Episode 84: Huggy Can’t Go Home

When an old friend he owes asks him for help, Huggy is dragged back into a past he thought he’d escaped.

JT Washington: Richard Ward, Big Red: Roger E Mosley, Dolphin: Royce D Applegate, Boseman: Lee Weaver, Cora Lee: Francesca Roberts, Junior: Bryan O’Dell, Newsboy: Al “Jocko” Fann, Lonnette: Candy Mobley. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh and Rick Edelstein, Directed By: David Soul

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

It’s another nice direction job by Soul, who often employs a crane-mounted camera to give us a bird’s eye view of this busy, rather insular inner-city neighborhood. In this Huggy-centered episode, Antonio Fargas gives an elegant, understated performance, perhaps his best of the series. Always quirky and expressive, he plays this one quietly and thoughtfully, and it’s great to watch. Interestingly, this episode seems more realistic than many others we have seen lately, and not only because there is an absence of fashion shows, beautiful girls, or slick, upscale locations. Here, realism is in the mundane: the many ordinary people populating the street scenes, and lovely touches like Starsky and Hutch actually getting stranded in LA traffic.

The gravely-voiced JT Washington is played by Richard Ward, originally cast as Dobey in the pilot.

Of note is the lengthly scene between Starsky and the boy delivering papers. Played beautifully and naturally by Al Fann, the boy is remarkable for his world-weary cynicism, his gangster-in-the-making indifference to violence. It’s terrible to see a mix of innocence, intelligence and chilling ambition. “When I grow up I’m gonna have a super-fine ride and a stable of foxy ladies,” he tells Starsky, his mouth smeared with ice cream. “Delivering papers is a drag. Ain’t no future in it.” Here, Starsky’s affinity with children is put to good use: he shows respect, is never preachy or even much surprised by what he hears, later describing him to Hutch as “a thirty-year-old hustler in a ten-year-old body who conned me out of two fudgicles.” The lack of sanctimony and scripted boo-hooing is a hallmark of the series and particularly affecting here – we all know where this kid is headed, and what a waste it is, and we can all see the larger socioeconomic tragedy at work, but we are not lectured to.

Huggy says Boseman is a cheater at cards, “liable to get himself killed one of these days”. Starsky tells him he did, then says, “you don’t look surprised.” Is Huggy’s explanation – that he’s never surprised at death in his neighborhood – fully or partially true? Did he know it was Boseman who lay dead in the street? (Later, he mentions to his old mentor JT that he may have recognized one of the shooters, but makes no mention of knowing the victim). If he did, why wouldn’t he be straight with Starsky about being a witness, since at this point he knows nothing about the situation? His demeanor suggests he knows a violent robbery in that particular building can only mean one thing – his former mentor Washington is in trouble, and trouble will inevitably come knocking on his own door. His instinct is to keep quiet until he knows how the wind is blowing. Understandable, maybe. But it still shows us that he will always be on one side of the line, and Starsky and Hutch will be on the other.

Huggy says he has a “bad taste in my mouth trying to figure out who my friends are”, which is unfair, as well as untrue. This is a murder investigation, and he knows by now how it will – and should – be investigated. Which is to say fairly, and without prejudice. He would expect nothing less from them. When feeling under threat, Huggy’s prickly defensiveness is in recognition of the fact that, if necessary, they will not hesitate to take him down.

Of course, the plot to this episode is startlingly similar to Season One’s “Kill Huggy Bear”, in which Huggy is reluctantly drawn into covering for a friend in a plot involving stolen money. Both Red and Dolphin, and Dewey from “Kill”, drive away from a robbery in which they shoot a man in a panic. Both parties involve the “light green Ford” in a minor traffic accident: this time, it’s blocking the get-a-way car and they run into it, and previously Dewey drives the “light green Ford” into the car parked in front of him. Even more of a coincidence is that both of these episodes involve Huggy protecting someone and lying to Starsky and Hutch. In this episode, Starsky is immediately suspicious of Huggy, saying, “Huggy is a bad liar”. He also pointed the finger at Huggy in Season One, saying money has a way of turning people bad. In both cases, Hutch doesn’t disagree, yet still takes a more psychological approach. Here, he remarks, “Maybe he never had a good enough reason (to lie) before.”

Starsky says Huggy never lied before, so I can only conclude Starsky’s definition of a lie is different from mine, because it seems to me Huggy has been untruthful multiple times with both of them.

This episode is unique because it has, as its scenic centerpiece, the song “Huggy Can’t Go Back”, which is played as Huggy walks through his old neighborhood. The song is written by Jac Murphy, a member of Soul’s band, and sung by Dr. John. A precursor to today’s music videos – and better than ninety-nine per cent of them – it provides the soundtrack to a beautiful montage of a vibrant but troubled black neighborhood, with fadeouts from scene to scene. This is a strikingly contemporary use of music and image, and adds to the richness of this particular episode.

