Archive for September, 2011

Episode 75: Dandruff

September 30, 2011

Starsky and Hutch go undercover as hairdressers at a plush hotel to try to stop a heist by an internationally infamous jewel thief.

The Baron: Rene Auberjonois, Hilda Zuckerman: Audrey Meadows, Buddy Owens: Norm Alden, Dinty: Madison Arnold, Ellis: Blackie Dammett, Leo: Tracey Walter, Davidowsky: Jacques Aubuchon, Vivian: Leigh Hamilton, Harry: F William Parker, Van Dam: Alex Rodine, Adachi: John Fujioka. Written By: Ron Friedman, Directed By: Sutton Roley.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Historical antecedents: a farce is an ancient theatre tradition characterized by broad, improbable situations, the use of disguises and mistaken identity, use of props, and verbal humor such as accents and word play. The plot is often confusing, the situations unlikely, and the scenes populated by childish, venal, vain and neurotic characters. Transgressive or irrational behavior runs rampant in this funhouse-mirror world, as the lowly become elevated to power, the genders blur, and sexual contravention is tolerated and even encouraged. It could be said farce, like its sharper cousin satire, is potent social commentary. Very often the “hero” is not heroic at all, but rather hapless, overpowered by events. Whether or not farce belongs in the canon of Starsky and Hutch, whether it is undignified or just plain pointless, is a whole other argument, but perhaps we can admire the sheer audacity of even attempting this farcical addendum to the series. One would be hard pressed to imagine any contemporary police drama, “CSI” or perhaps “Law and Order”, veering so dramatically down this yellow brick road.

The episode opens with disco-lounge music burbling, a glass tower, and a long pan of the fancy salon filled with older rich women who seem thrilled to engage with their glamorous, flamboyant hairdressers. There is a lot of smoking and drinking here, martinis and ice buckets jammed with wine bottles, and of course klutzy Hutch struggling with a champagne cork (banging it ineffectually with his hand) and chatting up a sweet lady eager “for a change”. And here we go into the episode most either love or hate: an hour of sheer camp.

Identity Politics: Starsky’s Tyrone character is an ultra-hetero Pink Panther-meets-Italian-mobster, about as “foreign” as Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata, a similar character to his outre dance instructor in an earlier episode and similar to his outre fashion photographer in a later one; all three feel a bit like exaggerated versions of Starsky himself, or more precisely the way six-year-old Davey might imagine his future Mr. Cool self to be. While Starsky tends to fall back on self-parody when undercover, Hutch’s Mr. Marlene is a gender-bending comedic transformation, about as far from the Hutch we know as possible. And he is wildly attractive to the ladies, all of whom make an immediate play for him even though he is doing his best to be act as gay as possible. Thus, he pouts and swishes, fully committed to his role, allowing his inherent grumpiness – as well as his freak flag – fly, which must feel pretty great. Do these women not care? Is sexual adventurism so rampant it doesn’t matter who is gay and who isn’t? The social dynamics are confusing but also fascinating, because contravening the “other”, especially with such glee as these various women do, is a glimpse into a borderless utopia very far from contemporary reality (both then and now).

Both Starsky and Hutch, maintain their faux identities even when they don’t have to. Starsky keeps it up with Buddy the security officer, with Huggy and with Dobey, although he drops it briefly near the end with obvious reluctance. Hutch has thrown himself so completely into his role he keeps it up even during his conversation with Mrs. Zuckerman, who knows he is an undercover detective, and with Dobey, who shows tremendous forbearance by not slapping him.

Quite visually stunning is the scene in which the mysterious man goes down a polished chrome escalator lit with glamorous casino-style lighting. Why, however, does Starsky endanger the arrest – or at the very least make it messier and more dangerous than it should be – by shouting “hey” at the fleeing man? He should have simply boxed him in with Hutch, and made a quiet arrest.

Props: Starsky’s unexplained devotion to his stepladder is an amusing mystery. Hutch’s wig is consistent with the disguise elements of farce, but it’s gilding the platinum lily. And why curly? It makes Mr. Marlene look like a combination of Harpo Marx and the Rhinestone Cowboy. Later with the diamond merchant, he finally removes his itchy wig and then places it on another funny prop, a magically appearing wig stand.

After the arrest and soaking wet, Starsky and Hutch piteously wrap themselves in blankets, shivering and putting bare feet on Dobey’s desk. This scene also has Dobey scolding them and Starsky responding, “sometimes we act instinctively.” Hutch adds – with a little mince, a la Mr. Marlene – “sometimes impetuously.” There have been plenty of times throughout the run of the series in which both men have gotten soaked, and in more dangerous situations than a mere fountain. Remember the dive into the polluted, hypothermic ocean in “Terror on the Docks”? And yet they have never felt the need to appear as pathetic as this. Is this a result of their immersion into their characters? Is this diversion into the lifestyles of the rich and famous turning them into spoiled aristocrats?

Dobey rounds out the scene by referring to the salon as “where you two are practicing your culture”, which is possibly the funniest line in the entire series.

Neither Starsky nor Hutch have any idea who “the Baron” is. Hutch also goes “mmm?” when Dobey mentions the Belvedere diamonds, as if they know nothing about them either. So why go undercover – an expensive, time-consuming operation – before they have any facts?

On a minor note, Dobey shows the guys the cigars favoured by the Baron. Obviously they are rare and expensive. So why, then, is it such a huge box, with perhaps fifty cigars? Why not buy a couple individually? Dobey, a notorious nickel-and-dimer, has just blown the entire department’s budget.

The Baron is obviously no idiot. He has taken care not to leave any evidence identifying him. So why he is handing out Corona Superba Coronas like candy, wherever he goes? Blind spot, ego, or a writer’s lazy shortcut?

Nice cameo by screen veteran Tracey Walter, whose name is misspelled in the credits. Walter does a nice Igor-meets-Stevie-Wonder performance as the canny smoke shop proprietor. Hutch is hilariously sibilant in his pronouncing the cigar brand, but it begs the question: why do you suppose he keeps up the charade as Mr. Marlene when seeking to make Leo an informant? Wouldn’t dropping the act and identifying himself as a police detective increase the chances of cooperation?

Starsky has a beautiful girl’s legs on his shoulders as he slowly undoes her shoes. Mrs Zuckerman has sent him to do a pedicure (in a hotel room?), but of course we see no implements of the trade, and no intention by either Starsky or his “client” to do anything remotely like it. Whatever he is really about to do is interrupted when she tells him about “the Baron”. This is an accidental discovery on his part, so there is no detective work involved. Of course.

Continuing with the eccentric, everyone-into-the-pool quality of this episode, it is nice to see our friend Blackie Dammett reappear for the third time as one of the henchmen in the silly suits. Dammett is sporting a couple of dramatic black eyes that appear to be real. Bad night before the day’s shoot, or what?

The ditzy woman is the salon is giving Hutch a tutorial in numerology. “1,9,4,9 adds up to 23…Now 2 and 3 add up to 5…I happen to be an 8, and 5 and 8 are about as far apart as you can get.” She suspects Hutch is a 6. Are Starsky and Hutch both 7, as Starsky guesses in his ESP test at the start of next episode’s “Black and Blue”?

Everyone should be more than a little worried when six gunshots are heard in the hotel, when Starsky and Hutch empty Buddy’s gun, but no one arrives to investigate. Also, why such a dangerous method to render a gun inoperable? Any one of those bullets could ricochet and kill somebody. Why not just take the gun away? There are two of them, and only one of him.

