Episode 58: The Heavyweight

Starsky and Hutch try to help Jimmy Spenser, a down-and-out boxer who gets in trouble with vicious hood Gavin when he refuses to throw a fight.

Jimmy Spenser: Gary Lockwood, Haley Gavin: Bernard Behrens, Jeeter: Whitman Mayo, Sharon: Susan Buckner, Stevie: JR Miller, Lillian Spenser: Laurel Adams, Booker Wayne: Shaka Cumbuka, Berl: Darryl B Smith, Jake: Layne Britton. Written By: Norman Borisoff and Robert E Swanson, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

There are two intensely physical sport/pastimes “Starsky & Hutch” is preoccupied with throughout its short run: fighting and dancing. Both require stamina, coordination, and fitness, both are populist, both are social events with both audience and participants, both are cohesive in a community sense, both are widely admired and fetishized, both require complex rules of engagement, and one could say success in either can signal a coming of age. Both can have unsavory characters hanging at the margins, particularly when money or reputation is at stake. Starsky and Hutch are very good at both. You would think nothing could be more different than dancing and fighting, but the highly structured rules slamming up against powerful surges of emotion are similar.( I would have liked to see the muscular realities of ballet in “Body Worth Guarding” depicted as vividly as boxing in this episode, but it remains a shimmering obscurity off in the distance.)

Jimmy’s character is cemented early, as he nicely advises the drinking security guard to sleep in his car to avoid the cold. This is a guy who can turn a blind eye to infractions in order to help another human being. Gary Lockwood, who plays Jimmy Spenser, is perhaps best-known for co-starring in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. With his fresh-faced good looks and subtle, underwhelming performance, he’s perfect here as the trying-to-be-good everyman.

First thing in the morning, and Hutch plays a mean trick, putting his mug in front of Starsky to dip his fingers in, although I find it difficult to believe the coffee at the station is ever as hot as Starsky dramatically pretends it is. Starsky’s playful reaction proves he doesn’t mind this little trick, and the conversation continues as usual, leading to the assumption that Hutch’s behavior isn’t only to be anticipated, it’s to be tolerated – and even enjoyed, to some extent – as well.

The two guys, Burrow and Cruiser, muscling Starsky and Hutch, are their exact duplicates, only exaggerated: one white-blond, the other a black guy with an afro. The blond guy even wears a blue plaid jacket, the black guy a brown leather jacket, in direct imitation. And of course when it comes to the big fight in the locker room, when Spenser has refused to throw the fight and is menaced by those same guys, Starsky throws himself at the guy who is most like him, and Hutch at the guy who’s most like him, much as they do in “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty”.

Unlike in earlier episodes (noticeably “Murder on Stage 17”) it’s Hutch who is instantly alerted to something not quite right when approached at the docks. Is it because Starsky, who can be seen as the more suspicious of the two, has just finished telling a story illustrating his extreme exhaustion? Hutch seems more in tune with what’s going on here than Starsky is, not just here but throughout the entire episode. Not only seeing danger at the loading dock, he’s sensitive to Spenser’s obvious discomfort in the changing room; he practically has to drag Starsky into the action. It’s surprising – and somewhat depressing – both detectives allow their work to suffer when women are around the periphery of their lives: Hutch is similarly distracted and distractable during his own intense crushes.

What do Burrow and Cruiser want with the boxes, anyway? Are they looking to steal the contents, inventory the product passing through the port, or just looking for a meaningless fight with the new guys?

Starsky and Hutch ask Jimmy down to the Pits for drinks, and Jimmy brings his erstwhile manager Jeeter (the incomparable Whitman Mayo, who almost steals the whole episode with his slurry, twinkling performance). Jeeter mentions Jimmy has been working at the docks for twelve years, which might indicate a minor, forgettable fighting career, yet everyone here, including Huggy, knows a lot about him. Starsky remembers him boxing at the Sports Arena even though it was years ago, and probably a indistinguishable from a lot of other fighters. It’s possible Spenser was successful while working a day job, as many athletes at this time (even famous ones) were never paid very much. The massive wealth enjoyed by some contemporary hockey or football players was unknown in the 1970s, most of whom worked menial labor during the off-season.

