Archive for the ‘Season Two’ Category

Let’s revisit “Nightmare”

February 14, 2015

A young, mentally handicapped woman is raped and her attackers may go free when their case may not hold up in court.

Lisa Graham: Diana Scarwid, Nick Manning: Gerrit Graham, Mitzi Graham: Karen Morrow, Mousy Loomis: Zachary Lewis, Ass’t DA Sims: David Knapp, DA: Jim Gruzalski, Al Martin: Carl Weathers, Mr. McDevlin: Jerome Guardino. Written By: Steve Fisher, Directed By: Randal Kleiser.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a compassionate episode about a rape and its terrible aftermath, and the triumph of the often fragile human spirit. It’s also a story about the dehumanizing, desensitizing nature of fundamentalism, in which rules must be followed no matter the cost (we see this in the court scenes). Both these are recurring themes throughout the series and addressed in depth in other episode summaries, so let’s investigate another long-running idea that is much less flashy and entertaining but still important: the perils of nostalgia, or specifically, what happens when we rely too much on sentiment or a rose-colored view of the past, or fear change too acutely. “Nightmare” is a wonderful example of how people are caught up in their own assumptions and ideals, even at the cost of real growth.

“Starsky & Hutch” is and was very modern in its approach. It marks a significant change in the way popular culture was presented to the masses. Brash and bold, it upturns old assumptions left and right and shows us how contemporary life (as seen through the lens of network television, mind you) has profoundly changed in the last decade, and largely for the better. The series tackles tough political and moral issues, shows men being emotional and caring toward one another, and casts a cynical eye on the once-immovable concrete foundations of the old elite – bankers, politicians, lawyers and even the police themselves. Starsky and Hutch are part of the new breed of idealistic, sensitive, skeptical heroes whose moral compass necessarily points far to the left. And as if to emphasize this point the series repeatedly goes out of its way to show us that the old ways weren’t as great as they seemed, and reliance on old-fashioned “ideals” do not work well in these times.

I would say “Nightmare” is a perfect encapsulation of this, and it begins with a beautifully-written and acted set-piece about Starsky diligently searching out an old toy store he remembers from childhood in order to find the perfect present for their friend. The two argue about memories and changing times, with Hutch calling out Starsky for his persistence in finding something that is no longer there (the scene includes Starsky doing a delightful Harpo Marx-like trailing of a pretty blonde walking down the street). Uncle Elmo, once purveyor of children’s toys, is now selling adult novelties, and continues with the introduction of the angelic Lisa whose developmental and intellectual delays keep her permanently in little-girl stage while her body grows into adulthood.

This episode shows that change can be a malevolent force as well as a positive one, bent on destroying innocence. But it can also be a mistake – sometimes a fatal one – to continue to act as if nothing changes. “You know what they say, don’t you,” Hutch comments. “You can never can go home again.”

When Hutch suggests they go to another toy store, making the sensible remark that the owner would know Lisa, Starsky accuses him (not for the first time) of being a man without a heart. “There is a thing called loyalty”, he fumes, which of course means he’s more or less faking this display of temper, because if Hutch understands anything, it’s loyalty. (It’s also in stark contrast to the scene in “Las Vegas Strangler” where Starsky says he’s “sick” of Hutch’s extreme sense of loyalty.)

In one of the finest and funniest scenes in the entire series, we see the laundromat bust, a high-spirited, perfectly performed set piece which necessitates, to fans’ delight, Starsky undressing. “Of all the high falutin ideas,” Starsky gripes, even though Hutch’s idea to walk directly into the line of fire is a brave and practical solution to an urgent problem.

Hutch’s acting skills are showcased once again – he’s totally convincing when he walks, whistling, into the hold-up. Both guys show a remarkable willingness to adapt to the situation and adopt unconventional ideas and techniques. Note how his cowed reaction gives the thug with the gun an ugly flush of power, which is a great little detail. In fact the whole scene is filled with amazing details: the old lady with no teeth, the towel found on the clothing line, the “drop it, sweetheart,” shouted by the beat cops at Starsky. It has both brutal realism and cinematic flair.

Although nothing emphasizes how times have changed more than when Hutch goes into his pocket for his badge and the two uniformed cops do not start blasting away.

Starsky and Hutch are not in their regular beat because they don’t know the whereabouts of the toy store, and the uniformed cops don’t recognize them following the arrest in the laundromat when surely every cop in the neighborhood would recognize the infamous duo (they do in “The Fix” when Hutch is spotted running down the street by the squad car). And they’re not familiar with Uncle Elmo’s new adult book store either. But it is Starsky’s childhood neighborhood, despite the fact we are told in several episodes that he was raised in New York. This could mean Starsky was born in Los Angeles and then moved east with his family to New York at a fairly young age, perhaps around the age of ten or so, but that would go directly against later episodes such as “Targets Without a Badge”. When he tells Lisa he played in his back yard his tale could be judiciously altered (“I played on the fire-escape/dirty stoop/grimy storeroom” not being entirely appropriate for his purposes), as people tend not have a back yard in New York. In “Shootout” Starsky mentions he lived over an Italian restaurant in an apartment. My speculation is Starsky came out to Los Angeles on summer holidays, perhaps to visit his uncle’s family (“Snowstorm”, “Jo-Jo”), and got to know this particular neighborhood very well.

In this episode, as in the series as a whole, Hutch is clear-eyed and cynical, Starsky is more likely to be stubbornly sentimental. Hutch lectures Starsky on how things inevitably change, speculates the singing goldfish grew up and their voices changed. He also comments the bratty kid at the toy store will grow up and Lisa will stay sweet. “Kids grow up…the world marches on.” With Hutch, Starsky seems to revel in a certain kind of childishness. He quotes outlandish “facts” from books, appears credulous and trusting, tends to dislike change and is more conventional, sulks when upset and is cheered by silly things like ducks and toys. Hutch may act impatient at his partner’s ways (and Starsky may exaggerate for effect) but the dichotomy allows him to be the protector, the parent, teacher and sage. It also allows Starsky to relax and be himself. With his wholehearted affections and fetishistic objects, and the childlike wonderment in spite of the violent, dangerous world he inhabits, Starsky is not just a sentimentalist. He is a complicated character whose quirks and compartmentalizations are every bit as self-preserving as Hutch’s prickly exterior. How to be a good cop and not let the darkness consume you is something every detective and officer in uniform struggles with, and both Starsky and Hutch deal with this struggle in different but equally successful – and sometimes unsuccessful – ways.

Starsky’s act, if you can call it that, is somewhat dispelled by the intensity of his concentration when he plays with the trains. He really is enjoying himself, and not like a serious train-collector either, but immersively like a child. When confronted by little Tommy saying, “this is for kids. You’re not a kid. Starsky replies easily, “I’m buying a present for a kid. I’m going to a birthday party.” Amusingly, he isn’t actually buying anything: Hutch is in the background, diligently looking at proper girly presents for Lisa. One imagines a few moments before this scene opens, indulging his partner. The all right, play with the damn trains. Later the kid says, pointing, “are you with him?” Meaning Hutch. “Yeah,” Starsky says, with obvious pride, quirking a smile, as if acknowledging the question is that your dad? “He’s my partner. We’re policemen.” “Policemen” being a phrase like “fireman” or “astronaut”. A word a child might use, Starsky inhabiting, briefly, that marvelous space between past and present.

“Having problems, little boy?” Hutch says, when things go wrong. As ever providing the sarcasm (here, gentler than usual) for his own complicated reasons.

Hutch later comments that things will be all right, that by next year the boy who makes trouble for Starsky at the toy store will have outgrown both the train-set and Lisa. Starsky, who has obviously not outgrown anything, still makes an effort to concede to Hutch’s need to instruct. Who’s the adult now?

Two points of interest in the story thus far: we are never tipped off that Lisa is not a child, and for all that kid’s peevishness in the toy store, notice how he too accepts Lisa for exactly who she is on the inside.

One of my favorite little exchanges occurs when Hutch relates the doll’s attributes to Starsky, beginning with, “You punch her in the stomach she says ‘ma’”. Now, I may not know much about dolls, but punch her in the stomach? “You pull a string in the back that says ‘don’t touch me I hardly know you’”, continues Hutch, making this up. All this is highlighted by a very annoyed woman watching two men fuss with a doll. The whole scene is starting to look like a metaphor for their undercover work with hookers, junkies and abused women. The kicker is Hutch holding up a pink gingham dress. “How does this look, huh?”
“I like you better in red,” says Starsky.

Filming notes: Glaser and Soul reportedly went crazy while shooting the scene in the toy shop, putting rattlesnakes down people’s backs and having a pea shooter war.

How do Starsky and Hutch know Lisa and Mitzi? The relationship seems very mature, as if they’d all gone through something together. Given their record of volunteering with youth, could be it be that they knew her through some kind of outreach or school program? And yet other cops, especially Dobey, are especially invested Lisa, and seem very fond of her. Dobey has gone to the trouble of buying a gigantic panda bear, despite his admonishing the guys about soft-hearted cops ending up broke. Was Frank an ex-cop, maybe, or one of the support staff? Heart-attack at fifty-four sort of thing?

Nick and Mousey wait for Lisa to come by. Nick seems to know Lisa because he remarks “she’s fair game, just like any other girl.” He knows she’s different and wants to capitalize on it, knows her daily routine. It seems their paths have crossed in and around the bus Lisa has ridden every day for two years, because he tried to steal the cash box from that bus before. But why does Lisa catch the bus at the lot, rather than the stop? The driver senses they shouldn’t be there before he knows of trouble, so obviously there aren’t a lot of pedestrians.

The buses in the lot say RFD but the driver’s hat says MTL.

I’ve been thinking recently about the terrible prescience of having Lisa’s rape take place on an empty bus. A bus is a critical detail here. Not only is it the one form of transport that brings together all kinds of people, a culturally and socially rich environment enabling all kinds of unlikely meetings to take place, in car-centric Los Angeles particularly it is a mode of transport largely for the poor, the disadvantaged, the very young. But it is the spate of recent rapes on buses that makes this scene even more horrible than it already is. In many countries in which women are denied the ability and the right to drive, a bus is a life saver and a death trap all in one. Women are harassed, stalked, and otherwise bothered on buses all the time; in many restrictive countries a bus is the only place a woman interacts and is dependent on her (male dominated) society. In Mexico, a self-styled vigilante who calls herself Diana the Hunter rides the buses in rural Mexico, targeting and killing men who have defiled female passengers. As I write this, I hear on the news that a young Turkish woman was raped and murdered by the driver as she was the last one on the bus in the evening.

Back at the station, the guys are wrapping Lisa’s present, and from the sight of Starsky’s exaggerated yelp of pain when Hutch ties the bow around his finger, and Hutch’s equally exaggerated irritable, “Keep your finger there, will you?” this is a comedy routine that has gone on for several minutes before we join them. One can imagine the other cops’ private reaction to the undercover detectives clowning around and wasting time in the squad room. It most likely runs the gamut between “what a coupla great guys” and “fuckin think they’re movie stars”.

The bus driver picks out “Robert Emmett ‘Mousey’ Loomis” from a large mug-shot book containing thousands of photos and Hutch not only knows who he is, he knows the guy’s habits and tendencies. This is impressively knowledgeable. Both Starsky and Hutch pick up on the “they” when the driver complains about the cash box “they” tried to steal and Starsky reveals the same encyclopedic knowledge of small-time hoods because he immediately knows who Mousey’s partner is. There is a small procedural slip up though, when the driver remembers the pale curly hair and Starsky gives him a mug book with only one photo on it showing a man with similar hair, which could be seen as leading.

Hutch says it doesn’t make sense when bus driver identifies Mousy as a rapist. Hutch comments, “From what we’ve heard from the joint from the time that he spent in there, he has a tendency to go the other way.” Hearing about Mousy’s sexual preferences, at least while in prison, is fairly detailed information. How much information do Starsky and Hutch get from the joint anyway? Huggy is usually pictured as the snitch-above-all-other-snitches, but there are a lot more that we never see, which is too bad. An episode in which the detectives visit a prison would be really great.

There are seat belts in the Torino but they’re never used.

I understand the kind impulse, but that is way too much for a girl to endure in one day. I’m surprised they all thought it was a good idea, and that the doctor actually recommended it – severely traumatized, then a birthday party. All the adults involve show a great deal of emotional tone deafness to Lisa’s anguish. They are trying to jolly her out of something that should have been understood and acknowledged, which is another example of a kind of fear of change that can prove paralyzing. Lisa has changed. But no one wants to admit it.

There is perhaps no more touching and heartfelt statement than when Hutch tells Lisa they may want to hurt her attackers but they never would because it would make them no better those they detest. “We’re policemen, you know?” he says gently. Given the current state of police-related violence throughout the United States, this attitude is both heartening (fiction is always a panacea) and bitterly ironic.

I try to see each episode without what I sometimes call enlightenment bigotry, a judgmental discomfort that extends from smoking in hospitals to blatant sexism. But even so, I cringe every time I see Huggy’s latest enterprise, the sad, dimly lit pet store. I hate to think where he got these poor animals and how he can possibly adequately care for them, and what happens when he loses interest or too much money and moves on to something else. Still it’s amusing when Huggy refers to a crow or raven as an African canary. But thinking about this scene, if Huggy’s so anxious to bust the “scum”, why does he wait for Starsky and Hutch to find him? A phone call would have been quicker.

Mousey Loomis has a low intelligence and is easily manipulated. In a sense, he’s as much a child as Lisa, once can easily imagine him as poor, uneducated, probably from a troubled, violent home, with undiagnosed learning problems, kicked out of school and easy pickings for an amoral predator like Nick Manning. As an aside, I’m always astonished at the manhandling Starsky gives him – Glaser really goes to town with an exhibition of physical power here, dragging 150-lb Loomis along like he was nothing.

Loomis says Manning plans to kill Lisa so she can’t identify him for the crime. This might not have saved Manning at all, since Lisa was examined at a hospital and even in the late 1970s there was such a thing as a rape kit, with careful collection of blood, semen and other samples that could have led to prosecution. I’d also like to think Lisa bit him, which would have also been useful too. Plus there was the bus driver as witness. Later, uber-evil Assistant DA Sims suggests no jury would convict, but there is a strong possibility they would. With a mountain of psychiatric evidence, character witnesses for Lisa, plus Lisa’s own affecting testimony and the lengthy criminal record of Manning (plus his grotesque smirk, which I bet he can’t hide even under duress) I tend to believe they could win their case. I also think Mousey is the weak link here – with the proper interrogation, a few incentives, he could be the key to the whole trial. It’s really a shame trying to turn Mousey isn’t part of the story here.

Starsky holds his gun in his unusual way: palm over the top, fingers loose and high.

Lisa alone in the house: why 911 was invented.

Because rape is such a contentious and unremitting horror, it’s always interesting to see how the it’s portrayed throughout the decades. Here, we see how the victim of the crime is revictimized on the stand, with lawyers relentlessly chipping away at her dignity and self-esteem, cruelly twisting truths into lies and questioning the moral character of someone who has been raped by suggesting it was encouraged or consensual. I believe the title refers not only to the act of rape but the experience of not being believed or taken seriously by those in authority.

The fact that this is a pretrial rather than a trial is an interesting one. Perhaps the parties involved are assessing Lisa’s ability to be cross-examined, or maybe there are numerous issues to be resolved before trial can begin.

The role of comforter and protector are shared equally between partners, as Starsky does the dirty work during the arrest and Hutch goes to Lisa. This changes when Starsky coaxes Lisa from her despair during questioning, talking her gently about how great it is to be ten, and the “Doodletown” of his childhood, with Hutch at a respectful distance. Notice, though, Hutch’s comfort of Lisa consists of gently-administered Hard Facts (they can’t beat up her assailants because that would make them just as bad, and besides, they’re Policemen and have to follow rules) while Starsky’s consists of a distracting fantasyland that makes the real world go away.

I always find it interesting that Mitzi allows Starsky to take over the immediate care of Lisa. It shows a woman who has learned to relinquish control if necessary for the good of her daughter. She calls herself “selfish” a little later on but this is a practiced, even specious joke I’m sure she’s made often as a kind of justification for her choices. Truly, though, I think Mitzi letting Starsky take over at this moment is about as unselfish as it gets.

Diana Scarwid’s performance is perfect here. Not only does she have the delicate, nearly transparent look of a child who has spent most of her life indoors, she has a sweet and endearing way of repeating words spoken to her, murmuring them to herself as if to memorize them, incorporate them into her own vocabulary. We see it here particularly when Starsky tells her about Doodletown. When she repeats his words you can almost see them coming to life in her imagination. It seems like a genuine way Lisa might find her way through the world. I would love to know if this is scripted or Scarwid’s own uncanny instincts.

I love Dobey’s crooked grin when admitting that the guys could bring Nick Manning in on another charge. He’d been laying back while the whole assaulting-the-lawyer scene went on, and now he pretty well gives his blessing for anything slightly illegal the guys might do. Which brings up the issue of how Dobey views his reckless detectives and their methods.

If he isn’t calling the station but rather a personal number, Huggy calls Starsky, not Hutch, with the tip. How often does he seem to favor one over the other?

It’s nice to see a young, handsome Carl Weathers, looking like he’s about to go to the opera in both his scenes.

When a beaten Manning makes his accusation, nothing much is done about it, not even by DA Sims, who acts like he believes it’s possible Starsky and Hutch might be guilty of assault. It’s possible their hands are examined for wounds, their alibis checked, but we never see it. A serious accusation like that should have at least caused them a visit to Internal Affairs.

Oh, the exemplar of masculine power: Starsky and Hutch breezing past a secretary crying out, “You can’t go in there!”

“What do we know about law and order and graphs and charts?” Starsky says, when the he and Hutch have been left waiting over an hour, both chewing hard on gum (which, in itself, is unusual; what, was there a dusty pack in Hutch’s pocket just in case of long, frustrating waits like this one?) Which is a bit ingenuous, because they both can be very analytic and contextual in their thinking although this sentiment does drive home the idea of being outside the norm.

Is there no moment more thrilling than when Dobey says “Go get ‘em” and Starsky and Hutch burst out of the room like they’ve been shot out of a cannon? Interestingly, though, this is one case that doesn’t depend on Starsky and Hutch gathering evidence, making deductions or tracking down the bad guys. All that had been done in the first fifteen minutes of the episode. Rather, they spend most of their time hampered by regulations and made to wait.

“Fioremonte Bail Bonds” is an inside-joke on location director Gene Fioremonte’s name.

