Archive for December, 2010

Episode 54: The Plague, part two

December 31, 2010

It’s a great little movement when Hutch he sees Kaufman watching him through the glass: he hitches his yellow gown just slightly in a flirtatious, almost girly gesture, then smiles sadly, as if thinking his default to self-depreciation is pretty futile in a situation as dire as this. Good one, Hutchinson.

“How’d you like to walk around in a paper dress all day that makes you look like Florence Nightingale,” Hutch complains to Dr. Kaufman, (a non-sequitur if there ever was one: Florence Nightingale was a nurse, not a patient, and wore a full Victorian gown, not a little slip of paper). “It’s what underneath that counts,” Kaufman replies, which is mildly shocking, given her reserved personality – but said, it must be pointed out, only because Hutch is talking unseen around the side of the wall. Amused by her comment, he comes around the corner and stares at her.

Is it a trick of the director’s, or of nature’s, that Hutch looks so lovely in this scene?

Doctor, Heal Thyself: “I mean it,” Dr. Kaufman says. “I wouldn’t have the courage to do it except for the conditions.” A seriously dysfunctional comment if there ever was one, if the “it” in this instance is “be honest”. We can seriously doubt her committment to this new direction of hers when Hutch taps on the glass and stares at her – looking for what? Confirmation that she’s doing all she can? Evidence of emotional commitment to him, or to the case? – and his gaze is so painfully direct she runs away rather than offer him any sort of comfort. So how bad can she be if Hutch is the mature, no-bullshit one in this duo? Bad, bad, bad.

Starsky and Hutch are observed in quarantine for seventy-two hours and released due to lack of evidence of the plague in their blood. Later, Dr. Meredith says the plague shows up in one’s blood within seventy-two hours or it doesn’t show at all. So what the heck happened to the diagnosis with Hutch? If the plague can be detected by a simple blood test on the street, how come it couldn’t be found in Hutch when he was in the hospital the first time? An interesting hypothesis is that he contracted it later, through someone else, which is also doubly poignant because he was so close to avoiding it.

Why did Hutch get the plague, and Starsky didn’t? Why was Helen immune? Or Dr Kaufman, for that matter? These questions are moot, really, because there are many historical incidences of some getting sick and others close to them not, and for no discernible reason except for fate.

When Hutch gets the attention of Dr Meredith he insists on getting the doctor to hold up a photograph of the virus, even though it can have no real meaning to him. He just needs to see. It’s typical of a detective’s evaluative, detail-oriented approach to absorbing information, and a born skeptic’s insistence on unassailable proof. If Dr Meredith had a piece of paper with incomprehensible blood-factor analyses and toxicology screenings Hutch would have insisted on seeing that too.

Dr Kaufman compares Hutch – twice – to a little boy. The sublimation of sexual feelings to maternal language makes her one confused doctor indeed.

Does Helen Yeager have a checkered past? All the elements are there. She has a hardened, brittle façade. She’s a loner, seemingly with no friends. She lives alone in a rural area with no close neighbors – no chance of friendly over-the-fence chats – bringing in temporary borders for income rather than having a regular job. She behaves when Callendar tells her not to go to the police when most of us would have called the authorities or a doctor long ago. When Richie asks if Steele is going to die she answers “I don’t know”, which indicates she’s prepared to have someone die in her house. She doesn’t want to know what Steele does for a living when anybody else would be curious (a stranger with pseudonym? Pretty exciting stuff, especially for a lonely woman). She keeps her boy away from people. You get the feeling, even though it’s never spelled out, that it’s the two of them, tightly bound together, against the world. All this points to the possibly Helen Yeager – if that’s your real name, ma’am – has been beaten and abused, or her son has. Or both. “You owe us nothing,” she tells Callendar, sharply. “We were paid.” It sounds bitterly no-nonsense, the words of someonne who has been schooled in some pretty tough lessons. She’s also awfully composed when Starsky bursts into her house and grabs her by the mouth, pulling her into him. She freezes, then calms down in a remarkably short period of time, as if this has happened before.

Dr Kaufman is uncomfortable when she watches Starsky stare at Hutch though the window. Perhaps she’s mentally comparing her inability to look at Hutch with Starsky’s intense refusal to look away from him. His complete disregard for her is unnerving and she turns to go. This is when Starsky does something extraordinary. Flatly, unemotionally, he says, “Do me a favor and don’t ask any questions. Got a lipstick.” She says yes and gives it to him, and at this point leaves abruptly, although if it were me and a man asked for a lipstick I would stick around and see what he does with it. Starsky stares at Hutch a while longer, then starts to write (backwards, which takes forethought). What else could he write, but his own name? He can’t very well write “get well soon” or “hang in there”. It’s also meaningful that he writes not only his own name, but Hutch’s familiar, and affectionate, condensation of it.

