Episode 70: Blindfold

Starsky is overwhelmed with guilt when he accidentally shoots and blinds an apparently innocent bystander following a robbery, but the victim, Emily, isn’t all she seems.

Emily Harrison: Kim Cattrall, Sharon: Joan Pringle, Don Widdicombe: Gary Wood, Pinky: Howard George, Kenny: Robin Strand, Doctor: Sheldon Allman. Written By: Pat Fielder and Richard Bluel, Directed By: Leo Penn.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

In the Fourth Season one can detect a different quality in the production values of the series. The focus is softer, the light more diffused, and the overall effect seems more lush and film-like than it has been before. Bigger budget, better technology, or changing visual styles?

Hutch is whistling and singing “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” by Kris Kristofferson, although he is probably referencing the Johnny Cash cover, which hit it big in 1970. Another reference to Hutch’s love of country music. Starsky is not in a singing mood however, complaining “only cops work on Sundays” and “ninety-five per cent of crimes are committed between Monday and Saturday”. Hutch lets him go on, perhaps remembering another one of Starsky’s creative statistic exercises in the desert on the way to Las Vegas. When Starsky says no crimes are ever committed on Sunday morning, Hutch says, “maybe the bad guys are all in church,” another amusing instance of the series casting a critical eye on religious matters.

Dispatch says a silent alarm has gone off at the jewelry store. But the two thieves have been patiently blow-torching their way through the company safe for a long time. What sets the alarm off? It’s not the entry; they’ve obviously managed to sneak in through some unsecured back way. Did they get lazy or over-excited, and exit out of the alarmed front door, thinking they could run for it?

It seems Emily is alone in this world. Is it typical for a young girl not to have any relatives? Not even a distant aunt, or a guardian? Are Pat Fielder and Richard Bluel just looking to keep things simple, at the cost of logic?

“I feel like I’m a leper,” Starsky tells Hutch. He was also responsible for the shooting of young Lonnie Craig, in an episode called “Pariah”, which also revealed how he felt at the time. Despite all the gunfire in this series, only two innocent bystanders are shot in the series. Both are women and both shootings involve Starsky. The other is Janice Drew in “The Specialist”.

Why is the doctor so hostile when he comes out to talk to Starsky? He delivers the news of Emily’s blindness in a harsh, judgmental way with Emily’s best friend standing right there, and he’s snide about the necessary paperwork. He must already know the details of the case, that it was accidental, that Starsky meant no harm. And yet he cruelly dismisses both Starsky and Hutch’s gestures of concern. What is his problem? Is he like this with everyone, one of those gifted surgeons who is also a contemptible ass?

Starsky may get some points for trying to empathize with “being blind,” however sitting in one’s house blindfolded as he did for an hour, or blindfolding Hutch for 30 minutes, doesn’t show to how a person learns to cope over a period of time, just like any other change. Note, too, that this episode is not called “Blind”, the implication being this episode is about being impeded, or beset by blindness, the fault of another. Extrinsic rather than intrinsic.

Clever moment when Starsky holds his gun for a second and then chooses something else that shoots. The way I interpret it, his looking at and handling the gun does not reflect a fleeting suicidal thought or an impulse to resign the force. Rather, he is reflecting on the power of his instrument and the instantaneous calamity it can bring into the lives of others. He is, in a sense, in awe at its negative power. His thoughts then turn to the camera, which has the same potential as a weapon to be the agent of transformation and self-awareness, this time in a positive sense. His choosing the camera instead of the gun means he is willing to move forward. If he hadn’t accidentally met Emily in the park, I believe he would have simply absorbed this dark chapter and allowed it to add another facet to his personality, much like he became a different, better, more complex person following the death of Terry.

However, his strong reaction to the shooting of Emily, and his odd choices after seeing her in the park (lying, coercing her into a relationship, allowing himself to be pulled into her life) probably does have a lot to do with Terry. Suffering from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he might be incapable of separating Emily’s injuries from Terry’s. After all, it was his job that indirectly led to Terry’s death. Coincidentally, she was even blinded in her final moments as well.

