Archive for the ‘Season Three’ Category

Episode 67: Deckwatch

May 30, 2011

Hutch poses as a paramedic to get to a wounded killer, a sailor on leave named Hector Salidas, who is holding two of Hutch’s friends hostage. Meanwhile, Starsky attempts to gain access to the house without Salidas realizing it.

Hector Salidas: Michael Baseleon, Laura Kanen: Kathryn Harrold, Hannah Kanen: Susan French, Madelaine: Carole Mallory, Chicky: Will Walker. Written By: Don Patterson, Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

The third season ends on a high note with a solidly written, intense story and another great direction job by Paul Michael Glaser. This episode is remarkable for its rhythm and balance, the claustrophobic sense of urgency even though there is little in the way of traditional action. Like other Glaser-directed episodes David Soul’s physical beauty is highlighted in the lighting and camera angles – he looks damn good in every frame of this episode, as he does in “Class in Crime” and “Bloodbath”. The pacing is deliberate and thoughtful, female characters are treated with great dignity (i.e. they’re actually interesting), and there is a special emphasis on a single symbolic image or tableau, and all sorts of interesting ways of seeing.

A “deck watch” is a precision watch used on ships, and the passage of time (both in agonizing slowness and in sudden velocity) is at the heart of this grim episode. This is only one of two episodes in real time (the other is the wonderful “Shootout”), and the high caliber of both makes one wish there had been more like this. The magic of Starsky and Hutch’s near-psychic connection is never more intense than when the clock is ticking.

We also gain more insights into Hutch through an old girlfriend and a surprisingly extensive knowledge of first aid.

All right, perhaps the first shot goes on a bit too long, but the Dan Flavin-like lighting effects and atmospheric music are lovely, and lighting a cigarette, no matter what the anti-smoking lobby says, still has great visual impact. In fact cigarettes are everywhere in the first moments of this episode, from the denizens of the disco to Madeline and Hector (who both are voraciously oral in this opening scene: Hector twists his mouth in odd shapes as he thinks, both smoke, Madeline sucks on ice, Hector picks tobacco from his tongue). The match coming around her shoulders is a slightly menacing touch, and you can see that she’s slightly, oh so slightly, repelled by his encircling arms.

The whole conversation between Madeline and Hector has a world-weary inevitability to it. Madeline barely looks at him and he rarely at her, they murmur their way through a strangely predictable pick-up as if this is some kind of temporal loop, a circle of hell particular to the 1970s in which the doomed are made to sit in smoky bars and pick each other up for empty sexual encounters. This complex and oddly compassionate scene I attribute almost solely to Glaser, who has made several remarkable directorial choices inexorably leading us to a dark emotional cul-de-sac: the barely-heard dialogue that makes no attempt to be intelligible, the heavy smoking, the heavy-lidded seen-it-all sadness in the eyes of both actors. This scene acts out the script, to be sure, but it also goes beyond it in a mysterious and powerful way that can only come from the mind of a director.

Are bracelets with one’s first name engraved on them a 1970’s thing? Or a handy plot device for coroners and police detectives? Two of these bracelets turn up in this series: “Madeleine” here, and “Sharon” in next season’s “Discomania”.

The scene-of-crimes guy says, “No sex. They had that over dinner. Check with the ME on the menu, the killing was just a nightcap.” What does this mean, exactly? How can he tell when they had sex? Knowing the swingin’ seventies, a lack of condoms means bodily fluids in the body and most likely other signs as well, but how can he possibly say when this occurred, and whether or not they had dinner (before or after or during) this encounter? Take-out containers, receipts in her pockets, scent of garlic and onions where it shouldn’t be, what?

He also says the bullet must have nicked an artery, which it most likely hasn’t: if it had, wouldn’t Hector have bled out long ago?

“Feel the same way,” Starsky murmurs after their Chandler-esque dialogue in the car, in which Hutch expresses frustration at tracking down a felon with an injury. It’s surprisingly gracious after his partner has been nothing but combative and obstructive, but then Starsky has never been much bothered by his partner’s temper, or perhaps pretense of temper would be more accurate. He knows Hutch is like a weathervane, an instructive device whose sharp turns and finger-pointing are merely symbolic of a larger weather system. Note, too, the nice framing of Hutch in the window of the car, Starsky in the driver’s seat not looking at him. Glaser has a very sophisticated way of structuring scenes, making the episodes he directs more mature and ambitious than most other directors.

A special shoutout to Chicky, played by Will Walker. He’s the perfect surfer dude.

Here’s a risk you don’t see every day: both Starsky and Hutch have conversations simultaneously with two different people, Starsky with Chicky, who’s about to tell him he’s seen the felon, and Hutch with his ex-girlfriend Laura, who picks a mini-fight with him about his “typical” vagueness. It strays into confusion territory for the viewer as we struggle to listen to both sets of voices, both equally commanding and equally fascinating. Not many directors or writers would dare divide our concentration like that for fear we’ll lose focus and turn away.

Why does Starsky give Chicky such a hard time? Yes, we recognize a smart-ass delinquent who’s had unpleasant run-ins with the detectives in the past, but now they’re searching for a killer, and here’s a guy who says he has something to offer. Holding back for a buck is typical and they should be used to that now and smart enough not to get their buttons pushed (Hutch looks truly frightening when, still stinging from his conversation with Laura, he snaps at Starsky and every vein in his neck looks ready to burst). Later by the bridge they yell at him for not recognizing a seaman’s button. Scared and defensive, Chicky probably forgets any small details he may have retained. This is not good police work.

It is insinuated that Laura’s father was a cop and was killed in the line of duty, although Hannah sums it up obliquely by saying “I guess you could call it that.” It’s a rather odd remark for a woman known for her straightforwardness. Did he have an ignoble end, maybe? Something the family doesn’t like to talk about? If this is the case, my vote would be for suicide. That might explain the never-said but obvious way Hannah and Laura cling to one another, as if for comfort in a world gone bad. And it might explain too why Laura won’t date Hutch – fear of history repeating itself, or at the very least a knowledge of the downside of being a cop. One wonders, too, if this is how Hutch met Laura and her grandmother in the first place, at a funeral for a fellow officer.

“She was just there,” Harry said. “He was just there!” Laura screams.

Should those beat cops have given Laura a passing grade? I wouldn’t have. She’s wild-eyed and stuttering at the front door, and her claim of seeing nothing and living alone does not ring true.

“What do you think?” Starsky asks Hutch when confronted about the danger of the plan to assume the role of a paramedic. Hutch answers irritably, “what do you think I think?” This is a reasonable comeback, given that both of them know exactly what the other is thinking.

When asked what colour Hutch’s eyes are, Laura hedges. She says “Blue, with a greenish tint. Brown sometimes. They get darker.” Patently untrue, and this shows she was never really in love with him. Only Hannah knows for sure, saying confidently, “Blue”.

I like the barking dog and the sounds of children playing as Starsky engineers his climb up the side of the house. It seems more real to have those innocent sounds, and it shows how life goes on, obliviously, while death and violence happen behind closed doors.

Hutch’s order to Laura to “run upstairs and get me some clean sheets” proves his coolness under pressure, because going upstairs allows Starsky to enter the house from the window.

The Sight of Blood. Four characters comment on their own reactions to the sight of blood and it’s very revealing. Hector asks Laura if she likes the sight of blood and her answer is, “No.” Hector says he doesn’t mind the sight of blood. Hutch says of blood, “I’m getting sick of the sight of it on my clothes.” Hannah says, “It’s not easy…I’ve seen lots of it.”

Notice that Hutch, who has been in a blisteringly bad mood throughout the first part of the episode, is now calm to the point of tranquility. He’s in his element, all the petty frustrations forgotten. It goes too far to say he’s enjoying himself, but he’s nevertheless in the moment , as they say, and content to be there. Starsky, on the other hand, doesn’t change at all. He’s a consistent, well-balanced person who doesn’t need to stare down the barrel of a gun to remind him how good it is to be alive.

Starsky shows tremendous patience waiting for his cue. There were many times throughout the ordeal he could have busted in and done a lot of damage, but he doesn’t. In fact the whole show is about patience, every option exhausted before lethal actions are taken.

Imagine the relief when Hutch turns and sees Starsky reflected in the mirror.

“Stand up, Goldilocks,” Harry says. Hutch’s blondness always requires special mention.

At this point Laura’s shaking and crying, while understandable, is a reminder that panic kills. If it weren’t for Hannah’s preternatural composure balancing things out, it would have played out much differently. Is Hutch reevaluating his attraction to Laura at this point?

Is there nothing more thrilling than the one two three count Hutch makes, that Starsky understand so immediately and completely as he stands behind the door?

Glaser insisted on doing some of the stunt work himself and managed to dislocate his shoulder while diving to the ground at the end, forcing him to wear a sling off-camera for the rest of the shoot.

Hector’s last scene is breathtakingly shot. Killed through the seat of a fallen chair, the camera sees the waxy, now-still hand but stops just short of showing his face, hidden by the fleshy leaf of a houseplant: in a sense he has been wiped of an identity, his death erasing anything he might have been in life. He’s also given the dignity of having his face covered. Starsky is still, Hannah is still, the relentless clock ticks, the timpani pounds its death march. Then the gorgeous, funereal piano. It’s as if we’re expected to lower our heads in mourning. It’s clear both Starsky and Hutch see the killing of Hector as a crushing failure, the worst possible outcome, rather than a heroic save. The whole scene has gravitas. The only other denouement to rival this in terms of solemnity might be “Avenger”. Or perhaps Commander Jim’s fall from the tower in “Lady Blue”.

The tag was made up on the spot (as many were), and again shows Starsky’s ease around older women, as he plays cards with Hannah while Hutch flirts with Laura. He must have whispered something very suggestive into her ear to provoke the pie throwing. Notice the uneasy echo of Hector whispering something equally if not more excessively filthy into poor Madeline’s ear in the very first scene of the episode. The laughter between Starsky and Hutch at the end seems unforced and genuine. Once again, Starsky has food thrown in his face, with Hutch having a taste (here, as in the wedding cake incident in “Terror on the Docks”).

Advertisements

Episode 66: Quadromania

May 24, 2011

Starsky goes undercover as a cabdriver to catch serial killer Fitzgerald who’s murdering cabbies for revenge.

Lionel Fitzgerald: Richard Lynch, Gramps: John McLiam, Kingston St. Jacques: Philip Michael Thomas, KC McBride: Lynne Marta, Monique: Susan Kellerman, Danny Deveen: Freeman King Carboni: Jerome Guardino, Joe Benson: Bob Basso, Baker: Ric Carrott. Written By: Anthony Yerkovich, Directed By: Rick Edelstein.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This episode emphasizes the series’ fascination with the creepy side of show business; in this case, not only the perpetrator but also all the peripheral characters are hungering for stardom. Is it because Los Angeles is the Mecca for all thwarted, bitter or stubbornly determined wanna-be stars? Probably. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that “delusional eccentric with a beef against the world” is the cheapest, easiest motive for a writer to reach for.

The episode is notable for its lackluster, half-hearted quality. There is very little tension and major logic problems with the story. Other than the sprightly Kingston St. Jacques and another bright performance by Lynne Marta, all the actors, including Glaser and Soul, seem to have taken a double-dose of Nyquil.

There is, however, a nicely subtle moment when Hutch’s car pulls up to the murder scene, the guys get out, and Starsky murmurs, “be nice, will you?” I love it when you get the feeling the scene has been rolling on for a while before we get to see it, a naturalistic touch the series always gets right. Is Starsky alerted to possible trouble because they recognize Baker, the ultra-excitable newbie patrolman who most assuredly will elicit Hutch’s ire, or is Starsky referencing a Bad Mood streak that has been going for some time?

I just love how Starsky eases his way into getting the witness Monique (a nice performance by Susan Kellerman, and maybe the best guest performance of the episode) to talk by blandly smiling at her, and in that silent moment manages to send this message: I’m on to you, I know who you are and what you do, I can make it easy on you if you cooperate, or hard on you if you don’t, so why not give me what I want so we can both get out of here? It’s a truly marvelous acting moment.

If we interpret Dobey’s bluster correctly, it seems as if he really does believe there are three individuals out there who belong to, as Hutch sarcastically puts it, “the one-armed strangulation club”. Could he be as dense as that?

Lionel is Lionel Fitzgerald’s grandson. And yet he appears at least forty years old. It’s possible Lionel’s accident prematurely ages him, but if not, Gramps must be in his mid-eighties. And, just for continuity’s sake, where is the meat in this sandwich, Lionel Fitzgerald II?

Gramps listens eagerly to his grandson Lionel’s faked newspaper article extolling his “performance” in a non-existent play. From the sound of things, Lionel’s kept this charade going for a long time, building himself up as an actor of some fame. Doesn’t Gramps listen to the radio, or the television? Doesn’t he get out on the street, talk to people? Surely he’d be curious, or proud enough, to seek out independent collaboration of his grandson’s inherited genius, if only to announce to his next-door neighbor, “my grandson is a star!” Do that, and the illusion crashes to earth pretty fast. Plus, later on he proudly tells Starsky and Hutch his grandson is a “smash” at the Savoy Theater, and is astonished when Hutch tells him the place has been closed for a year. Why wouldn’t he have attempted to attend a single performance? What’s stopping him? The only way I would believe his innocence is if he was actually bedridden, and I kind of wish he’d been written that way, but plausibility does not seem to be on this episode’s agenda.

Gramps does not ask Lionel about the sound of the crushed beer mug. Gramps has already been shown to be very observant – we see him playing chess, and being aware of small sounds – yet there are all sorts of things he seems to miss.

David Soul seems very stiff and uncomfortable throughout this episode, not engaging in any strenuous activity at all, which may mean this episode was shot is the aftermath of his serious skiing injury.

Kingston St. Jacques is the ultimate multi-tasker. Strangely believable, he’s DJ’ing and dancing while dispatching cabs, a pretty wonderful pre-corporate, freewheeling depiction of a man hugely enjoying his life. (The actor Philip Michael Thomas goes on to star in the ultimate-80s series “Miami Vice” as a notably non-Jamaican, non-dancing, non-enjoying-his-life detective).

St. Jacques tells Hutch half his drivers have quit and only a “god-forsaken fool” would apply for a job at Metro now. Enter front stage, Starsky.

K.C. McBride sure has an open mind. In a small but exceedingly delightful exchange, she propositions Starsky, knowing he is a man. He answers her, thinking she is a man and says he “doesn’t go that route,” meaning he is straight. Starsky hasn’t turned around, and so K.C. assumes he is saying he’s gay. She says she is glad he “doesn’t keep it in the closet like other guys.” Starsky turns, realizes she is a woman and – an automatic reflex, it seems – asks her on a date. K.C. then assumes Starsky is bisexual and remarks about him “changing his politics.” K.C. goes out with him anyway, as she cheerfully says she “doesn’t mind a few kinks in the road of life.”

Kingston makes an incredibly detailed drawing of a tiny medallion worn by a driver he hardly knows. An abnormal interest in jewelry, perhaps?

