Archive for April, 2011

Episode 63: Hutchinson For Murder One

April 22, 2011

Hutch becomes the prime suspect when his ex-wife Vanessa is murdered in his apartment.

Vanessa: Veronica Hamel, Simonetti: Alex Courtney, Dryden: Bill Duke, Boyle: Floyd Levine, Wheeler: Severn Darden, Cardwell: Dan Vadis, Dr. Morgan: Jo Anne Strauss. Written By: Robert Swanson and Jackson Gillis, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.


Things are never more intense, or more interesting, when they get personal. During the run of the series the episodes in which Starsky and Hutch are personally affronted – through the tragic deaths of loved ones, or eminent danger to themselves – are among the very best. This one is no exception, although it involves what I privately call “the cheat”, an unknown element pulled from the past to take center stage. Here, it’s Hutch’s ex-wife Vanessa emerging from the past like a shark from deep water to make Hutch’s life a misery.

In the first scene Hutch is a martyr with the receipts for the tax man, getting everything into neat piles but grumbling all the while. Starsky enters with Louise, the “chinchilla” he spent “a coupla hundred bucks” on, which anyone with half a brain can see is a sweet little guinea pig. When he says this is all the compensation he needs, Hutch goes into the red zone of scorn, meaning Starsky has won this battle of the carefree child versus the burdened parent. The comedic nature of this scene, and the intoxicatingly easy chemistry between the two partners, provides a nice contrast to the grim events soon to unfold. And while we’re on the subject, speculate on the chance he will actually consent to killing the 50 or so offspring it would take to make an actual fur coat, or selling them all to someone willing do it for him.

Money Matters: Points to writers Robert Swanson and Jackson Gillis when Dobey objects to the scribbled note, and Starsky says hilariously, “they don’t take credit cards at the Bucket Of Blood, Captain.” Starsky goes on to say, “don’t tell me Accounting is into that again,” perhaps indicating they often submit bits and pieces of paper and crumpled illegible receipts to the poor clerks in the accounting offices. Along with accumulated parking tickets, numerous gunshot victims – some innocent, some not – unbelievable amounts of overtime, damaged private property, scufflings with Federal agents, and willful disregard for direct orders, Starsky and Hutch are a bureaucratic nightmare.

Vanessa’s call goes directly to Dobey’s office even though general phone calls to the police department would not be routed to his line, even if she asked specifically for him. Did she icily pull rank with the receptionist? Make up something? Say she was calling from Memorial Hospital, with the results of Harold Dobey’s biopsy?

I like how Hutch doesn’t believe it’s really Vanessa (who else would it be, with that distinctive voice?) and she replies – while wearing, it should be noted, an absolute ass-kicking wolf/coyote coat that would make a hooker cry – “the lady who never darned your socks.”

Vanessa is clearly of a higher social class, and her snooty attitude makes it clear she’d never intimately associate with someone she considers beneath her. This is a clear indication Hutch’s background is definitely more “upper” than “lower”. What can she make of his stubbornly proletariat habits? The lousy car, the country music, his verging-on-hippie clothes and guitar-playing, his blue-collar job? It seems his lifestyle has always leaned to the anti-establishment left, because she’s amused by his offer to meet at a place called The Pits. “You haven’t changed,” she says. Is she disgusted by his traits, or titillated by them? Did she imagine at one time she could cure him? Initially did she bring him home just to piss off her daddy?

If Vanessa comes from an upper-crust background, why is she so desperate to make money now by doing something so dangerous? And why does Hutch immediately assume her proposition involves illegal activity?

Glaser is the master of naturalism, his acting never showy or ostentatious, and he’s especially great here when Starsky realizes who is calling Hutch. Starsky has learned the art of playing it cool from years on the street; the more he’s surprised the less he shows it. Because Vanessa and Hutch were married four and a half years previously, they were still together while Starsky was paired with Hutch, so he witnessed it all: the fighting, the bitter divorce. I always thought Hutch was married twice, initially a youthful lark with the anxiety-prone Nancy, then Vanessa (as referenced in the pilot episode, and here.) It doesn’t strike me as odd that he could burn through two marriages in a short amount of time, given his complicated character. Hutch is a romantic, he’s an idealist and can act impulsively but he’s also emotional, decisive and capable of making the tough decisions in life. Plus he tends to attract, and be attracted to, unstable or damaged women (Abbie is an exception) he feels he can save, which is one of the shortest routes to heartbreak there is.

