Archive for January, 2012

Episode 82: Birds of a Feather

January 23, 2012

Hutch’s former partner gets into trouble by seeking vengeance against the gangster who pocketed his wife’s savings as a gambling debt.

Luke Huntley: John P Ryan, Anthony Reuben: Allan Arbus, Jimmy: Martin Kove, Doris Huntley: Barbara Stuart, Det. Webster: Charles Cyphers, Gloria: Victoria Peters, Gertrude: Anne Ramsey, Minnie: Marki Bey, Palmer: Sy Kramer, Hotel Clerk: Ruth Forman. Written By: Amanda J Green and Rick Edelstein, Directed By: Charles Picerni.


While Luke and Hutch enthusiastically greet each other, Gertrude (played by the remarkable Anne Ramsey) remarks to Starsky with dry condescension that it doesn’t seem right to charge her with being a “peeping tom” with “those two guys are carrying on like that in public.” This is an uneasy reference to the grabby physical intimacy that often marks not only the relationship of Starsky and Hutch but with other friends and family members (Jake Donner in “The Plague”, John Colby in “Deadly Imposter” and Starsky’s brother Nick, to name a few). Luke then hugs Starsky hard and Starsky is similarly physical, dabbing Luke’s eyes with his tie as Luke jokes about Hutch making detective first class in seven years (an unusually fast track). Later, when all three approach Luke’s suburban home, Hutch and Luke are again arm-in-arm. At the station, Starsky dismisses Gertrude’s comment lightly, but perhaps this woman, with her polyester pantsuit and putrid scowl, is emblematic of the insufferable ridicule the show has endured over the years.

On a side note, voyeurism and engaging in public displays of affection are not the same thing, no matter how Gertrude tries to swing it. The fact that she compares these, or in fact is excusing or justifying her behavior by pointing out that some sights are worth ogling, is just spiteful on her part.

The Perils of Nostalgia: At The Pits, after another long male-banter session, the sort of bullshit-crap guys indulge in with no women around, Hutch asks about Luke’s wife and Luke makes a disparaging comment about marriage. Hutch is quick to say, “you’ve always been the happiest of couples, huh? Come on.” This defensive remark underscores Hutch’s enduring– and occasionally blinding– sentimental streak. He wants to believe people he admires (particularly married couples) are stable and happy, perhaps as a way of reassuring himself that the misery and dysfunction he sees on the street is not everywhere, and perhaps because he hopes to have the same chance somewhere down the line. He is choosing to overlook or diminish his former partner’s unpleasantness, and his itchy dissatisfaction with himself and his life.

Notice throughout this conversation – and through most of the episode – Starsky maintains a respectful distance, neither contributing to or disagreeing with his partner’s opinions, even when Hutch makes a semi-fool of himself defending Luke and his wife who, while childless, has “enough love for ten kids”. Starsky’s careful glancing at his partner shows a man who is as patient as he is cautious. You can almost read his mind as he watches Hutch hurtling toward disillusionment.

Luke Huntley says, “Cops are on the street more than he’s in the bedroom … I didn’t even give her a kid. I love her like my right hand.” Wait – his right hand? Both Starsky and Hutch admirably resist sniggering at this.

Both Hutch and Starsky have father or mentor figures who weaken and fail (figuratively in the case of Huntley, John Blaine and Mike Ferguson, and literally in the case of Jake Donner) and “best friends” from the past who turn out to be rotten (John Colby) or at least questionable (Ted McDermott in “The Action”). Starsky’s brother is a reprobate. Girlfriends are murdered (Terry and Gillian) or murderous (Diana). “Uncle Joe” Durniak is a Mafiosi. The suits in the LAPD are out to get them (Chief Ryan, etc) as well as a collection of lawyers, fellow officers, and feds. It’s always “who do we trust time”.

Luke is an unpleasant, agitated, gum-chewing, facile character, disparaging his assignment as soon as he gets it and seeming to have a big chip on his shoulder about what he’s entitled to, as well having a grudge against marriage in general and his wife in particular. Has he soured over the years, or has Hutch always been willing to overlook his irritating flaws? Luke boasts that he taught Hutch everything he knows. Can this possibly be true?

