Posts Tagged ‘Bernie Hamilton’

Let’s Revisit “Photo Finish”

August 24, 2015

Starsky and Hutch mingle with the beautiful people to find a killer when Starsky’s girlfriend finds trouble after possibly taking a picture of the suspect at a party.

Marcie Fletcher: Brit Lind, Basil Monk: Graham Jarvis, Greta Wren/ Dora Pruitt/Who Knows: Sally Kirkland, Paula: Lois Areno, Nicole Monk: Shera Danese, Landlady: Fran Ryan, John Reinhart: Hank Brandt, Troy Braddock: Jayson Kane, Secretary: Anne O’Donnell. Written By: Robert E Swanson and Michael Wagner, Directed By: Sutton Roley.


I have watched this episode many times and the more I see it the more extreme and more mixed my response. I like and dislike it in ever-increasing intensity, and the fact that this episode has the ability to do that is at the heart, I think, of the magic of “Starsky & Hutch” as a series. The more attention you pay to it, the more it reveals. If you want to see “Photo Finish” as essentially a piece of classic narrative (beta male kills alpha male in a spike of sexual jealousy) that’s fine. If you want to use this episode as an example of how the series has declined over its run, that’s fine too. Both these approaches do work. But this is the episode that will haunt you if you let it. It’s not as obviously campy as “Dandruff” and not an archetypal crime-drama like “Strange Justice”. It floats somewhere in the middle, a police procedural that has the thematic ambitions of The Great Gatsby – it puts forth the notion that the American pursuit of happiness has decayed into simple desire for gratification, that wealth is ultimately corrupting, that love and fidelity have lost their meaning, and that these terrible and sad facts can only be understood through the eyes of an outsider, someone who may desire what he sees (Starsky) but who understands that it is merely a façade (Hutch). The Gatsby correlation, genuinely deserved for 95% of this episode, crashes and burns in the last 5%, as the tag merely reinforces that wealth and status – or the imitation of it – is laudable and admirable, a reward for its own sake. This is why “Photo Finish” is so haunting. It constructs its purpose very carefully, but that construction is revealed to be both flimsy and expendable as the writer’s hand abruptly crumples it up and throws it away. Whether this is a forfeiture of the narrative or the clever upending of our assumptions is left to you to decide.

There’s something timelessly intriguing about outsiders (in this case tough street smart cops) infiltrating the nutty world of celebrity-obsessed American aristocracy. And I like the fact that the answer to the case lies in a tiny technical detail (the close-up of a photo). But what I have a problem with is the fact that from the start we see Starsky and Hutch tripped up or made to look foolish. Mostly little things, and centered around Starsky’s tuxedo and the implication that he is either too clumsy for, too unlucky for, or somehow doesn’t deserve, whatever it represents (social power, I presume). It’s irritating because it’s so patently unfair, and unfunny too, to see him subjected to such embarrassment. It’s not just that pesky rental tag that has all those ladies and gentlemen laughing, but the frog toy that rebounds into Hutch’s face, the brief second when the two detectives enter the News World foyer and go the wrong way, the whole doorbell stupidity in which they repeatedly get the wrong apartment. As well, they are belittled by their suspects and witnesses, who either shrug off their questions while leaving (Marcie and Nicole Monk), blatantly lie to their faces (Basil Monk and Dora Pruitt) or keep them waiting (at the News World offices). There is very little menace or breathtaking flashes of power, and the result is they are reactive rather than proactive, distracted by the specter of wealth displayed by the various spoiled, quirky characters around them. Yes, their motives for going to this party in the first place are good – Starsky up for an adventure, and Hutch anxious to make the acquaintance of the one “with the legs”, curiosity and libido always admirable – but times have changed. Only a year or two ago they were counterculture heroes whose youth, socially fueled anger and cynicism marked them as lefty hippie-types. Here, no one ever says “you two don’t look like cops”. Instead, dressed in freshly rented tuxedos, they seem a little too at ease with the kind of people they once viewed with distrust.

So here we go, watching Starsky and Hutch enter high society, with string quartets, endless champagne and barely disguised kinks of the well-to-do. This is probably the first episode in the Fourth Season to fully exploit this new “softer” direction, and it’s as glossy as you’d expect it to be, with a curiously empty denouement and plenty of unanswered questions. The director’s stylish idiosyncrasies permeate every scene, adding some interesting layers to what could be seen as heading-into-the-80s blandness, although honestly, the few seconds of Paula, “the one with the legs” striding  purposefully toward Hutch at the party has so much erotic punch I am always caught off-guard, sure that this is some kind of intense foreshadowing of something (nope, it’s just director Sutton Roley having fun). There are fine parts to this episode, particularly the unusual female assassin and the imaginative, dangerous idea of someone getting killed in a roomful of people. As well the photography is a good aspect to the story although it isn’t explored as fully as it might be (I wonder if Swanson and Wagner were inspired by the film “Blow-Up”; similarities include a glimpse into wealthy eccentrics, the art scene, sexual shenanigans, disappearing negatives, and a surreal lack of resolution). I don’t mind the mature sexual content but I do mind the stereotypes: the bespectacled villain whose frail appearance implies a weak character, the amorous “neglected” wife, the egocentric artist whose work is impenetrably weird. It would have been interesting to change it up somehow.

Sutton, You Dirty Dog: note the salacious slow pan from Starsky’s feet to his legs and up his midsection as Starsky stands in front of the mirror trying on a tuxedo, which seems as close as mainstream television ever gets to pornography. Only better.

In the church scene commencing “Terror on the Docks”, Starsky is odd man out. Here, it’s Hutch who has no business being in the clothing store watching his partner try on tuxedos. So why is he here? For the sheer enjoyment of providing commentary?

When Hutch strips his jacket off, revealing the imposing gun in its holster, the clerk gives a most delightfully subtle double-take. It’s safe to assume Starsky is likewise armed, that both are either on their way to work or just getting off shift. If so, how Starsky manages to resist taking a shot at Hutch, who’s been making cracks about how his partner resembles “a waiter”, and that he’d look good in “Lounge-Lizard Monthly”, is a mystery. He does make a comment about how Hutch looks like a “small tip” in his tuxedo – both a waiter joke and, I think, something murkier – which I think is pretty funny if somewhat oblique.

Despite his disparaging remarks, Hutch is in his glory in this party. He gets to demean his partner, play the superior one, and insult the upper class while mingling with the cultural elite he feels, secretly, are his equals. He also has a great line: Starsky comments that the rich are “really different” and Mr. Cool replies, “sure, they pay less taxes.” Later, he advises Starsky to “suck in your cheeks and take tiny steps” in order to fit in.

Why are Starsky and Hutch allowed at this party in the first place? A photographer at a society event should never bring a date, and adding someone else is beyond the pale.

This is an episode featuring an artist, apparently the biggest thing “since Warhol”, but why all the cheap insults about modern art? Starsky and Hutch gaze at a small sculpture consisting of two cans. Basil Monk, after staring at the sculpture with a peculiar expression on his face which could be greed or morbid excitement or some combination of the two, says with undisguised scorn, “My wife paid twenty thousand (for that)”, a remark which only serves to reinforce the general fear of middle-class American society that conceptual or modern art is fraudulent and ridiculous, and the people who make it (i.e. Troy Braddock) are pompous twits who are better off dead. Writers, you’re better than that.

Braddock (referring to himself in the third person) is portrayed as a blowhard and an unrepentant womanizer. He pulls down the curtain to reveal his latest “masterpiece” which either looks like the crappiest poster in the world or a contemporary John Currin portrait. Currin really is the biggest thing since Warhol and it’s fun to think that Braddock’s moony-eyed reclining lady is a similarly creepy commentary on the insular idiocy of the rich and beautiful.

Troy Braddock is shot. Hutch goes to the victim, Starsky goes to … the victim too. Why doesn’t he turn around and see who the shooter might be? Chances are good he could have glimpsed something. Instead, he wastes time watching Hutch check for a pulse.

A man is killed. What do Starsky and Hutch do? Talk passionately about the rip in Starsky’s tuxedo. I remember when, not too long ago, murder was a tragic event, a cause for righteous anger, even if the victim is unlikable or in the wrong. Remember the solemnity and dignity afforded low-life Packrat, in “Running” (Season Two) and Ginger in “Death Notice” (Season One)? In those instances, Starsky and Hutch felt a great deal for the marginalized and the lost. Where did that empathy go?

Marcie, following the shooting, is making a run for it in order to develop her now-precious photographs. Starsky, trying to hold her back, doesn’t seem particularly surprised by her selfishness; rather, he asks for her help in a quiet and professional way and continues to have a relationship of sorts with her. Throughout this episode Marcie is every bit as morally deficient as the Monks, with dollar signs dancing in her eyes. Her success as a photographer and the resulting fame is more important to her than justice. Starsky should call her on her total lack of humanity, but never does; in fact, in the troubling tag, her ambitions are celebrated.

Sutton, You Dirty Dog (Part 2): the hot dog lands in Starsky’s lap.

“A marriage counselor with a gun” and “an accountant with a gun,” are two phrases Starsky uses (here, and later in “The Groupie”). Of the two, Starsky might be far more cynical than Hutch regarding official institutions. He’s just quieter about it.

When Nicole Monk makes her sexual come-on to Starsky and Hutch, suggesting the desirability of their knees and openness to a threesome, Starsky and Hutch glance at each other’s knees with something like amusement. It’s nice to see this relaxed indifference to someone trying hard to be shocking; not only does it highlight their seen-it-all maturity, it echoes a joke earlier in the series when we see their willingness to both go over to Sally Hagen’s place for a similar reasons in “The Specialist”, and their later (admittedly ambiguous) declaration to Kira that it’s double or nothing (“Starsky vs. Hutch”).

The as-yet unnamed saboteur goes through Marcie’s negatives. Why make such a mess, ripping down strips and dashing jars on the floor? Wouldn’t nimble fingers make more sense?

It’s amusing when Reinhart demands they “drop the Farrah cover” because he has something more enticing. It’s a rare glimpse into contemporary culture this series usually avoids.

Among the unanswered questions in this episode – and there are a lot of them – is who called the police when Marcie’s apartment was broken into. And if a call was made to the police, why do Starsky and Hutch – homicide detectives – find out about this generic-looking break-and-enter in the first place, and why are there are no signs that other police officers have been there? Marcie yells, “What are you doing here, don’t you need a warrant to break down a door?” when she finds Starsky and Hutch in her apartment. Can police come into your house to investigate an obvious break-in and burglary when you are not home, and without permission? Starsky’s excuse was the door was unlocked. Was Marcie’s response to call her attorney a good one, and if it was, why did Starsky and Hutch feel they had the right to physically restrain her from calling that attorney?

The mystery here is not why the saboteur/Assassin is so desperate to find the photograph negatives in the first place. Of course she is looking to see whether or not Marcie accidentally got a good photograph of her and therefore could link her to the murder, even though she was in disguise at that party and would not be easily recognized as a known criminal. Since Starsky and Hutch went through the photographs already and talked to all the witnesses and staff, she would know she was not on anybody’s radar at all even if, stupidly, she allowed herself to have a memorable interaction with a guest just prior to the shooting when she stuffed money down her blouse. The fact that the guest was a cop would make her actions, in hindsight, even less professional. (There is a lot of stuffing-into-bras in this episode, incidentally.) No, the larger mystery is why she shot Braddock when she did, with the photographer standing right in her line of sight with the camera directly aimed at her. I mean, come on. We see the photograph later when Marcie makes the blow-ups of “Not-so Adorable Dora” standing in full view with her tray and the silencer.

So we eventually find out that the Assassin knows she has been photographed at the moment of the murder. She suspects this might be the case, and so ransacking Marcie’s apartment seems sensible, but why attempt to run down Marcie in the car and kill her? It makes no sense at all, not from a logical standpoint and not from a technical one either, as professional hit men (and women) do not act in such impulsive, emotion-laden ways. They are studied and methodical. If Assassin wanted Marcie dead, she could have easily just hid in her apartment, waited for her to come home, and shot her with a silencer. Then she could have searched her for whatever negative was there.

