Episode 85: Targets Without a Badge, Part One

An informant has information about a drug-dealing Federal Judge.

Lionel Rigger: Ted Neely, Deputy District Attorney Clayburn: Ken Kercheval, Soldier: Robert Tessier, Deputy Police Chief Reasonor: Quinn Redeker, Judge McClellan: Peter MacLean, Mardean Rigger: Troas Hayes, Jamie: Heather Hobbs, Gesslin: George Pentecost, Judge Belin: Michelle Davison, Linda: Susan Kiger, Kathy: Linda Lawrence. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is the first part of a four-hour story in which Starsky and Hutch set in motion a series of events that awaken a powerful enemy. It’s among the most brutally realistic of episodes as it follows a case from the first crimes to the informant Lionel Rigger, through the investigation, to a court hearing that tests their dedication to the badge.

Ted Neely is perfectly cast as the unfortunate Lionel Rigger, and he has a difficult job to do. He has to make Lionel, a down-at-his-heels snitch with a history of drugs and crime, both likeable and believable. In a very short time, and without much to work with, you have to care about him, and Neely does this wonderfully by giving extra dimensions to his character, bringing to life a good friend and a generous person, quick with a joke and a helping hand. His accent places him somewhere between Louisiana and Georgia, and he has an earnestness and sincerity that is entirely without sentiment. You just feel that Lionel Rigger, despite doing things he regrets, is a worthy person, someone you’d like to know, whose loss will be very hard to take.

Why don’t the girls get changed after their show in the club’s dressing room? It seems silly to walk upstairs to their apartment still wearing their glittering costumes, much less starting to pack for a trip. It looks good on camera though (which is, of course, why they did it). It’s a bit of a mystery when one says to the other, as she’s stuffing drug envelopes into the fake pregnancy pouch, “well, you said you wanted a girl!” They both laugh, as if this means something.

Starsky is unfazed by Hutch’s angry refusal to pick a card, cajoling until Hutch, playing the victim, is nevertheless either momentarily arrested by the possibility of magic, or certain that if he doesn’t pick the damn card this will go on for hours. It’s charming when Hutch accuses his partner of not “dealing with a full deck” and Starsky says agreeably, “True”. Hutch says “sad but” and Starsky finishes it for him, “true.”

They go off in hot pursuit of what Hutch calls “the mule train” although it’s not really possible they would know this for sure, as it’s too far to see a plate or any distinguishing details of the car, and surely the drug barons aren’t dumb enough to use the same vehicle over and over again.

I like how the worst thing the girl can say when she’s busted is that Starsky and Hutch are “tacky”.

Is it me or is playing drums by the seaside – not the more portable bongoes, but a full-fledged set of drums – a really, really peculiar thing to do? Perhaps this is close to Venice Beach, renown for all things funky.

Despite having all four seasons in proximity to the the Pacific Ocean this is the only time we see Starsky and Hutch on a beach. I’m not counting “Class in Crime”, because that beach is atypically cold, windy and deserted and not something we associate with southern California. This scene is very scenic and adds to the atmosphere of the episode; it can be nowhere else than crazy-making Los Angeles. Later, the ocean provides a watery grave for the famous badge-throwing scene.

It’s wonderful how the guys stare at Lionel intensely, indicating through silence that negotiations have begun. They also look at each other, evaluatively, searchingly, and you can almost hear what they’re saying without a single word being spoken: this feels bad.

Rigger could not possibly be in trouble because he has simply listened to the judge’s offer. Huggy mentions Lionel wants to work something off, but he hasn’t done anything wrong in this instance: all he has done is listen to the judge and consider it. Then he approaches Starsky and Hutch and offers to help them. If anything, he’s a hero at this stage, so why does Hutch say the best he can get Lionel is a suspended sentence? The only way around this is what Huggy implies – and it’s an implication only – that Lionel Rigger is in trouble for another crime, unrelated to this one.

Throughout the interrogation at the station, Hutch is remarkable for the affection he shows Lionel. Starsky is more guarded, but both have obviously formed an immediate positive impression of this man, further evidence of their good instincts about people. It is reminiscent of their immediate trust in Tom Cole (“The Hostages”) and Jimmy Spenser (“The Heavyweight”), two guys who might have been on the wrong side of things given a superficial reading of the situation.