Anthony Reuben, played by the slightly miscast Allan Arbus (those soulful eyes can’t quite manage genuine menace), is another suit-wearing crime boss in a nice, paneled office, with ferns and a glittering cognac-stocked bar. However, he is the only one in the canon who comes off as equitable and practical rather than sadistic or scheming. Throughout, he maintains an intellectual composure verging on pleasant, an old-fashioned gangster with an actual moral code.

What time is it when Doris comes home, and moments later, the guys arrive? There is sunlight, and also darkness. There are shadows cast, but evening crickets singing.

Why does Doris wonder if Luke is home, calls out for him, when it is clear his car isn’t in the driveway and all the lights are off?

It seems odd that Doris, a cop’s wife for twenty-five years, would address Starsky as “Mr. Starsky,” after he is introduced as Hutch’s partner. Rank appears to be pretty important to cops, and she would know it. Is Doris making a faux pas when she addresses Starsky as a civilian? There are other examples of title corrections, for instance in “Partners”, when Dobey corrects the nurse, telling her to address him by his rank, and in “Black and Blue”, when Hutch corrects Mary when she calls him “Mister,” saying it’s “Officer.” An entertaining explanation for this – implausible, perhaps, but fun to think about – is that Doris is somehow excusing Starsky from the bad behavior she associates with police officers by seeing him as a man first, a cop second. Luke probably entered the force sometime in the late 1960s, which means Doris has seen the worst the institutional chauvinism, racism and general lousy attitude so prevalent in the department until the “liberated” 70s.

Where has Luke been all these years? Why has Hutch lost touch with him? Luke is nicely ensconced in his bungalow, and he’s still with the department. And yet Hutch has never been to his house and has never met him off-hours. And Luke has to re-introduce him to his wife.

What do you suppose is Starsky’s attitude toward Luke? Marginally friendly, he also accepts Luke’s importance to Hutch without seeming to be bothered by his partner’s hero-worship. Starsky throughout the series is the master of the non-committal, and would have made a great psychiatrist if he hadn’t gone in for law enforcement. But one gets the feeling he is deeply skeptical of Luke and all he represents.

Hutch reveals more of his blind spot when he remarks to Starsky as they walk off, “she got sick in a hurry, didn’t she?” Starsky says, careful as always, “You’re the family friend. How’d you diagnose it?” and Hutch says, “I don’t think I want to.” I’m waiting for Starsky to take out a little notebook and say, “hmm. And how did that make you feel?”

Why, after Luke makes his touching speech to his wife about her troubles are all his fault, does he abuse her in public? He’s rude about her at Huggy’s but in private he’s supportive. Does he think he has to be a macho shit around other men? Does he assume the new breed – the much-younger Starsky and Hutch, both on the cusp of feminism – are not that much different than he is, and fall into the women-are-bad-news category?

It’s nice to see our friend Sy Kramer again, this time as a protected witness against Reuben. Kramer, as in “Cover Girl”, manages to imbue his small role with a remarkably crisp superciliousness, making Palmer not only a major pain to protect, but memorably so.

Does it matter that Jimmy shoots Palmer so that Palmer flies backwards out the window and down several stories? Wouldn’t a “quieter” murder give Jimmy more time to leave the hotel without detection? This way chambermaids are screaming and people are alerted to the grisly scene nearly instantaneously, making a discreet getaway more difficult than it has to be.

Huntley says to Reuben, “either you pay off, or I blow the whistle that you arranged it.” Who is threatening who at this point? And does it really matter? Both have about an equal amount of dirt on the other; Huntley could have spun this differently, but since his goal was to get the money back, he was forced into a corner. He blackmails Anthony Reuben with a tape recording that not only implicates Reuben, but just as strongly implicates himself. How was Luke going to explain his voice on the tape?

Reuben tries to set Luke up as a “high-minded cop with too many years on the force … and too little to show for it … finally breaks down and goes on the take.” Does Reuben understand the situation, or is he making excuses his old adversary? It is somehow difficult to imagine Luke as “high-minded” about anything, but perhaps he really has suffered a significant moral decay. He wouldn’t be the first.

Enraged by Dobey’s skepticism, Hutch yells that “Luke was a cop with twenty-five years on the force!” using a long career as a way of convincing Dobey of Huntley’s integrity. In “Strange Justice” it’s Dobey indignantly using the twenty-years-on-the-force argument to bolster Dan Slate’s honor, a fact Hutch pointedly ignores.