The nurses would have to agree among themselves to keep it up there, because when Hutch wakes much time has passed since Starsky wrote on the glass. Did Starsky go to the nurses’ station and order them to leave it alone, or did the nurses see it and make a pact among themselves to ignore protocol and did they have to fight with the cleaners? What did the other doctors think, Dr Kaufman in particular, when they walked by and saw it? Did anyone understand its true significance or at least spend a few moments contemplating what sort of dynamic is going on here?

Compare and contrast the two times Starsky’s name is written in red on something as a message. (the other is “Bloodbath”). Both events cause Hutch to have a profound emotional reaction. Both times it indicates the urgency of time passing, and one man’s life in the balance.

What’s a rural grocer selling onions and corn doing with twelve-year-old-scotch on the shelf? He sells it to Callendar.

It’s sort of amusing that the photograph of Callendar that Starsky has is not a mugshot or blurry surveillance photo but obviously the professional portrait of actor Alex Rocco. In it, he’s looking suave in a way that says “cast me”. Not the sort of thing a paranoid criminal would allow to circulate.

Starsky tells Helen not to touch Richie to avoid becoming infected with the plague. She replies, “Do you think I care?” Starsky says exactly the same thing as he fights to go into the sick room with Hutch.

Filming notes: Apparently, the hospital scenes genuinely upset Glaser in the scenes in which Hutch physically disintegrates, his real-life hospital visits during Soul’s dangerous bout with pneumonia still a recent memory.

“The name of the game is Hutch is dying,” Hutch says to Starsky as Starsky sits on his bed and holds his hands. He refers to himself in the third person – something he’s never done before – just as Starsky did when writing his own name on the window. It’s a combination of dissociation and inclusion, a detachment of the self while at the same time merging identities with the other.

Dr. Meredith tells Dr. Kaufman he suspected the plague was a virus, “when the antibiotics didn’t work on the new cases.” Did they work on the old ones?

So what is the name of the hospital Drs. Kaufman and Meredith work out of and Hutch is at? Starsky calls it Lincoln Hospital over the phone when asking to speak to Dr. Kaufman. Starsky and Hutch tell Lieutenant Anderson to head over to City Hospital and ask for Dr. Kaufman. And the physical site of the hospital is Memorial.

Doing the math, there have been three outbreaks of the plague in thirty-five years, according to Dr. Jonas Tishaun. This isn’t alarming to health officials? Wouldn’t Drs. Meredith and Kaufman be taking a VERY detailed and careful look at those past cases, instead of reading about them in an old, blue, dusty book?

Does Callendar have any redeeming qualities? He doesn’t harm, at least intentionally, the Yeagers. He gives Richie money for shoes and tells him to buy a flower for Mrs. Yeager. And he eventually comes in to save Richie when, strictly speaking, he doesn’t have to. At the same time, he is a vicious killer with a nasty history, not only killing his contact on the roof, but needlessly kicking the man’s corpse. One could interpret his actions in coming forward as a way to get out of the country rather than helping anyone one else, Richie included.

Starsky’s confrontation with the gangster Roper is one of the standout scenes in this or any other episode. Starsky’s commanding presence is in wonderful opposition to the rather florid, nervous Roper. He looks so cool standing there while Roper looks faintly ridiculous in his Hefner cranberry smoking jacket and his fussy games of chess and his offers of “anisette” to Starsky (as if). Starsky’s brusque one-word responses to Roper’s pretentious verbosity is impressive. “Talk,” he says, when asked why he’s there. Then: “Callendar.” It really is the most thrilling display of power, but unfortunately it serves to make Roper even more antagonistic than he was before.

When facing danger alone, particularly if the other is injured or ill, Starsky and Hutch seem doubly authoritative and intimidating. There’s a strange existential fearlessness in the way they confront their enemies. Look at Starsky at war with Vic Humphries in “Survival”, and Hutch so memorably standing up to Tom Lockly in “The Shootout”. When one is incapacitated and the other forced to act alone, it’s as if the power from one flows into the other, doubly increasing volume. When they’re together, the power is more evenly distributed, and therefore more palatable; one gets to be the laid-back guy, the other gets to goad and threaten. Very rarely do both act with equal violence at the same time.

