Episode 54: The Plague, part two

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.

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33 Responses to “Episode 54: The Plague, part two”

  1. phaedrablue4 Says:

    Hello ~ Say, do you have any thoughts as to the meaning behind Hutch’s hand signal or sign that he gives to Dobey when Dobey comes to the isolation window with the flowers. This has been puzzling me for quite a long while now. Thanks.

    • merltheearl Says:

      This is Hutch revealing the wonderful self-deprecation that lies beneath all that bad attitude, because in my opinion he’s making a weakened Power salute, a joke on Dobey (with a historical reference to civil rights), and in stubborn refusal to accept his own tragic circumstances.This is the way I’ve always seen it.

  2. phaedrablue4 Says:

    I’ll buy that.

  3. Shelley Says:

    A particularly interesting aspect about Helen Yeager, I thought, is that she tells everyone her husband is in Canada. This would imply that he left to avoid going to Vietnam, but if they were close in age and have a son who’s maybe 12, she should be much younger. So is that an outright lie? I wonder.

    I love it that Starsky wrote ‘Starsk’ on the window. Like you said, writing the shortened version of his name that Hutch is pretty much the only person to use. Kind of funny how the ‘K’ is so very perfect, as he’s writing backwards.

  4. King David Says:

    Nobody looks good in hospital gowns. At least those fetching lemon ones look ironed. Only a couple of tabs between modesty and certain fame…
    When I first watched this in 1970-something, I was blown away by the word on the window; I can remember wondering, before the reveal, what Starsky would write. In the years since, I really appreciate the depth of the one abbreviated name ‘Starsk’, as the only thing that would be needed. (Do you know any lady who carries around her lipstick in her pocket? Mine are all in my handbag. Lip balm okay, but proper lipstick? And red? She’s not got that actual colour on even.)
    It’s only here that I’ve learned that Soul had suffered a serious bout of pheumonia prior to this filming, so that added some extra poignancy I wish I’d had back in the day.
    So often the sriptwriters, or directors, have the good guys call out to the bad huys and thus alert them too soon and they make a successful getaway, or fire off shots, or something that really shouldn’t, in the logical world, happen.
    Callender wouldn’t have known them by sight as cops, so they could’ve got closer, I think.
    I liked the mum; she was dressed in the TV shorthand costume for good mum, ie mature-lady dress and that apron, and was very maternal with her son. I’ve got two sons now and I like to think I’d be with them in any situation, without fear for myself. She was quick to read the situation when Starsky burst in, and this spoke heaps to her commonsense, I think. Imagine a younger woman who may have screamed or protested and delayed him. She may tell everyone that her husband is in Canada as he’s shot through and she makes up things to avoid the stigma.
    Starsky on his own, in situations of urgency, is so masterful, that it makes a wide chasm between his usual eagerness to please and this strong focused approach. This is, of course, his true core self, but for vaild reasons of his own he conceals this and adopts the other when around Hutch. I would trust that Hutch knows this inner core exists, but it suits them both to maintain the status quo ‘default’ position.
    Why wouldn’t a rural convenience grocery store stock liquor? Even good stuff? it’s a convenience store to cater to a variety of needs, and probably has no competition.

  5. Diane Moore Says:

    When they bring Calendar in he is bleeding and the nurse has Jo gloves on isn’t he highly contagious

  6. Dianna Says:

    Science observations: I always find the colored liquids in TV science labs amusing. And the picture Dr. Meredith shows Hutch is no virus.

    Starsky’s note: A left-handed person can write backwards more easily than a right-handed person can. That clock that says it’s 6:30 still says the same time in a much later scene, so we can’t really use it to affix a time to anything.

    The grocer says that the Yeager house is the “only house in the area.” And yet, from the Yeager front yard, we can see Starsky drive past two clusters of cars up the street, implying that there are houses there, and when he briefly drives past the house we can see two houses across the field.

    Here is a weird thing: When I play the DVD on my TV, it plays in a widescreen format, but the backup I made of the DVD plays in a small-screen format on my computer, not filling the entire width of the screen. My backup file also showed different things at the Yeager house than the DVD it was made from! In the computer file, I see a car in a yard next door to the Yeagers; and when Starsky first looks into the Yeager yard, there is a person walking out of the frame! Neither of these things is in evidence when I play the episode directly from the DVD.

