Let’s revisit “Jojo”

Starsky and Hutch try to put away a dangerous rapist despite his frightened victims, who won’t testify, and the Feds, who are protecting him as an informant.

Jojo: Stephen Davies, Agent Bettin: Alan Fudge, Linda: Linda Scruggs-Bogart, Stella: Fran Ryan, Dombarris: Robert Riesel, Molly: Terry Lumley, Elaine: Sherry Bain, Merl “The Earl”: Raymond Allen, Sulko: Brad Stuart, Dixie: Jude Farese. Written By: Michael Mann, Directed By: George McCowan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

There is perhaps no crime perpetuated upon a person more devastating than rape. While it is generally defined as forced or nonconsensual sexual contact, it is purely an act of power and dominance and not about sex. Rape is a hate crime, its psychological and physical effects lasting a lifetime. A rape survivor is not only devastated by her attacker, she can be hurt from within in the form of fear, guilt and shame; she can also suffer from the cruelly misinformed opinions and beliefs from her society at large (I am using the feminine pronoun here, but I understand rape is not at all a gender issue). Rape can be minimized, it can be dismissed. Certainly when this brave and uncompromising episode was filmed rape was not well understood, accepted or even part of the everyday conversation, which makes this even more admirable. In the United States the laws were inconsistent and soft, and there were few resources dedicated to the complicated aftershocks. This episode is especially important in the light of contemporary “rape culture” and “victim shaming” which have now grabbed headlines around the world. Politicians still dismiss rape as a non-crime and in many parts of the world women cannot hold their attackers responsible. Rape is still used as punishment for the imagined transgressions of a woman. Around the world girls and women are defiled and destroyed in an unending nightmare of sexual exploitation. The ghastly and frustrating events in this episode are relevant and contemporary, and a reminder that we need heroic figures like Starsky and Hutch more than ever.

This episode about rape and its terrible aftermath would be special on its own, but there is more to the story of “Jojo” than a serial rapist and his victims. Michael Mann has added a layer of political insurrection to an already potent story as Starsky and Hutch battle the Feds, who are personified by uptight Agent Bettin (the marvelous actor Alan Fudge, in a thankless role). Throughout this series, and in this episode in particular, Federal Agents represent the hulking, overbearing status quo. Rules must be followed, the structure must be maintained at the cost of the individual. There is a strict hierarchy of crimes and at the top is anything that threatens the stability of society, in this case drug use and trafficking. The Big Picture that Agent Bettin sees may be disagreeable, but it is not unreasonable: to him, a single rape victim cannot equal the thousands of people injured or killed because of the dispersal of those drugs. Getting Jojo off the streets is imperative, we all agree with that, and stopping the attack on Molly is the right thing to do. But Bettin is not the bad guy here, as much as Starsky and Hutch would like him to be. If there is evil here it is in his ruthless adherence to duty, his lack of imagination or perhaps an inability to multitask, and not the duty itself.

We can see the bad attitude right off the bat when Hutch calls them “federal space rangers” and Starsky deliberately says “Command Ralph” which actually does sound sillier than Command Robert.

It looks as if the police have not warned the secretary about either their surveillance or the robbery going down, which seems unfair.

These are two ill-prepared, lazy thugs who hold the secretary hostage and prep the area for Dombarris. They move like they’ve been woken from a nap, wear no disguises or gloves, even while using that phone. Jojo gives his real name in front of the secretary and then names his employer. This is inexcusable. My only (non-canonical) conclusion, watching this, is that Jojo intended all along to rape and murder the receptionist as part of his perceived payment for the job. I don’t think he is capable of thinking ahead to the fact this would make Dombarris extremely angry.

Starsky observes that Nick Dombarris won’t trust anyone but himself to drive the truck, and that people who work for him are so stupid “they couldn’t tell a raw amphetamine from a cough drop”. Nick Dombarris tells Jojo he will be at Brooks in two minutes and Jojo is going to rape Molly in that time? It seems like a short window. Does Nick already know of Jojo’s tendencies and fine with them as long as they don’t interrupt the drug heist, or is he unaware he has a rapist on board? Would it matter to him either way as long as the job was done, do you think?

I love how Bettin says, “Stay put. That is an order,” and Starsky and Hutch give each other a look before exploding from their hiding spots at exactly the same time.

Why didn’t the feds with their army of uniforms get in their cars and rush to the scene? If they had, maybe they would have caught Dombarris, who peels out of there in his van. Or maybe they had nothing to charge him with; after all, the heist never took place. The uniforms don’t seem to think this, however: their guns are drawn at the van, and they seem itching to fire.