Roper is just another example of what this series considers the lowest form of life: the unctuous businessman in luxurious surroundings, expounding ponderously and pretentiously about the downfall of civilization. These men are isolated, surrounded by lackeys, often in total, velvety silence broken only by the clink of teaspoons or the pouring of cognac. They have been allowed to flourish through the laziness or amorality of society. No one has dared to stop them. They feel immortal, untouchable. They are fascinated by the presence of Starsky and Hutch, as if staring at something thought long-extinct. These men always attempt, initially, to seduce Starsky and Hutch with manly world-weariness, a you-know-how-it-is camaraderie; they attempt to appeal to their chivalry, honor, or pride, while not understanding or possessing any of these things. Starsky and Hutch confront these men time and time again. Amboy, offering them caviar, C.J. Woodfield at the breakfast table in “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead”, Danner in his Boston-fern-filled study in “The Bait”, Lou Malinda at the health club in “Kill Huggy Bear”, Clay Zachary, the mastermind of the heist in “Foxy Lady”, and of course the ultimate evil: creepy Gunther, in “Sweet Revenge”.

We know Starsky has both limited time and a clear dislike of Roper, but would his request have been taken more seriously if he was more polite about the offer of the game of chess or refreshments? Roper is clearly unhappy with Starsky’s attitude. “No social amenities, get right to the point. You cops got no grace.” (An irony, given that Starsky stands there, theoretically, in what one might call a state of grace. His sole motive, after all, is love). Or did Starsky already know it didn’t really matter what he did or didn’t do, that Roper would have found something to bitch about?

I wonder of Roper would have allowed Starsky onto the compound if he hadn’t just won a game of chess against one of his musclemen. Gleeful in what is probably an artificial victory (I can just imagine the whispered agreement in the household: the boss wins, no matter what) he is temporarily struck by uncharacteristic generosity, and allows him in.

Watch Starsky’s request to Roper become more and more unlikely as Roper uses more and more casual, derisive forms of address for Starsky. At first it’s Officer Starsky, then Mr Cop, and finally just Cop.

Speculate on what Dobey is thinking, coming so late to the hospital with a bunch of flowers when he knew Hutch was in intensive care, in isolation, where no flowers are allowed. Not wanting to admit to himself the seriousness of the situation? Nevertheless, when he holds up the flowers behind the glass and hide his shock and sadness behind a brave smile it’s impossible not to have a catch in the throat.

What are the grubby denizens of the all-nite café and bar doing watching the news, which contains the plea from Dr Kaufman, and later Starsky? Seems to me the TV would be permanently on a wrestling match, baseball game, or Sri Lankan cricket, depending on the cultural leanings of the proprietor. Yet people at the bar seem riveted, almost respectful, rather than bored or dismissive; it’s eerily quiet.

It’s very touching when Starsky and Dr Kaufman storm down the hall toward Hutch’s room, hand-in-hand. I always have the feeling he doesn’t notice her all that much, or at least sees her as an abstract object, a means to an end, but by the time of the on-air plea he’s decided they better band together or else. He later gives her a huge hug when Callendar calls. No hugs for Meredith, suffering in silence in his lonely laboratory.

Tag: “Now that we’ve got no window separating us, you’re afraid to take a chance, is that it?” Hutch says to Judith. Right on the money, but still she hedges. “Come on, you big blond beauty,” Starsky says, grabbing Hutch by the arm, “I’m gonna take you home and tuck you in. You ain’t ready for the big leagues yet.” Hutch, nicely, lets himself be led away. Then, as Hutch joyfully expounds on being alive, both of them practically breaking into a run, Starsky lets loose with one of the biggest grins so far, and Hutch also grins, and hits him hard on the arm. A scene of pure joy.

It’s not a tragedy that Judith Kaufman walks off alone. She really wouldn’t be good for him. She lives in another state, appears to have maternal feelings, referring to his vulnerability and saying he looks like a little boy. She does a cowardly thing, flirting with him behind glass, where he is “safe.” She tells him she wouldn’t forward at all if he wasn’t expected to be dead in two days. When she is in his hospital room she gives no real comfort. She doesn’t talk to him, meet his eyes or touch him unless to draw blood. When Hutch presses her on her feelings, she leaves. Hutch calls her a coward to her face at the airport, not the best way to get her to stay. She also seems awfully fond of Dr. Meredith. Speculate on the amusing idea that, if she and Meredith were ever to get together, both will be picturing the same face.