    Starsky’s little pep talk to Hutch, about finding Callendar “any hour” is very reminiscent of Hutch’s pep talk to Starsky in “A Coffin for Starsky,” about all the things they’ll do back on the streets.

    I find it ironic that Starsky wants to offer Callendar immunity, when immunity to the plague is the thing he has that Starsky wants him to provide.

    When Callendar decides to go to the hospital, I almost get the feeling that the kindness Richie showed him is the first kindness he has ever known. “I just got one more debt to pay, and then I’m all done.” What are his debts? Clearly he feels he owes Helen and Richie something, but why was killing Roper part of paying his debts?

    When he is outside shooting, he is clutching at a chest wound on his right side. When he is in the emergency room, and we see the wound, it is on the left side of his abdomen.

  7. King David Says:

    That is a perceptive remark you make, Dianna, about the immunity Callender has and hasn’t got.
    I was going to say that perhaps all those cars that are clustered further up from the Yeager house are suspect gatherings of clandestine drug lab owners (from my highly-cynical 2013 perspective) but your revelations about what else is in the scene make that unbelievable.
    Merl says often than TV has to have shortcuts, and we as audience members have to recognise that shortcuts are being employed and recognise them as such; it would make any show tediously long otherwise. We are asked to accept an awful lot of shortcuts in this 2-parter.

  8. Anna Says:

    Starsky’s desperation and fear is so palpable throughout this entire episode it would hurt to watch if it wasn’t so mesmerizing. He radiates the fact that he is a man who will have absolutely nothing to lose if Hutch buys the farm, from his brilliant no-bullshit confrontation with Roper on one hand, or his panicked mood swings with Huggy on the other. Speaking of Huggy, seeing Starsky pointlessly bargaining in that scene — ostensibly with the criminal underclass, but probably more accurately with fate or god — saying that there is no limit to what he will give, empty his bank account, sell his car, sell his soul, if it will give Hutch a chance, is incredibly real-feeling because, rather than in spite, of how simple his offers are. Huggy is really wonderful in that scene too, keeping Starsky on-topic and away from dead-end speculation. And the scenes of Starsky gazing at Hutch through the glass with that stock-still, burning stare gives me a great desire to crack open his head so that I can peek in and read his thoughts.

    The fact that Hutch puts on such a brave face for Kaufman, for Dobey, and even for himself, yet drops all pretense and out and out demands that Starsky go back out and save him is one of the most wonderful displays of the strength of their friendship in the show. Altruism and selfless love may be an amazing thing, but it’s an even more amazing thing to know, really *know*, that your friend cares about you more than anything else in the world, and to know that you are not imposing on him or presuming anything that is not within your rights to demand if you order him to go work himself sick to save you. Hutch is too proud and stubborn a man to ever beg like that without the complete and absolute trust that he has in Starsky.

  9. Grevy's Zebra Says:

    This episode is probably the single most self-aware-ly distilled of the “partner in peril” episodes. The focus here is not on the suspense and drama of having one of the main characters near death, the focus is on letting the viewer avidly scrutinize Starsky’s psychological suffering over Hutch’s condition. The entire plot of the two-parter is an excuse to show just how much Starsky loves Hutch, and to show it, articulate it, and de-hypothetical-ize the consequences of it in every possible way. Not to say that the plot of a city-wide epidemic isn’t an interesting one (even though I have no idea if it’s depicted at all accurately here), or that Callendar and his subplot with the Yeager family isn’t well-done, but this episode is less subtle than usual about being all about exposing the depths of Starsky’s love and dedication for the viewer’s emotionally cathartic pleasure. And boy is it effective in doing that. I love every minute of this episode and can re-watch very often. Especially those scenes of Starsky staring at Hutch like he’s trying to burn a hole in the glass or trying not to break down while visiting him. And in Roper’s house, dear god *goes all misty-eyed*

    Is it just me, or are the episodes where Starsky needs to save Hutch somewhat different from the ones where Hutch has to save Starsky? The two characters give off different vibes in very similar situations. Hutch usually seems to radiate more fear when he’s the rescuer, while Starsky usually seems to radiate more pain when he’s the rescuer. But these are broad generalizations, of course.