How much of Mitzi’s statement that she loves being a mommy and is glad Lisa will never grow up a real feeling or a rationalization for circumstances that can’t be altered? While nothing would be gained by Mitzi mourning the loss of something that will never happen, her speech to Hutch as they sit at the table still seems a tiny bit saccharine in an episode that is, elsewhere, very honest.

Two gifts from earlier in the episode reappear: the puppy from The Ark and the train set, which Tommy, the bratty kid at the toy store, insisted no girl would ever want. I wonder, though, if giving Lisa a puppy has more weight to it than the scene might suggest. It might imply that Lisa is in fact older now, these experiences, as horrible as they were, have ushered in a new kind of maturity. This new phase is marked by her ability (and interest in) taking care of something even younger and more vulnerable than she is.

Of the four major players in this episode – Lisa and her mother, Starsky and Hutch – Lisa herself is the only one who acknowledges that change, even unwelcome change, is inevitable. She does it when she asks Hutch if she was raped because she looks older than she is, when she cuts her hair in order to destroy her beauty, and also when she overhears the callous Sims talking about “mental deficiency” and cries out, “It isn’t something I don’t already know!” All these things point to a level of self-awareness that does her credit. Instead of frankly acknowledging the dichotomy of experiencing the world as a ten- year-old while looking twenty, the adults around Lisa are intent on keeping her safe and happy and to a large extent insulated from any hint of adulthood. Understandable, even laudable, but Lisa herself is capable of handling both realities simultaneously.

You can read Hutch’s mind when Mitzi talks about the joys of having a child who never grows up. “How about two children?” says Hutch. “He’s all yours,” says Mitzi, and Hutch laughs. It’s one of the most charming tags in the series, allowing us to see just one of many sides to Hutch’s complicated feelings about his partner, in this case paternalism mixed with a kind of exasperated fondness. In his own way he is as sentimental as Starsky, only less overtly. Would he ever want Starsky to grow up? My guess would be no.

Clothing notes: of course, no clothes are the best clothes when Starsky does the take-down at the Laundromat. The guys look great in the court ensembles, Harris tweed jacket and emerald turtleneck for Hutch, a great corduroy jacket and jeans for Starsky. They both don their iconic leather jackets in the final confrontational scenes.

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Episode 45: Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty

September 15, 2010

A lawyer hires look-alikes Simmons and Hanson to go on a crime spree in order to discredit Starsky and Hutch’s testimony in an upcoming trial.

Sharon Freemont: Lauren Tewes, Chief Ryan: Val Avery, Nikki: Michele Carey, Judy Coppet: Shera Danese, Mr. Klemp: Henry Sutton, Mrs. Marlowe: Dorothy Meyer, Lennie Atkins: Sy Kramer, Hanson: Gary Epper, Simmons: Kipp Whitman, Fifi: Mary Jo Catlett, Kate: Jean Bell, Nurse: Suzanne Gormley, Eric Ronstan: Don Keefer. Written By: David P Harmon, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

A third, privately owned Torino had to be rented as backup for this episode (the owner was also invited to watch as a guest of the studio) because of the need for an identical car.

In the station’s hallway, Starsky is talking to an aging ex-boxer he remembers from childhood, obviously giving him words of advice or encouragement. Hutch comments, in the dry tone reserved especially for his partner, “for a hard-nosed cop you’re not doing your image any good.”  Other than nicely tying in with Starsky’s nostalgic compassion, this is pretty well the theme of the episode: reality vs. image. This episode could be, on some level, a comment on the criticism that the show was nothing but imagination-murdering violence. The Boob Tube, and all that. From the disdain and scorn many critics expressed at the time you’d think they were watching another show.

Starsky asks Hutch, “Do you trust me or not? Hutch replies, “With my life, yes. With your choice of women, no.” It’s amusing to think Hutch would consider Starsky’s choice in women worse than his own. They’re both equally bad and sometimes equally good.

In the opening scene there are no stuffed animals on the filing cabinets, as there are in other episodes. They must all be hidden somewhere: later Hutch pulls a Mickey Mouse out of the filing cabinet.

Chief Ryan and Captain Dobey are both called “Chief of Detectives.”

Hutch tells Dobey Captain Ryan doesn’t like the way he and Starsky comb their hair, the way they dress and doesn’t think Starsky’s joke was funny. That’s a far cry from what Ryan is really thinking about them when he says, “This time you got sloppy. This time you got two witnesses.” He seems to be equating a personal distaste with the way they look with moral and ethical corruption, which is extreme. And even more interesting is the fact that Starsky and Hutch, who say they have “great respect” for Ryan, can’t see he not only disrespects them, but seems to genuinely despise them as well.

Hutch defends Starsky’s police academy speech. It’s nice that he was in the audience in support of his friend. (He might have been standing beside him at the dais waiting to go next, but doubtful – Starsky would have made a comment or joke about that speech).

Hutch gets his notebook to prove to Ryan when they last saw Newton. But hardly ever in the series do we see either Starsky or Hutch write down information anywhere.

How did Chief Ryan get as far as he has in the department when he shows a complete misread of Starsky and Hutch’s characters? When he says “this time we got two witnesses,” he has certainly thought they have gotten away with some pretty terrible behaviors in the past in addition to being flamboyant or unconventional. One wonders how his aggressively negative attitude about their basic character jive with the fact Starsky got a commendation and invitation to speak at the Academy. Ryan could be one of those grumpy “things have gone way down hill since I was a lad” types, and his view of the two detectives a general part of this view on life.

Chief Ryan distrusts Starsky and Hutch, but it is Starsky who comes to distrust Ryan, thinking right away he is out to frame them. While in this episode Starsky seems more distrustful of people than Hutch, in other episodes they switch roles.

Starsky and Hutch said they stayed fifteen minutes, from 2:55 to 3:10. Mrs. Marlowe said she saw them leave at 3:30. It makes the most sense that she saw the real Starsky and Hutch arrive and the fake ones leave. But this doesn’t jive with what the viewer sees Mrs. Marlowe see. Did she see two sets arriving and only one leaving? Or did she miss the real detectives arrive AND leave, and only see the fakes?

This is one of many times in which the Torino is a problem. Really, it’s a real hazard when it comes to detective work.

“There’s no use arguing with the TV,” Starsky says in frustration, upon leaving Mrs. Marlow, which could be a comment on the perils of stardom as well.

It’s strange seeing Dorothy Meyer as a threatening character before her memorably radiant performance as the lovely Mrs. Walters in the later episode “Manchild in the Streets”.

Reluctant witness and homebody Lennie Atkins is played by veteran character actor Sy Kramer, who may in future bump someone off my “Memorable Cameos” list. He’s so frightened by the idea that he’s just allowed two murderous brutes into his apartment he seizes into a fear so palpable you can almost smell it. Eyes watering, face paling, his entire body winces into a corner. When he apologizes, his voice trembles so badly it’s as if he’s vibrating. It’s a brilliant performance. One note about the scene: there is absolutely no call for Starsky to pause and lean into the poor man, giving him a steely, intimidating look, if he and Hutch are trying to prove they are benevolent would never harm a witness. If Lennie Atkins hadn’t peed his pants before, he would then.

Both the fake Starsky and the real Starsky like to work on models. The real Starsky: ships, in “Fatal Charm”. The fake Starsky: cars.

Nikki is played by Michelle Carey, who really is more pleasant as the madame here than she will be later as the creepy car saleswoman in “Class in Crime”. She asks Hutch (wistfully) if he wants her future address; he replies “no.” Starsky seems put out that she doesn’t ask him the same question.

Would Nikki really get the real Starsky and Hutch mixed up with the fake ones? First of all, she is used to seeing men in the dark, so her identification skills must be high. And the fake Starsky puts out a cigarette just as he knocks on the door, which Nikki would smell that and know the real Starsky, just a couple of minutes ago, didn’t smell like that. At this point we must acknowledge how large a role fear and disorientation plays when people remember things. And also the inescapable reality that people only see what they expect to see, which is why eye-witness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

Hutch, rather than Starsky, seems to be a magnet for unwanted women letting themselves into his place and wanting to cook him dinner. Does Hutch later underestimate Diana in “Fatal Charm”, due to his experiences with poor Fifi in her “I Need All the Friends I Can Get” sweatshirt?

There are two vacuum cleaners portrayed, and Hutch trips over both of them. (Here, and in “Blindfold”)

The ten thousand dollars Hutch discovers in the envelope is a little problematic. Later it’s discovered to have come from a bank heist, which means either Simmons or Hanson were involved. But how could Sharon Freemont convince either guy to sacrifice so much money for a little evidence-of-guilt window dressing? They knew they would never see it again. Unless the money is Freemont’s, and she’s willing to throw it away. Which brings up another couple of issues: where would she have gotten it, and why would Simmons (as “Starsky”) be trusted to dump it on Hutch’s table and not abscond with it? That’s a ton of cash. It’s possible he didn’t know how much was there, and it’s also possible Sharon Freemont was paying them more. But more than ten thousand each? Just what was this “junior partnership” at the law firm worth to her, anyway?

The double for Hutch is Hanson; that’s the second time the Hutch/Hanson names are used. The other is “Murder Ward”. Gary Epper, who plays Hanson, also is the stunt double for David Soul.

I like how Starsky blames Ryan “for this whole mess”, and throws open the door to Hutch as an invitation to walk through it, and also to accept this idea. Hutch does.

Why does Sharon remind Starsky about their dinner date when she so clearly hates him? It’s unnecessary to the scam she’s got going, and involvement with him could spell disaster for her nefarious plans. Does she get a sadistic kick out of it, or what? Maybe Hutch is right when he says he trusts his partner with his life, but not his choice of women.

It’s a cloudy wet day when the guys investigate the strip club. The daylight is starkly cold, almost blue, and very different from the typically diffused, golden glow one associates with the series, and it’s a striking contemporary look.

Fake Starsky takes a real chance tormenting sober citizen Mr. Klemp in broad daylight. Why bother? Hitting the unfortunate girls was bad enough. Kemp might be shrewdly perceptive, and bring the whole enterprise crashing down. Is this a case of a career criminal (“three time loser”, according to Sharon) revealing his stupidly overconfident side?

Judy Coppet, the massage parlor madam, is so unusually good-looking she merits research. Turns out she’s played by Shera Danese who went on to a certain amount of fame playing different roles in “Columbo”, eventually marrying the show’s star, Peter Falk. Good one, Shera!

When Ryan suspends them after their apparent roust on a strip club, the camera abruptly shifts to extreme close up. Pores-as-big-as-craters close up. Of course the guys handle this well, but Ryan looks terrible, as any mortal would.

“The guys call him skinny,” Starsky says of Oscar Newton, “but the ladies don’t”, which is a nice dirty joke somehow snuck by the TV censors.

This is the first and perhaps only time a suit-and-tie-wearing bureaucrat with a hate-on for Starsky and Hutch (Chief Ryan) is revealed to be someone capable of making reasonable deductions, including changing his mind – and softening his bad attitude – to allow for a grudging respect for the two detectives.

It really is surreal to see two Torinos chasing each other through the dismal streets of LA. How did the fake Torino get the same license plates as the real one? And why bother with this complicated detail when even the most perspicacious witness might not get an accurate plate number?

It’s great how the guys go after their own doubles. And apparently Fake Hutch takes his role seriously enough to have the same gun as Real Hutch, which involves a lot of homework. Both Hutch and Starsky have genuinely hilarious reactions upon apprehending their doppelgangers. Hutch is, as usual, regally certain of his double’s inferiority to the glorious “original”. Starsky is, as usual, openly amazed at the resemblance, like a kid at a magic show.

For the mastermind of this caper, Sharon Freemont, disappears into irrelevance in the wake of the chase and capture of the lookalike stooges. The series is very often guilty of this kind of narrative shortcut – starting from the pilot episode, when the other Evil Lawyer Mastermind D.A. Mark Henderson vanishes without a trace following a tidy little takedown. Freemont’s motives and strategies are never fully realized, which is a shame, because she’s one of the most psychopathic criminals of all, someone willing to destroy two police officers to get a plum position at her job. And all with a sunny grin and pixie haircut.

Tag: What does Hutch mean when he tells a tipsy and singing Starsky, “She must have been an owl”? Is it because Starsky’s singing is so bad it sounds like one? Or is it so very late at night? “When I was a kid,” Starsky insists, meaning Fats Domino (who Hutch, unusually, seems to denigrate) “that Fat Man was king.” Nicely bringing the episode around to its initial scene, in which Starsky defends the honor of a childhood hero. Both men have cleaning ladies. Bachelors or not, is this unusual for detectives?

Starsky’s apartment is broken into, his stuff is tossed around and some of it is missing. Starsky is understandably upset but Hutch is laughingly dismissive (until the comedic note is struck: his own tennis racket is missing, and suddenly he wants to launch a full-scale investigation). This whole scene seems to be to be rather offhand. During the run of the series both have suffered at the hand of brutal criminals with long memories. Both have been broken into and threatened, Starsky nearly killed (“Coffin”). How come neither detective thinks this may be one of those times? If I were them, I’d back out slowly, gun drawn.

Clothing notes: during the hospital scene the guys really go to town in clashing, obnoxious clothes, Starsky wearing the cut-offs he wears in every other episode requiring shorts. They both look better than they have a right to in their BCPD janitorial overalls, Starsky’s pant-legs insouciantly rolled up to reveal jeans. I like how Dobey wears an ascot on Saturday morning to play golf with Ryan. And Sharon really did a good job scouring those thrift stores; the fake Starsky is wearing the same shirt the real Starsky wears in a later episode, “The Specialist”.

 

Episode 44: Murder on Stage 17

September 3, 2010

Starsky and Hutch go undercover as stuntmen on a movie set where actor Steve Hanson’s life is being threatened by Wally Stone, an old comic friend believed dead.

Steve Hanson: Rory Calhoun, Wally Stone: Chuck McCann, Julie West: Susan Cotton, Harry Markham: Jeff Goldblum, Shotgun Casey: Layne Britton, Blackie: Read Morgan, Ruth Willoughby: Toni Lamond, Charlotte Rogers: Sandy Herdt. Written By: Ben Masselink, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Don’t judge a book by its cover. In the opening scene ruggedly handsome actor Steve Hanson seems okay because he’s nice to the dog, but when he sees the water delivery man his true nature shows itself: he’s cool and distant, calling him “obnoxious”, although Wally-as-waterman only attempts to engage in friendly banter. Is this meanness for its own sake, a movie’s star’s aversion to the nobodies around him, or is this a bit of psychic accuracy, some unconscious part of Hanson recognizing his nemesis? In the next scene, in the station, Steve talks cavalierly and insincerely about the death of his “best friend”, Phil Lovatt, but shows neither concern nor grief for his death. In fact, the only reason he comes forward at all is because he believes he’s next in line to be murdered. He says he has a lot of money invested in the movie and he doesn’t intend it to go “down the drain.” Do Starsky and Hutch ever notice Steve Hanson, rather than being a charming old-fashioned movie star, is actually a thoroughly unpleasant fake? They don’t seem to, or perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway. Still, I’d love to see the scene where Starsky turns to Hutch and says, “I loved all his movies. Too bad he’s such a creep in real life.”

Why doesn’t Steve recognize Wally when he sees him close up? He tells Starsky and Hutch he saw him right after his stay in jail, and he couldn’t have changed that much in a short time. Is it because Steve is so entirely self-absorbed he doesn’t see anything he doesn’t want to? Wally isn’t wearing that much makeup. Steve knows Wally well enough to know his sister’s married name, which makes one wonder if he slept with her too. (Now that would add fuel to Wally’s raging fire.) Steve’s inability to recognize him is even stranger when Wally says later that even Friendly the dog remembered him, “licked my face”. Conceivably the dog would be six or seven, ten at the outset (he does not appear to be infirm). That would mean Steve had seen Wally not less than ten years previously.

How would a washed-up actor like Steve Hanson get a director like Harry Markham? Harry’s young and hip, obviously an artiste – Hutch compares him to Bergman – and yet here he is, directing a cowboy movie, and a pretty bad one, too. Maybe he thinks he’s going to make an ironic post-modern take on the decline and fall of chivalry. If so, it appears he doesn’t achieve his goals – in the end, at the conclusion of the screening, rather than being baffled or impressed everyone is lukewarm, full of false cheer. (Markham is either a no-show at the the screening or hiding somewhere, probably too embarrassed to be associated with this film.)

Another inside joke along with Shotgun Britton is that Starsky and Hutch’s main sets were on ABC’s Stage 17.

The scene in which the guys emerge in full cowboy gear for the first time is a perfect encapsulation of the game: Hutch pretends not to know who Kate Jackson is, and Starsky pretends not to know who Ingmar Bergman is, saying “Ingrid?” just to twist the knife, which of course works, because Hutch furiously corrects him. Perhaps this irritable little exchange lessens their anxiety.

Of course Hutch trips – twice – on the stairs. No, three times. Four, no five times coming up the stairs to the stunt.

The stunt coordinator can’t possibly know they’re cops, and not professional stuntmen because it would compromise the undercover operation if he did. But the guy acts as if he knows because he’s annoyed by their lack of skill, and rushes them through the routine. And by the way, wouldn’t they’d have a few pointers from an old pro before going undercover? In other situations they’re well-prepared and convincing, but in this case they look like total dweebs. Seeing their incompetence, the coordinator never says, “hey, don’t you guys know what you’re doing?” Instead, to his buddy, he calls them “wiseguys” and “jerks” and conspires to teach them a lesson by genuinely fighting them (why? If he knows they’re cops and trying to solve a murder, why antagonize them? And if he thinks they’re merely inexperienced stuntmen, why risk injuring them and therefore risking the shooting schedule?). Of course this “joke” has a satisfyingly turnaround when Starsky and Hutch proceed to beat the crap out of both of them. Interestingly, Starsky twigs first and Hutch resolutely takes more than a few punches to realize he’s being set up, and to reacts accordingly.

What a treat it is to see a young Jeff Goldblum as Harry Markham, the ironic, preoccupied director of this fiasco. Markham is pleased with the fighting scene.  “Print it,” he says. Does this mean Starsky and Hutch’s characters were supposed to win this particular fight? What if they weren’t, would Harry have liked it anyway? And just who were they supposed to be playing in this movie? Or maybe this is just “Scene 12: Generic Fight on Balcony”.

Wally carries water across the set, he’s also on the bicycle following the death of Steve’s dog. While this is psychologically accurate, as many murderers exhibit extreme narcissism and grandiosity, a film set is a very secure place, guarded by security and crew. Later, Starsky speculates it must have been an actor because “how else could he gain access to the studio?” Well, conceivably he would have had to pass the checkpoint with proper identification and a valid reason for being there – none of which Wally has. Just having an Equity card doesn’t guarantee you a free pass. The only explanation is that Wally managed to sneak onto the lot days or even weeks previously, carving out a cosy little nest for himself in the little-used prop locker. There’s electricity down there, so a hot-plate and a bed would probably suit him just fine.