Episode 53: The Plague: Part One

December 19, 2010

Starsky races the clock to find hit-man Thomas Callendar who’s carrying a deadly virus that has infected Hutch and threatens the city, while Drs. Kaufman and Meredith work to find the answer and keep Hutch alive.

Dr. Judith Kaufman: Janet Margolin, Callendar: Alex Rocco, Dr. Meredith: Frank Marth, Helen Yeager: Jean Allison, Richie Yeager: Patrick Laborteaux, Roper: Al Ruscio, Jake Donner: Walter Mathews, Virginia Donner: Natalie Norwick, Lt. Anderson: Paul Kent, Doctor: David S Milton. Written By: William Douglas Lansford, Directed By: Bob Kelljan


“The Plague” is notable because it’s the only two-part episode to deal with a partnership-threatening crisis – in this case, Hutch contracting a potentially fatal illness. Two hours allows extra time to build and develop the story but writer William Lansford is careful never to let extraneous events intrude or the emotional intensity to slacken; because of this, “The Plague” is, to my mind, the only really successful two-part episode. The series is never better than when depicting one partner supporting or saving the other from near-certain doom. These episodes are crucial because they intensify and distill the emotional bond between the two characters through socially-acceptable narrative means, allowing both actors to express what is normally hidden between the lines or – more often – disguised as jokes, subtle gestures or substitutive bitchiness (I’m talking to you, Hutchinson).

In the very first scene Starsky and Hutch are seen flouting a rule: the white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only, no parking. Differentiating between genuine rules and discount-when-necessary rules is a scenario repeated throughout the episode (and the whole series) in this amusing instance and in more serious ways too. In this episode Starsky is the rule-breaker: not only parking where he shouldn’t (and being outraged when caught), but writing on the hospital window, going into Hutch’s room when told not to, paying a risky visit to Roper, and going against accepted police procedure to make a televised plea to Callendar offering immunity.

In a premonitory conversation, the guys talk about how long they want to live. Starsky wants his full, regularly allotted lifespan but Hutch is going for near-immortality: a hundred and forty-eight years. It’s a lovely encapsulation of their personalities: Starsky the optimistic rationalist, Hutch the imaginative extremist.

Even while expressing skepticism about National Geographic article Starsky seems to believe just about any other odd supernatural-type trivia (vampires, ghosts, lucky charms), causing Hutch many hilarious eye-rolling moments throughout the series. Hutch, on the other hand, is prey to more scientifically-minded, New Age fads: biorhythms, extreme dietary restrictions, meditation (I am aware, of course, meditation is not a fad, but its widespread acceptance of it in popular culture of the time can be loosely linked with such karmic kookiness as Yogic Flying).

I love the pre-9-11 attitude toward airport security, the mix of sexism and power-mongering Starsky and Hutch so casually (and effectively) employ. Parking in a restricted zone? Yep. Guns allowed beyond security? Definitely. Flirting? Encouraged. Rank-pulling on airport security? Sure, why not. The guys are so dominant and easy in their authority the security personnel end up apologizing to them.

Another likeable, and much-repeated motif: Starsky asking the time, and Hutch grabbing his wrist to tell it.

Hutch’s eventual catastrophic health failure happens in large part because of a purse snatcher the guys insist on capturing even though they have no jurisdiction at the airport. They should have alerted airport security, or simply tailed him until help arrived. A purse-snatching is hardly a federal offense, and yet they act as if their lives depend on apprehending the thief. It’s worth speculating on the irony this energetic but entirely unnecessary take-down is the catalyst for the events that follow.

Do you think Starsky was successful in talking the guy out of towing his car from the airport?

Callendar, the hit man, is well-named: this is definitely a show about racing time.

How well does Hutch know Mrs. Donner anyway? He picks stuff off her sweater in a very primate-like way when they are at the hospital. It’s a very odd, intimate gesture and quite distracting.

Mrs. Donner says the worst thing about being a cop’s wife is waiting “waiting until he comes home for supper, maybe some junkie stabbed him, waiting for him to get home from Europe, waiting until the doctor comes and tells me that my husband is going to be all right.” Is waiting the worst thing about being a cop’s wife? Is she on the verge of discovering something even worse lying at the end of that wait? Do Starsky and Hutch listen to this and think, I’ll never put someone through that?

