Archive for May, 2012

Episode 88: Starsky vs. Hutch

May 21, 2012

Starsky and Hutch’s jealous quarrel over policewoman Kira interferes with finding a serial killer.

Kira: Joyce Ingalls, Joey Webster: Richard Lynch, Arlene: Topo Swope, Carol: Yvonne Craig, Madame Bouvet: Corinne Calvet, Susan: Susan Miller, Mr. Arnold: Frederic Cook, Minnie: Marki Bey. Written By: Rick Edelstein, Directed By: Peter Levin


Of all the episodes in the canon, this is the most troubling, and complex, and will probably take the longest to sort out. Not because the plot is difficult to decipher – in fact, as if to compensate it’s as simple as can be, recycled from bits and pieces of the two manias, Quadro and Disco, with “Death Notice” along for the ride – but because Hutch’s behavior throughout is so impenetrable. It’s almost as if you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Yes, there’s a killer close by, but the violence in Hutch seems far, far worse.

This is not the only time Starsky and Hutch have battled over the affections of a woman. In “The Action”, “Heroes”, “Foxy Lady”, “Rosey Malone”,“Class in Crime” and “Targets” to name a few, there is much light-hearted sparring, but it’s more about the chase than the capture, and more about each other than the woman. Sometimes during these horns-locking competitions you get the feeling it’s more competitive fun than anything else. This is the only example of one staking a claim on what the other already has, and staking it with both aggression and deeply felt but unexpressed shame. Ironic to the point of painful is the mirror-image of the time sunny Abigail accidentally wanders into the wrong camp (“Deadly Imposter”) with the merry who-cares dramatics of Starsky. For years Hutch has been knocking Starsky’s food, insulting his car and his clothes and slighting his intelligence, all in fun we know. Men have a complex and even admirable way of hiding real affection in plain sight through teasing and mock-fighting and Hutch is very good at this, but this threesome is not one of those times, a case of one-upmanship gotten out of hand. This is out-and-out betrayal. And worse, Hutch knows his transgression is wrong and is helpless to stop himself.

There is a strange sempiternal quality to this episode, as if it exists in some alternate universe in which decades and eras coalesce and clash. Hutch spends most of it looking like a “On the Waterfront” longshoreman in a pea coat and cap, and since most of the episode takes place at night there is a featureless gloom to the briefly seen exteriors that would make a howling coyote or gangster saloon car not out of place. Madame Bouvet is dressed in 1940s fashion – crimson lipstick, mink stole, pearls and vintage dresses – as if she walked out of a George Cuckor film.

This nod to earlier eras makes thematic sense, as taxi dance halls, in which men pay to dance with women, had its heyday back in the first decade of the twentieth century and by now are almost extinct. In these venues, men purchased tickets and presented them to each woman he wanted to dance with, and the tickets were redeemed by the end of the evening, with the woman getting a percentage of her take. It was frequently an innocent pastime although many women may have engaged sexually with their customers (it’s certainly encouraged here). There is now only one taxi dance hall in existence in Los Angeles, and it was at one time called the Roseland Roof. I wonder if the Golden Lady Ballroom is based on it.

One of the interesting aspects to the taxi dance hall is that, from its inception at the turn of the 19th century, it attracted a real mix of society, blue-collar workers, new immigrants and the socially isolated and disabled, plus a few toffs along for a bit of slumming. Joey Webster pretty well encompasses all these elements: he’s lonely, poor, an injured ex-serviceman on the margins of society.

The “Dancing Girls” post-it note signs slapped onto the building should be a clue that all is insubstantial, in danger of collapse.

This is the only episode to deal overtly with the Vietnam War. Starsky mentions being in the army (“The Plague”) which would have made him eligible for the latter stages of the conflict, but the horrors of the war have never been addressed until now (although Sonny MacPherson from “Survival” suffers from what they used to call shell-shock but is also consistent with the early stages of Alzheimer’s). This is a particularly relevant episode, as it deals with the aftermath of war on the psyches of the soldiers forced to fight it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not even defined in the years following the messy end of the Vietnam War but Webster may certainly be suffering its effects (although I hasten to add that homicidal violence is not one of the symptoms of this terrible condition).

Casting notes: Richard Lynch appears again as a psychotic who is both mentally and physically disabled (here, and in “Quadromania”). Normally such a recent appearance is jarring but he looks so different in both episodes he’s in I keep forgetting it’s the same actor.

This episode has some elements of a contemporary horror being played out in New York: the Son of Sam murders, which happened in the summer of 1977 and transfixed the nation. In that case, as in this episode, the killer is motivated by a hatred of women, lives alone and struggles with mental issues, is tortured by events in his past. Both David Berkowitz and this character were involved in the Vietnam War (Berkowitz peripherally), both stalk and kill women with a particular color of hair (Berkowitz generally went after long brunette hair, this guy goes after blondes), use letters and notes to taunt the police, and is captured due to a little bit of luck rather than skill. There’s even a dog involved (Sam’s dog in the Son of Sam case, and the one here).

The hostility between Starsky and Hutch has been brewing for some time by the time we join them, which makes it even more bitter. In earlier episodes we witness the initial spark of competitiveness – for example when the guys bicker over Chris Phelps in “Heroes” or Lisa Kendricks in “Foxy Lady” – because we meet her at the same time they do. Of course we know men can be competitive with each other over many things, and the affections of a woman is one of those things. But here the fighting has a tired, entrenched feel that is new and deeply troubling.