The first thing Vanessa seems to want to know is how Hutch “looks”. Later, she asks him to join her in her jewelry game: “A good-looking partner is hard to find.” Superficial, dismissive, or is just very good at hiding her true feelings? Vanessa is also an exceptional beauty, so perhaps this was just a physical thing with the two of them, with predictably disastrous results.

Vanessa initially calls him Ken, then switches to “Hutch” when she really wants to win.

“Well, it’s you and me tonight, Louise,” Starsky says in his execrable Bogey impression. This means he and Hutch would be spending the evening together, either working or socializing, probably both, if Vanessa hadn’t ruined things. It’s dark outside. Starsky is apparently coming to work, complete with a guinea pig. Hutch has been working on receipts for a while. Within minutes, Hutch is leaving to meet Vanessa. Are Starsky and Hutch working separate shifts, which seems improbable? Will Starsky be covering for Hutch that night? Or did he leave mid-shift to pick up poor Louise in her shoe-box traveling case?

“I’ll see you at nine,” Vanessa tells Hutch rather imperiously, as she has no idea of his schedule. Hutch leaves immediately. Is this an example of Vanessa saying, “jump,” and Hutch saying, “how high?” Has he learned from experience the only way to survive with Vanessa is to pick your battles? He already looks completely drained after only a phone conversation with her. But another slightly more plausible interpretation might be it’s just 7:30 or 8 when he leaves for The Pits, because he’s had at least three beers and seems worse for wear by the time she shows up. Hutch makes a drunken move to grab Huggy’s pack of cigarettes and Huggy brushes his hand off with a curt, “you don’t smoke,” then abruptly removes his own half-smoked cigarette (and empties the ashtray for extra emphasis). A funny, telling scene, although it’s clear Hutch is a secret smoker if there ever was one.

Vanessa asks for her “regular” and looks at Hutch as a test, to see if he remembers. He does, but it costs him (she looks proud, then quite moved, but also triumphant: way to go, Veronica!). She then gives a detailed description of the drink she wants Huggy to make for Hutch: vodka on the rocks, with a twist and a splash of tonic. “I also remember,” she says proudly. Huggy brings Hutch a beer. Vanessa is consistently ignored, which is, of course, the consequence of being a total bitch. Something about her makes people want to do the exact opposite to what she says.

It’s interesting to note Hutch would once drink something that strong. He’s only ever really seen drinking beer, and the occasional glass of wine. Habitually drinking straight vodka – only a “splash” of tonic? One wonders about how much of that drinking could be blamed on an unhappy marriage. He’s certainly fortified himself for this meeting.

Who’s the Mature One: Vanessa, when she first contacts Hutch, asks how he looks. Hutch, when first talking with Vanessa, asks how she feels.

Hutch says Vanessa left him because “being married to a cop held no future.” He didn’t leave her, although from the sounds of it he had cause to. Loyalty? Determination? Optimism? An inability to admit he’s wrong? And while we’re asking questions, why does being married to a cop have no future? Did Vanessa worry he’d be killed, would the intensity of the job mean less time for her, or was it just a financial thing? Does Hutch’s mention of a “pot of gold” hold the key to a long-problematical mercenary streak?

Where is Vanessa’s luggage? She arrives with nothing.

Good old Vanessa. She says, with maximum scorn, “this is it?” when Hutch pulls up to his apartment. This after weeping and begging for a friend on the eve of her supposed biopsy.

Note Hutch’s car has only one headlight working.

When Vanessa and Hutch have their wary not-quite-argument in his apartment there is plenty of thunder booming off in the background, but not a single drop of rain. Mental weather?

Vanessa says it is Hutch’s habit to go out for his jog at 6:15 am, but Hutch is jogging in “The Collector” at 9:30 when called to Garras’ murder. Vanessa is being a show-off, trying too hard to remind Hutch she knows everything about him. Hutch is rushing off for a jog not because he’s a creature of habit (although he is, and Starsky makes the same point early on in “The Fix”) but because he wants to get out of the apartment before she wakes up. And what do you know, the first thing she does is make another imperial demand. “Make that two,” she says, meaning the coffee. I can just see him uttering “damn” under his breath.