When, at the conclusion of their first long conversation with Steve, Hutch gets up, Starsky holds up his hand, indicating he wants help. Hutch pulls him to a standing position but it’s harder than he expects, and he – I’ll call him Soul, because this seems to be a break in character – laughs and then seems briefly unable to remember his next line, but soldiers on. Completely charming.

Hanson says Pete Elexy, husband to ill-fated Jane, died a few years back. Was Wally involved in that death as well?

The most genuine emotion Steve Hanson shows is when he tells the story of Wally Stone being spit upon by an outraged former fan. He seems truly upset by the unfairness of it, as well as the fact his former friend came begging for twenty bucks. Why, then, did Hanson cut ties with poor Wally following this poignant encounter years ago? He says he went to Europe and put the past behind him. You would think he’d care enough to help support his unfortunate friend, either financially or at least by keeping tabs on him. As the guys leave, Hanson seems to want to say something more. He opens his mouth, then abruptly changes his mind. What do you think he was about to say?

There is a question lingering here about Hanson’s involvement in the whole Elexy murder story. He insists Wally Stone was a “sweet guy” and seems to implicitly support him as well as express sorrow for his fall from grace. If Hanson had any direct association with the incident, i.e. guilt, wouldn’t he have diverted suspicion by throwing Wally under the bus at this point, even if it’s to cast aspersion on his character? “Wally Stone, well, he was an odd duck and I couldn’t really trust him” would have done the job nicely. But Hanson doesn’t do this, implying he is innocent of the charges Wally eventually levels. Either that, or he is so arrogant he doesn’t for a moment believe he is in danger of being found out. Frankly, anything is a possibility in this very oblique, confusing episode.

Harry Markham wants Hutch for a “bit”. The classic “here comes McCoy now” thing which is, to me, one of the most endearing scenes in the canon, not only because it’s cute and funny but because you can see the joy the actors take when given the chance to do classic comedy. Markham’s decision can only mean he’s noticed Hutch’s good looks and wants to use them. He mentions the “unfortunate accident” and pushes a script at him. Is Hutch expected to read the lines left open by Phil Lovatt? Does this mean he’ll have to drive the stagecoach, too? Notice Starsky isn’t the least bit jealous; if anything, he’s thrilled. Imagine Hutch if the situation was reversed.  Would he be as thrilled for his partner, or try to sabotage him? I can just see it. “Are you sure you want to do that, Starsk? Do you have any idea how many millions of people will see you? Do you really want to make a fool of yourself?”

Layne “Shotgun” Britton, does his first of two cameos, here as an assistant director named “Shotgun”. His extravagant clothing is notable. He’s terribly funny in his little role.

Dobey arrives at his office complaining of having to get out of bed in the middle of the night. Why did he put a suit on? Or better yet, just call Starsky and Hutch with the Sierra Springs information from a bedside phone? Did his sandwich detector go off?

If they couldn’t prove Wally pushed Jane out the window, what did he go to jail for?  It was bad enough to have a woman spit in his face later, but Steve says, “They never proved that Wally pushed” Jane.

It could be my dirty mind, but when Steve accepts Julie’s invitation to her trailer late at night (what a mere script supervisor is doing with her very own trailer I’ll never know) he seems awfully eager. He goes over, pours himself a drink and seems very pleased with himself. What’s he anticipating from someone he says is “like a daughter”? Also, what would Julie still be doing at work so late? Unless Harry Markham is known to demand midnight script meetings, she should be home. If she’s from out of town, is it usual for production crew to stay on set?

Why doesn’t Wally just shoot Steve? Why the time-consuming and potentially preventable fire? He had access to the security cop’s gun, and there was no one around Steve’s bungalow, so he could have set that on fire, or simply walk in and start shooting. He doesn’t act sensibly. His plans are fussy and prone to miscalculation. He takes far more time with costumes and accents than he does with what he ostensibly came for. Was he like this with the other five murders? Even the final “big act”, his enemy walking down the fake street, he fires from a totally improbable angle. He could have waited in Julie’s trailer and blown him away when he walked through the door. That’s what I would have done.

Chuck McCann once again, as in the earlier episode “Silence”, plays an intensely hermetic, misunderstood, lonely individual struggling with mental illness issues. He’s an interesting actor, compressed and explosive, and his characters are clownish and vaguely disquieting. He’s supposed to be misunderstood and even sympathetic, but the viewer is never quite able to trust his motives. His tragic character is much more interesting than Rory Calhoun’s blandly imperious Hanson.

Starsky is Steve’s double in the film, but he’s the wrong height and build, and has those dark curls. What sort of movie is this, anyway? Who’s in charge of continuity?

There is something amusing about the clatter of tea cups and saucers and the tinkling of spoons in the scene with Wally’s sister.

It’s not entirely fair for me to point this out – after all, it must be terrifying in the extreme – but when Wally points the gun at Julie and tells her to get into the cart, she should have turned and run. It’s harder than it looks to fatally shoot someone who is running away.

Wally’s tiny ponytail is mesmerizing.

Why does Steve Hanson have a bungalow and a trailer? Hutch has to ask him where the trailer is, which means he hardly ever uses it.

The Hero: Steve Hanson says it’s time he was a real hero instead of merely acting as one. There is an underlying bitterness to this statement that is very interesting to me. Even though I doubt his guilt in the Elexy murder, his determination to be the hero might mean he has been a coward in the past. Perhaps he’s disappointed in himself for not supporting Wally more publicly. Perhaps he knew more about the murder than he ever let on. Maybe he lied in court. Maybe he is thinking back over a lifetime of arrogance and oblivion (the opening scene with the water man certainly underscores this). Maybe he feels helping Julie is a way of erasing paternal failings in the past. But perhaps there is a more cynical take on this. Hanson is getting old, is out of money, and admits this movie is his last hope. Even though he seems sincere when insisting he go himself, what better publicity that a “real life” walk down Main Street? The press would go bananas, and the resulting publicity would rocket him back into the public eye. Whatever his secret motivation, if any, he looks unconvincing walking toward his trailer, despite Starsky’s warm encouragement. He keeps looking around and obviously talking into the microphone. Wally’s not stupid, the set-up is obvious, but he shoots anyway.

Hutch says he has a “full view” of the area and can’t see anything, yet Wally is standing at his full height with a rife not fifty feet away. Normally Hutch is more vigilant than this. Was there no time to grab a pair of binoculars when they were grabbing their walkie-talkies? Ask other security guards to get into position?

It’s not clear why Starsky has Hutch’s gun. In one scene Hutch is ahead, with his gun in his hand. Next shot, he’s behind Starsky, with no gun. When they confront Wally, Starsky has it. Strangely, when showing Wally he’s unarmed, instead of dropping Hutch’s gun, he hands it back to Hutch, possibly because he doesn’t want to damage his partner’s prized weapon by letting it fall to the concrete floor. Wally doesn’t scream “drop it!” but he should have.

Wally says the critics compared him to Chaplin and Starsky says “better!” The look Hutch gives him is priceless: don’t push it, buddy, he seems to be saying. However, throughout this scene Hutch is silent, willing himself to be invisible as he lets Starsky do what he does best: gently paint a nostalgic picture as a way of softening the situation. He does it here, in “Vendetta” with a retired baseball player, in “Sharman” with his old flame, and most remarkably in “Partners”, as succor to Hutch.

Tag: Hutch does a great job of being a spoiled superstar in camel coat and shades, upset that his scene was cut even though both acknowledge – in a sideways sort of way – that his performance was terrible. The tag provides an interesting glimpse into Hutch’s relationship with his mother. He may have told her about his part in the movie, knowing she’d boast about it to others, but maybe he’s done it to avoid more important subjects, like whether he’s ever going to get married again, or whether or not he’s in danger of getting killed. Funny how Starsky, in addition to giving comforting advice on how to lie to mothers has also made the effort to save the bit of film featuring his partner. He must have gone to quite a lot of trouble to get it, and it’s reminiscent of his presentation of the new car to Hutch in the tag of “Survival”.

Episode 43: A Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road

August 20, 2010

Starsky and Hutch try to catch the stalker of a country singer.

Sue Ann Grainger: Lynn Anderson, Jerry Tabor: Joshua Bryant, Cal Claybourne: Dick Haynes, “Fireball”: Scatman Crothers, Bartender: Skip Young, Hotel Clerk: Jack Grinnage, Redneck: Walter Scott. Written By: Edward J Lakso, Directed By: George McCowan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Hutch the sartorial risk-taker: throughout the series you can always count on Hutch to wear something interesting. From collegiate jacket to guitar shirt to super-fashionable flares, this is a man who loves his clothes. He’s loyal to individual items – he’s worn that emerald-green t-shirt for years – but he’s always willing to try something new. (You can bet he was the first one in a flap shirt in 1982.) Hence the splendid serape in scene one.

Sue Ann finishes her country song and begins another, a new one. This song is decidedly not country – it’s more of an upbeat AM hit one might generously call “new country” and obviously a song Lynn Anderson wants to be a hit in reality (she is, as you may recall, well-known for her Grammy-winning, country crossover mega-hit, “I Never Promised you a Rose Garden”.) Starsky enters in what might be considered the opposite of a serape, in a chic post-punk striped shirt, black leather jacket and his jeans, looking like he was just drafted to play with The Cars. He makes a sarcastic comment, something about Hutch’s “blond tuft of hair” and the “tent”. Hutch, reconsidering his offer earlier of inviting Starsky in the first place, corrects him. “Serape,” he says.
“Is that Indian?” Starsky says. “I didn’t know they allowed Indians in a hillbilly joint like this.” To me, this is a central motif in Starsky’s life, the kid-of-the-forties reference to cowboys and Indians. Hutch is in a bind here. He loves the vernacular, the plebian, he wants to be a loner, an aesthete. But he also wants to be with Starsky. And, add to that, he wants to show off and be the sophisticated one. All these things are incompatible, which is why he gets himself into knots all the time, and there’s nothing better or funnier than Hutch in a knot.

Note the girl at the table giving Starsky the appraising look – more than once.

Give it to Starsky, though, throwing himself into enjoyment full-throttle, making the best of a bad situation and putting his own interests aside in favor of Hutch’s. This is his basic temperament: cheerful and optimistic. But by now Hutch is too concerned with what other people are thinking to enjoy himself, which is his basic temperament: self-conscious and easily irritated.

Starsky is taking the photograph of the band, probably at Hutch’s request, yelling sarcastic comments about serapes. “He’s a tourist,” Starsky says, presumably meaning Hutch, “don’t mind him.” As with most jokes Starsky makes, this is also shrewd and on point. Hutch is a tourist’s mix of wonder and discomfort, a need to belong, trying but not quite succeeding in behaving like a native. But it’s all quite sweet, when you think of it, Hutch asking his partner to take a photo of him with the band, and the band complying.

Lynn Anderson is perfectly cast. With her authentic look and sound, she’s a perfect foil for the action. She never tries too hard, never attempts to be something she isn’t. Her acting is so natural it’s like there’s no acting at all. I love the little nervous laughs, the quick fake-looking smiles. The all-white Nudie-style suit and bleached hair is great. I love how she’s considerate to Dobey, with his complicated Charley-Pride-high school story.

“Lousy seats” in a bar that seats roughly fifty people? Hardly a viable complaint, more like an excuse to brawl.

Hutch is manhandled and thrown into the arms of Starsky. They exchange a loaded look. Hutch is annoyed and his look conveys this, Starsky replies with a reluctant, but determined, a sort of “okay, if they want it that way” look. It’s pretty fun to see how this all works out in the space of a second and a half.

Hutch’s innocent “who?” when Starsky mentions Dirty Harry is an inside joke: he had a major breakthrough role in the Clint Eastwood movie.

Jerry Tabor looks right at the camera and says hoarsely, “I warned her not to call the police”. A strange breaking-the-forth-wall moment, and actually quite surreal and creepy.

If Sue Ann’s last show is at 11:00, are Starsky, Hutch and Dobey giving her preferential treatment by having her fill out her complaint at Metro at roughly 1:30 in the morning?

If Dobey is that star-struck by Sue Ann and her music, and country music in general, why didn’t Hutch invite him down to the bar and not Starsky, even though this is a police-presence request made by the manager rather than a purely social outing? Presumably Dobey would have no idea about bands and bars, being a lights-out-at-ten suburban sort of guy, but he’d be thrilled to go with Hutch, if asked, and he certainly has the police credentials. Most likely Hutch had no idea his Captain was harboring such a little crush, and Dobey, who made this assignment in the first place, might have been too proud to ask.

How does Tabor get the number of Sue Ann’s hotel? How does he find out where she’s staying? Also, since when is the shooting death of a homeless man on radio, newspaper, and television? Either Starsky isn’t being completely truthful or he’s exaggerating, because it’s difficult to believe there would be that sort of coverage of the death of an old man in the alley.

“You won’t hurt him,” Sue Ann says when they talk about entrapping her stalker. No, no, Hutch insists. There’s a significant pause then Starsky says, “we might give him a bloody nose.” Hutch is deeply annoyed but Sue Ann is charmed and this is what leads her to agree. How often does Hutch’s sincerity and seriousness get in the way of things? How often does Starsky’s irreverence save the day? This scene is reminiscent of the conversation with Anna in “A Body Worth Guarding”: both scenes involve trying to convince a female performer of their worth as police officers, both involve Hutch making a faux pas. 

Manager Harry tries to reassure Sue Ann about her stalker, “We’ve got experts who can deal with people like that.” Does Hutch really have a solid faith in this, even after their experience with Commander Jim and his doctors? Or is he doing what Paco did to Andrea Gutierrez in Velvet Jungle when he tells her Sterling “has no power…he only pretends to be big.” Both Hutch and Paco aren’t necessarily telling the truth, as their past experience in the system has told them otherwise, but both seem willing to stretch this belief just a little further to get at something important.

I love the recording studio with all musicians and singer in the same giant room. It’s a lovely fantasy that never quite rings true. Mostly, studios are small, crowded rooms with the musicians sequestered from each other.

Tabor’s hypnotic control over Sue Ann is believably pathological. He “befriends” her, uses her private spaces to invade, plays the music back, and amplifies further her own powerful sense of guilt and secret feelings of fraudulence. She’s like many once-poor people when they strike it rich: feeling as if they’ve made a deal with the devil, and any moment now the devil is going to claim his due.

Sue Ann never uses Starsky or Hutch’s names. In fact, she’s strangely immune to them as individuals. It’s almost as if there are two basic cut-outs around her: Policeman 1 and Policeman 2. One can see how she could have sent Tabor over the edge, if she’s like this with everyone. It’s an innocent sort of ego, a discounting of others that could be seen as a snub. It’s only at the end, on stage, that she shows any sort of connection: it’s when Hutch reveals himself to be another musician.

Further notes on the psychology of this episode: I can’t emphasize enough what a relief it is that neither Starsky nor Hutch have any romantic involvement with Sue Ann. Far too often over the run of the series the writers seem to think the only woman interesting enough to invest screen time in, or who is convincing or sympathetic as a “victim”, is a woman who is flirty, vulnerable, girlish or enamored with one (or both) detectives. Sue Ann is a professional, preoccupied with her obligations, businesslike, distracted, and kind without being a pushover. She reminds me somewhat of Anna from “Body Worth Guarding”, minus the eros.

Dobey is a real dunce in this show. Starsky practically has to spell out the solution to the case before he picks up the phone to make a few calls. Still, I like how later the guys don’t fight Dobey when he tells them only six officers are available to work on the case. They trust him to know what’s best.

When the guys exit Dobey’s office Starsky does a great little grab around Hutch’s waist, a reassuring pat on his midsection. For the serious fan, doorways and hallways are a gold mine.

Fireball recognizes a plain-looking white man from a great distance and from a bad photograph, and in regular human traffic. The guy’s a snitch superman. Why don’t the guys use him more often? Maybe Fireball only knows one city block, but knows it better than anyone. “Who sees things like I see things?” he demands. “Nobody,” Hutch acknowledges. How crazy is Fireball anyway? Crazy enough not to be a reliable source they can mine repeatedly?

“Throw down your guns and get outside!” Tabor commands the guys. They do neither. They place their guns gently on the floor and walk toward him. In fact, they perform several complex maneuvers to overpower Tabor, including a dangerous leap onto the Torino. They seem to know when to conform to demands and when to contradict, their deep bond with each other enabling them to invent and convey plans with only a look.

Tag: Onstage, Hutch shows his true colors, or at least those colors he’s careful to hide most of the time: he’s shy and self-effacing and eager to please. Sure, Starsky sings loudly and waves his arms around, but it’s only when Hutch falters onstage that the somewhat embarrassing intensity of this encouragement becomes obvious to him (the hilarious “you weren’t a hit at three police barbecues for nothing”). Still, Hutch’s rage at his partner’s behavior is excessive – he leaps from the stage to attack him. The whole thing is played for laughs, but it really is one of the most extreme cases of Hutch transposing his own inadequacies and fears onto Starsky. Or maybe, just maybe, he was looking for a creative excuse to get out of the limelight.

Clothing notes: this is an exceptional episode for awesome clothes. From the serape to Starsky’s black leather jacket paired with the red striped shirt, and later with a bright yellow t-shirt, to Hutch’s tennis outfit of navy blue and goldenrod, (Starsky makes gentle fun at this, saying Tabor must have had an aversion to it). Starsky is outstanding in a pair of white tennis shorts, red and black athletic jacket, matching athletic socks. In the tag, Starsky is spectacularly outfitted in a dark brown fringe vest and gold satin shirt and navy kerchief, no doubt borrowed from Huggy, who must have a closet full of this stuff. It’s an unusual bit of costuming from someone who is normally given more to grunge than grandiosity. He’s the Cowboy to Hutch’s serape-wearing Indian. I’m also particularly fond of Sue Anne’s outfits, including the gold-and-feather ensemble she wears during her second night at the Saddle-bar Club.

Episode 42: Velvet Jungle

August 8, 2010

An investigation into the murder of an illegal alien uncovers a smuggling ring lead by Sterling, an Immigration official.

Sterling: Biff McGuire, Paco Ortega: Jorge Cervera Jr, Harry Wheeling: Cliff Osmond, Laura Stevens: Sheila Lauritsen, Andrea Guiterrez: Silvana Gallardo, Danny: Timothy Carey, Ginny: Belinda Balaski, Lou: Susan Bay, Moreno: Frank Lugo, Miguelito: Robert Rodriguez. Written By: Parke Perine, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is one of many episodes that attempts to bring recognition to a grievous social ill, the writers humanizing what might be a vague or complicated political issue through their narrative, and probably educating a lot of their audience along the way. In this episode that issue is the poor conditions and other vulnerabilities suffered by immigrants, illegal and otherwise, in the garment industry. Not a particularly sexy storyline, which makes “Velvet Jungle” even more special and important.