The fact hotel detective Buddy Owens does not know about two undercover cops is a problem. Wouldn’t the police department let him in on the case? He could be helpful, and his ignorance puts everybody in danger.

The following scene, in which the guys discuss the situation and follow the hotel detective into the basement where an improbable bomb goes off, is indicative of the charms – and evils – of this episode. Neither Starsky nor Hutch give up the various adopted quirks of their characters, which implies they do not take this case seriously and are having far more fun playing dress-up. Because they don’t care – and one suspects neither David Soul nor Paul Michael Glaser care, either – there is a certain dangerous element to this episode that can be bewitching, if you are in the right mood for it. The episode is soaked in a kind of chemical nihilism that echoes, or even amplifies, the times in which this was made. This kind of amoral hedonism is unfashionable in today’s principled and rational approach to televised narrative. I cannot think of a single police procedural that would condescend to this kind of candy-coated silliness, or have their tough action stars allowed to indulge their inner goof as Soul and Glaser do. Yes, this episode is challenging to consider in any seriously critical way. Yes, it is right to dismiss “Dandruff” as stupid and disappointing. It is stupid and disappointing. But it’s also a) a traditional farce, with all the complex conventions intact, b) a glossy reflection of the times and c) a fairly naughty, anti-establishment nod to profligacy.

The main purpose of a farce, of course, is the opportunity to say the unsayable by cloaking it in absurdity. In some cases this can become a powerful political tool, and there are four separate unmentionables exposed here. Its accuracy may be up for debate, but we can applaud this episode for its cartoonish but wholehearted embrace of gay men “practicing their culture”. Not exactly “The Boys in the Band”, but we’ll take what we can get. As well, let’s appreciate the unabashedly booze-soaked, sexually liberated (or at least rapacious) swinging scene of the 1970s so frankly depicted in the salon scenes in which the all-female patrons outrageously overpay for the privilege of “looking wonderful”, as Mrs. Zuckerman says. “Prince Nairobi” played by Huggy is a genial poke at the racially divisive atmosphere of the times, in which the average African-American is subject to appallingly endemic racism while an anonymously moneyed African “prince” is fawned over and revered. Surely this politically subversive joke on class hysteria is admirable, even in this context. Finally the sight of otherwise intelligent successful men scrambling over each other risking life and limb for a tiny bag of baubles is held up for ridicule.

Post-explosion, Starsky and Hutch waste time with poor Buddy with their feigned accents. Starsky is on his beloved stepladder. It’s genuinely amusing when he says they should bring their own “gay” to the auction.

Buddy insists he has everything under control and resists the help of the LAPD. Why, do you suppose, an international cartel of diamond buyers would trust some lowly hotel security officer to arrange their million-dollar auction?

Why would Starsky and Hutch endanger Huggy by bringing him as the fake prince as well as having him do the crucial sleight of hand with the diamonds? Dobey is a little high-profile to pass, but surely there must be other police officers available for the job.

There are a few scenes that do not feature Paul Michael Glaser. Bored out of his skull and “resting” in his trailer, or what?

More prop jokes with the hospital side table that gives out on Dobey. Buddy’s gun and holster are hanging in the hospital room, unsecured, a giant no-no that is distracting.

The extended kissing scene between Mr. Marlene and “Vivian Vivacious” behind the door goes on for a very long time and its insertion into the narrative is apropos of nothing, which probably one of its charms. This scene and others like it cement this episode’s – and farce in general, it should be said – obsession with doors.

Dosey-Doe: Harry and his oversized golf clubs has no compunction in sharing his “girlfriend”, but this encounter seems to be against Hutch’s will. Is it really, or is this more undercover “acting”? Hutch, like Starsky, has been sent to a girl’s hotel room, this time for a permanent. How this complicated, messy procedure can be done in a hotel room is beyond me. Coincidentally, both girls have no problem having a sexual encounter while the man they came in with is in the next room.

The Baron of Beefs: Throughout the episode, the supposed mastermind does a bunch of dim-witted things that only serve to complicate the situation. His first appearance in the hospital when Buddy is admitted is pointless. He poisons one of the participants in order to bug his briefcase instead of surreptitiously hiding it, with no one the wiser. He goes to a lot of trouble with costumes when he doesn’t have to. He bombs the computer room and attacks Buddy, two risky moves that don’t achieve anything other than increasing the paranoia surrounding the diamond sale. He sets up his two henchmen to take the fall for him, severely inconveniencing two thugs with long memories. He baits Starsky and Hutch with a snide note. He advertises his cigar quirks for all the world to see.

There’s one Japanese man in the room, and the only man who has not yet introduced himself. And yet Buddy says, with some confusion, “Which one of you is Mr. Adachi?” Maybe the knock on his head was harder than we thought.

It’s a box, not a pouch. It’s a bug, not a listening device. Starsky plays a great game of semantics, saying “If you were to put something foreign into your ‘box’, would it then become a ‘pouch’?” Everything is topsy-turvy and mutable, language included – and besides this may be the raciest double entendre in the series.

Finally, another important aspect to the traditional farce is that the culprit very often emerges victorious or unscathed while the hero is humiliated or disappointed as a way of poking fun at the idea of gallantry. It happens here, to a mixed effect. Like “Foxy Lady”, the guys are left looking mildly foolish as the Baron strolls away, which fits with the concept of this episode but makes everything seem more pointless than ever. I can’t help but imagine how this ending would fly just a few years earlier during the gritty first season when Starsky and Hutch were genuinely and passionately heroic, with no wink-wink irony to muddle the waters. Would Soul and Glaser have signed on if the ghost of Christmas Future revealed to them this goofball episode?

Also, Prince Nairobi is awfully cavalier with the diamonds, don’t you think?

Tag: the tag reinforces the supposition that farce is actually upholding a utopian view of society as well as a chaotic one, as the long-suffering (and insufferable) Mrs. Zuckerman blows out the candles on a patriotic cake while pontificating on the nation-building aspects of her gay-affirming, crazy-making way of life. Dobey then appears with a gift of cigars from The Baron. Did Dobey know the contents of the box? If so, why didn’t he subject the box to forensic science? Or does Dobey, like the guys, just not care? The two unnamed boys in black are awfully smooth with the lighters, causing Starsky and Hutch to appear worried for the first time.

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Episode 74: The Avenger

September 21, 2011

Monique, a woman who leaves a string of dead lovers in her wake, claims a jealous acquaintance is responsible for the murders.

Monique Travers: Joanna Cassidy, Phil: Tim Thomerson, Roger: Michael Delano, Bobbie: Hildy Brooks, Minnie: Marki Bey, ME Delaney: Charles Cyphers, Hotel Clerk: GW Bailey, Barman: Steve Mayne, Girl in Disco: Suzanne Kent. Written By: Robert E Swanson, Directed By: Sutton Roley.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

When Starsky and Hutch are wrong: During the run of the series the two men have excellent intuition, memory, and detecting skills. However, there are times in which they come to erroneous conclusions based on the available facts (as opposed to being temporarily misinformed). I’m thinking of “The Crying Child”, where they point the finger at Guy’s father rather than his mother, “Foxy Lady” in which they are spectacularly hoodwinked by silly Lisa. Hutch is led astray – or, more precisely, the truth is withheld – by Gillian; Starsky is similarly taken in by Sharon in “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty”. They are both completely suckered by fake-friend John Colby. To a lesser extent, they believe Terry Nash’s story in “The Set-Up” for far too long. All these instances have one thing in common: Starsky and Hutch’s sympathies have been aroused by a victim story. In this episode, too, they are misled by Monique’s version of events in spite of its inconsistencies, and feel compassion for her plight. However, this an instance in which the victim story is partially true: consciously, Monique believes her own tale and so is not technically lying. But Starsky and Hutch do not use their normally excellent skills at reading people here. The whole San Francisco murder thing is too low-key (surely the lack of evidence would make them suspicious), she complains about having to go down to the squad room again even though it’s crucial to the case, has no problem staying at her supposedly blood-drenched hell pit of a house, and goes out to a bar the night after the murder. Starsky and Hutch, for the most part, ignore these glaring oddities, even if the whole experience feels strange and unnatural to them on an unconscious level. They know something is wrong here, but are unable to pinpoint why.