Starsky and Hutch are put in quarantine – together. Why does an isolation room have two beds? It seems the best way to isolate something is to keep it apart from any other variables. Of course, I have made the point before that this series is not primarily about realism, that it is best understood and enjoyed for the metaphoric or abstracted ideas that live between the lines and outside the margins. Even though I will myself point out procedural errors and question the logic of many aspects to the series, mostly because it’s fun to be pedantic, I do understand what’s going on here, and why we must accept that this refusal or inability to separate implies the partnership itself is inviolable, no matter what the circumstance. And that to understand one is to observe the other.

Dr. Kaufman says they have to go out looking “for every one Jake Donner came into contact with since stepping off that plane” to find the source of the infection. Why since landing in Los Angeles, and not at any European cities Donner may have visited? Or someone on the airplane, who may have gone on to another destination?

Dobey says, “That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone call them gentlemen,” after Dr. Kaufman asks for Starsky and Hutch as such. Watch Hutch’s expression: annoyance, embarrassment, and weary acceptance, as if Dobey’s bluster is entirely expected.

Huggy, looking great in his pale denim leisure suit and cap, complains it’s hard enough to talk to them “sotto voce” at the bar, now he has to talk to them out in public. Hilariously, neither Starsky nor Hutch remark upon Huggy suddenly breaking into Italian; they seem to take it for granted.

Dr Kaufman starts to really enjoy her time on the streets with the guys, dealing with characters like Sister Magda, the hooker with the snappy: “So bust me or trust me, my rent was due, like, yesterday” and the colorful Big Benny (played, wonderfully, by an actor named Little Angie), newspaper seller and numbers runner. She likes the colorful street life, likes the two detectives and their work, and you can see they likewise enjoy showing her what they do. She’s nonjudgmental and open to new experiences. Both Dr Kaufman and Starsky and Hutch are never happier when working, and the eccentric denizens of the street don’t faze her in the least. It’s interesting to compare her ride-along with that of Christine Phelps in “Heroes”, who should have been more like Dr. Kaufman.

The pretty girl at the newspaper stand overhears Dr Kaufman say Big Benny might be infected with a fatal disease, and she doesn’t run away like any sensible person would. Instead, she’s blasé. Maybe she doesn’t know what the word “contagious” means.

This is funny: “She can’t make her rent money in the hospital,” Hutch says. “Don’t bet on it,” Starsky says.

Hutch remarks that “eight possibles” are in the hospital, under quarantine. This indicates they’re showing symptoms already. Yet Dr. Meredith says they haven’t found the carrier yet. How does she know this for sure? Is Kaufman using a strict chronology as an identifier – i.e. Donner must have had contact with the person within moments of landing in LA?

Dr Meredith makes a big deal about hurrying the lab technicians out of the room before telling Kaufman and the guys about the how serious the virus is, how they’re going to have to put the entire floor of the hospital under quarantine. Why does he do this? Surely the information is vital to the people who have just left the room. He then allows Kaufman to make the announcement over the phone. At the end Hutch jokes that Dr Kaufman is a “coward” but it seems Dr Meredith is an even more pronounced one.

At the risk of sounding tiresomely academic, I must make the observation that the jokes in this series are always unusually perspicacious. Never random or nonsensical, the mock-insults, gags and light witticisms always hint at an underlying and often tension-filled truth. A case in point: they discover it’s Thomas Callendar who is the source of the plague: “He travels in Europe a lot,” Hutch says, “with the beautiful people.” Starsky, alerted by the word “beautiful”, feels obliged to say, “And I’m stuck with you,” to which Hutch replies genially, “right.” It’s a lovely moment: Hutch too preoccupied with events to act either vain or disputatious (because it does take a lot of effort maintaining that fractious facade) but Starsky taking a stab at it anyway, as if hoping to see a little of the ol’ Hutch Magic.

Was there $5000 in the envelope Thomas Callendar gives to his roof-top contact? Or was it just plain paper? Callendar doesn’t take the money back when he leaves.

Starsky and Hutch meet with the two doctors at their hotel. Their suite, if in fact they’re sharing, is incredibly luxurious: a roomy living space with antiques and plants and paneled walls. How do you suppose two scientists are afforded this sort of opulence? Will the Center for Disease Control get a huge bill?

So why is the thermos in the Torino’s trunk as Starsky and Hutch watch Roper? That’s rather inconvenient, since they’re both drinking coffee from it.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Starsky complains as they stake out the gangster, unconsciously echoing Virginia Danner. “I thought I finished that routine in the army.” (Typically, Hutch lectures Starsky about living to a hundred years and developing some “patience”, like the zen master he is). From the sound of it, Starsky may not have seen a lot of action in his stint in the army. If he served during the final days of the Vietnam War, he may not have gotten out of training camp at all.

