Episode 69: The Game

Hutch bets Starsky that he can hide from his partner for a whole weekend in order to prove he’s smarter, but the friendly game of hide-and-seek turns deadly when Starsky learns Hutch has botulism but is unable to locate him.

Ray Pardee: Jack Ging, Gina: Suzanne Charney, Anita: Liz Torres, Ernie Silvers: Joseph R Sicari, Babcock: Herbert S Braha, Simmons: CJ O’Neill, Merl The Earl: Raymond Allen, Handsome Lab Tech: David Pendleton. Written By: Tim Maschler, Directed By: Leo Penn.


Script Notes: Hutch was to be the seeker originally, which explains the unlikely fact of Hutch eating soup cold out of the can, but they switched roles to accommodate Soul’s back, still healing from a catastrophic skiing injury.

O.K., Class, Settle Down: Hutch is reading from a scene from Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra” to Starsky in the opening scene. “When it appears to you where this begins, turn your displeasure that way. For our faults can never be so equal that your love can equally move with them. Provide you going. Choose your own company and command what cost your heart has mind to.” This is an awfully portentous opening and implies a lot without actually saying much. In the play Antony is torn between the Rome of duty and the Alexandria of pleasure and love. He recalls his glory days of heroism when he felt he knew his path, before he was entangled in a messy love affair. He is aware of how far he’s strayed from the ideal, embodied by the struggle between emotion and reason. The fact that this quote talks about faults being equal, and the love of another getting bogged down in the details, is highly suggestive. We could spend hours trying to tie in this quote with what is about to happen – and, also, with the marvelous concoction of the partnership itself – we could surmise this may imply Hutch is bored or maybe feeling purposeless on the job, or we could simply acknowledge this is a throw-away moment, a joke on us all. Did Tim Maschler just throw a dart at a Collected Shakespeare and write down whatever it landed on?

Hutch is lively and feisty in this initial scene and spoiling, albeit in a happy, good-natured way, for a fight. When he makes his little joke he is referring to “The Super Cops”, an excellent 1974 film based on the biography by L.H. Whitmore about two police officers nicknamed Batman and Robin for their superhuman abilities – both as arbiters of justice and extraordinary strength and perseverance. I would imagine Starsky and Hutch themselves are loosely based on this antecedent.

Hutch seems to think Starsky has not heard his Shakespeare quote or understood his pun about being a soup-er cop. Starsky has, in fact, heard and understood both. It’s never clear to me what point these presuppositions about his partner’s deficiencies serves but I’m pretty sure Hutch does not genuinely believe them even if they serve a valuable psychological purpose for him. On the positive side these digs at Starsky’s intelligence and other “faults” might comfort Hutch in some complicated way and make him feel less insecure (He’s not better than me, so we’re equals)  and on the negative side it could very well feed into his self-loathing (I’m such a jerk, I don’t deserve this guy.) The fact that this episode opens with a bored Hutch reading a book and a busy, preoccupied Starsky digging through files and getting his paperwork in order gives a very strong indication this whole “game” emerges from a complicated set of factors rather than simple macho competitiveness (although both machismo and competition are not really simple, are they).

There is no real reason for Hutch to be eating soup from a can. Yes, the script was changed from one to the other in order to accommodate Soul’s severely injured back, because eating uncooked soup from a can is something Starsky would do. But still, you’d think the writers would come up with something more in keeping with his character: sprouts or spinach or something. Dirty greens have killed far more people in recent times than the highly regulated canning industry. Why the script laziness? What could it matter changing a line or two, and a simple prop? Because botulism is the source of the illness, I suppose they had to go with canned food, because that is the usual source of contamination. Death by salmonella is not as likely. Still – soup? Why not farmer’s market sauerkraut, something more likely?

It’s amusing when Starsky, deprived of the chance to explode into the path of the bad guy because of Hutch’s lousy car, urges his body back and forth in the passenger seat as if to will the car to move.

It’s interesting how Hutch absolves himself of any accountability for the busted bust: “I cannot be held responsible for an inanimate object,” he says, mouthful of hamburger. This after four years of blaming Starsky for every single real or imagined malfunction of the ever-reliable Torino. Hutch is the master of reordering the universe for his own purposes. It comes back on him, though, in a lovely subtle way when he says “Rita” when the name is “Anita”. He looks embarrassed, as he should, but let’s not forget Hutch does not believe a single word of his competitive trash-talking. It’s all an act.

Starsky puts down Anita. She’s tough though, and takes it, which is fine because after all that dig isn’t directed at Anita, it’s directed right at Hutch. It’s a provocation, a come-on; he’s trying to get Hutch riled. He likes it. The ride has started, and he’s on it. And on some level Hutch knows it too: note that when Starsky demands to know why he broke first on the pool table, Hutch says it was a “fait acompli”, something that has already been decided (Starsky does the standard Laurel-like “A-who?” response, pretending ignorance). This is a startlingly profound statement, and thrown away as if it means nothing, but we should pay close attention to it. Fait accompli implies that whatever was started early at the station, with the back-and-forth about who is the better cop, the stronger cop, has now reached its apex. It’s Hutch’s move. He started it, just like he starts the pool game. This has always been his decision.

Huggy grabs Starsky’s pool cue and makes an impressive shot. Starsky just lets him do it, with no problem. This from a very dominant male who in any other situation would not appreciate someone taking what is his. He was also a passenger in Hutch’s car during the aborted take-down of Pardee. Why the passivity?

“I am the brains of this duo while you are you are the not-too-inconsiderable brawn,” Hutch says.
“Who wrote that book,” says Starsky.
“Life,” Hutch says grandly. “You’re just going to have to accept that.” It’s then that Hutch, with some provoking from Starsky, comes up with a rather startlingly complete “game” of hide-and-seek, indicating he’s been thinking of this for awhile now.

“The Book of Life” is the name of the article written by Sherlock Holmes to explain the science of deduction in “A Study in Scarlet”. A nice, albeit inadvertent, comparison to himself and Starsky to the Giant Brain Holmes and his side-kick Watson.

“The name of the game is Hutch is dying,” Hutch says to Starsky as Starsky sits on his bed and holds his hands in “The Plague”. It’s a strange sort of precognition, considering this particular episode and its title. Sherlock Holmes seems to shadow this episode, as he also referred to detection (and life, generally) as a game. Holmes is also famously depressed and bored, leading to his drug use as a way of escape; we can draw parallels to Hutch using his own game as a mental and physical stimulant.

Equal Blame: Starsky and Hutch both goad each other at the Pits, and it’s Starsky who first brings up the idea of a bet. It’s also Starsky giving the bet real bite with a monetary reward, but Hutch who ratchets up the amount and provides the details.

Shadow sides: Ignoring his partner’s bravado Starsky has quietly won the pool game, just as he will later win the contest: “Pay the bill, sucka,” he says, but notice how Hutch makes a rather covert glance around then leaves without paying – becoming invisible, as he will later hide in plain sight in the contest he himself has invented.

Starsky tells Hutch, “I know how, where, when you eat, walk, sleep, talk, what you know, what you know and how you know it, and there ain’t no hiding behind that.” Hutch doesn’t look impressed, although he should. It’s what he wants more than anything in the world and it’s why he invented this stupid game in the first place. They’re both grinning at each other at the end of this scene but somehow there is an undercurrent of sadness here. It could be me, but somehow this entire episode is infused with a general sort of sadness that none of the action can quite dispel.

Hutch plays “the Game” with powerful intensity. He submerges to the point of mental disintegration. Throughout the series Hutch has always played elaborate mind games with Starsky, but why does he take it so far this time? Is he trying to recapture something he feels he’s lost along the way? Is this an internal struggle, or an external one? A more provocative reading of Hutch’s motivations might be that the Game has nothing to do with “who’s the better cop” macho posturing and more to do with Hutch trying to get something from Starsky, the way women will parade around in fancy underwear to get their overworked husband’s attention, or neglected children will run away or fantasize about their own funerals in order to conjure the image of their weeping, guilt-ridden parents. Hutch trying to be the focus of attention. Look at me, notice me, find me.

This relates to an episode very late in Season Four when Hutch plays another game, this time with substantially higher stakes and a far greater degree of cruelty, but for motives I suspect may be very similar to here (“Starsky Vs. Hutch”).

Hutch said the game is to start at 8 am, but the phone rings 6:09 am. Starsky is fast asleep. He takes the receiver and brings it under the covers and mumbles sleepily to Hutch, who is taunting and enticing him; is it me, or is this the most romantic thing ever? Starsky correctly guesses what car Hutch is planning to rent –this while half-asleep – and Hutch is both horrified and astonished. He still doesn’t believe Starsky’s neat little outburst about knowing every aspect of him.