It’s funny that the alarm goes off at Sally’s Sandwich Shop, if the pancake man is already in there working. Or does he reset the alarm when he comes in and before he officially opens, in an act of paranoia? Plus, note how he puts his tongue to the spoon while he stirs the batter, then stirs again with the same spoon. Ugh. The more I watch Timothy Carey’s performance of the unlikable baker, the more I appreciate it – it’s loaded with wonderfully comic and disgusting nuances.

It takes a cold, cold criminal to pick up a dead body in the oddly intimate way Harry does, which is to hold her like a dance partner, arms around his neck.

Do detectives normally respond to a broken window or is that a patrol car duty? Hutch makes the remark later that they were merely on their way to work, and responded incidentally. What’s the hierarchy here, anyway? Would Starsky and Hutch run the risk of stepping on toes if they responded to calls such as this?

Hutch’s recognition of “mother” versus “Muta” – murder – and his and Starsky’s disgust at Sally the Pancake Man’s inability to know the difference again displays the assiduous and nearly angry social intelligence of this series. Also look at their faces when the cook dismisses Latin Americans as “wetbacks”. The police force in Los Angeles and elsewhere is a notoriously conservative, reactionary institution and very slow to change attitudes and approaches. Starsky and Hutch, with their liberal humane attitudes, must have been unusual. It’s interesting to speculate on how much hostility they engendered inside the department.

More injuries: Glaser, ever the professional, refused to let them pad the dumpster he was to fall into, and did actually hurt himself a little when he fell. Soul, casually watching off-camera, straightened worriedly when he saw the fall – he was the only one who knew until the director cut. Picerni also broke his foot jumping off the escalator, the scene where Starsky supposedly sprains his ankle.

Hutch doesn’t notice the obviously guilty motions of Harry when he questions him about the murder.  Why not? It’s pretty obvious, the hesitation and half-truth. Is he just really tired?

Starsky comes around the corner after his scene in the dumpster with Laura Stevens and immediately is struck with the idea of somehow surprising or teasing Hutch, who has his back to him.  He creeps up on him – one suspects something big and scary, but all he says is “What.”  Not a joke, not a trick.  Does he second-guess himself, unable to think of something suitably surprising?

Ms Brownley is an enigma.  “Honey, honey,” she exclaims, stopping a model, “you’ve got that dress on backwards.” The model is wearing a pantsuit. Simple wardrobe error, or is this a hint we’re not supposed to take her seriously? And then: “Nice name”, she says when Starsky introduces himself. Is it? “He’s cute,” she says.  “I don’t think so,” Hutch says, as if by rote. “Well, maybe you’re right,” she sighs.

“It’s alright, Starsk,” Hutch says, politely removing the clothes from Starsky’s arm.  Gently this time, aware everyone in the room is staring at them and for once not wanting to make Starsky’s humiliation worse. “Doesn’t go with your eyes anyway.”

More us-and-them dynamics: suit-and-tie-wearing Sterling from some vaguely threatening-sounding department (“agent in charge of this city’s immigration office”) versus the righteous guys from the street. There are two major themes in the series: the sacredness of the partnership, and the iniquity of Big Government.

How does Hutch know so much Spanish? Coming from the Midwest, and one assumes by way of LA as a 19 or 20-year old, how would he know? He also seems quite Spanish or Mexican in his choice of off-duty clothes (the serape, for example) and his choice of interior decorating. Or is it just the fashion of the times?

Hutch trips dramatically while walking into the bar. Clumsy Hutch, with such a capacity for grace. And by the way, what’s a bar doing with a red velvet curtain instead of a door?

I suppose Starsky was visiting family on the East Coast while Hutch was working alone a few years ago.

It’s fun to see Hutch on the pleading end of things for a change when he starts talking Starsky into going incognito into the rough Latin bar (which, incidentally, is more or less Dirty Nellie’s from “The Committee”). He makes his eyes big and wide, playing innocent, has a nervous grin on his face. It’s a great comedy scene and you can tell there’s a great deal of enjoyment in it from both of them.

Starsky isn’t the Spanish idiot he pretends to be. As far back as “Texas Longhorn” he kicks the phone and shouts an angry phrase in Spanish. Hutch observes, “your Spanish is getting better.” And he knows to follow “esta Ramone aquí” with “donde esta Ramone?” If it weren’t for his nervousness he’d be perfect at it. And he looks the part, too, unlike Hutch.

This is an episode that tries hard to dispel stereotypes, and it’s mostly successful. However, the bar scene merely reiterates the notion that men from south and central America are unpredictable and frightening. Yes, it’s a tough bar in a tough neighborhood, but it’s a shame everybody in there is one-dimensionally hostile.

Why does Ortega feel he has to beat Starsky so badly? He really wails on him while Starsky, as soon as he learns Ortega is undercover with Immigration, lets up markedly. Starsky’s obviously battered at the station later. And for what? Most of the fight takes place out back in the alley where there are few if any witnesses – they could just yell and throw boxes around for the same effect. Is this why Starsky has no more scenes alone with Ortega – he’s pissed off? Hutch and Ortega get along fine, to the point of hanging out at Hutch’s place.

Why does Starsky refer to Andrea Gutierrez as “our prisoner”? She hasn’t committed any crime. What he means to say is “protected witness”.

Even after seeing this numerous times, watching Dobey take sides (“if I were you, I wouldn’t go upstairs”) is still a thrill.

Hutch, when talking to Andrea, does two distracting, riveting things. He rubs her back for comfort (in a nice, non-threatening way, but still) then, while talking to Ortega, draws on the blackboard while he talks (tic tac toe, by the looks of it).

Let’s imagine the scene where the guys propose being street performers as a way of integrating themselves in the take-down scene. Hmm, how to get close to the action while not being noticed? Why not mime? Imagine Dobey’s face when this solution is presented. Does it not occur to any of them that simply planting an undercover officer as a pedestrian might be the simplest option? Why such a complicated, potentially reckless act? It’s very possible a mime act with its attendant spectators might make the bad guys nervous to the point of nixing the meeting altogether. Does Dobey agree to keep his best detectives happy?

Watch the story played out when Starsky and Hutch dress as a classic French mime and as Charlie Chaplin. It’s two separate acts combining. Chaplin leaves his silent-film world to flirt with the female mime, and Marceau-Hutch hits him as a distraction. Starsky turns the screws on Hutch’s instrument, totally controlling him as he does so. Starsky’s character is fluid and graceful while Hutch’s character is choppy and robotic: Freudian goldmine. Also, while Starsky is merely mimicking Chaplin in a goofy sort of way, Hutch is good enough at miming to make one wonder about his off-duty hobbies. And while we’re deconstructing this scene, who’s the female mime anyway? She’s almost too good to be a police officer – unless she’s in the same nerdy mime club as Hutch – but who else would they put in a dangerous position? She’s not credited. Not to mention the musicians, who would be in the line of fire. This entire scene, so irrational and so damned charming, is frustrating to the viewer who wants their police drama to follow logical, predictable storylines. And this is why the series is so bewitching. Television drama hadn’t set its footings in concrete at this point, there were no rules, no educated, easily outraged public, no finger-wagging social media groups to shout down stupid, audacious, beautiful little moments like this one.

Laura Stevens is not the one for Starsky. For instance, she insults Starsky’s clothes over and over again. She ditches Starsky at the fashion show, but not before she gets Starsky’s name wrong (“Starchy”). She leaves him standing with her clothes, which makes him a figure of fun at the fashion show. She doesn’t believe he hurt his ankle. When talking about the fancy dinner with Starsky, she mentions everything but the nice company. Hutch knows the joke about the red tennis shoe and she doesn’t. She’s embarrassed by Starsky when “The Times” editor sees them. But most importantly, Hutch doesn’t like her. I mean, he really doesn’t like her. He frowns when she enters, and seems to find her insufferable. Which is interesting, considering she’s trying very hard to be a barrel of fun.

Starsky says, in the tag, “They just lack couth.”  This is the second time he uses this phrase. And also, why bring Laura back to Hutch’s place? Does he want to show off his pretty girlfriend to his partner, the way cats bring dead birds into the house? Looking for approval from Hutch, which he doesn’t get?

Sartorial notes: Hutch is wearing the great plaid shirt-jacket in several scenes while Starsky wears the leather jacket sans collar, and a startling yellow and black rugby shirt that sadly doesn’t appear in any other episode.  He’s glamorous in it, leaning with the coat stand as Paco tries to talk Sterling into joining forces from Dobey’s office.  There is a lot of plaid in this show, Hutch wears a blue stone ring in a silver setting, and on the third finger of his left hand. He also wears some nice dark-wash jeans. In the tag he wears an awesome hippie ensemble of yellow linen shirt with drawstring, pale jeans and sandals with socks while he strums guitar.

Episode 41: The Committee

August 1, 2010

After Starsky apparently takes the law into his own hands, leading to a staged breakup with Hutch, he is invited to join a vigilante group of cops led by Internal Affair’s own Lieutenant Fargo.

Lt. Fargo: Alex Rocco, “Dirty” Nellie: Helen Martin, Ginger: Angela May, Sam Garner: William Bogert, Willits: John Ashton, Billings: Michael MacRae, Off. Knight: Bill Cort, Off. Williams: Tony Young, Millie: Muffi Durham. Written By: Robert I Holt, Directed By: George McCowan.

I’m in a particularly pessimistic frame of mind these days and it’s cathartic to revisit one of the most astute and cynical episodes in the canon. We see it all here in spades: the fascist broom sweeping away society’s “undesirables”, the surging anger of the white working class convinced his world has been irreparably damaged by so-called liberalism (in this case uniformed officers suspicious of long-haired detectives), back room deals made by powerful but unseen forces, the perverse belief in reactionary short cuts to justice (mainly by executing those who step out of line), the poisonous hatred inside the institutional elite. I see this episode as a political fable. Evil grows when those in power use expediency to solve problems, when they have lost their humanity, when they see criminal acts as the disease itself rather than as symptoms of a larger and more complicated afflictions of poverty, ignorance and mental illness (all of which are rectifiable, at least in part, if we really want to get serious about it). We cannot build walls and shoot those we feel have failed us, and we cannot squash the rights of the people to achieve our aims, however laudable they seem. We also must retain our humanness, quirks and all – emblematic of Starsky’s pet rock – if we are to survive.

As is typical, the first scene keeps it overtly casual, even humorous, while covertly laying out the thematic intent of the episode with the brisk precision of a lawyer’s writ. Here, Starsky and Hutch’s off-hours are soured by the trembling rage of a slightly-drunk Officer Knight (the drunk part is solely my supposition) who not only does not see or understand that the two detectives are actually strategizing (i.e working), but is convinced their unconventional (read: hippie) ways undermine the very fabric of a law-and-order society. It’s quite a shocking intrusion out of nowhere, and by Starsky’s laconic pleasantries we can see that this has happened more than once. Knight, who has been watching Starsky’s playful interaction with Huggy for the last twenty minutes or so (and irritated, no doubt, by Hutch’s errant cue poking into him) accuses them of “goofing around” instead of making the streets safer, then demands to know how they would feel “if a 78-year old man died in your arms after you’d been mugged by some junkie with twenty-three priors”, as if Starsky and Hutch are somehow responsible for – no, have actually somehow worsened – this situation. This long-standing grudge has a back story that I would love to see.

One wonders why Huggy doesn’t even touch the milkshake delivered to him, since it’s probably free (“He’s chocolate, I’m strawberry,” says Starsky, with a grin), but maybe the real question is why they’re drinking milkshakes at all in this tough cops-only hangout where tequila shots are probably the way to go. Incidentally a place not normally frequented by Starsky and Hutch. What are they doing here? Is The Pits temporarily closed, which explains why Huggy is out of his comfort zone? Will they ever be allowed back again after exposing the members of the committee, obviously longtime regulars of the place? And why is Huggy dragging around a carpet bag worthy of Mary Poppins? Not very cool.

I’m at a loss to explain what game Hutch is playing. It appears to be table shuffleboard, as there are pucks, or shuckles. But that game is played with a player’s hands sliding the pucks along the surface, and Hutch is attempting to play with a cue. Is this some imaginative combination of pool and shuffleboard? Something else? Hutch just goofing around?

The cop-bar must be located in the basement of the suburban-looking restaurant.

“This makes us even for the information on the drug bust, huh?” Starsky says, accepting the pet rock Huggy sells him. It’s funny that Hutch is so caught up in his sarcasm about pet rocks he doesn’t seem to see the transaction for what it is, a payoff for information, which is proof once again that Starsky knows how to play, and Hutch, who is ironically playing a another game by himself, doesn’t. Instead, he razzes Starsky about coming over to his place to buy old 78 records. Which of course leads to another question: what’s he doing with 78s? Isn’t that a little old fashioned? So many questions.

Nellie’s absurdity amuses Hutch to no end, and it’s sweet to see how affectionate he is with her. And there’s a couple of gems hidden in the whole pet-rock exchange: one, that Huggy has been hawking his rocks there before. And two, that Nellie’s little comment – “it bit me” smacks of a joint venture in salesmanship, the plant in the audience who adds legitimacy and urgency to the pitch. Are Nellie and Huggy a team?

More on this fascinating opening scene: Knight’s accusation that Starsky and Hutch spend too much time goofing around and not enough time busting heads is an interesting – and rare – glimpse into what some of the boys in blue think of the plainclothes detectives. There seems to be jealousy, resentment, and a lot of willful misinformation about the way Starsky and Hutch work. The idea is echoed later when Starsky is called up to Internal Affairs and remarks to Hutch that “we’re not exactly their favorite team.” In the earlier episode “Snowstorm” the collective antipathy of Burke, Kolwitz and Corman was more overtly about the generation gap; here, it’s more political. It would be fun to see a “third-party” episode from the point of view of the regular cops on the beat, watching Starsky and Hutch from a distance. It seems as if, post-“Pariah”, their reputations have not improved too much. Later on, during the fake-fight scene, we see tables of uniformed officers witnessing the strife and yet not one officer stands up to defend Hutch or to calm down the scene. Is this because nobody wants to be involved, or do they just not care that much? This is not at all like the respectful relationship with the uniforms we see in other episodes, with Starsky and Hutch on first-name basis with those they work with.

The number 78 has an odd recurrence: Hutch’s records, the old man mugged. Something worn out and down to a bad end, maybe?

It’s also fun to watch what Starsky does when confronted with people who try to intimidate him: he slows down, acts casual, almost sleepy, while Hutch is immediately, and dangerously, defensive.

I would like to know how “Dirty” Nellie got her nickname. I hope it has nothing to do with the state of the bathrooms in her bar.

It’s Dobey himself on the radio telling them about the screams coming from the warehouse. I wonder what it is about the scene that tells him the situation relates to the case Starsky and Hutch are working on. Perhaps a witness gave a description of the two men.

Chasing Willets and Billings, Starsky holds his gun in his usual unusual way: fingers between barrel and body of the gun, not useful if sudden shooting is required.

Doppelganger moment: Hutch goes after the blond, Starsky goes after the dark-haired assailant. Also, I’m a bit surprised the rape victim seems to understand Starsky, when he goes to her, is a good guy and not a bad one. If it had been me, I’d be punching and biting if he tried to touch me.

It’s an old story about what real justice is, in terms of the law. Lawyer Sam Garner taunts the two detectives by saying their desire for moral rectitude comes close to vigilantism, and they counter by saying the system is too strict and inhumane. Neither of them, strictly speaking, is correct – it’s only when objectivity and humanity are in balance can we be a truly just society. Too much of one, and empathy is lost. But too much of another, and we run the risk of impartiality. I think Starsky and Hutch, on a better day, would accept this to be true. But this is not a good day.

In the office with Dobey, Starsky shows his best side when he calls the escaped Billings a “sicko” and says he should be in jail, or a hospital. Even in this small instance we can see that both Starsky and Hutch are aware of the role that mental illness plays in criminal behavior.

After confronting Willets in the courtroom, Starsky changes from his “court” jacket (corduroy with elbow patches) to his old leather jacket. Hutch stays the same.

In the apartment when the two rogue cops are given their assignment, there are several points of interest. A new gun is given to an officer, which makes sense in terms of ballistics, but where is the officer’s regular firearm? Also, that officer handles the holster with its gun, turning it up and down as if to stretch out the leather holster, and the image is suggestive of an erection. Which, if on purpose, is genius. Also, we get our first glimpse of pouty Ginger, who stares out at … well, at us. Fourth wall broken. It’s very strange.

Consider Hutch’s frame of mind when he orders Starsky a tuna burger with lots of mushrooms. It takes a lot of forethought and imagination to be that mean, and one wonders how much of Hutch’s conscious life is dedicated to inventing ways to either annoy his partner or distract him from his woes. On the same subject, he replies with “who cares?” when Starsky says his rock is “igneous” (which he pronounces, charmingly, “ignatius”). That is, formed by lava. Starsky looks at him and says, “you know, you’re very hard to get along with, sometimes.” Hutch pretends not to know what he means.

Sam Garner says he thinks the person responsible for gunning down three wanted men might be a cop, and he’s ready and willing to do anything he can to blow the lid off of a fraudulent investigation – note Lieutenant Fargo nervously chewing on a knuckle, hearing this, and starting to make ugly plans in his head. Confronted by his obnoxious personality, it seems as if Starsky and Hutch don’t listen or care about his suspicions, but later we see that Hutch has weighed this very carefully in his mind, which does him credit.

“Sorry Starsky,” says Lieutenant Fargo, “but I thought you should hear what the man had to say.” Starsky is the sole focus of the attention, both in Fargo’s office and later in Dobey’s. Why? It was Hutch who arrested Willets, who later claimed to be roughed up. Why the attention on Starsky? Yes, he makes a passionate speech in the hallway of the courtroom about justice, but it’s obvious Hutch shares his feelings. Still, everybody seems to really want to pin the blame on Starsky. What does this say about the attitudes toward Starsky as a person and a cop, as opposed to Hutchinson? Do people in and around the Metropolitan Division see Starsky as somehow more violent, or impulsive, than his partner? Similarly in “Snowstorm” the three older cops zero in on Starsky and call him “pushy”, wounding his feelings. If anything, Starsky is less likely to lose his temper than the notorious intemperate Hutch, and also less likely to do anything that might be construed as unconventional or renegade. As for Fargo bringing together accuser and defendant in his office, this seems like a grievous breach of conduct, procedurally speaking.