Hutch is immediately hostile when Starsky approaches. “You’re a little too late with a little too little,” he says. It’s worth noting Starsky doesn’t do anything to ignite Hutch’s aggression, instead wearily acknowledging it, like a song he’s heard over and over again. He seems victimized rather than antagonized – instead of saying something like “get your hands off my girlfriend” or even something lighter like “you sure are handsy today” all he does he shrug and try to talk about the case. This passivity will be useful to us later in the pivotal scene in Hutch’s apartment when we see that Starsky’s lack of engagement is part of the larger problem.

Kira is an interesting character. Because of her beauty – and is Joyce Ingalls a knockout or what – she is probably used to getting what she wants and when she wants it. She’s one of those maddening people who seem carefree and frank but in fact are manipulative, power-hungry, and insensitive. She slyly dispenses information on a need-to-know basis, keeping both Starsky and Hutch largely in the dark as to her motives, inclinations and beliefs. Personally, I think she’s turned on by danger and enjoys causing discord. However, I wonder if she is really intended to be as repulsive a person as we find her now; the average viewer today is more attuned to psychological nuances and can casually – if somewhat inaccurately – throw around terms like “borderline personality disorder” and “narcissist”, all terms that might apply to Kira. But that kind of awareness was not in the minds of the millions of internet-deprived people watching when this series originally aired, and they may have thought of her as more feisty than really liable in any sense of the word, less monster than “free spirit” with every right to act as she does.

Let’s speculate as to how Kira dropped like a flaming meteorite into the lives of Starsky and Hutch. Since Starsky and Kira have been dating a month, it seems unlikely she has been seconded for this particular “Golden Lady Killer” assignment from another department within Los Angeles. Neither Starsky nor Hutch seem to have any connection with other departments within the force (for instance, they know nothing about Lizzie Thorpe, a sergeant in Vice, even though as a woman detective she would be conspicuous). Their workplace socializing is insular, and this operation is only days old, which most likely means Kira is a new detective recently transferred from another division, possibly from another city altogether. Speculate on the troubles she causes, and has caused in the past, with the other males in the force, both here at BCPD and in other departments.

Starsky asks Kira “what has two eyes, two arms, and is crazy about you.” She says, “I give up.” Starsky says, “I wish you would.” Are we to imply from this they have yet to sleep together? If so, this serves to inflame the situation even more, if Hutch eventually sleeps with her first, thus adding sexual humiliation on top of Starsky’s anger and betrayal.

Starsky remarks that Hutch is supposed to be guarding Susan that night. Kira says “lucky Susan.” This is just one of many times Kira says something hurtful or tactless while smiling or laughing.

The police realize there’s a killer targeting blondes. How do they know this, since only two women have been killed? Later on he leaves a note. Has he left notes before describing his mission, including an obsession with hair color?

Hutch is staying at Kira’s house, “guarding” her. Starsky is supposed to be guarding Susan. So what is he doing at the station talking to Minnie?

Kira is not much of a cop if she can’t get away from an unarmed man with a dog.

Hutch lunges out of his hiding place to accost the dog walker, the lecherous Mr. Arnold who doesn’t deserve his beautiful German Shepherd, but he keeps his gun holstered as he shoves it into Arnold’s back. This is extremely eccentric on his part. Afterward, panting with adrenaline, he says “for a minute there, I thought we almost had him.” Really? And you left your gun in its holster? Not likely. What is Hutch playing at?

“What’s a Starsky?” Hutch says when Kira tries to ask him about their schedules. This is about as low as Hutch ever sinks and just hearing it is painful.

What does Minnie really mean when she tells Starsky, “Mother Minnie must have struck the missing chord”? Does she mean she’s hit the mark, or does it mean she’s uncovered something? Mixing metaphors causes more confusion than clarity. She then asks about Kira, “You carrying a torch, Starsk?” Carrying a torch means to feel un-reciprocated love, but Starsky and Kira are dating. It’s only recently Hutch has moved in between them, so carrying a torch isn’t exactly what this is. It’s jealousy, plain and simple. Minnie then asks, “Hey Starsk, is this thing for real with Kira, or are you just playing?” Starsky walks out the door without answering, mostly because he doesn’t talk about his private feelings but also because Minnie obviously isn’t expecting an answer because she yells it across a room crowded with other officers. What’s Starsky supposed to do, answer honestly with about eight sets of ears listening in?

When Minnie refers to herself as “Mother”, it pretty much underscores how she feels about her years-long quasi-flirtation with Starsky we have been watching with amusement in six separate episodes. As in, she has zero romantic inclinations. It also implies she may feel “motherly” not only to Starsky but to the squad room in general, that she is in some way endowed with extra powers of insight. It would be fun to watch the various meter maids and young female patrol officers benefiting from her brassy, smart-alecky wit and advice.

Here, and throughout the episode, is more of the symbolic thunder. Especially obvious is the scene in which Starsky waits in the Torino for the dancers to exit the ballroom. The thunder sounds are so abstract as to be part of the soundtrack.

Hutch, when he returns home to find Starsky sleeping on his couch, seems cheery enough. But there’s an edge that comes close to acute anxiety. He makes facile remarks and bangs around in his kitchen like he’s on top of the world but anyone can see how uncomfortable he is. From cruel jokes to cavalier attitude Hutch seems itchy, uncomfortable in his skin, burning with equal amounts of desire and guilt. The question is: why? Why Kira (Hutch would have his pick of any number of beautiful women), and why now (in the middle of a stressful case, with a lot on the line)? An answer to this would be extremely helpful as we navigate our way through these dark and dangerous waters.