“Uptown’s comin’ slummin’?” asks one of the old gang as Huggy walks the street. This unprovoked insult is an interesting glimpse into how some feel about Huggy’s desire to better himself and his world, either through his various entrepreneurial projects or through a stubborn determination to see justice done, even at personal risk. It might also underline the idea that even though Huggy is extremely loyal, he is not perceived as such by his old cronies, who feel left behind or somehow slighted by his “uptown” ambitions.

As Huggy talks with Washington, the ever-present sound of the city interferes: barking dogs, children, traffic, sirens. Throughout the entire episode this jumble of noise continues, often just below conscious recognition. Wonderful, too, is the reverberating sound of the gunshot following the murder of Boseman. The sound echoes for a long time, giving the impression of flapping wings as it bounces off the walls, adding another dimension to the emotional impact of the shooting. I give credit for this to the director, who no doubt had a hand in such a creative use of sound.

Washington tells Huggy to help him get “his” money back, lost when Boseman ran after the cash. Earlier, during the all-night game, the players insinuate Boseman was cheating, one saying he’d just lost “eight grand”. One assumes the others were similarly losing equal amounts, which would explain the large take. However, none of this really belongs to Washington, except the money he himself lost, if any (most likely a small amount, seeing as he is a canny, cautious sort with deep suspicions about his fellow players). Therefore, he is asking Huggy to steal the jackpot for him. His pathos and moral indignation is pretty much an act since he is no more the legal owner of the cash than anyone else.

This episode also echoes very strongly “Birds of a Feather.” Huggy and Washington are very much like Hutch and Luke Huntley. Both older men are mentors, calling in a favor that puts their young protégée at great risk and both wanting the “their” money back for their old age. Both older men use emotional blackmail to get what they want. Both also represent an antediluvian society in which father-son bonds are unbreakable. Both see themselves in their younger charges, while both realize, on some level, they will never achieve the moral certainty necessary for a break from the past.

There are many nice details in this episode, beginning with the liquid eyes of the children staring after Starsky and Hutch as they walk off in the aftermath of the shooting, and now here, in the café, as Huggy is mauled by the pretty Cora while another customer watches up close and personal. Later, when Dolphin picks up the order of gumbo, he’s stared at by a young lady at the counter, with whom he tries to flirt. There’s a sense, in these little non-sequitirs, that Huggy’s world is closely monitored by every one of its citizens. Even as Cora leaves with  her scooter, a young man helps her with the door, and stares at her as she leaves.

Cora Lee’s efforts to help Huggy remind us of his foray with the Turkey. Yet Cora Lee is a far more enchanting character to watch, and whole lot more fun. Her first steps in the detective racket show a keen intelligence and don’t-mess-with-me core of steel. Frankly, she’d be a terrific police officer. Watch how her her plaintive wheedling – “c’mon Huggy, we’re partners!” – quickly hardens into her reminder that she alone has the hotel room number.

Again we hear the similar voice of “Michael Jackson” on the television (“Survival”) narrating the hilariously titled soap “Tales of the Disenchanted” on the television, as Dolphin knocks on the hotel door.

There’s an interesting dynamic at work in the criminal partnership of Dolphin and Big Red. Red, who is black, is in control, while white Dolphin struggles with the inequity of the relationship. This is a remarkable inverse of the outside world and again shows the insularity of this neighborhood.

As in “A Coffin for Starsky”, the computer spits out the correct list of probables in the case of the shooting, zeroing in on Dolphin and Big Red. This presages the use of technology in future crime fighting. It also provides the background to why Starsky and Hutch have been working separately on this case from the beginning. Starsky takes the street, Hutch takes the paperwork. This correlates with their personalities: Starsky is more likely to be physical, Hutch cerebral.

Dobey reprimands Starsky and Hutch, “Don’t tell me the about the word on the street until you have spent as much time out there as I have.” Is Dobey speaking of time on the force or literally “time on the street”? Starsky and Hutch seem to have more street knowledge than Dobey at this point. Dobey always looks clumsy and unconvincing as soon as he gets out of the office.

“Because JT’s his mentor,” Dobey shouts, explaining Huggy’s irrational loyalties. “Taught him everything he knows.” Dobey says this with the utmost confidence, begging the question: how in the heck does he know this, barring an intensive interrogation session?

When Dobey threatens to remove both Starsky and Hutch from the action, this may be the first time he has threatened to take both men off a case. However, it’s half-hearted; he basically pushes them back onto it.

Interestingly, this is the only time during the run of the series in which Starsky and Hutch do not charge in at the last moment, guns blazing, and save a friend in need.