Isn’t it a bit dangerous for Starsky to flash his badge when the cab is still in motion, and his drug-dealing passenger can easily throw open the back passenger door and bolt to freedom before Starksy can draw his gun and get out of the driver’s seat?

Starsky and Hutch must have a sneaking suspicion their suspect is not an African-American: that’s something no makeup in the world can really disguise. Plus, they must be familiar with the crime statistics that tell us the vast majority of serial murders are committed by white middle-class males.

Lionel robs his victims as well as killing them, and this detail is not explained. Looking at the poor state of the apartment he shares with his grandfather, he could sure use the money, but this might also be an attempt to confuse the police as to the real motive for the crimes.

It’s five o’clock in the morning. Hutch is swinging by to check on Starsky, who’s exhausted to the point of passing out in his cab. Throughout the case, Starsky is undercover, Hutch is not. Theoretically, this means Hutch is checking leads, following up statements, re-interviewing witnesses, etc. There is really no need, therefore, for him to keep the same punishing hours as Starsky does as a night-shift cab driver. And yet here he is, in the pre-dawn hours. Has he been assigned to tail Starsky’s cab as backup? This is never indicated in the script. From the lackadaisical attitude both detectives have for this case, you can tell neither one of them thinks they will be in any imminent danger. Besides, Starsky’s cab will have been outfitted with precautionary equipment in order to broadcast any distress. There is simply no need for Hutch to appear out of nowhere. Yet, there he is.

Assuming the old checker cabs aren’t taken out of circulation after a murder occurs in them, then when does Lionel know when to quit murdering people? He doesn’t pay attention who is in them, whether they are guilty or not of “ruining his career”, or he wouldn’t have gone after Starsky. Assuming Lionel wasn’t caught, he would have gone on murdering cabbies until he was.

Starsky is tricked into picking up the killer fare by Hutch who says, “what would you do without me?” Compelled to push and provoke, as usual, but imagine the guilt he experiences later when things go very wrong.

Why don’t either Starsky or Hutch twig to the weird old lady who appears out of nowhere? By the looks of it, there aren’t many apartment buildings nearby, and she does look very masculine. They know the murderer is a master of disguise. Could it be the severity of their misogyny blinds them to the possibility of a “woman” as killer? Didn’t they notice the limp, and recall the witness statements?

David Soul and guest star John McLiam have a reprieve of “A Coffin for Starsky” denouement as Hutch shakes the older man by the shoulders to get him to spill the truth of the matter.

“Third time around the park”? What is Lionel waiting for, anyway? And why take the chance to wait for so long before requesting the driver turn down his radio? If he’d sprung into action the first time around, this would be a different story. And also, why does Starsky turn down his police radio and his dispatch radio at the same time as he turns down his music? What’s the point of that, other than ensuring he’ll be in much, much worse trouble if something does go wrong?

Hutch pulls his gun on a cab in exactly the same way Callendar does in “The Plague”.

With dramatic flair, we see the bionic arm emerge. Lionel has obviously lost his real arm in an accident with a drunken cab driver, hence his complicated revenge murder spree. When we see his metallic appendage, the first thing we do is laugh. It looks ridiculous and unconvincing. From earlier scenes it seems as if he lost the arm from the shoulder, so how does this incredible articulated arm, elbow joint and all, perform so naturally? How would he be able to move it? Movable prosthetic arms must be surgically attached to the ligaments, tendons and nerves of the body, and yet this buck-ninety-five addendum can be snapped on and off at will. What is Anthony Yerkovich thinking, anyway? Too many Vincent Price matinees? This is the pivotal detail of the episode and supposed to be shocking but the laughable stupidity of a “robot hand” crushing the throats of its victims sucks all the suspense and believably out of the story. Throughout this project one of my main promises to myself is to resist substantial rewriting of scripts – I tell myself to look at what is on the screen rather than relying on that oh-so-reliable 20/20 hindsight. Too easy, I tell myself. But let me break this resolution and say it would have been better to keep his disability to the severe leg injury and have bitterness and frustration as his murderous strength.

And while we’re enraged by the sheer dumbness of this “twist”, why not talk about why a disabling accident, even one that causes an actor to lose an arm, would render him unable to act? If he’s good, he’s good, missing arm or not. Surely “King Lear” is not dependent on an actor with two moving arms. Was Lionel just really terrible, and uses his disability as an excuse, or – perhaps more likely – did he experience the isolating prejudices of theater directors and casting agents who refused to consider him for parts he could do just as well now as before his injury? If Lionel had one line in the episode in which he mutters to himself something like “those bastards, they all stopped believing in me” well, then, there’s your motive right there. (Resolution broken again.)

When Lionel attacks Starsky from the back of the cab, all we see is a clutch on the throat; Starsky dodges the worst of it and falls to the ground, Lionel losing his grip and grabbing a leg instead. Why, then, is Starsky semi-conscious and unable to act and react normally? There’s evidence of a head injury in the spidering of the glasss against the driver’s window but no actual footage of it, so that would explain the burred vision?, but for an episode that has made several heavy-handed obvious points about plot trajectory, this wisp of an image is awfully subtle. Starsky is in excellent shape, quick-minded and immune to panic, a trained police officer. A delusional man in a silly dress and a walker and one good arm should pose no problem for him, concussion or not. So why not pull his gun and blast away?

At this point, the logical holes in the story outweigh any narrative thrills. Points to Glaser for being a good sport and trying really hard.

What is the meaning of the episode’s title, “Quadromania”? Although it indicates, obviously enough, an obsession with the number four, there is no indication Lionel is after four drivers specifically, or would be satisfied with killing four. A guess might be a riff on “Quadrophenia”, also released in 1979, fueled by music of the Who and very cool at the time. But surely that’s a stretch.

Clothing notes: Starsky is hampered by a clichéd news-boy cap marking him as your prototypical cab driver. Hutch wears some stellar jeans and his much-loved collegiate jacket. Both actors look tired and out of sorts. Huggy has a memorable five-second appearance decked out in country and western gear.

Episode 65: Partners

May 19, 2011

A high speed chase after two robbery suspects ends in a crash that apparently leaves Hutch with amnesia.

Bonnie Ackerman: Melissa Steinberg, Dr Greene: Ralph Nelson, Marsha Henry: Kathleen King, Henderson: Zachary Lewis, Billy Joe: Ronnie B Baker. Written By: Rick Edelstein, Directed By: Charles Picerni.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Charles Picerni, stunt double to Paul Michael Glaser throughout the series and second-unit director, takes the reins in this episode.

This is a “greatest hits” retrospective and lovely to watch; every single flashback packs quite a punch and as well the framing device of Hutch’s amnesia is interesting and quite touching. However, this episode prompts an observation: the creators and producers of this show are highlighting what they view as the best moments so far in the series, mostly the intensely intimate and emotional moments of affection and deep connection between the partners. So why, one wonders, do the writers ignore or downgrade this very element for much of the time?

Opening scene: while on patrol Hutch is attempting to wax philosophical about spring (he will never learn – this never works) Starsky says grumpily the only spring he feels is the one beneath him, and then proceeds to complain about what Hutch refers to as this “two-ton hunk of junk”. It’s unusual to hear Starsky complaining about the car he loves. Pushed, Starsky snaps that the Torino is “the hottest machine on el road-o” to which Hutch snaps, “well, big deal-o.” Hmm, mean, even for Hutch. One suspects this petty argument is meant to illustrate the risks of taking a partnership – any partnership, from love relationship to professional colleague – for granted, wasting time with dumb insults and meaningless barbs, because in the next second a car chase nearly ends it forever.

Hutch is berating Starsky for breaking the law and running a red light when, while in pursuit, they have every right to do that. But Hutch is correct in the larger sense: there is no need to risk lives for a simple “211”, a robbery. A fact that has many police departments throughout the US and Canada taking a hard look at this very issue.

A Ford Torino against a Mustang – car company wars, perhaps?

Also, there are parallels between Billy Joe/Henderson and Starsky/Hutch, two sets of characters in a car with one man a driving fiend and the other begging to stop.

Of course, none of this would have happened if both men had been wearing their seat belts.

The demeaning depiction of nurses is seriously annoying. In a busy hospital there should not be two nurses helping a single patient into bed. Even though the patient is a handsome police officer, and these nurses have obviously called dibs on him, do they have to be so stupid and unprofessional too?

Starsky sees the bed beside him empty, prompting him to shout “HUUUTCH” in an incredibly loud voice, banging on the bedside button for emphasis. Laudable, yes, but who’s to say both will be recovering in the same room, anyway? It almost never happens that multiple victims of any accident are put in the same room, particularly if one is more seriously injured than the other, and Starsky is naïve if he thinks it would in this case.

Starsky is confident Hutch will recognize his “ugly mug”. Later, when Hutch is wheeled into the room, Starsky says he’s glad to see his “ugly face”. Ugly, apparently, being code for “not ugly”.

Starsky and Hutch’s car accident happens in the daytime. Starsky knows he and Hutch were brought in together, but Starsky doesn’t ask about Hutch until it is dark. Was he unconscious? Or pacified with a lot of lies?

It’s interesting to speculate how this little playlet of Hutch’s would have worked if they’d been in separate rooms. Probably pretty well, since guilt-ridden Starsky would be making half-hourly trips down the hall to check on him to jump-start his memory. But really, what are the chances of an entire two-bed room being vacant in a hospital “short of beds”?

Starsky tries to prompt Hutch recall by mimicking zebra-three: “that’s what Headquarters used to call us.” He uses a quite distinct past-tense. Why?

Hutch’s behavior throughout this episode is revealing, and to me, deeply poignant. In creating a persona of Memory Loss Man, he is able to give voice to feelings normally hidden, feelings that although fabricated for the purpose of annoying his partner still come across as authentic or revealing in some way. This persona is sour, critical, wary and unlikable, which is an interesting choice for Hutch – in reality, powerful, sensitive and empathetic – to make, but then all his undercover personalities share those traits to some degree, don’t they? For instance, he is disdainful when told he’s a police officer. He says it’s like being “some kind of spy” and “a macho power-trip”. In this exchange we are able to learn a whole lot about this sensitive and conflicted man – this may be how he secretly sees himself, or it could be how he feels judged by others.

Starsky is awfully cavalier about revealing Hutch’s past with heroin, although he does it only when a nurse wants to give him a morphine-derivative for pain. As he talks, telling the nurse it’s a mistake to administer the drug, Hutch continues munching on toast and looking like a smug idiot. He doesn’t even twig to the fact Starsky is about to tell a story that will stop him cold, and is, in fact, one of the worst moments in his life. Why is he so slow to catch on? You can see it, though; he stops chewing and looks pensive, but then recovers with disturbing ease. By the end of Starsky’s story he’s started to read the newspaper. A cool customer, this one.

One wonders why Starsky tells the nurse the shocking story of Hutch’s heroin experience rather than inventing something more benign and less personal, then tell the real story (in private) to Hutch, at a later time. I would have. You would have. Simply telling the nurse there’s a danger of an allergic reaction would have been enough. Along with Hutch, the nurse is notably unmoved by this story. She skips the pain medication and goes on with her day, which begs the question: what does she tell the doctor about this disturbing new development? Does she repeat the story, or does she merely jot “no morphine” down on his chart?

Starsky tells the story of the amazing ransom run in “The Psychic”. Hutch is not even in the room, having gone down for a CT scan. He returns just as Starsky is concluding the story, emphasizing his own heroic part in it, and the bewilderment at telling a story to an empty bed is played for laughs. This is a side of the series I have a major beef with: a kind of jokey disavowal of things that really matter, the insistence on a “lighter side” at odds with the searingly brutal content of the story.

Hutch has a lot of repressed anger against the people in his life. He looks positively triumphant after telling Dobey to “lay off the sweets”. And his dig to Huggy and Dobey when they arrive (“you boys wouldn’t be in show business, by any chance?”) is cruel but apt – they really do look a bit like a vaudeville team in their nearly-matching suits, their flowers-and-fruit props. He cruelly pronounces Dobey’s name as “Dopey”. He really seems to relish the insults. It’s either seriously cathartic, or just the fun of acting like someone you’re not. How many people, if given license to act out, would? Would Hutch, without a Starsky in his life, really be such an arrogant ass?

I like how Huggy says with an endearing lack of irony, “I’m no character – I’m Huggy Bear.”

Of course the major question in this episode is why is Hutch just as nasty to Huggy and Dobey, who have no part in his rather weird scheme of “teaching Starsky a lesson” and therefore don’t deserve his anger?

Hutch says, in the aftermath of the dune-buggy story, “I can’t believe I’d be partners with such a horrible, hostile person.” To me this is a fascinating comment, because clearly Starsky is the least hostile person in the world, and the story he just told does not illustrate either a horrible or hostile person, but a determined and brave one. At this point, it becomes clear Hutch’s rage is largely aimed at himself. This charade of his has less salubrious qualities than merely proving a safe-driving point to his partner. What we’re seeing is a kind of disassociative behavior, in which Hutch is using Starsky as a stand-in for his own conflicts.

It’s Huggy who mentions the fight scene in “The Committee”, although where his knowledge of this story comes from is a mystery; I for one can’t quite picture the three of them spending evenings together discussing cases. At the end of this story Hutch says haughtily, “well, that’s a little hard to believe.” He hasn’t said this about more extreme events, i.e. getting injected with heroin by gun-welding gangsters – so why does this story seem farfetched? Is some unconscious part of him unwilling to believe Starsky would ever hurt him?

Huggy is pulled away by the sweetly-voiced call to “Doctor Bear.” What should have been a light moment is undercut by Dobey who says, unnecessarily and cruelly, “You know, I thought he’d never leave.” He then goes to the bathroom. Um, what?

When Hutch says, in full moron-mode, “tell me, in this supposed relationship of ours, have I ever had occasion to punch you in the face?” he draws it out, enjoying Starsky’s discomfort, seemingly having forgotten about Gillian. Is he so caught up in his revenge fantasy he’s forgotten he’s dredging up extremely painful memories? At least, when he hears it, this is the only story that truly shakes him.

In the aftermath of the Gillian story, Hutch is awake in the middle of the night. The insistent ticking of a clock is in the foreground, a sound we’ve never heard before. Could this be purely metaphorical – the ticking of life itself, perhaps? Time wasted? Hutch making up his mind to forgive his partner?

Dobey assigns them traffic duty the next morning – surely Hutch is going to be discharged. If Hutch is injured much more seriously than Starsky, then why is Starsky in hospital as long as it seems his partner is?

The original script was better for once: Starsky becomes despondent after a particularly cutting remark by Hutch, and leaves. Huggy and Dobey then sharply reprimand Hutch, telling him about Gillian, Dobey ending with, “if you forgot a friend like that, you’re in a lot worse shape than I thought.” That sets Hutch reconsidering, and leads to the filmed scene where he tries to make up with his partner and says that earlier he’d heard some stories about rough times he’d had where Starsky stuck by him. When he tells Starsky the truth, his partner first gets angry and begins to yell, but then the stage direction reads, “they recognize the mutual love that exists,” and Starsky forgives his partner with a gruff, “What did I do to deserve such a dirtball.”