I think it’s interesting that Hutch tells Fargo, “You probably brought the man in here just to see Starsky’s reaction would be.” Hutch has terrific instincts, and his instinct in this case is to suspect something’s afoot. Hutch allows himself to be mollified by Fargo’s manipulative speech, and bonus points for that suggestion of a wink and a grin, the “secretly I know you’re one of the good guys”. Everyone wants to believe they’re understood and appreciated, and Hutch is no exception.

Starsky is hilariously fidgety when Hutch uses the phone. “Come on, this is Sunday!” he cries out. Another instance of Starsky’s holy-weekend position toward working, although they’re working anyway so why the impatience?

“You’re thinking what I’m thinking?” Hutch says to Starsky about one second after the shooting of Willets. Starsky looks shocked, then thoughtful. So, let’s break it down: within one second after a car chase and shootout Hutch has come to the conclusion that this chase was too odd, and likely set up by someone – probably within the police department – by telling Willets that Starsky and Hutch were about to hunt him down and kill him. Precipitating his flight, and the suicidal action of firing on Starsky. So this is a set-up, and a complicated one at that. From within the department. To get both or one of them called a vigilante, in order to distract attention from the real vigilantes. Who are most likely other police officers. No other explanation for why Willets is running. All this passes through Hutch’s head in a second. And in Starsky’s too, a second later.

It’s chilling to hear both Starsky and Hutch use the word “buddy” in contempt to each other. Hutch, the alarmingly good villain, is even more horrible in his sarcastic use of the word.

This episode’s power is predicated on one thing: how grievously transgression it is to break up the partnership. This is manipulated by the decision to leave us in the dark as to the ulterior motives for the fight. Interesting, though, that the other cops are so quick to assume this is, in fact, real, that the pair have destroyed their relationship over a difference in opinion. Do they really think Starsky and Hutch are just like everyone else, and therefore have essentially the same utilitarian working arrangement as they do? Don’t they see them as having a deeper, more substantial bond?

The horrible fight the two have at Nellie’s bar is painful to watch, but it’s worth noting Nellie’s intelligent, watchful face as the drama unfolds. You can see that she’s taking everything in, and not accepting anything at face value. This is one canny bartender. Also worth noting is Starsky’s fleeting expression of concern and regret as he leaves (when seen in hindsight, of course).

Dobey says Willits has no convictions, yet he is listed as an accomplice on Billing’s arrest record.

Ginger was arrested, Hutch remembers, four years ago. According to her police record, she was also arrested about a year ago. Did Fargo get her off of that charge as well? Also, how in hell did Hutch remember her? The entire operation – from bar fight to dinner plans – has taken less than an hour, and Hutch has to pull one face out of tens of thousands in his memory banks.

Starsky’s apartment is stellar. It has great original art plus Matisse prints and others, lots of books, great textiles of all kinds, camera, plus lots of fruit for Dobey (he must be home some time to have fresh fruit); it’s all very urbane and sophisticated, in an earthy sort of way, cozy in a way that suggests Starsky enjoys his home. The tree stump side-tables are very fashion forward. Starsky appears to be a more domesticated sort than Hutch, or at least more deliberate in his decorating.

There’s a uniformed officer guarding Willets in Starsky’s bedroom. The way I see it, Starsky, Hutch and Dobey are united in the belief that cops are behind the spate of vigilante-style murders, so I would love to know why this particular officer has their trust. And let’s face it, Starsky is being very generous when he allows Willets to lie in his bed. He’s going to launder those sheets several times afterward to get rid of the stink, both literal and figurative.

It takes Starsky a moment to choose the wine for Ginger. That means he has a few bottles. When he finally brings it over she pours it and then says, “You have good taste.” If Ginger really does have a taste for wine and isn’t just making an obsequious, flirty comment (which is likely, I admit) this is in startling opposition to Starsky’s reputation as an unsophisticated rube.

Angela May playing Ginger is duplicitous and scheming. So, apparently, is Angela May in real life. She seems like a particularly miserable creature with her bee-stung pout and cringing, intensely squirming sexuality. That Pekingese-flat face and big weepy eyes are oddly compelling, and Ginger as a person isn’t all bad – she pulls back at the last second and urges Starsky to get out. (Angela May filed a paternity suit against David Soul several months later, but it was disproved.)

“Starsky,” Ginger says. “What is it. Polish?” “Something like that,” Starsky says, in the same offhand taciturn way he says to Nancy’s mother in “Terror on the Docks” when she asks if he’s Catholic and he says “no”.

Ginger mentions “maternal instincts” prompted her to kiss Starsky – which is really, really off-putting. But she isn’t the only woman to feel that way: Dr Kaufman in “The Plague” had a similar response, as did Kira in “Starsky vs. Hutch”.

Wouldn’t Starsky, Hutch and Dobey, when hatching the plan to catch the vigilantes, to bring the guy from top in on it from the beginning? Yet they don’t, staging the “show” in Dobey’s office at the beginning of the episode seemingly for Fargo’s benefit, showing they didn’t trust him even from the beginning. Yet, why wouldn’t they trust him, when he made such a passionate and convincing speech about being a cop for twenty-five years and still fighting for justice, etc? Seems to me there’s a missing scene in here, the one where the guys sit in the Torino and talk about how Fargo, despite all evidence to the contrary, reeks of something nasty.

Clues to just why Starsky and Hutch withheld their suspicions from Dobey can be seen in the fact that Dobey tells Fargo some details about the undercover case. He precedes this with the statement “No secrets between friends.” It’s a major tactical error. Hutch is far more comfortable in the role of undercover – coolly telling Fargo they have nothing on Ginger, while Dobey is nervous acting against IA and makes it clear he’s a weak link in the investigation by spilling information he shouldn’t.

What exactly does Hutch want Dobey to do when he hands him the phone? Give Fargo some fake name, drawing attention away from Ginger and the ongoing investigation? He thrusts it at Dobey with such authority I always immediately put myself in Dobey’s shoes and break out into a sweat thinking, “now what do I do?”

One of the main frustrations with the show is the lazy habit of casting the same actors in very different roles, sometimes only months apart. What, did they think no one would remember Alex Rocco when he shows up later as the hit man Callendar in “The Plague”? He’s a distinctive face and voice, and a noticeable so-deadpan-it’s-almost-wooden acting style, and it’s a shame the producers don’t consider how disillusioning this is. (Helen Martin also has another memorable appearance as Mrs. Fellers in “Manchild”, but at least both roles were relatively minor ones). The other really bad instance of this is casting Karen Carlson as both Gillian Ingram and Christine Phelps. Only Season Hubley doesn’t bounce back after “Starsky’s Lady” as a perky waitress or a gangster’s girl.

The sunset when they take Starsky to pick up Garner is really spectacular. And the fact it hasn’t changed when they exit the apartment shows you how fast they film.

Why are Williams and Knight planning a kidnap and murder while in uniform, and driving a squad car? I can see why from a cinematic standpoint, but from a practical one it makes no sense. Why not do it on their days off, in regular clothes, in a stolen car? Garner’s hair and possibly blood evidence is all over that squad car now, and sand in the tires would be traceable to the tunnels.

If I were Knight I wouldn’t be so quick to accept Starsky as a fellow committee member, not after working in his vicinity him for so many years, watching his bleeding-heart liberal hippie ways. Yet Knight is so sure of himself and his cause that he brings him in with all the pompous self-righteousness of the true believer.

Paul Michael Glaser is truly extraordinary in the tunnel sequence, and for the reason I admire him so much as an actor: he says very little as shocking, inexplicable, and truly sadistic facts become real to him: that he is expected to murder an innocent man, that the people he trusts and believes in – fellow officers – are really and truly a part of this, and that Fargo himself not only is involved, but knows of Starsky’s opposition to their plans and intends to torture and humiliate him to become “one of us”. Glaser’s face is relaxed, even slack, throughout, but we can read his emotions as clearly as if it is subtitled on screen. His eyes widen, then soften in bewilderment, then become hard as facets as he comes to a resolution about what he must do.

At the very end Hutch’s attitude toward the pet rock is nicely improved. Starsky is panicked: “I lost my rock,” he says, and dashes off into the darkness of the tunnel. Dobey is confused. “What’s he talking about?” Hutch’s reply is friendly, amicable. “He lost his rock, captain,” he says, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, worthy of sympathy, but also amusing himself by downplaying the absurdity of the situation. Where is the cynicism? With Starsky not in the picture, there’s no need for it, and besides it’s more fun pretending to Dobey that he’s the crazy one for not knowing the score.

Tag: The episode ends abruptly, and without a joke, the clock simply running out. It’s great that Garner is not reduced to apologizing or making a speech about how he’ll change in the future or how the law needs to be responsive to victim’s rights, he simply reverts to his old irritating stuck-up ways which makes me love him even more and wish he’d popped up in other episodes. This series is not interested in sermons, and neither Garner nor the detectives give us one, but all the same there is a persistent optimism here and in other episodes that tells us that good will always triumph. I like how Hutch looks for a place to put his wrapper and then shoves it under Dobey’s phone. Dobey recommends them for a medal of valor for their work in this case, and he does that shy smile that shows how uncomfortable he is with soapy scenes.

Clothing notes: strikingly, Hutch wears a crushed-velvet black turtleneck in the scene in Starsky’s apartment. He’s also beautifully decked out in a blue turtleneck early on that makes his eyes turn to sapphire. Both wear leather jackets and Starsky wears a favorite burnt orange shirt with the white patch. Otherwise, all is usual, with the exception of Starsky wearing a nautical black-striped shirt in the tag (quite possibly the same one he wears in “A Long Walk”). In the hair department, Starsky’s is truly luxuriant, especially in the tag.

Episode 40: Starsky’s Lady

July 22, 2010

George Prudholm returns from the past (“Pariah”) to avenge himself on Starsky by fatally shooting his girlfriend Terry.

Terry Roberts: Season Hubley, George Prudholm: Stephen McNally, Woody: Sandy Smith, Christine: Rita George, Dr. Quo: Beulah Quo, Freddie: Joey Viera, Sally: Angela McClelland, Clerk: Wayde Preston, Attendant: Rob Curtin. Written By: Robert Earll, Directed By: Georg Stanford Brown.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a beautiful and deeply touching episode that merges the personal with the professional, as tragedy not only hits close to, but utterly destroys, home. David Starsky is such a stable, strong, private personality it’s sometimes easy to forget how much serious acting is involved in bringing him to life: Starsky is a true cop, in every sense of the word, pugnacious, determined, moral, a ruler-follower, and very different than the notably intellectual, fiery Paul Michael Glaser. Never a showy, selfish actor, but rather a quiet subtle one, Glaser really gets to show his chops in this episode, and it’s wonderful to watch.

I always have the feeling Starsky was born to be a cop, while Hutch came to it by accident and sometimes struggles to make the role fit.

Throughout the series Starsky has dated some so-so girls. But Terry would probably have worked out just fine as a life partner. She’s level-headed, practical, sweet-natured, and relaxed, but with a core of steel. In the things she says we see a woman who completely understands Starsky in a way very few ever have. She says, “I know you. I know what you have to do in your life.” She calls Starsky “my best friend” five times, because she likes him as much as she loves him. She has a good job and loves children. Altruistically, she asks Starsky at the hospital if he’s all right and reveals the depth of her loyalty by saying, “I’ll be there whenever you show up.” She also cares a great deal about Hutch and is not jealous of their close relationship. She encourages Starsky to stay on the police force when he’s frustrated and considers quitting, and tells him “I love you” four times that we witness. She has a sense of humor. She says she doesn’t want Starsky to change. Starsky says that after Terry died, he “wasn’t sure he had enough strength to remain on this earth.” (This in “Partners”). Best of all, Hutch likes her too: they snuggle together in the Torino in the front seat with Starsky. At the end, following her death, she entrusts Hutch with the special gift, and the message: “don’t let either one of them (Ollie or Dave) change.” Accepting someone as they are, especially if they have a demanding and dangerous job, is a wonderful thing.

The first line in this show is telling. Starsky says to Terry, pointing to Hutch, “Seems like it’s the only time he gets to relax.” He’s thinking of Hutch, wanting to take care of him, and the rest of it – “me too, for that matter” – is an aside. He then interrupts Terry by shouting, “C’mon Horace! Don’t let that big blond blintz beat you!” It’s a lovely resurfacing of a familiar nickname (“The Set-Up”, although variation on the “big blond” occurs in the tag of “The Plague”) Starsky’s shouted encouragement is typical of the affection-then-attack approach, though far less biting and impersonal than how Hutch uses it.

Terry’s worth is proven in her first scene with Starsky, in which she dismisses his promises as irrelevant and unnecessary – a perfect cop’s girlfriend.

Prudholm calls Woody “Gary”, the name of the son he believes Starsky killed on purpose. This is a classic case of dissembling (in which a mentally ill individual’s reasoning becomes increasingly fragmented), and to top it off his cheeks are fiery red as if he has a temperature or dangerously high blood pressure. “By the time we’re through with every thing and everyone Starsky cares about,” Prudholm says, watching the basketball game, “he’s gonna wish he’d never been born.” Yet, if he really wanted to hurt Starsky, and hurt him profoundly, personally, why not go after Hutch rather than a fairly recent romantic relationship, which for all he knows is a superficial one? Is Prudholm blind to this most obvious tactic? He’s been trying to destroy Starsky for years but never goes after Hutch until he rigs the bomb to go off in the abandoned apartment. This bomb always seemed to me to be an afterthought or something spur-of-the-moment. Does Prudholm lack the imagination and empathy necessary to choose Hutch as the ultimate victim?

There’s a scene beautifully directed by Georg Sanford Brown (also a good actor) when Hutch, talking to the shopkeeper in the aftermath of the shooting, realizes it’s Terry on the stretcher. The scene is filmed just above the the stretcher itself, emphasizing Hutch’s shocked realization. It’s the sort of sensitive direction that manages to convey great emotion through something as technical as framing – watch Hutch’s perfect double-take.

If this scene had been filmed today, I doubt that the director or the writers could resist showing the previous scene in its entirety, the bullet smashing through the victim’s skull.

When Starsky’s hand is on Terry, I like how you can see Hutch’s hand on his shoulder, offering comfort to him.

Hutch tells Starsky he has a theory about the robberies being personal. “Maybe everything (the importance of a thumbprint) if I was right before,” he says. Starsky doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about, and Hutch patiently explains. He must have come up with this theory very quickly after the shooting, showing how fast his mind works, even under extreme stress.

Dr. Quo (Beulah Quo) always strikes me as a welcome anomaly in this series: a doctor and a woman who is quiet, assured, strong and compassionate.  She is to Starsky what the doctor was to Hutch in “Coffin”, a voice of reason amidst the chaos.

“I love you,” Terry says to Starsky. And like his buddy Hutch, Starsky is unwilling, or unable, to say something as simple as “I love you too.” Instead, he is momentarily mute.

Terry tells Starsky to check on Sally and her pom-poms, making sure she continues to try, “it’s really important,” she says.  Does Starsky ever do this? Does he ever return to the Center for Exceptional Children after Terry is gone? Note that, as he leaves the room, Starsky does a lovely little miming of the pom-poms to show Terry he remembers what she asks of him.

The scene on the road after the hospital: one can imagine the fight in the parking lot in which Hutch insists he’s driving the beloved Torino (“you’re too tired to drive.” “I’m not too tired.” “I’m driving anyway, dummy.” “Who you calling dummy” and etc) that Hutch, uncharacteristically, wins. So he’s driving. They’re having a quiet conversation about Terry’s condition when Starsky suddenly asks, “What are we doing?” Hutch: “Oh, I thought we’d go back to my place and have a little sleep.” After some token argument Starsky concedes, “Okay.” No question, no hesitation at all about this most unusual invitation.

Prudholm and his lackeys don’t mind terrorizing Freddie in front of some lunching construction workers. Can they really be that foolhardy?

Starsky shows his most commanding side when enters Terry’s hospital room with red roses. “Marry me,” he says, and it’s not a question.  Equally good is Terry’s refusal to answer.

Note that Starsky has already told Terry about Prudholm. This implies they have had some pretty heavy talks. Starsky, certainly not the kind to talk about his work, shows his love and trust for Terry in all kinds of roundabout ways.

The whole situation demands Hutch not be his normal challenging self. He resists all jibes, even the little ones, and seems content to lay back and enjoy things as they are. He chuckles at Starsky’s “compromise speed”, he doesn’t argue and is accommodating. It’s easy for him, too. The constant arguing and meanness is actual work – this is practically an emotional vacation for him.

It’s a nice squeeze-to-the-shoulder in the car when Starsky is talking about the possibility that the doctors are wrong about Terry when they both know they aren’t – Hutch at his most silently supportive. Note how often his hand goes to Starsky in this episode: he attempts to hold him back when Starsky is on the offensive and acting like a bull in a china shop, he also touches him at the grocery store following the shooting, when Starsky argues with Dobey about being on the case, in the hospital, in the hallway of the station when Starsky hears the second opinion of the neurologist, and in the school yard, breaking the news about Prudholm.

Now how would Woody – the surfer-dude weasel– get such a high falutin nickname like “Woody the Magic Man”? Is there such a thing as jailhouse irony?

Starsky goes high, Hutch goes low. Prudholm comments on their habit. How does he know?

Poor Christine – she really is the odd man out here. Sometimes I wonder of Starsky and Hutch met the two girls at the same time, performing one of their amazing conjuring tricks to pick them up (as they have before – witness the duo’s magic in “Class in Crime”, “The Vampire”, “Targets”, “The Action”, and, miserably, in “Starsky Vs. Hutch”). Hutch likes Christine well enough but she’s just a place holder, much in the same way as Starsky’s ditzy pal Nancy was in “Gillian”.

During the miniature golf scene, and despite the presence of their dates, Starsky and Hutch hassle, joke and harangue each other endlessly. Imagine how irritating this might be to the women.

Starsky tells Terry he isn’t driving the bumper cars because Hutch won’t let him; Hutch is worried Starsky will “start driving like that on the street.” Yet Hutch already thinks he does and has made this very thing the subject of his blistering sarcasm many times in the past. Starsky’s joke, then, implies he doesn’t take Hutch’s criticisms seriously, to the point of shrugging them off as nonexistent.

More on this little bumper car moment: Starsky is a fast driver but has also proven many times he’s an extremely skilled one too. Yet Hutch seems very invested in the idea that Starsky is dangerous and impetuous behind the wheel despite all evidence to the contrary (“Partners” aside, one of the few instances when he really does act recklessly.) Of the two, Starsky may be a better driver only because he really, really likes cars and seems to prefer to drive. Hutch only drives when necessary.