Here, Starsky’s passivity is even more pronounced. Seemingly unable to directly confront his partner about his fears regarding Kira, he instead tries to talk about procedure and schedules. Hutch mocks him throughout until Starsky gives up and leaves. Hutch then, literally and figuratively, burns himself.

Hutch points out the spelling in the threatening note (“spy” and “dye”) and asks Dobey what he thinks it means. Dobey says “it means he’s a bad speller.” “No kidding,” says Hutch. No it doesn’t, people. Anyone, particularly a law enforcement professional, should recognize this as blatantly provocative, the writer of the note mocking the police by providing ciphers and hidden clues.

The idiocy continues: Hutch and Dobey force Mme. Bouvet out of the office, telling her “bonjour, bonjour”, which everyone knows is “hello, hello.” They should have been saying “au revior.” Was Hutch asleep at his desk the year he took French?

Starsky tells Kira, when she asks about his take on what’s going on, “I figure after eight years on the street, you learn to take things as they come … I figure you come into this life alone and you go out alone, in between try to experience everything as it comes, expect nothing, don’t take anything too seriously.” This may be a direct violation of what he would say to Hutch in regards to “me and thee”, even though he has often expressed similar feelings throughout the run of the series, presenting himself, particularly in contradiction to Hutch, as self-contained, lighthearted, accepting, and in need of very little. So why does it now sound so hollow? Starsky tells Kira, “I got over the possessive stage years ago.” This all sounds more like guarding against inevitable hurt rather than offering a heartfelt confession. So when Kira laughingly tells him he’s full of it, is she right?

We get a glimpse of Kira’s powers of persuasion when she tells Starsky she can see something in him no one else can. Apparently we are to believe she has x-ray vision, able to see through his “silly smoke-screen”. He’s testing her, and she can prove it: rather than a callous cop, apparently he has a “heart that’s so full of love it just lights up this entire room.” Starsky is impressed, and more than that, intensely gratified. He’s been down in the dumps so long – feeling second-best, betrayed and confused – and here someone making him feel special. Kira is plying her trade along with every other scammer with a cardboard sign and crystal ball promising to read your mind. For an intelligent person like Kira it doesn’t take much more than a combination of luck and keen observation to divine someone’s secrets, and Starsky’s secret is that he has become desperate for approval, to be told that he is a good person and worthy of love. For most people this is a basic requirement, nothing secretive about it, but Starsky is not most people. He’s never needed reassurance before. He’s always had the upper hand, and I’m guessing that upper hand applies to everything in his life: job, relationships, career. Look at the way brother Nick is the one begging for attention, the various girlfriends who are both pliable and agreeable; look at his sterling reputation, the awards and citations. This is a man who has set his own pace in the world. It’s not that life has been kinder to him than others, and it’s not that he hasn’t faced terrible adversity, because he has. But he has always faced it on his own terms. My opinion is that his partnership with Hutch is so profoundly important because it’s the one aspect of his life in which he is not compelled by either external or internal forces to be stronger and better. He has found someone who is so equal to him that they might as well be one. But now his world view has been broken, he has lost the upper hand and has become vulnerable to self-doubt for maybe the first time in his life. So he is forced to look outside himself for assurance, which Kira seizes on with a kind of predatory skill. This may not have been her primary motivation but my belief is she relishes the idea of being the one with insight, whose loving encouragements seem almost supernaturally sensitive. It’s easy to control the situation you yourself have created, isn’t it? What happens is nothing less than a form of emotional enslavement. It’s an old conjuror’s trick and an especially cruel one, and boy is Kira ever an expert at it.

If Kira plays the tender and sweet card with Starsky, she plays a different game with Hutch. With him, she goes straight for seduction (lots of grabbing and whispering, and she shakes out her hair for him in a later scene). Does she guess this is what will work better with him or she realize there’s no out-performing Hutch in the cerebral department?

Hutch is preening in front of a mirror at the Golden Lady Ballroom, and something drops from his pocket. What is it?

Joey Webster obviously attends the ballroom very often, possibly every night. And yet he’s never under suspicion. He talks about his disability benefits and plays games with the girls – pool and backgammon – rather than dancing with them. Does his disability – and hinted-at sexual impotence – make him less of a suspect to the women, and the police?

It’s a treat to see legendary actor William Sanderson as an impatient denizen of the dance floor.

Hutch says he hasn’t seen this side of Starsky before. “An efficient cop?” Starsky says. “No, a stuffed shirt,” Hutch says nastily. But later Hutch calls himself old-fashioned, which any thesaurus will tell you is just a variation on stuffed shirt.

Hutch watches Starsky drive off to guard Kira. He says to himself in the car, “Keep your mitts off, Starsky.” Now, we can have fun with this by pretending he’s means for Kira to leave Starsky alone – in other words, excising the comma from his statement – but in fact what he’s really praying for is that Starsky stay away from Kira. And knowing they are dating, how does he justify his own demands?

The next thing Hutch says aloud – and he really is an entertaining self-talker (“Bloodbath”, “Fatal Charm”, et al) – is “Six-foot-two, eyes of blue.” Of course the reference is to the lyric of the popular song by Ray Henderson, but he is talking about himself. We know this because he has added a foot to the original lyric’s reference of height. The question is – why?