Starsky appears to be dead tired throughout this episode. He has shadows under his eyes and is uncommunicative and pessimistic, and so dour Hutch says, amusingly, “I bet when you were small you were one of those kids who used to go the library and tear out the last pages of the mystery.” Starsky, true to form, merely looks blank and doesn’t bother to spar. The reason for this is unknown, but it may hint at a season’s worth of buried resentments and unvoiced concerns, either between the two detectives or with the job as a whole, or both.

The guys have a long discussion with the assistant DA and Dobey about Lionel testifying. They run down several gruesome stories in which informants have met untimely deaths just before their court date. Here, the question presents itself: why don’t they take Lionel right out of the picture entirely and go undercover themselves instead? Starsky looks a bit like Lionel, and the judge has not met him in person. All the judge would have to go on might possibly be a mug shot, but slap a moustache and a wool cap on Starsky and it would be quite convincing. Then you have the recording of the deal, and Starsky’s expert testimony, and Rigger is kept safely out of the picture. In “Ninety Pounds” Hutch had no hesitation in adopting the guise of the hit man, so what’s the difference here?

A word about Assistant DA Clayburn, played by Ken Kercheval. It’s a rare case of a lawyer seeming to be a good guy, having the three elements Starsky and Hutch admire most when it comes to those in power: adaptability, imagination, and honor. You can tell they withhold judgment on Clayburn until the magic moment when he gives a wonderfully crooked grin and says “but I love it”, signaling his willingness to play. Hutch is positively flirtatious when he says warmly, “well counsellor, you can cross-examine.” Sparks are flying.

Set Dec notes: the Rigger household is the same set as Gina’s house in “The Game”, down to the wallpaper.

Starsky is very interested in Mardean’s photographs, which is consistent with his own hobby as a photographer.

I’ve never thought Mardean Rigger quite belonged with someone like Lionel. Just based on appearances, she seems like a nice well-dressed middle-class mom and it’s kind of hard to believe she’d throw her lot in with someone like him. Could this be a marriage of opposites, or is there more to Mardean than meets the eye?

Starsky and Hutch tell Rigger they’ve been offered seven thousand dollars for the “grease job”. But if Lionel is the middleman here, how are instructions getting to Starsky and Hutch? We never seen them receiving the details of the job. Later, when Rigger is on the phone with the bad guys saying they have to give an upfront deal in coke, he has to tell them the names of Starsky and Hutch, as if they don’t know it already.

One of the best things about this episode is the dialogue-heavy nature of it. Reams of words are said without action – occasionally, as in the scene in the conference room during the trial, it verges on resembling a PBS documentary about the politics of the district attorney’s office versus the police department. It’s a wonderful hiatus from the muscular action of earlier episodes and typical of the maturing a television series. Ideas are on the forefront here, rather than events.

One of the unanswered questions in this episode is whether or not Starsky and Hutch have considered the source of the drugs the judge is dealing. They are focused on McClellan because he has taken an oath to uphold justice and integrity, which makes his crimes all the more sour. However, the drugs are originating in Las Vegas. Do they ever think of following the trail, not to its end, but to its beginning? And is James Gunther the font of all this misery?

More of Dobey mismanaging a situation, when he sounds “like a police manual” when unsuccessfully trying to reassure Mardean. I think it’s a misstep to have Lionel be a family man, with an attractive loving wife and cute kid. It comes off as an attempt to make him more lovable and with more to lose, and therefore more of a tragic figure. However, given Lionel’s drug and crime history, and the fact he looks and acts like a bum, it makes no sense for him to have a cozy middle-class family. It would be like plunking Huggy down in the suburbs with a two-car garage and a cardigan. Yes, Lionel could be one of those guys making major strides out of trouble and into respectability – it happens – but the depth of his current involvement in this scheme makes that a trifle unlikely.

“It’s a great movie,” Starsky tells Lionel, trying to get him to watch. “This time the Indians win.” Considering this is an old black-and-white movie from the fifties, you can bet the Indians don’t win, but Starsky is trying to change history, and through that trying to change the growing sense of doom surrounding this case.

Hutch does the fastest shopping in the world. However, he displays a remarkable stupidity when he doesn’t alert to the person right beside him having car trouble (wearing, it should be said, the iconic bad-guy silver jacket Hutch himself wore while undercover in “Survival”). Surely he would worry about such a coincidence, given the tense situation. This is the one moment in the episode when I want to throw something at the screen.