On the other hand, the idea of a victim being also the perpetrator is so unusual no one can blame them for not getting it right away. Psychotic and detachment disorders are poorly understood even to this day, particularly this, the mother of all psychiatric conditions: Dissociative Identity Disorder, once known as Multiple Personality. Once thought to be a)fake and b)extremely rare, DID is now thought to affect a surprising number of people who have experienced severe trauma. It may not manifest itself in dramatic ways, with personalities emerging and submerging on cue, each with names and jobs to do, coping mechanisms like the one Monique has are very possible. At least Hutch gets it when he does – most cops wouldn’t.

There are other factors at work here too. At this point in our social history a young, single, and powerful woman is a kind of psychological no-man’s-land. Monique has a kind of desperation mixed with potency that is very difficult for men to identify and respond to, an imposing mix of guilt, masochism, and rage that is very late-1970s Looking-For-Mr.-Goodbar and a remarkable precursor to the kind of tortured, vengeful heroine only now surfacing in contemporary culture. It’s both distracting and disquieting to the detectives. Look at Starsky’s hands-off attitude throughout. He’s cautious, unable to figure her out. A generally flirty guy who has been known to overlook flaws if the girl is hot enough, he stays well away from this one.

On the marvelous Joanna Cassidy as Monique: She is perfectly cast here. She has a muscular, imposing, mature presence and is very different from the smaller, perkier, more frazzled or less competent female characters we often see, and it’s essential she project this air of authority since she has to convince both Starsky and Hutch of her absolute innocence. Calm and detached as a sleepwalker, she moves in slow-motion through a series of bad dates, exemplar of feminism gone wrong. Even when dancing and smiling there is something murky and inscrutable about her. Cassidy imbues Monique with a kind of tragic forbearance – she’s in the grips of something terrible, is helpless to combat it while on some dark level understanding, even welcoming its inevitable manifestation – that so very difficult to convey. In the magical scene in which Starsky sings and plays guitar during his late-night turn as guardian, her schizoid shift into murderess is nicely handled. It’s a challenge to switch identities without the audience guffaws, and yet she manages it. I wonder if my own response to this character – sympathetic, uneasy, supportive without any warmer feelings of wanting to protect or save her – is typical of audience reaction. The combination of Swanson’s nuanced script and Cassidy’s intelligent interpretation of that script make this a very special episode indeed.

Sutton Roley shines again in this strange episode. He makes use of odd angles, slow-motion photography, and documentary-style camera shots to tell a story that is dependent on who is telling it. This episode is also notable for a measured pace, and the long stretches of quiet punctuated by bursts of sound. Hutch’s slow realization in the squad room is very well done – it seems to take forever, and it’s wonderful that way: we are lulled into intense anticipation for the last pieces of the puzzle to slip into place. Monique’s warped sense of realty is wonderfully depicted using tricky lens and lighting, and you can feel the director’s enjoyment in depicting the unusual and the esoteric.

The first scene is similar to last season’s “Deckwatch”, in which a young woman sitting at a bar in a disco is bored by a hungry male. In this case, it’s even more bitterly amusing, as the guy drones on about his car and Monique finally says she isn’t interested in cars, but in organic food. The guy smirks: “your body’s a temple, right?” If Monique’s body is a temple, then her bell tower is suffering a pretty severe crack.

Monique agrees to go back to her place with boring Phil, who irritates her with his self-absorbed talk of cars, macho posturing, veiled put-downs and his smoking. The reason she agrees to do this is not only about loneliness. I always had a feeling she is briefly supplanted by her altar-ego, who is desperate for a homicidal fix and doing all he can to engineer one will happen. If Monique is all there, i.e. sane, she would have refused Phil’s advances. A girl as beautiful as she is, alone in a disco, would have her pick of any one of a dozen men. Surely not all of them are as bad as Phil is (or Roger, later). Or are they? Is this a supposition buried in the script: that all men are, in fact, losers?

At the pool game Hutch has an “astrological biorhythm calculator” that tells him Starsky’s numbers are a big fat triple-zero. Hutch is gleeful. Huggy doesn’t help much by saying Starsky should believe it, given his skills that night. Starsky tries to get his money back from Hutch and it rips between them. Starsky is crestfallen, but look at Hutch, in possession of a worthless half-bill. Look at the satisfaction on his face: he could be looking at a stack of gold coins. Just what has he won? Whatever it is, it’s really, really good.

It’s funny how Hutch has to turn the light switch down to get the light to the bathroom on. It’s always up, as far as I know. Would it be a stretch to think this indicates a topsy-turvey what’s-down-is-up quality to this case?

The chaos surrounding a murder scene is very well captured as Hutch quietly walks through by himself in a very withdrawn, insular way as voices and activity go on around him. It’s only later we see Starsky talking to a very casual-sounding ME. This seems to suggest Hutch is more solitary than a team player. He states some facts about the killer that show up the ME and Starsky does his usual sardonic half-smile, accusing him of “raining on the witch-doctor’s deal”. In this episode Starsky and Hutch don’t seem to be as connected as they should be. Hutch seems to be in his own world much of the time, and Starsky has withdrawn into languid irony.

At this point in the episode it becomes clear there is a strong correlation between the abstruse and the everyday, the magical and the scientific. I’m not going to articulate it all that well, but the mention of a witch-doctor, the metamorphosis of one person into another, the jokey biorhythms talk and its correlating pop-occultism swirling around contemporary Los Angeles all seems very of its time. It seemed, in the late 70s, that reality wasn’t what people assumed it was. Old preconceptions were being overturned, stereotypes exposed to be wrong and harmful, the political and religious landscape was undergoing upheaval, mass communication and its resultant wave upon wave of cynicism and revision meant that what you thought you believed, what your parents and their parents steadfastly proclaimed to be true, was probably not true at all. “Starsky & Hutch” itself is a paradigm: this “new breed” of cop understands that empathy, compassion, open mindedness and intuition can play a major role in a police investigation. Yes, they are not perfect in this regard. They should have listened better, and thought about the disparity between what Monique said and what the evidence showed. But all in all their willingness to use a more perceptive and less persecutorial way of seeing and interacting with this case – particularly Starsky’s breathtakingly gentle song – is very revolutionary, and reflective of the uncertain, questioning times.

All that blood? All those wounds? And none on Monique?

Starsky tells Dobey “8427” seen on letter Monique finds is “the last half of a zip code” in skid row. It isn’t really “half” if it is only missing one number. Current viewers could assume he did mean half of the ZIP+4 codes we use today, but those didn’t come into use until 1983. This assumes, knowing California ZIP codes all start with a “9,” the ZIP is 98427. This, however, make it a place in Washington State. Strangely, there are no ZIP codes that start with 984, even in Washington as ZIP code structure skips from 983 to 985.