Exactly what happened to Emily? Initially she lies in the street with blood at her temple, although if she was actually shot in the head by a police-issue Smith and Wesson .38 she would most likely not survive, or if she did she would not be sitting in a park in a week or two with no scar to show for it. My guess is she was hit by the deflected bullet, its velocity slowed by bouncing off a building.

Kim Cattrall, who of course will go on to star in “Sex and The City” among other work, does a fine job here as the naive Emily. It’s quite a strikingly delicate depiction of a girl who has the unfortunate tendency to allow men (good ones like Starsky, and bad ones like Don Widdicombe) overpower and control her.

Starsky’s flirtation expertise is awe-inspiring. Emily goes from aggressively “don’t talk to me” to holding his hand in under an hour. Later, in “Ninety Pounds”, he performs the same trick with a similarly stand-offish Sid. He should teach a class or something.

Sharon is a mystery. Starsky asks Sharon to step “out of the frame” when taking Emily’s photograph, and she does. She seems to believe Starsky is doing something beneficial for her friend, but does she fully understand his symbolic, subtle request to “stay out”? If so, why does she agree, and withold his Starsky’s real identity to Emily? By all accounts she’s rational and realistic (she has sensible advice later about Widdicombe being “bad news” and urging Emily to tell Starsky everything) but do her actions make her a good friend or a lousy one? By not telling Emily who Starsky really is, not being more forceful about Don, she seems to lean toward the “lousy” category. But by trusting Starsky’s intentions, and not blaming him, she also has good instincts. She is not a meddler, and treats Emily like an adult (maybe the only one who does). In an episode about seeing, are we to believe she is the only one with good vision, or does she have blind spots like everybody else?

Why does Widdicombe waste his time selling his goods to a lowlife like Pinky for? Stealing such a massive collection of diamonds is not something you do without having a ready buyer, preferably some international hotshot. Jewelry can be difficult to fence at the best of times.

What’s the story with Widdicombe and Pinky, anyway? Pinky, facing serious jail time, still lies to cover for Widdicombe at great personal cost, then allows him access to his cash for a “loan” without a peep. Why the loyalty? It can’t be just about the loot – or is it?

If I were to do a “5 Creepiest Villains” list then the manipulative, smooth-talking Don Widdicombe would be at the top of the list. He maintains his suave, smiling demeanor throughout, including while under intense questioning at the station, which seems to me to be the mark of a true psychopath. Way to go, Gary Wood!

This episode is very similar to “Running” and “Rosey Malone”. All three times Starsky is driven to rehabilitate or protect a vulnerable woman and all three times Starsky and Hutch are at each other’s throats, arguing bitterly about personal responsibility versus police procedure. Here the fighting is especially wearisome when Starsky refuses to listen to reason. I don’t know if the writers thought this added to the tension of the narrative, or were unable to write scenes in which the two were cooperative and understanding with each other. It adds a sour note to this episode that is, in my opinion, unnecessary.

Even though Starsky is ostensibly the focus of this episode, it’s really the Hutch show. He does a couple of really incredible things. His hassling of Kenny the Younger Brother is truly menacing. Look at Hutch catch sight of Carlos at the pool table. “How long you been out, Carlos?” he asks, and the hairs on your neck just stand up. His arrest of Pinky at the bar is a master stroke of choreography and completely and creatively unexpected. And then his arrest of Kenny, his physical power as he throws him (very hard) on the car and then leaves him trussed on the hood as he drives back to Starsky. “Don’t move” he says helpfully. Throughout he sustains a steadily simmering anger that keeps him focused and calm. And it’s great to see how that changes to upbeat and optimistic at the tag when he thinks Starsky has returned from his funk.

Why does Pinky go to Huggy to sell his diamonds? Doesn’t he know about Huggy’s relationship with Starsky and Hutch? Wouldn’t Bay City criminals, generally, know this? It’s mentioned several times throughout this episode about the rampant word on the street regarding Starsky “babysitting” Emily, so obviously there is a very healthy grapevine. Wouldn’t the biggest, juiciest grape on that vine be Huggy’s years-long, full-time job as snitch to the two famous detectives?

Standout in the staging department: Starsky holding the mars light in the underground garage, flashing red.