The bomb guy gets to the location before Hutch does, meaning he knows where Lionel is holed up. That is, he gets into position with the trigger. If this is the case, why bother planting the device on Hutch’s car? And if he didn’t know where Lionel was, how in the heck did he get there so fast?

Is it too much to expect Starsky to stick with Lionel following the explosion, and get him to safety? He bolts to Hutch just like the bad guys expect him to. There should have been a Plan B worked out beforehand, instructions should Lionel find himself suddenly alone and vulnerable, even if it’s something as simple as locking himself in the bathroom. Also, there would be no guarantee this bomb-as-distraction plan would work, unless the bad guys knew for certain of Starsky’s immediate concern for his parter’s safety above all else. Did they get this intelligence from the street?

When Huggy says, “hang on, Jamie, you’re on your own now” the line has multiple meanings.

Huggy rages that “Lionel was a nobody as far as you’re concerned”, “just a snitch”, that “you let him down”, “you used him and then you back-stabbed him” “you don’t give a damn about people, you just use them.” This is probably the angriest Huggy is during the entire series. He’s despairing and near tears. I’ve always wondered if this solely because of the tragic death of his friend Lionel, or if Huggy venting some deeply buried hostility toward the guys. This could be, in a sense, much like “Starsky vs. Hutch” in which an explosively angry argument is not only in response to the current state of things but to a long-simmering and unexpressed issue. Earlier, Huggy has also referred to his connection to Starsky and Hutch as an “already fragile relationship” after he is beat up by Bagely’s men in “The Trap”. Starsky tells Hutch that Huggy doesn’t seen to be happy to be “part of the team.” However, Huggy has always treated these episodes of disappointment or frustration somewhat impersonally, understanding them as part of his dangerous relationship and never directly blaming either Starsky or Hutch and certainly never impugning their characters.

One has to wonder about Mardean as a mother. Despite her passionate defense to Dobey about her family, first her young daughter climbs into a car with strangers, then is allowed to play with Huggy – alone – after he’s basically the one responsible for her husband getting killed. “Uncle Huggy” or not, I’m not sure I’d let my kid anywhere near him after that.

Hutch plants the purple plastic whirligig into the sand. This is the same one spinning merrily on Lionel’s drum set the first time we meet him. It implies Hutch returned to the Rigger house and spent a little time in the garage, looking at the drum set and thinking about what happened, how a good man was lost and his own part in it. If that’s the case, what a truly heart-wrenching scene that must have been, and it’s too bad we didn’t get to see it.

It’s Hutch who first takes his badge out with the intention of resigning. Starsky, who says he’s going to the movies, has left him to walk down the beach alone. Of them both, Hutch has always seemed the most obviously upset about the situation. “The way I see it, this old badge has polluted me just about enough.” This sounds as if he’s been contemplating quitting for some time, maybe even before this case, but it still strikes me as odd he’d consider leaving the force without even mentioning it to his partner. Starsky has had two previous instances of threatening to resign: one as a way of saving fellow officer’s lives in “Pariah”, a selfless act and not intended to be evidence of him really desiring to leave. The other results from his giddiness about being an heir in “Golden Angel”, a light moment not to be taken seriously, and therefore not a black mark on the partnership. Here, in “Targets”, is a more egregious misstep on Hutch’s part. He seriously intends to quit, and does not confide in his partner. To me, this is a terrible mistake made by the writers, some kind of script shortcut that results in another bit of chipping away at the idea of a heroic partnership. Throughout the run of the series the writers are consistently guilty of avoiding having Starsky and Hutch have a mature conversation about a problem, preferring to stage a shouting match or have one act independently with no regard for the other. This may be pressure to produce thrills, or it may be a generalized squeamishness about the possible implications of male intimacy. It could signal a general disinclination to treat their characters seriously, or the series seriously. But what’s wrong with a scene in which Hutch would say “I feel angry and betrayed. I don’t know how to handle it” followed by Starsky saying, “let’s talk it over” and Hutch then admitting, “I’m thinking we should just quit. There’s nothing left for us now. What do you think about that?” See, was that so hard?