Marcie complains when Hutch asks her to make an enlargement in her darkroom from the negative. Why does she still have the negative in her possession? Starsky made it clear it was police evidence and should be at the police lab. If nothing else, there are safer places to keep it than Marcie’s bra. Contact with perspiring skin would have ruined it in seconds.

Again, we see that Starsky is not outwardly upset at Marcie when she obstructs police business. Not only does she treat him poorly, she outright lies to him. She also assumes it was Starsky and Hutch who broke up her place. These aren’t the actions of a real girlfriend.

The poster of Robert Redford in Marcie’s apartment is distracting. One wonders, if she likes blond mustachioed guys, whether her swift urging of Hutch to come to the party with her and Starsky really is less innocent than it appears.

Note assistant director Eldon Burke’s turn as the silent patrolman Burke, assigned to keep an eye on Marcie.

Why does Starsky call Basil “Funk”? Does insulting your prime suspect by forgetting his name really aid in the questioning, or is Starsky letting his distaste of the man show too much, especially after the “gamey” comment?

Basil Monk doesn’t drive, it scares him “to death.” And yet he has no problem driving the police remote control car all over the table, symbolic, perhaps, of a man who is more comfortable around artifice than he is with reality, gleefully controlling the police. Writers Robert Swanson and Michael Wagner go for the easy insult when they present him as a cringing bow-tie-and-glasses nerd with a major virility deficit. Imagine how much more interesting it would be to play against our prejudices, rather than revel in them. This leads us to another mystery. Earlier in the episode Nicole Monk says she “learned the hard way” that her new husband was a dud in the sack. This doesn’t ring true, as you and I know within fifteen seconds of meeting him that Monk is an unpleasant, greedy, twisted man with zero charisma or romantic aptitude. So what exactly is “the hard way”? Is Nicole just exceptionally stupid, or is she trying to convince Starsky and Hutch that she married Basil Monk for love, or the potential of it, rather than simply for his money? Why bother with the lies as it’s so patently obvious she’s in this for the dough?

Harvey, Basil Monk’s butler, is constantly being ordered about. Contrast the symbolism of Basil telling Harvey to “show the gentlemen out” as the camera focuses on the cymbal-clapping monkey toy Basil winds up. The toy has the same yellow vest and dark arms Harvey has on.

“Greta” breezily says Troy Braddock was a “gorgeous man, particularly in extremis.” This must be a slip of the tongue – she more or less confesses she was there, because otherwise why would she use that phrase? (Unless she’s referencing photographs of the body, which she could not have seen either, something Marcie should have picked up on). And even if she found him so, or found the idea of a corpse romantic rather than repulsive, shouldn’t she keep that sort of thing to herself?

Starsky and Hutch appear to have wandered into the magic forest of the rich: not only do they attend a party in which cans are art, and artists are amoral rakes, and people who buy art are childish misfits with weird pastimes, but they now enter a wealthy publishing empire in which plants have names and publishers are murdered behind their desks.

The scene in the publishing house is perplexing on many levels. Why the loud construction, the dust flying, actors having to shout at each other over the din? One interpretation (although the cynic in me wonders if on-set carpenters were there already, prepping the soundstage for “Barnaby Jones”) is that it fits in with the modus operandi of Assassin, who now has twice used loud sound to mask the act of murder. Firstly the champagne cork, and now hammering and sawing. But again this is directly in conflict with what the secretary says, that Reinhardt comes in late and works all night. I can’t imagine there are many people in the building at that time, at best a security guard reading a magazine down in the lobby. The secretary has just come in when Starsky and Hutch arrive to question her, so this is what, 8:30-9 am? So Reinhart has probably been dead at least since midnight. So that noise plays no part in his death. Why, oh why, do writers Swanson and Wagner needlessly complicate the narrative in this way? All they had to do was have the scene take place at noon, with the secretary saying Mr. Reinhardt is in his office, attempt to phone him, get no answer, and then enter the office to find him dead. Cue the fainting. And then she comes to and cries, “I don’t know … I was only away from my desk for a moment … who would do a thing like that?”

And if that wasn’t enough of a puzzle, we are also faced with the problem of why Starsky and Hutch do not simply badge the receptionist and demand to see the publisher right away, like they have a hundred times before. He’s a key figure in a murder, there’s no need for them to wait patiently, flipping through magazines. Again, this is a major issue I have with this episode, apart from the story holes. It’s the idea that Starsky and Hutch seem toothless here, ineffectual, and it’s much more disturbing (to me, anyway) than the narrative hitches, such as when Reinhart was killed.

Hutch tells Dobey about Basil Monk, “We ran a bank check on him. We had a warrant, don’t worry.” Dobey shoots back, “You always say you have a warrant.” Do Starsky and Hutch have a history of getting information without warrants? Has this caused the obvious problems later in court? Or is Dobey crabbing for the sake of crabbing? Monk’s account seems to be a great place to start an investigation, so why is Dobey peeved?

When Starsky tells Dobey and Hutch, “Any clown could have put on a black jacket and gotten into that party,” is he unaware of how easily he is setting himself for Hutch’s nasty, “Well, it worked for you, didn’t it?” Or is he aware of his self-set-up, and providing Hutch with a little fun?

Starsky and Hutch consistently ring the wrong apartment number when trying to reach Dora Pruitt. As mentioned before, this can’t possibly add anything like “realism” to the episode. It only makes them appear more disinterested than they already are.

Strangely Brazen Dora: she puts gun in holster on upper right thigh, then spreads out on bed in front of Starsky and Hutch, hiking her robe up to what could be an inch from disclosure without breaking a sweat. When Dora makes her sexual come-on (this episode seems soaked in this sort of thing) she doesn’t seem to worry about getting the wrong kind of attention. She puts on quite a show, to the point of actually nauseating both detectives (and how different is this scene from the earlier scene in “The Heroes” when Roxy basically acts in the same way and both Hutch and Starsky treat her kindly and without judgment?). Is she just lost in her role, or she driven to reckless behavior because of mental health issues?

When Starsky tells Dora “we have a couple of more questions for you” (emphasis mine) we know for sure that they already questioned her that night. Further proof that she should have left well enough alone rather than try to run down Marcie in the car. If she had simply pulled up stakes and left – she has already been paid, because we know Monk has taken $30,000 in cash from his account – and disappeared, how on earth would anyone ever find her? Without the messy burglary, the attempted murder by car, and the constant attempts to wheedle the photograph from Marcie, it’s unlikely Starsky and Hutch would have been inspired to study that photograph as carefully as they did, doing blow-up after blow-up until they saw the hidden silencer. “Dora Pruitt” is a pseudonym, she is not a suspect, and a vanishing waitress would be an irritant but not a major one for the police. Of course the answer is “Because, plot” since half the episode is depending upon these ever more desperate measures, but there could have been a better way to go about it.

Hutch throws Starsky to the wolves (or more specifically, the wolf) when he backs off from Dora’s invitation saying he’s a family man, but his partner likes to “mess around”. Hutch, earlier, made similar sport of hapless Basil Monk. Hutch has an excess of negative energy in this episode: in every scene he’s itching to hurt someone.

Again, Marcie is reluctant to really help as she complains about the cost of developing more photographs. This brings up an elemental problem: why isn’t the police lab doing this work? Making a civilian do this kind of crucial evidence gathering is downright illogical.

A note about photography: not articulated but nevertheless implied is the idea that a photograph is both factual evidence (the shot of Braddock) and a sneaky, sometimes-wrong interpreter of fact (the final scene in this episode, in which everyone is caught in poses of wealth and airs – along with a smiling “butler” – while actually possessing no wealth at all.)

Assassin leaves her wig and padded brassiere behind when she leaves. How dumb is that?!

Hutch asks the landlady (played by the wonderful Fran Ryan, in her third and last appearance in the series), “You got a permit for that cannon, Lady?” She says she doesn’t, but also can’t get ammunition for it. Is the lack of ammunition a moot point, in terms of a permit? The landlady seems to think so.

Starsky and Hutch set the Assassin up, even though we don’t see them coaching Marcie. Which is why, when she answers the phone (and says loudly “it’s her!” which makes me cringe every time I see it) it appears that she herself has invented this set-up. But it couldn’t be – Starsky gives her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek when she completes the call. Again, as with nearly every scene in this frustrating episode we are led to a secondary problem: just why Starsky and Hutch make this dangerous move when they aren’t even in place to protect Basil Monk, who is going to be in the direct path of a Very Dangerous Felon. The time signature is unknown here – Assassin talks on the pay phone during daylight, but goes to Monk’s mansion at night. But the detectives wouldn’t know that for sure.

It seems to me, and I admit this very reluctantly, that here Starsky and Hutch are guilty of two grievous errors. One is procedural and one is moral. They take a real chance Assassin won’t get there first and kill Monk. Two, and worse, they knowingly subject Monk to a terrifying experience for what could only be malicious fun at his expense. Basil Monk, reprobate that he is, does not deserve the pants-wetting terror of a home invasion.

Dora/Greta/Whoever wears a disguise when she breaks into Monk’s house even though they have had contact previously. She may just get her kicks out of looking nightmarish, or it could be that she has never revealed her real face to him for security reasons. Then she calls herself “the Snow Queen” which is perfect in this context, as Monk is very like a child, someone as corruptible as Peter from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Basil is alone in the mansion and sees the Assassin approach (that seems really improbable in a house that big, but whatever.) Notice that he’s wearing sunglasses at night. Why on earth is he doing that?

Motive Mystery: Hutch points out to Basil Monk, and Starsky, that Monk has purchased a lot of Braddock’s artwork. Shortly afterward, Monk comments about how an artist’s death increases the value of his work. Is this the motive behind Braddock’s murder, rather than the more obvious one of the cuckolded husband getting revenge against his wife’s lover? I ask this because it seems extremely unlikely that Basil Monk would be a blindsided by jealousy. He knows exactly who he is – a unlovable, weak little man whose vast fortune is the one reason Nicole married him. He knows this because it’s impossible for him not to know it. He may be deeply flawed but he isn’t stupid – he’s a shrewd businessman who knows he has spent his life acting like a child and profiting from childhood itself. He has shown no interest in Nicole as a woman, but rather a possession like all his other toys. Given his conscious decision to languish in mean-spirited immaturity (he’s a bully, a sulker, and a brat) I rather doubt that he has any sexual interest in her at all. Other than injury to his pride, he may not even care that she’s unfaithful to him. He may be well aware that she has been unfaithful many times, with many men. So did he kill Braddock because he was sleeping with his wife, did he kill him because of the value of his artwork, or was it just a happy coincidence the two motives intersected at this party?

Starsky and Hutch make the double arrest with all the intensity of ordering a cup of coffee, and lead their prisoners out of the room making small talk about what they have on for that evening (Hutch making a literal joke in response). We know they’re not going to worry about it, so we have to. So, motive. Jealousy might make some sense, Monk taking the risk of such a public hit, wanting to hurt his wife by forcing her to watch her lover die, although we see later this is an utter failure, as she’s disturbingly unmoved by it. While ignoring the improbability of someone as shrinkingly fearful as Basil Monk (“I’m a professional coward!” he whines) orchestrating a hit in a well-lit room filled with witnesses and a photographer, maybe Monk was playing at murder the way he plays with his toys and his expensive games of backgammon – the hobby of a psychopath bored by his trinkets and tired of being publicly shamed by his philandering wife.

Setting up the toys to make distractions is a cool way to get Assassin to use up her bullets, but that’s a staging trick and nothing to do with the trajectory of the narrative. One is reminded here of three other instances in which complicated trickery is used by Starsky and Hutch in order to exhaust or distract a shooter: in “Satan’s Witches”, “Silence” and “The Groupie”.