But that is not what we get. Instead it’s night, and the two of them are lying side by side. Hutch is beginning to be plagued by a guilty conscience. Starsky, though, has given up. He doesn’t seem to realize what genuinely moves Hutch are stories in which he, Hutch, plays the hero. When Starsky says “there were plenty of times you were there for me” Hutch has a moment of real transformation. He looks astonished, then relieved. “Yeah?” he says. Hutch knows Starsky is a superhero, that he is good and pure. To Hutch, that’s a given. He knows Starsky is a great cop and great friend. That’s why he’s aligned himself with him from the beginning, because he found someone with the qualities he fears he lacks. He doesn’t need to hear stories about how Starsky saved the day. He already feels deeply indebted. But when the tables are turned and Starsky starts talking about how Hutch saved him, Hutch is riveted. He doesn’t believe he is good and pure. He doesn’t think he is a great cop and a great friend. He thinks he is a fraud and a coward. He thinks he is basically unlovable, which is why he pushes so much. Dump-them-before-they-dump-me sort of thing. But when Starsky tells him the story of Terry, and how their friendship saved his life, Hutch is liberated from his self-hatred, and the spell is broken.

“You remember Terry?” Starsky says, and Hutch, shocked into discarding his charade, begins to say “yes”, but Starsky interrupts him with, “you don’t remember anything.” Hutch can disabuse and bury his own pain, but he can’t bury Starsky’s.

It always strikes me how ashamed Hutch looks when he finally admits his lie.

Tag: “Isn’t it wonderful?” the ditzy nurse says, “Mr. Sparsky, he got his memory back!” She really does say Sparsky. Triple mistake. Another mix-up with the names (even though their beds have charts with their names on them!), one Dobey wearily corrects. But how did she find out about the fakery? Surely the boys would like to keep that under their hats, as one never wants to piss off a nurse.

See how Starsky aids and abets Hutch now, after having been his victim. Once tormented, he is now a joyful accomplice. He happily plays along with the continued insulting of Dobey (Hutch, with little extra malice, comes up with “Blimp” when urged to remember Dobey’s name), and you can see him enjoying himself. Drawing it out, getting Dobey to play the fool. When Starsky joins in is seems less like an act of psychological undermining and more like two boys acting out for the fun of it. But still, I always wonder if Starsky is taking the opportunity to express a little hidden anger of his own or if his happy participation is a way of expressing forgiveness; he may be saying, “see, we’re both equally at fault here!” When I was a kid and did something wrong my sister would hurriedly join in (getting paint on herself, jumping on the bed) to redistribute and therefore lessen our parent’s anger. It’s probably the same thing here.

Clothing notes: the only thing worth mentioning is Starsky’s magnificent dressing gown worn in the tag: a cross between hippie and Japanese kimono, complete with sky-blue turtleneck, which he wears with flair after dumping the institutional hospital version in the aftermath of Hutch’s amazing comeback. Hutch also wears a red carnation in his skull bandage, homage to the joys of sick days off work, as well as the re-cementing of a partnership briefly on the rocks.

Episode 64: Foxy Lady

May 6, 2011

Flighty murder witness Lisa Kendrick tries to outwit both gangsters and Starsky and Hutch to keep some stolen cash.

Lisa Kendrick: Priscilla Barnes, Clay Zachary: Morgan Woodward, Grover: John J Fox, John Carelli: Mark Gordon, Kevin Mackey: Chris Lofton, Stu Basset: Darryl Zwerling, Maggie: Maida Severn, Mr. Cavanaugh: Ed Vasgersian, Cabbie: Jaime Tirelli. Written By: Robert Swanson, Directed By: Nicholas Sgarro.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Sometimes (all right, most times) I would dearly love to whisk back in time and sit in on those writers meetings in which the various pros and cons of a shooting script are discussed. In this case, I would like to know what the “pros” can possibly be. There are many times during the run of the series in which Starsky and Hutch are not at their best; often they misunderstand or misread a situation, and can be guilty of procedural or even moral lapses. But very rarely are they made to look deliberately ridiculous from a policing standpoint. They are here. (An exception is “Dandruff”, but that episode is in a separate category, a flat-out farcical caper with nothing really do with detective work, and yes there are plenty of times when both detectives aren’t at their best when judged from the ruthlessly acute lens of today.) It’s enough to wonder whether there was passive-aggression at work here, Mr. Swanson lashing out at the show’s fan base, at the idea of heroism, or at the dignity of the stars themselves. Whatever happened, I want to witness to the moment when the cast and crew said, “this is great! Let’s do it,” if only to cry out, spectre-like, “this is the voice from the twenty-first century. Don’t do it.”

The victim of the shooting lies brutally murdered on the sidewalk, not yet covered by a sheet and so is visible to every passerby, which seems awfully cavalier to me.

When they guys roust the sleazy crime reporter (our old friend Darryl Zwerling, late of “The Set-Up” and “Huggy Bear and the Turkey”), don’t you think they’re wishing they could do that to the paparazzi, who more than likely made their lives a misery in real life? Later, in what seems to be a bit risqué for the time, Starsky calls him “that bastard.”

Notice that the initial lengthy scene in the squad room is notable for the amount of whispering. Starsky, Hutch and Dobey are all speaking in remarkably muted tones. I know they’re trying to shield their witness from much of the content of their conversation, but still the hush seems remarkable. Another television show is being filmed next door? A crew member has brought a newborn baby to set? What?

Hutch goes to the water, leans down to get a cup. When he stands to answer Dobey’s question, he’s wearing an entirely different jacket. Originally it’s his usual green leather, but now it’s a brown leather jacket with faux fur collar. Now, normally errors in clothing aren’t really my main focus. I’m much more interested in content critique, but here it’s so blatant it bears mentioning. Continuity person, where are you?

Hutch wears his bathrobe even though he has yet to take a shower. Theoretically he’s just gotten off work, and is about to take a shower. Most people would wear their clothes, ditch them for a shower, then get into a bathrobe for the rest of the night. Why the extra step? Does he just really, really like his bathrobe?

How does Lisa know Hutch’s address? How do Zachary and Carelli know it?

Fun to hear the typically 70s fat, sexy saxophone start burbling when Hutch opens the door to the beautiful Lisa.

I know the guys act like idiots around gorgeous women. We all know it. It’s a comedic mainstay of the series and one of the most enduring charming/irritating aspects of the show. But one is still compelled to ask the question. Why would a professional, seasoned detective like Hutch not ask himself why Lisa appears out of the blue to ask to stay at his apartment? Doesn’t he wonder about her nefarious ways of getting information? He’s already suffered the indignity of his ex-wife using the same ruse, with disastrous results. He should have been on his guard. He should have known.

You’d think the guys would do better than to leave their keys on the door frame, especially since Hutch, at least, has been broken into numerous times.

It’s amusing that Hutch says he has pizza to offer Lisa, but it’s only one stale piece, and it’s the piece he just dropped onto the floor.

Starsky and Hutch both have “a bottle of Chianti here someplace” and locate an unopened one under the sink. They have other similar aspects to their apartments lots of plants, lots of art, a vaguely southwestern flair. Both like pillows and Mexican blankets. Both have sports posters on their wall. Both have wood paneling and ceramics. Starsky has cool modernist touches Hutch doesn’t have, like the orange lamp and Nixie clock, and Hutch has a more southwest or tribal look, with extra blankets and driftwood.

First sign Lisa isn’t all she claims to be: she says she “didn’t hear” Starsky come in and yet they’re talking right in front of the bathroom door, having a spirited argument about pizza not ten steps from her.

That is an extraordinarily presumptuous teeny tiny teddy Lisa slips into. I realize Hutch makes no move to change from his bathrobe when she arrives – signaling possible intimacy – but still. Like Diana from “Fatal Charm”, Lisa seems to think Hutch is easy.

Denying Starsky to use the bathroom when he’s in obvious pain shows Hutch at his meanest. “I’ll be about ten minutes” he sneers at his poor partner. Even though he’s obviously in the wrong, having an important witness in his apartment during a case, Hutch seems unable to admit his culpability. As usual, he takes it out on Starsky.

When Starsky is doing his flirtatious best to lure Lisa from Hutch’s apartment, Hutch is ostensibly taking a shower. And yet you can see him very clearly watching from the open door of the bathroom. In my opinion this is a staging error and a wonderfully unguarded moment for the two actors. I say this because there is no way Hutch would allow Starsky to seduce Lisa into going to his place. He’d intervene, cause a scene. He hates to lose. The fact that Starsky and Lisa are able to walk out like that shows that Hutch, all along, is supposed to have been unaware of the events. Plus he’s an awfully subtle background blur, a no-no in a show that could never be accused of subtlety.

Interesting to note also, the only actual mention of Hutch’s bad back, a given in fandom, although nutty Melinda notes a scar there in “The Groupie”.

It’s a great fight for the door at Starsky’s place, both glaring at each other, fighting for the note; and another instance of Starsky cramming something in Hutch’s mouth.

Why didn’t Starsky and Hutch notice they were being tailed to Lisa’s hotel hideaway? They must be vigilant knowing she’s an important witness, and that’s a particularly big black car right behind them.

There is a nicely choreographed phone scene, in which both Starsky and Hutch find information about the crime simultaneously, and come to the same unnerving conclusion.

What do you suppose Dobey got his trophies for? He has two large ones in his office.

The joy of tiny moments: Hutch, arriving home and unaware of two thugs in his apartment, looks into his bag of groceries and says with undisguised disappointment, “no carrots!”

This is the worst case of “I’m Hutch, he’s Starsky” in the whole series. And nobody does outrage better than Soul does. Tied to his rolling office chair, Hutch’s disgust and embarrassment when he’s not only kidnapped but mistaken for Starsky is so pungent it’s comical. As usual David Soul takes a negative and turns it into a positive, something he has done throughout the series, crushing the black carbons of anger, jealousy, irritation and outrage into sparkling and precious moments.

Hutch really wants to say something when Lisa talks about the money in Starsky’s laundry basket – raise an objection, maybe clarify – but he’s not allowed to.

It’s easier, says Zachary, to “use the telephone”? Lisa has apparently hidden the loot in Starsky’s closet. They have an exact location, and since they found Hutch’s place pretty easily, chances are they know where Starsky lives too. They had no compunction about tearing up the Venice Place apartment in pursuit of something hidden there, so why not break into Starsky’s place and grab the bag they know is there? It would take only a few seconds. It’s definitely not easier to organize a dangerous, complicated hostage situation. Somehow I wonder if this means Zachary has a death wish, because he’s a little too excited about this cat-and-mouse game. Is he bored into taking insane risks? Money not working any more as an aphrodisiac? He wants to see how much he can get away with? Is this suicide-by-cop he’s contemplating?

I like how Starsky says “(they’ve got) Hutch and the girl”. She’s been relegated to nameless status in the intensity of the situation. It’s almost as if he can’t, in that moment, remember her name.

What is Starsky doing with Hutch’s handcuffs? Is it a ploy to make John Carelli get him closer to Hutch and Lisa? Or something else?

It is a pretty smart move by Lisa to go to the bank’s insurance company and return the money for the reward, thereby laundering her take very nicely. This proves she’s no dummy, even though she has the dummy act down pat. I wonder, though, how she had the nerve to lie about hiding the money at Starsky’s place. Playing that game with Zachary seems like a really crazy thing to do. She’s lying to him about where the money is, fully intending to steal it herself, even though she’s already seen Mackey gunned down right in front of her. She couldn’t be sure the police would cover for her, with Starsky showing up to the hostage scene with his own dirty laundry in the suitcase. Maybe that’s what Hutch was trying to say when tied to a chair: “Starsky doesn’t have a laundry basket!”.

Why is Lisa still going to Algiers when she doesn’t have to? She has legitimate money on her now, there’s no need to go to a place with no extradition, except if she’s planning never to come back and worries she may be compelled to. “See you at the trial,” she says cheerfully, but of course that’s not going to happen. Still, though, she might as well fly somewhere like Paris or New York, rather than north Africa, and disappear from there. An explanation could be that she’s so cheap she’s going to use that previously-purchased, non-refundable ticket, come hell or high water.

More laundry images as the guys root through her lingerie. There was a time in the past when just seeing a brassiere was naughty, and the one hanging around Hutch’s neck would have prompted audience laughter.

“Now you wouldn’t want me to tell all a girl’s secrets now, would you?” Lisa says sweetly when Starsky asks where she hid the money. This brings up a problem I frankly have no answer or explanation for, namely the idea that feminine creativity (and Lisa is extraordinarily “feminine” in every cliched sense of the word) is the only thing that can regularly trump Male Logic. This sets up an us-and-them dichotomy that is one of the most common (one might say well-worn) and frustrating narrative devices in the history of storytelling. Ostensibly this is a female triumph. Lisa wins, doesn’t she? Isn’t that a good thing? Well, no, not really. It only means Lisa is able to trick Starsky and Hutch because is she unpredictable and devious. This is success through manipulation rather than intelligence. Women, therefore, are “other”, strange creatures men will always be troubled and irked by. Since Starsky and Hutch are the heroes here, and Lisa is the not-quite-but-close-enough villain, the feminine is therefore troubling, maddening, obstructive, irksome and counterproductive. There are strong parallels to “The Heroes” (note the title) in which similarly ultra-feminine Christine is doubly troublesome because she is both creative and powerful – she can literally humiliate them both publicly and personally. Lisa’s actions are figuratively emasculating, as she leaves them draped in her underthings, but it’s the same thing: it feels uneasy, unethical, and cheap. However, Starsky and Hutch are able to reclaim their power in “The Heroes” by persevering to victory and here they are robbed of that possibility, as Lisa merely laughs and walks away.

Clothing notes: Both Hutch and Starsky wear wonderful leather jackets. Starsky also wears a nice pair of knit boxers. Both have hair that is extra long and curly. Hutch wears his green leather jacket and an expensive-looking pair of teal cords with extras, like leather belt loops. He wears his iconic orange velveteen bathrobe. Starsky wears an unusual striped turtleneck and a suede jacket we never see again.

Episode 63: Hutchinson For Murder One

April 22, 2011

Hutch becomes the prime suspect when his ex-wife Vanessa is murdered in his apartment.

Vanessa: Veronica Hamel, Simonetti: Alex Courtney, Dryden: Bill Duke, Boyle: Floyd Levine, Wheeler: Severn Darden, Cardwell: Dan Vadis, Dr. Morgan: Jo Anne Strauss. Written By: Robert Swanson and Jackson Gillis, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Things are never more intense, or more interesting, when they get personal. During the run of the series the episodes in which Starsky and Hutch are personally affronted – through the tragic deaths of loved ones, or eminent danger to themselves – are among the very best. This one is no exception, although it involves what I privately call “the cheat”, an unknown element pulled from the past to take center stage. Here, it’s Hutch’s ex-wife Vanessa emerging from the past like a shark from deep water to make Hutch’s life a misery.

