Episode 20: Running, revisited

Sharman Crane: Jan Smithers, Vernon DuBois: Robert Viharo, Ella: Lana Wood, Kiko: Guillermo San Juan, Texas Kid: Don Plumley, Packrat: Martin Azarow, Orange: Connie Lisa Marie. Written By Michael Fisher, Directed By: Don Weis.

This is a fine episode because it has many of the best elements of the series: interesting minor characters, good action sequences, rich psychological content, and best of all we see a stable, contented partnership with little or no tension. Starsky makes a risky move and Hutch, other than pointing out the pitfalls, accepts his decision and helps him as best as he can. The action never flags, the dialogue is good, the subject matter is fresh and contemporary (celebrity with a substance abuse problem, fresh as it gets).

This episode is about running away, and running to. Kiko initially runs from Hutch, only to return. Sharman self-medicates to run from her grief, and uses her respite at Starsky’s place to run from decisions about her life. She is running from someone who wants to do her harm, and in the end runs toward her waiting family. Starsky is running from duty, choosing to help in a more personal way. He may also be focusing on Sharman’s distress to run from his own secret wounds. Hutch, (ironically the only one who actually physically runs, as he is a dedicated jogger) stands with both feet firmly on the ground.

As low-life thief Vernon creeps through the hotel it’s difficult – almost impossible – to place Robert Viharo from his future role as the maniacally charming pseudo-Irishman in “Collector”. They look like different people. This series often recycles its guest stars: you can count on at least half the roster being repeat visitors. As previously stated elsewhere, this can be irritating, mostly because it interferes with our suspension of disbelief when someone from one episode is recognizable from another (the most egregious example being Karen Carlson, because of the heavy emotional investment viewers are asked to make in “Gillian”). Here, along with Viharo, Lana Wood as Vernon’s girlfriend will pop up again as Sid in “Ninety Pounds of Trouble”, but I have no issue with the casting because they are both so different from their future appearances.

This episode is about the restorative powers of love, and how crucial it is not to give up on people during hard times, and the scene with Kiko underscores the theme beautifully. Hutch has been a volunteer big brother to Kiko for two years when he’s summarily rejected because Kiko, approaching the acutely self-conscious teenage years, is embarrassed he’s a cop. It’s great how Hutch doesn’t attempt to talk him back into the relationship at all, and nor does he lay a guilt trip like someone else might, the self-pitying ” what about me?” attitude which only makes situations like this one worse, because it suggests the child has both the power and the awareness to fix the situation. Instead, Hutch is respectful, and lets Kiko make his own decisions, gives valuable advice (“It’s just about time that you find out who your real friends are”) and trusts that things will turn out all right.

One gets the feeling Hutch is driving his car, insisting on it, because he doesn’t want the flashy Torino gliding around the canals looking for a bunch of kids. He may think it’s too visually pungent, too much a symbol of masculine authority, or he may not want it to distract from his gentle message.

Hutch shares the easygoing attitude of many – an attitude long changed – when he doesn’t seem to notice, or care, that Kiko is playing with a knife.

Starsky is hard-hearted about Kiko’s defection from Hutch’s tutelage – or, more precisely, he appears accepting, even dismissive of it – which ties in with the fact that he himself can often act like a child, especially with Hutch (“Hey! Look at those ducks!” he cries out while they’re driving). He takes this role because Hutch is always (or is allowed to be, in this complicated partnership) the long-suffering adult. The irony is, of course, that it’s Starsky who goes the extra mile for someone else in this episode, holding on even when when the vulnerable subordinate refuses his ministrations.

There’s a nice shot of the handmade bumper-sticker on the LTD, first seen in the previous episode: “Cops Need Love Too”. Unusually plaintive for Hutch, and not great for undercover work.

Dobey’s explosions into the phone when being bothered for snacks are especially funny because neither Starsky nor Hutch give any indication they play a role in this elaborate practical joke. They don’t even privately grin at each other. It’s all straight – until the end of the episode.