Big Red dies (in a startling, naturalistic way, the moment between life and death a mere wisp). Huggy is alone in the room with him and the bag of money. We hear Starsky and Hutch call out for him. Cut to the tag, and a late-night drinking session at the Pits in which Starsky seems slightly worse for wear. Huggy dismisses Cora Lee because her mother was fat (implying she will inevitably be as well – as if this is a romantic deal-breaker, which is sad, as well as ignorant). The guys then try to squeeze Huggy for information about why JT suddenly got the funds to open a dry cleaning establishment, but Huggy lies (again), which pretty much sums up why he will never really be close to the two detectives. This tells us Huggy not only stole the money but also managed to escape mere seconds from being tracked by the two detectives. This seems improbable, and is the only moment in this fine episode that doesn’t quite ring true. On a lighter note, it’s quite touching to think that becoming a dry cleaner counts as getting “out”.

Clothing notes: both Hutch and Starsky are sleekly attired in various sweaters with zips, jeans and jackets. There is a lot of symbolic red here, emphasized in both clothing and props: Huggy’s remarkable red Cadillac, Big Red drinking a red pop, Starsky with a red napkin at the bar, Huggy’s sweater and t-shirt are both red, “Big Red” wears a red shirt to the robbery, the red blood stains JT, the light shining through the red liquid in the basement bottle, the bag of money is stained by blood.

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8 Responses to “Episode 84: Huggy Can’t Go Home”

  1. Daniela Says:

    Hello Merl,
    again you made it into an interesting episode.
    Well, not that it wasn’t interesting… it just wasn’t enough S&H.
    I didn’t know Soul directed it, but that explains the look of it.
    Quite interesting.
    Both him and Glaser should have directed more episodes… they are a cut above the rest!
    The end when Big Red dies is quite an interesting scene, startling in a way.
    I am surprised you didn’t say anything about the conversation between Starsky and the kid that witness the crime.
    Pretty realistic, without the sugar coating that usually comes with kids characters. And sad… That kid was on his way to become a perpetrator in his older years… Probably meeting Starsky and Hutch in a different setting, maybe in an interrogation room…

    And another thing… At the end, when Huggy dismisses Cora Lee because her mom was too fat, the implication I got from it was that she was going to become just as fat over time.
    You know? Genetic?
    Thanks for your interesting posts!
    Daniela

    • merltheearl Says:

      Hi Daniela, you’re absolutely right about the scene with the newsboy – it’s extraordinary and deserves to be highlighted, which I am going to do right now. I’m so glad you gave me a push. As for the tag, yeah, I get what Huggy meant, hence my lament; I guess I wasn’t as clear as I might have been. Thanks for your comments, and for your kind suggestions.

      • Daniela Says:

        Looking at the episode, after I posted my comment, I thought of something: in this episode Huggy is more “normal” than in others.
        I mean usually his character is played over the top and very much stereotyped into almost a cartoonish character. His clothes, his manner of speech, his outlandish entrepreneurial activities (selling rosaries? jumping dolls? Magic act paraphernalia?) make Huggy more of a decoration than an actual person, or some kind of comic relief.
        But in this episode he dresses “normal”, he speaks “normal” and he is actually a well rounded character.
        Interesting, because if there was an episode where the stereotypes could have been exaggerated, it was this one.
        But they weren’t, which is good!
        Was that because of David Soul directing it?
        I think if they had played out the Turkey episode like this one or if they had used this as a tentative pilot, there might have been a Huggy Bear series after all….

        Another thing I thought was about S&H being stuck in the traffic jam…
        It was funny, especially thinking how many times they were threatened to be assigned to traffic duty for something they did.
        After this scene, that threat takes on a new meaning! They would stink at it!!
        Daniela

  2. Anachron Says:

    Hi, Merle!

    Nice write-up. There were some interesting and good choices, directing-wise. You mentioned the extended scene with “Huggy Can’t Go Back.” I thought a number of other scenes were also particularly “musical” in their staging – I guess it shouldn’t be surprising with Soul’s background. The first crane shot in which the camera glides from the hooker to Junior and then to Dolphin was very like something out of a movie musical, or even a music video (a bit ahead of its time, maybe – MTV did not start until a few years later). Also, right after the robbery, the camera focuses on a hotel window, then tilts down and zooms in past a street light turning off in the early morning light to Huggy exiting the hotel – very nice. Two other small scenes caught my eye (or ear) – in both the musical score seems to anticipate and mimic the background noise of the scene. The first is where Cora Lee leaves the rib joint and rides her moped – as Cora Lee exits the shop, the music starts off with what sounds like a sax and maybe a synthesized horn, and then as she progresses through traffic a cacophony of car horns and voices join in; in the second, Cora Lee is waiting for Huggy at the hotel – we see him approaching through the window, and the music goes through a clip-clop, knocking rhythm that picks up Huggy’s footfalls as he enters.

