Episode 73: Strange Justice

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.

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3 Responses to “Episode 73: Strange Justice”

  1. Adelaide Says:

    I really liked this episode, and thought it was nicely emblematic of the darker turns that Starsky and (especially) Hutch’s characters take in season 4, because it gives them such a believable reason to become more tired, more anxious, more on edge. I wish season 4 had been more about harsh pieces like this, less silly fluff. It would have both been better quality-wise and made more sense for their character development. Too much of season 4 feels like filler before the spectacular Targets arc, but it has a nice handful of episodes that are either particularly grim or particularly psychologically complex and revealing or both (some examples: this episode, Birds of a Feather, The Avenger, The Game, Ballad for a Blue Lady, Huggy Can’t Go Back, and smaller elements within some other episodes) that could be interpreted as giving some context to Hutch’s disillusionment in Targets and destructiveness in Starsky vs Hutch — IF you manage to gloss over the fluff pieces like Photo Finish or Dandruff.

    The parallels between this episode and Birds of a Feather in particular are quite interesting.

  2. Sharon Marie Says:

    The last scene in the theater is striking, more so knowing how the end of the series in and of itself happens. Hutch has been ramping up his anger at the establishment, the world, the bad guy, injustices, the innocents…. since the middle of season three. By now his softness is lacking. The klutzy Hutch with his need to school Starsky on the little things in life, is gone. This scene he lets it rip and Soul is extremely in tune with it, emotionally and physically. The camera pans to the young uniformed officer on the staircase who, in doing his job, shot and killed a man under false pretenses. He was used. Used to do what he was trained to fight against. To protect and serve. Hutch knows. He glances over to him more than once with a pained look on his face.

    As Slate does his own perp walk past his fellow officers, the men look up, down, away, in shame and in disgust. I just wanted to hear one person – Starsky, Hutch, Dobey – say they were going to go check on the young officer.

    Tag: Why did the IA guy refer to Hutch as “Officer” Hutchinson instead of Detective Sergeant Hutchinson?

  3. stybz Says:

    This was interesting as it almost felt like Starsky and Hutch, while present, were more like supporting players in this one. Their presence is strong, since – as Merl so aptly put it – they represented the moral code that Slate didn’t adhere to. 🙂

    I thought it was a well done piece. I kept waiting for Slate to shoot and kill Biggs. I hadn’t anticipated a set-up. 🙂

    There is a third episode that dealt with rape and that was Nightmare. I saw a parallel between that episode and this one when Starsky and Hutch are in the DA’s office accusing him of relying too much on plea bargaining and being more concerned about unloading the backlog of cases, rather than addressing the cases for the crimes committed.

    I also thought it was interesting that Cobb was more afraid of Starsky and Hutch, but maybe it’s because how how much harder they seemed to be on him than Slate was. However, there’s also the fact that Cobb did try to flee from Slate but he had no where to run to. With Starsky and Hutch he had an easier getaway, although all he did was run and hide in his room. 🙂

    Sharon Marie, I’ve heard them called “officer” many times (Officer Hutchinson). I think that while their official titles are Detective or Detective Sergeant, at the end of the day they’re still technically police “officers” or “officers” of the law. 🙂

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