Terry Lumley gives a great performance as a smart girl whose refusal to testify does not mean she’s weak or self-centered, but rather in a terrible no-win situation the guys understand, even if they don’t like it. They are respectful and gentle with her, but maybe she would be more receptive to pressing charges against Jojo if Starsky and Hutch had talked to her in a different room than “Interrogation.” It is a scary, cold room reserved for criminals, not the most conducive to making her feel at ease and comfortable. It’s a major failing. They don’t take her clothing for forensic examination and she’s forced to wear that horribly disfigured shirt throughout, which seems unfair to me. Neither detective offer her much in way of comfort, either. There is no Styrofoam cup of coffee or a blanket or even a female officer in the room. Even Linda Mascelli gets a cigarette from Hutch.

Why are the guys driving in Hutch’s car during this episode? There’s no reason for the Torino being out of commission and, given the fact the guys have to rush here and there throughout this case, the Torino would be a much better option. Plus Starsky belly aches throughout on the sad state of the car. What if they had to be discreet? Also, there is no rear mirror – it’s been removed at some point, which makes it dangerous to drive. The horn goes when the door is opened. It actually does alert Dombarris, in the end – he twigs to Starsky and Hutch and is able to react – get and load his gun – far sooner than he should have.

On their way to talk to Linda a gold mustang stops right in front of them while they’re walking across the street. “Go ahead,” Starsky says affably to the driver, but Hutch chuckles. Unexpected? Spontaneous? Or just a lovely detail added by the director?

Hutch makes a big deal out of saying “after you” to Starsky as they talk in front of Linda’s door. This is a set up to Starsky being thrown by the surprised Linda while Hutch is spared. “Why does this always happen to me,” Starsky says. “Well, you wanted to go in first,” Hutch smirks. Does Hutch really know what Linda will do? Just a lucky guess?

If Linda is so on edge, why does she work with her back to the door?

Those are the ugliest no-talent paintings ever on the walls of this artists’ studio. Let’s hope Linda didn’t paint them.

Since Jojo hasn’t been identified as her rapist, how does Linda Mascelli know there were “other girls”? Is the fact he sprays them with orange paint a well-known detail? It would be the only reason Linda knows of multiple victims, through the newspapers exhorting the “Orange Paint Maniac Murders”.

Let’s take a moment to think about the central figure in this episode: Jojo. With his head of curls, piercing blue eyes, giggling and nervous chewing, Jo-Jo looks genuinely crazy – Stephen Davies really goes to town on his role. Throughout, he’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s a smart move to make this so-called “petty” criminal (as Bettin would phrase it) so much more striking than the rather bland, forgettable Dombarris. He has a sing-songy childish nickname which fits his impulsive, nonsensical character. He is not an adult and not rational; Hutch clearly says he’s a “psycho” and should be put in a mental institution, yet there is not the tiniest residual of compassion shown to him either by Starsky and Hutch or by the episode’s producers. In similar episodes featuring a mentally ill perpetrator there is a hint of sadness around them, as if they are helpless victims of bad genetics, past trauma or a horrible childhood, not quite responsible for their monstrous behavior. Commander Jim in “Lady Blue” brutally murdered women, torturing and possibly raping them, yet Starsky and Hutch plead for his safety and feel genuinely moved by his death. Artie Solkin in “Vendetta” is a pedophile and an all-round creep, and while neither Starsky not Hutch show him a shred of good will, he is nevertheless interpreted by both writers and the marvelous Stefan Gierasch to be capable of both suffering and even something that passes for love. Jojo has no back story, there are no telling details to allow us to understand him. We never learn the origin of his unusual fetish for orange spray paint (although later in the episode he wears orange pants which match his hair color, so perhaps the color is his “signature”, some immature attempt at recognition). Thrown away like trash, his murder is simply a case of “good riddance”. His character’s superficiality – all flash, no substance – is anomalous to the series as a whole and therefore quite interesting.

Jojo talks to Bettin after hours at the police station. He’s escorted into what looks like a visitor’s room, not in handcuffs and not guarded. I know that charges are pending – Starsky and Hutch would have a limited time in which to find the evidence necessary for an official charge – but this informality is striking. Is it even legal? Their conversation is not recorded and Bettin does not take notes. It all happens under the radar. My legal knowledge is scant, but I wonder if this clandestine meeting leaves Bettin vulnerable to accusations of procedural errors, thereby hurting his own case.

Hutch’s backseat is a mess. There are last week’s newspapers, laundry, hi-protein candy wrappers, large six-spoked wooden wheel, two poster tubes for his roses, an empty cardboard box, a football, a red hard hat, a baseball mitt, high-protein candy wrappers. Oddly, both Starsky and Hutch have a similar wheel: in “Running”, Starsky’s is on his apartment wall. Imagine a conversation or reason they each have this in their possession. Maybe it’s the same one, and they’re sharing. What is Hutch planning to do with his wheel? He starts to tell Starsky, who interrupts him, which is a shame.