The first thing Hutch does is mask is blue eyes and blond hair, and the alteration is startling. But wait: they make their bet Friday night, and by dawn Saturday Hutch has a full make-up kit at the ready, including spirit gum and latex noses? Along with mime, is theatrical makeup another one of Hutch’s nerdy hobbies?

Ernie Silvers sums up the question of who’s smarter. Ernie tells Hutch (in disguise) that both Starsky and Hutch are dumb, “Especially the blond one.” So dumb, “they don’t even know the difference.” The difference in what? In good information versus bad information?

Hutch asks Ernie for clarification, “I thought he (Hutch) was supposed to be the bright one?” Ernie replies, “Yeah, if he is, it ain’t by much.” Even in heavy makeup, you can see Hutch’s comical dismay.

Does Hutch wonder why he doesn’t go undercover in makeup more often when he gets such juicy information?

Merle is a contradiction. He tells Starsky “For money, baby, I’d work on Ben Hur’s chariot and charge him for a ring job,” but he hassled Hutch earlier about working on his dump of a car because of an “image” to uphold. Who is Merle, anyway? Freewheeling artist, shrewd businessman, or a combination of both things?

Merle knows what kind of car Hutch is driving. Starsky may have originally balked at $55 to find out what it is, but considering the financial expense of the fake shooting, it seems it is one Starsky should return and take Merle up on it. And Merle may want to make a buck, but it seems he would tell Starsky for free after hearing the urgent circumstances. Strangely, nobody bothers following the car lead up, one that would have probably had good success.

Starsky and Hutch don’t have a “safe word” or another sort of signal, used in dire situations to alert each other to danger? One that Starsky could have deployed with Hutch to make him stop playing the game? For two police officers who may be needed in an emergency, this seems foolhardy.

Hutch as the old bearded man. Even though he knows Starsky isn’t around he still does a hundred different extra moves: hassling girls, flapping a kerchief, rummaging through garbage. One has to wonder, at this point, what the hell is going on. We’re watching a man thoroughly – weirdly, compulsively, elaborately – enjoying his deconstruction to a tramp, reviled or ignored. And for what?

Huggy, however, pays the “old man” for his Gold Eagle.

“Just think what might have happened, Starsky, if you’d taken the time to be nice to an old man?” Hutch tells Starsky on the phone. Just what might have happened if he did? Would Hutch have forfeited the game or would he brush Starsky away, mumbling and shuffling away to avoid closer scrutiny?

The episode falls into the dark realm of a fairy tale, alluding to the oft-told story of the beautiful woman disguising herself as a hag to test the moral kindness of who she encounters in order to reward or punish them. Another archetypal image is the prince disguising himself as a pauper in order to experience “real” life he feels has been withheld from him. Either would work here as a parallel.

“Simmons and Babcock” are chosen for the take-down of Hutch. This is the only instance other cops who aren’t wearing a uniform. Undercover, or just changed into civvies for the weekend?

Hiding out in a soup kitchen, the notoriously private, hands-off Hutch sits with his head on a stranger’s shoulder while “Swanee River” is being played on a harmonica. He’s immersed in – and enjoying – this folksy milieu. Is this the real Hutch we’re seeing?

“If you keep coming around like this and people will start talking about us,” Anita says to Starsky, pouring him a beer. Starsky has a mean comeback: “I’ve heard worse, but I don’t know where,” he says. Hmm. Hostile and unusual behavior, even though Anita has been nothing but kind to him, and funny too (Liz Torres is one of my favorite character actors and I wish she stayed around; it might have been nice to have a really interesting, no-bullshit woman at The Pits.) So why the hostility? It isn’t flirting, when Starsky flirts the whole world knows it. So a good guess might be something both risky and altruistic: Starsky is trying to harden Anita against him, at least for the time being, knowing he was about to get “shot” right in front of her.

“I’m still here, Rita,” Starsky says, knowing full well what her real name is. Is this conscious error a tribute to his missing partner? Starsky trying to inhabit, at least briefly, Hutch’s spirit? A sort of plea to get him near?

Why would Ernie Silvers give Anita his real name? He doesn’t have to. Plus, he’s put on a tie for the occasion.

Hutch is one cool customer. Despite the reports of Starsky being shot, of Ernie’s personal report that Anita was “crying her eyes out for hours”, he still comes to the hospital (how does he know which one? Good detecting I guess) hidden behind equipment, in full surgical gear, ready and waiting to be conned, with exit strategies already in place. There is no way, if the roles were reversed, that Starsky would be as cool and collected as Hutch is. He’d fling himself through the double doors yelling “HUU-UUTCH” a the top of his lungs and damn the stupid game, which really makes one wonder how the original reverse casting would have worked for the storyline. The only slip – and it’s small – is Hutch saying worriedly in his own voice “yeah?” when Ernie phones the hotel for news on Starsky.

What is Hutch thinking when he peers through the closet door and sees Dobey, Simmons and Babcock discussing the set-up? Does he wonder why the entire LAPD is in on the scheme to bring him in? If it had been you or me, the enormity of this group effort would be enough to convince us that something big was up. Something unusual. But Hutch isn’t us. Instead, he’s thinking damn that Starsky, he must really want to win.

The symptoms of botulism are right here. The initial signs of discomfort – coughing, muscle soreness, intestinal pain, and etc – can come as late as two days following ingestion of the bacteria.

Hutch’s recognition of Gina is quite extraordinary: he sees her across the street, while he’s feeling ill, a woman he’s only seen in a fleeting glimpse days before.

Dobey speculates Hutch won’t come to him when he is feeling ill because he knows Dobey will chew him out. Starsky tells Dobey Hutch won’t go to Huggy either, “knowing Hutch, he figures Huggy’s in on the set-up.” Does Huggy align himself more strongly with Starsky than with Hutch? If so, why? Or is Starsky’s comment just an acknowledgement of his partner’s deep-seated paranoia?

I love how Anita says to Starsky, “Honey, he could walk in here in a Godzilla mask and I’d still recognize that pretty partner of yours.”

She comes up with the name “Ernie Slotkin”, which is so close to “Arnie Solkin” I wonder if Starsky has a moment of horror before clicking into the actual name of the front-desk weasel.

Pardee, overpowering the sick Hutch, enthusiastically degrades him: “You know, Hutchinson, if I was you I’d be getting pretty discouraged by now. I mean, two big mistakes in one week. That must set some kind of record for you.” Funny how a near-death experience makes all the pettiness go away, all the pissing matches that have gone on between him and Starsky. Hutch says, in resignation of all his present and future failures, sadly, almost in elegy, “We do our best.” Which is what he should have said in the first place.

Hutch has an extraordinary moment when he lies by saying he forced Gina to take him to Pardee – he saves her life. Even sick and dying, he is thinking of the welfare of others. He then tries to convince her to leave.

When Starsky hears the clue about Hutch from Ernie, rather than use the desk phone, he goes to the pay phone. Has Ernie hidden his desk phone under the counter after Hutch commandeered it?

Gina is a fascinating character. One might even call her heroic. After all, escaping from the clutches of an abusive partner, and confessing to the police – even belatedly – shows tremendous courage. You can see her fighting with herself as she handles the airplane tickets. She means well, even if she doesn’t have the moral substance to express it. Kudos to Suzanne Charney for her performance of a woefully unprepared woman under tremendous stress.

Starsky wins the game. He wins big. He finds Hutch under extreme duress and saves his life. Does Hutch ever acknowledge this?

The tag in this episode is memorable. When Hutch meditates he imagines the following: white snow, mittens, ice cream, Lake Medley (“Lake Medley,” is a title off the Buddy Holly Story soundtrack, released in 1978), Monday white sale. Why all the whiteness? Is he relieved to be all bathed and shiny and pure again? Also, this is not any form of meditation I am familiar with. Isn’t the whole point of the exercise to empty one’s mind of everything, and not cram more junk into it? Hutch has it seriously backward. Why do you suppose he does? Is this consistent with his personality?

Starsky wants to give this improbable pastime a try, despite the fact he’s so distracted by his partner he throws the record in the oven by mistake – not something he’d normally do. He’s turned on and ready to go, enjoying Hutch’s return to health. Wanting to participate. If Hutch had made a sprout-and-ginseng sandwich he’d have eaten that too.