Starsky makes a non-funny, heavy-handed joke about Huggy’s nose after Huggy’s rather startling admission about a semi-pro fighting career; there follows an embarrassed silence between the three actors, a sort of can you believe they made me say that? moment that is worth the bad joke.

Both Starsky and Hutch instantly and wholeheartedly take to Jimmy Spenser. They socialize with him and offer amusingly vociferous support during the prize fight. Throughout the series this immediate fidelity to people, particularly those with a troubled or complicated situation, is a notable aspect of both men’s characters. Both are equally capable of forging empathetic bonds. Once befriended, they are ferocious advocates. In trouble, you can count on them. Both are in possession of an unerring bullshit detector. If you are true and honest, they are true and honest with you. (Unfortunately, this applies only to other men, unattractive women, or young girls. Sexually provocative or available women manage to elude this finely-honed detector, often with disastrous results). Even though their primary love relationship is with each other, they are both quick to connect with others. Spenser isn’t exactly an exemplary human being: he’s a bad father, bad husband, and has chosen a life of violence and low-paying warehouse work over a better life, but he has a basic goodness about him, and that’s all that matters.

Hutch is out of popcorn so he grabs Starsky’s, who doesn’t notice or, more likely, doesn’t care. This reinforces the fact that there is absolutely no boundary between them. What belongs to one, belongs to the other. Hutch also thinks Sharon is an idiot, which she is, and makes a rude gesture to that effect. Starsky doesn’t seem to mind that, either.

Hutch is very affectionate with Stevie, the kid at the arena. He’s relaxed as always with children, and they respond to him in the same fashion.

Relationship-O-Meter: Hutch asks Starsky to stay behind while Starsky whines that Sharon is on her way to Honolulu “in the morning”. Sharon then makes a bitchy comment about Starsky being “in the bullpen again” if he reneges on their date (presumably she’s still mad that he fell asleep on the couch earlier), proving she’s not an ideal girl for a cop if she can’t go with the flow. But the real future of Starsky’s relationship with Sharon (or lack of it) is when Hutch puts an arm around him, urging him into the action: the gesture with its we-have-better-things-to-do urgency erases her from Starsky’s consciousness entirely.

The fight in the change room is similar to the fight on the docks: the guys go after the thugs who resemble them, including the “third” bad guy, who resembles Spenser.

Once Starsky and Hutch tip their hand to Spenser, showing their badges and explaining why they were down at the docks, they seem to just give up on their primary goal of finding justice for the murdered cop. Yes, they want Gavin, but not primarily because his henchmen killed a cop: it’s to find redemption for Jimmy Spenser. It’s an odd change in motivation that makes great dramatic sense but rings a little hollow. If they had remained undercover, would they have gotten better results? Infiltrating Gavin’s criminal network might have yeilded a lot of powerful material evidence when it came time to prosecute. Rescuing the reputation of a prize fighter might feel better, but does it have the same legal or ethical importance as building a case against an international smuggling operation? Or can we separate the two?

In the interview with Mrs. Spenser, the guys spend more time looking at each other than they do at her.

There’s a hilarious scene, dropped into the show as if by magic, where the guys at the Pits discuss Starsky’s complicated love life, the “very heavy experience with her ex-fiancé” etc, during which Hutch listens with remarkable forbearance, quite at odds with what you’d expect from him. Then the plot drops back in. It’s a great unguarded moment and one wishes these quiet scenes would happen more often.

Spenser must have not only no fixed address, and must move around a lot, not to have any record of where he lives. This implies a lot of not very nice things. Paid in cash at his job at the Port of Los Angeles, no real life to speak of, no possessions, no contact with his son, and most likely a very bad reputation among child welfare agencies. All in all, a dubious existence. One wonders why Spenser has elected to live like this. He looks to be what, thirty? Thirty-two? On the downward slope of twelve to fifteen years as a fighter? Why this rootless, penurious life? Are there other demons we don’t know about?

How did Spenser’s young son Stevie get to the sports arena? Spenser alludes to the mom being unaware Stevie is at the fights, and Stevie has no ride home. Mrs Spenser is portrayed as being fiercely protective of her son, so how come she doesn’t know where her kid is? And how does he get past security? Boasting to the guard “I’m Jimmy Spenser’s son!” wouldn’t get you very far. Does he just melt in with other people in line, smile winsomely and hope to get away with it?