I love Starsky’s dive out of the moving car. And nothing Linda did to Starsky equals his dramatic and painful-looking tackle of Jojo over the hood of Hutch’s car – they both crash to the pavement really hard.

The division between the guys and the feds is perfect in the scene in which Hutch says, “Those are people out there, not projections.” Said with his patented blood-curdling sarcasm, the scene is especially riveting. Starsky sits back and lets his partner do the work for both of them.

Linda says Jojo called her last night. She says it wearily, as if cynicism has overwhelmed her, which seems odd. After all, he was just identified as her assailant twelve hours previously, and she was impressed and assured by Starsky and Hutch’s vehement avowal to put him away permanently. When did her distrust of the police happen? When asked what JoJo said she replies alarmingly, “the usual lewd ramblings-on.” Now, Linda could be referring to the “typical” stalker or rapist. But it doesn’t sound like that. Rather it implies Jojo has called her before. If this is the case, this is a frightening detail that makes no sense.

Hutch tells her it was the Feds who put Jojo back on the street. Linda doesn’t ask why. Is she so disinterested in this case that this unexpected detour doesn’t rouse any interest? This makes Linda more passive than I like, personally. I want the ass-kicking ninja back, not this detached bystander.

Dombarris’ industrial loft has to be one of the all-time great sets in the history of the show. For some reason – perhaps to depict him as some kind of rat king in his stuffed lair – Dombarris lives in dazzling, colonial-inspired mayhem. Zebra patterned hammock for two, tiki masks, a large reel-to-reel, African drums, ship lathe walls, several brass hookahs, totem poles, tiger-skin rug, various plants and vines, telescope, French filigree, Oriental sculptures. Tiffany-style hanging lamps, possum fur throw, tiki bar, a blinking light sculpture, and lounging musclemen.

Is Big Bad Dombarris intimidated by his suddenly-returning girlfriend Elaine who orders him around and storms off? He keeps his cool but something tells me he’s either a tiny bit afraid of her or is seriously inconvenienced and pissed off. It’s horrible when the hit he traps Jojo with is the very same girlfriend. Cold, man.

This is the only case of a successful criminal boss-type does not work out of a “classy” office with paneling and ferns; instead Dombarris’ pad is a retro-explosion of thrift store finds. Curious.

Starsky tells Jojo they’re coming into the café to have a “little tête-à-tête” and Hutch says, “your Spanish is improving.” “Thank you,” Starsky says , and Hutch grins. It’s a great little moment and one of the few times Hutch makes fun of his own pretensions.

Starsky is wearing a bright red hardhat when they kidnap Jo-Jo from the street. Something he found in the back of Hutch’s car, and decides to wear.

I love it when Stella the waitress busts Hutch’s chops. He just looks so astonished. He’s so used to being the crabby one, the one who makes trouble, and he just can’t believe it when someone turns the tables. Stella lays into him, perhaps sensing his distaste for his surroundings, and more-or-less manhandles him in a way that obviously pleases Starsky to no end. One wonders, despite Starsky’s rhapsodizing about the café’s “color, a sea of color in a grey world”, he really brought them here in order to set Stella on Hutch. His pleasure, and Hutch’s distress, is pure joy to behold in such a grim episode. This little incidental scene is when the series really shines. Also, throughout this episode Starsky and Hutch get on extremely well. They joke and laugh together, are united in moral outrage, understand each other’s near-invisible signals, and are generally loving. It’s enjoyable to watch and very different than the tetchy edge that develops in later episodes.

Stella calls Starsky “Dick Tracy”. Now, what purpose does it serve to let people in on the fact you’re a police officer? It seems to me it’s a hindrance and not a help.

Starsky threatens Jojo that if he comes near Linda “a lot of bad things are going to happen to you. Fast.” Hutch adds, “We have half a dozen ways to turn you into a disaster area.” Let’s speculate about how true these threats really are and how far Starsky and Hutch would go to hurt Jojo, or any criminal they find repugnant. Throughout the series both are tempted into retributive violence and every single time they resist. But they really have it out for Jojo and have no respect for him as a person. Jojo’s terror is real, and presumably it wouldn’t be if word on the street said Starsky and Hutch were all talk and no action. So how far would they go? I’m guessing it wouldn’t get much beyond simple harassment – getting him evicted, spreading rumors about his instability, tailing him excessively, making his jail time worse that it would ordinarily be. I can’t imagine those “half dozen ways” would amount to anything physical.

When Jojo is driven to the apartment to attack Elaine, he is carrying the can of spray paint even though he does not plan to use it. This means he is both spontaneous and primed at any given moment. I don’t know why but this detail is extra chilling.