Hutch is excited by the “result”, i.e. Starsky’s intense discomfort, and it’s quite touching to see how badly he wants Starsky to get to his feelings but I wonder why he suggests “closet” in the first place. Why closet? It comes to his mind so readily when you should be placing yourself somewhere pleasant and restful, like a beach or meadow. And also, while we’re ruthlessly tearing apart this lovely scene, why would suggest a key word at all? If this is meditation Hutch is teaching then such “suggestions” would conflict with the object of the task, which is to achieve is the purity of nothingness. And yet here’s Hutch, wanting to direct and control. Perhaps rather than calling it a meditation this whole thing becomes more like a guided visualization, and a perfectly reasonable exercise to try if you don’t mind someone bossing your psyche around.

Talked into this grueling exercise (another Game Hutch has invented to get closer to his partner), Starsky comes up with a fascinating – and revealing – set of images: mothballs, stuffy, dark, overcoat, his eighth birthday, hiding from his father, heavy footsteps, trapped, “he’s getting closer”. Even though Starsky has done a bad thing, put Hutch’s treasured Buddy Holly album in the oven, this feels like an actual childhood memory briefly flaring and then disappearing again, overtaken by a current and more pressing shame. Was Starsky frightened of his father? Did he hide from him?

Hutch seems to keep his promise not the hold it against Starsky: smoke is pouring out of the oven and he’s not doing anything. Plus the music is joyously ta-dah, as if magic has just been conjured, to the delight of all.

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51 Responses to “Episode 69: The Game”

  1. Daniela Says:

    Hello, as usual you have a very interesting analysis of this episode, and as usual I had to go back and look at it again to notice all the details…
    I noticed and wondered about a couple of things though:
    At the beginning, when they try to stop the robbers’ car and Hutch’s car doesn’t start, as the other car is speeding off, Starsky is behind the car and Hutch is next to it, having to squeeze against the car door so he wouldn’t be run over. As the camera goes back to them, they are both on top of the car… I guess the original positions weren’t photogenic enough! I guess Hutch draped on the roof and Starsky on top of the hood looked better! LOL
    And also, when Hutch checks in the “hotel” he has a little bag, like a doctor’s bag…. How did he fit the clothes, make up and wigs in such a little bag?
    I won’t comment into the whole interpretation and motivations hidden in the story, it’s way beyond my abilities, but I’ll say, if I were Hutch, I’d hide at home for the weekend and not answer the phone… That would be the last place Starsky would look for him!
    Thanks again for another interesting post! Keep them coming!

  2. Shelley Says:

    I tried something different this time and briefly skimmed through your analysis before watching the episode. I really liked the way that worked out. It was cool to know, for instance, that originally Hutch was going to be doing the seeking. Have to agree about the unlikelihood of Hutch eating cold soup out of the can. That is totally Starsky.

    One bit of the writing seemed a bit convoluted — when Capt. Dobey announced in the hallway at the hospital . . . “when you’re as healthy as Starsky is.” Awkward, obviously written in just so Hutch could hear it.

    I really liked this episode though. Even though I knew it had to turn out okay, it was still compelling. Would make a good movie story.

    There are quite a few episodes where one partner is in mortal danger and the other has to resolve the situation. The show’s creators really like the poisoning/disease aspects . . . botulism, heroin, the plague, injected poison . . .

    • merltheearl Says:

      I agree that Dobey’s comment seems artificial somehow. Give me a time machine and a red pen so I could go through those scripts! I really appreciate your comments, because the whole point of this exercise is to make the shows more enjoyable. Yes, there is a lot of unintended sadism on the part of the writers. Poisoning is so much more dramatic: slow, progressive, with no loss of consciousness that would make an audience lose patience. I can see why they did it.

  3. Brenda Says:

    The tag is fascinating here. Perhaps Starsky’s father was not the great guy Joe Durniak made him out to be in “The Set-Up”. Starsky does remain pretty silent in that scene, letting the old man ramble on. If in fact Starsky Sr. was overly strict or critical with his son, it might explain why Starsky has such a tolerance for Hutch’s constant criticism – he’s used to it.

    At least in Hutch’s case, Starsky knows that despite the abuse, his partner will always have his back. If his father was hanging with criminals long enough for Durniak to have known him well, that probably was not the case at home.

    This is pure speculation, of course, but interesting to consider.

  4. June Says:

    I was thinking: Eating soup out of a can is dumb and dumber – but then I remembered that I sometimes eat baked beans from the can. Still, it ain’t chowder. I guess they needed a handy prop, one that could be recalled the way Starsky did, from the rear seat. Regarding Dobey’s blab about Starsky being “healthy” – poor Bernie, he was really just a stooge. Still, he apparently made a killing in real estate out of his time on the show so in hindsight he was probably happy to have had his character’s authority belittled and mocked. (Compare to Dann Florek’s Captain Cragen). Oh, and about Hutch’s head on that dirty bum’s shoulder……..eeeeuuuwww!

  5. Survivor Says:

    Thank you, Merl, for another piece of insightful writing.

    When Starsky and Hutch continue their squabble in The Pits after missing Pardee’s bust, the scene opens with Starsky telling Hutch, ‘Well, it’s *your* car’. Yes, it is.

    But has Starsky forgotten (and, indeed, have the script writers forgotten) that this car is the same car, *the* ‘Genuine Hutchinson Original’, that Starsky gave Hutch at the end of Survival, in the full knowledge of all its (and its owner’s) shortcomings?

    Ahh, the power of intertextuality that sees the relationship an episode has with other episodes in the series take on new nuances of meaning, even if overlooked by the characters or writers.

    Here we could play in this intertextual space and consider what if Starsky does remember and is thinking about that very fact, but doesn’t say so? What light might that shed on how he’s feeling? Ditto Hutch for that matter? Is there more at stake here than a missed bust (important in and of itself)? Is it also about a gesture of love somehow gone wrong? And isn’t love gone wrong a little of what we see recurring in Season Four, accounting for that tinge of sadness you refer to here, Merl, in your analysis of The Game?

    A long bow perhaps, but an interesting one to fiddle with.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Survivor, you hit the nail on the head. How interesting would it be for the series to have been written with the kind of self-referential awareness so common in television writing now. The storylines would deepen, and moments like the one you highlight would resonate far more. I have always felt a general indifference to a detailed continuity on the part of the writers. For instance, Hutch keeping a key in a really dumb place despite being broken into numerous times. The suddenly-appearing brother. The various gunshot wounds magically healing. The Torino spectacularly exploding in one episode and then reappearing without even a joke about Starsky having to re-purchase – and re-paint – an identical car. Add to this the blur of repeats befuddling even the most dedicated viewer. Even I had difficulty keeping the seasons straight before writing this blog.

      But then the lack of intertextuality creates a kind of reality loop. Perhaps it even adds to the immortality of the series, its “watchableness”. You can see any episode at any point in the four years and it feels fresh and immediate. A form of amnesia allows it to remain unencumbered by its own past. Does Starsky have a brother? Sometimes, and sometimes not. Did Hutch get a car from Starsky as a gift? He did, but then a moment later he didn’t. This approach (if it was a conscious one) ensured that repeats never affected the storyline, never caused a viewer to feel as if they were missing something, because there was no storyline. Hmm. Perhaps the writers were more canny than we give them credit for!

      Thought-provoking as always! Thanks for writing.

      • merltheearl Says:

        But then of course, there’s the moustache. That kind of throws a wrench into my theory.

      • Anna Says:

        I always visualize this kind of old, episodic TV without any continuity callbacks as the characters living out their lives in a little pocket universe where time moves differently than it does in our universe, with the audience every once in a while getting a chance to peep into the characters’ lives and surroundings for the duration of a series of events that constitutes a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and then swoop back out and peep back in a random amount of time later.

        So it’s not that gunshot wounds magically disappear — it’s that after a gunshot wound episode, the gap between it and the next time we peep back into their world lasts several months by the characters’ timeframe. It’s not that Starsky didn’t have a brother — it’s that he’s never been relevant enough to mention during any of the other times WE as the audience got a chance to peep in. It’s not that Starsky has forgotten that he gave Hutch the car — it’s that they just neglected to bring this fact up while we were looking.

        Sometimes it stretches plausible deniability, especially when you wonder why Really Good Friend #16 didn’t come around when one of the main characters was seriously injured or sick or something, but it is also highly conducive to constructing elaborate missing scenes before and after the episode begins or ends, between episode and tag, during in-episode time skips, and in between episodes, to bridge the pieces together and enrich the characters’ lives outside of the episode plots — something that is much harder for fans to do in today’s neverending-story-arc format of TV where the tightness of the storytelling means almost no aspects of the main characters’ lives can plausibly beyond the limits of what happens onscreen, leaving little room for speculation.