Starsky follows Kira, Hutch follows Susan. Unbeknownst to them, Joey follows the one girl wearing the wig. Obviously Starsky and Hutch would both know there is a third blonde dancer here, unless this girl lied to police, which seems to me to be extremely unlikely, given her life hangs in the balance. So why isn’t she being protected?

Webster continues his imaginary surveillance of blondes, talking to himself while sitting on his bed polishing a boot, military style. His intensity at a feverish peak, the camera pulls in to him as he continues polishing while verbally speculating on his quarry, and his motions become masturbatory as he speaks. This is a good detail emphasized by director Peter Levin.

Joey’s fixation stems from being betrayed by a honey trap while in Vietnam, a blonde infiltrator he says mocked his manhood and then plunged a knife into his back (yes, yes, the parallels to Starsky’s situation is remarkable). But why would “blondness” be such a dominant factor in his story, particularly as we’re talking about a country whose citizens have uniformly black hair? “No blondes in Vietnam,” he later says to Kira, “unless they dye their hair.” Here, his reasoning breaks down. Where would Vietnamese women get dye during a war (they would most likely wear wigs, if at all), and wouldn’t bleached hair make them look mighty odd if they’re Asian and supposed to melt into the background? How does that work, do you think? Isn’t irregularity an anathema to a spy?

What most likely happened is Joey engaged the services of a Vietnamese prostitute and probably instructed her to wear a blonde wig (otherwise, why would she, since such an aberration might turn off more customers than it turned on). The wig, I’m guessing, was meant to mitigate her “otherness” as an Asian, helping her assume the role of someone he was more familiar with, possibly a girl back home. Whether she was an actual VC spy or not remains unclear. It’s also likely he was already acting strangely – strung out, which was very common in Vietnam, or something else – and got rough with her, and she stabbed him in self defense. The spy stuff, therefore, is pure paranoia, and nothing else.

Using these suppositions, we can now draw parallels between Webster’s spurt of violence, brought on by psychosis, and the romantic complications suffered by Starsky and Hutch. Webster is unable to distinguish between the original girl who betrayed him (whether her slight was imaginary or real), the “spy” he encountered years later in wartime (whether imaginary or real), and the innocent girls at the taxi dance hall (whose “innocence”, in the loosely-defined world of prostitution, is also in question). In his fevered mind everything boils down to immorality of women, their basic untrustworthiness. To him, every woman is waiting for the moment to side a knife between his ribs. While you could easily put Kira in this category, I think that’s immaterial to the important correlation between Webster’s situation and Starsky and Hutch. Which is the breakdown of trust. And I think it has nothing to do with sexual betrayal, and although sexual betrayal is presented here as the catalyst, it is actually the fallout. The cracks have to do with any long term relationship that has become stagnant, vulnerable to outside forces (in Starsky and Hutch’s case, the unending bleakness of their caseload leading to depression), culminating the terrifying fear that the one person you thought you knew may not have your back. Which is every bit a delusion as the one Webster is suffering.

In what may be the single most challenging, complex scene in the entire series, Starsky and Hutch have their talk about Kira. However, it’s not really a conversation, because men in general and Starsky and Hutch in particular are not very good at that. In a way it’s an inverse of the confrontation following the murder of Gillian. In that instance Hutch punches Starsky, which allows for an explosive release of rage and grief, and Starsky responds by holding him. Physical confrontation allows them both to reach a settlement quickly and naturally. Here, they attempt to use language, which puts Hutch at an advantage, but barely. Both flounder in lies, deceit, taunts and inadequate explanations. Nothing is solved, or even properly defined. Starsky uses the shocking word “love” to describe his feelings, the first and only time in the series. Hutch is astonished – not by the idea Starsky might love someone (there’s Terry, after all) but because he spoke the word out loud. In this scene, as in the scene in Gillian, what is not said carries far more weight than what is said. I just wish both men would pay attention to that side of things. Here, though, it isn’t physical but rather largely symbolic gestures. Case in point: Hutch spits out the coffee Starsky gives him, recognized in all cultures as the ultimate in disrespect. Starsky then brushes Hutch’s sleeve at a nearly-invisible coffee splash, which is basically affection in disguise. Hutch bolts and Starsky says – shyly, sorrowfully, and most importantly completely inadequately – “thanks for stopping by.”

Why do you suppose Hutch laughs and repeats it when Starsky admits he was jealous? It seem, oddly, like relief. As if he feels he has finally broken through a wall.

At first Starsky breaks into Hutch’s place to talk about Kira, and now Hutch breaks into Starsky’s place for the same reason. Both private spaces are violated, since neither man has been invited, and yet both are welcomed, at least initially. In both scenes, Hutch throws something at Starsky to begin proceedings. Both offer the other coffee, neither drinks what is offered. In both scenes, the partner who “gets” Kira is cheerful, while the frustrated other is prosecutorial. Both use work as an excuse to leave. In the first instance, Starsky refuses to “work out whatever the problem is”. In the second, he also refuses. Both times his refusal makes things worse for Hutch.

The script by series veteran writer and director Rick Edelstein (who wrote other fine episodes like “Manchild on the Streets”, “Partners”, “Body Worth Guarding” and “Black and Blue”, among others) is like a treasure map, with many tantalizing clues to be deciphered, half of which are in code (and with significant sections torn away). Here is what the map actually says: Hutch wants what Starsky has, and takes it away from him, with predictably terrible results. But is this the correct interpretation or an arrow pointing in the wrong direction? Even though my primary supposition is that Starsky and Hutch are at the end of a long depressive drought, I suspect there are other ways of looking at it, and I offer four very different paths to follow, even if they get you lost in this dark, dark forest.