The guys go to the hotel to check on Harry Ashford. In the foreground of the scene are two rough-looking guys sweating through an arm-wrestling contest. Starsky and Hutch are comically riveted to it throughout what should be a fairly average incident: this is staging genius. Note, too, the interesting “scary” music as they go into the creepy room, reminiscent of “Bloodbath”.

The way the initial murder scene is shown, as well as in this later hotel room, shows an increasing respect for actual police procedure. This is the first time either detective is shown collecting evidence properly. Latex gloves were not widely used until the late 1980s.

Why would Monique have a book of matches, if she doesn’t smoke, and in fact seems the be the sort of person who actively abhors smoking? For burning incense, perhaps?

Disco, Act Two: this boring guy, Roger, is talking stocks. Monique barely listens and seems very melancholy, which is odd for someone out on the town and actively cruising for a good time, but Roger, like Phil, doesn’t notice. Or if he notices, he doesn’t care. Again, men on the make (perhaps the only kind of man Monique knows well) are portrayed as boorish, self-involved, callous and predatory.

Two murders in three nights on her bed and Monique still goes back to stay there? Not only is this pretty weird, but her apartment would be a crime scene, and she wouldn’t be allowed back for a while. Changing a minor detail – having the murders happen in an alley behind the disco, for example, would have made more sense. In fact this would make Monique’s involvement even more tangential and therefore even less likely she would have anything to do with it, making the “twist” even twistier. But I digress.

Monique is once again visited by Harry. Interestingly, she appears to be in flux for several moments, aware of the personality takeover and suffering for it although many people with dissociative disorders as severe as this one are unaware when the change happens or at the very least 100% one or the other. There is no half-and-half, as here when Monique says she will get rid of Roger in order to make Harry leave. This could mean Monique may suffer from schizophrenia rather than multiple personality, or some surprising hybrid which makes for great television.

There’s some great direction as the guys bring Monique in for questioning and then Dobey calls them into his office. The camera is documentary-style and the lighting in Dobey’s office is the same as in other Fourth Season episodes: lush and diffused rather than bright and stagey. Dobey is flattered by the soft blue sky behind him sliced by Venetians, and the scene is highlighted by Starsky’s lovely naughty looks at Hutch when he’s announced as the “winner” in the who-gets-to-date-Monique sweepstakes. Of course, Hutch has to have the last word in this scene. The nosey, journalistic camera moves in with an intimate close-up as the two of them look at each other, not two inches apart. “You really think you can make him jealous?” Hutch says, “Why not,” Starsky says, laconic and enjoying this. “Well, the guy may be crazy but he’s not stupid,” Hutch says. Hah ha, good one Hutch. Proud of yourself?

Starsky calls Hutch a “home-in-front-of-the-fire type of guy” as opposed to Starsky’s “charisma” and “flair.” Is this generally true, or is Starsky just getting back at Hutch for saying he has zero biorhythms?

Crime and Punishment, or the Lack Thereof: this is an episode about a psychotic act of feminist retribution. However not all the egregious offenders are punished like the truck guy and the stock market guy. Hutchinson, I’m talking to you. At the disco, Hutch’s nodding off is interrupted by a woman asking “blondie” if he would like to dance. She is attractive and a good dancer, but because she is heavy he makes an unbearably rude comment, dismissing her. This is similar to his bad behavior in “Discomania” but worse here, because here the victim of his rudeness merely vanishes, unlike Judith, who stood up to him. He probably ruined her night and took her self-esteem down a few notches too. He also says he’s going to get Starsky “dancing lessons” for his birthday, even though he knows Starsky is a good dancer and he is not. As far as good behavior goes, Hutch is on par with every other man in the place.

When Starsky goes undercover, it’s the only time Monique is seen dancing and enjoying herself. And yet she later feels the urge to kill Starsky, even though her conscious mind understands he is not like the others, but rather someone assigned to protect her. A clue to her motives surfaces when she asks him point-blank if he likes her. Starsky says that he does. Is this her trigger? Both Roger and Phil obviously liked her, at least in the beginning. So perhaps we can surmise it isn’t a desire to rid the world of sexist boors but rather to punish those who like her that lies beneath the urge to kill. This says a lot about the emotional and psychological complexity of this case.

Monique says she would like to get to know Starsky better. Starsky says, “under different circumstances, maybe.” This cautious reply is in stark contrast to both Starsky and Hutch’s earlier behavior in which they freely engaged sexually with any witness or potential victim (“A Body Worth Guarding”, “Class in Crime”, “Running”, “Rosey Malone”, “Blindfold”, among others). This could be a case of Starsky maturing, or it may be because he is actually turned off by her. Starsky’s good instincts may be in play here, as he tunes into the depth of her sadness and the hint of psychological torment (which he would most likely interpret as “high maintenance”). When they eventually return to her apartment, he is notably not flirting with her. Instead he is every inch the Detective, checking windows and doors; and when he removes his jacket he makes it clear it’s a professional decision and not a personal one.

Like the arm-wrestling championships, it’s a nice scenic detail of Minnie and her disco kung-fu moves after midnight. Everybody is having a better time than poor Hutchinson. Minnie mentions the letters “CII” as the place that identifies fingerprints. Central Identification Information? Something else? Fictional?

The scene in which Hutch puts together a composite sketch of the suspect is truly wonderful. Broken with scenes of Starsky and Monique, it nevertheless is one of the longest and quietest of the entire series. It emphasizes Hutch as a solitary individual who perhaps is best on his own, with no distracting partner to tease and torment. Does this mean Hutch would be better off going solo? How much better would Hutch be without Starsky? Let’s speculate on the idea that what is best for someone professionally is possibly the worst for them personally.

This is, sadly, the only episode in which Starsky plays the guitar and sings. It’s a rather startling performance, coming as it does out of nowhere, and is a moment of total vulnerability on Starsky’s part, unusual in such a strong, self-contained person. It’s late and he must be over-tired, which may have allowed him to take a risk and use music as either a way of comforting someone he knows is suffering, or soften the atmosphere to make it more pliable for some surreptitious questioning. His motives remain a mystery, so we are left to enjoy this beautiful and gentle scene. Is this a song he has written himself? The words are apropos: the isolated misfit, looking down at the normal world, emphasizing the isolation of the moment and the loneliness of people who feel different and out of step from the world.

Most people, particularly actors, look beautiful when they are listening, and Joanna Cassidy is no exception. For a brief second she looks completely at peace, which is mesmerizing.

Filming notes: the guitar is apparently David Soul’s, which is only fair as Glaser lent his to his friend when Soul recorded his first album. Also, note the long finger-picking nails on Glaser’s hand.

As complex as the case turns out to be, Hutch also comes to a similarly complex “jealousy” reading when thinking of the sister as a suspect.

Monique drugs the chamomile tea to incapacitate Starsky. She does this because he’s more than able to overpower her and grab his gun. She didn’t bother with this with her earlier, more clueless victims. If she had, she would have been discovered long before this. Also, why does Starsky remove both holster and gun? He should have tucked the gun in his waistband. Rolled up and behind the chair is bad planning on his part. Didn’t he learn anything from the debacle of “Quadromania?”

Monique’s long speech about what Harry hates and loves about her is one of the most satisfyingly complete scenes in the canon. It’s a potent mix of self-knowledge and delusion, an abrasive, haunting, nasty tutorial on how to hate yourself. Starsky is riveted, and for good reason: her staccato delivery, her refreshing lack of self-pity, her refusal to excuse herself, to a suicidal degree, well, it’s just amazing. Nicely filmed from an unusual angle, it’s Robert Swanson’s best writing gig on the series, although “Hutchinson for Murder One” is also excellent.