Knowing Vanessa is a big liar, is she telling the truth when she tells Boyle and Cardwell she has cleared missing the flight to London yesterday with Avery Wheeler? In all of Vanessa’s statements, from whether she still loves Hutch, to wanting Hutch as a business partner, to her comments to Mr. Steen in Amsterdam and her knowledge Hutch likes his eggs, scrambled, medium, what is the truth and what isn’t? And does Vanessa even know any more?

Does Vanessa inadvertently sign her death warrant when she makes her pathetic attempt to reconnect, control, and manipulate Hutch? If she’d gone it alone, would she still be alive, even if caught? Wheeler’s goons are very upset when they discovered she’s with a cop. “Take a look at this sucker,” they say with undisguised admiration when seeing Hutch’s .357 Magnum. And then use it to kill her.

Compare and contrast Vanessa and Starsky’s plan to get really, really rich. Vanessa’s plan involves a fake diamond. Starsky’s plan involves a fake chinchilla. Both lose through lack of research.

See how Starsky races to Hutch at breakneck speed, sirens blaring, up over the hood, up the stairs – only to slow down, pause, and then touch the back of Hutch’s neck in silent acknowledgment of his pain. He then slowly and deliberately pours a glass of brandy. “Drink it,” he says. Hutch obeys. And then seems to breathe for the first time since finding her body.

Inside joke: It looks like the name scrawled on the bottom of Hutch’s arrest warrant could be “R.C. Whatshisname”

Simonetti is a boor, all around. He goads Hutch at the initial interview. He makes a lewd comment about Vanessa’s corpse. He gives confidential information to Dr. Morgan as a brag. He crudely goads Hutch in front of Dobey and Starsky. He has an icky voice. He orders Dryden around.

How would the case with Internal Affairs have gone differently if Hutch hadn’t gone into the initial meeting with Simonetti and Dryden seemingly intent on not cooperating? It has already been established they don’t have a history with each other. Dobey has to explain to Starsky and Hutch who Simonetti and Dryden are. And Dryden has to read Hutch’s file to understand who he is. What if Hutch had been more cooperative? Less combative? Given a proper statement rather than reacting so angrily? He storms out in the middle of the interview with an aggressive challenge. He may be distraught, but he is also a professional, and smarter than that. Simonetti and Dryden may be buffoons, but could Hutch have played this better?

After Hutch’s initial interview with Internal Affairs, how aware is he of how the case is stacking up against him? He knows it looks bad with his gun, his living room and his ex-wife. He probably remembers the fight at The Pits. He may or may not remember Vanessa’s scratch across his hand. But he definitely doesn’t know about the diamond. Keep in mind, Hutch has been around the block a time or two and knows most combative ex-spouses don’t need a million dollar diamond as motive, only a physical altercation and anger gone way too far. In fact, the case against him – the one Starsky so passionately refutes – is actually pretty solid. They’re not railroading him, as much as Starsky wants to believe they are.

Is Starsky ever disciplined for slugging Simonetti? Are Starsky and Hutch ever disciplined for cuffing Dryden to the table, handling his gun, disobeying an arrest warrant from the County of Los Angeles and fleeing? Should they have been? If they weren’t, what kept them from accruing some pretty heavy charges? And also, do Simonetti and Dryden keep their jobs? They are never heard from again.

Whenever Starsky wants to humiliate someone, he compares them to women. He calls Simonetti and Dryden (amusingly) “Laverne and Shirley”, asks if the diamond they find in Hutch’s car is their “engagement stone” and dismisses them as “girls”. When he’s demeaning Huggy for his imagined cowardice (although Huggy is being particularly brave, drawing fire from the bad guys) he calls him “grandma”.

What is Starsky doing the hours Hutch is lying, knocked out, in his apartment? We don’t see him checking Vanessa’s flight record, talking to any snitches, investigating the diamond’s path, talking to the Lab about the lack of gunpowder residue on Hutch’s hand or doing anything police-like. Or does he do all this off-camera?