        But still, seriously, they really ought to have said SOMETHING about the Torino explosion!

  6. Survivor Says:

    Hello again Merl.

    I quite enjoy the soup kitchen scene – it’s nicely filmed as the camera pans to where Hutch sits, hiding from the police who are there questioning the staff after an APB has been put out on him. For me, I see Hutch feeling tired and probably a little poorly, with an eye on the police who are still there.

  7. Dianna Says:

    Well, I sure don’t have much to add to that very thorough analyses of the episode, and everyone’s insightful comments, although of course, I will try!

    I love the sweet intimacy of the banter between the partners at the beginning of the episode, but I’m really glad you answered the question of why Health-Food Hutch was eating cold soup directly from the can.

    Thank you also for unpacking the Shakespeare for me, and pointing out the references to Super Cop and Sherlock Holmes.

    Your description of Starsky’s reaction if the roles were reversed is delightful, and I am sure you are exactly right.

    Anita is wonderful, but I don’t have much hope that I’ll see her again in the remaining episodes I have not viewed. I was certainly glad to see Merle again, but he seemed really subdued, without the juiciness he had in his previous appearances. My guess is that the original script might have used a generic mechanic, and that someone more deeply involved in the show said, Hey, we ought to use Merle the Earl.

    The worst thing about the episode is that Starky’s “pretty partner” wears such ugly disguises.

  8. Grevy's Zebra Says:

    You know, it’s a mark of how deep-seated a shift season 4 is that Hutch eating cold soup out of a can didn’t even feel out of character to me at all. Hutch doesn’t seem to have the energy or inclination to take care of himself psychologically during much of season 4, and certainly doesn’t show the fastidiousness about his appearance that he displayed in previous seasons, so I’m not surprised that his standards for taking care of himself physically — health-and-safety-wise — would loosen quite a bit too. Plus, Starsky does do a bit of an eyebrow-raise when he sees him eating, so it’s not necessarily THAT normal for him.

    (Yeah yeah I know all these changes were due to real life circumstances and not writers’ intent, but where’s the fun in that?)

  9. Anna Says:

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but Hutch’s casual “It’s no secret, I’ve been carrying you since day one” line really made me blink. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. I know Hutch makes digs at Starsky all the time, but for some reason that I’m not sure of, that throwaway remark stung a lot worse than any of his gleeful, elaborately-planned but ultimately harmless and even endearing put-downs. (It also made me wonder: do other people who don’t know them very well ever view Starsky as being more Hutch’s fiery, uncouth sidekick rather than an equal partner?)

  10. Wallis Says:

    I too noticed the undercurrent of sadness in this ep. The whole game seems a little like an idea they came up to force some fun back into their friendship because they are scared by the fact that it isn’t happening naturally anymore. Almost like a really half-cocked marital counseling game by a couple trying to pretend their problems aren’t serious.

    Starsky’s “what you know, who you know, how you know it” has the ring of a reality-check reminder that now needs to be voiced to be noticed when in the past it would be so taken as a given that it would have remained unspoken. Starsky’s race to save Hutch has an almost existential desperation that is quite different from his guileless warpath in The Plague, as though he’s thinking “no, not this way, not this time, let this one be a save.” This kind of anguish at their partner’s possible death has been inflicted on them too many times for it to turn their universe upside down. Their foreseeable future has become a single inning of baseball — will this be the run that ends up with one of them dead, or will they get a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade’s reprieve?

    Hutch’s reaction to his realization that something is really wrong with him is exhausted, miserable exasperation combined with grim duty and selfless altruism — he doesn’t even seem to be that disturbed by his body’s sudden and inexplicable failure past the extent that it means he can’t stop Pardee. “Get Starsky” is all he asks. It’s the only thing that has ever worked, and it’s worked every time. He’s been through this before. He knows the drill. He doesn’t have the energy to work himself into a frenzy about it anymore.

    Somehow, between season 3 and 4, the complex subconscious algorithm that kept their partnership both professional and personal burning bright started breaking down, perhaps under the neverending pileup of misfortune, scares, injuries, punitive rather than preventative victories, dead friends, dead girlfriends, and trampled ideals, and despite how damn frustrating some of season 4 is, especially with its distracting lighthearted gimmicky gloss, the sheer rightness of only something on the scale of Targets Without A Badge/Sweet Revenge being enough to spark them into life again retroactively makes all this darkness not only bearable but interesting.

  11. Adelaide Says:

    Your explanation for Hutch’s motivation for the game is a very insightful one and definitely one that has happened in one way or another more than once in season 4 (as well as in season 3’s Partners), but I’d like to offer an additional related layer of motivation for the both of them: the game is, in effect, a safe, consensual version of what they’ve both been through multiple times when their partner has been violently and unwillingly taken from them and in need of rescue (as in “Bloodbath”, “Survival”, and “The Fix”). In playing the game, they recapture part of the intense expression of love that happens in those real-life incidents — the sheer triumph of being able to overcome an obstacle course of pitfalls and misdirections and dead-ends under pressure and rejoin/re-solidify/reintegrate/reunite back into something whole at the end; but without the terror and pain and helplessness that inevitably accompanies such rescue missions when it’s done at the behest of bad guys rather than under their control.

    It’s similar to being a combination of a trauma patient’s therapeutic, cathartic retelling of a traumatic experience in their own words, framed in the way they want to frame it, defanged and transformed from something terrifying to something satisfying and controllable; and a comforting emergency drill — practicing to make them more confident and expectant, as well as more attuned to each other and more self-reliant, for the next time one of them gets taken away.

    Of course, in this instance, the game wasn’t very productive or healthy, and was confusing and hurtful instead, because rather than the motive being “we should enjoy how well we know each other” it was “YOU need to PROVE to me how well you know me.”

  12. Louie Says:

    “He takes the receiver and brings it under the covers and mumbles sleepily to Hutch, who is taunting and enticing him; is it me, or is this the most romantic thing ever?”

    You know, Merl, one of the things I like most about this blog is how you neither get all gay-panicky and anxious to assert “nope no homo it’s not like that!” nor try to interpret everything through a gay lens in circumstances where that element really just isn’t there. You just call it like you see it. They adore each other, sometimes with romance-tinted passion, sometimes more like fraternal twins separated at birth, and that’s all that matters.

    And yes, that scene IS so lovely and romantic. Not all their scenes are, but that particular one is. The fact that some of their scenes are so sensual, or have them being such an old married couple (both in a good way or, as in much of season 4, in a gut-wrenchingly painful way), as to feel genuinely romantic is one of the things I love about the show, even though I’m not remotely a “shipper” of the sort that makes up a particular chunk of this show’s fandom.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you Louie, I appreciate that. A relationship as profound as this one has many hues and I hope to acknowledge and appreciate all of them, as I see it.

  13. Anna Says:

    I forgot to mention this in my earlier comment: there are three things that were absolutely arresting in this episode:

    1) the fact that Starsky decides almost immediately that the way to get Hutch to coming running is to pretend he’s been shot and is dying. The theme of hurt/comfort — one partner needing to drop everything to rush to his partner’s side when he is hurt or in danger is a core theme in this whole show, but rarely, if ever, is it contextualized and acknowledged by the actual text like this. It also, in my opinion, says a lot about how big an impact and how deep-seated a fear this is for them — the specter of various rescues and injuries and the emotional anguish of watching one’s best friend suffer must lurk very close to the surface for Starsky to think of it so fast, and for Hutch to immediately realize what Starsky’s thinking just as fast.

    2) the foreshadowing, intentional or not, of Sweet Revenge. I saw Sweet Revenge before I ever saw this episode, and the shooting and hospital imagery is a punch in the gut. The fact that it is done (by the characters here, by the omniscient writers in Sweet Revenge) to cause Hutch mental anguish, and that this effect is acknowledged within the narrative, heightens the foreshadowing.

    3) an exchange that is disguised as a throwaway but is absolutely not:

    “If this doesn’t work, we’re gonna have tubes coming out of more places than just our noses” says Dobey.

    “If this doesn’t work,” says Starsky flatly, staring blankly into space with burning eyes, his expression and voice so deathly serious and glib but full of quiet bone-deep dread that it stops the scene short in its tracks, “I don’t give a damn.”

    Starsky has just stated, openly, without either fanfare or prevarication, that if Hutch dies, then his, Starsky’s, life will be meaningless. Nothing will matter to him. He won’t care about anything, not even about getting into hot water. His life will not be worth living. His life will, as far as he’s concerned, be over. Of all the times the guys voice their love and loyalty to one another, I cannot think of a time when it has been expressed with such brutal honesty.

