Episode 9: The Bait, revisited

Starsky and Hutch go undercover as drug dealers and spring a young drug courier from jail to help them get to Danner, the head of a drug syndicate.

Cheryl: Lynne Marta, Danner: Charles McCaulay, Billy Harkness: Michael Delano, Connie: Akili Jones, Shockley: Dave Cass, Carter: James Karen, Goring: Sy Kramer, Saunders: Ken Scott, Moore: Marc Alaimo. Written By: James Schmerer, Don Balluck and Edward J Lakso, Directed By: Ivan Dixon.

This is a sunny, relatively unserious early episode which contains two classic elements in the series and both are depicted brilliantly. The first is the Rich White Man as the epitome of evil. The second is The Uptight Federal Agent. Danner, with his mansion and pool, his disconnect with the misery his imported drugs are inflicting, is the perfect villain. Agent Carter embodies the Establishment, with its inflexible rules and regulations which must be circumvented – and made to seem ridiculous – by nonconformists Starsky and Hutch.

Filming notes: cast and crew apparently had a lot of fun making the episode, Bernie Hamilton was even pushed into the pool, clothes and all, at the end, but Glaser did twist his ankle rather badly in the chase scene at the beginning and limped off-screen for the rest of the episode’s filming.

In the first scene there is a panoramic shot of a flat, somewhat surreal Los Angeles neighborhood. Starsky and Hutch are driving in a flashy convertible while in undercover clothes. You can see Hutch crack a mean, excited little grin before he lays into Starsky, the way he’s been dying to lay into him for the last twenty minutes. You see, Hutch is in full jerk-mode, what he would probably call his undercover oeuvre. He’s itching to try it out on someone, anyone, and Starsky, unfortunately, is in the line of fire. “You know what your problem is, boy,” Hutch sings out in a vulgar southern accent. To which Starsky replies (why does he play into this? He knows what’s coming at him) “What.” “Looking rich makes you nervous,” Hutch says triumphantly. “This fine set of wheels intimidates your gross nature.”

Starsky isn’t playing. Instead, he complains about the shoes Hutch bought him (Wouldn’t the police department outfit them in whatever undercover clothes are necessary? Why does Hutch volunteer for the shopping?) causing Hutch to snap into outrage and lose his gum-chewing-cool-customer persona. “I love those shoes!” he says, indignant.

Hutch is irritated because Starsky is counting the money for the set-up. He is similarly, if not identically, irritated later in “The Psychic” when Starsky counts the money for the kidnappers. Of the two, Starsky is seen to be more awed by money. There are many times throughout the series in which he pursues get-rich-quick schemes (the chinchilla in “Hutchinson For Murder One”, the real estate deal in “Heroes”, for instance), he is more anxious to gamble (“Las Vegas Strangler”) fight dime-eating phone booths and candy machines to the point of hoarding change (various), and fully intends to quit upon receiving a “windfall” from a relative’s will (“Golden Angel”). He also can be acquisitive (the posh car in “Class in Crime”, the expensive watch in “The Trap”) and seems overly conscious of the class divide and anxious to get what’s his. But it must be said his ideas about money are somewhat innocent in nature, pure, without guile, more about the fantasy of wealth than its actuality. Hutch, on the other hand, is far more serious about the subject, more realistic, overtly turned off by the appearance of wealth even though there are suggestions he comes from a higher social class than Starsky. He rejects money in the disdainful way only someone intimately acquainted with its destructive power can, choosing junky cars, peasant-style clothing and social ineptitude which is, in a way, every bit as ostentatious as Starsky’s financial aspirations. The only time he deliberately adopts a stereotypical wealthy look is when he’s in a contrary frame of mind, unemployed in “Targets” and as an object of desire in The Green Parrot (“Death in a Different Place”). His effortless grasp of the vulgarities and vagaries of the nouveau riche is both amusing and insightful.

Starsky later says, in what seems like a hilarious Glaser ad lib (in his vague Bogey impression), “don’t forget to book my shoes!” as he’s led away in handcuffs at the station.

In both this episode and later in “Tap Dancing”, Hutch defaults to Cowboy Chic when thinking he needs to be either kingpin or pathetic nerd, two extremes with the same costume.

Starsky does some great comedy running in the alley, waving the dreaded shoes.