Dobey reminds of Starsky being in the hospital while Hutch was on a case alone. Which case was this, and do these times stick in Starsky and Hutch’s minds?

What are the odds of Hutch being involved in a diamond theft that will eventually involve his ex-wife? Which brings up the uncomfortable possibility that Vanessa, as mule for the stolen property, has targeted him, knowing he would be immediately suspected by the police if something happened. This would make Vanessa seriously psychopathic. Or is all this just a weird coincidence?

When Starsky hands over the warrant, Hutch looks at it for a moment, then slips into anger mode. “You’re awful quiet, buddy,” he says in a dangerous tone of voice. Which begins Starsky’s defense, which is downright scary until you get the gist of things. Hutch attacks him on the subject of loyalty, on friendship, hitting all the sensitive points. One wonders how and why this tactic occurs to them, how they manage it, and how it is they do it so well, and so fast. Why do they imagine this particular routine (a sort of evil mirroring of the beloved Laurel and Hardy act) will get and keep Dryden’s attention?

Starsky and Hutch go to Huggy’s for shelter. (Hmm. Dobey asks Starsky and Dryden to arrest Hutch during business hours; the “arrest” takes about forty minutes. Then they show up at Huggy’s, with Huggy recently asleep and in a bathrobe. This would have to be before he’s on duty at The Pits, a pre-work nap, perhaps. Otherwise it would have to be after 3 a.m, or a holiday). Starsky wants to make a phone call and goes directly to Huggy’s bed, flips over the pillow and grabs the phone for his call. Even though Starsky asks, “is that your phone?” it’s obvious he knows the answer to that very well. How much time has be spent at Huggy’s place?

When Starsky goes to Wheeler (another suit-and-tie-wearing criminal mastermind, in his mahogany-paneled mansion) he makes a case for Wheeler to float some get-out-of-town money. Interesting to note in this lovely, well-acted scene is what I might call the Starsky magic: his quiet, compressed, dangerous, convincing portrayal of a man fed up, and murderously dismissive of, the society he feels has let him down. Starsky is so utterly convincing one wonders how close to the mark this really is.

Tag: Hutch is mightily amused when Dobey tells Starsky Louise isn’t a chinchilla. But unlike other times he’s genuinely amused rather than vindictive. One can easily imagine him taking Starsky out for a consolation dinner.


Episode 62: Class in Crime

April 4, 2011

Hutch goes undercover as a college student to investigate a college professor who teaches a class on the “philosophy of crime” and is a suspect in the shooting death of a former student.

Professor Gage: Peter MacLean, Mickie: Rebecca Balding, Catlin: Michele Carey, Rachel: Gloria Torres, Ralph: Carl Anderson, Stanley: Robert Girard, Mary: Sherril L Katzman, Melanie: Susan Heldfond, Mike Todesco: Robert Rodriguez, Manager: Connie Sawyer. Written By: Don Patterson, Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser.


From the very first frame you know this is going to be a special episode, kept nicely off-kilter by the idiosyncratic direction of Paul Michael Glaser. The image is out of focus before the gloved hand shoots into the frame and the action begins. The view continues to challenge us as Mickie, wonderfully played by Rebecca Balding, breaks the sacred fourth wall by staring right at us when first appearing as the mime. This is followed by other similarly mesmerizing details: the mime’s movements overlaid with the sounds of clicking, as if she’s a machine. Gage putting on the same white gloves as the mime. Extreme close-ups, the shooting, a falling victim (who wears the identically frozen expression as Mickie’s mime as he falls dying to the sidewalk), and the hyper-sexualized scene in the van following the murder.

David Soul badly hurt himself in a skiing accident right before this episode was shot, as evidenced by the bruising on his face hidden by makeup, his stiff movements, and the little use of his right arm. The next five episodes were altered for his comfort, and he had back surgery during the hiatus of the show. This serious injury, I believe, is a catalyst for the general decline of the joyously tough-guy element of the series. As Soul becomes less physically resilient, the episodes themselves become less muscular and more cerebral. We’ll discuss this in depth at the start of Season Four, but for now the shadow of impairment or destabilization should be carefully considered in this and future episodes.

Michelle and Gage are lucky the police haven’t organized themselves enough to cordon off the street, stop traffic, and start corralling witnesses.