I rarely succumb to the temptation to rewrite scenes, even if they warrant it. But I can’t help but reflect on an episode that has similar aspects, Season One’s “Texas Longhorn”, also featuring a husband who kills in a fit of marital vengeance, albeit from the opposite side. But in “Texas” we get a complicated picture of a husband who lashes out for a variety of reasons, only one of which is fidelity, and we know this because there is a lengthy scene in which Zack Taylor confesses what he has done, and why he has done it. He gives a story about tragic inevitability, and seems to say that – in his heart – he has always had the capacity, and the impulse, to kill. He is cast in a heroic light, Starsky and Hutch admire and feel sorry for him. But Basil Monk could claim the same “honorable” impulse. At the very least he could explain himself. But he is not given the opportunity to be anything other than an abject loser. How great would it have been if Starsky and Hutch brought him into this showdown, promising protection if only he could coerce a confession out of the Assassin? Basil would at last be able to redeem his masculinity, at least in part, cop to his weaknesses (“I wanted him dead … I didn’t care how”) and do something for the greater good at the cost to himself. The conversation between the two villains in a dark room, each accusing the other and excusing themselves, would have been wonderful to watch.

Impersonations: The Assassin pretends to be silly Dora, a waitress who loves to party. She also assumes the identity of Greta Wren, a well-known magazine publisher. So who is she? More importantly, why does she exhibit such peculiar attention-getting behavior? Those elaborate, dangerously inventive personalities are so vivid that she comes off as both insane and highly intelligent. As far as villains go, she’s right up there with other colorful maniacs such as the “collector” Jack Cunningham and yet while we get a glimpse into Jack’s disquieting delinquencies during his long speech to Molly, we have no such hints here. But I must remark upon Sally Kirkland’s ambitious, nuanced performance – Dora and Gwen are such shockingly different personalities it still amazes me that they are played by the same actor.

I wonder, though, if this refusal to commit to answering questions of Monk’s motive and Assassin’s identity is an attempt by the series writers to approach storytelling in a less predictable and more postmodern way. Postmodernism basically reframes classicism as a means for self-referential irony (those Roman columns in shopping malls, the playful breakdown between “high” and “low” artforms) and as a way of rethinking of once-immutable concepts as meaning and truth. Universally understood language now becomes unintelligible “signs” to be interpreted or discarded by the individual. In this context, “Photo Finish” is a perfect postmodern artifact. Meaning is fragmented, answers are not easily found, modern optimism is seen as a failure, replaced with a kind of cynical weariness and a hollow, machine-like grasping for currency. Identity is mutable, motive is elusive, money is everything. Authenticity is replaced by appropriation, the concept of originality is deemed meaningless. Braddock’s artwork is profit-driven and his death is just another performance, Monk’s toy empire mocks the very idea of the cultural elite. This is what’s so charming and so frustrating about this episode – it’s quite possible these plot holes are artistic licence rather than lapses. If so, then this episode approaches genius.

All noble allusions to either The Great Gatsby or the perils of postmodernism abruptly come to a halt, however, when we hit the tag. The guys seem to have forgiven Marcie for her greedy ways. They’ve decorated a table at the Pits with flowers, silver and crystal, which is coldly emblematic of the series’ ambitions toward the upscale. Huggy, Mr. Bear, excuse me – another amusing but head-shaking instance of faux aristocracy after an entire episode seeming to reject it – appears with champagne in an ice bucket, with the very best line of the episode, “if you two looked any sharper, you’d be black.” Everybody is drunk. Starsky makes a telling Freudian slip when he says they wouldn’t take back his mangled tuxedo “for love of money” rather than “for love or money”. The love of money seems to be the overall theme here. He then giggles “that’s a baby” when Huggy presents his towel-draped bottle of champagne, which is wonderfully spontaneous. There’s also an uncomfortable joke about whether they want Huggy in the photo (whatever shall we do about the unphotogenic help?). Hutch can’t get the champagne cork out properly, and sprays his partner, which at least is reassuringly inevitable. Who’s the rube now?

Clothing notes: The guys look great in tuxedos, wrecked or not, and the Hawaiian and bowling shirts are Soul’s own (worn loose, to hide his back brace). This was the first episode filmed for the new season, and when Glaser and Soul exited their trailers in tuxedos for the first shot, they stared at each other for a moment and then spontaneously went into one of their Laurel and Hardy routines, with Glaser (of course) playing Laurel to Soul’s haughty Hardy, swinging an imaginary cane.

This was also a time when blowsy, lace-collared frilly fashions were de rigueur for women; at the party Marcie and others are dressed more like an Indian-flavored 1870s with high-collared pleated dresses with cameos, hair in heavy buns with tendrils. All the female guest stars in this episode are remarkably beautiful. At the party, special mention goes to the gentleman with the rather culturally questionable turban, making the scenes look more like a game of Clue than they really should.


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.


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.

Let’s revisit Snowstorm

December 9, 2014

Cocaine missing from a bust and the murder of their informant lead Starsky and Hutch to suspect either Stryker, a drug lord, or two fellow officers, Burke and Corman.

Marty Crandell: George Dzundza, Phil Corman: Richard Venture, Burke: Paul Benjamin, Kalowitz: Bill Sorrells, Stryker: Gilbert Green, Rodgers: Eric Mason, Freddie: Jim Bohan. Written By: Robert I Holt, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.


This is a great, punchy early episode with many wonderful scenes. The story, for all its complications, is tough and believable, there is a strong emotional component to the narrative, the clash between generations is always fascinating, and best of all Starsky and Hutch (and dare I suggest the actors as well) are particularly upbeat. There’s a barely suppressed joy here, much laughter and grinning, little jokes and a general sense that both are fully engaged with this story and enjoying themselves immensely. For instance, in the scene in which Starsky and Hutch are menaced by Stryker in the underground garage, the grim realism of the moment is made even better by Starsky’s laughter at the end of it – you get the sense Starsky (and Glaser, for the line here is a thin one) is saying, “can you believe how great this all is?” As well the talismanic Dalmatian Hutch sees repeatedly, and Starsky doesn’t, is a lovely touch and not something employed ever again. This metaphor for the whim of fate, or maybe a concrete sign that Hutch really is under a lucky star, doesn’t affect the brutal realism of the plot. In fact it adds to the idea that life – and death – is precarious, ineffable and impossible to decipher, much less predict. The fact that Robert Holt gets away with using this magical device in an otherwise gritty, hard-boiled crime story, is a testament to how great this script really is.

The first scene is wonderful for many reasons. One, Starsky is sitting on that garbage can in a neat perch that only youth and graceful athleticism allows. I like the binocular pan of the desolate, ugly landscape of dusty, weedy lots and aluminum shacks. The fact that we see firsthand that police work is largely boring, and that cops get hungry too, is a nice bit of realism and one that was at the time subtly revolutionary for television.

Starsky throws Hutch a sandwich and Hutch catches it expertly like a professional baseball player (and Soul is a very talented one).

When Crandell and his partner drive up to the drop with their contraband and the shark-like green sedan cruises up, Starsky and Hutch quickly take off, leaving the other officers hidden inside the building. They then drive quite a long way away, only to turn around the return for the bust. This always strikes me as interesting but not very practical. The long drive back, dust flying, gives the bad guys extra seconds to look up and assess the situation. They then calculate the risk and go into defensive mode faster than they should have, pulling guns and blasting away. It would have made more sense to hide the Torino on site and simply wait at the scene for the deal to go down, then ambush quickly and silently.

Kalowitz says Edward Crown “had you cold, Starsky,” and notes Starsky should be grateful to Corman for shooting him. It appears Starsky saved himself ably and with plenty of time, making Kalowitz’s statement patently untrue. Is this symbolic of Kalowitz’s limited vision and bad judgment in hanging around Corman and Burke? Even if it’s proven he never took part in this scheme, Kalowitz is still shown to be one of the Old Guard, that is, deeply suspicious of Starsky and Hutch and eager to put forth the idea that his cronies still have what it takes.

Leaving a premonitory bad taste in my mouth is Phil Corman’s quick demand Starsky buy him a drink in return for ostensibly saving his life. Most cops would shrug and say, “it’s nothing” if their actions were singled out, and the greater the sacrifice the greater the nonchalance, and so Corman comes off as a self-centered prat in this small moment. Robert Holt’s script is full of these nice details. The scene continues with Corman’s racist joke at the expense of his partner which pretty much tells us this is one reprehensible human being.

In a wonderfully deft bit of comedy, Starsky and Hutch are sharing a cup of water as they debrief in Dobey’s office following the bust. They continue to hand it back and forth throughout, and then, at the conclusion of the meeting when Starsky gestures for it, Hutch refuses to share. This adroit little comedy bit not only enlivens a dialogue-heavy scene, it allows us to see that Starsky and Hutch exist in a world of their own, a part of – but somehow separated from – the environment around them. Sharing also emphasizes the intimacy of the partnership as well as its good-natured competitiveness (and Hutch’s often punitive sense of humor).

Dobey says the informant has to keep feeding information to Starsky and Hutch until they get Stryker, the big boss. Starsky and Hutch vehemently disagree but Dobey tells them about a statutory rape charge pending against the informant they should use as leverage. It seems to me a mistake that Dobey knows the name of their snitch. They should have – and easily could have – kept that in confidence, although I guess that legally Dobey could have forced them to reveal the name or risk prosecution. Although I can’t imagine Dobey doing that, this is, as we discover, is an unusually urgent case for him. The clandestine, undocumented and “casual” nature of undercover detective work pretty much depends on secrecy. Starsky and Hutch should not have been made to be accountable for unrelated crimes committed by Crandell. They should have kept his identity secret. They want to catch Stryker as much as Dobey does, but I wonder if they would have gone through with the Philadelphia rape charge threat if Dobey hadn’t forced them to.

I love how Hutch slaps Starsky’s back as they go through the door at Huggy’s.

Huggy’s responsible for one of the great nonsensical lines in the series when he announces, “Huggy Bear’s is where the elite meet and come to greet the deet and fleet of feet who are so sweet with the finer things of life, beep, beep, bee-beep, beep.” Equally amusing is the blank look both Starsky and Hutch give him. It’s great, though, the guys have one ready for him at the tag end of the episode: Hutch saying, “He can’t cut loose without his juice,” and Starsky plays along: “He’s fine as long as he does wine,” and Hutch says, “Otherwise he’ll drink turpentine,” with Starsky, joyously adding, “And go blind!”

The guys are walking through the bar toward Crandell. In the foreground is a woman wearing kind of a dumb-looking African-style cloth cap and matching dress. Just as you notice it, Starsky does too, giving what seems like an improvised double-take, Glaser managing to telegraph bemusement and disbelief without changing the blank look on his face. Later, much later, Starsky also notices a guy walking down the street talking to himself. He gives the same look of fatigued disbelief. This ties into his complaint to Hutch that he’s too tired to be Bad Cop. Incidentally, Starsky is much more likely to keep his thoughts to himself while Hutch is inclined to express his opinions and frustrations.

When Starsky tells Hutch to “play the bad guy for a change,” is it because he feels he ends up playing the bad cop more than Hutch, or is it pretty much 50/50? It’s Starsky, frankly, who slides most easily into the menacing role in the interview room, due to his mastery of the slow burn. When barking accusations are called for, Hutch is the one who steps in.

You have to really look for the moments in which Starsky controls Hutch, but they’re there. Hutch is more obviously bossy and manipulative, but Starsky matches him point for point in his own quiet way. It’s Starsky who almost imperceptibly motions to Hutch when it’s time to let Crandell out of the booth. Hutch smiles and obeys.

Also, I like when Crandell leaves Hutch slides from his side of the booth, where he’s been blocking him, and goes to squeeze next to Starsky on his side. There’s no real reason for this except to be closer to him. They share a joke – “I didn’t even get a chance to get into my character,” Hutch, consummate asshole-actor wannabe, complains – and Starsky kicks him lightly and gives one of his all-too-rare big grins. This is a wonderfully unguarded spontaneous moment.