    Also, some of the situations are tailored in small ways to the specific character who’s saving his partner. Mostly there’s a lot of overlap, emphasizing their similarities and their equality and their oneness, but some of their differences seem quite connected to the differences in their characters. Take, for example, the difference between Bloodbath and The Plague. In Bloodbath, the writers seem to have twigged onto Hutch’s intellectual personality and force him to interact with a bad guy who plays all sorts of mindgames to make his brain go spinning in circles while trying to get down to Marcus’s level and outsmart him because both his strengths and weaknesses are intellectual. That kind of thing would be thematically inappropriate for Starsky, who doesn’t have a thinky sort of personality and has neither significant strengths nor significant weaknesses in that area, so it wouldn’t reveal his character as well as it reveals Hutch’s. In The Plague, instead, they erect barrier after barrier to make the entire solution seem neigh impossible, in order to construct a trajectory and a series of challenges that play to Starsky’s strengths and weaknesses — Starsky is a doer, and so his character is best revealed by putting him in situations like this one where he has to do a lot while fearing that no matter how much he does, it won’t be enough. This gives him the opportunity to muscle through all those barriers from sheer force of will and clarity of intent in ways that most people who are not Starsky would never dream of, while also forcing him to be helpless to relieve Hutch’s pain, beg, humble himself, and compromise his integrity to save him.

    Maybe the above speculation is a bit of a long-shot, but I actually think the writers really did know what they were doing with these choices. Maybe they didn’t really hash it out in so much detail, but I’m pretty sure a vague “hmm, this sort of story would fit best for Starsky, while this other sort of story would fit best for Hutch” went on.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Beautifully put, and I totally agree about the differences in the way Starsky and Hutch attempt to help each other in times of extreme stress. The interrogations between Marcus and Roper show this very well: both compacted, tense moments in which crucial life-saving information must be wrested by someone who is actively in the way. Starsky lowers his head and charges like a bull, while Hutch is more matador-like, dodging and weaving around his opponent in a nimble way. Like you said, this is a pretty broad generalization but I think it fits.

    • Wallis Says:

      “Hutch usually seems to radiate more fear when he’s the rescuer, while Starsky usually seems to radiate more pain when he’s the rescuer.”

      An interesting observation. Hutch would be the one more inclined to spin horrible fantasies in his head of living the rest of his life without Starsky. Starsky is more likely to be unwilling or unable to let himself ponder his life after Hutch’s death, and maxes out on empathetic anguish over Hutch’s condition. This would align with their pattern of separating into mind/body or brain/brawn. Not a rigid division of course, but I think it’s enough to be considered a pattern.

      Still, I wonder what exactly is going through Starsky’s head when he’s gazing at Hutch through the window, and before he decides to go in and visit him. Whatever it is, he keeps it all to himself except when his control cracks and he yells at Huggy or Judith. Quite different from Hutch’s style.

    • Adelaide Says:

      This is an interesting point! I’ve mostly been impressed at how evenly distributed the hurt between the two of them is. Neither of them seem to get harmed (physically or emotionally) more frequently than the other, or more badly than the other, as far as I can recall, so they feel very much like equals. And they both have a nice range of different misfortunes that befall each of them, so it not like “okay, Starsky gets all of Hurt Type A, while Hutch gets all of Hurt Type B” (although I’ve noticed Starsky gets shot more than Hutch, and Hutch gets sick more than Starsky). But within those varied situations, both the hurt one and the comforting one react in such uniquely characteristic ways that it’s really difficult to imagine their positions being reversed without drastically changing the way the story plays out. “Bloodbath” and “The Plague” would both have to be very different in some ways if the characters’ roles were switched in each of them, or they would just feel…weird. And possibly vaguely unsatisfying or even OOC.

      But perhaps this is because those hurt/comfort episodes play such a big role in forming the foundation of our perceptions of their characters in the first place. Those episodes are not just playing off of the characters’ already-established personalities, but they are actually vital in revealing and establishing those personalities in the first place. I mean really, isn’t “Bloodbath” pretty important to our overall understanding of Hutch’s character and his relationship with Starsky? And isn’t “The Plague” pretty important to our overall understanding of Starsky’s character and his relationship with Hutch? Our interpretations of both their personalities would be incomplete and perhaps quite different if we’d never seen those episodes.

      Which actually makes me really long to see what a review blog would be like if it was written by someone who, unlike Merl, *hadn’t* been already familiar with the whole show before s/he started writing, and was giving his/her first-hand impressions of each episode *without* knowing what the upcoming episodes would reveal about the characters and their world. In particular, I think a lot of Hutch’s complicated insecurities, which IMO are so much more subtle in season 1 than they are in seasons 2-4 (which, btw, makes me wonder if this was Soul’s influence at work — he supposedly thought the character of Hutch was boring when he first auditioned), might pass unnoticed for quite a while before the first-time viewer started recognizing the pattern.