In the first scene Hutch is a martyr with the receipts for the tax man, getting everything into neat piles but grumbling all the while. Starsky enters with Louise, the “chinchilla” he spent “a coupla hundred bucks” on, which anyone with half a brain can see is a sweet little guinea pig. When he says this is all the compensation he needs, Hutch goes into the red zone of scorn, meaning Starsky has won this battle of the carefree child versus the burdened parent. The comedic nature of this scene, and the intoxicatingly easy chemistry between the two partners, provides a nice contrast to the grim events soon to unfold. And while we’re on the subject, speculate on the chance he will actually consent to killing the 50 or so offspring it would take to make an actual fur coat, or selling them all to someone willing do it for him.

Money Matters: Points to writers Robert Swanson and Jackson Gillis when Dobey objects to the scribbled note, and Starsky says hilariously, “they don’t take credit cards at the Bucket Of Blood, Captain.” Starsky goes on to say, “don’t tell me Accounting is into that again,” perhaps indicating they often submit bits and pieces of paper and crumpled illegible receipts to the poor clerks in the accounting offices. Along with accumulated parking tickets, numerous gunshot victims – some innocent, some not – unbelievable amounts of overtime, damaged private property, scufflings with Federal agents, and willful disregard for direct orders, Starsky and Hutch are a bureaucratic nightmare.

Vanessa’s call goes directly to Dobey’s office even though general phone calls to the police department would not be routed to his line, even if she asked specifically for him. Did she icily pull rank with the receptionist? Make up something? Say she was calling from Memorial Hospital, with the results of Harold Dobey’s biopsy?

I like how Hutch doesn’t believe it’s really Vanessa (who else would it be, with that distinctive voice?) and she replies – while wearing, it should be noted, an absolute ass-kicking wolf/coyote coat that would make a hooker cry – “the lady who never darned your socks.”

Vanessa is clearly of a higher social class, and her snooty attitude makes it clear she’d never intimately associate with someone she considers beneath her. This is a clear indication Hutch’s background is definitely more “upper” than “lower”. What can she make of his stubbornly proletariat habits? The lousy car, the country music, his verging-on-hippie clothes and guitar-playing, his blue-collar job? It seems his lifestyle has always leaned to the anti-establishment left, because she’s amused by his offer to meet at a place called The Pits. “You haven’t changed,” she says. Is she disgusted by his traits, or titillated by them? Did she imagine at one time she could cure him? Initially did she bring him home just to piss off her daddy?

If Vanessa comes from an upper-crust background, why is she so desperate to make money now by doing something so dangerous? And why does Hutch immediately assume her proposition involves illegal activity?

Glaser is the master of naturalism, his acting never showy or ostentatious, and he’s especially great here when Starsky realizes who is calling Hutch. Starsky has learned the art of playing it cool from years on the street; the more he’s surprised the less he shows it. Because Vanessa and Hutch were married four and a half years previously, they were still together while Starsky was paired with Hutch, so he witnessed it all: the fighting, the bitter divorce. I always thought Hutch was married twice, initially a youthful lark with the anxiety-prone Nancy, then Vanessa (as referenced in the pilot episode, and here.) It doesn’t strike me as odd that he could burn through two marriages in a short amount of time, given his complicated character. Hutch is a romantic, he’s an idealist and can act impulsively but he’s also emotional, decisive and capable of making the tough decisions in life. Plus he tends to attract, and be attracted to, unstable or damaged women (Abbie is an exception) he feels he can save, which is one of the shortest routes to heartbreak there is.

The first thing Vanessa seems to want to know is how Hutch “looks”. Later, she asks him to join her in her jewelry game: “A good-looking partner is hard to find.” Superficial, dismissive, or is just very good at hiding her true feelings? Vanessa is also an exceptional beauty, so perhaps this was just a physical thing with the two of them, with predictably disastrous results.

Vanessa initially calls him Ken, then switches to “Hutch” when she really wants to win.

“Well, it’s you and me tonight, Louise,” Starsky says in his execrable Bogey impression. This means he and Hutch would be spending the evening together, either working or socializing, probably both, if Vanessa hadn’t ruined things. It’s dark outside. Starsky is apparently coming to work, complete with a guinea pig. Hutch has been working on receipts for a while. Within minutes, Hutch is leaving to meet Vanessa. Are Starsky and Hutch working separate shifts, which seems improbable? Will Starsky be covering for Hutch that night? Or did he leave mid-shift to pick up poor Louise in her shoe-box traveling case?

“I’ll see you at nine,” Vanessa tells Hutch rather imperiously, as she has no idea of his schedule. Hutch leaves immediately. Is this an example of Vanessa saying, “jump,” and Hutch saying, “how high?” Has he learned from experience the only way to survive with Vanessa is to pick your battles? He already looks completely drained after only a phone conversation with her. But another slightly more plausible interpretation might be it’s just 7:30 or 8 when he leaves for The Pits, because he’s had at least three beers and seems worse for wear by the time she shows up. Hutch makes a drunken move to grab Huggy’s pack of cigarettes and Huggy brushes his hand off with a curt, “you don’t smoke,” then abruptly removes his own half-smoked cigarette (and empties the ashtray for extra emphasis). A funny, telling scene, although it’s clear Hutch is a secret smoker if there ever was one.

Vanessa asks for her “regular” and looks at Hutch as a test, to see if he remembers. He does, but it costs him (she looks proud, then quite moved, but also triumphant: way to go, Veronica!). She then gives a detailed description of the drink she wants Huggy to make for Hutch: vodka on the rocks, with a twist and a splash of tonic. “I also remember,” she says proudly. Huggy brings Hutch a beer. Vanessa is consistently ignored, which is, of course, the consequence of being a total bitch. Something about her makes people want to do the exact opposite to what she says.

It’s interesting to note Hutch would once drink something that strong. He’s only ever really seen drinking beer, and the occasional glass of wine. Habitually drinking straight vodka – only a “splash” of tonic? One wonders about how much of that drinking could be blamed on an unhappy marriage. He’s certainly fortified himself for this meeting.

Who’s the Mature One: Vanessa, when she first contacts Hutch, asks how he looks. Hutch, when first talking with Vanessa, asks how she feels.

Hutch says Vanessa left him because “being married to a cop held no future.” He didn’t leave her, although from the sounds of it he had cause to. Loyalty? Determination? Optimism? An inability to admit he’s wrong? And while we’re asking questions, why does being married to a cop have no future? Did Vanessa worry he’d be killed, would the intensity of the job mean less time for her, or was it just a financial thing? Does Hutch’s mention of a “pot of gold” hold the key to a long-problematical mercenary streak?

Where is Vanessa’s luggage? She arrives with nothing.

Good old Vanessa. She says, with maximum scorn, “this is it?” when Hutch pulls up to his apartment. This after weeping and begging for a friend on the eve of her supposed biopsy.

Note Hutch’s car has only one headlight working.

When Vanessa and Hutch have their wary not-quite-argument in his apartment there is plenty of thunder booming off in the background, but not a single drop of rain. Mental weather?

Vanessa says it is Hutch’s habit to go out for his jog at 6:15 am, but Hutch is jogging in “The Collector” at 9:30 when called to Garras’ murder. Vanessa is being a show-off, trying too hard to remind Hutch she knows everything about him. Hutch is rushing off for a jog not because he’s a creature of habit (although he is, and Starsky makes the same point early on in “The Fix”) but because he wants to get out of the apartment before she wakes up. And what do you know, the first thing she does is make another imperial demand. “Make that two,” she says, meaning the coffee. I can just see him uttering “damn” under his breath.

Knowing Vanessa is a big liar, is she telling the truth when she tells Boyle and Cardwell she has cleared missing the flight to London yesterday with Avery Wheeler? In all of Vanessa’s statements, from whether she still loves Hutch, to wanting Hutch as a business partner, to her comments to Mr. Steen in Amsterdam and her knowledge Hutch likes his eggs, scrambled, medium, what is the truth and what isn’t? And does Vanessa even know any more?

Does Vanessa inadvertently sign her death warrant when she makes her pathetic attempt to reconnect, control, and manipulate Hutch? If she’d gone it alone, would she still be alive, even if caught? Wheeler’s goons are very upset when they discovered she’s with a cop. “Take a look at this sucker,” they say with undisguised admiration when seeing Hutch’s .357 Magnum. And then use it to kill her.

Compare and contrast Vanessa and Starsky’s plan to get really, really rich. Vanessa’s plan involves a fake diamond. Starsky’s plan involves a fake chinchilla. Both lose through lack of research.

See how Starsky races to Hutch at breakneck speed, sirens blaring, up over the hood, up the stairs – only to slow down, pause, and then touch the back of Hutch’s neck in silent acknowledgment of his pain. He then slowly and deliberately pours a glass of brandy. “Drink it,” he says. Hutch obeys. And then seems to breathe for the first time since finding her body.

Inside joke: It looks like the name scrawled on the bottom of Hutch’s arrest warrant could be “R.C. Whatshisname”

Simonetti is a boor, all around. He goads Hutch at the initial interview. He makes a lewd comment about Vanessa’s corpse. He gives confidential information to Dr. Morgan as a brag. He crudely goads Hutch in front of Dobey and Starsky. He has an icky voice. He orders Dryden around.

How would the case with Internal Affairs have gone differently if Hutch hadn’t gone into the initial meeting with Simonetti and Dryden seemingly intent on not cooperating? It has already been established they don’t have a history with each other. Dobey has to explain to Starsky and Hutch who Simonetti and Dryden are. And Dryden has to read Hutch’s file to understand who he is. What if Hutch had been more cooperative? Less combative? Given a proper statement rather than reacting so angrily? He storms out in the middle of the interview with an aggressive challenge. He may be distraught, but he is also a professional, and smarter than that. Simonetti and Dryden may be buffoons, but could Hutch have played this better?

After Hutch’s initial interview with Internal Affairs, how aware is he of how the case is stacking up against him? He knows it looks bad with his gun, his living room and his ex-wife. He probably remembers the fight at The Pits. He may or may not remember Vanessa’s scratch across his hand. But he definitely doesn’t know about the diamond. Keep in mind, Hutch has been around the block a time or two and knows most combative ex-spouses don’t need a million dollar diamond as motive, only a physical altercation and anger gone way too far. In fact, the case against him – the one Starsky so passionately refutes – is actually pretty solid. They’re not railroading him, as much as Starsky wants to believe they are.

Is Starsky ever disciplined for slugging Simonetti? Are Starsky and Hutch ever disciplined for cuffing Dryden to the table, handling his gun, disobeying an arrest warrant from the County of Los Angeles and fleeing? Should they have been? If they weren’t, what kept them from accruing some pretty heavy charges? And also, do Simonetti and Dryden keep their jobs? They are never heard from again.

Whenever Starsky wants to humiliate someone, he compares them to women. He calls Simonetti and Dryden (amusingly) “Laverne and Shirley”, asks if the diamond they find in Hutch’s car is their “engagement stone” and dismisses them as “girls”. When he’s demeaning Huggy for his imagined cowardice (although Huggy is being particularly brave, drawing fire from the bad guys) he calls him “grandma”.

What is Starsky doing the hours Hutch is lying, knocked out, in his apartment? We don’t see him checking Vanessa’s flight record, talking to any snitches, investigating the diamond’s path, talking to the Lab about the lack of gunpowder residue on Hutch’s hand or doing anything police-like. Or does he do all this off-camera?

Dobey reminds of Starsky being in the hospital while Hutch was on a case alone. Which case was this, and do these times stick in Starsky and Hutch’s minds?

What are the odds of Hutch being involved in a diamond theft that will eventually involve his ex-wife? Which brings up the uncomfortable possibility that Vanessa, as mule for the stolen property, has targeted him, knowing he would be immediately suspected by the police if something happened. This would make Vanessa seriously psychopathic. Or is all this just a weird coincidence?

When Starsky hands over the warrant, Hutch looks at it for a moment, then slips into anger mode. “You’re awful quiet, buddy,” he says in a dangerous tone of voice. Which begins Starsky’s defense, which is downright scary until you get the gist of things. Hutch attacks him on the subject of loyalty, on friendship, hitting all the sensitive points. One wonders how and why this tactic occurs to them, how they manage it, and how it is they do it so well, and so fast. Why do they imagine this particular routine (a sort of evil mirroring of the beloved Laurel and Hardy act) will get and keep Dryden’s attention?

Starsky and Hutch go to Huggy’s for shelter. (Hmm. Dobey asks Starsky and Dryden to arrest Hutch during business hours; the “arrest” takes about forty minutes. Then they show up at Huggy’s, with Huggy recently asleep and in a bathrobe. This would have to be before he’s on duty at The Pits, a pre-work nap, perhaps. Otherwise it would have to be after 3 a.m, or a holiday). Starsky wants to make a phone call and goes directly to Huggy’s bed, flips over the pillow and grabs the phone for his call. Even though Starsky asks, “is that your phone?” it’s obvious he knows the answer to that very well. How much time has be spent at Huggy’s place?

When Starsky goes to Wheeler (another suit-and-tie-wearing criminal mastermind, in his mahogany-paneled mansion) he makes a case for Wheeler to float some get-out-of-town money. Interesting to note in this lovely, well-acted scene is what I might call the Starsky magic: his quiet, compressed, dangerous, convincing portrayal of a man fed up, and murderously dismissive of, the society he feels has let him down. Starsky is so utterly convincing one wonders how close to the mark this really is.

Tag: Hutch is mightily amused when Dobey tells Starsky Louise isn’t a chinchilla. But unlike other times he’s genuinely amused rather than vindictive. One can easily imagine him taking Starsky out for a consolation dinner.

Episode 62: Class in Crime

April 4, 2011

Hutch goes undercover as a college student to investigate a college professor who teaches a class on the “philosophy of crime” and is a suspect in the shooting death of a former student.

Professor Gage: Peter MacLean, Mickie: Rebecca Balding, Catlin: Michele Carey, Rachel: Gloria Torres, Ralph: Carl Anderson, Stanley: Robert Girard, Mary: Sherril L Katzman, Melanie: Susan Heldfond, Mike Todesco: Robert Rodriguez, Manager: Connie Sawyer. Written By: Don Patterson, Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS:

From the very first frame you know this is going to be a special episode, kept nicely off-kilter by the idiosyncratic direction of Paul Michael Glaser. The image is out of focus before the gloved hand shoots into the frame and the action begins. The view continues to challenge us as Mickie, wonderfully played by Rebecca Balding, breaks the sacred fourth wall by staring right at us when first appearing as the mime. This is followed by other similarly mesmerizing details: the mime’s movements overlaid with the sounds of clicking, as if she’s a machine. Gage putting on the same white gloves as the mime. Extreme close-ups, the shooting, a falling victim (who wears the identically frozen expression as Mickie’s mime as he falls dying to the sidewalk), and the hyper-sexualized scene in the van following the murder.