Starsky and Hutch must have informed Dobey about quitting the force, and it’s unfortunate we don’t get to see the blustery fireworks.

A car full of guys shooting at Starsky and Hutch, and what do they do? Run toward them. And by the way, if the intention is to kill, why the messy driving, the wild and imperfect shooting? This is not the way to murder anyone, especially in a public place. Don’t accelerate and veer wildly in the street, don’t make a big idiot of yourself driving into fences and scattering pedestrians. A slow, casual drive-by and two shots, and the job would be done before anyone noticed.

Clothing notes: It’s a treat to see Hutch wearing his great serape again despite the heat (last seen in “Long Walk”); he later wears a sharp black jacket, fancy jeans and his horn necklace. Starsky wears his usual.

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9 Responses to “Episode 85: Targets Without a Badge, Part One”

  1. Lynn Says:

    Merle,
    I agree with you on the Mardean seeming mismatched for Lionel. However, as you noted, she’s not alarmed when her little girl gets into a car with 2 strange men. After Lionel’s death there’s a scene in Huggy’s where Hutch spots her sitting at a table nursing a drink. I’m thinking that a woman alone doesn’t park herself at a place like Huggy’s unless she’s been comfortable in that environment before. And where is her kid? Maybe Mardean’s middle class Mom appearance covers a past that had more in common with Lionel than most would think.
    I was also taken by the seen in the DA’s office when they are resisting revealing their source. Hutch is holding firm and exiting the door when Starsky says “OK”. The look on Hutch’s face seems to be surprise and disappointment in his partner, but he doesn’t challenge him. I think it gets down to the fact that even though they may act otherwise, when it comes to the important things in the relationship, Starsky is the leader of the two.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Good catch, Lynn! Starsky’s agreeing to give up Rigger, and Hutch’s subtle but unmistakeably negative reaction. It’s most likely Starsky is doing the necessary dirty work, agreeing to something both of them know is inevitable, but it’s good to see him take the lead. Throughout this episode, Hutch is more emotional than Starsky, partially because he takes such a shine to Lionel right away, and partially because this whole messy case plays into his deepest, most long-held frustrations about the unfairness of the world. Is Starsky the more powerful, the more decisive one in this partnership? It’s intriguing to think he is, only because his stoicism is so often overshadowed by flashy Hutch.

      Mardean is a bit of mystery. The fact that she let Lionel at all suggests a checkered past. I’m guessing she’s comfortable at The Pits because of the whole “uncle Huggy” thing.

    • King David Says:

      I too have wondered about this little bit; Hutch is adamant they will not reveal a name, yet Starsky capitulates. You can imagine all the tension in the air, the thoughts that must have been going around in their minds to get them to this point.
      That Starsky agrees is testimony to his grasp of just how precarious, if not completely untenable, is their position to ‘go down’ if they refuse to spill the lentils.
      I liked Rigger; he had a nice face. His house (really, was it Mrs Yeager’s? Must look again.) was respectable, and he was doing good photo work. Perhaps they both had sordid pasts but have turned over a leaf together and are on the up. I have never heard the name ‘Mardean’; I used to think it was Martine. I suppose she feels comfortable at Huggy’s, as she knows him well enough, probably, as Rigger knows him well.

  2. Survivor Says:

    Another great read – thanks, Merle. Re Set Dec – I think you’ll also find that Lionel;s home is also the same as Helen Yeager’s home in ‘The Plague’.

  3. Grevy's Zebra Says:

    While I completely agree about the troublesome-ness of the things you point out in your criticism of Hutch’s unilateral decision at the end, I still vastly prefer it this way, not in spite of those troubling things, but precisely *because* of them. It displays their bond, which has never been all supporting and comforting and respectful, but is also ugly, brutal, painful, and punishing, in a thrillingly, bluntly honest and uncompromising way. I don’t think the conversation you suggest would be *bad*, but it wouldn’t reveal some important and fascinating ideas that the unilateral decision reveals.

    It’s hard to explain, but basically — Hutch “ought” to have done what you suggest because that is the decent thing to do, and decency is related to morality. Yes, Hutch is being unbelievably presumptuous by any normal standard, but that’s what makes the scene so raw and powerful, in a very raw and powerful episode. A respectful, reasonable, considerate, mature conversation simply has no place in this episode, no matter how warranted it is.