      • Dianna Says:

        Adelaide, I’ve been watching them in order and have not yet seen any episode after Strange Justice, and I am careful to write about each episode before moving on to the next, so I have the impressions without knowing (much) about what’s coming. I didn’t find this blog till I was several episodes into the series, so I don’t have first-time-viewer things to say about the earliest episodes. I try to avoid reading too much detail about episodes I haven’t seen yet, so my comments are from the point of view you’re looking for.

        (I need to get my thoughts on Strange Justice into written form so I can move ahead!)

  10. Sharon Marie Says:

    Dr. Renfeld needs to get his arse to Administration. Every time there is a scene in that hospital, in every episode, the mysterious Renfeld is paged to Administration.

    So, as someone who works in the medical field I can only assume that the show didn’t have much in terms of medical advisors. Their isolation procedures were horrible. And no wonder Hutch was in so much pain. He was so dehydrated every muscle was cramping. I kept wanting to know where his IV fluid support was. No external cooling – although it’s not always used these days, in the 70’s it was first line of care. His fever, the origin being viral, maybe would have benefitted from an external cooling device. However they would have also given him medication to reduce shivering as shivering can increase oxygen consumption up to 40% and he is already struggling to oxygenate. No central line, In fact he has no intravenous lines at all! I assume he is being given IV medications to help with the fluid in the lungs. I would hope. No monitoring. No Foley Catheter. So little. He should sue!

    The doctor is going back to Alabama, but the CDC is based in Atlanta.

    • Adelaide Says:

      Sharon, it’s so much fun and so insightful to hear these things from the perspective of someone who actually knows what they’re talking about! Us laypeople can pretty much shrug off anything as dramatic convenience even when we have a vague suspicion that something’s not being portrayed accurately, because we don’t know exactly how it *should* look instead. I suppose that scene where Starsky visits Hutch in the isolation ward wouldn’t be as dramatic if Hutch hadn’t been shivering and cramping so badly, lol!

  11. Wallis Says:

    I just love Starsky’s bottomless love for Hutch on display here so much. The writers are so forthright and apologetic about it in this episode, right to the very end of the tag. Hutch has a bad track record for illnesses, the poor guy. The plague and botulism in the span of one year.

    The scene where Starsky writes on Hutch’s window in lipstick (after having thought about it for a while, from the way he was staring), and where Hutch wakes up, weak and feverish and miserable, to see Starsky’s name there in his line of vision and he just lies down and stares at the name as if drawing strength from Starsky by proxy…oh. It’s one of those scenes that causes that little spine-tingle and jolt deep in the gut from the astonishment and emotional torque. So intimate it feels like trespassing, and so impassioned it’s almost romantic. Moments like that tend to imprint your very first impression onto your mind for all future viewings.

  12. Sharon Marie Says:

    Picky things…. as for the ever changing name of the hospital, It’s referred to as Lincoln Hospital and City Hospital. Exterior shots usually show Memorial Hospital. But there is also one exterior of a different structure with a sign that says Orthopoedic Hospital just before they go to Hutch in isolation… that would be for bones!

    As Starsky backs into Helen’s driveway someone is in the right side of the frame and scoots out. He’s clearly not supposed to be in the shot.

    Also in that scene, Starsky takes his gun and hides it in his waistband. Why would he do this and not just keep it in his holster like he usually does?

  13. Louie Says:

    By the way, on re-watching this, I noticed a really great visual gag: when Starsky’s skulking around outside the big wrought iron gates to Roper’s mansion, there’s a big sign right over his shoulder reading “GUARD DOG ON DUTY.”

    How very, very true. 😉

  14. Wallis Says:

    Just rewatched this episode a while ago and something stuck with me: after rewatching episodes a couple times, I start trying to notice little details (especially little acting bits), and in the scene where Starsky goes into Hutch’s room to visit with him, you can barely see any of him at all except his eyes, it’s all covered with the mask and gown. Usually this kind of stuff is a problem for actors, because facial expressions and body language are so important. But at the end, after Hutch’s “hop in the holes” speech where he chokes up in pain and whispers “oh god, it hurts, it hurts”, Starsky’s eyebrows just knit and tilt up and with that one tiny movement Glaser manages to convey *so much* pain and helplessness at Hutch’s pain that the rest of his expression isn’t needed, and it’s actually even more poignant when it’s 3/4ths hidden.