Professor Gage is a complicated guy. Like many villains in the series, he seems to make things harder than they should be, and for reasons of his own. Entertained by perversity and conundrum, he makes puzzles of everything he does. He has a superman complex but his triumphs are self-made and false. For instance, the shooting of Allan Richards. Why the elaborate staging? Why in public, and on a busy street? How can he be sure Allan will show up and stand in exactly the right place to be shot? Even a marginally competent bad guy would assassinate Allen on some lonely park path or in his home, but Gage is a megalomaniac and a sociopath, so he must manipulate events to emphasize his imagined super-powers and intensify the rush of victory. For a recipe like that, he needs a lot of ingredients. Danger, timing, precision, absurdity, and eroticism.

Strangely, Mickie continues her mime act even after Allan Richards is shot. She should have gently blended into the background to avoid detection but no, she stares at the body for a long time, then robotically totters in full character. It’s a glimpse into a true amoral personality. Like Gage, fo Mickie murder is entertainment. A man’s life means nothing. In the van later, she assumes a ridiculous, chilling Cockney accent – for no reason – and says she looks forward to being a more “active participant” in the next murder, all the while taking deep, sexual drags on her cigarette.

Nice detail: Gage and Starsky playing the same radio station at the same time.

The girl (and possibly her friend as well) doesn’t even know what Starsky does and yet she agrees to spend the day with him. Talk about a casual pick-up.

Starsky is beeped because he’s the one carrying the pager. Severe budget cuts, or is the police department very sure Hutch will be close by at all times?

Perhaps inspired by his date asking if he’s a doctor or a Roto-Rooter employee, Starsky complains about how much a plumber makes and the steady hours, saying “when he’s off, he’s off”. Well, not exactly: a plumber is sort of the policeman of trades. When emergencies happen, even at 2 a.m., they too are the recipients of a hysterical phone call.

Hutch makes a comment about getting back to the girls at the dock, Rachel and Mary. Starsky says, somewhat whimsically for him, that the names sound like a “small college back east”, to which Hutch, predictably, corrects him about William and Mary. “They were married.” “To who?” “To each other, what do you think.” This is another excellent example of how tension is dissipated through a mock-quarrel.

And then, out of the blue, we get one of the loveliest images in the series: the silhouetted forms of the two men as they walk silently down the long hallway. It’s pure magic and you wish it would go on forever. And it has Glaser’s fingerprints all over it: imaginative, deliberate, and above all silent.

Gage leaves the distinctive, expensive rifle on the scene. At first I thought this was of his egomaniacal touches, but now I think it’s the one piece of evidence that he really could be a professional hit man and not some kind of crazed hobbyist. It’s better to just leave the (most likely untraceable) weapon at the scene than risk getting caught with it, especially since Gage chooses often crowded public spaces in which to stage his killings and must stroll away in full view.

“The wife sends regards,” says Officer Todesco. Starsky looks slightly irritated, Hutch says, “Oh thanks.” It’s an out-of-context remark hinting at pages and pages of back story, which we do not get. Officer Todesco seems a little hostile. Judging from Hutch’s reply, is it something to do with Mrs. Todesco and the handsome detective? Starsky and Todesco’s shared interest in leather, as evidenced later in the car showroom?

It can get repetitive pointing out all the lovely Glaser-directed moments, like pointing out all the insanely colorful fish at an aquarium (look at that one! oh, that one!) but this one is worth mentioning: the shot of the gleaming car as it shifts focus to Starsky’s profile, then Hutch’s (and the requisite irked comment from Hutch). Nearly every scene in this episode begins with a similarly posed moment.

Starsky tells Hutch while he sits with Catlin in the expensive car, “Did you know these things are so quiet that you can actually hear the rustle of silk stockings against the leather. I love the smell of leather.” Hutch answers him, “Well yeah, you and Todesco ought to write a book together.” A book about what, exactly? A shared love of the smell of leather? A shared appreciation for fine cars? Or something else?

During the entire scene at the Mercedes dealership with Catlin, Starsky seems drunk on endorphins. He’s positively sleepy. At first both are attracted to the magnetic but certifiably nuts Catlin, but once Starsky hones in on her Hutch gives up the pursuit while simultaneously developing an aversion to her, possibly as a way of convincing himself he didn’t want her in the first place.