1. The Suicidal Proposition: Hutch has been watching his partner spiral into an all-powerful infatuation with an unstable woman. Possibly unconsciously, he understands Kira as a destructive element who must be erased from the equation. So he sabotages the affair even though it may ruin their relationship forever because he feels he is saving him.

2. The Substitute: Hutch is using Kira as a conduit or surrogate as a way to get to Starsky, whom he feels is slipping beyond his reach. By sharing Kira, he can at least have a part of what he really wants. Power, indivisibility, whatever you want to call it. (A variant of this is The Holy Acrimony, in which Hutch finally snaps under a years-long resentment over Starsky’s peaceable self-containment, which has found its definitive form in the Perfect Girlfriend.) In both these scenarios, Hutch deliberately wrecks something dear to Starsky as a way of convincing himself he retains ultimate power to define and control the relationship.

3. The Last Staw hypothesizes Hutch is having a nervous breakdown, and so his actions are those of someone not in their right mind. Joey Webster, therefore, becomes a kind of mirror of his own struggles as he suffers seizures of murderous rage against those he feels have deceived him. Joey is still “on the job”, believing he is carrying out orders from a higher power, and so is Hutch, succumbing to a delusion that he must hurt an innocent person as a way of expunging his own darkness, and to right an invisible wrong. Hutch is on his own blond-killing spree, only the blond he wants to kill is himself. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds: Hutch throughout this episode is irrational, emotionally unbalanced, and agitated.

4. Lastly is The Svengali, which takes both Starsky and Hutch right out of the equation. Here the blame lies solely with Kira, who has engineered this entire conflict through an extended campaign of subliminal suggestion. This too isn’t altogether implausible, as a cunning psychopath can manipulate people into doing things they would never do otherwise. Starsky and Hutch are overtired, depleted by their recent battles with the department, and enter Kira, bored and looking for excitement.

“I’m having a hard time handling it!” Hutch shouts at Kira, when asked to suggest she is more like a man than Hutch is prepared to admit. He then says “I’m a one-man, one-woman kind of guy.” Is this true? What would Kathy Marshall say, or Sally Hagen, or the more than one woman he admits making love to in a single week? How does Hutch define “serious”, anyway? This “old-fashioned” attitude has been brought up more than once: he tells ex-wife Vanessa the same thing.

Kira says Starsky and Hutch are “two very different human beings” it’s possible to love “in a different way”. This is an interesting distinction for her to make and the absolute antithesis of my own thoughts on the matter, since I think Kira loves both men in the same way: that is, as a narcissist does. Satisfaction can only be achieved through recognition of, and submission to, one’s own powers. But of course it could also imply Kira is more maternal with Starsky, and more of a mistress with Hutch, if that’s how she wants to play it. Is she protective with one, and adventurous with the other? Does she see this as two different kinds of love? This extreme kind of compartmentalization does make sense with someone with her pathology.

Kira is wild-eyed and excited when she proclaims her love for both Starsky and Hutch. Rather than some quasi-liberal free-love philosophy this hints at a deviant sexual kink. Hutch tells her she’s confusing, which is the understatement of the century. She then tells one more whopper of a lie: “life’s a lot simpler than you’d like to admit to.”

Starsky stops abruptly in traffic, causing a tailgaiter to honk belligerently. The honking goes on for some time. The other guy is using the car horn to shout “you’re an asshole!” in a way Starsky is never able to, using any means. Hutch behaves horrendously. This is not up for debate. But why does Starsky play it like he does? Typically a masterful alpha-male type, throughout this episode he prevaricates, hesitates and otherwise holds himself in check. Never once does he accuse his partner or demands Kira be exclusive.

Dobey seems to be suggesting every regular of the ballroom will be hauled in for questioning following the murder. This is predicated on the idea the murderer will immediately immediately return, which is a little optimistic.

Procedural Problems: Harding, the scene-of-crimes investigator, shows Hutch a piece of rubber from the house. He’s carrying it in his bare hands and it isn’t even in a plastic bag.

It’s a nice detail when the shot goes from a closeup of a grenade to Starsky angrily pulling the tab on a beer. Although it isn’t exactly wise to look as homicidal as he does if you’re trying to blend into the dancing crowd.

“You really dance good, you know,” says one of the dancers. This goes against everything we know about Hutchinson, which means either Hutch has been practicing (which I would pay to see) or the dancer is trying to get a good tip for her services.

It’s great that Starsky and Hutch must work together to disarm Webster, one to deliver a kick, one to throw the grenade away (although one hopes no one’s walking on the street at that moment).

The grenade goes off and Kira immediately crawls to Joey without a look to Starsky or Hutch in order to comfort him. What might this tell Starsky and Hutch? And what does it tell us? When Kira sees Joey injured and covered in dust she shows more compassion in that moment than she has during the entire episode. My guess is there’s a substantial egomaniacal element here: when someone is in pain she feels compelled to prove she alone can make it better.