    In the same scene, I love Hutch’s attempt at an encouraging smile that gets smothered by a grimace of pain and fear when he jerks his head towards the door and says “get out of here.” I also noticed that if it was written down and just read out loud, that whole speech could sound pretty clunky and over the top, but Soul’s delivery and the way he has Hutch believe the sentiment behind it makes it work so well.

  15. Spencer Says:

    When I first watched this series as a teen in the 70s I had the impression that Hutch was the stabilizing force of the two, but now, as an adult re-watching the series on DVD, its obvious to me that Starsky is the unit’s stabilizer. In this episode, it becomes obvious. In “A Coffin for Starsky,” Starsky is generally stoic about his situation, continues to rib and joke, and insists on going out with Hutch to hit the streets. On the other hand, in “The Plague,” Hutch feels a bit miserable and sorry for himself. Starsky anticipates this reaction from his partner (after all, he knows absolutely everything about him) and writes “Starsk” on the window to bolster and goad him on. The “don’t ask questions” bit is incredibly intimate – the ultimate insider act that only Hutch and he will understand. I was struck by the scene in the hospital when Starsky goes to Hutch’s bedside and tries to convince him that a cure is imminent, then teases him, calling him Captain Marvel and referring to his own “ugly mug” – baiting Hutch to rib him back as he was wont to do. Hutch responds by saying “its no good” and “fun and games are over,” an acknowledgment that their frequent back and forth teasing and ribbing is all fake and their unique way to diffuse the stress of their jobs and the reality that any day one of them might be seriously injured or even killed (which would affect the other even more). Hutch basically begs Starsky to go back out to find Callendar and the cure. He is desperately dependent on Starsky to save him as he always does. Numerous times throughout the series Hutch has unhesitatingly put himself in dangerous situations, fully trusting in Starsky to watch his back and keep him safe (Survival, Class in Crime, The Psychic, etc.) These are the times Starsky is most on edge; knowing how much Hutch depends on him, plus knowing he couldn’t handle losing Hutch. In “Bust Amboy” Starsky admonishes Hutch “don’t be hero;” in “Iron Mike,” when Hutch states “we have each other,” Starsky mumbles “terrific,” once again knowing (dreading) how Hutch is counting on him. Interestingly, when Starsky has his own brush with death in “Coffin,” Starsky still manages to save Hutch toward the end, even though he thinks it means certain death for himself.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Spencer, I appreciate your theory even if my personal belief there is no one stabilizing force, but rather a complicated back-and-forth between the two, dependent on the circumstances. Hutch saves himself in “The Fix”, or is determined to, he turns away from his partner in “Ballad for a Blue Lady”, calmly takes charge in “The Shootout”, overrides an order to stay away in “Pariah”, saves the day (and Starsky) in “The Avenger” and “Bloodbath”, and ends the series as a chillingly unstoppable reprisal-machine in Sweet Revenge”. He puts an end to the teasing in “The Plague” (you can almost hear his fondly exasperated “just shut up and get going” in that scene) just as Starsky does in other episodes such as “Murder At Sea” – they both equally share the “let’s get serious” role against the others’ jokey tension-dissipation. That said, I think it’s a wonderful moment when the assumptions of our younger selves are overturned. What we once assumed was obvious (Hutch, as a snappy, hyper-alert, controlling perfectionist, basically a golden Adonis, is the “natural leader) turns out to be mistaken. Your theory is wholly plausible, of of course, and a poignant one at that, but I felt I had to give my caveat.

      • Anna Says:

        I think both you and Spencer have a point. When things are extreme and one of their lives are in danger, they are equals, balancing each other and taking turns being in charge, but I think in the smaller, non-crisis moments, Starsky defaults to stabilizer more than Hutch (though not, of course, 100% of the time). I think they both have dread/anxiety about knowing how much their partner relies on them, but Starsky is more likely to show it, while Hutch, I think, bottles it up (and perhaps it gets corrosive in season 4, when he could be seen as opting for self-destruction because the pressure is too great, but of course that’s just wild speculation…)

        I always thought it was a great moment in “Sweet Revenge”, when Hutch is bending Starsky’s ear about Gunther in the hospital room, babbling and dancing around and really excited, while Starsky is grinning and fondly rolling his eyes and trying to stay awake and listen to Hutch and nod along with and encourage him, even when he’s full of bullet holes.