Callendar’s nice shoes give him away to Hutch. Later, when he comes to the hospital, he is wearing ratty tennis shoes. Was Callendar’s mistake of the nice shoes because he was sloppy when he wasn’t feeling well? Or for another reason?

Starsky might have arrested Callendar if he hadn’t been so worried about slowing the car down for Hutch (an admittedly cool dive through the passenger window).

Interesting to note that Dr Meredith is even more upset than Dr Kaufman when Hutch gets the diagnosis. He looks utterly grief-stricken. Yes, he could be sorry on behalf of his friend and colleague Kaufman, and he could be anxious about losing an important factor in the fight against the disease, but I suspect there’s more than one doctor infatuated with the big blond beauty. Notice how, when breaking the news to Hutch, Meredith mumbles a semi-incoherent explanation, while Kaufman briskly gives it to him straight.

Note Starsky’s stricken silence. It’s a classic Glaser moment: reserved, underplayed, but with a real fire in his eyes that is very affecting and natural. Glaser has a very coiled, muscular presence. To be effective he doesn’t need to jump up and down and do a lot of shouting to make a viewer’s hair stand on end. Just a look will do it.

Starsky’s roadside speech to the detectives after Callendar was seen running off into the desert has all the elements of the very best cinematic speeches. To me, it stands up to any classic, over-praised film scene. It may seem plain, almost minimal, but it derives its power from both the modesty of the genre and the medium, as well as the spare, compressed quality of Glaser’s performance. Without any bells and whistles, it’s absolutely present, in every way. Every element is perfect. Glaser believes what he’s saying, the extras believe it, the viewer believes it. You can practically feel the sun baking the asphalt, the hot desert wind. The hard-working sergeant who becomes the sounding-board for Starsky’s frustrated outbursts. The truck driver bewildered by a tsunami of emotion he can’t comprehend. It all works.

Episode 52: The Heroes

December 4, 2010

Reporter C.D. Phelps writes an unfavorable article about Starsky and Hutch after riding with them for a few days on a case involving drug tampering.

Christine “CD” Phelps: Karen Carlson, Paul Rizzo: Jerrold Ziman, Roxy: Lynn Borden, Karl Regan: Madison Arnold, Al: Lee McLaughlin, Freddy: Gary Graham, Frankie: Nick Holt, ME Ginny Simpson: Adrien Royce, Tony: Patrick Wright, Larry: Charles Picerni, Driver: Hope Newell. Written By: Kathy Donnell and Madeline DiMaggio Wagner, Directed By: Georg Stanford Brown.


This is a pretty great episode about willful misinformation and misinterpretation, something the series is very interested in as a whole. Starsky and Hutch are often mistaken for the wrong side of the law, the “you guys don’t look like cops” mantra meant to illustrate the wave of nontraditional youth with their long hair and jeans flowing into the workforce on all levels in the wake of the swingin’ 60s, but it’s also a metaphor or their liberal humanism so at odds with the uptight past. There are other types of falsehoods and misconceptions too: criminals who look respectable, cops who are corrupt, holy men who are the epitome of unholy, bickering as a form of affection. Society is in flux, nothing is as it seems.

The fact that this episode was written by two women is especially interesting, and we can look at the underlying meaning of this episode in two ways: politically and personally. Politically it shows how an intuitive, creative, circumstance-dependent process (in this case, street-level policing) is very difficult to understand from the outside. Being misunderstood – or worse, unfairly judged – has a profound sting that everyone who has experienced it never forgets. Being pilloried by the press is especially painful because it’s difficult to fight back or offer an indignant explanation without seeming to be oversensitive or defensive. Starsky and Hutch, in this instance, experience a rare and unpleasant feeling of powerlessness. The fact this is brought about by a woman adds an interesting extra layer to this, touching on (but not quite exposing) a man’s dread of psychic castration by a powerful woman – especially if that woman uses sharp words as her weapon, a frustrating tactic neither detective can match. Personally, this episode is an examination of how much better things would be if men could dispense with all the ridiculous posturing and preening and deal with women in a forthright, honest way. Chris is the villain here, sure, but she’s also an important catalyst and worthy of respect.