Season Hubley is amazing throughout this episode, but it’s her scene in the amusement park that really shines. She tells Starsky he can’t stop living because she has, and also that “it’s really foolish for me to let a little piece of metal in my head stop me from doing the things I love to do.” She’s both practical and completely without self-pity, and to top it off she flushes a deep pink as she talks and her eyes rim with unshed tears. It’s a great, natural, unforced scene.

Terry is back in hospital, blind. Dr. Quo tells Starsky there’s nothing to be done. Watching Starsky hear the news, process it and then gather himself to face the inevitable, is maybe Glaser’s finest moment. Everything about this scene is subtle and lovely. He blinks, he tightens his mouth. He breathes. Small, infinitesimal movements which nevertheless conveys tremendous emotion.

“I love you”, Starsky finally says, and this is when Terry turns away from him. She then tries to change the subject to the basketball game. Is it too much for her to hear the sentiment she herself expresses so freely?

Terry isn’t hooked up to any life-prolonging machinery in the hospital; when she slips away, it’s strangely silent. Is the normal protocol? How would this scene play out if she flat-lined, forcing Starsky to endure the doors bursting open as doctors push carts and EKG machines in? Why the lack of monitors, the beeps and blinking lights which allow medical staff to monitor and regulate her vital signs? Did she have a DNR in place, or did doctors underestimate the grave consequences from this latest setback? This may be accommodation for the sake of drama, or cause for medical malpractice, but I’m thinking it’s the best ending for life we can imagine: full of love and calm.

Terry doesn’t have any family, which is most likely a writer’s attempt to streamline the narrative at the expense of reality. While it indeed does focus the story on Starsky, amping up the intensity, this gaping hole in Terry’s biography does lend a sense of surrealism to the episode.

This is another instance of, “you’re grieving, but the job’s not over”, something we’ll see in “Gillian” and other episodes. This series shows that the shock and grief of unbearable loss can be mitigated – slightly – by duty and justice, which in turn brings forgiveness.

If Prudholm “doesn’t even care about the money” and is robbing stores to “rip up” Starsky and Hutch’s beat and mess with Starsky, why does he rob the grocery warehouse after Terry dies? Perhaps he doesn’t realize Terry has died, having no way of finding out. Obviously the shooting was news, but not her death. Besides, he’s so poor maybe he actually needed the money from the robbery to survive.

Dobey tells Starsky and Hutch “we got lucky” and the silent alarm worked, so it wasn’t that Prudholm wanted to get caught. If he wanted to confront Starsky, he had a hundred other easier ways to do it. This might show how badly Prudholm is disintegrating, but it also reveals something that is less about insanity and more to do with a strange kind of rationality. Prudholm is a natural strategist, a cat-and-mouse kind of guy rather than a creature of habit. Remember in “Pariah” he used a high powered rifle on Tinker the patrolman, but then changed his m.o. to a bomb to catch the next guy? He is someone who will continually alter an approach to fine-tune the situation with the hope of a better or faster result. You can easily picture him down in the basement fixing old radios or inventing a combo vacuum cleaner/leaf-blower. He may be fixated on Starsky but his thinking isn’t methodical or even logical. He’ll try anything. As he himself says – and as his nickname attests – he’s always been “crazy”.

Hutch and Starsky arrive at the warehouse hostage situation. Hutch says he has an idea but then doesn’t explain it, he just walks over to a motorcycle and gets on it.  “Wait a minute,” Starsky says, “this one’s mine.”
“This one’s ours,” Hutch says. Then adds, “partner.”
There’s a moment of perfect understanding. The Starsky, without further comment, gets on the bike behind Hutch.

What’s the plan? Nobody seems to be asking. Dobey obediently calls Prudholm and stalls him without demanding to know what’s going to happen. If he knew what Hutch was planning you better believe he’d bluster his objections to such a foolhardy plan. Starsky never asks either.

Smashing through the doors with a motorbike while two armed men hold hostages doesn’t seem all that feasible, at first glance. And yet Starsky and Hutch just diligently go about it, as if it was written months ago in a notebook. Warehouse, March 12. Will ram with bike.

Unlike his earlier lunatic statements, the last two things George Prudholm says to Starsky are completely true. He says to Starsky, “You’re not going to shoot me, you’re too good a cop.” Also, “we know sick men aren’t responsible for what they do, remember?” My question is, if a mentally ill man says these things, is he truly ill? My vote is “yes”, but Prudholm is a fascinating and contentious case.

This is the best tag of the series. It’s hushed and magical, takes its time, and is one of the few moments in the series where you get the feeling the writers, producers and actors are giving the audience exactly what they need and deserve. Well-written and acted with extraordinary sensitivity, it’s the kind of scene fans always turn to as an exemplar of the series.

Who do you suppose is answering the B.C. Lion’s Front desk at midnight? Some low-level office worker trying to make good with the boss, offering to do the dirty work? Maybe there’s a big trade in the offing, and they’re all there, all the brass, waiting on the line. Harry Mariscipio is the name of the friend of Hutch’s brother-in-law, whose name is Lou.

I like how, in the end scene with monopoly, Starsky says “pelicans” when he means “penguins.”

Interesting that Hutch is very reluctant to start the proceedings. When the clock strikes midnight, he looks terrified. He really doesn’t want to do this. Starsky, the really injured party, has to go first. Is Hutch afraid of a loss of control? It’s rare to see him as vulnerable and open as he is in this scene. Starsky, having a more immediate and natural emotional life, isn’t much different than he usually is. You can tell he’s processed everything that’s happened already, is in touch, as they say, with his feelings. But Hutch is totally demolished. He doesn’t even know what to do. He’s jokey and enthusiastic one moment, scared shitless the next. Without the veneer of sarcasm and superiority it’s possible to see the secretive underside of him. He’s genuinely shocked at the contents of the letter, literally losing his voice as he reads it. I like how he doesn’t even want to open that envelope, preferring to open the gift instead.

Imagine what Hutch is thinking when he finds out the name of Terry’s beloved old teddy bear is “Ollie”, half of the legendary comic duo he and Starsky have been riffing on for years, and the only name they ever call each other (never in four years has either of them said to the other, “that’s right, Stan”). It’s a lovely and believable coincidence and I always wonder if Hutch takes that as some kind of spiritual sign that he and Terry are more deeply connected than the facts would suggest. Ollie, you remember, is the boss of the Laurel-Hardy duo, whose relentless intimidation of his weaker, sweeter sidekick is a mere mask for a deeply insecure ineptitude. Terry may be saying to Hutch that she understands this about him, and in fact may share this trait. You and me, we’re alike. It’s not only acknowledgment of their shared love and responsibility for the Laurel-like Starsky (whose childlike lapses, occasional naivety and sincerity puts him firmly in that category) but is, in fact, forgiveness for the side of himself Hutch must often despise. This gives the whole scene a heart-wrenching subtext quite apart from the grief in the foreground. Hutch has been found out, and absolved. And not only absolved, but encouraged. Terry is saying: yes, you’re controlling and superior, but that’s okay.

Does Hutch keep Ollie? I’d like to think he does. I’d like to think he put it somewhere, like a closet or a drawer, and every time he gets out his spare sheets or the Christmas platter he sees it, and it brings back memories.

Imagine the funeral: the stiff, uncomfortable service at the chapel with the school kids, a few social workers, Dobey and his wife Edith, an uncle and aunt, and a far-off cousin from Chicago. Then, two weeks later, the memorial as commanded by Terry in either a will or, more informally, a letter. Starsky and Hutch having a few at Huggy’s, then a few more over dinner, then a few more at Starsky’s place. The suggestion of monopoly, first refused by Hutch, who doesn’t want to reopen the wounds, and Starsky insisting, saying Terry would have wanted them to play, etc, Hutch saying something like, yeah, well, I’m not doing it here. Meaning the living room, site of many evenings with Terry. Starsky saying, well, where, on the kitchen floor? And so it is, on the kitchen floor, Hutch in drunken loyalty offering to quit the force too, a sloppy “we can do anything together” pledge that has him on the phone calling the friend of a brother-in-law, of the brother of a friend-in-law, or something like that. Saying, “we should have candles,”  to which Starsky at first scoffs, then relents. Thinking that, as a girl, Terry might like candles. So they light candles. It takes awhile to find them, Hutch tripping over the couch, banging his hand on a drawer. They drink some more. Then resume their conversation about quitting the force. Both of them drunk. Hutch says, “My brother-in-law, he’s got this friend.” Then, ignoring Starsky’s complaints, gets up to make the call.

Sartorial notes: Starsky is, unusually enough, a bit of a fashion-plate in this episode. He wears the iconic wrecked brown leather jacket, and the Adidas, and his timeless low-waisted jeans. At the amusement park he wears the red shirt with the white placket, the one that seems to change hands between him and Hutch. Later, he wears a great black and white striped athletic shirt with a black jacket and, weirdly, wears a tie during part of the show (kicking in the booby-trapped door). Hutch wears his usual green leather jacket throughout, and the blue turtleneck we’ve seen before. At the amusement park and mini golf he wears yoga pants in pale yellow. As a footnote he has a Band-Aid on his right index finger throughout the episode.

Episode 39: Survival

July 7, 2010

Starsky searches frantically for Hutch who is trapped under his car, near death, the victim of a hit man hired by thwarted felon Vic Humphries.

Vic Humphries: John Quade, Sonny McPhearson: Tom Clancy, James Balford: Val Bisoglio, Roy Slater: Robert Raymond Sutton, Carla Iverson: Katharine Charles, Bigalow: Paul Pepper, Harry Trask: Robert Emhardt, Bobby Marsh: George Janek. Written By: Tim Maschler, Directed By: David Soul.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

In this extraordinary episode, everything is note-perfect. This is the series at its best: urgent, emotional, well-acted, well-directed, perfectly paced and completely resolved. David Soul’s fluid, sensitive and occasionally flamboyant direction is well suited for the story. Even the minor characters, both noble and villainous, are fully realized, thanks to an amazing script by veteran screen-writer Tim Maschler. In fact, given the extraordinary amount of elements in this story, when you watch it the episode goes by in a heart-pounding flash, but in retrospect it seems more like a two-hour film because there are just so many wonderful details to ponder. Those details linger in the memory, fresh as the moment they happened: the kid and his radio with the phone hidden under the bed, no doubt rewired without anybody knowing. The mom on the other side of forty, whose long view is at the cost of the urgent short one, the offer of a tour of the communication system, the way Starsky cups the kid’s cheek in thanks. Even the orderly at the hospital where Sonny lives is memorable: a decent young guy who probably brings his acoustic guitar to sing “Put Your Hand in the Hand”. And also Bigalow, nursing his resentments which, one suspects, have grown dangerously toward revenge fantasies. How he must hate the two handsome cops who treat him so shabbily. The little casserole Hutch is making. The knitter in the elevator. The slimy antiques dealer with an unhealthy relationship with a stuffed owl. The two hideous teenagers with their Volkswagen. The one kid not quite as bad as the other, the one who still has a chance.  And Carla Iverson, who doesn’t have a chance at all.

Because this episode happens in a short amount of time, it has an extra undercurrent of pressure. Other “real time” episodes, “The Shootout”, “A Coffin for Starsky”, and “Deckwatch” are similarly successful.

As well an urgent time signature, this episode also has an interesting theme of people not listening to each other.  Hutch not listening to Starsky at the beginning, Bigalow not listening to either of them, Dobey’s initial refusal to listen to reason, the radio talk show topic, Bobby being unable to hear the distress call completely – and then being denied the chance to hear it at all – Sonny’s refusal to hear Hutch, and then Starsky not hearing Sonny. Bobby and his mother don’t communicate well. Bobby, as a reward, is offered a tour of a “communications system”. Hutch doesn’t communicate with Starsky when he goes to meet Lou. And due to his war injuries, Sonny’s ability to listen or impart information is compromised. Hutch’s memorable yelling into the night sky, “can anybody hear me”. Sonny’s anguished cry at the police station, “why doesn’t anybody listen any more?”

Notice that, as the guys are coming down the stairs, Starsky is urging Hutch to go over again the details of the scam, including the code-word, which Hutch, exasperated, says is “suffering succotash”, which always guarantees a smile from me. The two guys then bicker over what’s bothering them, zeroing in, I think, on the other’s private fears: Starsky accuses Hutch of being afraid of losing his “spontaneity”,  while Hutch accuses Starsky of being jealous that he’s the one going in, and not the other way around.

“I’m going undercover, I’m not decorating an office, ha ha ha,” Hutch says to Bigalow, the resentful, neglected troll of the underground prop office. Hutch’s effortless superiority is, of course, why Bigalow hates them in the first place. How well does Bigalow know them, anyway? Hutch introduces himself formally, as if they were all unknown to each other – one suspects this is for by-the-numbers Bigalow’s benefit – but Starsky calls him by the quasi-affectionate nickname of “Biggie”, and later, pointedly, a “small problem”, teasing/patronizing him throughout the scene like they’re old pals.

The two numbers for a desk lamp and a transistorized power-pack transmitter are completely different, as are the objects themselves. There’s no way for both Dobey and the guys to get it wrong and order what the other wants (presumably on the same day) by either forgetting, misreading or transposing numbers. Therefore, Bigalow (or whoever filled in the forms) must be in the wrong.

Hutch, in a moment of awe-inspiring gall, calls Humphries “Big Hump” as he gets out of the car. It’s worth noting that he is never happier when undercover as rude, self-centered boor. He seems to relish all the details of his character – shades, fancy car, disco wardrobe, bad attitude, far beyond what is professionally necessary. There’s something about this series which brings out the amateur psychologist in me, and I can’t help but wonder if Hutch is a “good boy” excited about the opportunity to be bad, and whether or not Starsky exhibits and embodies a greater range of behavior in everyday life, and thus has a healthier all-round personality. Can we say then that Hutch both figuratively and literally trapped?

For all the gun-pulling as Vic tries to rip off Hutch, there’s no shooting in the frantic aftermath of the sting operation – it’s all old-fashioned punching, tripping and wrestling. I like how Starsky is torn between helping his groggy partner and getting the job done. He’s so graceful with constantly moving hands and feet he’s practically dancing.

What does Vic Humphries think he’s doing, taking a car-loader for a get-away vehicle? Huge, clumsy, and noticeable, it makes the worst run-for-it I can think of. Perhaps he had the keys for it in his pocket, perhaps he was confused by the mayhem. Whatever, it’s totally stupid, but it does allow for Starsky to make a spectacular, and again physically graceful arrest. And to say, in a really bad Bogart impression, “Brains ain’t exactly your strong suit, are they, sweetheart.” Well, yeah, totally.

The guys are all at odds with each other – insulting and baiting each other, having typical argument about Starsky’s bad diet, etc – until James Balford arrives on the scene. Then, abruptly they merge into one, tossing jokes back and forth, sharing a laugh; Balford bitterly refers to “the dynamic duo”. Disharmony is fine when there are no pressures, but only unity can get the job done. One wonders if Balford’s nickname is shared by other lawyers, and not always in a complimentary way, across the city.

When Balford and Humphries are conferring, Balford refers to Hutch as “the blond cop”, even though he knows his name well, reducing him to a thing and not a person.

Why does Balford agree to help Humphries? It’s likely to get him disbarred or jailed or worse. Maybe he’s facing trouble already, but most likely it’s a personal matter; one guesses it’s an ex-wife or some other pressing legal matter needing an instant infusion of cash. You can see him calculating when he talks to Humphries in the interrogation room. A sort of hmm – maybe this will see me out of my situation.

Humphries orders Balford to get Lou Scobie to help arrange the murder attempt. Balford repeats the name with a kind of horror (although the rather genial little man, when we finally meet him, doesn’t seem the frightening type). But Scobie is also Hutch’s snitch – does Humphries know this already, or is it a lucky coincidence? If he does know, how does he know?

Lou Scobie doesn’t like the terms Hutch is proposing. “No Starsky,” he says urgently. “I don’t trust him.” Now, obviously this is a plot to get Hutch into assassination range and he is simply repeating what he’s been told to say, but Hutch doesn’t seem to notice anything odd about this. Rather than “whatya mean you don’t trust him?” it’s sighing acquiescence, as if this happens all the time; his guard isn’t up. He makes the date with Scobie and that’s that. Are the guys used to their informants have irrational dislikes and preferences? Why do some like one, and not the other? Mickey seems to like Hutch well enough, although he’s Starsky’s boy (“Fix”). And do either Starsky or Hutch really care, one way or the other?

Does Scobie realize he’s sending Hutch to his grave? I think not. He seems to like Hutch to some degree, and does not appear to be the murdering type.

Slater’s strategy to run Hutch off the road is not only an iffy plan (too many things can go wrong, and they do), but it also seems haphazard and improvised. He doesn’t even know the type of car Hutch is driving. How can he be such a well-known and feared hit-man (Huggy knows him by reputation, so does Starsky) if he doesn’t do even this most remedial homework? And why not just shoot Hutch through the car window, or is it a sadism thing to run him off the road and let him suffer?

I love the unusual cello music throughout the scene where Hutch is lured to, and then driven off, the canyon road. It’s sophisticated and unusual, and not repeated in any other episode.

Michael Jackson, on the radio, is talking about the hurricane season in the south-east, the “massive migration” of people displaced and frightened. “There’s somebody out there wanting help, needing help,” he says. And why are they not getting it?  “Because I didn’t know, you didn’t know. We don’t know who you are, where you are, or what you want.” A great metaphor for this episode, but what is this radio show about, anyway? Jackson meanders. And yet Hutch seems riveted to it.

More notes on Soul’s direction. Note the numerous “delay” tactics during this episode: for instance, you don’t see Sonny (and hence his mental imbalance) in his entirety either in the first scene he’s in (you see only his legs) or during at the veteran’s hospital. Later, talking with Starsky, he’s reflected in the water. This implies Sonny is not “all there”. Also, a piano is being tuned before Starsky talks to Huggy. The fragmented portion of the song and the fact that the tuner bends the notes also shows Sonny’s fragmented, warped state of mind as well as delaying the scene between Starsky and Huggy so that the sense of urgency is magnified. This technique used repeatedly throughout this episode and not only does it show Soul’s patience with letting events unfold at their own pace, it also builds anticipation in the viewer.

Also, there is a thread of coincidence running through the show which is enhanced by the direction: Sonny sings “Glory Hymn of The Republic” while he tramps about in the canyon while the tuner at Huggy’s plays bits of it as he tunes the piano. Dobey is getting his shoes shined (by some white guy, Smitty, who seems to be a regular in the department, and, considering Dobey has to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention, conveniently deaf) just as Sonny very deliberately shines his boots with a handkerchief. It’s a subtle series of coincidences that reminds me of the dalmatian in “Snowstorm”. And what role does this play in the story? Is it reminding us there are subliminal clues, portents and hidden meanings, if only we had the sensitivity to notice them?