  16. stybz Says:

    Last night was the first time I had seen this episode in many years. I used to love it and often confuse it with The Game, but I was just a young tyke when I watched this show. 🙂

    Merle, I love your analysis of this episode as whole. 🙂

    I’m thinking the reason “STARSK” wasn’t cleaned off the window for so long is because Starsky might have wrote it after the cleaning crew finished for the night and before they came in the next morning. 🙂 The nurses probably wouldn’t have cleaned it off.

    I’m thinking the news report from Starsky was an interruption of regular programming. Also, if it was a weekday in the fall or winter, there’s very little daytime sports on TV (no cable or satellite back then). No chance of catching Sri Lanken Cricket in a small dinky bar like that. 🙂

    Gun in the waistband: Starsky does this a few times in other episodes, namely Pariah. Starsky loves Westerns and he probably feels that grabbing it from his left side is quicker and more subtle than reaching across his chest to pull it out of the holster.

    I’m enjoying the analysis of how Starsky and Hutch each react when the other is in danger. I do agree with many of the points raised, and wanted to add my input. One thing I’m really pleased about this show (so far) is the consistency of the characters. Too many of my favorite shows to date will change the personality of the character (i.e. make him more of a buffoon) to drive the plot. That often annoys me when the lead is suddenly different just for the sake of the story. I don’t know if it’s the writers or Paul and David who kept Starsky and Hutch consistent in their personas (at least to this point), but I’m really pleased with what I’ve seen so far.

    In watching the bedside scene where Starsky is in the gown and mask, I noticed something very interesting that relates back to my comments on this similar subject in Captain Dobey You’re Dead and The Heroes. In this scene, Starsky is trying to be brave for his partner, but he fails. Hutch wants it straight, calling Starsky a terrible liar. He doesn’t want Starsky to gloss things over. But the minute he’s in pain, Hutch realizes it’s his partner who needs the comfort as Starsky starts to cry. Suddenly, it’s Hutch putting on the brave face and – as he did in Rosey Malone – he pushes Starsky to focus on task at hand. He knows Starsky is doing all he can to help him. He doesn’t doubt it. But he doesn’t want see his partner upset, and he realizes his own pain is making things worse. So he puts on a brave face as he often does when Starsky is fearful or hurting. He’s essentially responding to Starsky’s feeling of helplessness by pushing him to keep looking.

    If it had been Starsky in that bed, he would have want the truth as well, but he would welcome the joking and comfort Hutch would give him. If we look at Shootout and Coffin for Starsky we see Starsky openly show pain and fears, despite trying to keep a brave face in both episodes. Hutch is honest with him and Starsky appreciates it, but he’s not shy about his feelings. He reaches out for Hutch constantly in Shootout, grasping his leg, grabbing what he hopes is Hutch’s hand (but it’s Teresa’s). In Coffin he holds onto Hutch many times, tells him he’s in pain, tells him he’s scared and reaches out for his hand. He’s more likely to say goodbye, as difficult as it might be. He welcomes Hutch’s comfort and support. He’s not afraid to admit when he’s scared. And he will cry in front of Hutch without hesitation. He’s often the one crying even in episodes where Hutch is in peril, as well as the ones where he’s in danger himself. Hutch’s response to all this is to cheer him up and give him comfort, which Starsky welcomes wholeheartedly.

    Hutch on the other hand will usually get angry. He won’t show fear or sadness unless in extreme circumstances. Most of the time, despite everything he tries to keep a cool head. If not for himself, then so that Starsky doesn’t worry.

    Granted I do still need to see more episodes to see if this holds water, since this is the first episode in which I’ve seen Hutch truly suffering. In Survival we barely see how he is with Starsky after he’s found. Same holds true for when he was hurt in Vendetta. He’s in pain and Starsky comforts him, but what happens after that and before they’re in Dobey’s office. How is his reaction to trauma in front of Starsky different? And how does Starsky react?