Starsky, Hutch and Moore are questioned in the squad room. It seems as if there is only one interview room, and it’s being used at the moment. This seems highly improbable in a large urban police station. It’s a wonder why Moore, who obviously has a lot of experience in legal matters, doesn’t raise a stink about the lack of proper procedure, unless it’s to his own benefit.

Moore claims the guys tried to sell him drugs. But Starsky and Hutch had cash in an envelope, not drugs; Moore slipped the merchandize into Starsky’s pocket. Wouldn’t the most cursory fingerprint evidence point to Moore’s lie?

Starsky and Hutch switch their names around throughout the episode, causing everyone to mistake one for the other. This is very funny, yes, but it also serves a practical purpose: no matter what you call them, you’re going to be wrong. Not being sure of someone’s name is psychologically unbalancing. It undermines your internal compass, makes you question yourself, causing you to stumble. These are people who are both arrogant and entitled, and not used to being corrected. It would be just disturbing enough to cause a little mistake or two. Both Starsky and Hutch are very astute to employ this little game.

Dobey asks the pair why they didn’t inform the detectives about doing undercover work in their beat. Hutch has a funny quasi-explanation, even better when delivered with the wide-eyed earnestness of a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar: “I figure the fewer people who know you’re cops the fewer people who can tell.” But still it seems odd that the detectives who arrested Rafferty and O’Brien didn’t recognize Starsky and Hutch as cops. There can’t be that many undercover detectives in the city and the two have been in some high-profile cases recently.

At the dockside restaurant, Cheryl and Hutch drink white wine, Starsky, rather conspicuously, drinks water. It could be because he’s driving, or maybe it’s because he doesn’t approve of the wine selection (in both “Rosey Malone” and “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty” Starsky has proven himself to be quite sophisticated in his drinking habits). If Starsky is of Jewish heritage, another fact left open to discussion, he is reform or nonreligious, as he wears a bib, indicating he has eaten, or will eat, lobster.

Cheryl isn’t your typical heroin mule. She’s alert, white and educated, and if she’s a prostitute – and her involvement with the Danner empire indicates she may be – she’s awfully casual about it. She doesn’t appear to be part of Connie’s “stable” and throughout her time helping the detectives she is never once hassled to get back on the job. With her smart little scarf and perky attitude, Cheryl looks like she walked off an escalator in a Minneapolis mall. Later, she explains her past by telling Starsky a sad story about love gone wrong, but there’s something missing here, the story where she gets a taste of what she’s dealing to keep her in line. Nowadays, of course, no writer could resist a detour into sleaze, but in this case the episode pulls back and refuses to go there. Did the writers feel Cheryl as a drug user lessened the chance of the audience’s rooting for her, or was it a complication they didn’t have time for? And if she is indeed a working girl, even a part-time one (and that is a big if), at the conclusion of the story when she packs her bags, how is it that she can just walk away without fearing retribution from her pimp? Those guys, I hear, zealously guard their “property”.

Hutch recognizes Shockley from about thirty yards, a guy he arrested while still in uniform – a remarkable feat of memory.

The obsession of the collector: Danner has taken nine years and two hundred and twelve thousand dollars for one of the only two-known Hawaiian Missionary 1859 stamps. (The actual history of the rare stamps is as bloody and bizarre as the episode’s writers suggest). While this could be a case of admirable persistence or scholarly integrity, the earnest aim of many teenage philatelists in the audience, here it is meant as proof of insanity.

It’s really horrible how easy Hutch is with the “boy” when he talks to Connie. Connie’s a lowlife, sure, but still … it’s creepy, and Hutch seems either insensitive to, ignorant of, or grimly persevering in, the racist overtones. He makes a “cotton” reference and really pushes the southern accent – and redneck attitude – as an intimidation technique. Starsky, on the other hand, is pretty much the way he usually is, just a shade more measured.

Akili Jones as Connie is great here. He has the right mix of muscular swagger and blind self-interest to mark him as guy who will never move up in the world. Plus, he gets to wear fantastic jumpsuits.