The West Side Psycho has committed seventeen burglaries and three homicides in thirty days? This makes him a seriously deranged, high-profile criminal in anyone’s books. It always seems strange to me that there isn’t more of a city-wide effort to find him. Rather, his case is thrown to Starsky and Hutch along with petty shoplifters and small time hoods. Is this lack of interest because he targets the poor?

Why does this burglar also commit murder, and three times no less? The script tells us he kills because his victims surprise him in the act and therefore could identify him to police, but what about the nurse or lab worker in the first scene? She’s oblivious to his presence, her back is to the door; he could easily make good his escape before she even saw him. The killing is not necessary. It keeps him from getting away with the loot, dramatically increases his chances of getting caught, and apparently rape is not part of his plans. Is he so panicky and illogical because he’s strung out? Also, if he wanted to avoid being identified he could wear a mask and gloves; he does neither.

Vernon is not what you’d call smart. He’s stealing to feed his drug habit, but he’s knocking off rooms in a fleabag hotel because, it’s what, easier than a suburban house with porch lights and better locks? At the Leland Hotel people are so poor they’re extremely unlikely to have much in the way of cash or belongings, so Vernon has to rob three times as many people to get even a meager take.

When he sees Sharman’s diamond bracelet why doesn’t he assume it’s just costume junk, given the dismal surroundings? And if he knew it was real, wouldn’t be bypass someone like Packrat and hold out for a better offer from someone higher up the food chain?

“You still on a downer because of that kid?” Starsky asks Hutch. “Listen, why don’t you take me on a camping trip?” Hutch snaps back at him but Starsky’s method of distraction seems to work: note the smile that Hutch tries to suppress. Of course Hutch eventually does take him camping, and what happens? Witches!

If we needed any more evidence of the respect the guys pay to all people, even those outside the margins, see how Hutch carefully – and with some tenderness – drapes a cloth over Packrat’s body in the aftermath of the shooting.

It’s a nice cut between Starsky’s admiring “she had class. Always did, always will” to the sight of the bedraggled, hollow-eyed Sharman staggering into the street.

It’s another lovely cameo (last seen in “Losing Streak”) by the eccentric Orange, a working girl who never goes anywhere without her loyal Sandy, which might make a lot of her clients uncomfortable, much in the same way her assuming the role as a child to elicit sex makes me uncomfortable.

You might ask how Sharman gets into her room without the key she dropped at Frieta’s, but of course she got into all this trouble in the first place because of habitually leaving her door unlocked. Because she places no value on herself she doesn’t value her space either, although she does kick up a pretty good fuss when attacked, which shows there is a shred of self-respect in there somewhere.

The girl (and the episode) was originally named “Jennifer”, but the writers wanted an instantly recognizable name and ended up borrowing the name of series producer Joseph Naar’s daughter, Sharman. Otherwise Starsky would not have picked up on the engraved name so fast; there can’t be too many Sharmans running around.

They pull up in front of the Leland Hotel and Starsky stares at the depressing hotel in silence for a second. Hutch immediately understands what’s going in and says, “It’s probably nothing that a good drying-out will take care of.” It’s astonishingly empathetic from someone who so often takes delight in being contrary.

“Go!” Starsky orders Hutch when they’re flummoxed by shots ringing out in Sharman’s room. Hutch goes. How often is Starsky in charge? Is it about 50/50?

Hutch displays some amazing visual acuity when he reads off a licence plate two stories up and half a city block away.

Starsky tells Sharman he knows her real name, and “not the name you checked into this dump with” despite the fact he and Hutch don’t know that name either, as they didn’t stop at the desk. However, they both know how the game is played: famous model with a problem, wanting to disappear. Of course she isn’t going to check in under her real name.

Starsky grabs the bottle and smashes it. “You have no right!” Sharman shrieks. She has a good point. He has no right to make decisions for her, to impose himself – a stranger – on her. He has no right to be physically violent, to shout. And he has no right to manipulate the situation, even if it works to her benefit.