The dog is seen again at night, at the other side of town, as the Torino glides into the underground parking lot of what might be Starsky’s brief flirtation with high rise apartment living (not that there’s much proof in this supposition; this is the one and only time he’s seen here, and it’s not as if the scene is entitled “Starsky Drives Home For a Sec”). Starsky says, “I’ll be down in a second; need anything?” “No,” says Hutch, genially enough. Two questions. What, if this is indeed Starsky’s apartment, is he needing at night in the middle of the case? Money? Bullets? And two, why ask Hutch if he needs anything? Does this imply Hutch keeps something there, like an extra t-shirt? Of course all this is moot if this is a parking garage for a grocery store, or if Starsky is running in to pay a phone bill. While the front exterior of the building nominally resembles the police department, there is a notable absence of police cars. Besides, how and why would Stryker risk entering the underground parking lot of the police station? He’s a lot of things, but nuts he isn’t.

All right, let’s talk about the dog for a moment. This is the first and only time a truly magical element is introduced to the series and it defies all rational explanation. Even Joe Collins’ visions in “The Psychic” can be mostly explained away rationally (I try to do just that in Character Studies 29). The dog is a complete mystery, but it’s fun to look at it from several different angles.

If we want to stay in the worldly realm it’s possible it is not the same dog Hutch sees multiple times. Hutch may be alerted to the unusual sight of an apparently stray Dalmatian and then begins to see Dalmatians everywhere, stray or not. We can all relate to this – many of us hear an unusual word or see something out of the ordinary and then it seems as if we see and hear it everywhere. The human brain is wired to make patterns out of nothing, which is why pure coincidence is such a difficult concept for people to accept. I once heard the same obscure 80s pop song three times in one day in different locations.

It might be an amusing bit of karma that Hutch, who can be a bit of a know-it-all, comes off like a bit of a lunatic when he keeps claiming to see a dog Starsky is sure doesn’t exist. The dog is indeed real, if unusually watchful, staring at Hutch as if to transmit a message. For most of the episode the dog is also a precursor of duplicity. He is first seen as they walk into Huggy’s and talk to Crandall, who, as a three-timing snitch is the very model of duplicity. Second as they enter the underground parking lot to be ambushed by Stryker, who tries to recruit them with bribery. Third just before getting a call to the murder scene – a murder perpetuated by the police officers, a murder Stryker believes is proof that Starsky and Hutch are lying about the cocaine. In the tag, he appears when Starsky and Hutch are slipping out of Huggy’s to avoid paying a bill.

But beyond that, Hutch’s ever-increasing sensitivity to the dog’s seemingly arbitrary appearances means that by the time he sees the watchful, solemn Dalmatian at the really crucial moment, on the street outside Crandall’s apartment, he is fully and instantly attuned to the oddity. (And let’s remind ourselves that the Dalmatian itself is a dog closely associated to both comfort and lifesaving as the mascot of fire stations, known for beauty and intelligence, the canine equivalent to Hutchinson himself perhaps.) Each time the sighting grows stranger and more intense, and now when he sees the dog here he is flooded with adrenaline. And it is this flush of alertness that saves his life. Determined to solve this mystery, he bends just slightly to encourage the dog. The bullet zings past the top of his head.

I like how unimpressed Starsky and Hutch are when they realize the specter in the garage is Stryker, who would most likely strike fear in the hearts of most other men. This masterful seen-it-all bravado (whether it’s real or put on) is still deeply impressive after all these years.

Dobey tells the guys they are under investigation by Internal Affairs along with the three other detectives involved in the case. Now, here is where the plot gets a little complicated. Stryker tells Starsky and Hutch there is one million bucks in cocaine missing. It’s not as if he has informants within the department who were there when the shipment was brought in and weighed, because we find out later the missing cocaine was never part of the “official” bust. It might have been so much easier for Corman and Burke to skim off the top during the chaos of the arrest site at the same time they steal the gun, but we eventually we learn that Crandall himself has stolen the cocaine even before it was baled into the cotton shipment. So how did Internal Affairs even know there was missing cocaine? There may have been solid information about the weight of the shipment from someone inside Stryker’s outfit but Stryker himself dismisses this idea and I’m inclined to believe him. The guy Stryker bailed out wouldn’t know – how would he? So how does Stryker know?

Starsky mentions to Dobey that Corman used the missing drugs to set up a rip-off deal. A large amount of cocaine like that would be carefully monitored by secure lockup personnel but Starsky says it like he knows for sure. This turns out not to be the case, so I’m curious where Starsky got this information and why he repeats it so confidently.

I just know someone smarter than me will point out the obvious. But I admit I’m stumped.

I wonder, when Dobey compares himself and his partner Elmo Jackson to Starsky and Hutch, if is implying they too had the same depth of love and trust. It’s possible he just meant a good working relationship, but even so comparing himself and Jackson to Starsky and Hutch provides a crucial clue to the essential character of Dobey. Later, in “Captain Dobey, You’re Dead!” we will hear a similar story of a cold case and Dobey’s failure to bring a criminal to justice, and how it eats away at him. At the end of the episode Dobey is present at the arrest of Stryker for the murder of his old partner – “and best friend”, he says angrily – in order to provide closure for a long term injustice. I always wonder how much guilt he suffers because of his inability to arrest Stryker back in the day for the torture and murder of that best friend. I wonder if he questions his own ambition, the roads he has traveled since, from fiery street cop to desk-bound administrator. If those failures eat at him, does he in turn eat to smother the guilt? Do those little rages of his – gusting unexpectedly but dying down just as fast – give an indication that he is, at all times, angry on some level? Think ahead to future episodes in which either Starsky and/or Hutch is in danger, possibly in danger of death, how weak Dobey can be, how after a burst of shouting he just seems to give up like the air’s been let out of him. He’s bewildered in “Bloodbath”, and in “Coffin” says, “well, that’s it then” when there is still time to fight. He goes out for the evening when Hutch is suffering a heroin overdose in “The Fix”. He thinks “missing officer” trumps “missing partner” in “Survival”. He seems deflated and defeated when Starsky lies near death in “Sweet Revenge” while Hutch keeps ramping up the energy. And simultaneously he coddles the two detectives, favors them and covers for them, gives them all kinds of leeway, some legal and some not. In a sense he is living through them, enjoying their power and freedom from behind his lonely desk. All these elements are more complicated when juxtaposed with the brutal truncating of this early and formative partnership with Elmo Jackson.

There is no scene that shows the divide between Starsky and Hutch and the rest of the department better than when they are driven off the road and verbally attacked by Corman, Burke, and Kalowitz. Out of nowhere a powerful latent resentment rears its ugly head and the three older and more established cops – in their rumpled suits and ties, about as old-school as it gets – reveal just how jealous and defensive they are. It’s easy to imagine how Starsky and Hutch would rub these guys the wrong way. Kalowitz, Burke and Corman must sit at their local and pound back their bourbon shots and grouse about the bewildering way these “young punks” gain the confidence and trust of informants while overtly ignoring petty crime. It’s interesting how Starsky is singled out specifically as “pushy”, even more so than Hutch. We see this resentment worsen later in “Pariah”, when Starsky is unfairly condemned by fellow officers. Of the two, Starsky seems more visibly shaken by the incident, and not only because the insults were directed at him; in these earlier episodes he is simply more likely to lose his temper when provoked, thus unintentionally living up to his reputation as “pushy”. Hutch is more likely to show his anger in later seasons – here he is cautious and vigilant rather than outwardly angry.
“Buy me a beer, will you?” Starsky says, squinting at Hutch. “Yeah,” Hutch says, agreeable as ever in this episode.

Corman and Burke say they would have only waited another fifteen minutes for the apparently tardy Crandell and they “would have split.” This would have saved Crandell from getting shot five times and dumped in a field. At least for now. Freddie was also after Crandell and there was talk of Crandell getting tortured for information. And finally, Starsky and Hutch were also on Crandell’s tail, wanting him to set up his boss. All three scenarios make Pennsylvania in the winter seem positively benign.

Crandell was dealing with three different people’s “interests” and doing some pretty nifty deals. He managed to rip off Stryker, out-think Corman and Burke, and keep Starsky and Hutch in the dark. His only mistake was not hiding half the cocaine somewhere else and tipping off Corman and Burke on the telephone to its location. Showing up in person, and then digging out both packages from the hiding spot, was a dumb move on his part, but I wonder if that was the only way he was sure to get paid.

Is there anything more gruesome than the phrase “hamburger machine”?

Waiting for Crandell, Hutch and Starsky engage in a little argument about Hutch’s crappy car. The window handle has just come off. Starsky begs Hutch to go to his uncle’s car lot “just have a look”. Hutch says, “you just want me to be driving a striped tomato like you got.” (Stri-ped, amusingly, Hutch briefly channeling Richard Harris) This may be the first example of this phrase, because Starsky is incredulous. “My car is a striped what?” he says. And even Hutch has the decency to back off. At the response to the code 3, Hutch performs an extremely satisfying squealing u-turn, smoke billowing like an angry dragon, and you get an idea why he might like that car.

Times have changed in Los Angeles. This dirt-road-and-ragweed parcel of land does not seem far from the city.

Dobey says he has “something (you guys) might want to see” when he knows damn well it’s Crandell under that sheet. Passive-aggressive, or what?

Why do Corman and Burke bother dragging Crandell’s body outside after they kill him in the shack, and exactly how do they get his body outside? The door is locked and the window seems an unlikely choice, since it’s boarded up. If they kept the body in the shed or even ripped out a section of the floor to dump the body (there was room to stash the cocaine, there might have been room for a corpse), it might not have been found for weeks, even months, and would likely be unidentifiable.

I love how the blood-thirsty conversation between Stryker and his henchman – in which Stryker proposes murdering police officers – is undercut by Sryker urging him to have some cheese and the amoral assassin says, “No thank you, I’m on a diet.”

Stryker’s motivations throughout make sense, but the narrative could use some clarity, as I am forced to make assumptions about why Stryker cares enough about a couple of stolen packages of cocaine he was never going to get anyway, care enough to risk everything and a) attempt to negotiate with a couple of detectives he must know are on the up-and-up and b) kill those same detectives when he feels let down by them. What does it matter to him what happened? My answer to that is twofold: one, he is a proud man, and has a reputation to uphold, so gossip about loose merchandise would hurt his feelings. And two, more practically, cocaine that pure getting sold on the street would dilute his own distribution aims.

Dobey seems surprised hearing Corman and Burke are going to go fishing together. It could be he sees it as a team building exercise, or maybe because he too has a little cabin in the woods and longs to chat to someone about it. But more likely it’s because he knows Corman is a racist little shit and he wonders why Burke is spending time with him.

Hutch is careful to ask where exactly the cabin is. Even if Hutch wouldn’t admit to it if you asked him, this means they are already harboring suspicions about the older detectives.

“There’s that dog!” Hutch exclaims and, when he bends to call him, just misses getting assassinated. Diving to avoid bullets he cries out, “Did you see that dog, Starsky?” Wanting, desperately, to be proven sane. “Yeah I saw it,” Starsky says. “I’m beginning to love that dog, Starsky!” Hutch yells. “Me too, Hutch,” Starsky replies, phlegmatic as usual.

I love the single take when Starsky and Hutch enter the Adams Hotel from one side, Rodgers leaves from the other, and a moment later the guys emerge on the rooftop to find it empty.

I wonder if this is the last time Starsky and Hutch believe in the concept of “brother cops”.

Starsky refers to “button, button, who’s got the button,” an old children’s game in which a button is surreptitiously passed around and hidden.

When Huggy makes his bogus call, which is rerouted to Dobey’s office, he asks for Starsky. Starsky answers and Huggy pretends to think it’s Hutch. “It’s me, dummy,” Starsky says, charmed at first and then realizing this mix-up of them – which will plague them for the rest of the series – is a code-word for danger. Of all the mixing-up of their names and identities by other people, this is the only time in which the mix-up is both deliberate and and extremely helpful.

Endemic racism is an issue on both sides of the law. Crandall treats his partner Burke with cruel disrespect, and Starsky tries the same tactic when he dismisses Huggy as “that black fink”. Both must have an inkling the goons around Stryker are southern yokels – Hutch refers to them as “rednecks” – and so would more than likely believe in such a bigoted dismissal.