    So what happens is that Hutch does something, with a very fast decision time, that implicitly makes an unspeakably huge and unfair demand of Starsky, (whether that means joining Hutch or accepting Hutch cutting loose without resentment or blame — it’s an equally big deal either way I guess) and Starsky follows him without a flicker of complaint, as he always has and always will, because Starsky has always had Ruth 1:16 in his veins when it comes to his relationship with Hutch when the shit hits the fan (whether this is a good thing or not is irrelevant — it is true regardless of its desirability). And since their identities are so deeply entangled with each other as to resemble one soul in two bodies, does it really matter a bit to Starsky whether the demand that he show loyalty leagues above anything warranted by reasonable measures of integrity comes from himself (as in Hutchinson For Murder One — “You can visit Hutch and me in San Quentin”) or from Hutch (as in this episode)? They both know the depths of each other’s loyalty so well that I believe that in some cases, like this one, having them display consideration for each others’ freedom or choices or autonomy would almost feel a tad distancing — it would feel just a little bit like implying that making huge demands of each other is unacceptable, even though they routinely make huge demands of themselves for each others’ sakes. The truth is that it isn’t unacceptable at all for them. It’s just usually decent and respectful to ask instead of taking, even when you’re taking something you know to be yours (i.e., your right to assume your partner’s acceptance of your actions and his ability to make any sacrifice he must in order to accept them).

    Such a unilateral decision *is* very dismissive of other considerations — the other partner’s feelings, rights, needs, desires, plans, and perhaps his entire life — but it is *so* dismissive that it wraps around right past insensitive and comes back around to something incredibly truthful. Which is that each of them knows that they would throw away their own feelings, rights, needs, desires, plans, and lives in a heartbeat for each other, so it’s okay to just take instead of ask once in a while. It’s not very pretty or nice or kind or even laudable, it’s nothing that should ever be taught to your kids, it’s certainly not moral or respectful, it may not even be the right thing to do, but it’s honest. In this instance, it feels more honest and shows them the truth about themselves more vividly and fully and truthfully than a mature conversation about a problem ever could. (And not to stereotype or anything, but they *are* men, and deeply masculine men. They sometimes do things feminine women (like me) find bizarre, like their tendency to just not talk, but it often genuinely works for them. Masculine ways may cause a lot of problems because of their entrenched position of power, but on their own and unoppressively implemented, they are not inherently inferior to feminine ways.)

    Um…yeah. That was more me rambling about what I like about the lack of talking than a specific argument. Sorry for accidentally branching into writing a giant essay trashing a lot of moral philosophy and all…I usually don’t write such long comments either…

    • Miche Says:

      Holy camoly, Grevy’s Zebra ! These words: because Starsky has always had Ruth 1:16 in his veins when it comes to his relationship with Hutch… Yes, yes, yes!

      AND the entirety of your post hits home. There’s something profound in not wanting to change the way S&H behave with one another. It speaks directly to the crux of their relationship, they love each other, not in spite of anything, and not necessarily because of anything, they simply love each other in an all-encompassing way.

  4. Spencer Says:

    I disagree that Hutch made the (seemingly rash) decision of leaving the force without first consulting with Starsky. My impression of this scene was that this was a conversation they had had several times (Hutch: “Sometimes I just want to hurl this badge into the ocean”) and each had already thought about what he would do if the other actually quit. In fact, Starsky had a strong feeling that Hutch was going to do just that, which is why instead of going off to the movies, he came back to Hutch on the beach. It is also why Starsky does not attempt to dissuade Hutch from quitting (like Hutch did with Starsky in “Pariah”) and why Hutch does not bother to talk Starsky out of quitting (and destroying his career) along with him. They both already knew what the other would do when it came right down to it.

    • merltheearl Says:

      I get your point and I agree with it to some degree. I suppose my comments had to do with the fact we never witness this conversation, and neither character refers to such a conversation, ever. It’s easy to imagine they did, but I was going in what was onscreen. So much of this series depends upon fans filling in the blanks, which is part of the fun.

  5. Spencer Says:

    True. If this show would have been two hours instead of one – oh the missing scenes we could have enjoyed! (Perhaps the mysterious conversation that re-unites the team prior to the tag of “Starsky vs. Hutch.”) But I am enjoying re-watching this show now as an informed rather than a casual viewer.

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