“Where you going,” Starsky says calmly as Hutch rages about Luke’s innocence and then starts to leave. Hutch blows him off. Dobey looks at Starsky. “What do you think?” he asks him. Starsky replies, “What do you think I think?” The two of them look at each other as if they have come to an understanding. But the question remains: what is Starsky thinking? That Luke is innocent? Or that Hutch is wrong? Or that Hutch needs to be left alone? What?

Doris tells Hutch, “I’ve been a cop’s wife long enough to have learned not to ask any questions.” Apparently Luke is of the same school, although asking more questions over the past ten years might have averted the situation. Luke should start with, “Honey, where are your wedding rings?”

Luke’s a seasoned cop. He should have put Jimmy on the floor, or better yet handcuffed him, in order to secure this deadly killer. Standing upright with hands against the wall does nothing, a fact Jimmy dramatically proves.

Hutch has Luke’s photo with him at the murder scene. He’s obviously begun suspecting him long before, and yet he’s kept it to himself, in yet another instance of the two partners being estranged from one another.

Hutch tells Starsky before they get to the warehouse stand-off with Reuben and Luke, “Look, I promised Doris I’d give her the money.” Interesting that money is the motivating factor – and indeed the rationale – for all the death and despair in the lives of these people. Doris tells Hutch about Luke but extracts a promise Hutch will return the money to her, putting Hutch in a terrible moral dilemma. Luke sets up Reuben and Hutch for the money. Luke sets up Palmer for the money. Hutch tries to convince Dobey the money is more important than career, integrity, or even human lives. In the end, it is unclear if Doris gets the money but she sure loses her husband. If Doris thought waiting for him to come home from work was lonely, she now gets to wait out a shameful prison sentence.

Dobey muses, regarding Hutch’s comment defending Huntley, that he’s thankful he would never have to make that decision. Just for fun though, would Dobey make the same decision as Huntley, in his place? Would Hutch?

Hutch doesn’t have one bit of hesitation about taking Starsky with him after Luke asks Hutch to come alone to the meet. We’d all like to think Hutch would have taken him no matter what, but what if Starsky hadn’t come walking up to him in the middle of the phone call? Would Hutch looked for Starsky before he left, or was his decision more of a more well, he’s here anyway, so why not thing?

Hutch lies to Huntley about two things: the time of the meet and coming alone. He must have justify this to himself in some way. Does he consider Starsky so much apart of himself that he doesn’t even make the distinction that bringing him isn’t technically alone, or does he feel at this point Huntley doesn’t deserve honesty? And also, his having a partner to bring seems to accentuate the fact Huntley is deeply, tragically isolated. A partner of his own throughout this ordeal might have eased his burden.

Notice how Hutch doesn’t try to hide Starsky as he walks toward Luke.

Why do Reuben’s henchmen wear suits? What possible purpose can this serve? Does Reuben insist on a dress code, thinking this increases the intimidation factor?

Luke tells Reuben he “preys on lonely people”, that he is evil, but really it’s Doris’ own fault that she got into this mess. Reuben can be blamed only so far: does Doris and others like her have no responsibility in this?

Starsky is, as usual, calm and detached throughout this episode, as he is very often in the fourth season. A quiet conversation between the two of them about the situation would have much improved this episode which has, for all its narrative suspense, a kind of dull inevitability about it.

What is to become of Doris? Her husband is in jail, disgraced. Her fifty grand probably ends up in the police fund as Huntley fears. She’s got a major gambling addiction, no support and is going to be lonelier than ever.

The title of this episode is ambiguous, and with everything in the Starsky & Hutch canon, I’m never sure if the ambiguity is purposeful or accidental on the part of the writers. Frankly, it hardly matters now, because the critical exercise is fun no matter what. The well-known phrase is “birds of a feather flock together.” This means people of similar attitudes and behaviors always end up together, or “like attracts like”. Ornithologists explain this behavior as a safety-in-numbers tactic to reduce the risk of predation. Who might this refer to in this episode? It could be addicts and their exploiters or cops, backing each other up no matter what. It might be husbands and wives, despite the lies, or Huntley and Reuben, sharing a cell. Or Starsky and Hutch, once again united against the world. Or does the title infer Luke Huntley and Tony Reuben are closer in spirit than either one of them would admit? One reading might be that this is Luke’s desperate attempt to make sense of, and control, his out-of-control life. He imagines he and Hutch are two of a kind, basically good men but with no limits, capable of anything if pushed. I can almost hear him saying it. “You and me, we’re not like other people. You threaten the people we love, and we won’t stop at anything – anything – to make sure you pay.” Casting our mind forward to “Sweet Revenge” and this comparison becomes even more troubling. Is Hutch like Luke? My take is that no, he’s not. Hutch has limits, he has a line he will not cross. Not even for love.