Tag: as with the episode as a whole, the tag is excessively complicated. There is a distinct shift in energy from the gloom to lightness. The pacing is quickened, the jokes have begun. Starsky tells Huggy, “I have a beautiful blond coming to meet me.” Enter Hutch, whose beauty and blondness is duly noted by Huggy. Both men are dressed exactly alike in black leather jackets, black turtlenecks and jeans – this should tell us something – but appear to still be in confrontation mode. Hutch makes exactly the same drinks request to Huggy, right down to the wording. The antagonism, we soon discover, is a bit of theater the two have cooked up between them, although the twinship of clothing and drink orders seems to be unconscious. For an episode in which a lot is made of concepts of separation and difference and a partnership torn asunder, the fact that they appear in the tag as the same person is profoundly significant – and very funny. But the question is why? Why the elaborate set-up, when Kira isn’t even there? Is this for their own amusement? For Huggy’s? Or is it to rile Huggy to the extent he will inadvertently play his part when it comes time to deceive Kira?

It appears they have, outside our periphery, already reconciled. How this happened we are never to know and it’s maddening to be left out of this conversation. What excuses would Hutch have to offer to make Starsky forgive him?

“Whatever happens, I can handle it,” Hutch says. “So can I,” Starsky responds in his Bogey voice.

Kira enters, looking manic, and the play begins. There is a bewildering repartee with Huggy still in the translator’s chair, in which Hutch quotes Shakespeare’s plaintive “The Merchant of Venice” and then Starsky tells Kira, “We’re tired of being treated like objects, having our lives determined for us by women.” Hutch responds, “Loved for our bodies and not for our minds.”

This statement is very interesting, and one wonders if this just posturing for Kira, if they really feel this way, or if they’re playing a joke on her by endorsing this traditionally feminine complaint in the same way Kira endorsed the traditional masculine one of adulterous behavior.

All this back-and-forthing causes Kira’s power to leak away like air from a punctured tire. “We decided if there’s a decision to be made,” Starsky says – narrowing his eyes in what seems like a Clint Eastwood impression – “then we’re going to make it.” We, note – not you. The circle has closed again, all outsiders forced away, the men have the big stick now. Also, this is the third shift in “voice” in as many minutes: Eastwood, Bogart and Shakespeare have all been used to convey information. This is another hint that plain old talking is very difficult for both men, which makes me believe Hutch probably secured Starsky’s forgiveness by arm wrestling.

Kira asks how the problem can be solved. Hutch says, “after a long deliberation we’ve finally settled it.”
They both get up, and turn on each other like a duel in a western. They come close to each other, then turn to Kira. Now, here is where it gets murky – again. Are they suggesting she take them both simultaneously? Or are they asking her to choose one or the other? Call me dense, but I honestly cannot tell which it is. Kira looks at them. “No,” she says. “No.”
This firm refusal (is it my imagination or is it tinged with fear?) goes against her earlier behavior, as she seemed to have no trouble at all loving both men in “different ways”. There is a somewhat comical suggestion this is a purely sexual offer (a sort of let’s go, right now, there’s a room above The Pits we can use) but I doubt this is the case – it seems too simple in an episode as complex as this one is. Whatever it is, it is something they know Kira would never accept. Her vehement response is not only expected, but desired.
“Okay,” they say happily, and leave with arms around each other.


Episode 87: Targets Without a Badge, Part 3

May 2, 2012

Allison May (Laura Anderson): Hilary Thompson, Thomas May (Uncle Frank): Bert Remsen, Judge McClellan: Peter MacLean, James Gunther: William Prince, Dep. DA Clayburn: Ken Kercheval, Agent Smithers: Richard Herd, Agent Waldheim: Angus Duncan, Soldier: Robert Tessier, Karen: Lee Bryant, Bates: Alex Courtney, Policewoman: Barbara Ann Walters, Mr. Gore: Darryl Zwerling, Miss Evers: Catherine Campbell, Flower Girl: Sandie Newton, Blaze: Gino Conforti, Nancy: Joan Roberts, Fred Oates: Peter Jason, Marty: Chuck Hicks, Alex: Charles Picerni, Mardean: Troas Hayes, Mayor: Dave Shelley, Mrs. Swayder: LaWanda Page, Dodds: Ben Young. Written By: Joe Reb Moffly, Steven Nalevansky and Jeffrey Bloom, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

With the current economic crisis in the United States and around the world this episode, and the story arc as a whole, is curiously prophetic. Unscrupulous mortgage dealers are not your typical evildoers in this series or on television generally, and so it’s fascinating the writers decided to concentrate on this silent and deadly enemy as the apex of the crime meridian. Yes, drugs were the first symptom, but the disease itself is far worse – and so much greater – than that. James Gunther’s financial scheme is reponsible for the death, not of body, but soul, in the form of poverty, humiliation, economic vulnerability and loss of faith in the democratic and judicial process.

Starsky and Hutch have never needed Huggy more than they do now. They’ve been stripped of all authority and are aware they’re sinking deeper into a miasma of a case. So why does Hutch treat Huggy in such an imperious manner? He demands Huggy get a suit and go rooting around in people’s private business with nothing more than a terse “Car. Suit. Salesman. Refinancing.” Unless he knows Huggy would be embarrassed by anything as mushy as a thank you, this seems like questionable behavior.

The Man Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: In the following scene Hutch redeems himself by approaching Mardean with his usual emotional directness, but here his gentle voice is particularly effective as he urges her to talk about “how we felt, how we still feel.” He’s not afraid to face difficult things head-on but somehow he does it in a way that makes the other person feel intimately included rather than confronted. Sometimes I think Hutch would make as great a therapist as he is a detective, someone who understands and has experienced what it is to be in torment, but who is not the least bit squeamish about it. In this way he manages to get her to their side by being, I think, authentically himself: powerful, insightful and brave.