David Soul badly hurt himself in a skiing accident right before this episode was shot, as evidenced by the bruising on his face hidden by makeup, his stiff movements, and the little use of his right arm. The next five episodes were altered for his comfort, and he had back surgery during the hiatus of the show. This serious injury, I believe, is a catalyst for the general decline of the joyously tough-guy element of the series. As Soul becomes less physically resilient, the episodes themselves become less muscular and more cerebral. We’ll discuss this in depth at the start of Season Four, but for now the shadow of impairment or destabilization should be carefully considered in this and future episodes.

Michelle and Gage are lucky the police haven’t organized themselves enough to cordon off the street, stop traffic, and start corralling witnesses.

Professor Gage is a complicated guy. Like many villains in the series, he seems to make things harder than they should be, and for reasons of his own. Entertained by perversity and conundrum, he makes puzzles of everything he does. He has a superman complex but his triumphs are self-made and false. For instance, the shooting of Allan Richards. Why the elaborate staging? Why in public, and on a busy street? How can he be sure Allan will show up and stand in exactly the right place to be shot? Even a marginally competent bad guy would assassinate Allen on some lonely park path or in his home, but Gage is a megalomaniac and a sociopath, so he must manipulate events to emphasize his imagined super-powers and intensify the rush of victory. For a recipe like that, he needs a lot of ingredients. Danger, timing, precision, absurdity, and eroticism.

Strangely, Mickie continues her mime act even after Allan Richards is shot. She should have gently blended into the background to avoid detection but no, she stares at the body for a long time, then robotically totters in full character. It’s a glimpse into a true amoral personality. Like Gage, fo Mickie murder is entertainment. A man’s life means nothing. In the van later, she assumes a ridiculous, chilling Cockney accent – for no reason – and says she looks forward to being a more “active participant” in the next murder, all the while taking deep, sexual drags on her cigarette.

Nice detail: Gage and Starsky playing the same radio station at the same time.

The girl (and possibly her friend as well) doesn’t even know what Starsky does and yet she agrees to spend the day with him. Talk about a casual pick-up.

Starsky is beeped because he’s the one carrying the pager. Severe budget cuts, or is the police department very sure Hutch will be close by at all times?

Perhaps inspired by his date asking if he’s a doctor or a Roto-Rooter employee, Starsky complains about how much a plumber makes and the steady hours, saying “when he’s off, he’s off”. Well, not exactly: a plumber is sort of the policeman of trades. When emergencies happen, even at 2 a.m., they too are the recipients of a hysterical phone call.

Hutch makes a comment about getting back to the girls at the dock, Rachel and Mary. Starsky says, somewhat whimsically for him, that the names sound like a “small college back east”, to which Hutch, predictably, corrects him about William and Mary. “They were married.” “To who?” “To each other, what do you think.” This is another excellent example of how tension is dissipated through a mock-quarrel.

And then, out of the blue, we get one of the loveliest images in the series: the silhouetted forms of the two men as they walk silently down the long hallway. It’s pure magic and you wish it would go on forever. And it has Glaser’s fingerprints all over it: imaginative, deliberate, and above all silent.

Gage leaves the distinctive, expensive rifle on the scene. At first I thought this was of his egomaniacal touches, but now I think it’s the one piece of evidence that he really could be a professional hit man and not some kind of crazed hobbyist. It’s better to just leave the (most likely untraceable) weapon at the scene than risk getting caught with it, especially since Gage chooses often crowded public spaces in which to stage his killings and must stroll away in full view.

“The wife sends regards,” says Officer Todesco. Starsky looks slightly irritated, Hutch says, “Oh thanks.” It’s an out-of-context remark hinting at pages and pages of back story, which we do not get. Officer Todesco seems a little hostile. Judging from Hutch’s reply, is it something to do with Mrs. Todesco and the handsome detective? Starsky and Todesco’s shared interest in leather, as evidenced later in the car showroom?

It can get repetitive pointing out all the lovely Glaser-directed moments, like pointing out all the insanely colorful fish at an aquarium (look at that one! oh, that one!) but this one is worth mentioning: the shot of the gleaming car as it shifts focus to Starsky’s profile, then Hutch’s (and the requisite irked comment from Hutch). Nearly every scene in this episode begins with a similarly posed moment.

Starsky tells Hutch while he sits with Catlin in the expensive car, “Did you know these things are so quiet that you can actually hear the rustle of silk stockings against the leather. I love the smell of leather.” Hutch answers him, “Well yeah, you and Todesco ought to write a book together.” A book about what, exactly? A shared love of the smell of leather? A shared appreciation for fine cars? Or something else?

During the entire scene at the Mercedes dealership with Catlin, Starsky seems drunk on endorphins. He’s positively sleepy. At first both are attracted to the magnetic but certifiably nuts Catlin, but once Starsky hones in on her Hutch gives up the pursuit while simultaneously developing an aversion to her, possibly as a way of convincing himself he didn’t want her in the first place.

Catlin is very strange. Starsky is drawn to her. Mickie is very strange. Gage is drawn to her. Both women are hyper-sexual, predatory, and theatrical. What does this correlation tell us, if anything?

Thank you, writer Don Patterson: “He was murdered in broad daylight,” says Hutch, referring to Allen Richards. Catlin says, with astonishing insight, “Nighttime is for women.” Both detectives seem impressed and slightly taken aback by this. Starsky gives a funny look to his proffered – and ignored – gold shield. Hutch offers, “Polish it.”

Private Jokes: the Rookies episode Jack is watching, “Blue Christmas,” which originally aired in December of 1974, a show Soul guested in at one point.

Jack is sitting in his chair waiting for his top salesman and partner in blackmail to arrive. He’s got a loaded gun on the arm of his chair. It’s never clear whether he’s just the nervous type – afraid Gage will coming looking for revenge, or perhaps he’s heard somehow about Allan’s murder (although, if he had, do you think he’d be sitting with his back to the door?) – or if he is planning to kill Allan Richards and take the whole lot for himself.

Note the discordant jazz-style music following the killing of Jack, nicely underscoring the sense that none of the parts fit together.

It’s interesting two such different people met in a college class on criminology. Jack is much older than Allan, almost Gage’s age, but they struck up such a tight relationship they not only share this deadly pastime, but Jack hires Allan to work at his showroom and considers him his “top salesman” to boot. What was the connection between them? Did they discover, upon meeting each other, a similar shadow side? Both men are drawn to crime (Jack “never misses” reruns of The Rookies), both are not above snooping into someone’s secrets. Both are good liars, naturally deceptive, financially motivated (at least in part, even though Jack owns a profitable luxury-goods business), and risk-takers. Both have serious ethical deficiencies. Both exhibit a fair degree of narcissism – not only challenging Primo Narcissist Professor Gage but convinced they will best him. Those must have been some pretty intense chats over beers at the student union building.

Hutch, true to his admirable eye for detail, notes the handkerchief used to chloroform Jack smells like White Shoulders perfume. This is a distinctive touch and it makes me wonder if Gage is playing with the police as a sideline to the main event, offering tantalizing clues he figures they’ll never figure out as a way of amusing himself. This would also explain leaving the rifle behind. If he really is a professional hit man, as Richards and Morgan believe (and I have my doubts that he is), did he also bait the police as part of his “professional” duties? I can easily imagine a series of puzzling items abandoned at the crime scenes that would leave detectives scratching their heads.

Note that Mickie says Morgan’s gun was pointed in her “plastic face”. It’s a robotic/machine reference that makes this “romantic” scene even creepier than it already is.

Hutch on his own is a very studied, methodical man. Just like he will be later in “The Avenger”, looking at the identity kit in the late-night squad room, he’s searching Richards’ apartment in a very thorough, inward way. You can nearly hear him thinking. I like how he takes a mask off the wall and looks through the eye-holes at the books on the bookshelf as if looking through the victim’s eyes in an attempt to understand him; it’s a psychologically centered approach to criminal investigation which seems very progressive.

It’s here, as Hutch moves through the apartment, that we again notice the music in this episode. As with everything else, it’s sophisticated and quite different from the usual standard fare.

Hutch is okay with Starsky wasting precious time on a case and also shagging a potential witness. Both have a history of ignoring, overlooking or excusing each other’s entanglements, even when it results in sloppy police work. Is Hutch’s easy-going reaction payback for Starsky’s tolerance during the Anna Akhanatova episode?

Gage’s choice of words reflects his bizarre beliefs in the relationship between murderer and victim. He uses two-word combinations, “killer” and “killee.” And the even worse one, “victor” and “victim.”

Is Professor Gage an apologist and proponent of the philosophy of Ayn Rand? Is this episode in fact a criticism of “Atlas Shrugged”? Could be. Many of his statements seem to echo Rand’s beliefs of Objectivism and her so-called “rational self-interest”. Basically, Rand believed a man attains objective knowledge through inductive and deductive logic, that the moral purpose of life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness, that the only social system consistent with this morality is total respect for individual rights above all else, a respect embodied in the idea of capitalism as its triumphant achievement. Rand also put forward the notion of the ultimate goal of human life is to transform metaphysical ideas into a physical form in a grand gesture or work of art. Rand’s “virtue of selfishness”and her views on the primary focus on the individual’s perogative to pursue his own well-being have interesting echoes in Gage’s lecture. His criminal behavior – the elaborate set-ups, his deep, sensual satisfaction in their completion, as well as his unflagging ownership of his own actions – could be his own monumental “work of art”.

“When we break the rules, there is that salacious part of us that knows it and does it by choice.” Thus speaks Professor Gage, who goes on to imply that murder is an exercise in the breaking of illogical rules, much as voting is the exercise of our democratic rights. That is, an implied act of heroism, and for a greater good.

More interesting direction: Starsky and Dobey hash out the aspects of the case, Hutch walking in midway through the conversation with the answer to their question. Everyone is flattered by the unusual lighting, particularly Hutch. It’s a slats-making-shadows dim light that is never seen before (and never repeated in this notoriously ill-lit series). It adds to the feelings of noir and looks more cinematic than televised. Also, echoing an earlier meeting between Dobey and Hutch, it’s staged as a stylized pyramid, both men tilted inward to the center. This time, Hutch’s entry causes the two sides to fall away. It’s choreographed very well.

Peter MacLean has appeared three times in the series (all of them, even the judge in “Targets”, similarly smoothly controlling alpha gangster-types). I’ve often wondered what it is about him the producers felt was so type-castingly criminal. Whatever it was, in two guest-starring roles they use the same handwriting when needed. We see the same backhanded, left-slant writing when Matt Coyle writes the note about Smiling Johnny’s pick-up at Schultz’s bar in “Iron Mike”, and on the blackboard in Professor Gage’s classroom – it could be MacLean’s or the same set director, but the continuity is striking.

One of the most fascinating scenes in the series is the one in which Hutch is publicly humiliated by Gage when arriving late to his class. It’s rare to see Hutch at any kind of a disadvantage, denuded of both power and prestige. Unable to flash a badge or fight back with his considerable verbal skills, he’s forced to accept Gage’s condescension and appear humbled by it. It’s actually quite painful to watch, like seeing a cheetah forced into a cage; you just want to see Hutch stand up and demolish the guy. The fact that he doesn’t shows how Hutch is able to do what it takes to figure out a perplexing case, and check ego at the door. Gage, misinterpreting his prey’s vulnerability, attacks with relish, telling him the apology is Hutch’s “own sense of limiting convention under the guise of insincere politeness.”

It’s fun to imagine Starsky being undercover as the student instead of Hutch. One imagines his very different approach to the situation. Stalling for time with attempts at flirtatious charm until ridiculed into defensive shouting, a sort of “oh yeah? So’s your sister” kind of thing. He does, however, have a strikingly similar scene with Mickie when she finds him in her house. Mickie is similarly lecturing, indifferent and cruel, and Starsky (like Hutch in class) tries to talk himself out of the mess using apologies, excuses, and invented justifications – physically and psychologically making himself smaller as a way of backing out of a tense situation.

Unlike the previous episode, “Satan’s Witches”, which looks at if it was slapped together for a buck-fifty, “Class in Crime” is sleek and expensive-looking. The locations are sensitively chosen, and of a far better quality than typically used. For instance, Gage’s beach house, without doubt, is the most striking private location in the entire series. The Pacific Coast Modernism is lovely to look at: driftwood, wooden doors and reclaimed windows, large wood deck with a collection of fine plantings, modern art and large wool weaving on the wall. It’s “real” in a way most locations in the series are not.

Gage frames the written threat by Jack and Allan, another sign of an inflated ego mixed with suicidal carelessness. Hutch mimics it successfully on the blackboard, leading the professor to speculate, erroneously, a “lower-middle-class” ruffian.

Outside the classroom, Hutch regains the upper hand over Gage. He’s abrupt and contradictory as Gage was with him, and asserts mastery (“make it two hours”) by making up his own rules, even specifying what Gage is supposed to wear. This reassertion of superiority is not for himself, but for the good of the case. He needs to keep Gage off-balance, and coming on strong in direct opposition to his earlier mildness in the classroom is exactly the right choice.

Starsky asks Hutch how he can possibly win over this well-armed psychopath. “I’m counting on you,” Hutch says, then takes Starsky’s sunglasses. These small transgressions illustrate a deep level of trust.

Starsky gets into position to observe the meeting at the beach; he scans the landscape with binoculars, obviously looking for Mickie, since he was careful to check the house for her earlier, only to note her absence. It’s interesting that Starsky and Hutch suspect her despite having no evidence of her involvement in the case and, statistically speaking, killers like Gage rarely work with their girlfriends or wives. There must have been a conversation between Starsky and Hutch linking her with the female mime at the initial crime scene, and her earlier obstructive behavior.

Hutch arrives at the beach and Gage tells him he has the blackmail payment. How does Gage know how much money Hutch was asking for? They never discuss it, so perhaps Gage is thinking of the original amount demanded of him by Richards and Morgan.

During the beautifully filmed beach scene does Gage actually believe Hutch when he says, “uh, because I’m selfish”? To me, this seems as transparently false as the flattery Gage offers with his soothing, “you are much smarter, Mr. Hutchinson”. Gage loves pretense and irony, he admires duplicity and what he would consider “intelligence”, and Hutch is exhibiting all these traits in the way he talks. Here, Hutch reveals his sensitivity to this and other complex situations necessitating a subtle, chameleon-like personality shift. Simply put, he’s able to change his personality a degree or two in order to get what he wants. Here he’s just challenging enough to pique Gage’s interest without arousing his defenses. Not easy. Being engaged in this manner – by someone who might well be his equal – gives Gage a rush, and he isn’t as observant as he could be: he misses seeing Starsky, for instance, and carries on the conversation longer than he should have.

With all of Gage’s supposed smarts, he never once thinks Hutch might be an undercover police officer. He’s very trusting that this mysteriously appearing older non-student (a simple check of Hutch’s admissions forms would show he only signed up for one class) was who he said he was. Could he really be that naive?

Let’s hope Hutch is wearing a wire, because otherwise his beach conversation might be tossed out of court as hearsay. The only crime, then, would be Mickie’s attempted murder, although she could very well claim they had been stalked and threatened by Hutch, and she was simply defending herself.

When Mickie falls and is picked up by Gage, she exactly assumes the pose of the mime she played in the beginning, right down to the staring eyes.