Catlin is very strange. Starsky is drawn to her. Mickie is very strange. Gage is drawn to her. Both women are hyper-sexual, predatory, and theatrical. What does this correlation tell us, if anything?

Thank you, writer Don Patterson: “He was murdered in broad daylight,” says Hutch, referring to Allen Richards. Catlin says, with astonishing insight, “Nighttime is for women.” Both detectives seem impressed and slightly taken aback by this. Starsky gives a funny look to his proffered – and ignored – gold shield. Hutch offers, “Polish it.”

Private Jokes: the Rookies episode Jack is watching, “Blue Christmas,” which originally aired in December of 1974, a show Soul guested in at one point.

Jack is sitting in his chair waiting for his top salesman and partner in blackmail to arrive. He’s got a loaded gun on the arm of his chair. It’s never clear whether he’s just the nervous type – afraid Gage will coming looking for revenge, or perhaps he’s heard somehow about Allan’s murder (although, if he had, do you think he’d be sitting with his back to the door?) – or if he is planning to kill Allan Richards and take the whole lot for himself.

Note the discordant jazz-style music following the killing of Jack, nicely underscoring the sense that none of the parts fit together.

It’s interesting two such different people met in a college class on criminology. Jack is much older than Allan, almost Gage’s age, but they struck up such a tight relationship they not only share this deadly pastime, but Jack hires Allan to work at his showroom and considers him his “top salesman” to boot. What was the connection between them? Did they discover, upon meeting each other, a similar shadow side? Both men are drawn to crime (Jack “never misses” reruns of The Rookies), both are not above snooping into someone’s secrets. Both are good liars, naturally deceptive, financially motivated (at least in part, even though Jack owns a profitable luxury-goods business), and risk-takers. Both have serious ethical deficiencies. Both exhibit a fair degree of narcissism – not only challenging Primo Narcissist Professor Gage but convinced they will best him. Those must have been some pretty intense chats over beers at the student union building.

Hutch, true to his admirable eye for detail, notes the handkerchief used to chloroform Jack smells like White Shoulders perfume. This is a distinctive touch and it makes me wonder if Gage is playing with the police as a sideline to the main event, offering tantalizing clues he figures they’ll never figure out as a way of amusing himself. This would also explain leaving the rifle behind. If he really is a professional hit man, as Richards and Morgan believe (and I have my doubts that he is), did he also bait the police as part of his “professional” duties? I can easily imagine a series of puzzling items abandoned at the crime scenes that would leave detectives scratching their heads.

Note that Mickie says Morgan’s gun was pointed in her “plastic face”. It’s a robotic/machine reference that makes this “romantic” scene even creepier than it already is.

Hutch on his own is a very studied, methodical man. Just like he will be later in “The Avenger”, looking at the identity kit in the late-night squad room, he’s searching Richards’ apartment in a very thorough, inward way. You can nearly hear him thinking. I like how he takes a mask off the wall and looks through the eye-holes at the books on the bookshelf as if looking through the victim’s eyes in an attempt to understand him; it’s a psychologically centered approach to criminal investigation which seems very progressive.

It’s here, as Hutch moves through the apartment, that we again notice the music in this episode. As with everything else, it’s sophisticated and quite different from the usual standard fare.

Hutch is okay with Starsky wasting precious time on a case and also shagging a potential witness. Both have a history of ignoring, overlooking or excusing each other’s entanglements, even when it results in sloppy police work. Is Hutch’s easy-going reaction payback for Starsky’s tolerance during the Anna Akhanatova episode?

Gage’s choice of words reflects his bizarre beliefs in the relationship between murderer and victim. He uses two-word combinations, “killer” and “killee.” And the even worse one, “victor” and “victim.”