It’s funny but also strange when Starsky says, out of the blue, “guess what” and Hutch guesses Starsky’s uncle has a souped-up short for sale. What Starsky meant to say had to do with the memorable souped-up short Dombarris’ man has. This is such a near-miss it verges on the psychic.

Starsky and Hutch race up the stairs in response to a “DB report”?, which seems a tad excessive. At this point, there is no connection between Jojo and Elaine, and a dead body isn’t going anywhere. But they react as they do because they’ve been arguing for hours about Hutch’s car, how Hutch should replace it, and Hutch is getting himself worked up about it. When Starsky teases him about getting to the DB in “two and half minutes – better make it three”, Hutch is so incensed he guns the car and burns rubber to the site. “Temper temper temper,” Starsky says in sing-song voice, grinning at him. It makes me wonder how many people are intimidated by Hutch’s temper, and how important it is that Starsky isn’t. Is this one of the reasons Hutch is so attracted to him, and so loyal? A recognition that Starsky is the one person who won’t be put off or frightened by his rages?

There’s no need to cover the body with a sheet at the crime scene. It might interfere with the scene itself and confuse the detectives. However it does make Hutch’s discovery of the spray paint more dramatic.

I love it when Hutch walk by one of the uniforms at the scene and touches him in the midsection. It’s a lovely gesture of solidarity without making a big deal about it that tells the cop they’re all on the same side here, and you can see the guy appreciates it. He looks down where Hutch touched him and then watches the pair leave.

At Elaine’s the tempers play out the way they usually do: Hutch explodes, Starsky simmers. It’s an act they play over and over, although it is switched up from time to time (I’m thinking particularly of “Targets Without a Badge” when Starsky actually attacks a Federal agent).

As an aside, note that ribbon of smog hanging over the neighborhood.

Why does Bettin come to Elaine’s murder site? There was no connection with Jojo at that point, and Bettin is a busy Fed. Who tipped him off?

Why aren’t Starsky and Hutch notified when Jojo’s body is found? They only discover this by driving by Linda’s place, and when they enter, fully expecting to see Linda dead, no one informs them. Is this Bettin, out to unnerve them and keep them guessing?

It seems like an unnecessary complication to kill Jojo in Linda’s studio. As far as I can tell Dombarris didn’t have a personal beef with her, so implicating her for the murder seems a little like extra work. You have to kill him with your bare hands, for one, and then you have to make sure Linda has no alibi, both things using valuable manpower and time. If Dombarris was irritated by Jojo’s predilections he should have simply taken him out on the street. JoJo knew all kinds of nasty characters. Any one of them would gladly turn on him for a price.

That said, it really is thrilling when Hutch within half a second of seeing Jojo under that sheet, “So Dombarris made Jojo.” His (and Starsky’s) brilliance as detectives is never more obvious in this one tiny moment. Bettin’s sputtering denial and wrong-headed explanations only underlines this fact.

Soul really enjoyed lighting the cigarette to give to Linda. You can see him taking a quick inhale before he extracts it from his lips to hand it over. Hutch should have been a smoker, but this was a role-model situation so it would never fly. But think of the opportunities offered by angry exhaling, the rake of match in the dark, the feisty arguments about smoking in the beloved Torino.

Linda says she walked four hours on the beach, not seeing a single soul. Is Starsky and Hutch’s reaction to her admission surprise that in hours, she saw no one, or that a jumpy woman who was raped on the beach would spend hours there alone? Or are they both wishing they knew of a beach one could go to have that much privacy?

Linda gives a tearful why-me speech when she’s fingered for Jojo’s murder, but why is she surprised? He was killed in her studio, she herself threatened to kill him.

Even so, the lack of any injuries on Linda’s hands would clear her of any wrongdoing, especially since Bettin implies she must have done it bare-handed, and there is no evidence of an actual weapon being used. But I’m quibbling.

I like how Hutch says they’re going “to see a bear.” In this case, the bear is Huggy in a pseudo-padre outfit selling glow-in-the-dark crosses. I wonder if this hilarious scene is in fact a joke about the impotence of the police when itcomes to protecting women. Huggy cries out the usual crucifixes and mezuzah are all well and good in daylight, but when it’s dark “the Good Lord can’t see you.”

Starsky says his uncle Al, who owns a car lot, has a buddy who runs  “Earl’s Custom Car Cult And Body Shop.” Hutch hears the word “Cult” and says it sounds like a religion. Does this make Father Merl the only religious figure of integrity Starsky and Hutch run into in Bay City? Other than the suit-wearing feds, there is no other members of the orthodoxy more reviled than churchmen of all stripes. One wonders what estimate Starsky was getting at Merl’s in the first place, since the Torino was already striped. A different paint-job perhaps?