Starsky is drugged, the world is a kaleidoscope. And yet he manages to say, “Hutchinson” even though Monique is familiar enough to know him by his nickname.

Hutch visits Bobbie to accuse her of the crime. This is, what, two, three o’clock in the morning? And yet Bobbie is dressed, alert and awake. With altar candles burning.

Both Travers sisters have a similar drive or emptiness; they are both compelled to go out every night, though to two different types of establishments. Church and sex: each of them has found something to fill those empty spaces.

Hutch knows she’s a murderer, but doesn’t call a back-up?

Unlike Lionel Fitzgerald in “Quadromania”, and without the aid of props or makeup, Monique looks completely different when under the guise of madness. She is truly terrifying when she attacks Starsky and screams at him through the window. In this moment it is very difficult to believe Monique and Harry are the same person. Nice going, Joanna!

The Treatment of Women Question: Starsky never hits a woman, but Hutch hits Diana in Fatal Charm, and now forcefully slugs Monique. Does Hutch use more physical force when he is protecting Starsky than protecting himself? Or is it because Monique is dressed as a man and this is makes the rationalization easier? Generally Starsky is rougher with women while using less overt physical force: he’s masterful and controlling when the woman is exhibits behaviors or decisions he believes are weak, unstable, or impulsive, like Sharman, Rosey Malone, and Emily Harrison. By contrast Hutch is more distant and careful, but when he explodes his violence is greater. One suspects Hutch is less comfortable all-round with women, more formal, more “gentlemanly” (this despite his unpleasant “I have a bad back” comment to the woman at the disco). Starsky is less concerned with niceties and rules, but altogether more inclusive.

One thing this episode never tackles is the reason for Monique’s psychosis, either narrowing it down to Multiple Personality Disorder or schizophrenia or revealing what could be terrible enough to precipitate it. Schizophrenia is largely understood to be a biological entity but severe childhood abuse is a common factor in most disassociate disorders, and it fits here although it’s never said aloud. Bobbie’s extreme religious devotions could also be a clue, suggesting both sisters were driven to a kind of madness by a traumatic past (I’m not taking a shot at religion, but rather suggesting immersion to the point of negating one’s identity to something “larger” is happening here).

Tag: Hutch is comically over-solicitous about Starsky’s fake biorhythms and engineers a picnic with Huggy, although one wonders how this solves anything. Hutch is all over Starsky, excitable and micro-managing, trying to get his partner to relax but having the opposite effect. As usual. On a minor note, bumblebees are gentle creatures and rarely stingers. Even if they land on you, grabbing them is not the way to go.

Clothing notes: it must be hot because neither wears a leather jacket, and seem minimally attired. Starsky wears the great orange shirt with placket, and a beige cloth jacket. Hutch wears the blue Port Mungo bowling shirt with white-collar, with a blue t-shirt underneath. “Al” is stitched on the front and the name of a USN bowling club is on the back. He also wears a ring on his right ring-finger, a blue cabochon. During the pool game, Huggy looks great in his red satin ensemble and tortoise-shell glasses.

Episode 73: Strange Justice

September 12, 2011

Starsky and Hutch try to keep a respected officer, Lieutenant Dan Slate, from taking the law into his own hands after his daughter is raped.

Dan Slate: Kenneth McMillan, Leslie Slate: Mary Frances Crosby, Dee O’Reilly: Lindsay Bloom, Lenny Biggs: Joseph Reale, Marsellus Cobb: Carl Anderson, Lori Prescott: Juli Andelman, Cassie: Susan Heldfond, Ed Myerson: John Zenda, Chuck Dobson: Tom Baker. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh, Directed By: Reza Badiyi.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is one of the more sober, tough and moving episodes from Season Four. It is also a portrait of two styles of police work I would loosely term “new” and “old” generation. Starsky and Hutch, of course, are the new breed: psychologically oriented and politically sensitive. The old school cop, as personified by the pugnacious bully Dan Slate, is reactive, impulsive, an eye-for-an-eye type of guy who doesn’t hesitate to mete out his own form of rough justice. He devotes himself to the institutional hard-line until it gets in his way, and then he goes rogue. Not that Starsky and Hutch have nothing in common with Slate: they are sympathetic to the situation, have a history of acting independently, and can be emotion-driven. But they are not vigilantes, not ever. Personal revenge is never an option for either of them, and they have been sorely tested more than once. In “Vendetta”, “Starsky’s Lady”, “The Heroes”, and most remarkably in “Gillian” and “Survival” – both episodes in which the perpetrator of their misery literally lies prostrate and helpless in front of them – they both choose reason and compassion over the act of deadly reprisal. Simply put, they do not endorse torture. They understand that what is best for you morally is often at the cost of practical satisfaction, and this is a price they are willing to pay. Slate goes over the edge into inflicting torment and misery as an antidote to his own pain. That is, he transfers his agony onto another and justifies it the whole way. Even in the end, he is unrepentant and triumphant, a human being who has lost his humanity. We can draw strong political parallels here especially in these post-911 days when the issue is front and center. We can ask ourselves: what is justice? What role does retribution play? Is there ever an excuse for the ultimate in penalty?

In a sense Dan Slate is very similar to Season Two’s “Iron Mike” Ferguson. Ferguson is also a tough old-school cop whose chummy, golf-playing relationship with the power elite does not conflict with – and in fact is enhanced by – his corrupt shadow side. It’s a strange dichotomy, epitomised by both Ferguson and Slate, that the more conservative and by-the-book you are, the more pronounced your malfeasance seems to be. One can see many examples of this in contemporary politics. It’s the “new” breed – free-thinking, liberal-minded, emotionally honest and socially responsible, typified here by Starsky and Hutch – who refuse to give in to their baser instincts. By acknowledging these impulsive and dangerous instincts rather than forcing them into the deep dark cellar of the subconscious to fester, they are liberated from their power. This is why fundamentalism never works. If you think you’re immune from weakness you have made yourself weak. If you believe you are wholly right, then you are wholly wrong.

And on an unrelated, more superficial note, “Iron Mike” and “Dan Slate” are both names of extremely hard substances. They are also both compounds of antediluvian technologies: iron as a component of weaponry, slate as an old-fashioned writing surface.

Hutch is furious about a getting parking ticket, but Dobey also has one. Starsky helpfully tells Dobey who the traffic cop is by making a suggestive gesture with his hands as he says “O’Reilly.” This is obviously for his own amusement, as Dobey is a stalwart family man to whom the “Oh” in O’Reilly has little or no meaning.

The Parking Ticket War relates to this idea of old-school verses new-breed. Both Starsky and Hutch have vigorously fought parking tickets: Hutch here, and Starsky memorably in “The Plague”. Both are in the wrong, and yet both insist on getting special treatment in the same way Slate thinks he is above the law. I point this out even though it somewhat disproves my earlier supposition.

Starsky and Hutch are called out for backup in the Garment District, in aid of Slate, who will be the focus of this episode. This is the only instance of the two detectives backing up another call. On the way there they get a call about a prowler, which they would have responded to if it hadn’t been superseded by the call from Slate. Ironically, this is the prowler who goes on to rape Slate’s daughter. This irony – in the classic sense of the word – adds to the tragic quality of this tale.

The rapist is turned on by seeing college student Leslie Slate dancing to music. He is hiding in her bedroom when she goes up to bed. How did he know which room was hers? There are at least three – most probably five, or seven – college students in this sorority house.