In the delightful opening scene Starsky is trying to talk Hutch into going into the house-flipping business together, which was, I’m assuming, a far more speculative investment at the time. Starsky as usual is bubbly and enthused about this while Hutch is dour and sarcastic. Hence the immortal “Starsky, are you asking me to live with you?” line. “Hey,” Starsky says as they are ordered into Dobey’s office, “Keep it under your hat.” “What,” Hutch says irritably, although he must know what it is.
“The house,” Starsky says, and then swats Hutch’s behind with the files. This is exactly the kind of familiarity Hutch wants badly and also feels compelled to violently reject. You can see him do a little grimace as they walk into Dobey’s office: The Hutch Special, that sarcastic, private sneer.

Karen Carlson is perfectly adequate in her role as uptight Chris Phelps. But her earlier appearance as Gillian is so unforgettable, and the episode so intense, you wish the illusion had been maintained. Seeing her pop up again, alive and well and with the same amazing hair, is jarring. It breaks the spell.

“The Counter-Culture Cops: The New Breed” is the name of Phelps’ article. It sounds laudatory, and implies an open mind. Then why is she so determined to ignore Starsky and Hutch’s approach to law enforcement and set them up for ridicule?

Dobey thinks C.D. Phelps is a man. He says, “he requested you. He likes your track record.” So this can’t be an assumption based solely on initials; Dobey must have spoken to someone at the newspaper in order to get this information, someone who referred to Phelps as a “he”. It’s possible, but not probable, that no identifying pronouns were used in the conversation, sort of brusque “yeah Phelps really likes their track record”, but that would have been an awfully brief chat and not likely, since access to detectives requires a lot of negotiation. Was there some deliberate obfuscation, the editor thinking Phelps wouldn’t get the story otherwise?

It’s a predictable comedic moment when the guys see the “man” reporter is actually a super-hot chick (Hutch, as usual, trips). When Dobey offers their regrets, Starsky interrupts with “Cap’n, can we have a word with you”, confident in speaking on behalf of his partner even though they have not looked at each other, not once.

If Chris doesn’t like how they handle the butcher by pretending there are health violations, that’s her problem – it’s good police work and probably pretty close to the mark: there may not be any flies, but has that guy washed his hands in the last week? And what’s with the stogy?

Roxy’s incredibly sweet. “Come on in, let’s have a party,” she says, which is one of the nicest and sincerest invitations we hear. Hutch shows his good people skills when Roxy offers free sex in return for his money and his reply – “my catechism teacher would have a fit” – transfers the refusal to a third person, which keeps Roxy’s ego in tact and saves her from humiliation.

Chris is out of line when she says, in response to Roxy’s brave shrugging off of her friend dying, “a man is dead, you’re going to joke about it?” How naïve is she if she doesn’t recognize gallows humor?

I like how Starsky and Hutch switch flirtation styles back and forth. At the start Hutch tells Chris she has “beautiful hair” and Starsky appeals to her intellect by remarking, “your column’s not bad either”. Later, at the fast-food stand, Starsky remarks on her legs while Hutch says irritably, “Here I am trying to understand the core, the complexity of a personality and all you can talk about are her legs! Come on.”

During their continuing fight over who’s gonna bag Chris Phelps Hutch isn’t as confident as he might be. Although he brags and preens, he seems to realize that in the charisma game he and Starsky are just about equal. Does he see this as consolation or an aggravation? Imagine Hutch with another partner, one who isn’t as handsome as Starsky, or who is married or indifferent to women. Without serious competition I suspect it wouldn’t be nearly as fun for Hutch.

Hutch tells Chris that people like Roxy are “today’s informants” but “tomorrow’s suspects, and arrestees.” Does he really mean that, or is he just trying to be impressive?

It’s a good thing they cast stunt-man and Glaser double Charles Picerni to play the role of insurance swindler Larry, who throws himself in front of cars to fake injury. Having a stunt man who can act in a pinch comes in handy.

Chris Phelps’s idiocy continues. “Maybe if you pulled her in when you could’ve this wouldn’t have happened,” she says to Hutch, a glaring error in logic. Pulled her in for what? Prostitution? Suspicion of drug use? She would have been out in 20 minutes. But this ridiculous remark is enough to trigger Hutch’s deep humanitarian impulse. Hutch is tough, no doubt about it, but he’s also quick to self-reproach. “Maybe,” he says to himself after she’s gone.

The shakedown of the bar is wonderfully reminiscent of the pilot episode when the guys round up the denizens at Fat Rolly’s old watering hole. Friendly, aggressive, all-knowing and take-no-shit, they’re commanding in this scene. I like how Starsky borrows a rape whistle to begin the proceedings, blasting it like a referee at a soccer match. “They think they’re a bunch of kings or somethin’”, Frankie says to Chris, and she makes two very typical mistaken assumptions. One, taking Frankie’s word for it, and two, seeing this sense of entitlement as a negative.