Four times Starsky grabs a woman’s upper arms and tells her to “shut up” or “be quiet”. One he even threatens to “bust in the chops.” The women are Sharman (this episode), Emily (“Blindfold”), Fifi (“Deadly Imposter”) and Rosey Malone. All four times are with women he cares about, and all four times he does it for their own good. All these times happen when Hutch isn’t in the room – although here it continues, albeit in a more panicky, pleading way, Starsky seemingly to regret his own actions even if he’s unable to curb them, when Hutch returns and stands in the doorway.

Glaser’s body-language is particularly effective in the scene with Sharman at the hotel. Given that Starsky isn’t as verbally showy as Hutch is, Glaser must rely on movement and gesture to convey the depth and complexity of emotions. It’s all here, and in spades: his lunging at Sharman, the smashing of the bottle, the drop of his shoulders in shame when Sharman cowers on the bed, and in the tight, compressed way he talks when under stress.

When Starsky suggests he take Sharman to his place Hutch is vehement. “What happened to all your talk about kicking your guts out for someone who’s not worth it?” Obviously Starsky’s earlier comment has stuck in his head, rolling around, tormenting him; he shoots it back nearly verbatim. Was he secretly wounded by Starsky’s dismissive attitude about Kiko’s disavowal of him?

It would have been interesting to know how Hutch covered for Starsky when the hotel is swarmed by scene-of-crime officers and others taking witness statements and combing the room for evidence. How on earth could he explain away someone yelling, “I heard shouting, glass breaking, and then that girl was taken down and shoved into a shiny red car driven by that policeman”?

Starsky’s determination to take Sharman to his place for a “drying out” shows us how far we’ve come in the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism (this episode is careful not to say drugs are in the mix as well, even though Orange says so; Sharman is only ever seen crying out for a drink, not a fix, which may be an attempt by writers to make the viewers better able to identify with her). Abrupt cessation of alcohol can prove fatal, a fact not well understood then as now, and suicidal ideation is frankly dangerous for a layperson like Starsky to handle. Coffee and cold showers don’t cut it, but at least Sharman doesn’t claim to be cured after a few days in Starsky’s bed, she acknowleges she has far to go.

It’s disappointing, from a narrative point of view, that Sharman Crane is famous because she’s a model and not something more interesting – politician, maybe, or novelist, something more cerebral. Because of this fact, the audience is asked to mourn the loss, not of self, but of marketable looks. Of course she’s in danger too, but that seems like an added ingredient, the way fibre is added to sugary cereal to make it seem like a healthy choice. Sharman has been valued solely for her looks, exploited because of them, and in turn is destroying those looks by destroying herself. Starsky tells Hutch “it would kill her” to be hounded by the press if they brought her to the station in the condition she’s in. But isn’t the irony here that among the complicated reasons he has for getting her clean is so that her modeling career – the career that might have played a role in her destruction in the first place – could continue?

What role does modeling play when it comes to Sharman’s troubles? She might have been introduced to drugs and alcohol by the very people who then condemned her for it when it got out of control. She wouldn’t be the first model introduced to cocaine to stay thin, and urged to drink to stay socially pliable.

This is a nice look at Starsky’s apartment, with its warm and inviting jumble of soft furnishings, art, salvaged materials and warm colors: lots of art (drawings of old cars), cushions, rugs, plants and pottery. There’s a blinking traffic signal, and wicker chairs. It shows a private man who takes care of his private space, and apparently spends a lot of time there. This is a side of Starsky we don’t often see.

Why does Starsky park the Torino at his apartment so it blocks three garages?