“You could’ve killed her,” Gage says to Starsky as he cradles Mickie. “Yeah, I could’ve,” Starsky replies, “but I didn’t.” This is implies compassion, but the fact is Starsky had no control of whether he killed her or not. In the effort to protect Hutch he simply fired like a maniac into the brush, not caring who or what he was shooting at, or what the outcome was. Wounding her was simply lucky.

And so the question of motivation is left unanswered. Why exactly does Gage kill? Jack and Allen refer to him as a professional, which implies multiple murders. If so, why the combination of college professor and hit man seems awfully time-consuming. Wouldn’t one of those be enough? Is murder just another intellectual exercise to Gage or is it a nasty but practical solution to a new problem and a chance for Gage to finally act upon his and Mickie’s fantasy? And also, what exactly were Allen and Jack blackmailing Gage for? It’s never revealed, although it’s the linchpin upon which the whole plot revolves. We are supposed to guess they caught Gage committing murder, or maybe found evidence of this, and instead of going to the police like normal people they decide to give him a little taste of his own sour medicine. But it’s far more likely Richards and Morgan were simply crime nerds whose imaginations got a little too feverish as they sat in a bar comparing notes about their horrible professor. (“He sure knows an awful lot about murder!”) Does anyone remember “The Children’s Hour”?

Tag: There’s a great tangle worthy of a silent film comedy when Starsky rushes to get the fishing rod and traps Hutch while doing so. But then he loses it – tricked by a fish – and Hutch slams a net over his head in retaliation for an expensive loss.

Clothing notes: Hutch wears a dark leather bomber jacket and caramel corduroys, plus a black pea-coat and black turtleneck in the penultimate scene. Starsky wears some truly heart-stopping jeans as he tours the beach house.

Episode 61: Satan’s Witches

March 23, 2011

While vacationing in the woods, Starsky and Hutch are caught between a coven of Satanists and the frightened locals under threat.

Joe Tyce: Charles Napier, Hank Ward: Taylor Lacher, Cabot: Robert Raymond Sutton, Rodell: Joseph Ruskin, Rachel Tyce: Patricia Wilson, Julie: Deborah Zon, Tricia: Jeri Lea Ray, Ellie Ward: Bess Gatewood, Lizzie Tyce: Lark Geib. Written By: Bob Barbash, Directed By: Nicholas Sgarro.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This episode’s title really cracks me up. It’s overkill to add “witches” to “Satan” but the somewhat silly excess hints at what is wrong here. This is one of the episodes I have always feel has the germ of a good idea but falls apart in execution, a failure solely to do with the decade it was made in. It’s pretty toothless. The cult is outlandish but not really frightening (although Rodell himself has a rough-hewn, dour appearance that is a bit spooky); this puts it in the same camp as transvestites and polygamists, laughable terrors of perversion the average viewer could tsk-tsk at and then file away under Crazy California and go to bed with doors unlocked. Nothing to do with me. And so the kidnapping of a young girl barely registers on the fright meter. At times this episode has more in common with a 1950s B-movie than a cop drama, sans giant insects (although we do get a snake). All of this is a shame, because a vacationing Starsky and Hutch, stranded in the woods battling bad guys, sounds really, really good. Television at the time was so deeply conservative and so restrained by critics and censors this episode is doomed from the start: instead of thrilling chases through the forest and hardcore survivalists we get hot pants and campfires. It makes any viewer, even this one, crave a torture scene or some genuine blood splashing the front door of the cabin, anything to save it from its primetime cheeriness.

The cult’s raison d’être is a bit of a puzzle. Group leader Rodell seems too smart to be out in the woods chanting nonsense and exercising a bit of meaningless power. And even though supernatural fanaticism often relies heavily on drug use, and this one in particular seems fueled by both drugs and a certain barbaric carnality, we see no evidence of either, not even the inferential hints this series is often very good at – so good there are certain episodes (such as “Vendetta”) which have a whole other storyline running below script like a palimpsest. An explanation of Rodell’s beliefs would be interesting. As well, we could do with some insight into why they kidnap the sheriff’s daughter of all people. Wouldn’t that be the quickest route to extermination? If they’re hoping to avoid trouble, maybe picking a less contentious victim to sacrifice, someone who wouldn’t be missed so quickly, would be the order of the day. Or did Satan point a bony finger at Lizzie and say, “I want that one”?

Also, one wonders about the series’ preoccupation with cults and vampires and Manson-like killers. Sign of the times? The shadow-side to the permissive seventies, or just an excuse for an exciting clash of good and evil?

Throughout this episode there is a distinct feeling of rural vs urban, with small-town folks exposed as provincial, superstitious, ineffectual, and morally suspect. The cultists, the official bad guys here, aren’t really in the equation. Rather, the failure of the townsfolk to control their own prejudices and fears is held up here as the real problem. A close correlation of this would be Arthur Miller’s “Crucible”, ostensibly about the Salem Witch Trials but of course is really about the ugly politics of McCarthyism. Nuttiness (typified here by Rodell) will always exist on the extreme end of humanity, an exotic and occasionally poisonous flower with no intrinsic harm. Just as Edmund Burke said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing, and so the bigotry and ignorance exemplified by the townsfolk is what makes the story tragic, not the Satanists dancing around in their costumes. If this is the true meaning of this story – and I’m convinced it is – why is there so much wasted time here?

The episode opens with a pan of Los Angeles on a particularly smoggy day. Is this meant to emphasize the clean air of the countryside?

Dobey is so not the type to do a spot of fishing with the family, build a camp fire, swashbuckle through the forest with a machete to clear some trails. So where did the cabin come from? It’s most likely a neglected family inheritance, one he’s reluctant to part with for sentimental reasons.

Starsky hates everything to do with this “vacation”. His complaints about “itching and scratching and the bees and the bears” litter the first few seconds of the episode. He’s made comments in the past about wanting to go camping, but now it becomes clear Starsky didn’t mean what he was saying. So why did he agree to this in the first place?

“Lotta water, lotta trees …” this whole segment is a gem. Also an interesting bit that shows their unity of thought; both of them separately say the same things about the woods at the same time.

The “Friendly Town”: It always strikes me as interesting that the first thing they do when arriving at the cabin is to turn around and go back into town. Even though Starsky and Hutch are ostensibly buying food (no doubt finding the vast, gleaming supermarkets in the city not to their liking) this is obviously sacrificing logic for narrative trajectory. Also, since when does a town in California have no asphalt? This place (and the people) seem awfully backwards with the dirt roads and faded grey timbers like a gold-rush outpost. The episode might have been so much spookier, and more believable, if filmed in an actual town and not some lazily constructed “Psycho”-era set, but perhaps there were budgetary restrictions or planning issues.

Notice how Starsky reacts to trouble brewing: he relaxes. His body language changes, it’s all alert laziness. It’s one of his most powerful characteristics, the key to his success as a police officer, and always fascinating to observe. It’s the best scene in the entire episode, and the only one not infected with implausibility. It feels stark and real, and Glaser is arresting in his few moments of isolated screen time. “It’s okay,” he tells the young woman at the gas station, “I get off on hostility”. Were any truer words ever spoken?

When danger looms, Starsky defaults to pleasantries, seems generally “nicer” and more accommodating. In the same situation Hutch can be more intense, caustic, and apprehensive. Starsky tends to go silent and rely on his keen observational skills, measuring his opponent’s threat level. Hutch tends to become argumentative, and talk his way out of a situation – or escalate it, whichever fits the bill.

Why is the guy at the gas station so murderously hostile toward Starsky in the first place? They have a glaring showdown twice as menacing as anything Starsky experiences in the Big City, even though it’s obvious Starsky is just a tourist and poses no threat. It’s possible, but unlikely, the guy is trying to frighten him into leaving for his own good, although we have no evidence this is the case.

In contrast, across the street in the general store, the sheriff’s wife is all sweetness and light, happy to have Hutch as a customer, only noticeably tightening when he mentions staying at the Dobey cabin. And her daughter’s been kidnapped! Why is she coping so well, and gas-jockey Joe there looking like he’s about to implode?

Hutch is extremely funny in this episode – Starsky is full of righteous indignation but Hutch knows he’s the agent of this comical adventure and is determined to enjoy it. He’s playful and encouraging, never impatient with Starsky’s whining and secretly plotting to make his discomfort worse. It could be said that Starsky is generally happier when working and Hutch is generally happier when vacationing. Incidentally, this is the only episode in the entire run of the series that is not connected in any way to Bay City business.

The cult, with their candles-in-skulls props and cranberry-red robes, has an interesting gender makeup: the guys are all exceptionally rough-looking older biker types, tending to downright homely, and the girls are Playboy Bunnyesque blondes. Chief Satanist Rodell’s recruitment posters must be very specific.

Starsky says the vandalism is drawn in blood, but we can see this isn’t blood at all but obviously red paint. The properties of blood, its greasy thin consistency and the fact it turns black when exposed to oxygen seems like a big clue. And Starsky is more familiar with blood than the average person. Is all that fresh air and blue skies impairing his detective skills?

It’s very funny that the moment Starsky has Hutch in a arm-lock the personal moment is interrupted by the arrival of two pretty girls. They attempt to ameliorate any notion of effeminacy by shaking each other’s hand. This nicely echoes other embarrassing moments, such as the dip interrupted by Ginger (“Dancing”) which was also canceled out by a vigorously manly handshake. The hilarity of the moment almost, but not quite, obscures the fact there was no real reason for Starsky to grab Hutch in the first place. What was he protecting him from?

Starsky, vanishes inside the cabin when the girls arrive because he’s in his underwear. But he reappears in a dirty apron – and underwear. In the time it took to find Hutch’s apron, couldn’t he have found his own pair of jeans? And while we’re on the subject, wouldn’t an apron be even more emasculating than a pair of long-johns?

Funny how Hutch, when looking for a way to trap the rattlesnake, overlooks the conveniently hanging trout net and goes for a flashlight first, then a blanket.

Sacrifices, chanting, fires, medallions, red cloaks, just what are Satan’s Witches up to, anyway? Wedding a teenage girl to Satan should imply this cult is concerned with preventing calamity by appeasing a god, or at the very least ensuring the continuation of good fortune. Satanism as a complex individualistic philosophy devoted to the worship of the carnal self among other aspects – hardly scary. Still it’s used as a conveniently spooky device here, as was “voodoo” in an earlier episode. This willingness to hold up the customs and beliefs of others as bizarre or perverse is such a widespread problem it hardly bears mentioning, but it’s a shame, nonetheless.

The two women we meet in this godforsaken town are the voice of reason. They act compassionately and logically while the men are sulky, unimaginative, and argumentative.

“Blind Man’s Bluff” is an interesting choice to make when attempting to subdue the bad guys. Starsky and Hutch, with the help of dramatic light effects, perform a series of comedic actions – a rattle, a telephone, ironic comments, silly offers – to distract and overpower the evil Satanists. It seems very lighthearted when the life of a young girl is at stake. Why the extra fooling around?

The capture and probably torture of Starsky and Hutch, as well as Lizzie, is cut short by the arrival of cop cars. The sheriff hugs his daughter and thanks the guys for their work. Question: why didn’t the sheriff act sooner, especially since it was his daughter in trouble? What would be a greater motivation than saving his child’s life? Even a threat like “don’t go after us, or your daughter pays with her life” wouldn’t stop a grief-stricken parent, especially a law enforcement officer with vast resources at his disposal.

The tag: Starsky’s waxing on about the beauties of nature while Hutch begs to leave is another example of mutable identities. The roar of a bear brings the scene to a sudden amusing halt, and the scene is so charming it seems nit-picking to mention that bears hardly ever roar or do much in the way of vocalizing at all. A growling or roaring bear is largely a cinematic invention. So, an artificial end to a largely artificial storyline. And again with cultists and bears! Remember “Bloodbath”? Does Starsky flash back to the cave again when he hears the familiar sound?

Clothing notes: mostly the guys wear weekend-camping duds, but it takes a great deal of confidence to pull off Starsky’s skin-tight red long-john outfit, complete with back panel. He wears this throughout the episode under his clothes.

Episode 60: The Trap

March 11, 2011

Young troublemaker Joey is trapped with Starsky and Hutch in a barn that’s about to be set ablaze by an ex-con out to get Hutch.

Joey Carston: Kristy McNichol, Delano: Anthony Geary, Trayman: Antony Ponzini, Johnny Bagley: Bill McKinney, Clerk: Pat Morita, Mrs. Carston: Ann Prentiss. Written By: Sid Green and Robert E Swanson, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

It’s difficult to know what the title of this episode refers to: the barn or the kid. Incredibly, this marks the third time Kristy McNichol has played a tomboy who comes into the lives of Starsky and Hutch via a crime: the first as a very young child in “The Hostages”, the second in “Little Girl Lost”. However, the effect this time is markedly different than her turn as the brutally orphaned Molly. Gone is the emotional impact of a child desperate to belong after losing everything she has. Although the story is familiar – Joey more or less running wild, with no supportive parent, finding herself in a sticky situation – her plight feels less important somehow, a distraction from the real story. In “Little Girl Lost” the father is a weak man whose inability to go straight ends in his murder. The absent parent this time is a narcissistic mother (played oh so perfectly by Ann Prentiss) whose indifference is seen as a typical, if annoying, outcome of modern times and not exactly a tragedy, although to our contemporary eyes her indifference to her daughter verges on, or maybe is, abusive. Starsky and Hutch make one half-hearted effort to remedy the situation then shrug and walk off. Joey’s interpolation as stowaway and would-be girlfriend to Starsky waters down what could have been a truly thrilling episode, because even though all the classic elements are there – revenge, betrayal, a heroic battle of wits, a ticking bomb – the episode wanders into the terrifying realm of schmaltz.

The jewelry store clerk seems to have a little crush on Starsky, allowing him to grab an expensive watch without much objection while severely tut-tutting Hutch for even daring to breathe on the glass case. Hutch, who hates being told what to do under any circumstance, mimics the clerk hilariously under his breath.

Hutch calls Joey “that kid” but Starsky, unusually, sees that kid (seemingly prepubescent, in jeans, jacket, and pulled-down cap) as a “she”, and in a split-second, no less. Can he actually smell estrogen, or what?

The Yamamoto Reflex watch has very special features lovingly outlined by Starsky: date and day of the week, alarm, altimeter, automatic depth gauge, automatic illumination, second hand points to magnetic north, stopwatch, temperature and humidity, and the button that “reminds me to look at the brochure”.

Huggy talks to Starsky, and asks if he and his “other half” would come down and talk to him. Starsky tells Hutch, “he said he wouldn’t talk to me unless you were there.” Not exactly accurate, as Huggy only wants to speak with both of them. Does Starsky’s comment allude to the fact that Huggy prefers Hutch to Starsky, and he knows it?