    • Lioness Says:

      Anna, I especially like point #1. Basically, Starsky is saying, ‘Hutch loves me so much that he will do anything to be at my side when I’m hurt’.

      Then it segues into point #3; Starsky is saying, ‘I love Hutch so much I don’t give a damn about anything if he doesn’t make it’.

  14. Ruth Says:

    Hi! I don’t know if it’s weird to drop in on a blog like this, but in all the time I’ve been familiar with Starsky & Hutch and it’s devoted fans, I’ve never seen as clear and concise an analysis of Hutch’s mindset and motives in this episode as this review. This episode has long been one of the most fascinating and ones for me, which I rewatch very frequently, because it’s a source of such an incredibly intricate picture of the psychology of Starsky and Hutch’s characters and friendship.

    However, I can’t believe how vividly this review reminds me of a bit from a very old (1985, I think?), long, and good post-“Starsky vs Hutch” fanfic I read ages and ages ago called “The Thousandth Man” in which, during their attempts to reconcile after Kira, Starsky remembers a comic strip (apparently, a real comic the author once saw) which he found compelling enough to clip out of the newspaper but didn’t consciously realize how much it represented Hutch at the time. The cartoon was a succession of pictures of a man hiding inside bigger and bigger layers of protection with captions:



    • merltheearl Says:

      Ruth, thank you for joining in the conversation, and I hasten to add it’s always good to jump in! Thank you, too, for your kind words; examining Hutch’s motives is not only interesting from a mental exercise point of view, but I think it helps enlarge an understanding of human complexity as whole. The fan fiction you mention is remarkable! I admit I have never read any fan-based work before.

      • Ruth Says:

        I’m really liking this blog! I love how you take the episodes very “seriously” from the point of view of accepting the fictional events and trying to figure out what they imply, but without seeming at all like you’re some pretentious english professor (something I have seen too much of in fandom!)

        Fanfiction is definitely not for everyone, especially people who are more interested in interpreting the actual episodes than in concocting new scenarios. A big downside of it is because fanfiction muddles the line between “what actually happened” and “what this particular fan’s predilections are”, it can sometimes lead to fans having their view of the show all skewed from getting passed through a particular interpretation that may not really be consistent with what actually happened in the episodes (you see this a lot with fans who favor one character over the other! Argh, those are frustrating!)

        However, while a big part of fanfiction’s appeal is just the catharsis of getting more of what we love in the show (a good 70% of all Starsky and Hutch fanfiction takes the form of highly sadistic scenarios about one partner getting hurt or endangered and the other one rescuing or comforting him hahaha), I think it can be a useful tool for speculation, answering questions or elaborating upon gaps that aren’t explained in the show, because some theories make more sense when you can concoct a whole fictional scenario that draws upon the canonical events of the show and have the characters act it out to actually demonstrate the theory.

        I have to ask, if you’re willing: what made you decide to write this blog and how did you come up with such detailed interpretations of the episodes and characters? Do you come up with this all by yourself or do you ever discuss things with other people?

      • merltheearl Says:

        I have the feeling the intensity of fan fiction might make me a bit queasy. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. As for where I get my ideas and guesses, I have to take full responsibility; no one in my life is aware of my love and admiration for the series, or that this project even exists.

      • Wallis Says:

        Merl, I just wanted to say I agree so much with your statement that analyzing fictional characters helps people understand real people. I think this goes double for characters that aren’t consciously planned from the beginning to represent some meaning, because characters with unplanned and improvised complexity often resemble real people better than well-planned characters.

        This is a more personal thing than I’ve ever admitted to here, but I am deeply enamored and fascinated with Hutch partly because I *know* people like Hutch in real life — a couple people in my own family, including my younger sister, who inexplicably have such strange negative misconceptions of themselves that they cannot believe that a good person can genuinely like them and are constantly looking for a catch, afraid that they’re being played for a sucker, or are compelled to do completely baffling things to get reassurance, like, as you said, a kid misbehaving to make his parents react and show they love him. It’s infuriating and makes me want to shake them and try to hammer into their head that they do plenty of good things that make them worthy of being liked, and being able to see hints of this struggle play out in a safe, fictional, non-personal context for me makes it so much easier to articulate these things in words and gain some perspective that I would be unable to get without the help of fictional reflections.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Wallis, this is beautiful, thank you. I’m touched that you shared this story here.

    • Adelaide Says:

      That cartoon is so perfect. Oh my god. That’s like, Hutch in a nutshell — repeatedly creating obstacles and doing things that ought to make their friendship difficult, to make sure that Starsky really loves him enough to see through them and find the real Hutch underneath all the little prickly defenses.

    • Blunderbuss Says:

      Ruth, I just wanted to say that, though I saw this comment a long time ago, I silently went “yayyyyy!” at the realization that another person had read that brilliant story. Truly, an absolutely top-notch story that would appeal to even those who are very dubious about trying out fanfiction.

      Though of course, the Starsky & Hutch fandom is incredibly lucky, and uncommon, because, unlike most other fandoms, anyone not interested in fanfiction can get more insight, exploration, analysis, and detailed scrutiny of character relationships from The Ollie Report than they would from even the best stories. Fans of other shows, films, and books almost never have anything close to this blog. A very, very rare treasure for us people who love to analyze and theorize and speculate about the lives of imaginary characters. 😉

      • Ruth Says:

        A late reply and high-five to a fellow reader, blunderbuss. The Thousandth Man has for years been one of my favorites. It’s quite evident that great minds think alike, when I see how similar many of merl’s theories about the complex friendship are to Suzan’s theories about it. (I hope merl takes that as a compliment…)

        Oh dear, I am afraid this conversation is completely off-topic! I hope cluttering up this comment thread isn’t too rude. I agree completely that The Ollie Report is an unparalleled source of analysis. I have never seen anything like it anywhere before.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Ruth, thanks for your kindness about the blog.

  15. Dianna Says:

    Merl, I feel the same way about approaching fanfic, and although my spouse knows I love Starsky & Hutch, no one in my life knows my devotion to this blog either!

    Ruth, what a wonderful cartoon.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Dianna, I had to laugh (at myself) when I read this because I feel the need to amend my earlier comment and add that lest anyone imagine I am alone and loveless, of course my spouse knows about this blog, albeit from a respectful distance.

  16. Blunderbuss Says:

    Wow. This is one of the most insightful and delightful analyses of an episode of Starsky & Hutch I have ever come across, ever. I had never thought about this episode in such depth before.

    And yet this episode really does seem to be able to be interpreted as containing all the things you say it does. Unlike a lot of interpretations of old shows like this one I’ve seen, yours is in the speculative realm of “could this thing that happens in the episode maybe be a result of this other thing in the character’s minds?” rather than making rigid claims that would seem laughably over-serious. Incredible.

    The comments here are also really incredible. I had no idea people were so interested in discussing this show outside of livejournal fandom and the like. (By the way, I came to this blog by way of the Starsky & Hutch page on fanlore.org, which links to here! If you didn’t know already, this show has had an incredibly long-running, active, and deeply-invested fandom!)

    I love the things you say about Hutch trying to get something from Starsky with this Game. He really does take it way too seriously, as if he’s lost some perspective. Why does it not occur to him that Starsky would never be so cruel as to fake his death just to win a game? Why does he take it into his head to find and capture Pardee all by himself while still playing the game? It’s like he’s gotten some crazy idea into his head that this game is really important for some reason and he NEEDS to play it to prove something.

    But I wonder: does Hutch want to win the game, to prove that Starsky doesn’t know everything about him and that he is smarter than Starsky, and make Starsky admit he really needs him to be the ‘brains’? Or does he want Starsky to win the game, to make Starsky prove that he is 100% trustworthy and devoted and that he can be counted on to always be able to find Hutch if and when Hutch needs him?

    I hope someone will be still keen to discuss this kind of stuff!

    • merltheearl Says:

      Blunderbuss, thank you so much for taking the time to read the blog, and your comments are thoughtful and fascinating. I hadn’t, until this very moment, known fanlore.org existed, and after a quick search was pleased to see this project listed there. Thanks so much for pointing it out to me. For years I’ve been willfully ignorant of anything and everything to do with Starsky and Hutch fan-talk; I’ve avoided interviews, haven’t read any other discussions on the subject, I’m actually not even sure if anyone else has done an episode-by-episode analysis. For all I know the things I write about have been written about a hundred, a thousand times before.