Motives: Starsky feels such a strong pull toward Sharman that he’d risk his badge to protect her. He talks a lot about her being famous, being a kid watching her from afar, and it’s clear his mother has fanned the flames of this non-existent but intoxicating “relationship” by sending him magazines. But as with most things Starsky, motives are murky. After all, she split after the ninth grade, and not many of us have such powerfully protective feelings for someone we knew back that many years, even moderately famous ones. And not only that, one class (wood shop, amusingly) and one semester of that one year. Starsky is unusually loyal. He has proven that in other episodes. At the risk of cheap psychoanalysis I might suggest this has less to do with loyalty than with Starsky’s lack of insight into his own psyche and the fact that he may in fact be trying to save himself (or, more complicatedly, his carefully nurtured version of childhood and adolescence) when he attempts to save Sharman. When he tells Hutch “everyone that she’s ever loved has either moved away or died” it sounds profoundly personal in a way that may have nothing to do with the situation at hand.

Hutch comes to Starsky’s place and asks for a glass of milk. Starsky offers him coffee. Hutch says yes. Starsky then pours a glass of milk, and drinks it himself. Interesting.

It’s possible Starsky overly identifies with Sharman, who is outwardly successful and privately hurting. It’s possible he too feels let down and abandoned by the people he loves (we get clues of this, from a murdered father to a drug-dealing brother to Helen Davisson, who could have been “the one” only to die on the job). It’s also possible he has an exaggerated, irrational need to save those he feels are weak, “Mother Cabrini”, as Sharman sarcastically calls him, an aspect of his personality that – if controlled – is the reason he’s a great cop. And it’s also possible he has a visceral and entirely unconscious disgust for women he judges as failures, women who reject their own beauty, who stray outside the accepted norms, who behave in ways he feels are unfeminine. All these motives go a long way to understanding his successful partnership with Hutch: here is one person who is mandated to stay with him (through official procedure, shared experiences, common interests, united goals) and so is less likely to leave, who is as powerful – or even more so – than he himself is, and so does not require saving. Here is someone who is, by the very fact he is a man, exempt from disgust.

Are we to make anything from the fact that Starsky forms a lifelong bond with Sharman around the same age Kiko rejects – and then comes to accept – a similar lifelong bond with Hutch?

Starsky has no sexual chemistry with Sharman. The kiss just seems wrong, somehow. “What do you want from me?” she asks, and he answers honestly, “I don’t know.” (Notice he doesn’t say “I want you to get well.” In this moment Starsky is closer than he has ever been to seeing himself honestly – as deeply conflicted. He just doesn’t know what those conflicts are.) She says she knows, and kisses him. He kisses her back, but there’s a brotherly quality to it. Does he kiss her back because this is his default position with all women, is he trying to light a sexual fire, or does he kiss her because not doing so might hurt her feelings? Or is this perhaps a secret pact he’d made with himself as a thirteen year old kid, one he’s determined to make good on? And also, how sad is Sharman that she assumes his only motive is sexual?

Sharman and Starsky have their conversation on the sofa. Sharman is bathed and clean, is wearing nice clothes, is rational, thoughtful, and alert. But yet there is no attempt by Starsky to do what he promised Hutch: namely, bring her in to the station for a formal interview. By doing so, Starsky would advance the search for a murderous thug, possibly saving the life of a future victim. You’d think that would be the priority. And yet, it never happens. Does Starsky keep telling himself not yet, not yet even as he himself is urging her to make a difficult but socially responsible step forward? What’s he waiting for?

One has to wonder if Sharman ever knew the diamond bracelet she obviously holds so dear (after all, it’s really the only thing she has with her) was bought by husband Tony’s illicit funds, and if that changes her attitude toward it. Does she eventually sell it, I wonder, in an attempt to return the money? And was Tony driven to embezzlement because he felt emasculated by his wife’s ability to earn more than he did?