It’s mighty strange when Hutch tells a tied-up Huggy he might be charged with conspiracy for making that phone call. Sure it’s a joke, but it’s painful to hear it. Huggy was kidnapped and had a gun to his head and they knew it, and to make light of it seems way over the line, even for acerbic Hutch.

Which department does Hutch call when he says, ‘Hutchinson, send an ambulance to Huggy Bear’s restaurant. Tell Captain Dobey to send over a backup unit”? Switchboard? Desk? Why doesn’t he request the back up directly? At that point they had all the time in the world.

Describe what could be going through Dobey’s head when he gets the call: he knows Starsky and Hutch went to Huggy Bear’s because there was trouble there. He then receives a call requesting an ambulance, backup and no other information.

Starsky is the one who grabs the bottle of whiskey and the glass in the middle of the chaos of the take-down. He pours Rodgers a glass in a way that makes it clear that this is a meeting – albeit bloody and violent – between like-minded compatriots. Then he brings up the name Elmo Jackson. Hutch may know nothing about this turn of events, despite the fact he pours the booze. Quite likely he is thinking only about arrest and prosecution of the thugs who held Huggy. When he twigs to what’s really going down – and, wonderfully, it’s no more than a second or two – he gives Starsky a nod and a particularly warm look to indicate that he believes in, and in fact endorses, what’s about to happen.

I’d like to believe Rodgers’ testimony against Stryker will stick, but it’s awfully tenuous to rely on the memory of a felon who is also angling for a deal, especially when it comes to a decades-old cold case murder.

“Never pick on a man’s partner,” says Hutch. This ties a bow around the idea that Dobey has finally brought justice to his partner’s murder. However, the scene lacks something. It could be Bernie Hamilton’s acting limitations, it could be Dobey’s A-B emotional range, it could be the script’s refusal to risk bathos, whatever it is we do not get the sense that a twenty-year search for righteousness has just ended, or a man’s grief, guilt and private fears can be laid to rest. Instead the moral wrath is saved for Starsky and Hutch on their quest to bring down Corman and Burke.

Starsky remarks that Corman and Burke are like “The NAACP and the Ku Klux Klan having a togetherness rally,” which neatly sums up the contentious, racially-tension-filled partnership. It’s also perceptive: although he was there when Corman made the nasty remark early on to Burke about “totin’ those bales” he didn’t appear to react to it, or even hear it. But of course he did, and tucked it away for later. Also goes to show that although Corman and Burke were partners, with the same dark/light yin/yang as Starsky and Hutch, there is no love or loyalty between them.

The set dec people really go to town with the branches and dead grasses all over the ground. What are they hiding, a parking lot?

Starsky is forced to shoot Burke, who cries out, “we could have made a deal!” “Haven’t you heard by now? Hutch and me don’t make deals,” Starsky says, bundling him up and shoving him roughly back toward the cabin. Not only is it great that he is speaking with absolute certainty on Hutch’s behalf, he is acknowledging, ever so slightly, the gossiping in the department, gossip that Burke and Corman heard and probably participated in for their own purposes.

It’s moving that Hutch looks so crushed when Starsky returns to find he has killed Corman. There’s only sadness and loss, no triumph or told-you-so. They have lost rather than won.

Tag: Dobey reminds the guys that next time they have to do it “by the book” and Starsky lightly dismisses the idea of Internal Affairs having any sort of a problem with how things turned out. But honestly, going off like that on their own to confront fellow officers, resulting in the shooting death of one and the severe injury of the other, is a procedural and political nightmare. It could reflect poorly on the department and result in years of inquests and paperwork.

I like how Starsky says “condemnation” when he means “commendation”. It rather nicely ties in with his much later mixing up of penguins and pelicans in Starsky’s Lady, but also Starsky is acknowledging the fact it doesn’t really matter to Huggy either way. A piece of paper is useless if your upstairs room has been trashed – he’d rather take a monetary donation.

The beautiful dog reappears, which Hutch calls “my dog” and “lifesaver”, but there’s no resolution (and no owner either!) It’s wonderful to see the two of them interact with the dog with such joy and caring. Pretending not to see the dog when Huggy claims to is a nice twist on the mystery. For the first time the dog interacts with them instead of slinking away, and the wagging tail tells us the danger, for now, has passed.

Let’s Revisit “Pariah”

September 13, 2014

After Starsky fatally shoots teenage felon Lonnie Craig during a hold-up, a man from his past, George Prudholm, begins killing cops in revenge.

George Prudholm: Stephen McNally, Joseph Tramaine: Gregory Rozakis, Eunice Craig: Hilda Haynes, Off. Edwards: David S Milton, Collins: Graham Jarvis, Cecil: John Alderman, Tidings: Jay Fletcher, Molly: Anitra Ford, Officer Lee: James R Parkes. Written By: Michael Fisher, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.


This is a terrific episode with a focused story line and clear, uncluttered emotional content. The series is always at its best when a crisis allows the partnership to coalesce and intensify and we see it here, in spades. The series is consistently successful, particularly in the first two seasons, of showing how a personal issue can reflect a larger, societal wrong. Here, Starsky’s actions reveal the troubling racial divide in American society, as well as the crippling shame even righteous actions can bring. And if we want to pull back our lens even further and encompass the whole classic tragedy, larger than any one society, we can come to understand the pain of responsibility, and the redemptive power of forgiveness.

Like many if not most episodes in the “Starsky & Hutch” canon, “Pariah” depicts shockingly relevant issues; here, it is the shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer, followed by public anger made worse when the police reveal that young man’s sketchy past. We also see the moral dilemma of allowing the media access to the officer’s identity and the procedural details of the investigation, and the incendiary emotions of race and justice, and the similarities to what is happening today is striking, if not depressingly familiar. However, this is where the similarity to contemporary events diverges, as the troubling case of Lonnie shifts to a (white) man’s overwhelming madness and grief, and how he uses a tragic shooting to further his own ends. Starsky, therefore, must not only try to forgive himself, he must try to forgive someone who has caused him tremendous anguish. At the end of the episode I’m not sure he has done either.

The opening scene in this episode is low key and genuinely funny, and a nice start to a brutal episode. In the first season the writers get the emotional temperature just right, and we see it here. Everyone is relaxed and good natured, nothing is rushed, and there is a brilliantly subtle foreshadowing when Starsky muses about “one of those days.” Anitra Ford may be a Playboy bunny (of the year, no less) but she’s also a pretty good comedienne. She comes off as smart, laconic and funny, and you can see Hutch and Molly have a genuine thing going on the way they share a look in amusement when Starsky arrives and it’s time to start the routine. But you have to wonder what she makes of the whole set-up, if she wonders if perhaps this is all a little excessive, this practical joke which has taken so long to organize, to practice and perfect, which Hutch is pursuing with such enthusiasm. Hutch has no real interest in having Starsky adopt a healthy regime. One suspects if Starsky were to suddenly take up a yogurt-and-granola approach to breakfast Hutch would be bereft. Because what he wants is to win, no matter how inconsequential, or fleeting, the prize.

It must not have been much of a party if Starsky so easily believes she doesn’t know his – or Hutch’s – name. Or maybe it’s a sign of the casual times.

The shoot-out at the grocery store is a bit of a puzzle. For one thing, the robbery takes place in a tight-knit poor-to-middle-class black neighbourhood, and the bystander immediately recognizes Lonnie Craig, which means Lonnie and his accomplice were robbing their own friends and neighbors. Which explains the balaclavas, of course, but not the rationale behind robbing people who a) will most certainly recognize you by your voice and mannerisms, and b) that you have had years of friendly interaction with. Of course this happens all the time, especially if people are driven to panicky extremes because of drug addiction, but nothing is said about Lonnie and drugs, (although it’s very probably drugs had some kind of impact on his life, but what impact we don’t know, and it doesn’t appear that Lonnie had a bad habit) only that he was a promising young kid with a loving mother. So why rob a small corner store in your own neighborhood – with your own mother steps away – and be stupid enough to attempt to kill police? Lonnie, if Tremaine is telling the truth, had his own thing going. He was running numbers and had a clientele, and probably plenty of money. He had a comfortable home and a future. So why throw it all away for a two-bit robbery, and in your very own backyard? If this was a matter of friendship (you can easily imagine Tremaine begging and pleading for help “with this one little thing”), Lonnie was prepared to go a very long way to prove his loyalty. A little background would have been nice, if only to paint Lonnie as a hero-worshipping kid who would do anything for his only friend.

It always bothers me when the uniformed patrol officer interrupts Starsky’s professionalism to say accusingly, “He’s just a kid. You killed a kid!” This is immature and inflammatory, and it stops everyone from doing their job. Behavior like this from hysterical bystanders I understand, but from a police officer it’s inexcusable.

“If throwing me to the wolves is what it takes, let ‘em do it,” Starsky says to the furious Hutch when it becomes clear that the coroner’s inquest will be made public.  “Besides, I don’t go down so easy.”  And he gives a very slight grin, and an upward twitch of his eyebrows, and in an instant the world has shrunk to just the two of them, and no one else; Hutch gives an even smaller, less noticeable grin in response – mirroring Starsky’s expression – and for a second there is nothing else, not a sound, not an intrusion, time has stopped, space has contracted, and it is only them.

Is the department right to insist on complete disclosure, including allowing public access to the coroner’s inquest? This is a question not answered here, and not answered fully to this day. Being exposed to public judgment before all the facts are in can lead to erroneous, emotion-clouded conclusions, but institutions policing themselves without outside scrutiny can allow corruption and to flourish.

When Dobey and the DA leave there is a long moment of silence that is all too rare in this series, and every second of it is wonderful.

It’s a great moment in court when Starsky, looking trapped in a pinstripe suit and a rather nice lemon shirt, looks behind him to see Hutch in the gallery. Hutch acknowledges him with a smile, and does the tie-wave motion, which seems to work: Starsky noticeably relaxes.

Stewart Tidings, the bystander/witness who changes his story on the stand, is a notable character. Intelligent and hotheaded, but with a moral core, not above pushing an anti-cop agenda if he thinks it’ll stir up trouble, the paradigm of racial frustration. I love it when he acknowledges he thought Lonnie was trying to surrender because that’s what everyone else was saying, and he got swept up in the group dynamic. It’s extremely difficult to go against not only your original accusation, but the accusations of the angry mob around you, but he does it. Later Stewart elects himself guardian at Eunice Craig’s house during the funeral, standing at the door and refusing Starsky entry. Even though he’s admitted Lonnie’s guilt he’s not yet ready to relinquish his dislike of cops. He does, however, shake Starsky’s hand, showing a facility for change (and grudging forgiveness) that does him credit.

When meeting after the inquest at Huggy’s it’s interesting to note that Hutch and Huggy are having coffee – it must be around 10 or 11 in the morning for The Pits not to be open yet, although it could be later – but Starsky, never what you’d call a drinker, is having a beer.

In this episode we see many scenes of empathy, reassurance and solidarity between the partners. Of particular note is the beautiful scene following Starsky’s giving his condolences at the Craig house, when Starsky is lost in thought behind the wheel of the Torino and Hutch gently suggests starting the car because “it works better that way.”  Then offers one of his sweetest smiles.

It takes every bit of Starsky’s courage to enter that yard and walk up those stairs, and when you think about the danger he faces on a daily basis this is even more poignant; facing a family’s private grief and disapproval is a hell of a lot harder to do than the violent necessity of law enforcement.

Hilda Haynes has such a uniquely beautiful and haunting face – her huge eyes are unreal – that you just cam’t stop watching her.

They chase Tremaine out of the window and down the alley, and lose him. Starsky’s furious. Hutch grabs Starsky’s wrist to check the time – a gesture used more than once, since Hutch often doesn’t wear a watch. “Tempest fugit,” Starsky says as they stand panting after the chase. “What?” Hutch says. “Time flies,” Starsky says, and Hutch, with perfect comedic timing, says (without surprise, even those his apparently proletariat partner has just spoken Latin), “Oh.”