Why is Leslie being questioned in the squad room? Given the terrible nature of the crime, wouldn’t she be in seclusion, at least in a private room, or a hospital? There is also no sign of a female officer helping out. Was this typical of the time?

Both Starsky and Hutch immediately recognize Lieutenant Slate’s daughter as they walk by. Why the familiarity? Was she a regular at past police barbeques?

Susan Heldfond is great as the awfully earnest, bookish Cassie, who lectures the two detectives on the injustices of the world. Starsky, no fan of verbal sparring, simply asks direct questions while the more language-oriented Hutch goes toe-to-toe with her, giving as good as he gets. It’s a lovely little scene, in which Hutch is respectful of Cassie while disagreeing with her ivory-tower righteousness.

When Slate drinks beer with the guys this is an unusual case of a troubled victim being at Starsky’s place, rather than Hutch’s. Throughout, Hutch has been the one to offer his place as respite in times of need.

Two episodes in the S&H canon have dealt with the painful issue of rape. Yet this episode is much darker and more bitter, and much more political than Season Two’s “Jo-Jo”. It focuses on the catastrophic personal consequences as well as the legal ones. It means to change public perception about the fact that rapists get lighter sentences by pleading to simple assault. (In a meeting with the assistant district attorney, Hutch angrily throws out case studies and statistics to back his argument.) Also, Biggs is more blurry prototype than memorable character. He is pretty much “Rapist” rather than a specific person, which makes the crime, rather than the criminal, at the center of this story.

The little feud between traffic cop O’Reilly and Hutch attempts to lighten this grim episode, but even here we have a situation that echoes the central theme: a woman is bullied and patronized in a contentious situation, and is also limited by her gender (Hutch threatens O’Reilly with walking a beat in a bad area to punish her for being good at her job, and she grins, “I’ve been trying to get out of traffic for a year now”). O’Reilly being a woman, and a young pretty one at that, is crucial to the “joke” as an angry Hutch would be unlikely to denigrate a more senior male officer in this way. While in no way does this come close to the issue of rape, it nevertheless hints at the trials, misunderstandings and frustrations boiling beneath the surface between men and women.

A few days later Biggs is shown at the infirmary, uncomfortable with his bandage but not incapacitated. And yet if Slate shot him at point-blank range with a police-issue .38. he’d be seriously, maybe even fatally, wounded. Let’s say Slate, over-emotional, fired wildly, only grazing him.

Cobb is merely wary of Slate, but he shows genuine terror when he sees Starsky and Hutch coming for him. What does this say about reputation versus reality? Do Starsky and Hutch spend time encouraging fallacious rumors of cruelty in order to boost their credibility on the street? How scary is their reputation, anyway? Is Huggy scared too, on some deep level? Is there anything to be scared of?

“You guys ever get tired of putting the squeeze on?” Cobb asks Starsky and Hutch. Hutch answers, “Nope.” Is this true, or is Hutch exaggerating for Cobb’s sake?

Sometimes casting is just a little too interesting. Marsellus Cobb is supposed to be a homeless drug addict with no future. However, Carl Anderson plays him with such a sparkling intensity he seems a little too charismatic, as if any second now he could shrug off his problems, put on a suit and hit the big time. Also, along with Carl Anderson, Susan Heldfond as Cassie is also from last season’s “Class in Crime”.

Biggs gets bail and leaves the infirmary. A guy who has raped a police officer’s daughter and is in turn shot by that officer – wouldn’t this guy be the very definition of a flight risk, or at the very least worthy of protective custody? Also, one can imagine the bail would be set very high. How difficult was it for Slate to find the money?

There seems to be an interminable length of time showing police backup arriving at the scene, culminating by an admittedly cool shot of the Torino busting through a pile of boxes. A little bit of editing would be nice, as this lessens the tension quite a bit.

Hutch’s understanding of the situation is quite startling in its immediacy: “This isn’t right” he tells Dobey. Dobey disagrees with this assessment. He allows prejudices to cloud his judgment, and is incredulous when they take Cobb’s word over a respected 20-year veteran like Slate. This is one of the best incidences of Starsky and Hutch’s intelligence, composure, and intuition. They know Cobb is telling the truth. They confidently ignore Dobey’s bluster. They keep their heads while surrounded by eight cops with drawn weapons, all itching to blow Biggs away.

Slate forces Biggs to hold his own police-issue firearm at his back. The gun, of course, is not loaded. If and when Biggs was gunned down according to plan, was Slate thinking he could quickly shove a bullet into his own gun? Or was he counting on no one noticing? Perhaps he was preparing to plead ignorance as to whether or not he knew it was, or wasn’t, loaded. No matter what, it’s a gaping hole in logic.

Another abandoned theatre for the dramatic showdown (here, and “Vampire”, “Gillian”, “Silence” and “Losing Streak”).

Hutch tells Slate angrily, “Justice has nothing to do with murder. Never did.” This is a complex statement and nicely underscores Hutch’s understanding of the situation. “Murder” is a legal rather than a descriptive term, the killing of another person under conditions specifically covered in law (malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, also known as first-degree murder, and killing without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder). Hutch here is making a philosophical distinction between impartiality and emotion.

The expression of the police officer, tricked into shooting Biggs, is particularly poignant and nicely sums up the painful issue.

This is one of the better tags, and unlike many others nicely caps off the episode without being too jokey and superficial. Hutch seemingly comes to the attention of Internal Affairs for harassment of O’Reilly. Nobody does outrage like David Soul: he can blow his top and still twinkle like a comedian, a high-wire act that is very difficult to pull off and an absolute joy to watch. We can guess Officer Ed Myerson is in on the set-up, and Starsky is the one setting it up, only because Myerson has previously shown himself to be a pretty good guy and would likely go along with this sort of gag. Starsky makes a half-hearted effort to protect his partner, and is very funny when he says he has him on a “short leash” (Hutch sputters with indignation) and archly corrects his grammar (Hutch, humiliated, allows himself to be corrected).

Clothes: Hutch wears a large pendant that resembles a vial. He wears his usual bowling shirt and has longer hair than usual. Starsky is as usual in jeans and a white cloth jacket we’ve seen before. He does not wear his Adidas any more.

Character Studies 18: Five Heroic Moments

September 6, 2011

Despite Season Four’s foray into high society parties and fashion shoots, the series mostly takes place in Bay City, a fictional enclave somewhere near South Central Los Angles. With its dingy streets and chain link fences, dusty corner stores and dangerous streets, you wouldn’t expect to find too many shining examples of humanity. And yet there are moments when ordinary people rise to their best selves in a moment of crisis. The armour they have built to survive – tough, profane, aggressively stupid or just blandly uncaring – drops for a instant, and we see who they might have been under different circumstances. A hero is someone who performs a selfless action to aid another, and selflessness is at the heart of all these moments. They’re not exactly rescuing infants from raging infernos, but these five people act for the greater good, often at grave personal cost.

Notably, most of the names on this list are women. I’m going to make a major generalization here, but throughout history women have a special core of empathy enduring in some form or another through poverty, violence, addiction and loss. They are also more apt to be denigrated, enslaved and otherwise wounded by those in power, and so any gesture of defiance, no matter how small, is more momentous for it.

Carla Iverson in “Survival” (Katherine Charles). This is a small role, the smallest in this list, but that doesn’t negate its power. Both Paul Michael Glaser and Katherine Charles are more physical than verbal in their scene together, her pulling away and him drawing in close. Carla is at the lowest point in her life, and you can see the hallmarks of addiction and abuse wearying every move she makes. In the beginning she is reluctant to talk, nearly surly, and it takes Starsky’s unusual charisma – a mix of authority, intimacy, and calm – to break through. Yes, she gives up the name Starsky wants to save her own skin, but she does it more as a response to Starsky’s desperation than her own.