The scene between Jeeter and the guys is interesting. In the fight to protect Spenser Jeeter does the most painful thing he can think of doing, which is to reject him, saying if Spenser knew what was good for him he’d never call again. “As a fighter, he’s all washed up,” he says. The guys stare at Jeeter, aghast. They can’t see this for what it is, a desperate ploy to save him. To them, nothing is worse than the rejection of a friend. As they leave Hutch says, “at least there’s one good thing about crossing Gavin.” Starsky finishes the thought: “At least you know who your friends are.”

Gavin The Hood is, of course, in the grand tradition of the series: the neat, suit-and-tie-wearing businessman with a heart of flint.

Why does Jeeter sell out Spenser? His rejection to Starsky and Hutch has every indication of being a necessary falsehood, at odds with the deep affection he seems to hold for his young fighter. There is something in Mayo’s performance that is paternal. But then he takes it one step further and sells him out to Gavin when it’s obvious Gavin and his lackeys aren’t pressuring him particularly. They believe it when he insists he doesn’t know where Spenser is, so why doesn’t Jeeter leave it at that? Is it just for the money?

Hutch, after accusing Starsky of ending up like a prune, sits down and makes a big deal out of a secret injury. What is it, the ankle he broke?

Hutch seems to have fixed the horn-sounds-when-driver’s-door-is-open problem with his car. When Starsky first gives it to him at the conclusion of “Survival”, and several times since, it blares loudly.

In this episode, as with the series as a whole, there is the sense that within everyone lies equal measures of hero, victim and criminal.

Tag: Hutch takes a great deal of pleasure in Starsky’s losing a girlfriend, and his laughter is louder and more enthusiastic than it needs to be, really. Starsky retaliates by dropping Hutch’s full glass of beer into his lap. Not very subtle in terms of symbolism.

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15 Responses to “Episode 58: The Heavyweight”

  1. Daniela Says:

    you know… reading your posts has been most interesting and made me look at these shows with a magnifying glass noticing things I never noticed before! Quite amusing!
    For instance in this episode, in the scene at 26′ when they go to the hotel looking for Spenser, they get out of the car and Hutch’s right hand has a very large white bandage, obviously from another episode when his hand got blown up in a car bomb. But when they walk in the room upstairs the bandage is gone… Quick healing! But they are wearing the same clothes in both scenes!
    I wonder how they worked it out?
    I mean did they go “here, wear these clothes for these scenes so we can reuse a scene from this other episode, saving a total of 5 seconds worth of shooting” or was it “we need a fill in scene where you two walk into a hotel, and were wearing these outfits, let’s see what we have in archive….”
    Thanks for this blog!
    In the words of another TV hero, fascinating!

    • merltheearl Says:

      I must say, you managed to find something I didn’t see. Great eye! One of the fascinating aspects to this show is the sense that there were many shortcuts and sponaneous moments that you would never see in today’s tightly-controlled, scripted series. I always find myself wondering what the producers and crew were thinking when there are obvious mistakes or if the actors seem to improvise. But the result is a certain freedom and recklessness that gives me endless material for discussion and analysis (and lots of guessing). Thanks for reading!

      • King David Says:

        I watched this again, after this analysis, and was watching with eagle eyes.
        I was very surprised that Starsky’s comment to Hutch, as Hutch says he sees something, was allowed: Starsky says all he sees is a case of frustration…this after a lot of canoodling with Sharon and then pffutt! Hutch tears him away. You can just imagine how he feels…still, she’s all wrong for him anyway. What sort of girl is on the make so shortly after falling out with her fiance? And doesn’t think Starsky will mind that she goes back to the fiance? Tart.

  2. Dianna Says:

    In the opening scene, Spense does not appear to have any particular reaction to the murder he witnesses. He watches it like it was someone petting a dog.

    I like how the guys keep finishing each other sentences. I would like to know whether they keep their jobs at the dock throughout this investigation, and I wonder how longshoremen’s jobs have changed since the advent of container shipping.

    It’s a little bit strange to see a professional boxer willing to punch somebody barehanded.