Dobey tells Starsky, after Prudholm kills a second cop and calls Metro, “Your friend called again,” when he is trying to keep Starsky’s head together, which seems unnecessarily provocative to me.

Is the announcer is the same one who is “Michael Jackson” in Survival?

Why bring uniformed officers to get Tremaine at the grocery store? He’s going to twig to it and panic. Also, this points to the major inconsistency of backup. Sometimes, as in this instance, Starsky and Hutch have extra backup they don’t really need. And sometimes, as in “Iron Mike”, they have zero backup when they could really use it  as they attempt to arrest four, maybe five armed felons, at night, with low visibility and in dangerously unfamiliar terrain.

I can’t help but appreciate the sign that reads “The Donut Show.” I would probably stick around and see that show three or four times.

Drug withdrawal turns Tramaine into a big, frustrated baby. He’s twenty-two and has the deep husky voice of an old man. It’s great when, in exasperation during the interrogation scene, he bunches his hands into fists in a tantrum. But of course it begs the question: if he’s needing to score so badly, why was he calmly grocery shopping and examining that salad dressing like a gourmet?

I love how Hutch can stop Starsky’s violent assault on Tremaine with a miniscule lift of an eyebrow. Starsky sees this and relents, completely, all anger evaporated.

It’s always struck me how Prudholm starts killing cops and at the apex of his madness threatening the families of cops, raging away like an Old Testament prophet about taking out “maybe an old granny too” in order to exact his vengeance, without ever mentioning Hutch. Later, much later, he’s going after Terry in “Starsky’s Lady”, again no mention of hurting Hutch. Why not? Why not the one person in the world Starsky really cares about? Is this a case of something being so outside his reality he can’t even imagine it?

It’s interesting to note here that Prudholm’s speech bears more than a passing resemblance to the threatening letters sent by real-life killer Zodiac to the newspapers in the late 60s. Zodiac mentions killing “kiddies” on a school bus as a way to enhance his reputation as a terrifying and powerful figure much like Prudholm is doing, and for probably the same reason: they are broken, pathetic human beings who have no other outlet for their bewildering pain, and no other way to feel as if they matter. This isn’t the only time Starsky & Hutch uses real life murderers as inspiration for their fictional ones. Simon Marcus and his murderous followers are very similar to Charles Manson, and the uptick in nutty cults, UFOs, Ouija boards and mood rings which made popular culture so entertaining is reflected in vampire-wannabe Rene Nadasy, the bumbling Satanists and all the narcotically-enhanced lunacy on Playboy Island. And I have a very strong feeling that Tommy Marlowe’s crimes in “Vendetta” are based on Lowell Lee Andrews, a seemingly nice-guy college student who suddenly and for no apparent reason murdered his entire family in 1958.

Starsky swears for the only time in the entire series, although one can imagine an HBO-version filled with all kinds of imaginative language. Either a method-acting slip or a nonsensical hiss meant to simulate swearing, it happens when Hutch, quite brilliantly – a foreshadowing of his wild guess in “Bloodbath”, again listening to a taped message – picks up on “ex-con” and “in his fifties” and figures the caller might be Prudholm. Starsky says “Shit!” and picks up the phone.

It’s interesting how Hutch and Dobey are eating, but Starsky, heartbroken, isn’t.

Why does Hutch ask Officer Bill in R & I to call “Parole” to get Prudholm’s current address? While Parole certainly has this information, why doesn’t R & I have it? And if R & I doesn’t keep current addresses, then all of those types of questions would require a call to Parole.

The only time Prudholm seems shaken out of his murderous rage is when he calls his own apartment and Starsky says in ten minutes his (Prudholm’s) face will be in every newspaper and on every TV screen in town. Prudholm stops, his hands tremble, then he abruptly agrees to meet Starsky face-to-face. This small moment has always been as bit of a mystery. Does Prudholm change his mind because Starsky has goaded him, or because he’s afraid of having his face and his story splashed across the front pages of the newspaper? Is he mortally afraid of having his grief exposed, and with it his son’s weaknesses and mistakes?

There is much similarity between “Pariah” and “A Coffin for Starsky”. Both have, at their core, a father grieving the loss of a wayward son at the hands of Starsky and Hutch, and both men concoct elaborate schemes that nearly kill Starsky. In both cases the son is involved in drugs, and neither father acknowledges this fact. Both men have been distant fathers: Prudholm in jail for his son’s entire adult life and Professor Jennings (it’s implied but not said) is an aloof intellectual out of touch with both a drug-addicted son and a daughter whose professional triumphs appear to be invisible to him. Both men inflict pain in a horribly impersonal way: Prudholm through taunting phone calls and sadistic “lessons”, Jennings through a proxy assailant. Both think the object of their hate will suffer more if the pain is more mental than physical – Jennings times it so that Starsky has to suffer for as much as 48 hours before succumbing. Both men use elaborate and fussy plans to hinder them. And both men do not get what they are so desperately searching for – lex talionis, to be exact – because torture will never equal justice.

One of the great “there are no words” moments in the series happens when they look at each other over the hood of the Torino before Starsky rushes off.

Such a creepy zoo. All those too-small cages and brutal rocks symbolic, perhaps, of Prudholm’s misery, how he’s been locked away both figuratively and literally all these years. As well, the cruel architecture of this old-fashioned zoo – somewhat remedied these days ad the result of of a more progressive understanding of the mental health of animals in captivity – also echoes how the modern urban world can alienate and make crazy its inhabitants, from poor Lonnie Craig, the “loner” whose only friend (if you can call him that) was a junkie who abandoned him when the going got tough, to Prudholm himself, allowed to fester without psychiatric intervention.

Starsky goes alone to confront Prudholm. Hutch secretly follows, and his presence proves to be life-saving. In the aftermath of events, I wonder if Starsky processes Hutch’s disobedience with relief or irritation or maybe a mix of the two. Yet, when they stare at each other over the hood of the car and Starsky gives that nearly imperceptible nod, he may have known all along his partner would ignore his command and show up, and was acknowledging the inevitability.

The arrest of Prudholm is typical of the series as a whole. Rather than triumphant, the brief adrenaline rush of chase-and-capture gives way to deep sadness. Starsky does not feel like a hero, he doesn’t even have a sense of completion of a job well done. Rather there is a lingering sense of culpability, and the frustration that no matter what they do the parade of human misery goes on. Nothing has been solved, no one has gotten justice, the already over-burdened system will once again required to care for and house the criminally insane. It’s a form of existential nihilism that even Starsky recognizes in these final moments. It’s a moving moment when he actually aims his gun as if to shoot Prudholm in the head, and looks so murderous that even Hutch, who knows full well his partner isn’t going to actually shoot, says quietly, and warningly, “Starsk.”

Tag: Starsky says, “The notion that something’s got to taste rotten in order for it to make you feel good,” implies Hutch is a masochist. Hutch, in “Body Worth Guarding”, calls Starsky a “hedonist.” Starsky replies, “Just so long as I enjoy myself.” Both labels are accurate. There is something in Hutch requiring his atonement, and although Starsky can be broody it’s not at the same level: he’s engaged in the world and contented with temporal things, while Hutch’s punitive routines and habits suggests he has been the victim of a wounding at some point in his life.

I find it difficult to imagine Hutch doesn’t pick up on the booze in the cocktail Starsky makes him; he might be professing confusion in order to allow Starsky his moment, which is a charming act of friendship.

Clothing notes: Hutch looks great in his blue zippered top and later in his caramel leather jacket. Starsky is mostly all-blue in his cloth jacket, and denim shirt in the last scene, great-fitting low-rise jeans, and the Adidas. Both wear clothes than any fashion-conscious hipster would happily wear today. Note that somewhere in the middle of the episode Starsky adds a small gold band to his usual silver pinkie ring, which I can’t help but imagine tells a romantic back-story.

Let’s revisit “Jojo”

July 10, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 88: Sweet Revenge

July 4, 2012

Starsky lies dying in the hospital and Hutch fights to discover who ordered his death, the still-unknown enemy James Gunther.

James Gunther: William Prince, Bates: Alex Courtney, Doctor: Conrad Bachman, Jonathan Wells: Sean Griffin, Nurse: Stefanie Auerbach, Lancaster: Ivan Bonar, Schneider: Lou Felder, Jenny Brown: Beverly Hart. Written By: Steven Nalevansky and Joe Reb Moffly, Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser.


The Hutchinson File: This series finale gives rise to more questions than answers, but it’s a fitting end to a remarkable four years. While the pilot began with Starsky (arriving first, establishing a strong character, dominating our first impressions) it ends with Hutch. Oh boy does it ever. David Soul gives an incredible, highly-charged performance as a man torn between action and paralyzing grief. There isn’t a second in the entire episode in which he isn’t fully committed, and there is no one who is scarier in the throes of rage. The template of the story, in which one is injured and the other seeks retribution, has been employed several times as a complex but easily palatable (and handy) metaphor for the partnership’s durability and invincibility. It allows both men to show the depth of love and care for one another in a way that is intense, tangible, and societally sanctioned. Yet because this episode is the last in the series, there is no certainty of success when a life hangs in the balance. Death is actually breathing down their necks in this one, a foul presence as real as any character onscreen. This time you’re just not sure Starsky is going to make it.

This episode is extremely well made on every level. You can see how much care and love has gone into making this a farewell worthy of the series as a whole, and its perfection can make it difficult to explicate in any meaningful way. Much space will be wasted pointing out this wonderful moment and that one, but this is such a beautiful last episode and so germane to the story arc as a whole in terms of theme and emotional tenor that there is very little to add in terms of critical analysis. It is, I might venture, the only fully conscious episode in the canon.

Here, the events, and the resolution, are fairly straightforward. Clues are found, a call is made, lines are drawn between suspect and victim. But that is not the real story now, or at least it’s not the one that holds the greater meaning. What is in the process of happening is like a chrysalis, hidden from view but miraculous all the same: nothing less, I think, than a transformation, the maturity, the final stage of a relationship. Throughout the series Hutch has been contentious and difficult, a man with equal parts of darkness and light. While there isn’t a doubt of his affection for Starsky, he has recently betrayed him with Kira (“Starsky vs. Hutch”), and has often been berating, condescending or sarcastic, leaving some to wonder why Starsky is so loyal to him in return; we fear the darkness is encroaching on the light. But here he is given a chance to show himself as he truly is, as Starsky has always known him to be: brave, determined, loving and principled.

The title of this episode is unusual. Throughout the series titles have either been descriptive (“Satan’s Witches”, “Murder at Sea”) or nonsensical (“Quadromania”, “Ninety Pounds of Trouble”). Occasionally they give us a contextual hint (“Deckwatch”, “Manchild on the Streets”) or underline a political point (“Velvet Jungle”). But rarely, if ever, does a title tell us how to make up our minds about a contentious point. For instance, “Pariah” is a title that tells us what we already know: Starsky feels like one. But in this case we are talking about a concept the series has tried very sincerely to define: that is, the concept of vengeance and how it adds to or detracts from justice. This episode is not entitled “Revenge”. The use of the adjective “sweet” could be ironic or it could be sincere, it could be political and it could be in direct opposition to the long-running theme of mercy and justice. I believe it may be a bit of all these things – it is there and we have to pay attention to it. Throughout the series it has been stated very clearly that neither Starsky nor Hutch are vengeful. They never act for selfish reasons, even if those reasons are “good”. Time and time again, starting from the pilot movie, we see them consciously reject any notion of personal retribution. True justice, they believe, is the good of the community, despite personal injury. It is a direct disavowal of an eye for an eye-style punitiveness, despite everyone around them howling for reprisal. But also there’s another layer here. The word sweet is whispered in Hutch’s ear throughout, the implication that nothing less than making Gunther suffer as Starsky is suffering, and that Hutch is suffering, will do. How many of us, in Hutch’s shoes, could resist this siren call?