Theresa in “The Shootout” (Jess Walton). Theresa is in a double bind in this wonderful real-time episode from Season One. She is both the problem and the solution, a person disastrously deflected by a quest for reprisal yet still able to redeem herself by keeping calm and making rational choices. She is in the most immediate danger of any person on this list – not only are two guns are pointed at her the whole time, but two warring gangs will not forget her betrayal. She must also quiet the voice inside her screaming for bloody revenge, and instead act selflessly for the sake of everyone around her.

RC Turner in “Silence” (Jason Bernard). We don’t know much about Turner’s life, but he has spent serious time in prison, probably comes from nothing, has had bad luck his whole life. Head injuries while in prison result in his deafness, further isolating him from society. He’s a bitter, untrusting man who has a single friend in this world, his roommate, the mildly mentally disabled Larry Horvath. Like Carla Ivers, Turner must overcome a lifetime of suspicion and hatred of the police in order to help his friend. He also transforms into a better person because of it.

Nurse Bycroft in “Murder Ward” (Fran Ryan). Fran Ryan’s stony, hulking presence is used to good effect here as a nurse in a psychiatric institution who uses intimidation to rule the roost. Yet her cold exterior masks a woman in the process of silently reevaluating the events around her, and her role in those events. Obviously a conservative, by-the-book follower, with fascist tendencies to boot, she nevertheless breaks free of those bonds in a moment of compassion at the sight of a patient unfairly restrained.

Hannah Kanen in “Deck watch” (Susan French). Wheelchair-bound and elderly, Hannah’s bravery is especially poignant. Without any biographical information, we can imagine she comes from a cultured background, possibly a wealthy one, a tough survivor who has seen humanity at its lowest. A refugee from Europe of the 1930s, perhaps? However she came by them, those indestructible good manners save the day. Her refusal to either be afraid of Hector Salias or turn a blind eye to his suffering saves everybody’s lives.

Special mention goes to Joy in “Gillian” (Joanna DeVarona). Even though she never says a word on-camera, Joy shows great bravery when she spills the beans about the Grossmans.

Episode 72: Moonshine

September 1, 2011

Starsky and Hutch try to track down some moonshiners responsible for a batch of bad whiskey.

Willy Hall: Billy Green Bush, Dolly Ivers: Mary Louise Weller, Sam Ivers: Shug Fisher, Melvin Hall: Zachary Lewis, Treasury Agt. Kendall: James Noble, Earl: Lee McLaughlin, Ben Meadows: Pat Corley, Rudy: Bruce M Fischer, Hank Munson: Bill Cort, Frank: Johnnie Collins III, Virgil: Dennis Fimple. Written By: Fred Freiberger, Directed By: Reza Badiyi.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

“The Dukes of Hazzard” lamentably debuted in 1979, and I wonder if this episode is an attempt by producers to capitalize on the success of that series. There are enough hot-pants, dusty revving of engines and sassy countrified comebacks to qualify this as a lost “Dukes” episode and make us begin to sympathize with the lead actors’ growing frustration with the whole process. However, there are a few moments that rescue this episode from the doldrums: the drunk scene, Hutch’s great musical performance, and some imaginative police work.

We just know that’s an Andy Kulberg soundtrack the first scene: Kulberg is David Soul’s bandleader and friend, and has readily provided the music any time some authentically soulful harmonica is needed.

The guard at the warehouse has a bandanna wrapped around his head, but surely that’s not enough to stop him from yelling, is it?

The thieves, Virgil and Frank, are giggling and clumsy as they steal the sacks of sugar. They also smash the bottle they’re drinking from on the concrete. This implies a) they don’t take this robbery seriously b) they’re drunk on whatever they’re brewing and c) they don’t care about leaving serious evidence of their business concerns, which will narrow the list of suspects down considerably for police. Isn’t this a little cavalier? Later in the episode it’s mentioned this moonshine business has been successful for generations, but from the look of this burglary one wonders how that could be. Why wouldn’t the Big Boss send more appropriate people to do this very tricky, dangerous raid?

How expensive is wholesale sugar, anyway – expensive enough to justify stealing it? Perhaps it’s not the cost, but rather the danger of alerting officials when purchasing large amounts, much in the same way grow-ops are exposed when caught appropriating electricity from the hydro company.

The opening location is lovely: railways and warehouses in the packing district.

It’s nice to see our friend Zachary Lewis, late of “Nightmare” fame as the loser-with-a-shred-of-a-conscience Mousy Loomis. Here, he is the loser-with-a-shred-of-conscience, hick farmboy Melvin.

Treasury Agent Kendall does not elicit the usual brutal snobbery of Starsky and Hutch, who usually despise anyone in a three-piece suit, especially out-of-towners. They treat Kendall with a modicum of dignity. Why? My guess is Kendall’s relaxed attitude, and his reassuring perma-smile.

There is absolutely no way Dobey would not know who Eliot Ness is.

This, granted, is not the best Starsky and Hutch episode; in fact it’s probably in the bottom five. Like much of the Fourth Season, it is strangely facile and empty. The moonshiners are clichés and the hillbilly stuff is played for laughs. The undercover work has both men acting outrageously, sort of like Mr. Marlene and Tyrone from episodes past, only this time with cowboy hats and southern drawls. There is no genuine danger, no grit. A respected Federal Agent is murdered (we never find out how) and nothing is made of it. However, there are elements here that cannot be dismissed, as discussed in the opening paragraph, and one of them is the thrilling confidence both Starsky and Hutch display when they accept the case from Dobey. They are masterful and calm. They understand the risks, and accept them without hesitation, with the kind of élan that is very funny and at the same time deeply satisfying.

If these moonshine producers are so serious about the quality of their product, and have survived and thrived “in three states, through four wars, and more than twenty presidents” – a respectable, even laudable history – I always wonder why they never consider going legit. They could have had a real business, like Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniels, instead of pursuing this ramshackle operation hiding in falling-down barns and fueled by bags of stolen sugar. The profits (that is, if the product is any good) would surely have outweighed any downside. Is it really just about taxes, as daddy explains to daughter later at the Backwoods Inn? Is this contemporary Tea Party madness that we’re seeing, decades before someone slapped a name on it?

Why do you suppose ol’ Pa puts up with Will as an employee? He’s rude, insubordinate and a pig, all round.

Starsky acts like an idiot, swerving into the dirt-pack parking lot and spraying dust everywhere, for no good reason. He might be getting into the General Lee spirit of things, or he could be fuming about the dance contest he’s been forced to enter.

As Starsky and Hutch enter the Smokey Mountain Inn bar, you can hear Lynne Marta’s song “Nobody Loves You” from “Quadromania” playing in the background. Starsky accepts the offer of the local liquor, and instead of an ounce or two you can see his glass is alarmingly full – of perhaps ten ounces. And no space-filling ice! Rudy’s “generosity” may be a joke – or maybe not – but it’s an expensive one(that stuff can’t be all that cheap), and potentially lethal too.

Casting note: this is an ol’ homeboy sort of episode: other than Zachary Lewis, Rudy the Bartender is played by Bruce M Fischer, a quiet, steady kind of guy and perfect for his role. He also played the undercover-cop/long haul-trucker in “The Set-Up”. Bill Cort, who plays the detective with the giant red pickup, was in “The Committee”.