    I certainly agree that Starsky in this episode is a bit like Hutch in Gillian, so dazzled (and in this case, exhausted) that he is not really paying attention to important things. And like in Gillian, Sharon is Not The Right Girl. The fact that Hutch doesn’t like her should, by itself, clue Starsky in. She’s simply using him till she gets her fiance back. (King David, your comment made me laugh!) The moral of the story is: If your partner has reservations about this girl, dump her, because she is not good enough for you, and she is not even good for you.

    Gavin’s cold eyes are really perfect for this character. He is unusually hands-on for a criminal mastermind, though. I suppose that showing him in his no-doubt-luxurious office would have added too many minutes to the episode.

    I too liked Hutch’s interaction with Stevie. Stevie and Hutch are clearly two of a kind, each casually taking someone else’s popcorn. Hmm, check out the initials.

    It seems horrible for a kid to be watching his father in that violent sport. In my opinion, his mother is right, even if her hair is a garish fake.

    When Spense says, “Mind your mother,” he is saying goodbye. He expects to die soon.

    The hotel where the guys find him has the same exterior as Carla’s hotel in Survival and Drew’s hotel in The Specialist. But I never would have noticed the bandage on Hutch’s hand if Daniela hadn’t mentioned it!

    The guy on the undersized treadmill at the gym is hilarious.

    Why exactly does Booker spend so much time hanging around outside Jeeter’s door?

    The guys’ criterion for belonging to the human race is being willing to stick your neck out for somebody else. When Hutch says to Booker, “Welcome to the human race,” he is simultaneously dismissing Jeeter from it.

    In the final gun battle, Starsky holds his gun like a gun for once, instead of holding it like a delicate piece of art.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Dianna, I wonder if Hutch is in fact leaving Jeeter out of the human race with his comment to Booker. I can’t help but think Jeeter is trying, in his muddled way to help Spencer as best as he can. But then, I admit my affection for Whitman Mayo may be blinding me.

  3. Grevy's Zebra Says:

    When Starsky snaps at Booker “you ain’t the first one to claw his way out of the slime” I can’t help but think there’s something personal in that vehement edge to his tone. Who’s he talking about? The other down-and-outs on this show he’s seen act moral and decent despite their bad situations? One of his family members? Huggy? Himself?

  4. Anna Says:

    “Throughout the series this immediate fidelity to people, particularly those with a troubled or complicated situation, is a notable aspect of both men’s characters. Both are equally capable of forging empathetic bonds. Once befriended, they are ferocious advocates. In trouble, you can count on them. Both are in possession of an unerring bullshit detector. If you are true and honest, they are true and honest with you … Even though their primary love relationship is with each other, they are both quick to connect with others.”

    You know what? I actually think this trait is one of the most important elements of their characters and their partnership. Not one of the most blatant ones to focus on, but one of the most important ones to exist. It stops the partnership from becoming inward-looking and exclusive, closed off to the rest of the world (there are *parts* of it, of course, that are closed off to others, but only those precious vulnerable spots or weird quirks that only they can understand). Without it, they might be in danger of resembling one of those nauseating newly-wed couples so wrapped up in each other to the detriment of all other outsiders that their love for each other borders on narcissistic self-gratification. But because Starsky and Hutch are capable of such strong feelings for outsiders and so swift to pledge loyalty and help to others, their partnership is never pure self-indulgence, but becomes instead a tool to help the rest of the world, a means to an end in addition to an end in itself. Their partnership is practically useful, not just spiritually beautiful, in two ways: first, it gives them an unshakable support system for themselves as integral as the body’s nervous or skeletal system, so that they don’t have to waste as much time and energy selfishly worrying about their own welfare; and second, it completes them, it joins their two flawed and human halves into a vastly stronger whole. Starsky-and-Hutch, the combined entity, is a better person, a better cop, a better helper, a better fighter, a better thinker, and a better friend than either Starsky or Hutch is by himself.