Filming notes: all the stops were pulled out for this episode: real hospital equipment was hired, which helps the hospital and its doctors and nurses look entirely authentic. A very unusual three cameras were used for filming the tag, and Glaser spent a month editing the episode instead of the usual two weeks. Reportedly, Glaser and Soul also wrote much of the episode (uncredited as always). This is the fifth episode directed by Glaser, and his metaphoric, highly stylized approach beautifully highlights the strong bond between Starsky and Hutch. The use of visual tropes is extraordinary and one of the best is the marvelous shot of Hutch in the elevator, replaying his last conversation with Starsky in his mind, with a sign next to him reading “Maximum Load”. It’s a perfect summation of his extreme, crushing burden and I love that Glaser is using something we have all seen a thousand times, only now it is new and meaningful. Soul hung around for the shooting even when he wasn’t required, as they always did for each other when the other directed. Glaser apparently was suffering a bad cold throughout much of the shooting and could only whisper off-camera.

The first scene, a murky boardroom lit only by dim lamps and the glare from a slide projector, is a wonderful encapsulation of what this series has always maintained as the epitome of evil. Disembodied voices droning on about corporate acquisitions, the throwing around of British titles and incomprehensibly profitable shipping agreements, the muted self-congratulation, the accumulation of vast wealth for its own sake, all this is presented as far worse than any young punks stealing cars or robbing convenience stores.

Wonderfully creepy, too, is the acrid, palpable fear of James Gunther shared by all in the room.

We first see Gunther as a disembodied hand clutching a gold necklace. Later, Bates has this same necklace in a death grip. This is obviously an important object, but what is its significance?

Mr. Schneider comments that with “minimal cooperation from Wall Street,” Gunther will do well. Does he mean cooperation in terms of crooked trading and bribes? Or cooperation is terms of being pleased with the way it naturally plays out, as the way the weather “cooperates” for a picnic? In other words, does Gunther control much of Wall Street or not?

The renovations going on at the police station indicate dismantling, reordering: the furniture is in death-like shrouds and the cheery plastic piggy bank the only familiar object left, still in its position of honor between the desks. We are reminded once again that the end is here.

There are many, many significant elegiac details in this episode illustrating Starsky and Hutch’s partnership. Surprisingly, one of these is ping-pong. It really does work as a metaphor: for instance, this is a game entirely dependent on a certain delicate give-and-take. For the game to work, both players must be similarly adept, since merely smashing the ball to an unresponsive partner is no fun at all. Look how perfectly matched Starsky and Hutch are, as their rounds go for a long time without either conceding a point, and 20 to 19 is incredibly close. Hutch somehow finds a ping-pong ball and bounces it impotently as he checks on Starsky’s condition; without a partner, the game cannot be played. There is also an ad hoc quality to ping-pong: it can be played anywhere there is a flat surface, hence the spontaneous game on the desks. You could say the same for this friendship, springing fully-formed from two people of disparate backgrounds and interests. The speed and precision is hypnotic. And the longer it continues without a break, the better it is. Later, the paddles foreshadow the defibrillator pads. Starsky slaps his against Dobey’s lower side as he is leaving, Hutch slaps his against Dobey’s upper chest, both are roughly in position doctor uses them later on Starsky.

There is very little Torino in the final quartet of shows, so it’s nice to see it again here, however briefly.

It’s a mark of Starsky’s strength that the only thing that can bring him down is a machine gun.

The timing of the shooting seems so much more cruel because it happens while the guys are happily joking about plans for Starsky’s victory dinner (Hutch wants to do it “at five a.m.”)

If the aim is to assassinate both of them, then why start shooting when Hutch is standing behind the car? Seems to me they could have taken aim when they first leave the building, walking together.

This episode is meticulously composed, with a half-hidden soundtrack. It’s in the rhythm of Starsky’s heart monitor, the sound of the clock in Gunther’s office, the bounce of the ping-pong ball, the click of the spoon against the cup with Bate’s poisoned coffee, the whooshing of the ventilator, and the sound of Huggy’s footsteps in the hallway.

It’s heartbreaking when Huggy tries to sound optimistic about Starsky’s chances and Hutch says “he’s dying.” In “A Coffin for Starsky” Hutch was the one exploding when Dobey expressed similar pessimism, shouting “It doesn’t matter if we have two minutes, we don’t give up.” But here he’s repeating what he’s been told by doctors, trying to get used to it, make himself immune. He can’t even risk a shred of hope. He can’t afford it, he’ll break into a million pieces. Only rage can motivate him. He’s not even speaking to anyone in particular when he starts talking. “The body can only withstand …” So much is the end of that sentence, but he can’t say it. His voice trails off. For Hutch to be bereft of language is, to me, a sign of his own disintegration, his own form of death.

This is the longest period of quiet in the entire series, which is risky, ambitious, and unremittingly intense. Hutch enters Starsky’s room and is completely lost. He stares at nothing while the room shifts in and out of focus, bathed in a remarkable light that can only be called ethereal. Time passes. He then wanders back into the hall and stands as if he can’t remember what he’s doing there, or where he should be going. He’s broken.

The silence is ended spectacularly with a lot of shouting, furniture-moving, and police radios.

Hutch tells Dobey, “I already got a partner, I don’t need another one.” Hutch isn’t implying if Starsky dies he’s through as a police officer, he’s saying they will never be separated by death. It could be a glimpse into his desperate hope, or there could be a kind of supernatural interpretation, that there is no such thing as death in a relationship as immortal as this one. It could be both, or neither. It could be that this is one of Hutch’s conflicting signals, one moment telling himself and others Starsky is going to die and then in the next refusing to believe in that very possibility.

In “Pariah”, Hutch gently teases Starsky about the car running better if you start it. Huggy does the same thing to Hutch, “Your keys, you can’t drive a car without keys,” after Hutch goes down to find Dobey’s car in the garage.

Later in the elevator he says to Huggy (who has never looked better in a startling rust-colored suede jumpsuit and scarf), “Starsky’s going to die, Hug. Starsky’s going to die and there ain’t nothing anyone can do about it.” He then goes on to say, “At least from their end there isn’t. I’m still here. I’m still alive. They haven’t got me yet. And until then there damn well better be something I can do.” This is an interesting speech in many ways. Hutch is saying a lot of contradictory things, and in there somewhere is a merging of his life with Starsky’s, an acknowledgement that they got one half but not the other, and that “doing something about it” doesn’t necessarily mean saving Starsky’s life, but making the end of that life lead to something good or just.

As an aside, Soul is often filmed in profile during these wrenching scenes. Of course we can see his profile is noble in the extreme. But a deeper reason for this might be he’s often looking off into another realm while speaking rather than addressing the person. He never once looks at Dobey in the previous scenes, and he doesn’t look at Huggy in the elevator either. When he finally does, as the doors close, it’s with shocking warmth and immediacy.

Dobey complains that letting Hutch investigate the case would be “like shooting fish in a barrel”. But here is Hutch, left to walk alone in an ominously dark underground parking lot with no police escort.

Hutch is holding two people who take a bullet meant for him. The first is Billy Harknes in “The Bait” and the second is the guy in parking lot who attacked him with knife. He’s incredibly lucky both times, as bullets can easily blast through more than one body.

This is another instance of Hutch walking in his distinctive forward-tilting way while in total silence (here, and in “Bloodbath”, also directed by Glaser).

The acoustics of the parking garage are employed well, Hutch’s shouting making dramatic echoes, and later the cannon boom of his gun continuing to roar for some time as a kind of evil background music.

Why would Jenny Brown be that Jenny Brown? It’s a common name but Hutch takes Huggy’s word for it and races off, despite how weird it seems that a successful model would get involved in a hit on a police officer. Her participation is a regrettable complication, and unnecessary, in my opinion. Did the writers think it wasn’t a true Starsky and Hutch episode without a pretty girl somewhere in it?

The intensive care nurse who preps the defibrillator has red fingernails, a professional no-no. This is the only detail that doesn’t quite ring true in an episode in which the nurses – mainly tired-looking, older women in cardigans – actually seem like the real deal.

Again we discern the details making this episode so magical: the doctor seems ready to stop and declare time of death when something makes him try once more.

Huggy is the only one with an appetite when Starsky is critically ill. Is it because he is the one that has the most optimism Starsky will be all right? Maybe this speaks to some small but crucial missing element in his relationship with the both of them. Another interpretation could be that a skinny man anxiously eating and a  fat man refusing food is the epitome of the kind of private anguish that turns the world upside down.

Why is Jenny Brown bailed out of jail, but the guy Hutch caught in garage knifed to death? Why didn’t they kill her as well?

Gunther’s lawyer Jonathan Wells, who probably isn’t afraid of much, is nevertheless so unnerved by Hutch’s murderous stare that he does what he says, tells his secretary to hold his calls. Hutch thanks Wells for clearing up “my confusion about prostitutes. Now I know that the high-priced ones can also wear three-piece suits.” Wells pretends not to be affected but you just know it’s going to bother him for years. I’m wracking my brain trying to think of a single instance in the four-year run of the series in which a lawyer has proved to be truly honorable. This adversarial relationship might be understandable given the defendant-vs-prosecutor legal system, with Starsky and Hutch being on the prosecution side, but the fact that I cannot come up with a single instance is troubling.

Hutch not only gets Huggy to pay for the call but gets him to read out Bates’ number even though it’s right in front of him. It’s the sort of behavior he’d usually inflict on Starsky.

Throughout the entire show Huggy is seen as confidante, helper, assistant and all-around friend. He’s the one who swipes the receptionist’s call sheet at the law firm that leads Hutch to Gunther, and, in the previous “Targets Without a Badge”, also stole the stationery with the incriminating letterhead (a talent for theft comes in handy). Hutch is thankful for his help but Dobey is unmoved. He just grunts when offered food and ignores him for the most part. The series ends with this relationship stuck where it was at the beginning: with antipathy on Dobey’s part, and confusion on Huggy’s.

Hutch’s joy with the computer print out is really something. You can imagine how good it feels to finally piece together all the shards of this painful case, down to Clayburn’s role in it, and it’s touching that Hutch feels urgently compelled to share this with his partner even though he knows he is unconscious and unresponsive. This is another interesting example of the growing usefulness of computer data bases in law enforcement, still in its infancy here. We see Hutch has been particularly interested since the earlier episode “Huggy Can’t Go Home”, and it makes sense, given his rather analytical nature.

Gunther gives a long soliloquy about the futility of seeking control over an uncontrollable world when there’s a “fly in our ointment”, a speech that goes right over Bates’ head. “I don’t follow,” he says, working on papers right next to the ironically-placed Rodin statuette, “The Thinker”. Gunther goes over to Bates and rests his arm and hand there – presumably meaning he is a thinking man, or at the very least thinking of something important – as Bates says sincerely but cluelessly, “I’m sorry.”

Gunther says to Bates, but almost more to himself, “I wish I had seen him sooner.” The him being the fly, who has a name. Gunther is blaming Bates for the breakdown of the west coast operations; presumably Bates has been responsible for hiring the shooters as well as Jenny Brown as intermediary. What he is about to do, in his mind, is not so much murder as it is a kind of downsizing. “Ah, providence, once again,” he says as Thomas comes in with the poisoned coffee, not only abstracting what he is about to do but distancing himself from it. This is an impersonal act of God, like a thunderbolt or fallen tree or the shifting of a number from one column to another.

Bates thinks there is always a choice in life, Gunther thinks the universe is immutable. This argument over free will vs fatalism has been going on a long time and here it’s perfectly stated. Gunther’s belief in the doctrine that all events are subject to fate and happen by unavoidable necessity – including his own murderous act – is a peculiar kind of psychosis, in my opinion, a kind of magical thinking which absolves the individual of all responsibility.

There’s an interesting echo of this issue of chance and culpability in the beginning of the episode when Huggy says “there’s always a chance (Starsky will live)” and Dobey agrees, but Hutch refuses to believe it. Occasionally I wonder if his statement that there’s nothing anyone can do to save Starsky is another case of lacerating self-loathing. This was all too good to be true. I was never worthy of this. It was always going to end badly. This is what happens when you trust somebody.