Starsky drives well over the speed limit, flying down the alley, on the way to a call neither detective thinks is urgent. And Hutch is out the door before the car comes to a halt. Seems to me all this dare-deviling without any kind of rationale implies a kind of existential boredom shared by both Starsky and Hutch. They don’t seem to have much on the go when the episode begins. This could also explain why they both go after the pint-sized shoplifter with the manic zeal they do, crashing into the flower shop like lunatics. Why so much effort, unless inventing emergencies in order to shake themselves out of malaise?

Starsky and Hutch seem to take Huggy’s beating lightly. They express concern but only in the most facile way, pointing out how much better a professional heavy would do, under the same circumstances. Meanwhile Huggy is grimacing in real pain, and the bar is a mess. They also joke about it when they leave. Do they suspect Huggy is malingering, are they hiding their true feelings, or do they really just not care all that much? This is while the whole scene is peppered with affection, both guys calling Huggy “old buddy” etc.

Bagley’s tie isn’t tied – it’s wrapped in a fold. I seem to remember this being a very brief trend.

The bad guys don’t use gloves when wiring the device to the radio. Sloppy, or arrogant?

Why don’t Starsky and Hutch react to that strange new male voice in dispatch?

Two guys wrestle a young girl into a car on a city street, and nobody notices.

There are some great 70s cultural references in this episode, namely the bad guys boasting to each other that “Foyt and Petty couldn’t catch us”, and Joey’s mother Mrs Carston rushing off to an EST seminar.

As the guys wait for the showdown at the diner, the camera pans past a sign that reads “1 Hour Free Parking”, and then, derisively, “BULLOCKS”. Which must give our British friends plenty of laughs.

Which timepiece is accurate? Starsky chooses his watch’s accuracy over the Torino’s dashboard clock, saying the Torino’s clock is three minutes fast. Bagley is obsessed about arriving at the coffee shop on Brady at precisely two o’clock, to the point of making an extra phone call to make sure; this would point to the Torino’s clock indeed being on the fast side.

The Torino has protected Starsky and Hutch in gunfights before; they have driven it through many a hail of bullets. Why do they abandon it for the barn, before they know the radio has been sabotaged?

Starsky and Hutch could have busted out of that flimsy barn in about two minutes. They have certainly kicked down doors stronger than those walls. And it has already been proven at least one side of the barn, the one facing the gully and the woods, isn’t covered by a rifleman. Yet they seem paralyzed, unable to figure anything out. I think that the staging of this story, rather than its narrative elements, is the thing that lets the episode down. The whole trapped-in-a-barn feels artificial. The house is too far from the barn to be really dangerous. Why not keep this episode in the city, in some steel-enforced warehouse? It would be more believable and more suspenseful than the hay-covered, badly-constructed pseudo “barn” that looks like a cast-off from “Green Acres”. The series at its best is gritty inner-city LA, so why do the writers and producers insist on dragging them out into the countryside? Cheaper and easier to film, or what?

Hutch says he put Bagley away “about seven years ago” for “pushing, pimping and porno” – but there’s no mention of Starsky being part of this arrest, even though they were together during training and while in uniform. It’s likely they knew each other, and were friends, but did not work together until promotion to detective.

Bagley is like Prudhome from “Pariah” and “Starsky’s Lady” and the professor from “A Coffin for Starsky”, someone harboring a murderous grudge against a cop for the death of a loved one, in this case Bagley’s brother, who died in a warehouse fire. Instead of taking an easy shot to solve the problem – as graphically demonstrated by Trayman in the van by cocking a rifle – all these guys prefer a slow, creative form of death hoping to reenact the death of the person they have lost. “… you die,” bellows Bagley from the house, “the way Ernie died!” Even though this trope has been seen before it always feels to me to be a genuinely human response to unimaginable grief. And, like Prudhome and Professor Jennings, Bagley is eventually brought down by the fact he has forgotten that Hutch is not a Single, but a Double.

“This is one hell of a mess you got us into, Hutchinson,” Starsky says to Hutch (echoing Bagley’s use of the full name). Interestingly, this isn’t an accusation but a joke. Starsky is being ironic, and this faux-accusation tells Hutch that he is not responsible for the events, and is, in fact, an innocent victim. In the world of masculine friendship where teasing is a cover for affection, this reverse statement is a sincere form of absolution.

Two hours to think about it? Doesn’t Bagley think Hutch can figure out a way to escape in that length of time? Maybe he’s right, because a full hour passes before either Starsky or Hutch come up with anything concrete. I have made a strenuous effort to enjoy this series as presented, and abstain from the impulse to rewrite and reimagine, because revisionism is not my role as a documenter and analyst. Having made that rule I am now going to break it, and suggest that if the time signature of this episode had been accelerated, like it is during “Deckwatch” for instance, the episode might have been vastly more thrilling. “You have two minutes to think about it!” See?

Starsky really does handle the whole girl-crush thing beautifully. He never talks down to Joey, managing to be flirtatious with a pre-teen without being creepy, an incredibly difficult feat. In fact his flirtatiousness has the effect of maintaining her dignity rather than lessening it, causing her to feel stronger, more in control, and braver. Does his flirting seem less “real” because Joey is dressed like a boy the whole time, and is boyish in general, and does that tough tomboy veneer make all the talk of “looking older” and “dates” seem so innocent than it would be otherwise? Or is it because Starsky is such a sterling character you just can’t believe he’d ever do anything even remotely questionable? Starsky does not act paternally or lasciviously, but I am having difficulty putting a word to how he does act. The closest parallel I can come up with is how a generous movie star might act toward a young fan. There’s a performative, remote, but strangely genuine rendering of romance rather than romance itself. He is acting the role she has dreamed up for him.

Joey could have been a lot faster running down that gully if she didn’t have to worry about her hat. I wonder, too, what happens to her. They’re out in the rural suburbs without backup, and a twelve-year-old girl shouldn’t be hitchhiking. Do they think she’ll find her way back into the city, or do they hope she’ll just hide out until it’s safe? Nothing more is mentioned about her, even when the bullets are flying out the house and into the woods.

Starsky’s half-delirious stories of Uncle Myron and Uncle Alphonse – both uncles succumbing to spectacular deaths – seems more like Starsky being inventive than honest. If so, then his stories are classic narratives, used throughout time from Homer to Scheherazade as a way of providing comfort or distraction under stress. Ironically, it is Starsky who’s in danger and not Hutch, and yet Starsky feels he needs to comfort his partner (unless his rambling is a way of distracting himself). This is reminiscent of the other times he provides entertaining family stories in times of trouble, such as Aunt Rose in “Coffin” and (possibly the same) Uncle Al in “JoJo”.

I’m not sure why they don’t use the tractor to get to the Torino and get the hell out of there. Nobody disabled the car, so escape is possible. Is this a case of neither one wanting to let it go, or run away from a situation, no matter what the cost?

I love when Hutch tells Starsky “This is the best plan I ever had” and manages to make it sound like a boastful fact when actually it’s rushed and improbable. Confidence is half the battle.

Earlier Hutch was derisive when Starsky shows him all the things the watch can do, setting the alarm etc. But when the chips are down, Hutch takes the watch out of his pocket (which Starsky, touchingly, has made him take when it looked as if things weren’t going their way) and proceeds to set the alarm exactly as Starsky showed him. Which meant he was paying close attention, even when it seemed as if he wasn’t.

The episode heats up when the action moves to the house, but even then these have to be the worst criminals in the series. There are too few bad guys to make it seem like a real siege – Bagley’s men are half-blind dimwits who ca’t even check a tiny bathroom properly for a hiding Hutch. One is brought down by a sore toe. He’s too dumb to notice Starsky is weak and badly wounded and that making even a half-hearted grab for that gun might work. There’s far too much shouted information passing between them which is easily overheard.

David Soul’s perfect body language is highlighted in this scene – he is most graceful when in survivalist mode, and you can actually hear him thinking when the idea of setting the watch alarm occurs to him.

Starsky picks a mock fight in the adrenaline-fueled moments after the arrests are made, and it’s easy to see how this discharges the last of the predatory intensity. The energy is released, and both reenter the human world of phone calls and paperwork.

Sartorial notes: There is a brief clothing blooper as the tractor breaks out of the barn and the stunt men riding in it are clearly wearing slightly different clothing than Starsky and Hutch. Starsky seems to be wearing the plaid shirt from “Heroes”. Hutch is a star in jeans and a blue military-style jacket. His hair is longer than normal.

Episode 59: A Body Worth Guarding

February 21, 2011

Hutch falls for the Russian ballerina he is assigned to protect, while Starsky works to find out who’s threatening her.

Anna Akhanatova: Monique Van De Ven, Miller: Michael Margotta, Steinmetz: John O’Leary, Masha Barovnika: Signe Hasso, Morty Kauffman: Allan Miller. Written By: Rick Edelstein and Sam Paley, Directed By: Rick Edelstein.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

I’ve made the point before how the presence of an attractive woman can often spell ruination for both Starsky’s and Hutch’s detective skills. This episode is a case in point. Despite Hutch’s boast to Anna how good a detective he is, he is sub-par throughout most of the episode. He does a lackluster search of her hotel room when thoroughness was called for, runs into a glass door, can’t get his gun in out of its holster when he hears a noise in the hallway and then draws on the bellman with the newspaper. He isn’t at all prepared when Starsky relieves him. He goes to the door without his gun and Starsky has to hand it to him. He really does no work whatsoever in solving the case, letting Starsky take the majority of responsibility. He stays up all night, rendering him useless the next day (much like Starsky did in the previous episode). One would assume that he wasn’t on guard when he was with Anna. Worst of all, he points a loaded gun at Starsky in jest. But it’s not all bad news. Despite this, Hutch’s brief relationship with the fiery, intelligent Anna is a sweet one and feels genuine; both enjoy their time together with no regrets. It may be the only time we see Hutch walk away from an essentially incompatible pairing without a shadow of loss and guilt hanging over him. For that, it is truly wonderful to witness,and it goes a long way toward making us forget about his professional lapses.

First scene (and let’s ignore the tiny continuity error, the Torino going past with the passenger, presumably Hutch, in a caramel leather jacket, when he’s in fact in black): we hear Hutch say, “Do you ever wonder why?” In the “Starsky and Hutch” canon, the first scene in the episode usually provides a thematic context to the episode, often in a kind of roundabout way, and here is a wonderful illustration of this. “Why what,” Starsky says, immediately wary because these conversations never go well for him. Hutch begins on one of his existential, somewhat poignant philosophical rants while looking out the window of the Torino. Inspired by the dusty blight of the streets, perhaps? “Life … there’s got to be more to life than just breathing in and breathing out.”
”There is,” Starsky says, and Hutch isn’t so jaded or full of himself that he doesn’t look at Starsky with sudden intense expectation. Of course the answer isn’t what he wants. Starsky goes on to mention his hot date, and Hutch furiously calls him a hedonist. This conversation presages Hutch’s obsession with Anna, as he sees in her a portal to a more cultured, artistic life, the life he believes is hovering, mirage-like, just slightly beyond his reach. Hutch’s frustrations with the daily grind is one of the more fascinating and entertaining mainstays of the series. Starsky’s breezy carpe diem philosophy toward life, which I suspect is more a consequence of iron will than a simple assumption, is another one. Mimicking the relaxed mood of the relationship, Rick Edelstein directs this scene in a very intimate manner, hand-held camera in the back seat, as if we’re along for the ride.

When the scene shifts to the Bay City version of Parker Center, the confidential mood continues, the guys talking animatedly just out of our earshot, Hutch bossy, Starsky long-suffering. “Is something amiss?” Hutch says, walking into the squad room. “Like what,” Starsky says. “If I knew that,” Hutch snaps, “it wouldn’t be missing.” “You’re weird, you know that?” Starsky says, and Hutch replies indistinctly. The fact that we can’t quite make out the dialogue doesn’t matter, they’re just filling time. It’s guerilla TV, a loose, innovative, improvisational approach to setting a scene and remarkable to watch. Dobey blows in and crisply delivers his directive and the episode really begins.

When handing out the assignment, Dobey ignores Starsky, handing the photo to Hutch even though it’s meant for both of them. Does he know Hutch will recognize the famous ballerina, while Starsky will be indifferent? Is Dobey hoping to please the notoriously unpleasable Hutch? Hard to say (Dobey’s motives are about 50% murky throughout the series), but note how Starsky plays out the stereotype by doing a dismissively erroneous pas-de-deux behind Dobey as he leaves.

Despite being painted as the rube, Starsky does appreciate Anna’s dancing. His statement that “she has more moves than Muhammad Ali” is quite a compliment, and nicely unpretentious.

Hutch can be a bit of snob, concerned with etiquette and linguistic proprieties, and he likes to see himself as culturally sophisticated, as well as catholic in his tastes. Starsky is supposedly the boor and the plebian – the hedonist, as Hutch calls him in the first scene, a straightforward kind of guy who doesn’t always play nice. And yet Hutch is the one nearly ruining the initial meeting with his barbed comments and political ignorance while Starsky is the clever peacemaker. Yes, the instantaneous antipathy erupting between Hutch and Anna is mostly sexual fireworks, but still Hutch shows remarkably poor judgement as a police officer (and a human being).

Is Hutch initially so hostile with Anna partly because he’s jealous of what she has and feels she doesn’t deserve it? Is he like the starving peasant pressed against the window of the bakery? By falling for her he may be telling himself that if he can’t have it, whatever it is to him (public approbation, creative mastery) he can at least inhabit it for awhile, protect and nurture it before letting it go.

We don’t hear much about it now, but throughout the seventies and early eighties the Russian ballet was a political maelstrom. Although theoretically, as a artistic pursuit, ballet is about the triumph of the individual (although eugenics plays a large part in who is considered a great dancer, and who isn’t) many people considered any touring Russian performers to be a symptom of Soviet totalitarianism. Whether a small string quartet or the world renowned Bolshoi Ballet, they were greeted by pickets demanding rights for maligned Soviet Jews.

Starsky introduces Hutch as “Hutch” to Anna. Not “Detective Kenneth Hutchinson,” not even “Hutchinson”, but the nickname. Why the familiarity, when professionalism is more appropriate?

Why does Hutch refer to the assignment of Anna as one that was “going to be the assignment of my life”? Was he already imagining himself saving her from some kind of life-threatening calamity?

When confronted by Starsky about his hostile attitude toward Anna, Hutch says with sudden outrage: “That’s exactly what I was talking about! There’s more to life, to people, than just a beautiful outside!” Spoken like a true beauty victim. The irony about this outburst is Starsky hadn’t been talking about it at all. He was talking about something completely different.

Anna cries out to Hutch, “you’re rude and you’re hateful!” Hutch argues that she’s egocentric and demeaning. It’s a set-up for the classic melting-of-fiery-opposites, but Hutch’s antagonism still seems disproportionate, given that Anna is merely haughty and dignified, rather than really malicious.