    Big Red’s death was very well done – you are quite right describing it as “startling naturalistic” – on this show dramatic, blow-‘em-up deaths seem to be the norm, but Big Red’s is so much more real. Interesting, too, how his wound is realistically bloody, whereas in other episodes – e.g., Shootout, there’s barely any blood to be seen. My only complaint with this scene is the abrupt cutting (twice) to S & H chasing down and dealing with Junior. It was a bit clunky. I would have moved the S & H scenes back a bit, to give more continuity to the scene with Huggy and Big Red.

    I enjoyed the grittiness of the episode, too – things looked dirty, used, and real. Like the very large poker player with his dirty shirt and sweaty head, Cora Lee’s purple shirt with its seams ripping out, or the ratty plastic on the counter in Funky’s. Except for Huggy’s distractingly white Nikes. But maybe the costume designer was making an uptown statement with those. I’m glad Antonio Fargas had a chance to do this script – his work was very good, and he was able to give his character some real depth instead of having to play the caricature poor Huggy is often forced to be.

    Thanks again!

    Anachron

  3. Jill Says:

    As others have rightly said, this was the antidote to ‘Huggy & The Turkey’. An excellent gritty episode, atmospheric direction and Antonio Fargas given the chance to shine. Just when the viewer has sighed and surrendered to the “fluffiness” of much of season 4, they pull this one out of the bag, and it’s like being back in the exciting early days again.

    • King David Says:

      This episode feels different, and I like some little moments in it quite a lot. I do like the worldly-wise newspaper boy. I can definitely see his future…
      I also liked that they had the plump Cora, even though disparaging comments about her size were made. Everything about this feels more like actual life.
      Starsky would do the physical stuff, and Hutch would do the cerebral stuff, I agree; it seems so natural for the division to fall this way.

  4. Lisa Says:

    Wow! I think I had always stereotyped this episode as yet another disappointing Huggy-centric episode, but it really is amazing. Antonio’s performance is perfect and I love David’s directorial choices. I’m gaining a new appreciation for season 4 and starting to feel like the last 5-6 episodes fully redeem any issues I had. Standing alone, “Sweet Revenge” is emotionally and visually powerful, but as the culmination of the series and building on the last few episodes it seems to me that it also provides a “sweet revenge” for the Glaser/Soul partnership as well. Very well played and classy exit!

  5. stybz Says:

    David Soul did some incredible work with the set pieces in this episode. That neighborhood street has been used countless times in previous episodes, but this time it has life to it, even early in the morning when there aren’t a lot of people around. The mess of the papers strewn everywhere, the grit, the dirt. There’s life there that none of the prior episodes successfully evoked.

    And that busy effect translates into the people, the cars, the congestion in general. We even get a realistic sound on the police radio. Naturally, even when Starsky and Hutch aren’t receiving a call, they would hear the on-air traffic on the radio. It was so well done.

    I liked seeing the water truck coming through, though I wondered why they would spray without cleaning the street first. LOL! It added something to the scene of Huggy and others slipping and sliding, though, which I liked. 🙂

    It was really nice seeing Richard Ward again, only this time I think his character was much more nuanced than Dobey in the pilot. Dobey was very one-dimensional from the pilot up to at least Captain Dobey You’re Dead and maybe a few episodes beyond that. I mention this because I struggled with Ward’s gravely voice in the pilot, but now that I see that he could soften it, I might have grown to like him as Dobey had he stayed on the show.

    While kind of sad that the kid is planning a life of crime, it’s also funny hearing Starsky say after the kid says, “See you around, Mr. P-oh-leece-man,” that if the kid winds up with a stable of women, he’ll be seeing him around quite a bit. 🙂

    I loved Big Red watching the soap opera. I thought that was funny. It was nice seeing Roger E Mosely again.

    I also liked the shot of Starsky peering at Huggy as he’s coming around. If anyone knows a thing or two about head injuries, it’s Starsky. He’s had enough of them. 🙂 And he’s compassionate and caring the whole time, telling Huggy to breath deeply from the oxygen mask and asking if he’s okay.

    There’s a definite consistency in character with Hutch going over the paperwork. This is true in many of the episodes in this series. Hutch is always the one going through the files. 🙂

    I suspect Dobey knows more than he lets on about the street. He may not be on it anymore, but he’s from JT’s generation, and maybe knew of Huggy Bear back when he was walking a beat. This could be why he can’t trust Huggy as much as the pair does.
    I wonder if Huggy did get away in the end. There didn’t seem to be that much money in the bag as far as number of bills is concerned. So maybe he pocketed the cash before Starsky and Hutch caught up with him, and they decided not to ask any questions since they knew Huggy didn’t kill Big Red.

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