This is Starsky’s chance to help a famous fashion model. Hutch as his chance in Season Four’s “Cover Girl”. Both stories are very similar to the point of replication. Both are girls from the guys’ distant past, fellow high school students. Both men harboured boyhood crushes. Both girls are in serious physical and mental danger resulting from poor choices in their alternative, secret lives. Both girls exhibit a suicidal lack of self-worth despite fame, money, and physical beauty. Both accept help from Starsky and Hutch (Sharman reluctantly, Kate gratefully), then seemingly walk away without a backward glance to resume a presumably fabulous career.

I don’t know that much about the reach of the police departments back in the day, and I certainly don’t expect the script to allude to this, but surely Sharman must have had access to bank accounts during her missing months. Could she have been tracked by the FBI, do you think? Was she ever, in fact, officially missing? It’s possible she was in contact with friends, family or her management team letting them know she hadn’t been kidnapped or killed, which may explain the absence of a full-scale state-wide search.

Starsky admits to Sharman, “Everyday of my life, at some time or another, I say that (I’m not ready) to myself,” telling her sometimes “you just gotta do.” Does he really mean this or is he trying to talk Sharman into making the phone call to her parents? He also makes a similar comment to Carol Wade in “Crying Child”: “Guess sometimes you just have to jump in”.

As Vernon approaches the apartment, Sharman comes out of the shower and – strangely – puts on Starsky’s clothes. The shirt I can accept. Many girls wear their boyfriend’s shirts. But his jeans too? This goes beyond a romantic gesture and toward something else, an attempt to absorb through proximity Starsky’s innate power, perhaps. But it does imply Sharman and Starsky now have a sexual relationship, despite Starsky’s earlier pulling away. This is a detail that makes me a little queasy. Sharman is under intense emotional and physiological distress, and Starsky has too much authority over her. It’s all wrong.

Is might be just me, but when a woman betrays another woman – as Ella does here when she fires at Sharman – it seems particularly nasty.

I like Sharman best when she’s feisty to the point of rude, when she snaps at people or when she stabs at Vernon’s hand through the door. Sober, and nicer, she can be forgettable.

How quickly Starsky understands he’s just a chapter in Sharman’s life, maybe even just a footnote. I can never tell if he wants it that way – after all, he has finished reforming this dangerous creature – or if he is just not the possessive type. As they pull up to the rehabilitation center he seems to have already accepted the inevitability, even though Sharman is outwardly grateful and affectionate. Perhaps he knows her better than she knows herself. He pulls away before she can introduce him to her parents.

Where, exactly, are they? Is this a detox clinic, a hotel, a convenient meeting place? It’s never said.

Sharman said everyone who ever loved her had left her. And yet, her mother and stepfather are there to greet her, loving her unconditionally, no questions asked. And she put them through hell for six months.

The tag: Oddly, Starsky phones his mother from Hutch’s place. If it’s a habit to telephone her every Friday, as he implies in the call, why didn’t he do it before he left his own house? It’s obviously long-distance, and Hutch would be paying for this. Maybe he has also phoned her from every bar and club in town, as he is hardly ever home on a Friday evening, so phoning from Hutch’s place is no big deal. Hutch is playing a beautiful song on his guitar and punctuates Starsky’s attempt to shut his mother up with an ironic pluck of the strings, which is very amusing. From Starsky’s tone, his mother seems to be the superficial type, and just slightly irritating to him. All she seems to care about is Starsky’s failure to get Sharman’s autograph. One suspects she spends a lot of time in a dark apartment with the television on. Starsky is patient with her but dismissive: she’s a duty to him, a probably nothing much more than that.

When Kiko shows up – is this planned? Or completely unexpected? – Starsky is wonderfully nonchalant. “Oh hi,” he says, as if this isn’t a big deal, which is the best way to handle kids anyway. Kiko says he’s sorry, and Hutch is great with him as always, calm and respectful while not talking down to him. Everything is nicely resolved. And it’s shown that the guys really are behind the big joke against Dobey – they giggle like schoolboys.

Clothing notes: they wear their iconic jackets: Starsky in his battered leather and blue t-shirt, Hutch in his collegiate dark-green-and-white jacket. Starsky wears The Sweater during his hole-up with Sharman, when Hutch comes to visit. Huggy looks dashing in denim and striped shirt, with a jaunty little necktie.