It’s another fun-filled trip to the Marlborough Health Club (“The Action”), and Starsky and Hutch’s four – count ‘em, four – trips to a sauna as part of a criminal investigation (“Pilot”, “Murder on Voodoo Island”, “The Action” and here).

Starsky and Hutch should have stayed behind to question Alex and Marty thoroughly after the beating at the Trojan Spa. As mere civilians, are they afraid of getting into trouble? Are Alex and Marty too beat up to be coherent? What’s the reason for this seemingly lack of common sense? Still, the guys deserve credit for fighting in nothing but towels, especially Hutch, whose cover-up during the brief conversation beforehand is what I would call in dangerously negligent.

Am I missing something? Where did the hillbilly truck come from?

Hutch comments to Starsky, “It’s a pity that even after four years, it doesn’t get any better.” To what is Hutch referring? Time as cops? Being yelled at again by federal agents? Their contracts with Aaron Spelling?

The agents are easily dismissed by the guys, who suggest they get a warrant. This is the first indication that being freelancers without the badge is, in fact, to their benefit.

“I’m all for doing my part to support mass transit, but this is ridiculous”, crabs Hutch as they exit yet another bus. They are then subjected to two more so-called humiliations: the crappy truck is towed, and the street cleaner douses them in water. This merry-go-round of different vehicles, all worse than the last (culminating with the pimp-mobile), is an interesting subplot. The writers seem to think it’s important to divest Starsky and Hutch of the Torino just as things get really bad. This begs the question: is this missing Torino (shiny, fast, eye-catching, robust) an instrument of both literal and figurative power? Without it, they seem comically at the mercy of whatever degradation the world throws at them.

Just how does Huggy pilfer the stationery from Capricorn Mortgage? This extraordinary bit of detective work is never explained. Also, despite what Huggy says, isn’t it unusual for a simple piece of company letterhead to have on it a list of both the board of directors, founding members and operation officers?

When Huggy makes a racial comment to “Blondie” regarding his chances of having a relative on the corporate board it seems to come out of nowhere, but perhaps is understandable.

Cringe-o-Meter is high when Huggy sets his glass of orange juice down on pool table’s felt, a pool table no-no.

It’s the same female police officer with the attitude problem again, and here the merry background music alerts us to the fact that this is supposed to be the amusing snippet of the show. It’s deeply irritating, but salvaged by how Starsky and Hutch respond to the situation, which is entirely in character. Starsky reverts to harmless flirt, Hutch to more direct sarcasm.

“You guys are a perfect match,” Huggy says when Hutch complains about the furry dashboard on their giant black limo/pimpmobile. Does he mean Hutch and the car? Hutch and the fur? Hutch and Starsky? Is he implying that Hutch has a tacky side?

Given the car, Starsky immediately assumes he’s the driver; Hutch assumes he’s the passenger. What does this say about their partnership, and their relationship as a whole?

Starsky comes to a complete halt while sitting in the driver’s seat. Hutch digs at him a little to get him going, but until the phone call jolts him into action Starsky seems to be semi-comatose. It’s one of those odd-but-fascinating moments that makes this show so enjoyable.

Starsky and Hutch are stood up by Thomas May at the Trojan Spa at 10:15 pm. Yet it isn’t until lunchtime in front of Rutt’s Hutt that they think of going to see May, and even that is because of Soldier’s phone call. Why don’t they go roust him sooner? Do they feel guilt an earlier visit may have saved May’s life? Or they may have gotten info from him that would have solved the case differently, or faster? As well, the unpleasant question remains: did Thomas May set up Starsky and Hutch to be murdered? Would he have done such a thing?

Soldier is at a public phone booth, yet he’s nonchalantly polishing a gun with wicked silencer on it in full view of any passer-by.

How do Starsky and Hutch gain entry into the May home? It could be a case where utter confidence opens doors, but more likely it’s the warm relationship they have nurtured with the uniforms at the crime scene.

Hutch has to be ordered to remove his hat when talking to the bitchy desk officer, but when seeing Thomas May’s body he immediately, and respectfully, takes it off.

Thomas May is ostensibly a suicide, and only moments have passed since the shooting occurred, yet Captin Dobey is already there. Two issues arise: one, just how would the shooting be discovered so fast, unless a neighbor overheard the shot? Solider would have to use a gun owned by May to do the job, a gun without a silencer. But this is a guess, because is no hysterical witness at the scene. And two, Dobey’s presence may be result of the FBI informing him that May is a person of interest, and therefore his death is immediately suspicious and potentially calamitous. But we learn later the FBI brass has no knowledge of May or his troubles. This, for all intents and purposes, is a mundane everyday suicide. So who tipped Dobey off?

Gunther shows a deeply unsettling contempt for his lieutenant Bates throughout their stilted conversation. You can almost see the revulsion, a fact that will come in handy in the final episode. Later, they have an extraordinary scene together in which Gunther snaps his fingers as a substitute for speaking.

I hope Dobey does something more constructive than saying “and so’s an old man lying dead in his living room, he’s real. Real dead.” He knows Starsky and Hutch better than anyone. Do they sit down and hash out the case in an attempt to make sense of the whole thing, or does Dobey dismiss them as over-imaginative kooks? It better not be the latter.

Hutch feels the case went bad because they did everything people told them not to do. One thing he doesn’t blame is Starsky, nor does Starsky appear to blame Hutch. Instead Hutch is more interested in analyzing the big picture. This is his particular strength – Starsky is more of a details man – but are his conclusions correct when he blames them both for going where they shouldn’t? Yes, their actions accelerated things, and yes Gunther’s sticky antennae was alerted to movements in the air. But wasn’t all they did necessary, even laudable? Given more information they may have made smarter decisions – hustling Thomas and Allison into hiding, for example – but that doesn’t guarantee the police department would have cooperated or that Judge McClellan would have been stopped, or even that Thomas May would have done what they asked of him.