    Being partners is not their ultimate mission in life, but it’s the most important part of their life because what makes it possible for them to do such an impressive job in fulfilling their mission, their quest to create justice and compassion, their desire for self-improvement and and living up to their ideals of duty and altruism in service to the outside world. This drives their partnership as much as personal joy in their togetherness. Was it Aristotle who said the best sort of friendship was one that made each other better and helped each other fulfill their purpose? I think the best scene that illustrates this is the bomb hunt scene from “Murder at Sea”, where they use their friendship and empathy and closeness to help each other be the best they can be for the sake of others. Especially that scene where they are standing at the top of the ladder braced forehead-to-forehead because they need to hold each other up to get the strength and stability needed to pull the bomb up the hatch.

    You could even say that their partnership, their love for each other, is a sort of practice. It’s a model for how to live, a variant on the Golden Rule. The incredible things they’ve done in sacrificing and laboring and fighting for each other’s well-being and happiness gives them a standard — an impossible one, but all the most effective standards, ARE the impossible ones — for how they should treat other human beings. Will they ever be successful in treating everyone with the same level of compassion and love they show each other? Surely not, they’re only human. Do they even always treat *each other* well, respectfully and unselfishly, holding each other up rather than tearing each other down? Certainly not *remembers the whole 4th season, and that one episode – you know what I’m talking about – in particular* they are, again, only human. But I think that element of wholeheartedly intending, and when worst comes to worst, often succeeding, to meet that standard is there. In fact, it may be the only idealistic aspect of the whole show.

    • Lioness Says:

      This is a great observation, Anna. I have nothing to add but I read it twice and wanted to give it a thumbs up.

      • Anna Says:

        Thank you, Lioness! I do get a little disgruntled at certain fans who seem to only harp on how important they are to each other, and ignore how a relationship like theirs could be important in cultivating traits that help them interact better with the rest of the world, so my overly-long comment was a bit of a rant.

        Friendship, at its core, is about support, and making each other into better people — enabling imperfect human beings to do and achieve things that they wouldn’t be able to handle if they were left all alone to fend for themselves.

    • Miche Says:

      Anna – what you write about resonates. It reminds me of a spiritual book I studied which says that miracles occur when one joins with a ‘brother’ on a shared goal (not the words exactly but that sentiment). And taking it a step further, it states that we enter the gates of Heaven by two, never alone.

      I agree that S&H together create miracles, for each other, and in their service to the world. The loyalty and devotion they so unconditionally give one another, is extended to others.

      It’s interesting how this applies to DS & PMG themselves. The love they share with each other spills over into the world and touches hearts in a powerful way. Love is the only miracle, after all.

      Miche

  5. stybz Says:

    This episode was a bit better than The Action, but still not as strong as others.

    I loved the scene in Dobey’s office when Hutch slipped the coffee under Starsky’s fingers. It probably wasn’t hot enough to really burn his fingers badly, but hot enough for a reaction. 🙂

    My biggest problem with this episode is when they find Spence in the old hotel and then immediately lose him again. He threatened to go into hiding again, so why didn’t they have a stakeout watching the hotel? Perhaps they did and didn’t mention it, but they should have. Otherwise the scene at the gym when they’re asking Jeeter, “Where’s Spence?” is just silly since they’re in the same clothes and left Spence at the hotel a scene or two prior.

    I wondering if Starsky and Hutch knew Jeeter was protecting Spence, but
    maybe they sensed that Jeeter would turn on Spence once Gavin got to him, which he did.

    I liked Starsky’s speech to Booker. I thought he was implying that Spence was just like him and that Booker should take a long look at what’s happening to Spence (being told to throw the fight) and consider the possibility of being in that position himself one day.

    What I didn’t like was Booker not taking the initiative and calling the police when Spence went off to the warehouse. Instead he just hung out at the gym, stepped in when Starsky and Hutch arrived and told them everything.

    I think the “welcome to humanity” comment was a follow up to Starsky’s speech to Booker earlier in the episode. It was a way of saying, “I’m glad you finally opened your eyes and saw the reality of this situation.”

    I didn’t realize how flaky Sharon was until the end. What I find interesting is that Hutch calls Starsky a Hedonist, and the fact that she was a “stewardess” made me think that he was approaching this relationship as a one night (or multi-night) stand, but yet he seems totally gutted when she says she’s going back to her fiance. Maybe it’s the fact that he didn’t score with her that upset him more than losing her altogether?