Is Professor Gage an apologist and proponent of the philosophy of Ayn Rand? Is this episode in fact a criticism of “Atlas Shrugged”? Could be. Many of his statements seem to echo Rand’s beliefs of Objectivism and her so-called “rational self-interest”. Basically, Rand believed a man attains objective knowledge through inductive and deductive logic, that the moral purpose of life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness, that the only social system consistent with this morality is total respect for individual rights above all else, a respect embodied in the idea of capitalism as its triumphant achievement. Rand also put forward the notion of the ultimate goal of human life is to transform metaphysical ideas into a physical form in a grand gesture or work of art. Rand’s “virtue of selfishness”and her views on the primary focus on the individual’s perogative to pursue his own well-being have interesting echoes in Gage’s lecture. His criminal behavior – the elaborate set-ups, his deep, sensual satisfaction in their completion, as well as his unflagging ownership of his own actions – could be his own monumental “work of art”.

“When we break the rules, there is that salacious part of us that knows it and does it by choice.” Thus speaks Professor Gage, who goes on to imply that murder is an exercise in the breaking of illogical rules, much as voting is the exercise of our democratic rights. That is, an implied act of heroism, and for a greater good.

More interesting direction: Starsky and Dobey hash out the aspects of the case, Hutch walking in midway through the conversation with the answer to their question. Everyone is flattered by the unusual lighting, particularly Hutch. It’s a slats-making-shadows dim light that is never seen before (and never repeated in this notoriously ill-lit series). It adds to the feelings of noir and looks more cinematic than televised. Also, echoing an earlier meeting between Dobey and Hutch, it’s staged as a stylized pyramid, both men tilted inward to the center. This time, Hutch’s entry causes the two sides to fall away. It’s choreographed very well.

Peter MacLean has appeared three times in the series (all of them, even the judge in “Targets”, similarly smoothly controlling alpha gangster-types). I’ve often wondered what it is about him the producers felt was so type-castingly criminal. Whatever it was, in two guest-starring roles they use the same handwriting when needed. We see the same backhanded, left-slant writing when Matt Coyle writes the note about Smiling Johnny’s pick-up at Schultz’s bar in “Iron Mike”, and on the blackboard in Professor Gage’s classroom – it could be MacLean’s or the same set director, but the continuity is striking.

One of the most fascinating scenes in the series is the one in which Hutch is publicly humiliated by Gage when arriving late to his class. It’s rare to see Hutch at any kind of a disadvantage, denuded of both power and prestige. Unable to flash a badge or fight back with his considerable verbal skills, he’s forced to accept Gage’s condescension and appear humbled by it. It’s actually quite painful to watch, like seeing a cheetah forced into a cage; you just want to see Hutch stand up and demolish the guy. The fact that he doesn’t shows how Hutch is able to do what it takes to figure out a perplexing case, and check ego at the door. Gage, misinterpreting his prey’s vulnerability, attacks with relish, telling him the apology is Hutch’s “own sense of limiting convention under the guise of insincere politeness.”

It’s fun to imagine Starsky being undercover as the student instead of Hutch. One imagines his very different approach to the situation. Stalling for time with attempts at flirtatious charm until ridiculed into defensive shouting, a sort of “oh yeah? So’s your sister” kind of thing. He does, however, have a strikingly similar scene with Mickie when she finds him in her house. Mickie is similarly lecturing, indifferent and cruel, and Starsky (like Hutch in class) tries to talk himself out of the mess using apologies, excuses, and invented justifications – physically and psychologically making himself smaller as a way of backing out of a tense situation.

Unlike the previous episode, “Satan’s Witches”, which looks at if it was slapped together for a buck-fifty, “Class in Crime” is sleek and expensive-looking. The locations are sensitively chosen, and of a far better quality than typically used. For instance, Gage’s beach house, without doubt, is the most striking private location in the entire series. The Pacific Coast Modernism is lovely to look at: driftwood, wooden doors and reclaimed windows, large wood deck with a collection of fine plantings, modern art and large wool weaving on the wall. It’s “real” in a way most locations in the series are not.

Gage frames the written threat by Jack and Allan, another sign of an inflated ego mixed with suicidal carelessness. Hutch mimics it successfully on the blackboard, leading the professor to speculate, erroneously, a “lower-middle-class” ruffian.

Outside the classroom, Hutch regains the upper hand over Gage. He’s abrupt and contradictory as Gage was with him, and asserts mastery (“make it two hours”) by making up his own rules, even specifying what Gage is supposed to wear. This reassertion of superiority is not for himself, but for the good of the case. He needs to keep Gage off-balance, and coming on strong in direct opposition to his earlier mildness in the classroom is exactly the right choice.