Merl’s sign reads “Lacquers, Candies, Pearls, Metal-Flakes”, all auto body paint terms but still managing to look wonderfully surreal. Logically, Earl should have been the one to customize the Torino, but obviously he hasn’t because he says dismissively, “I saw that jive cheap stripe you got on your tomato”.

Hutch makes a hand gesture in the middle of the fire-fight with Dombarris, a vague flick of the wrist that never-the-less translates to Starsky as: “get down off the boat and go around, and draw his fire”. Starsky does.

Tag: The humor in this tag is not only welcome but appropriate; the comedy doesn’t feel forced and neither does it negate the grim storyline. Rather it feels optimistic and brave. Life goes on, it tells us, and we have to enjoy the small moments when we can.

Merl is as hilarious here as he was during his earlier scene, yakking a mile a minute in his patented exasperated and colorful street lingo. He’s utterly unintimidated by the police, as he says in disgust to Hutch, “Let me find me something to hit you with.” It’s funny when Starsky says Merl’s refurbished car equals the work of Leonardo and Da Vinci, to which Hutch replies sarcastically, “who?” Starsky is obviously putting on his ignorance, because he goes on to mention (and pronounce perfectly) Rodin. When Hutch stands up to Merl and complains that the car being shown to him is “an old lady’s car” Starsky seems genuinely amused. Funny how Hutch gets all worked up about having a car with “some flash to it”, a car with “juice”, that isn’t “straight” or “quiet”, but who actually prefers crap like he’s driving, a car he insists has “inner flash” and “soul”. Because cars are so crucial, metaphorically, to this series, it’s intriguing why Hutch would insist this is so. Is it a long, complicated joke he’s perpetuating on himself, and Starsky? Does he really not know how bad his car is? Or is he genuinely convinced that the grey and brown, dented, used-up old Ford he seems to love somehow really does have class and valor? Of course we all know his determinedly plebeian outlook on life, possibly in opposition to his upbringing, but still his question at the end – “how much do you want for this piece of … ah (shit?) sculpture?” is not to be taken seriously, as he would never be caught driving something so outrageously stylish.

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14 Responses to “Let’s revisit “Jojo””

  1. Wallis Says:

    Nice re-visiting of this episode, merl. For younger viewers like me, who didn’t see the show first-run, the background of the social issues and ways of thinking at the time this show was airing give it some of the most fascinating layers of context.

    A couple more things:

    I like how this show is nicely consistent about their portrayal of rape. In “Nightmare” and “Strange Justice,” a similar sensitivity and understanding is employed, although those focus more on the devastating effects of the trauma rather than the more abstract or long-term effects suffered by Molly and Linda here.

    Starsky’s speech to Bettin after they find Elaine’s body is really great and really scary and intimidating from just the power of the personality behind them, something he has a real knack for especially when facing up to people who are older and have far more “official” on-paper authority than he has (there are quite a few examples of it, but one of my favorites is his “people like you make us ashamed to wear our badge” speech to Cole in ‘The Specialist.’) He always gets very articulate and quiet when he’s really, really, really fed up.

    I sort of disagree that Bettin isn’t a bad guy. It’s not really because of his big-picture views, but immediate atrocities usually trump probable future atrocities, so if the probable future atrocities are really *so* much more formidable as to be worth throwing an immediate victim under the bus if there’s no other option, the people in charge ought to be planning ahead and be doing everything in their power to prevent any collateral damage, which Bettin doesn’t really seem to do.

    Also, while I love 90% of the gunfights in this series, the one at this episode’s climax always struck me as very lackluster. Probably because I didn’t really give a damn about Dombarris as a character — he’s totally overshadowed by JoJo in terms of personality, and he just doesn’t feel big or swollen enough to be a climactic-shootout-worthy villain.

  2. marianrose Says:

    I always learn so much from reading your blog.

    You make a good point about the portrayal of Jojo as mentally ill but not engenduring any compassion in this story. In contrast, other such characters in the series are viewed in more depth. Still, the casting for Jojo was brilliant. He is young and, as you say, striking. That adds a layer of complexity that might have been missing if the character was a more traditional looking and acting bad guy of the times.

    I also love the scene at the beginning when they are told to stay put but take only a moment to exchange a look before charging off to stop Jojo’s attack. They do stand up to authority time and time again in order to do the right thing. It is interesting to guess how they came to understand they shared these similar values. Was there ever a time when they had to stop and discuss what they were willing to risk in order to do the right thing rather than exchange a quick glance? Would they act the same way without each other? Just fun to think about.