Filming notes: the crew had to push a backup car down cliffs three times before they got the right footage and positioning, then anchored it, a process that took most of a day. Soul then stayed in that realistic but unpleasant angle for the 1 1/2 days of shooting.

Hutch, trapped under his car, curses “All America on wheels, what a joke.” This is the Ford Motor Company that “put America on wheels,” and Henry Ford used this slogan. It’s interesting he blames an anonymous, amorphous societal and cultural change for his own particular situation. It’s a very telling moment, a tiny hidden resentment against cars which may explain his driving such wrecks in the first place, his nonstop criticism of Starsky’s beloved Torino, his rages against society in general, his living in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, his sentimental love of the wilderness and the sea, his general sense of being lost, bewildered, abandoned and angry. He doesn’t blame criminals, or his would-be assassin, or the crime rate, or his job, all things which more directly determined his current predicament. He blames cars.

Starsky tells Dobey Hutch is a “creature of habit”. He points out he would not make a date with a woman and then leave. This is a marvelous shortcut that nevertheless plays out the missing scene in detail: the woman arriving, the casserole either well-done or burnt, her moving to turn off the oven, call around the apartment, growing increasingly concerned, and calling Starsky.

Despite his resentment against cars Hutch doesn’t seem to have the same feelings about guns, although he should. Guns have done twice the damage cars have, although maybe if he’d been shot rather than driven off the road he may have railed against Winchester rather than Ford. However, Hutch has a great attachment to his gun and feels less in control, less able to help himself, without it. Although I wonder what he would do once he got the gun in his hands – shoot into the sky, protect himself against an unknown threat, or feel safer just having it?

Later, Sonny takes the gun. What happens to it?

Hutch seems to be using his mirror to signal for help as well as using it to drag his gun over. The mirror works better, it was the flash of that thing that attracted Lance and the other boy.

“Open!” Starsky calls out, then bellows “OPEN!” as loud as he can. I like how he doesn’t give a shit about the other people in the elevator, about procedure or confidentiality or even about his own future disciplinary hearing, he’s going to confront Balford and Humphries no matter what. The old lady in between them is knitting what looks like a yellow sweater. Wonderfully, she continues to knit it, watching as the scene unfolds like she might watch television.

When Humphries, who can’t keep his yap shut, makes the rude remark about congratulating anyone who put a hit on Hutch, Starsky throws a punch BAM so fast it’s like a bomb going off.

A piano at The Pits (there in the previous episode as well) shows Huggy has “upscale” in mind. Is he trying to improve his establishment? Is the neighborhood gentrifying? Will “The Pits” have to change its name to “The Tops”?

It’s interesting that Starsky never tells Huggy that Hutch is the target of the hit man’s intent to “blast a cop”. However, both men look sad and preoccupied, as if both know this information and yet are unable to share it.  If Starsky had told Huggy, wouldn’t Huggy have possibly found out more about Slater, and therefore might have helped more? It’s almost as if Starsky is in isolation, unable or unwilling to break out.

When Hutch encounters Sonny, he gives him his badge and tells him to go find David Starsky at the Metropolitan Division. Why he doesn’t just ask him to go to the nearest hospital, flag down a passing car, or give it to someone at the Veteran’s Administration? All of these things would be easier for Sonny to accomplish and would probably get help to Hutch faster. By doing what Hutch wants, Sonny has to a) come out of his dementia long enough to understand that going to the police is a good thing, b) get a map and find out where the Metropolitan Division is, c) get on a bus and go there, d) go to reception and get directions to the detectives department and e) bully his way through the bewildering maze of hallways and crowded spaces, fight his own inherent shyness and aggression, and raise his voice and ask for David Starsky.  Plus, he doesn’t actually take the shield Hutch offers, which means he has to rely on his memory. And it turns out badly, too: he’s shuffled around, ignored or called a drunk, and finally hustled back down to the street and away.

But Hutch has to get word to Starsky. Possibly, when fighting for his life, he’s convinced that only one option is available to him, that Starsky himself is the code to survival. It’s as if Hutch is convinced he’s been cast out of this world entirely, into a mysterious realm where only one person is able to find him. It’s moments like this that make us realize this series is never more honest and truthful as when it veers off the road of syllogism and takes a step into the dark entanglements of abstract; to me this series has only ever been superficially a crime drama. At its heart it’s a mythological journey toward completion, a series of euphoric and tragic events to be endured before the self can be said to be whole.

Starsky’s scene with Carla is incredibly affecting, one of my favorite scenes in the series and one I can watch over and over again. See how he uses his body to encompass rather than intimidate, placing his legs around hers and leaning in close, using her chair to brace himself. Even though this may seem controlling or even threatening, he does it in a way that makes sure Carla doesn’t feel re-victimized or afraid. Rather, she seems mesmerized by him, lulled by the combination of gentleness and resolution (Starsky has a way of demanding without sounding imperious, asking a question that precludes the possibility of “no”, the way he asked Terry to marry him in “Starsky’s Lady”) and ends up providing the information she probably swore to herself she’d never give. This is one of Starsky’s gifts: he’s able to channel his physical power in any direction he wants without it ever lessening. Rupturing Humphries’ kidney in the elevator one second, gently coercing information the next.

As the exact moment Starsky is leaving Carla, who used to work at the Mandalay Heights Amusement Park before she became a prostitute, Hutch, working with the wreck of his radio, hears a call out to “Ocean Eleven” regarding a disturbance at the same Mandalay Heights Amusement Park, another one of the coincidences that are so marked this script. These are wonderful little details simply because they have no real meaning: they don’t advance the story in an unrealistic or convenient way and so are like hidden gems, available to be found if anyone cares enough to poke around and find them.

In the great scene with Bobby with his CB radio, you can see the boy assiduously writing down the directions in the canyon where Hutch lies. But when Starsky eventually reaches him, Bobby doesn’t show his valuable notes, merely repeating the odd phrase “Sonny thinks he’s a colonel”. Useful, yes, and it also solves the dilemma, but one wonders if Bobby’s notes would have expedited things for Starsky, if he’d had them.

Hotel Garvey, the place Carla tells Starsky Slater’s in, has external apartment doors on the roof. Unusual.

As Starsky’s preparing to take down Slater, you can hear police sirens. Obviously someone has heard gunshots and phoned the police. Why does Starsky push on and attempt to arrest someone he knows is armed, desperate, and possibly a cop-killer and not wait for backup? It would only be a matter of a minute or so, and may have made the difference between a live witness and a dead one.

The two amoral kids rip off Hutch and go to the pawn dealer. Was it usual at the time for a basically middle-class person like Hutch to have that many credit cards? The boys seem wowed by it. I would like to think, too, that Humphries gave up the name of that dealer and allowed Hutch to get his badge back.

There’s a mirror in Humphrey’s desk drawer as he goes for the gun – for what? Lines of cocaine? Or is it some sneaky way to watch behind him while he’s ostensibly rooting around for something?

“They think he might be very important,” Starsky says, altering his body language for the Colonel, hands behind the back, at attention. A pause, then he says, “They want him. They think he might be very important … they think he might be the key to the war.” By saying this, is Starsky inadvertently, and unconsciously, defining their relationship?

“We made it, partner,” Starsky says, upon reaching Hutch and holding his head in his hands. The blurring of boundaries, the us and them, the you and me.

The tag: it’s back to all jokes and sarcasm after the harrowing incident. Starsky is the huckster, the carnival caller, pointing out the attributes of the junker he’s obviously gone to a huge effort to secure for Hutch in the few days he’s spent in hospital. I’m sure he’s responsible for the “condemned in 1847” finger-painting in the dirt of the back window, or maybe it’s some smart-aleck kid in the used car lot. He acts crestfallen when Hutch expresses joy about the car but he must be secretly thrilled that he hit the mark, and I’m sure Hutch have assumed before now that no one will ever “get” him, not even Starsky. But here it is, the perfect gift.

Starsky rarely overtly pleases Hutch, yet has an unusual endurance for his partner’s manic teasing and torturing. He is also far more likely to be happy about something Hutch has done or said. In fact, at times, there’s a paternal quality to his little compliments and encouragements, his refusal to engage, as if Hutch is fragile and in need of protection. Notice too the casual use of loaded language, when Hutch says, “you know I love you, but you and I, we have very different attitudes to wheels,” to which Starsky replies, “I know, I’m better”, unfazed by the you know I love you. It manages to slip by without a ripple on the surface, a truth that can only be said in terms of a joke, a putdown, or an aside. Until Starsky claims he loves Kira late in Season Four, this is the only time the l-word is ever used.

Clothing notes: Starsky wears his great brown leather jacket, a dark blue cable-knit sweater, superlights of legend, and his usual “crummy” jeans. The red sweater Starsky wears in the tag is the same one Hutch wore in the tag to “A Coffin for Starsky”, now apparently Starsky’s property, as he also wears it in the next episode. Hutch looks flash in his Scanlon look – is this the silver jacket he eventually wears in “Blindfold”? At the accident scene he wears his treasured blue plaid coat.

Episode 38: Huggy Bear and the Turkey

July 3, 2010

Huggy Bear and his friend, Turkey, go into the private detective business.

JD “Turkey” Turquet: Dale Robinette, Foxy Baker: Emily Yancy, “Scorchy”: Carole Cook, Sonny: Richard Romanus, Lady Bessie: LaWanda Page, Walter T Baker: Fuddle Bagley, “Dad” Watson: RG Armstrong, Yank: Joe La Due, Sugar: Blackie Dammett, Moon: Mickey Morton, Man: Darryl Zwerling, Doc Rafferty: Eddie Lo Russo, Milo: Titus Napoleon, Leotis: Stan Shaw. Written By: Ron Friedman, Directed By: Claude Ennis Starrett Jr.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This episode was a pilot-to-be for a spinoff series starring Huggy and Turkey, but the fans didn’t care for it, and it remains one of the least-liked episodes, mostly because Starsky and Hutch have only three scenes in it, at the beginning, middle and end. Their parts are fun: undercover as an old couple (Starsky hides his handcuffs in his bra, and presumably Hutch later has to root around in there for them) and then as hairdressers Tyrone and Mr. Marlene (Hutch is Tyrone in this one; they switch names in Season Four’s “Dandruff”).

Turkey comes from nowhere and is never seen again. It’s a little difficult to imagine how Huggy would get to be so friendly with this good ol’ boy, with his folksy ways and wide-eyed innocence. There’s no way he could be from the old neighborhood (“Huggy Can’t Go Home”) and it’s unlikely he’d be a regular at The Pits. So where does he come from? Imagine how cool it would be if Huggy had teamed up with Collandra the Psychic to solve crimes.

Sonny tells his two henchmen to terrorize an elderly couple who owe his father money. Hilariously, he’s reading a typical 70s self-help book called “How to Like Yourself”.

Foxy Baker comes running into the street to beg Starsky and Hutch for help while they’re wrestling with one of the henchmen. How did she know it was them, considering how dark it is, how few street lights there are, and the fact that they’re still in undercover costumes as the elderly tailor and his wife (disheveled, sure, but not when Foxy was looking out the window a minute earlier)?

The sassy secretary/bartender lady comes out of nowhere with the same proprietary attitude the Turkey has, as if she’s been in the series since day one. Wearing a memorable paisley muumuu thing and waving a fan, she’s something else. But she represents a major problem with this episode. Namely, we’ve never seen any of these people before. And yet they’re making themselves right at home with the expectation we already like and trust them. It’s like Huggy has been plopped into an alternative universe with a bunch of strangers.

Turquet introduces Huggy as “my partner, Huggy Bear Brown.” This is the first and only time his last name is used. It should come as a minor revelation, but instead it emphasizes the feeling that something is slightly off-kilter here. One’s impulse is to think – hey, that’s not right.

“Foxy Brown” is an in-joke on a movie by the same name that Fargas starred in ’74.

When Turquet balks at the beginning of the case, Huggy protests that they badly need the money, indicating that the phone company is about to cut them off after a bouncy check. Later, we see they already have an office set up, fully furnished with plants and art and all very expensive-looking. Why all the preparation before their first case? Isn’t that a huge waste of money, especially since Huggy is, at best, a reluctant partner?

The scene with Turquet trying to sound “blacker” and Huggy doing his terrible Laurence Olivier impression (ostensibly the epitome of “white”) is either in horribly cringe-worthy or very funny in a pre-PC sort of way. Frankly, it’s a toss-up. Which explains why this episode is so weird – the feeling you ought to laugh when you shouldn’t, and roll your eyes when you should.

Caught out, responding to Bessie’s barking demand he say something, Turkey bellows that awful but strangely unforgettable line “when do the new Cadillacs come in”. What the? What purpose does that serve, other than making Turkey look and sound stupider than he already does? At least Lady Bessie gets it right when she sneers, “well that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

The two leave Bessie’s apartment, going down the same rickety stairs we’ll see later in “The Collector”. The bad sets are one of the infuriating “cheap” aspects to the series as a whole. In this show in particular the quality seems especially cut-rate: the direction is lackluster, the acting shruggingly indifferent, and the props look like they were purchased at a dollar store. The only saving grace is the occasionally cheeky script by Ron Friedman.

Huggy seems particularly upset at being called “skinny”. Why? Doesn’t he know how skinny he is?

Set problems again: the guys are escorted at gun-point through two offices, but as the camera follows them, it looks as if the office walls are fake. Here’s the same big henchman again, the one busted not long ago by Strsky and Hutch at the tailor’s shop. They probably would have charged him with assault with a deadly weapon, extortion, resisting arrest, possibly robbery. And yet, he’s out on bail, and quickly too. The Watson family lawyers must be very good.

Huggy refers to Bad Dad Watson as a “hood” right in his face – usually something that any self-respecting suit-and-tie-wearing gangster would shoot you for. But this guy lets the slight pass.

Turquet blithely names the two guys who threatened them earlier as “Sugar and Milo” – how in hell did he learn their names?

Watson tells Huggy that because he’s black he’ll have a better chance at tracking Walter T. Baker. This makes the fifth or sixth overt race comment in the show.

Leotis (packed tightly into slightly too-small clothes) doesn’t lack “basic logic” so much as he is gullible and takes things literally. He thinks a gun is a hot water heater. He also spills the beans to Sugar and Milo when they say they are FBI. He thinks pizza is a good breakfast. None of these three “goofs” are his fault, and the way in which he’s presented, as a simpleton in poor man’s overalls  – really grates. Turquet should not have called a gun a “heater”. In such a race-conscious episode as this, was he again trying to sound black again?

Leotis does a little parlor trick involving addition that puts him firmly in the mathematical genius category. It seems sad that both Huggy and Turquet find his talent simply amusing rather than mind-boggling.

Foxy tells the team they have to negotiate a settlement between her husband and the gangsters, delivering money from the terrified Walter T. to Bad Daddy. This is the exact plot of Huggy’s earlier starring role in “Kill Huggy Bear”, season one. Could they not think of anything else to do with him?

Cousin Leotis tells the guys there are two “mean-lookin’ dudes” watching the building, they rush to the window and look out. So does the camera … onto an anonymous street scene. No mean dudes. Not that I can see. And yet both Huggy and Turquet look frightened. “We’re in a heap of trouble here!” Turquet says. Later, we see the dudes waiting patiently in a van. How can you make out two people inside a van from the 4 th or 5th floor of an office building?

Why, if Sonny’s in on Foxy’s game, does he cry out, “I’ve got you, Walter T!” when she comes through the door in disguise? Who’s he kidding? Speculate on the thought that Sonny Watson and Foxy Baker are lovers as well as co-conspirators. One clue may be his taking off her glasses at the amusement park, a particularly intimate gesture.

Huggy tries to make up a reason “Walter T” took off when they came looking for him. “Maybe he doesn’t like interracial couples,” he muses. Okay, at this point in the show you want to say, I get it. You and Turkey. Ebony and Ivory. I get it.

Bad Dialogue Moment: “I don’t know about you,” Turquet says as they’re walking at gunpoint, “but I get the feeling these guys aren’t here on a mission of mercy”. Huggy replies that Sugar “is definitely unrefined.” Please make them stop.

The guys then get out of their predicament using a traditional Starsky and Hutch maneuver: they fake a fight to distract their captors.

Biographical note about Sugar, played by a rather sparkling Blackie Dammett, who will appear several more times in the series as various hoods and heavies: Dammett is the father of Anthony Keidis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Huggy gets Starsky and Hutch to pick up “a coupla hunks of garbage”, Sugar and Milo. Oh yeah? On what charge? They can’t prove anything. An unregistered handgun, perhaps, but that’s a stretch.

Cut to Starsky and Hutch undercover at the beauty salon. Hutch as Tyrone is typically all in: hilarious heart-shaped shades, salmon-pink overalls and gauzy blouse. Mr. Marlene, his partner, is almost low-key in his stripey shirt and gold chains. The two guys really seem to relish their roles, include the quasi-flirting line by Starsky, “you know your eyes flash when you get angry?” Of course, he would know, having been “flashed” many, many times. They are also working the same protection-racket case as Huggy and Turkey ostensibly are. But how, one wonders, are Starsky and Hutch able to pass as hair-dressers over an extended period of time (later, they will adopt the same guise in the equally fascinating and terrible “Dandruff”)? They would have to cut and style hair convincingly. Do they know how to do this? Also, how does a beauty shop fit into Watson’s extortion scheme? Is it the next small business to be hit up by the two henchmen? Does Mrs Watson come in for a wash and set, and is she an indiscreet chatterbox?

Cut to Huggy and Turquet at the dentist’s office (in a useless, meandering scene), and a really vulgar exchange with a porn actress– er, nurse. The grossness is amplified when Huggy remarks that her body should be registered as a dangerous weapon. She later– shockingly– refers to Turquet, whom she believes is French, as “Froggy”. More racial epithets in a show replete with them.

At this point, with Huggy and Turquet back at the office going over the details of the case, the plot, always slow, grinds to a preposterous halt. Even the wonderful Fuddle Bagley, with all his twitchy energy, can’t save the episode at this point.

Leotis ventures across a narrow I-beam across two buildings (with a what, hundred-foot drop?) as a short-cut to deliver pizza? “All the neighborhood kids” use it? Give me a break.

After a brief stand-off, the guys are rescued by the sudden appearance of Starsky and Hutch, who descend on the rooftop with their customary no-nonsense grace and power, and the relief is palpable. Even the actors seem to be thankful this is nearly over.