There is a lot of geographical confusion in this episode. Just how far is the Ivers still from Bay City? Clues: It is clearly out in the country. Hutch calls it the “northwest quadrant of the county.” Starsky and Hutch don’t appear to stay overnight there. Starsky mentions being back for the dance contest that night. Dolly refers to Starsky as “a local cop.” The stores in town claim the town’s name as Newhall, which is north of Bay City and about 31 miles from 5th St. and Wall Street, the heart of Starsky and Hutch’s beat. Why don’t the local police get involved? Are there any, and if not, why? Another question: just how far is the Ivers barn and moonshine still from Newhall? Dolly complains “I didn’t drive all the way down to that hot and smoggy city just for my health.”

Here, Starsky isn’t as good an undercover cop as he could be. He could merely pretend to drink the hooch (I can think of a dozen ways to pull that off) but instead gets completely wasted. His skills are severely curtailed, to say the least. This is yet another instance of the two detectives refusing to take this case seriously, even though they are trying to rid the county of a potentially deadly poison.

Rudy seems like an okay guy. He’s obviously been a bartender at the Smokey Mountain Inn bar for years, and probably does not want his customers keeling over dead from bad liquor. He is also cooperative with Starsky and Hutch and gives them some information. Why, then, does he stare at them with such disdain, attempt to poison Starsky with an overdose of liquor, then rip up Hutch’s contact numbers? Does he not want to keep his customers alive, or is this a comment about how mountain folk will always hate city folk, no matter what? From “Bloodbath” to “Satan’s Witches”, Starsky and Hutch have never met anyone from the sticks who has one iota of trust or faith in them. Is this realistic, or are all these cold hard stares something writers invent for a little local color?

Starsky’s drunk scene has to be one of the funniest and most likable comic scenes in the canon. It allows both Soul and Glaser to stretch their Buster Keaton-esque muscles and give us an unforced, relaxed scene that also highlights their extraordinary physical ease with each other. Starsky is wonderfully rubbery and Hutch is smiling happily as he tells his friend to “give me the keys and you can drive”. He finds Starsky’s dancing shoes and makes a silly joke without his usual meanness.

Dolly’s barn looks to be the same barn Starsky and Hutch get trapped in by Ernie Bagley in “The Trap”. There’s no way barns in California would be this wimpy. Crap construction, no insulation of any sort, all one room with a dirt floor, an odd shape. What gives?

Frank and Virgil are shown swilling moonshine. Sam Ivers drinks moonshine by the Mason jar. While Dolly mentions drinking it, “I’m not taking a chance on poisoning myself,” she is never shown actually consuming any. Is this because she is smarter? A woman? Some other reason?

Why do you suppose the Ivers are in California in the first place? I can’t imagine there are more moonshine fans there than in Kentucky or Louisiana.

By the way Willy and Dolly are talking, everybody knows Willy is cutting the booze with cheap filler. However, they seem to accept this and absolve Willy of the murder of Virgil and Frankie. This makes absolutely no sense.

While it seems pretty stupid to cut moonshine with wood alcohol, which seems would kill off all your customers, there is a good chance Willy and Melvin were more careless than devious. Willy wants to cut the “old with the new … I’ll cut it plenty, Sam, so as no one will get poisoned, much less sick.” It is unclear if the wood alcohol is cheaper to produce, making the moonshine go further. If this is the case, perhaps they added it to the moonshine in too greedy a dose? Another possibility is Willy and Melvin’s technique: in the distillation process, one is instructed to pour off the first 50 ml produced, this first product being wood alcohol. Perhaps Melvin and Willy were too cheap to decant their hooch?

Dobey tells Starsky and Hutch that Agent Kendall’s body was discovered an hour ago. He transmits no other information before hanging up, only telling Starsky and Hutch their cover better be more successful than Kendall’s and they should be at the Backwoods Inn that night. Like many other occasions, Dobey often gives an astonishingly small amount of direction, counting on Starsky and Hutch to take care of these details themselves. Dobey is there, however, to help clean up the mess in what must be a huge amount of paperwork after the dust settles on each case. While this appears to be effective with Starsky and Hutch, is this hands-off approach one he practices with his other employees? How can he afford to do that, year after year? Does Starsky and Hutch’s extraordinarily high close-rate justify his methods?

Dobey tells Hutch their cover better be better than dead Agent Kendall’s. Just what was Kendall’s cover? Also, killing a Federal Agent would require more than the attention of two Bay City cops – you can bet there would be dozens of FBI agents crawling all over this case.

Starsky and Hutch are horrible to the precious red pickup owned by fellow detective Mundy. Hutch slams a guitar case on the hood, and the roar out of the garage like maniacs. This is in stark contrast to the care and attention they give their own cars. Why poke fun at someone else’s pride and joy when they’re so protective and defensive about their own?

It’s pretty funny when Hutch calls the bar the “Backwards Inn” rather than “Backwoods Inn”. Throughout the series as a whole, and this episode in particular, Hutch presents himself as a stalwart true-blue, back-to-the-land Americana sort of guy. And yet there is always a kernel of sarcasm in him, as evidenced by this telling slip. Interestingly, urban cat Starsky has no similar dark side even though he is obviously not into the rural lifestyle and would much rather be at a downtown pizza joint. Hutch, generally, is complicated and contradictory, Starsky is easy and accepting.

Starsky shows his rube status by carrying the guitar case all wrong.

Dolly asks Starsky, after he swats her with the guitar case, “Do you play that thing Curly, or is that just your way of getting attention?” He would probably tell her no, and point instead to his partner, but in fact he plays very well, as we will see later in “The Avenger”.

Starsky and Hutch reinvent themselves as a country singer, “the hottest country picker this side of Bell County”, and his manager. (Note that Starsky, yet again, is his fiery partner’s quiet support team. There is no instance in the entire run of the series in which Starsky is the flashy star, and Hutch the helpful second fiddle.) This is an unwieldy, attention-getting pretense for infiltrating a moonshine operation. Why don’t they present themselves as hopeless drunks or get-rich-quick schemers instead? What, too boring?

The band on stage, wonderfully, is David Soul’s actual touring band.

Like “Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road”, Starsky enthusiastically throws himself into the number-one fan, whooping and applauding from the sidelines.

It’s pure joy when the band replies to Hutch’s tentative yet technically proficient strumming, letting loose with some blistering country pickin’. Look at Hutch – ok, Soul’s – unabashed joy.

Willy sees Starsky cuddling with Dolly and the look on his face reads clearly: I can never compete with that.

Dobey buys sugar for the undercover operation, the guy asks him what he wants it for. Dobey has a hilarious reply. “Pina Coladas. You can look at me and tell I love them, can’t you.” It’s a startlingly dry witticism in this episode filled with idiocy, and I love it.

The green and white dirt bike Starsky rides to cover Hutch in “The Psychic” and the one Hutch rides to find Starsky appear to be the same one.

Dolly is the only sensible person in the whole outfit. Sam Ivers is hampered by nostalgia and stubbornness, Willie is cruel and not too bright. Only Dolly understands about business, and is conscience-driven to boot. She’s also smart and resourceful. Let’s imagine she goes on to market a raspberry-flavoured cocktail mix for the 80s club crowd.

Tag: Hutch finds a suspicious amount of pleasure in taunting Starsky about being the stand-in for the dance contest.

Clothing Notes: there is a distressing amount of denim in this show. Hutch wears the blue ring again, but is otherwise without jewelry. He looks natural in a cowboy hat and denim vest. Starsky looks like a tourist in his denim jacket, bandanna and jeans. He wears the light blue shirt throughout.