    • merltheearl Says:

      This is a very interesting bit of speculation. I would like to think yes, even if alone or without a partner both men would act as impulsively and heroically as they do here. But many human behavior studies suggest it is incredibly difficult to go against authority or to act independently without backup. You’re right, marionrose, it’s fun to think about.

    • Grevy's Zebra Says:

      That is a really thought-provoking question, marionrose. My knee-jerk reaction was “of course they would!” but it’s hard to say for sure because they don’t get much opportunity to demonstrate it except when they’re trying to save each other (like Starsky covering up Hutch’s heroin addiction in “The Fix”, or Hutch standing up to Tom Lockley in “The Shootout”), because they are so rarely willingly separated.

      It’s also fun to wonder, because it really never comes up in a serious way, what would happen if they fiercely disagreed about one of these defiant acts. (Like, would Starsky have hidden Sharman Crane to dry her out in “Running” if Hutch hadn’t agreed to go along with it? What if Starsky had balked when Hutch misleads the feds in order to face Danner’s men without them in the warehouse in “The Bait”?) In cases where one of them does make a unilateral defiant decision for both of them, the other one always cooperates. When Starsky insists on staying undercover in Cabrillo State in “Murder Ward” when the situation goes sour, Hutch doesn’t defy him. And in the most extreme case, when Hutch decides to chuck his badge in “Targets Part 1” without conferring with Starsky first, Starsky chucks his badge right along with him. It’s not clear in either of these last two scenarios how much Hutch agrees with Starsky’s claim that they need to stay or how much Starsky shares Hutch’s desire to quit, but they comply anyway, as if they have some sort of unspoken agreement to always stick together no matter what.

      Perhaps their rebelliousness and their only acting rebellious together goes hand-in-hand — maybe they are/were both naturally defiant on their own, and that’s why they became friends in the first place back in the academy, but once they became partners, they’re no longer independent, and can no longer act solely on their own behalf. Any trouble one of them gets into will affect the other one almost as adversely since neither of them is going to be okay with the partnership being broken up or one of them getting fired or reassigned. So during the show, they need to be in agreement with each other whenever they decide to defy authority.

  3. Anna Says:

    Somehow I missed that you put up another review a month ago, merl!

    I’ve never liked this episode. I’ve never been able to pinpoint why, but the whole thing always felt so oddly drab to me. There are a lot of good components — the portrayal of rape, the feuding with the Feds, Merl the Earl, the car arguments, JoJo’s character — but it just never hung together well for me. It always felt like one of those *other* cops shows, somehow, didn’t have the Starsky & Hutch spark. Some subtle thing that I just can’t specifically identify, I guess.

    You know, I’ve wondered before — what inspired you to create this blog, merl? And how do you do the write-ups, do you take notes while rewatching or something? How long did it take you to come to your conclusions about the characters’ personalities and the various elements you write about in the Character Studies posts? Was this stuff you noticed back when you watched it for the first time or did you have a different perspective on the show back then?

    Feel free to not answer if you don’t want to get too personal, but I’m just oddly curious about what inspired the dedication to write such a well-thought-out analysis series like this about this show…

    • merltheearl Says:

      Anna, thank you so much for the comments. I have answered you several times only to delete what I have written; I suppose the history of my intense and prolonged engagement with this series is something I’m unable to write about just now. I did, however, put “Starsky & Hutch” away in the back of my mind for decades, so inextricable was it to a traumatic past. But that said, when I began to watch this series in its entirety, and in order (in a quest for mental health), I was delighted to realize it had not only stood up to the passage of time but had actually gotten better. The Character Studies came spontaneously from re-watching, in a kind of relieved and joyous outpouring of discovery, mostly in the form if scribbled notes I could barely make out the next day, rapid-fire impressions like “danger: Starsky slows down, Hutch speeds up” and “Hutch: nauseated, Starsky: hungry”. These thoughts and impressions felt strangely familiar, as if they had been percolating in some form in my subconscious since 1979. The only really new thing I saw when viewing again in 2008 or so was Hutch’s complicated mix of self-hatred and superiority. That hit me like a bolt of lightning, and I thought: if I find this fascinating, would others? At first I was only going to write the Character Studies but then each episode became more and more fascinating and contradictory, and my mental health grew more robust, and I suppose it’s a bit of ego that compelled me to think my responses might be interesting in a wider context. I hope this is a satisfactory if partial answer to your very kind questions.

      • Anna Says:

        Merl, that is a really beautiful and fascinating story and I’m so touched you shared it with us here. I truly believe that fiction — especially fiction that is somewhat haphazard and is created more from the gut than the frontal lobe — is one of the most powerful and important products of the human species and an absolute vital tool for understanding ourselves and the world. Being fascinated with stories and fictional characters is one of the most natural things there is. I think that knowing how much this show meant to you makes me love it even more than before.