Tag: Juxtapose Doris and her gambling activities with Dobey, Huggy, Starsky and Hutch avidly betting over pool at Huggy’s. Jokes about Dobey’s weight, and the final gag, become tiresome, but the tone is light and fun and it’s great to see Dobey and Huggy getting along. But note how Dobey slips into jive talk as they play pool, as if all black men, even suit-and-tie-wearing suburban types, are secretly part of the same ghettoized subculture. Say what?

Clothing Notes: throughout this episode Hutch wears a beautiful pair of off-white pants that average men should not attempt. I also like Starsky’s jacket with epaulets in a nearly matching color. Guest star John Ryan is perfectly outfitted in a series of Death of a Salesman suits, rumpled, ill-fitting and anonymous, reeking desperation so rank you can almost smell it.


Character Studies 20: Music

January 17, 2012

Music plays an unusually prominent major role in this show about two tough detectives in a crime-ridden urban setting. Nearly every episode features a musical reference of some kind, either in passing conversation, the use of pianos and record players as useful props, undercover identities such as Hack and Zack (“Songs and Laffs”), even the western guitar shirt Hutch favors throughout the run of the series. Sensibly, for the most part there are very few references to popular music of the day, avoiding the series seeming anachronistic or dated – there is more a tendency to reference jazz, blues, or “hillbilly” music, as Starsky puts it. While the incidental background music tends to the generic, rarely changing over the four-year span of the series, it does have its charms, as noted in this somewhat inaccurate but enormously good-natured routine by the British comedian Bill Bailey. In some episodes the music is sophisticated and atmospheric (“Survival”), blaringly spooky (“Bloodbath”) or just plain silly (the va-voom saxophone every time a beautiful girl appears, for instance). Foreground music can also figure prominently, as in many of the club or disco scenes (most notably in “Discomania”, in which popular songs are heard) or as sung or played by characters, most of whom are musicians themselves (“Ballad for a Blue Lady”, “Death in a Different Place”, “Losing Streak”, “Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road”).

For David Soul, music and acting are of parallel importance, and he gives Hutch a similar love of music, although his two onstage performances in “Long Walk Down a Dirt Road” and “Moonshine” are comedic ones, with him as a nervous wreck (I suspect as a self-deprecating nod to his extraordinarily successful career as a singer-songwriter) and Starsky as his enthusiastic number-one fan. Hutch also has many informal scenes of playing music (“Velvet Curtain”, “Running”, “Little Girl Lost”), and is often seen humming or singing. He writes a lyric to Marianne in “Ballad for a Blue Lady” and is excited to receive an album in the mail in “The Game”. But his best musical moment is in “Body Worth Guarding”, in which he sings a song to Anna, a scene notable for its sweetness and sincerity. Surprisingly, Starsky, often portrayed as being either tone-deaf or indifferent to music, also plays guitar and beautifully sings a fragment of a song, this time to a tense, watchful Monique in “The Avenger”. Significantly, both these scenes show the detectives offering a song as a gesture of comfort to someone they are protecting. For some fans the favorite musical moment might be the robust performance of the jocular “Black Bean Soup” both Starsky and Hutch perform for a motley collection of friends in “Death Notice”, (resurrected in “The Set-Up”), the one and only time they sing together.

There is not only an abundance of singing on the part of Starsky and Hutch in the series, but an unusual amount of dancing too, owing in part to the disco craze of the times but also as an a way to compliment and contrast the muscular physicality of the fighting and chasing scenes (“Las Vegas Strangler”, “Tap Dancing”, “Fatal Charm”, “Murder at Sea”, “Death in a Different Place”, “Discomania”, “The Avenger”, “Starsky’s Brother”, “The Snitch”, and off screen in “Moonshine”). Starsky is a wildly wholehearted dancer, Hutch a more cautious, stiff one, both more than willing to dance if given the opportunity (thus earning a few more points in the desirability quotient for many women). This willingness to engage in and enjoy music belies their hard, masculine characters and gives the series a truly unexpected, enjoyably optimistic element often absent from the grim content of the storylines.