Who has been “blindfolded” in this episode? Well, most of the characters are. Emily, both physically and by her inability to see through Don Widdicombe. Starsky because of his inability to separate duty, guilt, responsibility, and for thinking romance can solve complex and dangerous problems. Sharon is, because she does not tell Emily the truth about Starsky. Pinky, because he has no idea he’s going down for the last time. Kenny, for following his brother into a bad situation. And of course poor Hutch, who is literally blindfolded and the least deserving of its ill-effects.

Emily has the tendency to be both dumb and duplicitous. Dumb because she doesn’t ask the name of the officer who shot her and appears to have no questions about legalities, she doesn’t try to locate Widdicombe, doesn’t show any interest in the stolen diamonds and just generally seems out of it. Duplicitous because she sure doesn’t give anything up about why she was on the sidewalk at that time, doesn’t say anything about Don and Ken and manages to hide her involvement perfectly.

Hutch’s focus on catching the bad guys, Don and Ken, seems more intense than usual. Is it because, as he said to both guys, taking a shot at Starsky was unacceptable? If so, Starsky and Hutch have been shot at lots of times without causing Hutch to amp up his reaction to this degree. My guess is Hutch is angry not only because he’s watching his partner flail around uselessly in guilt, but because there is no “other” in his life to siphon off all his negative energy. (This brings up another issue: that Hutch might be the worst boyfriend in the world, bragging rights notwithstanding. Either he is wholly committed which means the romantic partner must endure his barbs and teasing, or most of him remains subsumed in the relationship with Starsky, which allows him to act out and decompress but leaves the girlfriend out in the cold.)

”Surprise, surprise,” Starsky says to Widdicombe and company as he strolls toward them. This is exactly how he says “surprise, surprise” to Hutch when he shows him the car in the tag of “Survival”.

There is an undercurrent of artistic creation as a saving grace. Starsky takes pictures, Emily makes sculptures. Both acts seem to help. And, by the way, her sculpture of Starsky is very good. Even that troublesome nose.

Emily, after regaining her eyesight, tells Starsky he really is handsome. He replies, “Would I lie to you about a thing like that?” No, but he sure lied about everything else!

Emily’s eyesight returns one hundred percent. Starsky is off the hook. What would have happened with Starsky if she remained blind, or regained only partial eyesight? And how would Starsky’s feeling of responsibility change, knowing she was Don’s lookout?

Tag: Both Starsky and Hutch seem incredibly happy in the tag. You know Hutch is in a great mood when he’s boastful (here, he advertises his “extra-sensory perception”). They share a beer and are very nice to each other. But that doesn’t stop Starsky from playing a very mean trick on his best friend.

Clothing notes: There is a recrementitious amount of khakis in this show, everybody (with the exception of ever-hip Starsky) is wearing them, even Huggy. Hutch is responsible for some pretty spectacular clothes in this episode. He looks like a preppy yachtsman for the first few scenes in striped shirts and a military-style cloth jacket, also wearing pleated khakis and a large Hawaiian shirt (which hides, I suspect, the back brace David Soul was forced to wear following a serious injury). He redeems himself in the classic green leather and jeans, and in the tag is wearing a very peculiar blue-silver leather jacket.
Starsky escapes the contemporary missteps in his usual duds.
Emily and Sharon are wearing matching blue button-down shirts in their last scene together.

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8 Responses to “Episode 70: Blindfold”

  1. merltheearl Says:

    That’s a great memory, Daniela! This one always stood out, too, from the time I saw it initially. The sculpture, for some reason, stuck with me – I remember thinking how good it was! And I don’t remember being as put off by the dismaying bickering scenes between S&H in this episode as I am now.

    David Soul has done some amazing film work in the years since. His 1980 film “Rage” is one of the best performances I have seen any where, any time. Glaser, from all accounts, has always been lukewarm about acting and so seems much happier behind the camera.