        I’m sure many, many people (including me) know firsthand what it’s like to have some particular books or movies or shows or even comics that were memorably entwined with some stage or aspect of their life and often retain their appreciation for it all their life, so of COURSE your responses are fascinating and highly relatable to many people and absolutely worth reading! For me, hyper-sensitive as a child to any form of human ugliness or cynicism, one of those was Star Trek: The Next Generation. For my younger brother, I know that he had the Harry Potter books, which came out when he was nine and certain he would never have any interest in reading. A teacher of mine still talks about reading X-Men comics voraciously in the ’80s because it was one of the few things that said he was not wrong for being inescapably different. For a friend with unspoken self-worth problems and internalized misogyny, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a balm. And for an aunt of mine, her fascination with Starsky and Hutch contributed – who knows how much? – to her confidence that friendship and personal integrity was more important than scrabbling for a man to marry, and her enthusiasm was, as you see, passed on to her niece 😉

      • merltheearl Says:

        Anna, I totally agree, art is lifesaving, and everyone finds their own remarkable way. I’m fascinated that so many people have found strength and inspiration through what is often dismissed and ignored by the world at large. Television has intellectual credibility now, but it sure didn’t when “Starsky & Hutch” was around. Thanks for sharing your own examples, and for allowing me to tell a more personal side of the story.

      • Jacqueline Says:

        I have been just reading this blog for a while, but when I read these comments, I was so touched that I felt I wanted to say something too about my experience with finding Starsky and Hutch even though it’s too long and I don’t think too many people will find it interesting:

        I was in a very bad, unhappy place in my life, mid-20s, and had very poor self-esteem. I was being pressured by my family and ‘friends’ to get married and I had a pretty homogenous social circle who all said and thought the same things, and my mind was stuck on an idea that I had the option to find fulfillment by either finding someone to marry so I could have kids like a real woman, or being completely independent and alone with no attachments and focusing just on having a very successful career. I didn’t want to be alone, I was lonely and felt like I didn’t belong to anyone, which was horrible, and also felt that the only reason anyone would want any sort of emotionally intimate relationship with me was if I was the mother of their children, but I didn’t want to get married or have kids, and thought I was being childish or cowardly.

        I don’t remember exactly how I first started watching Starsky & Hutch, though I think it was partly because I had never liked “chick flicks” and romance like other women/girls and as a kid I had always liked violent “boy” things with lots of guns and action, so that was what I watched to cheer myself up. But after only a couple of episodes of Starsky and Hutch, I was totally riveted by this idea of togetherness, belonging to one another and the idea of being inseparable from another person. The show had this concept that sometimes a person just ‘goes’ with another person as if the two of them were a single set, even without the structure of a nuclear family or a romance movie plot. And the more I watched the more I saw of this idea in the show with the characters of Starsky and Hutch, in both so many dozens of tiny little details and in all the huge overarching themes of their friendship and their lives in the show. It seems silly to say it, but I had never really considered that this idea of “us” and belonging among people could exist to extent, even an extent less exaggerated than with Starsky and Hutch. I thought it was some sort of thing that only happened to little girls who were supposed to grow out of it. Sometimes I would go around my business and doing things with other people while kind of wondering in the back of my mind “how would this all feel different to me if I had a friend like Starsky or Hutch?” and things like that, I was so intrigued. It also made me look for/read about things I’d never considered before.

        I had never had any siblings or close cousins or longtime neighbors, and pretty soon came to realize that the people I talked to a lot and did things with who I labeled ‘friends’ really weren’t what I felt friendship was. As weird as it sounds, to this day I’m still convinced Starsky & Hutch was thing to first give me the idea that what was right for me at that point in my life was to make and keep good friends, and that building and maintaining friendships was worth effort and sacrifice just for their own sake. Obviously once I started, my attitude about friendship quickly developed into my own preference and personality, from my real life experience, no longer something I got from a TV show, but the show was an important, and probably the first, seed of germination for this belief. I always remembered this, in large part because I discovered fandom and could discuss these crazy ideas with other people who loved it as much as I. Eventually (several years after that general period in my life), I did get married, but I wouldn’t have become the person my husband fell in love with without my friendships. And totally apart from that, I know that the friendships I made are also things I would never let go of because they are so valuable in their own right.