Episode 81: Ballad for a Blue Lady

January 6, 2012

Hutch becomes involved with a blues singer whose brother has connections to an underworld crime boss.

Marianne Owens: Jenny O’Hara, Harry Owens: Sandy Baron, Joe Fitch: Malachi Throne, Chicky: Stack Pierce, Casey O’Brien: Arell Blanton, Stanton: John Karlen, Charlie Baron: Dominic Barto. Written By: Sidney Ellis and Paul Michael Glaser, Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser.


This is a very perplexing episode, almost abstract its content and direction. All the action has already happened: we come in after the crimes have been committed, the bullets have flown, and the perpetrator has been arrested and is facing a grand jury investigation. This is the aftermath, and the atmosphere is largely hushed, almost mournful, with bits and pieces laying on the ground. Viewers have to infer from those pieces what has happened, and what is now happening, and make sense of it all.

Both this episode and Season One’s “Lady Blue” are inextricably linked. Both have very similar titles. Both involve the loss of a lover through cruel means. Both Linda Davisson and Marianne Owens have slipped into the seamy side of life for very good reasons, both are innocent victims. There is a sense – overtly here, less so in “Lady Blue” – that Starsky and Hutch feel culpable in some way, both personally and professionally.

One would think that an episode written and directed by one of the stars would tend to concentrate on the relationship of the two detectives, the most important element in the show. Unfortunately this is not the case. Starsky and Hutch spend most of this episode as virtual strangers, Hutch refusing to share information with his partner or to even call in, and Starsky barely registers when Hutch arrives late, having been beaten up. Starsky ends up trying to do both their jobs by himself and cover for his partner, while Hutch gets too involved with the person he should be investigating. It’s “Rosey Malone” all over again, this time with Hutch, but without any of the sparkle or wry humor between them.

The Tale of Rosey and Marianne: both men go undercover to get information from women connected to someone who is living a life of crime. Both men fall in love and sleep with these women. Both men need reminders from the other that they are cops who are supposed to be doing a job. Both men get discovered as undercover cops and face the wrath from the women, and both men feel bad about the duplicity, but justify it to themselves and the woman by claiming powerful feelings of love and protection, that the process is ultimately for their own good. In both episodes the family unit itself is the cause of ruin, ethically, legally, and morally, a ruin Starsky and Hutch attempt to amend by separating family members.  And most importantly, and ironically, both Starsky and Hutch fail in their efforts, as Rosey flees to Mexico with her father and Marianne refuses to give up her brother.

We catch a glimpse of Glaser’s wonderful flair for directing in the first scene, in which the shadow of the killer plays on the wall.

Notable is the extreme amount of smoking in this episode. The four major characters, Fitch, Casey, Marianne and Harry, are all desperate for a cigarette. Lighting a cigarette and inhaling is a useful device for all of them: it allows time to think, slows down the moment, fills a terrible void, calms the nerves, and in Marianne’s case it provides a tiny frisson of power in that it creates a need for a chivalrous gesture from Hutch. For Casey here in the opening scene it is as a cruelly casual response to the fatal beating going on only a few feet away.

There is an unusual instance of Dobey himself at the initial crime scene. However he offers nothing of substance other than the irrelevance of the victim’s height. Because the script is so vague we are forced to assume the anxious, bad-tempered Stanton is the DA gathering ammunition for the grand jury investigation.It is typical in Glaser-directed episodes that the first scenes are chaotic and jumbled, often in darkness, with a lot of muttering and half-heard dialogue, which makes the viewer feel lost for about five long minutes. Here, and particularly in “Deckwatch”, Glaser has the patience and the confidence that we will hang in long enough to eventually understand what he is getting at. It’s a risk in the notoriously fickle world of television but it always pays off.

It’s a great scene with the intense confrontation with Stanton and Hutch, and again a director’s flair for framing: we only see Hutch’s hands grasping Stanton’s collar.