    The Fix is an interesting situation. When Hutch is at his weakest he’s begging Starsky for a fix, which upsets Starsky and he fights back tears. But when Hutch starts to show some strength, Starsky backs off just enough, still offering comfort or tough-love when Hutch needs it. He shows Hutch he’s there for him, but Hutch is more likely to prove himself strong. Had it been Starsky, Hutch would have pushed him to get strong, but would have comforted him more as well. They know what the other wants and needs and each one delivers. 🙂

    In this episode in the hospital room, the word “STARSK” on the window seems to give Hutch the impetus to get to his feet. Maybe he thought Starsky was there. Or maybe seeing Starsky’s name gave him the motivation to fight the fever, albeit unsuccessfully.

    If Starsky had seen Hutch’s name on the glass, he would probably have smiled and stared at it, and found some comfort in seeing it. Maybe he might have gotten up or perhaps called out “Huuuuuutch!” Anything to know if his partner is close by. 🙂

    Near the end of Fatal Charm, when Starsky sees that Hutch is hurt, he tries unsuccessfully to keep a brave face, but when he asks where Hutch is going he’s outwardly concerned. You can see the worry on his face. If the roles had been reversed, Hutch would have forced a smile.

    I’m hoping season 4 doesn’t stray from this, although I’ve read a few things to suggest that it did. I’ll know soon enough. 🙂 If there are differences, I’ll be pleased if it’s some sort of character development and not a plot driven device. Most shows (including ones these days) don’t pursue character development, which is a shame.

  17. Beth Says:

    One: this blog is a great find. I love dense, serious, loving analytical reviews of things that are usually not given this kind of attention from fans. The only books or other things like TV and movies that seem to get the attention they deserve are either geeky sci-fi (Star Trek, Doctor Who, and similar); or old classics, especially ones that can be analyzed in a way to exclude people who don’t have several degrees in literature. Everything else gets dismissed as “just TV” or, which always makes me angry, “genre” fiction/movies, as if real books and movies with artistic merit cannot ever fall under the category of a genre. I always thought this was unfair and classist, and insular. So every time I see someone seriously tackle something outside of what is considered “worthy” of analysis, I’m very pleased.

    Two: I like the variety of opinions and views expressed in the comments. Example: I’m scratching my head in confusion at stybz’s comment. Personally, I can’t understand seeing (or wanting to see) the partnership in such an odd-to-me way, and I can think of a dozen examples that don’t align with it at all, starting with the whole of the episode “The Fix.” Yet obviously, it works for some people. I read so much of this blog so fast I forgot which post it was in, but I remember the blog writer made a comment about the importance of shows being elastic so that different people could see different things, which was perfect.

    The Plague isn’t my Number One favorite, but I think it was the episode that astounded me the most the first time I saw it. I couldn’t quite believe it was really written that way. It is hard to explain, but in all the other episodes that have Starsky or Hutch in danger and the other one coming to the rescue, there is something a little different than what is shown here. Reading the comments, I think “self-awareness” is what distinguishes this episode from all the others. The reader with the name “Grevy’s Zebra” said this:

    “The focus here is not on the suspense and drama of having one of the main characters near death, the focus is on letting the viewer avidly scrutinize Starsky’s psychological suffering over Hutch’s condition. The entire plot of the two-parter is an excuse to show just how much Starsky loves Hutch”

    I think this gets it right. This episode is much less suspenseful or mysterious about the crisis’s solution than any of the other hurt-partner episodes, and also has more gratuitous emotional and lovey-dovey scenes between them than any other. Even very intense love scenes in other episodes are part of the flow of the plot, considerably enhanced by the actors’ chemistry and talent. In this episode most of these scenes are almost all completely disconnected from the plot. I don’t want to say “shoehorned in” or “contrived” because that’s a negative term, and it describes a scene that rings false, which is the exact OPPOSITE of the scenes here, but like Grevy’s Zebra’s comment said, it almost seems like the whole plot is an “excuse” to show those love scenes and the scenes lingering on Starsky’s desperation and devotion.

    Example: the scene where Starsky goes into the isolation room to comfort Hutch. This is not needed at all. We already know Hutch is in extreme pain and Starsky is worried sick about him and what he needs to do to save him, and nothing changes and nothing new about the case is discussed, and it goes on for an unusually long time. The scene’s only purpose is for Our Heroes to have a long, emotional love scene that probably made all the female viewers cry (maybe some male ones too). If any other male characters had a scene like this, it would probably feel mushy, even out of place, but this is Starsky & Hutch, so the rules for all other characters go out the window. I didn’t know about the personal connection the actors had to this scene, and now I wonder if that real life context had any impact on the final product.