Hutch as O’Brien gets extremely angry when Connie pushes for extra money, to the point of snarling and walking off; it’s up to Rafferty to close the deal. Apparently this is all staged, as Starsky saunters into the car and they drive off, both apparently satisfied about how it all played out. But this scene could also be a microcosm of a far larger and more complex issue: Hutch’s temper, and Starsky’s shrugging indifference to it, and how that works to their advantage both professionally and personally.

Notice how Starsky is more clingy to Cheryl than Hutch is. He obviously cares for her, which is quite touching, considering what must be an actual, real-life friendship (Soul and Marta were a couple at the time). Hutch practically ignores her, which is a terrific and amusing way for Soul to disengage from his real life relationship. Later, when Starsky is affectionate with her after she’s been beaten up by Harkness, Hutch stays away.

Dobey looks both unconvincing and clumsy when he shows up at Huggy’s to talk to “Rafferty and O’Brien”. Keep that man behind a desk, please. In his suit and tie and stiff formality he sticks out like a banker at a biker’s convention. When Huggy – who’s just as bad, calling out “Captain!” loudly enough for everyone in the joint to know a cop is on the premises – asks whether Dobey has come down to the bar in an attempt to be “ethnic” it is truly hilarious as well as telling, as it highlights Dobey’s obvious discomfort with all things Huggy represents.

In four years, Dobey and Huggy have only two moments of physically connecting. One is when they high-five each other during a pool game, and the other is here, when Dobey slaps Huggy’s shoulder while ordering won ton soup. Which Huggy astonishingly gets, and at no small inconvenience. Huggy performs this menial task, paying for it out of pocket, because he’s got something to prove to the man who holds him in contempt.

Does Connie really invite the guys to his own apartment to score the heroin? If so, this is a very bad decision, as this leaves him vulnerable to attack in the future. Of course, it might be a friend’s place, or one of the girls in his “stable”.

Cheryl continues to accompany the guys as they make their way further into Danner Territory. Why? They don’t need her any more, not really, and when they let her go she seems genuinely surprised. “You two really are straight!” Cheryl exclaims when the guys tell her sh’s no longer needed. “In a kinky sort of way,” Starsky says. The archaic language is amusing, yes, but had Cheryl been expecting to be duped, maybe arrested?

“You call me when you make a move,” says Federal Agent Carter. “You got it,” Hutch says, and then does what he always does when he fibs: he widens his blue eyes in the most innocent way possible, the way he did in Dobey’s office earlier. One wonders why the guys are so averse to having these guys as their backup, considering they’re floating such a huge amount of money to the operation. Is it because Starsky and Hutch don’t seem to trust anyone over thirty, especially anyone in a suit and tie and working for the government, and from out of town?

Starsky and Hutch face off against Connie and two of his meanest henchmen (all sporting knives and what looks like truncheons). Why don’t they pull their guns when threatened, as this would have scared them off? None of them – particularly Connie, swinging away ineffectually – look like real fighters at all. It might be just me, but this fight scene is indictive of the episode as a whole: bad things happen, punches are thrown, shots fired, but there is a jokey, almost merry quality to this episode negating any real sense of danger. It could be the costumes, or the featherweight character of Cheryl, or the slapstick ending, but this is not a serious chapter in the canon.

Starsky commits the cardinal undercover sin by shouting Hutch’s real name during the fight. Later he says, “do you think they made us?” Instead of lecturing him on the mistake – which he has every right to – Hutch merely says he doesn’t know. Sure, he’ll bust Starsky’s chops on his shoes, his car, what he eats, but he’s quiet about things that should genuinely matter. This shows both empathy (everyone makes mistakes) and faith (Starsky’s skills far outweigh his occasional missteps) that proves what a good partner he is.

When the guys find Cheryl, they pull their guns, and it’s noticeable that Hutch is not carrying his trusty Python. What, a huge gun like that too hard to hide in the Nudie Suit, or what? Can’t put it in his hat, same as the photograph?

Throughout the operation, Rafferty and O’Brien appear to be buying smack to redistribute to cronies back in Texas (although the “Texas” detail appears to improvised by Hutch when talking to Connie earlier). They purchase two large amounts, then raise it to an astonishing five kilos a week. Harkness doesn’t question this but I will. Purchasing that much heroin is major action. Danner and his people should immediately be wary. Why aren’t these dudes buying direct from the source (in Central or South America or wherever), and also why hasn’t anyone heard of these two before?