The casting of Jenny O’Hara, the queen of unshed tears, is a triumph. Trembling, fragile and intelligent, her continual smoking and drinking suggests a deep psychic discomfort. The only time in the entire episode we see her smiling is when she’s giving a blistering rendition of “High Flying Bird”. When she confronts Hutch later in the episode and cries out that she’s a person, and that his actions hurt, her voice breaks in a truly heart wrenching way. In fact she uses her voice very creatively throughout: it breaks in pain, soars in song, raises in anger, and drops to a whisper. Does she do her own singing? It’s very good and it sounds like it could be her.

Brother-sister relationships are always fascinating and they’re rarely depicted in film or television. This one is especially good, with Harry alternately tender and dominating, cruel and helpless. And in the end, risking it all for her. They also look a lot alike, with the same long face and prominent cheekbones, dark hair and large eyes.

Part of Soul’s song “1927 Kansas City” is recited when Hutch shows his lyrics to Marianne, which is a lovely detail. Stack Pierce, who plays Marianne’s accompanist, is a professional pianist.

The music in this episode is well-chosen, subtle, sophisticated, and always advances the plot. In the beginning we see Marianne singing “High Flying Bird”, its lyrics indicative of her situation: the character in the song longs for the freedom of a bird while lamenting her situation. “Lord, look at me here, I’m rooted like a tree here”. (The words notably, change the gender of the bird from the traditional female to a “he”, no doubt reflecting a woman’s longing for the freedom and power inherent in men.) Later, she is practicing with the low-key but loyal accompanist Chicky, attempting to master the difficult “Nature Boy” by Eden Abez with its echoes of Dvořák, which has become a jazz standard. Again, like “High Flying Bird”, this is a song about someone longing for freedom and independence, and the assuredness that the greatest achievement is to be loved by someone who loves you in return. Significantly, Marianne can’t get this right and quits in frustration, signaling to us that she is unable to be free, or loved. And then she sits listening to “Nobody’s Heart” while sitting alone in her room following Hutch’s betrayal: “Nobody’s heart belongs to me, heigh ho, nobody cares. Nobody writes his songs for me, no one belongs to me.” This echoes her bitterness about her revelation that Hutch, although ostensibly having written her a song, is only interested in using her for a larger, more complicated means of justice. Then, right after, we see her gorgeously silhouetted in gold, in the dark of her club, singing Hoagy Carmichael’s extraordinarily beautiful “Baltimore Oriole”. Again with the bird theme, she laments “no life for a lady, to be dragging her feathers around in the snow”. This music is not predictable, is sensitively chosen, perfectly reflects the action without hammering home its point.

Hutch is undercover, hoping to get close enough to Marianne to get to Fitch. He’s been in this position for less than a week, and has known Marianne for less than three days. Why, then, does he force her on the dangerous dash through the streets to shake loose Fitch’s henchmen? He even pulls her into a hiding place and puts his hand over her mouth in an aggressive, frightening manner. This is an antagonistic move on his part and doesn’t make sense from a policing standpoint, or a moral one. Fitch immediately pegs him as a possible undercover cop, and what woman would put up with that sort of behavior? (Marianne does, apparently,which is part of her problem.)

The sparring between Starsky and Hutch regarding duty is another tiresome repeat of an argument we have heard many times. It’s depressing to watch. Unlike other episodes (“Rosey Malone”, “Bindfold”) there is no escalation into cleansing and possibly redemptive shouting, and no culminating gesture of affection either (“Lady Blue” and “Pariah”).

Nice direction again as the morning sun is reflected off Starsky’s badge as he wakes Harry.

Marianne is listening to Joe Pizzarelli’s “Nobody’s Heart” when her brother comes to visit. Marianne may be the most depressed person in the series, but she still has the get-up-and-go to have fresh flowers in her room. From a fan, perhaps?

Harry says, “the two of you shared a bed and not a word was spoken?” He is assuming a sexual encounter that we not only don’t witness, but see no evidence of. Marianne doesn’t correct him. Assuming Harry is right, when would this have happened? After their hair-raising run down city streets? And if it didn’t happen, why wouldn’t Marianne put her brother at ease and tell him he’s exaggerating? Is this a matter of pride with her, or does she just not care about the details? Another clue as to something sexual taking place between them is later in the alley, when Hutch says “I’m sorry” and Marianne says bitterly, “About what? It wasn’t too bad, was it?”