    There is also one small observation about this episode I want to make: in the later scenes, Starsky’s eyes are very red-rimmed, like he really hasn’t slept in a long time. Look especially at the scene where he’s in Roper’s house, talking to him (or more like letting Roper blather). It’s a great detail.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Wow, Beth, I am knocked out by this comment. For one, I am so pleased that you appreciate my endeavor, which has gone on for years now and sometimes feels depressingly Quixotic in nature. I have always felt the same way about tackling “Starsky & Hutch” with the intelligence and restraint it deserves. In fact I began this blog as a reaction to the two-fold response the series has gotten (overblown or pornographic in nature on the one hand, or utter contempt-filled dismissal on the other). Surely there was some reasonable middle ground that needed exploring.

      I also really like your analysis of this episode, which I read with a mix of envy and delight. I wish I had written this, so well does it confirm to a largely unconscious response I had, and have to this day. This episode is gratuitously loving, which still feels astoundingly revolutionary. It has a whole other agenda running beneath it like a power line.

      Thank you for your insight – I look forward to more.

      • Beth Says:

        “It has a whole other agenda running beneath it like a power line.”

        Yes! This quote says what I was trying to say much more clearly! Thank you for improving on my attempt.

        I hope I do have more thoughts worthy to contribute. The reviews and comments have given a lot of food for thought.

    • Wallis Says:

      Beth, I am tickled and pleased at your referring to certain emotional scenes between Starsky and Hutch as “love scenes.” The phrasing makes me laugh but you’re right — what else could we call them? And the comparison is appropriate I suppose, this series doesn’t just let us know Starsky and Hutch love each other, it has to let us watch them lovING each other, in focused, isolated scenes that bring the rest of the plot to a halt.

      Thanks for pointing out Starsky’s red eyes. It does look very striking.

  18. Lioness Says:

    I love to read this blog and all the comments to get insights that I wouldn’t come up with on my own. Here’s my small contribution to this episode. Hutch is alone and still symptom free in isolation. Dr. Meredith walks by the window and Hutch taps on it. This is where the doctor shows Hutch the image of the virus. Hutch has a deck of cards in his hand. Do you suppose there’s any significance to the fact that the Queen of Hearts is showing or just coincidence? 😉

    • merltheearl Says:

      Good spotting, Lioness! I’d like to believe this was deliberate.

      • emma60 Says:

        “Hutch has a deck of cards in his hand. Do you suppose there’s any significance to the fact that the Queen of Hearts is showing or just coincidence?”

        This is one of the many reasons I love this blog so dearly. So many mentions of ideas, themes and, in this case, background details that I would never have thought of or caught on my own.

        The ending of that particular scene with Dr. Meredith has always struck me as being particularly touching. After being quarantined, we’ve seen Hutch cracking jokes, being stoic, flirting with Judith; and just before Meredith walks in front of Hutch’s window we see him standing there, peering out into the hallway and looking very bored. But, after being shown the horrific photo of the virus bug and being told that no progress is being made towards developing an antidote, Hutch’s demeanor changes. He shuffles back to his bed and just… sits there for a moment, looking so very alone and forlorn. It’s as if he’s, finally, really processing the fact that he probably won’t survive this situation. And then he goes back to half-heartedly flinging his cards, because what else can he do….

        Those few seconds where he’s just sitting there staring at the floor have always just torn at my heart.

  19. Miche Says:

    This eps stayed with me in a significant way after originally seeing it I believe 20 years ago. I love the comments that allude to it being more of a love story than anything else. It is indeed. (That is the general premise for this show.) It’s one scene after another depicting Starsky’s devastation as he witnesses Hutch in so much pain, loosing his life, and feels powerless to help in any way.

    In turn, Hutch is clearly in emotional pain watching Starsky’s helplessness. The way Hutch keeps his eyes on Starsky as he leaves the hospital room and tears off his mask and gown is very telling. I see the pain for his partner in his eyes and it becomes hard to bear for him so he turns his head the other way and closes his eyes. Phew… (Boy, that man is a looker. They both are.)

    I am sure there is also more going on in Hutch’s head but for me the bulk of his pain is seeing Starsky hurting so badly.

    It’s hard to imagine two other actors pulling off all these love scenes. But maybe, I can’t be objective.

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