  6. Laurie Says:

    Interesting that Hutch blithely takes Starsky’s popcorn and Starsky freely gives it without a thought, get when Stevie reaches in and grabs some, Hutch gets very perturbed and makes all sorts of annoyed faces, like “what’s with this annoying, pushy kid?”…faking a grin at one point but immediately erases it and goes back to annoyed grimaces when Stevie turns away. It’s not until he finds out that it’s Spence’s son that suddenly Hutch is genuinely happy to hang out with him–hugging and happily sharing–suddenly he’s a full member of their jolly little family.

    Though Spense expects his son to respect his mother, he doesn’t seem too shocked orupset that Stevie came to the fight. I’m guessing perhaps this has happened before. Maybe this is a way they maintain their connection. Maybe whenever Jimmy has a fight, Stevie manages to conveniently “go over to a friend’s house” or supposedly go to a movie, and Jimmy drops him off afterward. Chances are that there would be regulars who work at the venue and know who he is. They also probably assume official arrangements have been made for Stevie to come to the fights, or that he came earlier with his dad and has just been hanging around the building.

    They are not just out to save Spenser’s reputation, they are out to save him. They can’t do anything more for the cop who died, but this is a guy who was part of their fellowship and stood up the bad guys with them. That’s not the kind of person they could let down. Chances are when they were undercover at the docks, they were just fishing, trying to stumble across some information. When they revealed themselves, it was to try to save Spense’s life. When they saw the same guys in the locker room, they already got one piece of information, that the same guys were involved in organized crime type activities and were not just obnoxious dock workers. Soon they also know that Spense witnessed the killing. So they get pretty good mileage from revealing themselves.

    Spense was about to be the good guy and confront the police officer when he saw him in the warehouse opening the box, but then Gavin stepped in. That’s when he took a step back and decided to just warily watch what was going to unfold. He has probably seen enough on the docks to be very cautious about what he gets involved in and what he just stands back and watches from the sidelines. He is still standing there when Gavin talks about the guy being a cop. Yet later he says, rather convincingly, that he thought the guy was just some turkey Gavin caught stealing. Gavin does hold up the badge quite close to his chest. Perhaps Spenser was standing far enough back that he couldn’t actually overhear their conversation about the guy being a cop?

    I will have to re watch and look for the bandage scene. I spent a year in California and was in on the shooting of a commercial. Trust me, there is no such thing as shooting a quick 5-second scene. I was basically an extra in two of the three 10-second segments of the commercial. We did it from all sorts of a angles, all sorts of speeds, you name it. It took pretty much a whole day.

    The thing about this is, it looks like it is the their doubles walking into the hotel, not the actual actors. Maybe the stunt man actually had a hurt hand the day they shot this? Or maybe they shot it in between two bandaged-hand sequences, and didn’t want to bother redoing the bandages, figuring no one would see them anyway in a distance shot? It is a fascinating question.

    Starsky was chasing grouse all night? Is that some sort of euphemism?

    Gavin doesn’t actually come out in threat and Jeter, but he puts his hand on his shoulder and looks into his eyes and uses code words like “I know you’ll do the smart thing”, and “you understand.” Without apparently meaning to he seems to be acting against his own will, feeling he has to give Gavin something, give him something to appease him like a threatening snake, and blurts out the fact that there were two undercover cops digging around. It’s like Gavin has a certain control on him at a gut level. It reminds me of Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter. Turns traitor on his good friends because he is so afraid of the bad guy on a visceral level. Probably didn’t really want to, but just got so freaked that he felt it was his only rational choice.

    • stybz Says:

      Hi Laurie,

      The bandage scene in question is not why there is a bandage so much as it is a scene reused from another episode. Rather than film new scene for this one, they took an old one and reused it. They did that quite a lot on the show. 🙂

      • Laurie Says:

        Oh, okay. I knew they did that somewhat often, but I guess I had forgotten that they actually walked into a hotel in that episode. I thought maybe it just had to do with the shooting schedule and figuring no one would see a bandage in a distance shot they didn’t want to change things back and forth too much and still shoot segments for two different episodes at the same time. So I guess they had them wear those same clothes for a later episode on purpose, just so they can use that one little scene again? Pretty wild.

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