Starsky bustles into the squad-room wearing exactly the same outfit as Hutch. Black leather jacket, red-and-blue plaid shirt, jeans. The two of them have a great moment of pausing and glaring. Is Starsky mimicking Hutch’s dress because he thinks it’ll get him points with Chris and if so, does this imply he thinks Hutch is doing better with Chris than he is? Another more amusing possibility is they both, at one time, discussed the best outfit to wear on the make. This identical-outfit scene is echoed in the later episode “Starsky vs. Hutch”, again as a direct result of sexual combativeness.

It’s interesting how Starsky and Hutch don’t waste a second assuming they’re guilty of anything they are accused of in the article. Starsky says, “that’s exactly what she saw,” saying he knows they changed their methods on Dobey’s orders. They don’t do is accuse her of lying. They’re more embarrassed at the idea of being fraudulent than they are of following proper procedure.

“Long hair”? Really? That’s one of the offenses they’re guilty of? What is this, 1968?

When it’s revealed in the newspaper article that she’s given the guys the names “Mutt and Jeff” there are laughs in the squad room. I wonder if there’s an element of schadenfreude at the station, other cops thinking it was high time Starsky and Hutch were taken down a peg or two.

Chris Phelps shows a lot of grit by showing up after her damaging article was printed. You’ve got to give her credit for that. She also says, “look, can we just get this out in the open now, okay?” when both Starsky and Hutch act passive-aggressively, refusing to deal with their private shame.

The guys are rougher than usual with Regan; they do this half because of the case and half because they’re frustrated and embarrassed by the article. It’s like, yeah, you think we’re violent? We’ll show you violence. “That goes for me too,” says Hutch to Regan, in a nice all-for-one partnership moment.

Could Chris’ character be a personification of the television critic of the time who thinks this show is too violent? She certainly has the conservative, slightly hysterical act down pat, and when Starsky attacks her for leveling the “excessive violence” charge, it sounds as if a genuine nerve has been struck.

Aside from not ignoring calls and flirting with Chris less, Starsky and Hutch don’t behave much differently after her scathing article than before, but it’s great that the major difference is making her ride in the back of the Torino so they can sit together. What they do is take her off the list of Women to Flirt With, which is, ironically, a very good thing and gives Chris the dignity she seeks, and deserves.

I love how the Torino smashes into the heavy equipment at the construction site. Small error in driving, or intentional?

Chris freaks out in the squad room in an irrational way (demanding they show “a little more sensitivity”, etc). Hutch and Starsky should understand she’s been traumatized by witnessing the violence of rape firsthand and not take this personally, but they don’t. They’re prickly and defensive, and Hutch calls her “lady”, a dehumanizing tactic of his when particularly upset (there are numerous times throughout the series of him calling women “lady” at the height of his annoyance or anger).

Atypically, Starsky assumes the role as the shouter when it comes to Christine’s unfairness. Hutch just sits back and lets him rant, and then takes the reasonable stance. “Cool down, will ya, Starsk,” he says, and then: “don’t let her get to you.” Even though it’s gotten to him as well, and profoundly.

Hutch again shows his great memory when remembering a homicide a year ago, the name of someone not even in the main action.

It’s notable that an intense, elemental, emotional character like Starsky has no answer to Chris’ question, “why didn’t you shoot him?” He merely gives her a complicated look. It’s verbal-dependent Hutch – anxious, sociable, cerebral – who provides the answer. And it’s a great one. “It wasn’t necessary.”

Tag: “well, here we are,” Starsky says, dismissing Chris Phelps completely from his mind as only he can. They arrive at the light industrial area. “Our house.” Our house? Starsky is quick to assume. Hutch gives one of the all-time great double-takes when he sees the dilapidation. But can he not see that his car is even worse than that house?
Starsky is sanguine about Hutch’s horrified reaction, as if anticipating it, or even desiring it, on some unconscious level. Is he compelled to distract his partner from existential despair? “I’ll throw in a lawn,” he adds as Hutch – Mr. Clumsy, falling from both the crap stairs and the crap banister – moves toward him with homicidal rage.

One wonders if they ever got a return on their money. With the building boom, maybe the land was worth a hundred times what they paid for it – who knows?

Clothing notes: Hutch wears the moon-and-star necklace, Starsky is as usual, blue shirt with the placket. The same-outfit joke is very funny. They wear it throughout the second half of the show.