3 Responses to “Episode 20: Running, revisited”

  1. Kerry C. Says:

    Hi Merle,

    I am enjoying your recaps of the episode analyses as much as I did the first time around. There is always something new to uncover or to explore with this show and the two boys. Your blog ensures a rich and beautifully written expose of the characters, plot and rhythm of this special and unique relationship.

    Did you by any chance have the opportunity to attend the Surcon 2013? If you did you must have been there very much ala incognito, as some of the fandom’s best writers also were. I consider myself extremely lucky to have met the guys whilst they were together and in their best S and H mode and listened to them talk about the show and the making of it. PMG shared (at his dinner table) some incredible stories about the background of some of the episodes and had us in fits of laughter about his antics.


    • merltheearl Says:

      Hi Kerry, thank you for writing. Unfortunately I didn’t attend Surcon and I’m envious you did. I would love to hear more about your experiences if you have the time or inclination to tell them.

  2. stybz Says:

    Not only does Sharman and Starsky call their mothers, but Kiko makes reference to his mother as well when Hutch first speaks to him at the canal. 🙂

    Merle, you bring up a good question as to what Starsky is rebuilding here. Is it her modeling career or something else? I don’t think he’s trying help her so that she could rebuild her career.

    My view of Starsky is no matter what he wants to cling tightly to his childhood. And this is why Hutch gets annoyed with him sometimes. I have this image of young Starsky being told by people shortly after his father died that he has to be the man of the house and grow up. It gets to a point where he insists on refusing to do so. And from that day forward he continues to cling to that side, perhaps as a defense mechanism or because he’s afraid of what he’d become if he lost it.

    So I think his whole approach to this situation is his own displacement of his childhood losses, and he sees a lot of himself mixed in with his nostalgic feelings for Sharman. So while he did live vicariously through her fame, I don’t think he’s trying to help her get back into that field. I think he just wanted to do his part to save her, to help her back on her feet the way he would want anyone to help him. Maybe he came close to being where she was at, and it hurts him to see someone he cares about suffer in that way. It’s likely a lot harder to deal with when it’s someone you know.

    That’s my take on it. 🙂

    I found that scene where Starsky offers Hutch coffee then takes the milk very amusing. Did you notice he put something into the milk, perhaps chocolate? I wonder if Starsky was worried the milk was going bad, and that’s why he didn’t give it to Hutch. Then he thought he’d see if he could still drink it and that maybe the chocolate would mask the bad taste, but it didn’t, because he took one sip then put the class into the sink. 🙂

    I wonder if Sharman chose not to access any bank accounts when she went missing, especially if she wanted to cut herself off from people. Perhaps Tony held all the accounts and they were seized when it was discovered he had been embezzling? As for friends, she was probably too depressed to contact anyone. When you feel so low that you don’t think anyone loves you, you’re not going to turn to your friends because you think they don’t care about you.

    I agree it was odd seeing Sharman putting on Starsky’s jeans, but I guess the writers felt that they had to do that because the shirt wouldn’t have been long enough to cover her completely when she ran for help. They needed her in something, so they figured Starsky’s jeans was a good idea.

    I found Starsky’s quick departure at the end a bit surprising. I realize that they had an understanding that they might not see each other again. I think Sharman was more willing than he was, but he figured she wouldn’t. Perhaps the roles were reversing? Still, his quick exit is surprising. It makes me wonder if he felt intimidated by her world. He was some street kid from the neighborhood and she was from money. Maybe it was one of the reasons he didn’t talk to her in 9th grade. He might have thought she’d have considered him beneath her?

    I wish I knew what that house was. Was her mother staying there since Sharman went missing, moving to LA to be closer in hopes of finding her? Or was this a friend’s home? Or did her mother move to LA when the modeling career took off?

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