      As for Hutch’s determination to “win” the game, I think both your suppositions could be right, and maybe, in a complicated sort of way, both are. I think on some level Hutch knows going in that the game can never be truly won. If he does evade his partner for the allotted time it would be a hollow victory. Any satisfaction would be tinged with the sour aftertaste of his own tactics (which, let’s face it, verge on cheating), and the lousy feeling of making his best friend feel stupid. If he loses, he feels stupid, a cop who has lost his edge. He has gotten himself into a no-win situation, and you can almost feel his faint but growing existential dread. There are more than a few times during the series Hutch gets into unpleasant situations of his own making, knows they are unpleasant, and yet seems incapable of stopping or alleviating them. I’m thinking about his various undercover asshole-roles, especially in “The Bait”, his reprehensible behavior in “Starsky vs Hutch”, as well as his endless supply of mean little jokes. I can imagine the first symptoms of botulism – the queasiness, headache – might have been interpreted by him as a physical manifestation of psychic turmoil. Hutchinson, he thinks, what have you gotten yourself into?

      • Blunderbuss Says:

        It’s really impressive that you’ve never discussed this show with other fans or read their comments, and still managed to get so much speculation out of it! I have seen decades-old comments from fans making similar analyses of the characters’ personalities….but this detailed approach to the whole episode’s narrative and environment and themes and attention to the sets and filming and symbolism of the episodes is pretty unique, as far as I know.

        I like the way you think about Hutch’s motives. He does have a tendency to do self-defeating things (usually mild ones, but not always) for reasons he himself doesn’t seem to really understand.

        I read this review again (and a few others), and another thing: with the Shakespeare, do you mean the parallel with Marc Antony’s conflict between duty and his ‘messy love affair’ = Hutch might worry that his friendship with Starsky puts too much pressure on him, and harms his professionalism, or his independence? The rules about how a “real man” is supposed to act (emotionless, free of attachments or sentiment, not allowed to be vulnerable or affectionate with another man, because sharing with one’s friends instead of sucking it up is a ‘girly’ thing), right? Modern western society tells people, especially men, they are ‘doing it wrong’ if they can’t hack the whole Rudyard Kipling “I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me” spiel. Starsky and Hutch certainly can’t hack it at all. They don’t seem to have any desire to hack it, as they know how important their friendship is and don’t bow to conformity, but still…hard to be totally unaffected, no?

        If so, it might be that the game started more lightly, but Starsky’s “who you know, what you know” speech and knowledge about Hutch’s rental car chafed at Hutch, like “who does this curly-headed chump think he is, being so smug and certain that he’s got my number?” and made him irrationally pushy about it.

      • merltheearl Says:

        You make a very persuasive point about this Shakespearean quote being integral to the theme of the show. Actually I’m about 50/50. Part of me thinks yes, Hutch is thinking aloud about what his partnership means, politically and personally. But part of me imagines the writers saying, “we need to fill 20 seconds. What should we do?” and then, as one, turning to stare at the bookish grip with his bag lunch and his Collected Shakespeare.

        That said, your way is far more fun. And I can easily imagine Starsky and Hutch consciously walking away from such masculine preconceptions and yet getting tangled with them repeatedly. This is the New Masculine, independent, secure, open-minded. I think the series began with a mainly political agenda and quickly realized there was a personal side to the revolution too. I wonder if the explosive chemistry of the casting opened up all kinds of avenues for the writers. “The Game” is so interesting because the longer you think about it the stranger it gets, and the more complicated Hutch’s motivations become. I don’t want to go too far away from canonical evidence but yes, I can easily see Hutch wanting to be found, to be saved, and also bedeviled by a competitive streak that goes in direct opposition to that.

      • Blunderbuss Says:

        Your imaginary scenario of the script writers coming up with that scene is cracking me up!

        It would be fascinating to know the show’s writing process – I can only imagine how beleaguered by different goals they must have been to produce that combination of visions this show is. The counter-culture, new breed of cops, new look at crime, us-against-the-world, Butch-and-Sundance, Woodward-and-Bernstein original vision of WIlliam Blinn. The warm, intense, complex love story and study of friendship and comradeship brought to life by Messers Glaser and Soul. And the glitzy, glamorous, formula-driven wrapping that tries to downplay the seriousness of the first two for easier commercialization, courtesy of Aaron Spelling.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Blunderbuss, your comments suggest far more subtlety and accuracy than your nom de guerre suggests. You put the complicated cross-purposes agenda perfectly, thank you. This kind of ad hoc television making, the same loose process that gives us continuity and prop problems, also provides such a wealth of material for the what-ifs and what-the-hell. Produced today, “Starsky & Hutch” would be a much different experience.

  17. Adelaide Says:

    I know I already made a comment on this review, but I just have to mention another thing: the original reverse casting would have made no fucking sense whatsoever for this script. All Hutch’s actions here – the cool-and-collected thoughtfulness, the attention-seeking, the deep need to win, the craftiness of using disguises, his meticulous undercover prowess – are so deeply, quintessentially Hutch, and none of them would ever have felt remotely in-character for Starsky at all. Perhaps we would have interpreted the characterization differently had it been Starsky doing the hiding, but it would still be wildly dissonant. I know the script writers can be clueless sometimes, but THAT clueless? However lazy the writers might have been with little things, they’ve always seemed to have a very consistent handle on the characters. I wonder if the “original script” had been a substantially different first draft that was massively edited after the role-switching. Or if, had Soul not been injured, they would have substantially edited this script before shooting.

    (By the way, call me unperceptive, but I cannot see how the switched roles accommodate an injury better. Apart from the fake-shooting, which could have been filmed with a stunt double, Soul seems to have a more physically strenuous role than Glaser in this ep.)

  18. Darren Read Says:

    Note that ‘The Pits’ seems to have transformed not only on the inside but more now seems to be a completely different building!

  19. Fetchinketch Says:

    Interesting comments! I’m going to have to re-watch this episode.

    Always before, I have found this episode, and most of season 4, to be deeply disappointing. Maybe due to the writers running out of ideas that didn’t stretch and warp the relationship out of any semblance of what I had grown to love. Maybe it was David’s physical pain, or Paul’s growing discontent, but I very seldom felt the visceral “catch” of those moments of intense connection I had come to love.

    Certainly Hutch was always capable of cold, cruel comments, but until season 4 I never saw a instance where he did not immediately drop it all if he was aware of the slightest sign that he was inflicting pain and he always seemed to be aware of his partner’s emotional state. They always seemed to have their safe word (or gesture or body language) that said “Too much, back off”.

    The partners in season 4 just don’t seem the same. In extremis, they are as tight as ever, but until that point the psychic connection just doesn’t seem to be fully functional. Makes me very sad.

    Maybe I should re-watch these episodes with your insights in mind? Then maybe I can fully appreciate them.

    • Blunderbuss Says:

      I agree very much with this comment. I think a lot of fans have come up with a huge amount of discussion and theories to figure out why the guys behaved so strangely and often abrasively towards each other in this season. I think there are too many different possibilities to count, though I think part of it is that the characters are frustrated and disillusioned about their jobs, and take it out on each other, because people always dump their crap on the one closest to them. But I don’t think that’s a full explanation, because there seems to be an additional layer of troubled behavior and depression going on with Hutch, especially towards the end of the season.

      I like what you say about “In extremis, they are as tight as ever, but until that point the psychic connection just doesn’t seem to be fully functional.” We can see that when things get tough, they are still totally dedicated to each other, but in the earlier seasons they weren’t just close and dedicated in hard times, in the early seasons they also seemed to overtly adore each other, get joy out of interacting with each other all the time, and that seems to have been eroded.

    • Adelaide Says:

      The insights on this blog by merl and the commenters definitely helped me personally appreciate many, many aspects of the show a great deal more, and see details, themes, and patterns that I otherwise would have missed or wouldn’t have been able to really put my finger on (and enabled me to write an embarrassing number of words about it that I would never have been able to articulate before). So, yes, I would highly recommend re-watching with the blog’s insights in mind! It’s a wildly enjoyable experience 🙂

  20. stybz Says:

    Let me start with an apology for what I am about to write. It’s not that I think I’ll offend anyone, but I thought I’d toss in this disclaimer and let you know that what I am about to say is not intended to offend or insult anyone.

    Unlike most of you, I did not see Hutch in this episode as this emotionally damaged, suffering soul who disappears in despair under his makeup, and who needs validation and from Starsky.

    I didn’t notice either partner get angry at the jabs from another. They’re relaxed, playing pool, smiling, joking. It’s all a game, what’s intended as being a healthy competition between friends. And what better way to compete than to test who is smarter and more cunning of the two.

    If Hutch hadn’t gotten sick, I think it would have been a tie. It might have ended with the two of them debating who won then making another wager or having a laugh and just dropping it.