When Hutch and Marianne have their revealing conversation in the alley, how much does Casey overhear, if anything? And why talk knowing Fitch’s loyal soldier is so close? Hutch is very aware of him, but seems to wait until Casey has walked out of earshot, but there is no way Casey would let this golden opportunity to eavesdrop go by.

Marianne tells Hutch he is as interested in what happens to her as the “man on the moon.” Later, Hutch’s answer to her about who beat him up is “the man on the moon.” Is Hutch slinging it back at her, remembering her earlier comment? How hostile is this, anyway?

It seems impossible Hutch has genuine romantic feelings for Marianne. She’s so hard she’s in danger of shattering, like a frozen twig. Hutch is normally turned off by brittle, clingy women, and Marianne is both: even her powerful contempt is mired in a desperate neediness. He may have protective feelings but he’s very distant and careful. He has two very subtle moments in which the door is open to a more substantial relationship and he fails to walk through both times. The first is when he is pleading with her to help. She tells him she will marry him, and they can go away forever. All Hutch has to do is say, “Yes,” echoing what he is asking her to do. Hutch hesitates in his answer, and then says, “That’s not the point.” Later, Marianne tells him she can’t do it alone. Hutch says, “We could do it.” Marianne replies, “You really believe that?” It is Hutch’s second waffle-answer, “I’d like to,” confirms the fact he isn’t entirely sure and can’t be counted on. Both of Hutch’s hesitations, while entirely human, are not what Marianne wants to hear.

Marianne telling Hutch the solution to her sticky situation is to get married strikes me as peculiarly old-fashioned, and not very practical. Only in Jane Austen novels is marriage ever the solution to anything, but perhaps she’s being ironic.

The station seems all a-buzz in this episode, unusually so, possibly reflecting Starsky’s whirling mind. Phones are ringing, people rushing around, voices fill the background. It’s quite sad when Starsky asks other cops if they have seen Hutch around. Not too long ago, the opposite would be the case: Starsky alone would know the whereabouts of his partner. Now, he is as clueless as everyone else.

One of Hutch’s character mainstays is he has never worn a watch, in part because of his contrary, conspiratorial loathing of modern conveniences. But now he is wearing one. He looks at it, and then asks Marianne the time. Is his because his watch was broken in fight? Is his vision blurry? Or is he trying to engage her to stay longer?

Let’s get this straight (and in this hazy, backward episode getting something straight is not easy): Casey snaps a photo of Hutch in the alley, then one or more of Fitch’s men grab and beat him. Even though they have discovered somehow he’s a cop, the beating isn’t fatal, but rather violent notification of Fitch’s fury and nothing more (why not? Wouldn’t they be tempted to dispatch him permanently? Fitch has no problem committing multiple murders, and right now he’s so far into it one more couldn’t make a difference). Hutch escapes and goes to Marianne’s, either to warn her or shock her by his appearance into doing the right thing. Fitch, frustrated by the escape, then puts a hit on him by using the photograph (although, having snapped it long before assaulting Hutch, one might think Fitch had been planning something all along, because why else would he take the photograph in the first place? As a means of identifying your future victim? A ghoulish souvenir?).

I don’t care how rushed Starsky is, surely he could have actually stopped the car to talk to Huggy, who has some very important information to impart. However, the scene is visually arresting, and Huggy’s panting jog adds to the sense of anxiety.

Thank god for that tag. Without that tag I could shoot myself, the show is so depressing and dour. This is one time the jokey, relaxed element of the tag is welcome. Hutch is allowing himself to be all goofy with Starsky, talking happily to his plants without a hint of self-consciousness. He seems relieved, nearly giddy, to be rid of this case (and rid of Marianne). However, nothing can quite overcome the bleakness of this episode. Nothing is solved: Marianne has lost her brother, the case against Fitch is pending, the bitterness of Hutch’s failure undercover lingers. Even the joke at the end has a sour aftertaste: the police don’t get their raise, and Hutch’s plan for a greenhouse is doomed.

Clothing notes: Hutch once again wears his signature moon-and-stars necklace, and with it the tusk pendant. He’s also a standout in a buttery-soft caramel fringe jacket that looks so right on him it could be his own.