  2. Lynn Says:

    Hi Merle,
    I watched this one last night and decided to re-read your take on it. Some interesting moments, and yes, the bickering is a bit annoying, but wouldn’t it be typical in a long standing relationship to have a few lapses under stress? What strikes me in this episode, as in a few others, is Hutch’s intense focus on solving the case when Starsky is “off his game” for whatever reason. Hutch is never more intense or scary than when his partner is not participating with him. It seems that he gives it his all, albeit for the short run, in order to get his partner back and their relationship back in balance. It’s sort of like the big burst at the end of a race; you know you can’t do it for long, but there’s a good chance of winning the prize at the end if you give it your all.
    Lynn

  3. Dianna Says:

    In all previous episodes, when we see diamonds, they look like plastic junk you can buy at the local craft store. This is the only episode I’ve seen where there are gems that actually sparkle. This argues for a bigger budget for this season, I think.

    It strains belief to see Emily sitting in the park alone, just a few days after her injury. She has not had time to learn how to get around with a cane, so why has she been deposited there, alone and vulnerable?

    Starsky’s “flirtation expertise,” as you put it is even more awe-inspiring when you consider the fact that she can’t even see his amazing heart-melting grin.

    But why on earth is she holding his hand when she’s got this other guy who she’s on the verge of marrying?

    Sharon. Yeah, she is a mystery, that’s for sure. She was so very hostile at the hospital. What softens her up? Do she and Starsky have an off-camera conversation in which he convinces her not to mention to Emily that he is the cop who shot her?

    It is heart-wrenching to see happy-go-lucky Starsky consumed with guilt this way. And Hutch, far from being gentle with him, seems to want to grab him by the collar and shake him out of his misery. Lynn is right about Hutch being intense and scary in this episode, even toward Starsky.

    In comments on A Coffin For Starsky, someone said that Starsky’s sweet personality precludes the tag being a practical joke, but causing Hutch to fall down the stairs is much much meaner than making a joke about a trip to the Bahamas. This is only a little bit clever and it is a whole lot mean, and seems rather out of character.

    • merltheearl Says:

      You’re right, this episode doesn’t make much emotional sense. We don’t understand the doctor’s antipathy, where Sharon is coming from, Emily’s loyalty (if you can call it that) to Widdicombe, or even why Starsky behaves as intensely as he does (although we can take a guess). Even the tag is off the mark. This is too bad, because there is a great story in here, somewhere.

  4. Sharon Marie Says:

    On Donald Whittecombe’s criminal history record that Hutch shows Pinky, the word “acquitted” is spelled wrong, twice as “aquitted”.

    What is with the show and the name ‘Sharon’?! I had forgotten how many time they referred to someone by that name or there was an actual character named Sharon!

  5. Laura Says:

    Although this is early in season four, we already see some of Hutch’s weariness of the baggage that goes with being a cop. He likes the action and arresting the bad guys but, as seen in numerous episodes, struggles with the politics and personal cost. I think this is why he’s so short tempered with Starsky in this episode. Hutch is normally compassionate when Starsky is struggling with such issues, like his guilt in Pariah when Hutch is wonderfully there for him, but also giving him a bit of space at times, like when he talks to Lonnie Craig’s Mom at her house after the funeral. In Blindfold, I can imagine Hutch feeling, “not this again,” and being frustrated with Starsky for not coming around quicker. So close to his partner, sometimes it seems like it’s all too much for Hutch when Starsky is suffering.

    One scene that had me surprised by Hutch’s lack of reaction was the hospital scene when Starsky is waiting for news about Emily and her friend Sharon says to Starsky, accusingly, “You’re the cop that shot her.” He understandably shrinks at the painfully true indictment, but the Hutch we know best would have defended his partner, saying something, anything to Sharon. His silence seems to imply agreement. In Pariah, when the officer is collecting money for the killed officer’s family and tries to refuse Starsky’s contribution, Hutch jumps in to defend him. Sharon’s words just hang there, leaving me thinking, “Hey, defend your buddy.” Starsky’s just not strong enough to defend himself here.

    Merl, I agree with your opinion that it is an odd choice for Starsky to start up a covert relationship with Emily. When I first watched the episode in the 70s, I thought, “Wait, what?!!” Your idea that his experiences with Terry would have had a strong influence on how he reacted to this situation is highly plausible and gives the episode much greater depth. Great insight!