        I think one of the things that drew me most to your blog is how much these reviews try to get into the characters’ heads to see why and how they are friends. And also, because they focus so much on their difficulties with their friendship, not just the easy or fun parts. I think I related to Hutch a lot when I first watched it, and liked Starsky better — because when I had bad self-esteem, of course I’d think whoever was very different from me was best! Now I like them both equally and I find all this blog’s detailed compilation of evidence and speculation about their personalities to be delightful. I feel like a friendship like theirs is something that happens very rarely in real life, but it can act as a challenge for people to hold themselves to a high standard — can you give your friend as much strength and compassion when their life goes to hell as Starsky gave Hutch in ‘Gillian.’ Can you exhaust all reasonable efforts (and dare to dive into some not-so-reasonable ones) to help your friend when he’s in trouble like Hutch did for Starsky in ‘A Coffin for Starsky’. Et cetera. It can be an inspiration and a tool.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Jacqueline, this is the comment I dream about receiving, and I’m so glad you took the time to write it. This echoes my own experience and many others’ too. I was raised in a neglectful and loveless home which had all the external trappings of security and respectability; I found something in this series that helped me define what it was I needed in life. To live with honor and dignity, to commit wholeheartedly to justice, to accept and appreciate humanity with all its wonderful strangeness, and above all to value love and friendship. You stated it much more beautifully than I ever could. Thank you!

      • Jacqueline Says:

        Merl, I am so happy to know my story was appreciated and to hear about what it meant to you as well. Over time, I have heard stories from a number of other fans share what this show meant to them. I have heard from one person who grew up in a poor and abusive home and watched it for the characters’ expressions of caring and loyalty for each other and for downtrodden and ignored people, which she never got in her own life; and a man for whom it was his secret wish-fulfillment fantasy when he was a teenager — not of being a badass cop, but of being able to have a friend who he could show fondness for and share his feelings with without his classmates questioning his sexuality or his masculinity. I am never surprised at how deeply this show resonates with people who take the time to really pay attention to it.

  4. stybz Says:

    Interesting comments and the topics that inspire them. I do agree that art is very healing, and when you can connect with something that really speaks to you, it makes a huge difference in your self esteem and how you look at life. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your stories and I’m glad you all found something to help you through the tough times. 🙂 I can relate. 🙂

    I just have a few comments about this episode. 🙂 I liked it. 🙂 It had great interaction between the pair, plus a very serious storyline. I do agree there were a lot of holes, especially with Linda.

    I didn’t mind them using Hutch’s car. Considering they did drive his car in the pilot until they learned that Starsky might have been a murder target, I am willing to accept the fact that on occasion Starsky concedes to use Hutch’s car. Maybe Paul insisted on it being used once or twice just so he didn’t have to deal with the Torino for an episode or two. 🙂 In the context of the episode who could surmise that maybe Hutch and Starsky made a deal in order for them to use Hutch’s car. Maybe Hutch agreed to go to some dive for breakfast only if Starsky agreed they’d take his car for the day. 🙂

    The lack of a rear view mirror could be the car itself or the fact that the mirror was usually removed when filming inside cars. It’s missing in many scenes shot inside the Torino. 🙂 I wouldn’t hold the lack of a mirror against Hutch. We’re probably supposed to assume it’s there when it isn’t. 🙂

    Anyone notice that Starsky says “Bloody ridiculous” or words to that effect when they’re on the stakeout. Again, another British expression used on this show. 🙂

    I think the scene with the gold Mustang was an error that the director let go. It’s so hard to close the streets in LA from real traffic. I know. I worked on a film in downtown LA in 1993 and I got so annoyed at the drivers braking right in shot and staring right at the camera. Plus, we didn’t have enough money in the budget to hire more people to keep the crowds back, not to mention we were filming during rush hour near a bus stop. So you can see this mob of people in the background of the shot standing around watching the scene unfold. Crazy.

    I think David Soul’s laugh was spontaneous. He probably thought the director was going to yell cut, but when he didn’t David fell right back into character. 🙂

    Starsky must really be resilient to be able to jump out of Hutch’s car, practically stumble over the curb, run after Jojo and then leap and fall over the hood of the car onto the ground, only to get up seconds later with his shades on and walk over to the car like nothing. LOL! 🙂

    That scene in the diner is funny. Hutch compliment’s Starsky’s Spanish, but he’s speaking French. LOL!

    I loved how Hutch went on and on absurdly about Starsky’s uncle Al’s “short” with the “6-way mud flaps” among other ludicrous things. LOL!

    I thought it was interesting that Starsky and Hutch race up the stairs of Elaine’s building, but when we see them entering the apartment they’re not even breathless. 🙂 They’re too calm. 🙂

  5. hondo357 Says:

    The car that blocks their progress in that one scene is the exact 74 Pontiac Firebird, including the color, driven by Jim Rockford in the Rockford Files. I’m 99% sure that is actually one of the Rockford cars. I took their amused reaction to be to a random visit from Garner in the middle of the take as a practical joke.

    I also like that Starsky’s method of getting into the trailer, with the old pizza box, is duplicated beat for beat in the 2006 Miami Vice film, also written by Michael Mann.

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