What is going on when Hutch doesn’t tell Starsky until they are walking into the warehouse that he told Agent Carter the wrong address? Hutch is awfully sure Starsky will agree to this foolhardy decision, and know what to do when things go sideways, as they inevitably will. Also, it’s notable that Hutch doesn’t have his gun here either, but Starsky does.

Throughout the run of the series two men take a bullet meant for Hutch. The first is Billy Harkness and the second is the guy in parking lot who attacks him with knife in “Sweet Revenge”. Does Hutch deliberately use Harkness as a shield knowing to do so will prove fatal, and would you consider this a homicide, justifiable or otherwise? Is Hutch just unbelievably lucky, as a bullet has a good chance of continuing through a second body, or is all this just a screenwriter’s way of making the story work?

Why, oh why, are those guys wearing suits when they during the ambush at the warehouse? Some sort of Danner Empire dress code? It makes it so much harder to throw a punch or run away.

It’s so funny that every time Dobey tries to talk to the guys about strategy, the restaurant worker is barging through with a tray or coming out with a bag of garbage. The guys roll their eyes. It seems they blame Dobey for the poor timing.

How in hell did the police convince the Henry C. Rash Museum to relinquish one of the rarest stamps in existence? It would have been highly entertaining to witness the meeting in which Dobey talks to the curatorial staff and tells them they’re the key to the biggest drug bust in LA history.

Shockley tells Goring, “I ain’t never had a ticket in my life.” He was, however, busted by Hutch a few years ago. Perhaps Shockley is hoping the double negative will make his statement regarding crime true. Either that or he thinks committing parking violations is worse than committing crimes.

Hutch has tackled Connie, who is unarmed and hurt, but still punches him two more times, which never fails to make me uneasy.

I like how Agent Carter cries out “I got it!” and grins hugely when holding aloft the priceless stamp. He lets his cool demeanor slip and becomes a real, excitable person. Maybe if he’d been like that in the beginning Starsky and Hutch would have liked and trusted him more.

Tag: Hutch does two very typical and hilarious things as he helps Cheryl pack. One, he folds her shirt with overly fussy care (which Cheryl shoves unceremoniously into her suitcase), and two he asks her if she’s watered her plants. The guys have a nice comedy act going where Hutch pretends the luggage is super heavy. Starsky is obsessed with unlikely cultural/culinary combinations, Hutch delights in demeaning this, even though watercress and anchovy pizza frankly sounds delicious (minus the hot and sour sauce).

Cheryl is going to stay with her friend’s parents. Hutch asks her if she will see her own mother and father in Philadelphia, and Cheryl is indifferent to this idea, which I find intriguing.

Clothing notes: Hutch takes his undercover clothes very seriously. Not only is he buying Starsky’s flash shoes, and possibly more than that, he’s taken to wearing Southern Style suits with a Nudie twist: cowboy outfits with studs, rivets, ten-gallon hats, and steel-toed cowboy boots. Plus some very fly cravats: red, white and blue, matching his shirt. But it’s Starsky who wears the star of the show, an unforgettable white suit and dark blue shirt, with buttons undone to the navel. Later he wears a blue suit and red shirt combination that is outta sight, especially when it comes with many medallions.

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2 Responses to “Episode 9: The Bait, revisited”

  1. Striped Tomato Says:

    I’ve seen this episode three times in my lifetime: in its original airing in my youth, a marathon, and most recently in syndication. Every time, I wonder about the undercover names “Rafferty and O’Brien”. While it’s always a hoot at the corrections throughout the episode, I still don’t see how a “Texan” could have either of those names. I also cringed at the latent racism portrayed by Hutch: this couldn’t have been part of his cover. And Huggy outing Dobey inside and the fight in the alley, then the “cover” comment afterward, still seems odd upon third watch. However, my favorite series scene came with Hutch hitting Harkness for hurting Cheryl.

    • merltheearl Says:

      I hear you, Striped, but I think Hutch’s attitude toward Connie is just Hutch getting carried away with his undercover persona and not meant to be taken seriously; look at him in all his glory in “Survival”, calling Humphries “Big Hump” and generally being an outrageous a-hole. Do you really believe Hutch is a racist? To me, that is completely untenable.

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