Anna and Hutch look exactly alike to the point of being siblings. When she appears in pajamas they’re even dressed in the same colors and patterns. Hutch is not an exogamist (neither is Starsky, who prefers compact brunettes with sunny dispositions) but even so I’ve always found the similarity between the two of them remarkable. Not only do they physically resemble one another, they are both articulate, fiery, driven, perfectionist, emotional, quick to temper, disdainful of those they consider beneath them, gentle at heart, brave, loyal, surprisingly mature when the situation demands it, and fundamentally decent. They are also both performers – pawns, on a bad day – of a gigantic institution with strict rules and expectations. Emphasizing their sameness both wear the same oyster-and-cream outfits during their first night together. Anna observes admiringly, “you know, we have almost the same color hair.” Sometimes I wonder if people like Hutch – extravagantly gifted with good looks, intelligence and the kind of sensitivity usually reserved for melancholic artists – feel so alienated that encountering someone who seems familiar would be especially profound.

Hutch tells Anna, “Only friends share secrets.” The meaning of this is not immediately discernible. It could be just a pick-up line or he may really mean it. If he does, then what secrets does he have with Starsky? Anna tells Hutch a secret, in little test to make them friends, but he doesn’t reveal his to her.

The whole conversation between Starsky and Huggy is unusually tense, loaded with racial and cultural tensions we’ve never seen before. It’s as if the mood of political suspicion has leaked into The Pits too. “There are worse things than being seen with me,” Starsky complains when Huggy insists they meet in the back, where there are fewer customers. Huggy says he looks weird, and Starsky tenses, as if he’s bracing for something, but when Huggy says it’s because he’s “lopsided”; he relaxes. What do you suppose he thought Huggy was going to say? When Huggy refers to Starsky without Hutch as “pig without the pork,” is he making a remark that Starsky as a “pig” (cop) wouldn’t be nearly as good an officer without Hutch, the “pork”, substantiation? Does he mean Starsky is nothing without Hutch? Would he say the same to Hutch, or not?

When Starsky says Hutch is looking after a dancer and liking it less “than spit”, Huggy flinches all out of proportion to the remark and says, “You’re cruel, you know that?”
“So I’ve been told,” Starsky says coolly.
By whom? And why does Huggy think Starsky is cruel, when all he means is Hutch isn’t liking his assignment? Why is Huggy lobbing such potent insults, anyway?

When the Jews are implicated in the assassination attempt when and Huggy tells Starsky to look at the “Desert People” there is a particular spike in the tension meter. This raises an interesting point: it may be that Huggy isn’t as comfortable with Starsky without Hutch. He’s unwilling to talk to Starsky anywhere but the back booth, is non-forthcoming and even rolls his eyes when Starsky leaves. Is there a personal problem here? Of course we want to believe the best about Huggy, but if this is a veiled reference to anti-Semitism then his remark about Starsky being a “pig without the pork” is even more loaded, if not unintentionally satirical. It may be that Huggy is having a bad day, but this scene seems, to me anyway, to have an undercurrent of asperity that is remarkable, considering these two are considered good buddies. And truth be told I love it; it reveals the fascinating complexity of relationships, especially “lopsided” ones (culturally, economically and racially diverse, institutional and layman, law and the marginally lawless) and can be seen also in Hutch’s relationship with Anna. It also proves my theory that this series is always working on several levels at once, and the more you think about it the more you enjoy it.

The scene with Hutch and Anna competing with handstands is truly wonderful. It’s one of those scenes plunked into the middle of the script just for the sheer fun of doing it rather than for any other reason. It’s rare to see Hutch actually playing – especially with a woman – which makes the moment even more endearing.

When Starsky steers Masha away and down to the lobby to have tea, does he tell her what the situation is? Although Starsky isn’t the type to gossip, especially about his partner, it would fun to imagine he does in this instance. They appear to become fast friends following their chat. Masha noticeably warms up in general, is quite sweet toward Anna, lightening up on her coaching demands, seeming to not only acknowledge her relationship with Hutch but to support it as well. It’s very funny later when Masha, breaking into the lovers’ idyll, calls Starsky “this strange person” and Starsky acknowledges this comment with a long-suffering grimace, as if he and Masha now have the sort of relationship that encourages familiar jests and mock-insults.

Dobey wants them to stick on Anna like “white on rice”. “Then that’ll be me,” Hutch says, without a glimmer of irony.

“And I Wish” is a lovely, affecting moment here, and in the series as a whole. It’s beautifully sung and played, on Soul’s own guitar, and co-written with the director, Rick Edelstein. The simplicity is startling. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to point to another detective series in which both leads have a scene in which they sing and play guitar. (Starsky will have his own lovely moment in next season’s “The Avenger”.) Note the kiss is repeated in the angel sculpture in the foreground.

The pig without his pork interviews Kauffman, the canny civil activist, nicely played by Allan Miller. It’s interesting that the “person under suspicion” is the one who alerts Starsky to the real trouble going on, and it’s to Starsky’s credit that he listens.

“Come on Blondie, I know you’re there,” Starsky says through the door. While Starsky often calls Hutch by a nickname inspired by his appearance, Hutch never does the same in return.

One of the protesters outside the theatre is wearing a version of the Starsky Sweater.

Tag: following the arm wrestling, Starsky falls into the lap of Hutch, nicely signaling the end of Hutch’s relationship with Anna and restarting his with Starsky.

Episode 58: The Heavyweight

February 15, 2011

Starsky and Hutch try to help Jimmy Spenser, a down-and-out boxer who gets in trouble with vicious hood Gavin when he refuses to throw a fight.

Jimmy Spenser: Gary Lockwood, Haley Gavin: Bernard Behrens, Jeeter: Whitman Mayo, Sharon: Susan Buckner, Stevie: JR Miller, Lillian Spenser: Laurel Adams, Booker Wayne: Shaka Cumbuka, Berl: Darryl B Smith, Jake: Layne Britton. Written By: Norman Borisoff and Robert E Swanson, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

There are two intensely physical sport/pastimes “Starsky & Hutch” is preoccupied with throughout its short run: fighting and dancing. Both require stamina, coordination, and fitness, both are populist, both are social events with both audience and participants, both are cohesive in a community sense, both are widely admired and fetishized, both require complex rules of engagement, and one could say success in either can signal a coming of age. Both can have unsavory characters hanging at the margins, particularly when money or reputation is at stake. Starsky and Hutch are very good at both. You would think nothing could be more different than dancing and fighting, but the highly structured rules slamming up against powerful surges of emotion are similar.( I would have liked to see the muscular realities of ballet in “Body Worth Guarding” depicted as vividly as boxing in this episode, but it remains a shimmering obscurity off in the distance.)

Jimmy’s character is cemented early, as he nicely advises the drinking security guard to sleep in his car to avoid the cold. This is a guy who can turn a blind eye to infractions in order to help another human being. Gary Lockwood, who plays Jimmy Spenser, is perhaps best-known for co-starring in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. With his fresh-faced good looks and subtle, underwhelming performance, he’s perfect here as the trying-to-be-good everyman.

First thing in the morning, and Hutch plays a mean trick, putting his mug in front of Starsky to dip his fingers in, although I find it difficult to believe the coffee at the station is ever as hot as Starsky dramatically pretends it is. Starsky’s playful reaction proves he doesn’t mind this little trick, and the conversation continues as usual, leading to the assumption that Hutch’s behavior isn’t only to be anticipated, it’s to be tolerated – and even enjoyed, to some extent – as well.

The two guys, Burrow and Cruiser, muscling Starsky and Hutch, are their exact duplicates, only exaggerated: one white-blond, the other a black guy with an afro. The blond guy even wears a blue plaid jacket, the black guy a brown leather jacket, in direct imitation. And of course when it comes to the big fight in the locker room, when Spenser has refused to throw the fight and is menaced by those same guys, Starsky throws himself at the guy who is most like him, and Hutch at the guy who’s most like him, much as they do in “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty”.

Unlike in earlier episodes (noticeably “Murder on Stage 17”) it’s Hutch who is instantly alerted to something not quite right when approached at the docks. Is it because Starsky, who can be seen as the more suspicious of the two, has just finished telling a story illustrating his extreme exhaustion? Hutch seems more in tune with what’s going on here than Starsky is, not just here but throughout the entire episode. Not only seeing danger at the loading dock, he’s sensitive to Spenser’s obvious discomfort in the changing room; he practically has to drag Starsky into the action. It’s surprising – and somewhat depressing – both detectives allow their work to suffer when women are around the periphery of their lives: Hutch is similarly distracted and distractable during his own intense crushes.

What do Burrow and Cruiser want with the boxes, anyway? Are they looking to steal the contents, inventory the product passing through the port, or just looking for a meaningless fight with the new guys?

Starsky and Hutch ask Jimmy down to the Pits for drinks, and Jimmy brings his erstwhile manager Jeeter (the incomparable Whitman Mayo, who almost steals the whole episode with his slurry, twinkling performance). Jeeter mentions Jimmy has been working at the docks for twelve years, which might indicate a minor, forgettable fighting career, yet everyone here, including Huggy, knows a lot about him. Starsky remembers him boxing at the Sports Arena even though it was years ago, and probably a indistinguishable from a lot of other fighters. It’s possible Spenser was successful while working a day job, as many athletes at this time (even famous ones) were never paid very much. The massive wealth enjoyed by some contemporary hockey or football players was unknown in the 1970s, most of whom worked menial labor during the off-season.

Starsky makes a non-funny, heavy-handed joke about Huggy’s nose after Huggy’s rather startling admission about a semi-pro fighting career; there follows an embarrassed silence between the three actors, a sort of can you believe they made me say that? moment that is worth the bad joke.

Both Starsky and Hutch instantly and wholeheartedly take to Jimmy Spenser. They socialize with him and offer amusingly vociferous support during the prize fight. Throughout the series this immediate fidelity to people, particularly those with a troubled or complicated situation, is a notable aspect of both men’s characters. Both are equally capable of forging empathetic bonds. Once befriended, they are ferocious advocates. In trouble, you can count on them. Both are in possession of an unerring bullshit detector. If you are true and honest, they are true and honest with you. (Unfortunately, this applies only to other men, unattractive women, or young girls. Sexually provocative or available women manage to elude this finely-honed detector, often with disastrous results). Even though their primary love relationship is with each other, they are both quick to connect with others. Spenser isn’t exactly an exemplary human being: he’s a bad father, bad husband, and has chosen a life of violence and low-paying warehouse work over a better life, but he has a basic goodness about him, and that’s all that matters.

Hutch is out of popcorn so he grabs Starsky’s, who doesn’t notice or, more likely, doesn’t care. This reinforces the fact that there is absolutely no boundary between them. What belongs to one, belongs to the other. Hutch also thinks Sharon is an idiot, which she is, and makes a rude gesture to that effect. Starsky doesn’t seem to mind that, either.

Hutch is very affectionate with Stevie, the kid at the arena. He’s relaxed as always with children, and they respond to him in the same fashion.

Relationship-O-Meter: Hutch asks Starsky to stay behind while Starsky whines that Sharon is on her way to Honolulu “in the morning”. Sharon then makes a bitchy comment about Starsky being “in the bullpen again” if he reneges on their date (presumably she’s still mad that he fell asleep on the couch earlier), proving she’s not an ideal girl for a cop if she can’t go with the flow. But the real future of Starsky’s relationship with Sharon (or lack of it) is when Hutch puts an arm around him, urging him into the action: the gesture with its we-have-better-things-to-do urgency erases her from Starsky’s consciousness entirely.

The fight in the change room is similar to the fight on the docks: the guys go after the thugs who resemble them, including the “third” bad guy, who resembles Spenser.

Once Starsky and Hutch tip their hand to Spenser, showing their badges and explaining why they were down at the docks, they seem to just give up on their primary goal of finding justice for the murdered cop. Yes, they want Gavin, but not primarily because his henchmen killed a cop: it’s to find redemption for Jimmy Spenser. It’s an odd change in motivation that makes great dramatic sense but rings a little hollow. If they had remained undercover, would they have gotten better results? Infiltrating Gavin’s criminal network might have yeilded a lot of powerful material evidence when it came time to prosecute. Rescuing the reputation of a prize fighter might feel better, but does it have the same legal or ethical importance as building a case against an international smuggling operation? Or can we separate the two?

In the interview with Mrs. Spenser, the guys spend more time looking at each other than they do at her.

There’s a hilarious scene, dropped into the show as if by magic, where the guys at the Pits discuss Starsky’s complicated love life, the “very heavy experience with her ex-fiancé” etc, during which Hutch listens with remarkable forbearance, quite at odds with what you’d expect from him. Then the plot drops back in. It’s a great unguarded moment and one wishes these quiet scenes would happen more often.

Spenser must have not only no fixed address, and must move around a lot, not to have any record of where he lives. This implies a lot of not very nice things. Paid in cash at his job at the Port of Los Angeles, no real life to speak of, no possessions, no contact with his son, and most likely a very bad reputation among child welfare agencies. All in all, a dubious existence. One wonders why Spenser has elected to live like this. He looks to be what, thirty? Thirty-two? On the downward slope of twelve to fifteen years as a fighter? Why this rootless, penurious life? Are there other demons we don’t know about?

How did Spenser’s young son Stevie get to the sports arena? Spenser alludes to the mom being unaware Stevie is at the fights, and Stevie has no ride home. Mrs Spenser is portrayed as being fiercely protective of her son, so how come she doesn’t know where her kid is? And how does he get past security? Boasting to the guard “I’m Jimmy Spenser’s son!” wouldn’t get you very far. Does he just melt in with other people in line, smile winsomely and hope to get away with it?

The scene between Jeeter and the guys is interesting. In the fight to protect Spenser Jeeter does the most painful thing he can think of doing, which is to reject him, saying if Spenser knew what was good for him he’d never call again. “As a fighter, he’s all washed up,” he says. The guys stare at Jeeter, aghast. They can’t see this for what it is, a desperate ploy to save him. To them, nothing is worse than the rejection of a friend. As they leave Hutch says, “at least there’s one good thing about crossing Gavin.” Starsky finishes the thought: “At least you know who your friends are.”

Gavin The Hood is, of course, in the grand tradition of the series: the neat, suit-and-tie-wearing businessman with a heart of flint.

Why does Jeeter sell out Spenser? His rejection to Starsky and Hutch has every indication of being a necessary falsehood, at odds with the deep affection he seems to hold for his young fighter. There is something in Mayo’s performance that is paternal. But then he takes it one step further and sells him out to Gavin when it’s obvious Gavin and his lackeys aren’t pressuring him particularly. They believe it when he insists he doesn’t know where Spenser is, so why doesn’t Jeeter leave it at that? Is it just for the money?

Hutch, after accusing Starsky of ending up like a prune, sits down and makes a big deal out of a secret injury. What is it, the ankle he broke?

Hutch seems to have fixed the horn-sounds-when-driver’s-door-is-open problem with his car. When Starsky first gives it to him at the conclusion of “Survival”, and several times since, it blares loudly.

In this episode, as with the series as a whole, there is the sense that within everyone lies equal measures of hero, victim and criminal.

Tag: Hutch takes a great deal of pleasure in Starsky’s losing a girlfriend, and his laughter is louder and more enthusiastic than it needs to be, really. Starsky retaliates by dropping Hutch’s full glass of beer into his lap. Not very subtle in terms of symbolism.