Starsky asks Hutch how he can possibly win over this well-armed psychopath. “I’m counting on you,” Hutch says, then takes Starsky’s sunglasses. These small transgressions illustrate a deep level of trust.

Starsky gets into position to observe the meeting at the beach; he scans the landscape with binoculars, obviously looking for Mickie, since he was careful to check the house for her earlier, only to note her absence. It’s interesting that Starsky and Hutch suspect her despite having no evidence of her involvement in the case and, statistically speaking, killers like Gage rarely work with their girlfriends or wives. There must have been a conversation between Starsky and Hutch linking her with the female mime at the initial crime scene, and her earlier obstructive behavior.

Hutch arrives at the beach and Gage tells him he has the blackmail payment. How does Gage know how much money Hutch was asking for? They never discuss it, so perhaps Gage is thinking of the original amount demanded of him by Richards and Morgan.

During the beautifully filmed beach scene does Gage actually believe Hutch when he says, “uh, because I’m selfish”? To me, this seems as transparently false as the flattery Gage offers with his soothing, “you are much smarter, Mr. Hutchinson”. Gage loves pretense and irony, he admires duplicity and what he would consider “intelligence”, and Hutch is exhibiting all these traits in the way he talks. Here, Hutch reveals his sensitivity to this and other complex situations necessitating a subtle, chameleon-like personality shift. Simply put, he’s able to change his personality a degree or two in order to get what he wants. Here he’s just challenging enough to pique Gage’s interest without arousing his defenses. Not easy. Being engaged in this manner – by someone who might well be his equal – gives Gage a rush, and he isn’t as observant as he could be: he misses seeing Starsky, for instance, and carries on the conversation longer than he should have.

With all of Gage’s supposed smarts, he never once thinks Hutch might be an undercover police officer. He’s very trusting that this mysteriously appearing older non-student (a simple check of Hutch’s admissions forms would show he only signed up for one class) was who he said he was. Could he really be that naive?

Let’s hope Hutch is wearing a wire, because otherwise his beach conversation might be tossed out of court as hearsay. The only crime, then, would be Mickie’s attempted murder, although she could very well claim they had been stalked and threatened by Hutch, and she was simply defending herself.

When Mickie falls and is picked up by Gage, she exactly assumes the pose of the mime she played in the beginning, right down to the staring eyes.

“You could’ve killed her,” Gage says to Starsky as he cradles Mickie. “Yeah, I could’ve,” Starsky replies, “but I didn’t.” This is implies compassion, but the fact is Starsky had no control of whether he killed her or not. In the effort to protect Hutch he simply fired like a maniac into the brush, not caring who or what he was shooting at, or what the outcome was. Wounding her was simply lucky.

And so the question of motivation is left unanswered. Why exactly does Gage kill? Jack and Allen refer to him as a professional, which implies multiple murders. If so, why the combination of college professor and hit man seems awfully time-consuming. Wouldn’t one of those be enough? Is murder just another intellectual exercise to Gage or is it a nasty but practical solution to a new problem and a chance for Gage to finally act upon his and Mickie’s fantasy? And also, what exactly were Allen and Jack blackmailing Gage for? It’s never revealed, although it’s the linchpin upon which the whole plot revolves. We are supposed to guess they caught Gage committing murder, or maybe found evidence of this, and instead of going to the police like normal people they decide to give him a little taste of his own sour medicine. But it’s far more likely Richards and Morgan were simply crime nerds whose imaginations got a little too feverish as they sat in a bar comparing notes about their horrible professor. (“He sure knows an awful lot about murder!”) Does anyone remember “The Children’s Hour”?

Tag: There’s a great tangle worthy of a silent film comedy when Starsky rushes to get the fishing rod and traps Hutch while doing so. But then he loses it – tricked by a fish – and Hutch slams a net over his head in retaliation for an expensive loss.

Clothing notes: Hutch wears a dark leather bomber jacket and caramel corduroys, plus a black pea-coat and black turtleneck in the penultimate scene. Starsky wears some truly heart-stopping jeans as he tours the beach house.