Tag: Here’s Darryl Zwerling, reappearing from “The Set-up”, this time as a mustachioed victim of a robbery. What is everybody thinking? That a week later, we’ve forgotten all about him? Incredible. The final question, “uh, which one of you is Turkey?” can be answered thus: THIS ENTIRE EPISODE.

Episode 36 and 37: The Set-Up

June 20, 2010

When Joe Durniak, the protected mob witness Starsky and Hutch are guarding, is killed, the guys uncover a plot much bigger than Terry Nash, a lone gunman seeking revenge.

Terry Nash: Jon Korkes, Joe Durniak: Michael V Gazzo, George Stegner: Eugene Roche, The Black Baron: Roger E Mosley, Thistleman: Darryl Zwerling, Debra: Heather MacRae, Dr. Hank Wachman: Jerry Hardin, Nun: Dawna Shove, Patty Nash: Katherine Dunfee Clarke, Wilson: Angus Duncan, Bumper: Richard Balin, Trucker: Bruce M Fischer, Bank Teller: Sandra George, Security Guard 1: Cedric Scott, Security Guard 2: Verne Rowe. Written By: Joe Reb Moffly, Directed By: George McCowan.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS:

Part One:
This double-episode has a big scope and is very complicated, perhaps overly so. It’s also left unresolved: in fact, some fans speculate the vague “them” in this episode are controlled by none other ultimate bad-guy James Gunther from Season Four’s series-ending “Targets Without a Badge” trilogy. At any rate, these people are a formidable force who not only manage to kill off a maximum-security-protected witness, but also seem to have unlimited financial and equipment resources, people everywhere, and a fortress in the desert. The only clue given to their identity is that Durniak, their target, was a danger to an organized crime syndicate.

In the wonderful driving scene, Starsky is indefatigably chipper while away from the confines of his regular schedules and obligations, while Hutch is singing fan-favorite “Black Bean Soup” at the top of his lungs, apparently sharing his partner’s vacation mentality (you would never see Hutch singing loudly as they drive the streets of Los Angeles, for instance). They have a brief sibling-like spat about the CB radio (“I thought we agree you weren’t going to play with that thing anymore”. “You agreed, I didn’t”, etc) which intensifies rather than sours the happy vibe. Hutch apparently does not know Starsky has given him the moniker Blond Blintz, and acts outraged, even though he really has no cause to (“the blond what?!”). The nickname has been used before and will be used again, why does he insist on being surprised? For his part, Starsky is naively puzzled by the call-out by the Nevada whores. And yet, when Hutch grabs the radio and announces they’re cops (using a flurry of numerical codes which the madame, somewhat improbably, decodes immediately) Starsky laughs in delight, as if Hutch has just performed a charming trick.

Hutch’s 10-17 to the Nevada whorehouse is a risk: 10-17 usually means “conduct investigation” in police code and it would severely compromise their undercover operation if Hungry Mama decided to broadcast the presence of police all over the CB channels.

What do “gold ring” and Starsky’s response, “good saw” mean? The highway cop means “brass ring”, of course, and Starsky’s good natured reply is almost inaudible.

Although the highway patrol says it’s Jeb’s Restaurant they’re headed for to pick up their “real cargo” Starsky and Hutch pull up at a roadside café with a large sign reading “Ham and Eggs” which looks like something out of Dr Seuss.

Starsky is cheerful in the way he was at the beginning of  “The Shootout”, and now as then his attitude puts Hutch over the edge as far as social embarrassment goes. There’s nothing Hutch hates more than his partner lovin’ life. He apologizes to the waitress (as he did in “Shootout”) and tries to fend off what he imagines as a confrontation with the guy at the next seat. It’s as if being with Starsky in one of his happy wanderer moods is the worst sort of torture. This despite the fact Hutch is the guy who claims to love Americana, country music, native vernacular, and the simple life. And yet when Starsky embodies this same spirit of adventure, Hutch acts like he has herpes.

Starsky fools with Hutch with waitress. Hutch orders, a “couple of cups a coffee, couple of sweet rolls.” Starsky then orders “only one” for himself, making Hutch look like a glutton. This is a pretty mild way to get back at his troublesome partner.

Both Starsky and Hutch seem to be carrying important documents in their caps. Starsky checks for the waybills and Hutch the coded dollar bill. What, pockets not good enough?

Joe Durniak doesn’t expect to see “Little Davy Starsky”, that’s for sure. It’s a mix of confusion and joy on his face when he recognizes him; Starsky is cool as usual. When introduced to Hutch Durniak’s first question is how long they’d been partners, and when Hutch says “about seven years” Joe’s reply is very telling. He says, “well, if he kept you around that long you gotta be okay.”
Hutch laughs, modestly, and in laughing seems to be acknowledging this is so. Now, think about it. Hutch doesn’t have a comeback. He isn’t his sarcastic, acidic self. He doesn’t say, “I coulda dumped him, you know,” or “it takes two” or anything to suggest he has any control over the longevity of this partnership. He just agrees with the unlikely fact of it, as if he himself can’t quite believe his extraordinary luck.

The next bit of dialogue is worth repeating verbatim, because there isn’t another case of Starsky’s murky past being aired like this. Durniak says, “Little Davy never knew whether to love me or hate me. I represented everything your father fought against. Some wise-guys, they shot him down one night.”
“Yeah, I know,” Hutch says. (Who wouldn’t want to have eavesdropped on that conversation, when Starsky tells the story of his father’s death.)
“Joey paid for the funeral,” Starsky says, indicating Durniak.
“Your pappa, he was one hell of a man. He deserved better than he got.”
“We better get movin’,” Starsky says, after only the smallest narrowing of his eyes to acknowledge Durniak’s praise of his father, which clearly counts less that it should. “Yeah,” says Hutch, anxious for this whole thing to be over.
“Now let Davy drive,” said Durniak, somewhat urgently, as the guys move to get into place. “I’ll sit here and talk old times with your friend. If you’re not here, he’ll only hear my side. It’ll be nicer.”

Starsky shrugs, as if it doesn’t matter. He easily allows Hutch to get into the back without any fear that something damaging might be said. Now the questions are: why does anyone have to be with Durniak? Why can’t he just ride alone? And also, did Starsky really not know whether to “love” or “hate” this man (this implies powerful emotions), or is Durniak fooling himself, thinking he was more important than he was? Durniak could have been an impartial witness but most likely he was the enemy, in close proximity to those “wise guys” who murdered his father. Maybe one of them. Is it guilt that compelled him to interfere with this family and offer condolences in the form of cold hard cash? Wouldn’t that have compromised his own standing with the mob? Even if it was a rival gang who killed the senior Mr. Starsky, commiserating with grieving victims is frowned upon, to say the least. In doing so, Durniak became an “uncle” figure, maybe even substitute parent, to this willful child and his mother. Maybe all in secret from the Boss, because guys in the mafia do not make a habit of providing restitution and fatherly advice. But maybe there were darker dealings here. Maybe Durniak and his people were Working on a questionable deal with the father, although one hesitates to speculate. Starsky Sr. was most likely on the other side of some shady racket resulting in his murder, his death an injustice spurring Starsky into law enforcement.

What does Durniak mean by having Hutch hear “his side”? Would Starsky dispute the facts of the story? Or has Starsky resolutely refused to hear that story, preferring ignorance to revelation? This sort of fits with the “if my eyes are closed it doesn’t exist” part of his personality. For instance, later on in “Starsky’s Brother” Starsky deliberately keeps himself in the dark when it comes to his brother’s nefarious drug dealing. Even when Nick directly confronts him, Starsky chooses silence over conversation. Whatever it is in this instance, Starsky has no interest in either editing or controlling this conversation or having Hutch kept away from it. Throughout, he has a relaxed, inscrutable look on his face, not hurrying this conversation or involving himself in it too much. Durniak maybe be swept away by sentimentality, but Starsky certainly isn’t.

Starsky and Hutch already know each other’s stories through and through. Nothing is new to either of them. It’s interesting, though, that Durniak refers to Hutch as “your friend”. There’s no guarantee a partner is a friend. Sometimes partners hate each other, or are suspicious of the other’s motives, and it’s fun to imagine Durniak may have some extra intel here.

Starsky knows exactly who “me” is when Hutch is on the other side of the hotel door. You can see him putting his gun away. Hutch replies with bad grace that it’s the “Blond Blintz”. He’s elected to play Starsky’s game, but why? Does he secretly like it? Later, Starsky plays the same trick with Dobey, but it doesn’t work as well.

Starsky is usually shown to be the gullible one, so Hutch really lays it on when he tells the hotel cook cannibalism story. It seems like a lot of work to do just for a minor payoff, and he’s obviously been thinking of that one for a while, but why? Hutch’s way of blowing off steam? There’s something unusually intense about his little game. I like how he’s careful to add “toast, butter” in his list of things, just as Starsky’s eating toast. The chances of hiding any parts of a dismembered body in toast is, what, impossible? But it works, Starsky is grossed out, and Hutch wins.

Throughout the series Starsky is shown to be an enthusiastic eater, mostly of junk food. The joke is he’s the one more likely to be unable to eat, either through duress, injury, a sudden call to duty or other mysterious reasons: here, and “The Pilot” (Hutch refuses to take him to dinner), “The Shootout”, “Silence”, “Bounty Hunter” (Hutch gets Starsky’s apple), “The Heavyweight” (Hutch gets his popcorn),”Iron Mike Ferguson”,”Losing Streak”, “Death Ride”, “Bust Amboy” (Starsky is prevented by eating food he likes, then given food he hates as prank), and others. There are also many times he complains about being tired or is deprived sleep. This is all a giant karmic joke on a hedonist. Likewise, Hutch, who is an aesthete rather than a hedonist, is consistently deprived of those things he desires, namely peace of mind and the beauties of nature.

Durniak says to Starsky that some of his testimony Starsky won’t want to hear, “names, dates, places, some nasty little facts”. Just what might this be? Facts about Starsky’s family? It isn’t explored and nothing more is said about it. Hutch, mindful of Starsky’s private nature, interrupts with a lot of comforting talk about how good it’ll feel when he testifies, and that’s it, subject closed. Too bad for us.

“Those bombs are a trick!” Durniak says. Too bad nobody listens to him.

“I saw a man with a rifle over there!” cries an eyewitness, pointing at the hotel across the street. This seems highly improbable. Nash was over five hundred yards away, in semi-darkness, and moved from the window as soon as the shot was made.

It’s Starsky who sees the drunken security guard isn’t what he seems, or maybe of some use later, when Hutch dismisses him as an irrelevant drunk. He pushes him into the elevator with them by saying, “need a lift?” Unfortunately they don’t detain him after the scene in the apartment, or even question him further, although the guard is the only one to actually make contact with the unseen enemy in a calm way suggesting he’s part of the team and not some terrified victim of intimidation.

Signs that two weeks really haven’t gone by for Terry Nash, because the fruit basket and plants in his apartment are still fresh and he has no mail pile-up. Starsky and Hutch are detectives – why don’t they detect this?

When it all seems too much, in the aftermath of visiting Nash’s apartment, Hutch proposes they all go to his place and “get some sleep, get some food, maybe start with a clear head tomorrow”. This isn’t the first time Hutch is generous with his place, many other unfortunate characters have been welcomed there (“Little Girl Lost”, “Velvet Jungle”, etc) as well as being Starsky’s second home.

The three men discuss the case in a bar. Hutch returns and says a driver’s licence has never been issued to “T, Terry or Terence Nash” and Starsky can’t help but chime in with “Terrific.”

Hutch tells Terry “no one has ever been murdered,” in the neighborhood where Nash insists his wife was shot. Really? Never? Is there any place within the Los Angeles area untouched by murder?

Part Two:

Starsky says wryly, “I bet his carnation wilted” when Hutch tells him he threatened bank manager Thistleman with the FBI and Internal Revenue. How did Starsky know Thistleman was wearing a carnation? Good guess?

Darryl Zwerling as the unfortunate Mr. Thistleman gives a great, Don Knotts-inspired performance as the weak bank manager. This is typical casting, in which the lead actors’ power and magnetism is amplified by reedy, whimpering, skulking or otherwise imperfect secondary characters.

It’s great how Hutch picks out the anomaly with the security camera based on the cigarette smoking of someone at the teller’s window. Also of note is Glaser doing what I call the “slow dawn”, something he’s remarkably good at: his face sensitively captures how it feels when all the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. He takes the subtle approach, raising his eyebrows a fraction and allowing his face to relax into incredulity. Difficult to pull off.

The midnight visit to the psychiatrist is a great scene, economically filmed and essential to the story. Starsky and Hutch must trust this doctor wholly to ask him to open his office late in the evening and tell him the true facts of their puzzling tale. Hank Wachman is an interesting character – intelligent, a straight-shooter, well liked by both detectives, an all-round good guy if he is willing to come downtown and do what is asked of him, no questions asked – and it would have been nice if he was a recurring character, someone they could turn to for insight into other similar cases. It’s not very often we see an expert in another area who is rational and sensible and willing to help, particularly in the medical field. As part of its mandate the series tends to throw impediments into Starsky and Hutch’s path in the form of devious or insensitive professionals, some of whom are simply obstructive and some who are actively criminal.

One is boggled by the way in which these unnamed bad guys got a bunch of nuns to lie so consistently, and so believably, to the police. Or are they lying? The sister who shows them the room doesn’t attempt to cover anything up, she just stands there in silence as the incriminating hanger is pulled from the closet. You would think, if a giant donation to the church steeple repair fund was at stake, she would say something like, “oh my goodness, no, we keep our cloaks in there.” But she doesn’t.

Even in the middle of the crisis, the guys are fighting each other for the attentions of the pretty female “victim” in the dark parking lot. It shows, among other things, an unflagging optimism. I like how Hutch, in the middle of a lot of distracting, emotion-laden activity, keeps his wits about him. Questions everything. Starsky’s quick acknowledgement shows how much he trusts his partner, and how fast he adapts to changing circumstances and new information.

Starsky tells Dobey he is calling from a medical building and that the Torino has just been blown up, but Dobey doesn’t ask if Starsky and Hutch are okay. He just starts in about how much more trouble they are in due to a second set up.

By now there are just too many things happening at once. The shadowy evildoers are overplaying their hand, setting up Starsky with the money and rifle from the Durniak shooting and simultaneously luring the guys into a potentially fatal explosion. Looked at in logical hindsight by any prosecutor, Starsky could not be guilty of the shooting if he was also killed by a bomb, unless it was some kind of crazy suicide. See? These things cancel each other out.

It’s terrible when the Torino goes up in a fireball. It’s as if a loved character has been assassinated. So why is it treated so superficially, and why don’t we see Starsky’s emotional reaction? And also, on a more practical note, we never actually witness Starsky buying another Torino and having the exact pinstriping reproduced – we know his uncle owns a car lot – although this is the sort of stubbornly sentimental thing he would have done.

Dobey orders Huggy to stay outside and watch his car when he goes into the hiding place. This imperious, rude demand is yet another instance in which Dobey treats Huggy like crap, and for no reason. Huggy stays and does what he’s told. He then tells Hutch, “I know we all look alike” when Hutch calls out Huggy’s name into the darkness. Sure, Dobey may be indulging in a little gallow’s humor, and we know he tends to implode under stress, but really, that was uncalled-for.

Why do Starsky and Hutch go bowling with Terry Nash? Nothing they did there that they couldn’t have done somewhere else, and it’s risky to show up in public. Hutch, however, seems to like the idea right away. Or maybe he just likes Starsky’s remarkably sanguine attitude in the middle of all this mess.

Thistleman begs them to believe him when he says his instructions come by phone. He says he doesn’t know who, or why. I believe him. But then he says in the next breath, “Desert Springs”, and says there’s a castle out there. How does he know this, if he only ever talks to a nameless voice on the telephone? Why don’t they push him harder to get more details? How many separate voices were there, was a name ever used, did he ever try to trace the number, what hold did they have over him – did they threaten his family? Threaten the bank? And how was he sure those threats were credible, did they ever pay him, details like that? Thistleman is the only witness they have, the only truly weak link, the only civilian (other than those nuns) they have access to. Come on, you guys, use him!

At this point, when the “we need a plane!” is directed to poor superfluous Huggy, the episode changes course, and in an unfortunate direction. Starsky and Hutch are both very quick to accept the post-hypnotic brain-washing theory, which proves they have a great imagination as well as scientific rationale, and the plot so far is as good as a cracking Lee Child novel. But somehow it all goes wrong. The plot begins to bloat to the point of irrationality. What starts out as a neat case of espionage turns into a castle-breaching, machine-gun-firing swashbuckling black comedy. And it’s a shame, too. Why not keep the action tight and close to Los Angeles? Why the silly castle, and the distracting, goofy Black Baron? Did the writers not have confidence in their story? “Do you know how many people would have to be involved in a conspiracy like that?” Dobey exclaims at one point. The answer is: too many to be believed.

An ostentatious castle in the desert is not the best place to hide a covert operation. It sticks out and is a one-stop stop which is vulnerable to being breached. One would think that a variety of average shop-fronts hidden in the city would be a better hiding place.

I like how Dobey refers to the Baron as “the African chap with the arsenal”. Dobey always has a great turn of phrase.

Who is Terry Nash, anyway? It’s unresolved. A natural follower-type without a strong sense of self (you’d have to be, to succumb so completely to hypnotic suggestion) with a thorough understanding of guns and battle strategy marks him as a member of the armed forces, possibly a sergeant. He’d have to be unmarried, a loner, unremarkable, an underachiever. Either recently discharged or AWOL (although that implies the Army is out looking for him, a complication that might make him untenable for a subject). Or maybe this is a CIA plot, and Terry Nash volunteered for it? Who knows? Do we even care? We never see who’s behind all this, and the absence of an enemy severely weakens our emotional and intellectual investment in what happens. It’s interesting that the writers see fit to leave so much unanswered. It’s the first and only time in the series an episode is open-ended. If I’d been on the production team I might have vetoed the script for that reason. It leaves the viewer with an unsettled, unsatisfied experience, more questions than answers.

If you ever want evidence of David Soul’s true acting skills, witness the scene at the end of this episode in which he lays out the facts for Dobey. The facts themselves border on the ludicrous, and said aloud even more so. If I were to recite them I’d have my audience sniggering and rolling their eyes. But Soul delivers them with absolute authority, he is one hundred percent committed to what he’s saying. Thus the story not only becomes plausible, it’s frightening too.

Clothing notes: Starsky wears his usual brown leather jacket, jeans and Adidas; Hutch wears his black leather jacket and jeans, although he’s awfully fond of a ghastly red-checkered lumberjack shirt in the first part of the episode. Neither wear jewelry.

There is no tag.