wrong about my perception of Starsky’s comment. I do see him coming to terms with it all, though. Later in the episode when Dobey makes the comment about the department being under pressure to allow homosexual on the force, Starsky and Hutch don’t seem bothered by the idea. 🙂 Starsky says something like, “Yeah, so?” 🙂

        Oh and I meant to add that I think the reason they bring Huggy along is so that Hutch can focus on what’s going on and not have to worry about being distracted by men thinking he’s a prospective suitor. Having Huggy there also allows him to be more comfortable in his role, which I think is why he handled the “silver fox” so sweetly. 😀

  9. Rick Schlauch Says:

    Its back on tonite in Maryland and its a very insightful 1 hour!!

  10. Becki Says:

    When I realized what this episode was going to deal with, I was terrified–no way was a cop show from 1977 going to treat homosexuality with respect! I still can’t get over how pleased I was with it. I wish there were some archive where I could read the real-time responses to this episode. I can’t believe that mainstream critics were very happy with it. Not one single condemnation from any character! Even Huggy is completely unfazed when asked to go undercover as a gay man in a gay bar. I don’t think that anyone even referred to homosexuality as either a “choice” or a “lifestyle”, characterizations that the LGBT community is still fighting 40 years later. I really don’t have anything to add to the excellent comments already posted, but I do want to take a moment to talk about Huggy in this episode. As far as I can recall, this is the first time we come upon Huggy when he’s not hustling in some way. What is he doing when we first encounter him? He’s registering people to vote! How marvelous! And where did he find that incredible suit in 1977??? He looked like he had just stepped out of the 21st century!

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