    On the Sharon good friend/bad friend topic, I can only imagine that she does not give away Starsky’s deception because she doesn’t want to hurt her fragile friend at that moment (she’s happy when she introduces Sharon to her friend “Dave”) and must not have any serious doubt about his intentions. Perhaps she wanted to see where it was going, and viewed Emily’s connection to a cop who was cheering her up as better for her than her relationship with Widdicombe. Perhaps she even appreciated the help taking care of Emily, which might have been overwhelming for her, since Emily seemed to have no family to assist in her care. If I were Sharon, I would be suspicious of Starsky’s actions and wonder if he were cozying up to Sharon so that she wouldn’t sue him or the police force for the incident.

    Best Starsky-speak in this episode: A little before the 12 minute mark, “Et-lousy-cetera.” Hahaha, love that one.

    Goofy set award: Stuffed fish on wood plaques on the wall of Pinky’s pawn shop. Is that really a thing, do people pawn them and other people buy them?

    Worst physics: The jewelry case is carried by its handle, like a suitcase, meaning unsecured contents would slip to the bottom. Move to the scene where the case is opened and the contents are remarkably displayed perfectly on the velvet. When Huggy picks up a piece, it is not attached to the cloth and none of other pieces seem to be either.

    I agree on the tag, that it was way out of character for Starsky to let Hutch fall down the steps. Some of these “that wasn’t right” moments in the series I just dismiss, particularly when they are an isolated moment not relevant to the episode as a whole (not so easy when a whole episode, like Starsky v. Hutch, has a major development based on one of them acting out of character). I envision a revised version of the tag where Starsky allows Hutch to open the door and step out, but grabs his arm and pulls off the blindfold, saving him from serious injury while proving his point.

    • Blunderbuss Says:

      Great insight on Hutch’s character changes over the series and the contrasts with Pariah. I, too, view these changes as mostly weariness. For example, perhaps Hutch did feel defensive of Starsky when Sharon accused him, but was too jaded and apathetic to bother with going through the trouble of reacting.

      I really like your observation “So close to his partner, sometimes it seems like it’s all too much for Hutch when Starsky is suffering.” I think in season 4 you can see a little of this on Starsky’s side too. A different commenter on the Report (if I remember right I think it was in the review for “The Game”?) proposed that all the emotional turmoil and near-death scares may have left Starsky and Hutch frustrated at each other because they’re so close they drag each other through hell every time one of them gets hurt or threatened. Having that kind of super-close connection can be as exhausting as it is comforting.

      • Laura Says:

        Thanks for your response, Blunderbuss. Your comment “Having that kind of super-close connection can be as exhausting as it is comforting” really resonated with me and took me to a scene that I’ve been bothered by, but couldn’t quite peg why. It’s late season 3, but in Deckwatch, there’s a little bit of the contentious feel we get more of in season 4. Watching it live, back in the 70s, I didn’t catch it, but when I watched the early scenes of Deckwatch with Soul & Glaser on DVD, there was something unsettling there, a palpable tension that seemed to go beyond the storyline. The particular scene has Starsky in his car, and Hutch approaches his window to discuss the manhunt. I watched this a few times to try to determine just what it was. There was an undercurrent of frustration, and I wondered if some off screen situation had set up the vibe. Certainly, it’s an intense episode, but something about their chemistry was strained, whether it was intentional or not. When Starsky asks Hutch, “Whatsa matter?,” I want to know, too. Hutch’s final response for his foul mood is, “Hunting down a wounded felon; it’s lousy” just seems like a diversionary answer. Perhaps it’s the exhaustion inherent in Starsky and Hutch’s almost-too-close bond that we’re seeing here, which seems to mirror the relationship between Glaser and Soul during the series. Sometimes me and thee against the world must grow tiresome.

        You write, “I think in season 4 you can see a little of this on Starsky’s side too,” and while it’s season three, you sense this weariness when Hutch proposes going into the house as a paramedic in Deckwatch. Starsky’s with him on the strategy, but apparently not too keen about Hutch going in, and changes Hutch’s 2 hour request to Dobey to a 1 hour window. It’s as though Starsky’s already decided he really can’t take much more of this. We typically see more of this from Hutch, particularly throughout season four.

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