When the guys confer quietly at Hutch’s apartment, they share a beer.

It’s great that when Starsky and Hutch burst in to the agents’ office they are dressed like their iconic selves, in a way we haven’t seen since they lost their jobs: leather jackets, collars aggressively up, and jeans. For a couple of seasoned federal agents, Smithers and Waldheim are pussycats when guns are pushed into their backs: they get scared and spill the beans without hesitation. They should have been thinking: what are these morally conscientious ex-detectives going to do, murder us in cold blood inside a federal building? I think not. Apparently both men think this is not only possible, but probable.

Filming notes: Glaser got so carried away while filming this intense episode he smashed Angus Duncan’s hand through a window during one scene, requiring twenty-five stitches.

When Dobey is stuck with the food bill at the Pits, can he write it off as a business expense? Would this make Starsky and Hutch his newest snitches?

Clayburn gives Starsky and Hutch mixed messages about the difficulty of proving McClellan’s guilt. First he says it will “be hard.” Then he says it “won’t be hard.” Did he say these two conflicting statements because he is stressed out and having to think on his feet? Or is it something else? Seeing how most lawyers in this series prove to be sneaky and crooked, why are Starsky and Hutch so trusting of Clayburn – Hutch in particular? Is it because he is so casual in his manner, nearly to the point of goofiness? He allows his secretary to boss him around. He is perennially late for appointments. He is colloquial in his speech. He flatters both Starsky and Hutch a lot.

It’s good to see the Mandalay Heights fair grounds again (“The Psychic”).

It’s touching when both hesitate when Soldier demands one of them be a hostage, but not because neither of them want to do it but because both of them want to spare the other.

Following the shoot-out, a touch on Starsky’s midsection is all Hutch needs to do to convey an enormous amount of emotion.

Why don’t Starsky and Hutch wonder why Clayburn is so anxious to implicate McClellan when the two men have been “very close personal” friends for the past ten years?

Why, oh why, when they finally do the matinée – something Starsky has been pining for since part one – is it a cheesy porn flick? Is it because of their strange job interview? And why on earth would two – three – men see something like that together? Isn’t that a more solitary pastime? When Starsky comments, “I could have been in this movie,” regarding “The Story of X,” is he more excited by the thought of simply being an actor, or of being an actor in a porn film? What does Hutch think of this? Also, the absence of the patented Hutch Sneer is particularly noticeable: all he does is note that Starsky is “much better looking than that guy (on screen)”. You can just barely make out Starsky (or Glaser’s) grin as Hutch pulls him from the seat.

Hutch is off the force but introduces himself to Sheriff Oates as a detective. Oates asks Starsky and Hutch if they are back on the force. Starsky answers evasively, “we’re trying to keep a low-profile.” Was the use of the word “detective” a slip of the tongue or are Starsky and Hutch using the title to get information from Oates? Peter Jason as the star-struck officer gives this tiny cameo a great deal of charm and wit.

Starsky, Hutch and Dobey need to catch Clayburn before he leaves the country. Dobey says Clayburn’s flight, “is a legitimate worry, the way rumors have been flying.” What rumors? If Dobey has heard something, has he bothered to share it, or does he keep it from them because they aren’t cops anymore?

Why does Bates know Soldier has been dead at least two days, but hasn’t told Gunther? Is it a weird sort of power play?

For all the time it took for Hutch to tell Nancy who to call and what to say, he should have just done it himself. It appears to be some sort of punishment for her sedition.

Starsky, don’t pick up the discarded gun with your bare hands, please.

Is it me, or is the revelation that DA Clayburn is on the dark side one of the bitterest plot turns in the entire series? He’s a genuinely attractive and quirky character. Plus, Hutch really likes him.

One of Gunther’s most senior people is arrested at the airport, the mysterious Karen. One suspects, from her ice-cold manner, she won’t break under questioning. But it would be interesting to speculate what explanation she gives for shooting Clayburn, if anything.

The avuncular mayor’s speech when returning Starsky and Hutch’s badges seems like it should end with, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” One of my favorite details in this episode is how that beaming public face shuts down when the cameras are off, which is remarkably chilling given the happy vibe in the scene. He then mixes up their names, and also gives out the wrong badges. Hutch is amused. “You’re never gonna believe this,” he says to Starsky, and it’s a weary joke, as if in acknowledgement of the many times it’s happened.

The mayor says Starsky and Hutch “challenged a powerful enemy and emerged victorious.” Allison asks them, “Well, didn’t you?” Starsky replies, “Who knows.” Why isn’t anyone else thinking this same thing? It’s obvious someone other than Clayburn killed the judge and Thomas May. This conspiracy has too many tentacles to think it’s so easily wrapped by with the arrest. Joking about a vacation and pulling poor Allison in two directions is a moment of simply blowing off steam and not an indication either detective thinks this case is over.

Clothing notes: Starsky is wearing two rings on his left pinkie rather than one. Hutch wears his tusk in combination with the sun-and-star necklace. It’s sad to see those Adidas gone but they were destined to wear out eventually. Both wear brown earth-shoe crepe sole runners. Hutch wears three extraordinary hats in three of the four parts of this story. Here, it is a cowboy hat.