    Who wouldn’t want to disappear in a disguise and pretend to be someone else for a while, getting away with anything? I think Hutch enjoys it, because he can get away with anything and not be recognized. I think Ernie is a test and when that passes, Hutch knows he can fool Starsky and anyone else for that matter. It’s all a game. All in good fun.

    I’m not saying Hutch doesn’t have demons. Both he and Starsky should, considering their job and the friends and family they have lost, but I don’t see this episode as a reflection of Hutch’s despair. I see it as he relishing the thrill of the chase with his best friend. 🙂

    I did have three problems with this episode: One, as we all have mentioned is the ridiculousness of Hutch eating room-temperature soup out of a can, and clam chowder, no less. Cold shellfish is a no-no. Also, clam chowder comes in two varieties: creamy and tomatoey. We don’t know which one he had. When he first mentioned the name, I thought cream, which was another ugh. I can accept that Hutch’s diet might have waned a bit, especially after Abby left him, but this is beyond comprehension. Starsky definitely would be more apt to do this.

    The second problem I had was the fact that the botulism was revealed too soon. I would have liked to have seen Starsky give it more of a fun try for a few scenes more before the news broke. It would have amped up the tension a bit more when the game changed to something more serious.

    And the third thing is Hutch’s makeup is just terrible. No one noticed how fake the bald head of the vagrant was? Really? 🙂

    Thanks for the information on the Shakespeare play, Merl. I knew you would have found out and shared it. 🙂

    Daniela, when Hutch’s car doesn’t start, Starsky opens the passenger door and runs toward the hood/bonnet. Then as Pardee drives toward them, Starsky turns and jumps on the hood while Hutch grabs the roof and pulls himself up onto it. It’s fast. You have to slow down the scene to see it. 🙂

    I don’t see Starsky as the dominant male. His allowing Huggy to take the pool cue shows the easeness of their friendship. Starsky once again takes it in stride. I was glad to see that Huggy handed Starsky the cue once he was done with his play. Perhaps this banter has been done before and Starsky was just used to it. The whole pool game is very easy going and playful, as is the agreement to play the hide-and-go-seek game. All in good fun between friends. 🙂

    Merl, you mentioned a prevailing tone of sadness in this episode. This is why I think it would have worked better had they not introduced the Botulism news so early on in the game. If we saw the playfulness a bit more, Starsky trying to figure things out, maybe getting another teasing phone call, it would have made it flow better, and given it more of a bite when the information came to light and the game got uglier.

    I think Hutch is having fun disappearing in to a character. I don’t see it as a disintegration of himself. Same with him pretending to be the old man. He’s having fun playing a role, much like he did in Partners. He can get away with anything so long as no one recognizes him. It’s fun. What we eventually see happening is him embodying the character he’s playing as he gets sicker and sicker. At first it’s all in good fun to hide behind the mask, but then it’s not a mask anymore when he is at the point of pain and despair.

    I see the game as two guys doing what two guys do, one-upping each other and having a laugh doing it. It’s a healthy competition that sadly disintegrates, but the compassion for each other is there. Starsky’s urgency to find Hutch, and Hutch’s fear that Starsky is really seriously hurt shows that nothing has changed between them. In the end they still care for each other and know that the other would be there for them without hesitation.

    I think for the right price, Merl the Earl will work on any car. I guess he figured out that fur-lined interiors were on their way out and he had to start to take his job a bit more seriously. 🙂

    Great comment about the “safe word”, Merl. That would make perfect sense. 🙂 Or maybe they felt they didn’t need a safe word since they’re usually working as a team and thinking alike.

    I thought the scene in the soup kitchen was interesting. Hutch probably felt since there were uniformed policemen there, that he had to hide himself by burying his head on the man’s shoulder. He’s just staying in character. 🙂

    Did anyone notice that when Gina returns home for the second time and packs her things, she only grabs one airline ticket? 🙂

    I wish we could have seen more between the two when Starsky opens the car door and kneels down to the ailing Hutch. Hutch does concede that Starsky won the bet, but Starsky doesn’t care about that. It’s interesting that Hutch would concede since he told Gina to call Starsky and he has no idea that she hadn’t completed the call.

    It’s nice seeing Jack Ging in this episode. He went on to play a police lieutenant in one of my other most favorite shows, Riptide. 🙂

    Anna, I totally agree with your statement about us peering into their lives. This is very true. I used to also think that each episode was a day or a week later, but in reality it could be months. Of course it convolutes things when the pair often say they’ve known each other for 7 years when by now it’s been 9 or 10, but that kind of continuity is often screwed up on classic TV shows. 🙂

    As for Hutch’s comment about carrying Starsky from day one, I saw that mirroring something Starsky says in Hutchinson for Murder One. He says he taught Hutch everything he knows. Maybe this was just Hutch’s playful way of saying, “Oh yeah?”

    The meditation scene is interesting. Hutch says a mantra then uses free association. I’ll have to look into that. 🙂 As you pointed out, Merl, usually when you meditate you’re supposed to clear your mind of thoughts and have a blank slate. So that could be why Hutch is thinking of whiteness, only he carries it further and calls it free association.

    I liked how astonished and intrigued Hutch is when Starsky mentions his father. It’s interesting because at first Starsky says it’s his 8th birthday, but then realizes it was a party for his father. Starsky seems like the type of kid who would think any party was for him. 🙂

    What if Starsky was hiding in the closet because he did something wrong. Starsky was probably the type of kid who hated angering his parents. He probably wasn’t abused, but he might have done something wrong (like broken a priceless vase or something of sentimental value), so he recalls hiding in the closet for fear of being punished. The punishment might have been a grounding or perhaps no allowance for a week, or just seeing the anger on his parents’ faces was enough. And that thought is what probably prompts the realization about the record album in the oven. He tells Hutch not to get mad at him, like an innocent child asking his parents to forgive him. 🙂

    At least I now know that Starsky was at least 8 or older when his father died. 😉

    Again, apologies if this offends. 🙂

  21. Kit Sullivan Says:

    You have illuminated one of the major issues that writers have when working on episodic television. By the very nature of the fact that there are multiple episodes of the series, none of the episodes can be about “the most important event in the life of the protagonist(s)”. If such an episode were to be produced, then all previous episodes would then deminstrate “the way it used to be”, and all future episodes would realistically have to incorporate the changed premise(s) to the characters and format of the show.
    The unwritten rule of “vintage” television from back then is that no matter what happens during any episode, the basic set-up of the characters and situations must begin and end in the “same place”, allowing any episode to follow any other episode without creating any obvious conflict within the shows own internal canon.

    Feature films are quite different, of course. Obviously, they MUST be about the most important event in the protagonist’s life, otherwise…why would we be watching the movie?

    Of course, modern storytelling for episodic TV has fully embraced the movie-style of storytelling which creates loyal viewership, episode after episode. If a show is popular, you can get “up to speed” easily with DVD, On-Demand or Netflix.
    Then-current technology did not provide interested viewers the opportunity to get “up to speed” for a popular show, so each episode…by neccesity to encourage new viewers…had to be a self-encapsulated story that required no previous viewing of past episodes to enjoy and fully comprehend any current episode.

    At least…thats how I see it!

  22. DRB Says:

    I missed it the first time around, but a second viewing of The Game brought me up short. It is so obvious that Hutch is the quintessential cop; we have seen it before when he interrupts an undercover assignment to respond to a robbery call, for instance. Here we see him going after Pardee when he is deathly ill. As the case progresses, we see him convincing Gina to help and encouraging her to do the right thing as any law officer would. But as Hutch weakens, he realizes that he is not able to protect Gina, and that’s when he says something almost unbelievable: “Take the money and run.” Not “Take the money to the police,” or “Turn yourself in, and get protection,” or anything else we have heard police tell wavering criminals/accomplices in other situations. At this point, he is really heroic; he is willing to sacrifice himself in order to get her away from her abuser. It is one of his finest moments, and it just slips by as true heroism always does; no fanfare, no powerful speech, no magnificent gesture. Just “Take the money and run.” ( I realize that he knows Pardee is listening so he can’t tell her “Remember to call Starsky,” but at this point I don’t think he would have said it to her anyway.) He just wants her to escape.

    It is probably the most selfless attitude Gina has ever seen. No wonder that we see her try to call Starsky, and I totally understand why she fails to complete the call. She must have felt like the world’s largest bull’s-eye was painted on her back. Of course, when Starsky explodes onto the scene, we know that he can convince anyone to cooperate with him, so Gina ends the day feeling a little better about herself.

    On the lighter side: In the tag, PMG did such a great job with the line: “One of ’em is in the oven.” We really don’t need the pan across the stove top to see the pizza; we all KNOW that the number of this autographed album in existence has been reduced from 8 to 7. Hutch’s next heroic moment: “Doesn’t smell like pizza, does it?”

    I used to feel sorry for Starsky when Hutch stole his food, but maybe Hutch is just trying to catch up. Starsky is probably still ahead when it comes to being an expensive friend: one new tennis racket (stolen), one new rod and reel (lost in the ocean), one collectible album (burned up). And who knows which of Hutch’s possessions is going to be eradicated next?

  23. Laurie Says:

    Great to see all the comments on this episode.

    As to the guys winding up on top of the car. Yes, in the shot before, you can see Starsky moving to the hood. And Hutch is grabbing the top of the window frame. I think we are meant to believe that he athletically yanked himself up to the top of the car, but given David Soul’s bad back, we can probably assume that did not exactly happen that way. Still, I don’t care. That shot composition with them shooting from the top of the car in those poses is gorgeous and glorious! If I had my way that would have been the cover photo for the complete series DVD collection.

    As to Hutch having a makeup kit ready to go, he was very fast on the suggestion of a hide and seek game and how it would work. It came across like he had been mulling this concept over for quite a while and had been collecting items and ideas. My guess is that he’d been going back and forth about using it as a competition with Starsky like this, something that he could beat Starsky at, or as maybe, just in case, because of the mysterious “thing that’s bothering him”, he ever felt he needed to hide out from Starsky and the rest of his life for a bit.

    He clearly did not have all those costumes and wigs and makeup in that little bag. Probably most of them were stashed in the car. He probably didn’t do all his makeup/costume changes at the hotel. That would have looked too suspicious to Ernie. I find it telling that Starsky did not expect him to go the whole “Halloween” route. Clearly this was a far higher stakes game to Hutch than to Starsky if you don’t count the intervening medical emergency.

    Yeah, I just marked the whole Merle bit up as a plot hole. Certainly if Starsky was ready to pay two weeks salary on a bet, he would be able to dig up $55 to find out what kind of car Hutch had. And most likely he could have just convinced Merle that Hutch had eaten the bad soup and got an answer out of him within a few comments without money, rather than dashing off.

    I kind of tell myself that there was maybe a deleted scene in which Hutch felt Starsky was too close for comfort to knowing the type of car, and traded it for something different by the time Starsky got the info from Merle. Or in which, when Starsky went back with the money, Merle had been called out of town on a family emergency or something. 😊 Mental editing. Something I do not only with Starsky and Hutch, but other things I watch and read to make them make better internal sense to me.

    Yes, I assumed Ernie meant they didn’t know the difference between whether he was giving them good or bad info.

    “What might have happened” if Starsky hadn’t been a cheapskate? I assumed this meant that maybe if he’d have stopped to buy a pencil from the old guy, he might just have deduced that it was Hutch.

    Interesting that Hutch is so caught up in The Game that he totally misses that the demeanor of Dobey at the hospital is not that of a guy horning in on a bet for giggles and a cut, or rubbing his hands in glee that they’re about to win. As if that would ever be Dobey’s MO in the first place, instead of, as he later says, chewing him out.

    Nice call on “Ernie Slotkin” sounding rather like “Arnie Solkin”. In the S&H ‘real’ universe, just that general group of sounds would have to give Starsky at least a moment of stomach drop, without conscious thought.

    I see the “view into their universe” just about exactly as Anna said.

    I like the concept of “existential dread” creeping over Hutch as he realizes that it’s basically a no-win situation. Either Starsky proves that he’s the smarter one by winning, or Starsky doesn’t find him and it’s a loss to his world.

    My husband and I both dislike “just can’t win” schticks in TV shows…the prized item that gets ruined, the perfect get-rich-quick scheme that falls apart due to a quirk of fate, the winning lottery ticket that gets washed, etc. Prominent in the Lucy shows, Honeymooners, etc., but many others. So I cringed at the ending tag. But if you ignore the roasted record, it is quite fun to watch the facial expressions as the two bounce back and forth reacting to each other as Hutch gives meditation instructions and Starsky does each step ‘all wrong.’

    I would have to think that the script was largely redone, or wasn’t very far along in development, when they decided to switch parts. I agree with others that this would not have make very much sense if they just switched the names in the scripts. To Starsky, even using costumes or whatever would all be a big lark, not a “must-win” intense thing. And as someone else said, it’s a bit puzzling because it’s not like either does a lot of heavy action in this episode.

    But, oddly, Hutch eating the canned soup didn’t really bother me. Hutch has been getting rougher-edged and hasn’t been seen dining on many sprout shakes lately. And cops on a crazy schedule must have occasions where they have to let even their high personal standards go by the boards and just grab whatever is handy because it’s food and they haven’t eaten in hours. Given that his whole plan here is to prove he’s the brains, I could just about see him justifying to himself that when starving, it’s okay to eat the odd cold can of soup, as long as it’s special, and “brain food,” and not just, say, chicken soup like the hoi polloi eat. Probably doesn’t hurt that my husband is kind of a connoisseur of clam chowder.

    Any idea what year Hutch’s “rental” car really was? My guess would be that they made it so that Starsky’s guess was only off by a year perhaps, when Hutch pooh-poohs his suggested year range.

    When Hutch checks in to the hotel, he asks about a shower and a view, and Ernie says it isn’t the Waldorf. Then as Hutch’s hat catches on the light fixture, he asks about something else and Ernie says that yes, that he can do. But I can’t pick up on what he’s asking for. Anyone who has captions or better hearing and can catch that part?

  24. Gail Says:

    Hi Laurie, Starsky didn’t give Merle the money because he only had $20 and Merle wouldn’t take a check.

    I think Hutch asked if Ernie had soap and shampoo.

    • Laurie Says:

      I knew Starsky didn’t have the cash at the time, and wasn’t positive then that Hutch’s soup can had botulism.

      But you’d think once he was sure, he’d have gone to the bank/ATM (cash machines! So new and cool then!) and grabbed the cash.

      Even if he had to pass the hat at HQ (unlikely for a guy betting two weeks’ salary), surely that would have been easier than the whole “stage a shooting and a hospital stay” bit. I just can’t believe Starsky forgot about the guy with the best clue to finding Hutch–what he was driving. Adding that info to the APB would have been a game-changer. Every cop in the city looking for that car.

      That’s why I tell myself there had to be something missing. Something that happened that they didn’t show us.

      And my top candidates are:

      -“Merl wasn’t there to ask” option. By the time he got back to Merl with the cash, Merl had left town–family emergency or something. And not being Batman, Jim Rockford, or one of Charlie’s Angels, Merl didn’t have a car phone. Or maybe Hutch was so desperate to win he bought Merl a weekend trip to Palm Springs or something.

      -“Starsky got the info but got dead-ended” option. Hutch got nervous about Starsky nailing the car so close that he soon ditched it somewhere unhelpful, like the Pits, or back at Merl’s, and then used buses/taxis or rented a different car elsewhere or something. So Starsky found the car, but it didn’t help.

      Both more believable to me than “Starsky forgot/never bothered dredging up 55 bucks and going back to ask Merl”.

  25. DRB Says:

    Enjoyed re-watching this favorite online this weekend. I always appreciate the partners’ interaction and especially the tag. I also love the moment when Ernie is nervously trying to explain away his comment about telling customers what they want to hear about Starsky and Hutch, and Hutch interrupts to remark dryly, “I’M the dumb one, remember, Ernie?” Ernie agrees hurriedly and then freezes as he realizes he now has both feet in his mouth with retribution hovering. Fortunately for Ernie, Hutch doesn’t feel like spending the energy to annihilate him.

    But what prompts this comment is the discussion about Hutch’s motivation for this episode. The speculation about his psychological health and possible goals make sense when viewing the series as a whole, and I was buying into that until I stopped to think about the way some people get caught up in competition. My family offers various examples of over-the-top actions. My nephew wanted to enter a costume party as Prince Moses (a la The Ten Commandments) and he and his dad came up with the “nifty” idea of HOT-GLUING a fake prince lock to his shaven head. And, yes, he was awarded first place and received a pound of candy corn for his prize. The prize was totally meaningless to him in comparison to the fact that he WON. And even the bald spot when they removed the lock (with roots of his hair still attached) could not mar his satisfaction. (I should explain that they couldn’t get the glue to soften so the guys just yanked it off –much to my sister’s horror!) With that fresh in my mind, I thought of Hutch’s long history of one-up-manship and concluded that The Game is an example of his drive to compete and win overcoming his good sense!

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