Bates should have been more suspicious when Gunther offers to pour the coffee, since it’s so out of character. But does he kill Bates simply because he hired inadequate people to do nasty jobs, or does he dislike Bates’ optimism, his lack of introspection? Perhaps Bates is killed as an example to the rest of them. Fail me, and this is what happens. Sometimes I wonder if Gunther is acting like a deranged parent who kills their own children to protect them from the imagined indignity of failure. One thinks of the horrifying story of Magda Goebbels killing her six children when it became clear the Nazi empire had fallen. There is certainly a Nazi element to James Gunther: his global reach, rigid rules, the climate of paralytic fear of his reign, the Darth-Vader-like grip he has on his upper echelons, the preoccupation with aristocracy, the bunker mentality, the cold-blooded cruelty.

Gunther’s rationalization for killing becomes even murkier when he observes Bates “would have gotten along fine” with his father. Gunther’s list of his father’s attributes (“Nothing can’t be fixed; just put your mind to it”) is admiring, yet he seems to dislike these features in Bates. Perhaps he is thinking the old-school man, like his father and now Bates, are antediluvian creatures incapable of living in this heartless, preordained modern world.

When Thomas the servant says, “he’s arrived, sir” Gunther nods and says “good, show him in”. There’s something in the way he speaks that seems to indicate he’s known all along Hutch was on his way to force a showdown, and that he, Gunther, would most likely be the loser.

Compare the two characters of C.J. Woodfield and James Gunther upon the time of their arrest (“Captain Dobey, You’re Dead”). Both have ostentatious wood-paneled offices. Both react calmly to the announcement of the lackey that “they’re here” and are elaborately polite when hearing the information. Both take a revolver in their hands as if contemplating suicide or shooting their way out of trouble. And finally, following the arrest, the Miranda Rights are given to both men as a kind of triumph of the democratic system.

Imagine what Hutch is thinking when he comes into the room and sees Bates dead in the chair holding a bloody coffee cup, and Gunther talking about him as if he’s alive.

“You gonna kill me?” Hutch says quietly, eyes blazing. “Try it.” It’s not bravado, it’s a dare. Hutch can’t be stopped at this point. He’s on an adrenaline-pumping half-crazy high, and it makes him both calm and brutally sure. It’s a long trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and he’s been boiling the entire way. Imagine him on that airplane. Imagine the poor guy sitting next to him trying to make conversation.

Hutch believes he is beyond harm at this point, even though Gunther is armed, as are the ten or so goons you know are just outside his door. This is reminiscent of the earlier scene in the elevator when he says to Huggy that they may have killed Starsky but they will never kill him. It reminds me of many ways throughout the series in which Hutch says he is the brain of the partnership while Starsky is the “not too inconsiderable” brawn. We can see this duality in many ways, not only through Hutch’s teasing but through Starsky’s various aches and pains, his toothaches and hunger pangs, his often-remarked-upon hedonism, his general demeanor of either sleepiness or grouchiness or comical good moods, his full-frontal approach to problem solving (vividly illustrated in the funny locked-in-an-airtight-room scene in “Omaha Tiger”). Of the two, Starsky is seen as physical, or corporeal, while Hutch keeps himself aloof and more cerebral through deliberate acts of withholding such as fasting, strict routine, preoccupation with arts and culture, and most potently through a kind of self-imposed isolation, a wall of sarcasm and disdain. Knowing this as we do, Hutch’s dare to Gunther is imbued with a transcendent, almost spiritual power. He is saying, in effect, you can kill the body but you can never kill the mind.

Whether or not this is true, or if Hutch thinks it’s true, is debatable. At that moment it is psychic armor, a tool for surviving the most difficult few moments of his life.

The arrest of Gunther is quiet and matter-of-fact, more sad than triumphant. It doesn’t really matter to Hutch whether he cracks this case or not. The damage has already been done and arresting Gunther is a come-down, a sweeping of junk into the garbage can. The moment Hutch gets Gunther in handcuffs he loses all interest in him. So what, then, is sweet revenge? It can only be the restoration of the partnership itself despite all attempts to put it asunder.

The tag is absolutely wonderful, and a fitting cap to the series. Filming notes: The one significant difference between the filmed episode and the original script is that in the script Starsky is up and around on crutches. During the first run-through of this scene, the champagne bottle Fargas stuffed into his pants exploded, soaking him completely, much to everyone’s amusement. By the time the scene was actually shot, the foursome (and the crew) were just about as drunk as they were playing. Even without this information we can see the mixed joy and poignancy in their faces, the acknowledgement of something wonderful come to an end, with no one knowing what the future will bring. Apparently the water kept spraying the scene even after they cut, and a drunken food fight with the crew spontaneously broke out. They finally changed clothes and had an impromptu party. Glaser kept the bullet-holed jacket, and both he and Soul kept the champagne glasses they toast each other with in the tag.

Is the feast that Hutch, Dobey and Huggy bring Starsky meant to fulfill the ping-pong bet, or is Starsky going to make Hutch take him out again?

Hutch is already very drunk when he comes into Starsky’s room with the stuffed veal under a silver dome. He’s had to bribe an orderly, and makes a joke about “turning him into a bottle of beer” slurring the line until they both start giggling like maniacs. I’m guessing the previous scene went something like this: visiting hours are over but the three visitors don’t want to leave, they’re having too good a time. There’s champagne involved, smuggled in to toast Starsky’s miraculous recovery. Quite a lot of champagne and mostly consumed by Hutch, who been through so much fear, grief, elation, rage, and exhaustion he now just wants to get drunk. Hutch brings up the ping-pong bet and says he could make good on it now. “Now?” Starsky will say dubiously. “Now!” Hutch says, and then commands Dobey to bring the appetizers, and Huggy to bring more booze and “maybe something to make it look more festive in here.” Huggy’s solution is the ridiculous and possibly life-threatening lamp. He himself will provide the main course. “At one o’clock in the morning?” Starsky says, but Hutch has made up his mind and nothing will dissuade him. Starsky takes four painkillers and lies back to wait. And … action.

Good thing there wasn’t an oxygen tank in the room when Huggy strikes a match. Would have been a whole lot worse than water coming down.

And Starsky and Hutch are reunited, “undercover” detectives, and all is right with the world.

Episode 88: Starsky vs. Hutch

May 21, 2012

Starsky and Hutch’s jealous quarrel over policewoman Kira interferes with finding a serial killer.

Kira: Joyce Ingalls, Joey Webster: Richard Lynch, Arlene: Topo Swope, Carol: Yvonne Craig, Madame Bouvet: Corinne Calvet, Susan: Susan Miller, Mr. Arnold: Frederic Cook, Minnie: Marki Bey. Written By: Rick Edelstein, Directed By: Peter Levin


Of all the episodes in the canon, this is the most troubling, and complex, and will probably take the longest to sort out. Not because the plot is difficult to decipher – in fact, as if to compensate it’s as simple as can be, recycled from bits and pieces of the two manias, Quadro and Disco, with “Death Notice” along for the ride – but because Hutch’s behavior throughout is so impenetrable. It’s almost as if you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Yes, there’s a killer close by, but the violence in Hutch seems far, far worse.

This is not the only time Starsky and Hutch have battled over the affections of a woman. In “The Action”, “Heroes”, “Foxy Lady”, “Rosey Malone”,“Class in Crime” and “Targets” to name a few, there is much light-hearted sparring, but it’s more about the chase than the capture, and more about each other than the woman. Sometimes during these horns-locking competitions you get the feeling it’s more competitive fun than anything else. This is the only example of one staking a claim on what the other already has, a truly nightmarish mirror-image of the time sunny Abigail accidentally wandered into the wrong camp (“Deadly Imposter”). For years Hutch has been knocking Starsky’s food, insulting his car and his clothes and slighting his intelligence, all in fun we know. Men have a complex and even admirable way of hiding real affection in plain sight through teasing and mock-fighting and Hutch is very good at this, but this threesome is not one of those times, a case of one-upmanship gotten out of hand. This is out-and-out betrayal. And worse, Hutch knows his transgression is wrong and is helpless to stop himself.

There is a strange sempiternal quality to this episode, as if it exists in some alternate universe in which decades and eras coalesce and clash. Hutch spends most of it looking like a “On the Waterfront” longshoreman in a pea coat and cap, and since most of the episode takes place at night there is a featureless gloom to the briefly seen exteriors that would make a howling coyote or gangster saloon car not out of place. Madame Bouvet is dressed in 1940s fashion – crimson lipstick, mink stole, pearls and vintage dresses – as if she walked out of a George Cuckor film.

This nod to earlier eras makes thematic sense, as taxi dance halls, in which men pay to dance with women, had its heyday back in the first decade of the twentieth century and by now are almost extinct. In these venues, men purchased tickets and presented them to each woman he wanted to dance with, and the tickets were redeemed by the end of the evening, with the woman getting a percentage of her take. It was frequently an innocent pastime although many women may have engaged sexually with their customers (it’s certainly encouraged here). There is now only one taxi dance hall in existence in Los Angeles, and it was at one time called the Roseland Roof. I wonder if the Golden Lady Ballroom is based on it.

One of the interesting aspects to the taxi dance hall is that, from its inception at the turn of the 19th century, it attracted a real mix of society, blue-collar workers, new immigrants and the socially isolated and disabled, plus a few toffs along for a bit of slumming. Joey Webster pretty well encompasses all these elements: he’s lonely, poor, an injured ex-serviceman on the margins of society.

The “Dancing Girls” post-it note signs slapped onto the building should be a clue that all is insubstantial, in danger of collapse.

This is the only episode to deal overtly with the Vietnam War. Starsky mentions being in the army (“The Plague”) which would have made him eligible for the latter stages of the conflict, but the horrors of the war have never been addressed until now (although Sonny MacPherson from “Survival” suffers from what they used to call shell-shock but is also consistent with the early stages of Alzheimer’s). This is a particularly relevant episode, as it deals with the aftermath of war on the psyches of the soldiers forced to fight it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not even defined in the years following the messy end of the Vietnam War but Webster may certainly be suffering its effects (although I hasten to add that homicidal violence is not one of the symptoms of this terrible condition).

Casting notes: Richard Lynch appears again as a psychotic who is both mentally and physically disabled (here, and in “Quadromania”). Normally such a recent appearance is jarring but he looks so different in both episodes he’s in I keep forgetting it’s the same actor.

This episode has some elements of a contemporary horror being played out in New York, the Son of Sam murders. In that case, as in this episode, the killer is motivated by a hatred of women (sadly, this is not uncommon), lives alone and struggles with mental issues, is tortured by events in his past, was a Vietnam War vet and deeply scarred by the experience, stalks and kills women with a particular color of hair (David Berkowitz went after long brunette hair, this guy goes after blondes), uses letters and notes to taunt the police, and is captured due to a little bit of luck rather than skill. There’s even a dog peripherally involved (Sam’s dog in the Son of Sam case, and the one here).

The hostility between Starsky and Hutch has been brewing for some time by the time we join them, which makes it even more bitter. In earlier episodes we witness the initial spark of competitiveness – for example when the guys bicker over Chris Phelps in “Heroes” or Lisa Kendricks in “Foxy Lady” – because we meet her at the same time they do. Of course we know men can be competitive with each other over many things, and the affections of a woman is one of those things. But here the fighting has a tired, entrenched feel that is new and deeply troubling.

Hutch is immediately hostile when Starsky approaches. “You’re a little too late with a little too little,” he says. It’s worth noting Starsky doesn’t do anything to ignite Hutch’s aggression, instead wearily acknowledging it, like a song he’s heard over and over again. He seems victimized rather than antagonized – instead of saying something like “get your hands off my girlfriend” or even something lighter like “you sure are handsy today” all he does he shrug and try to talk about the case. This passivity will be useful to us later in the pivotal scene in Hutch’s apartment when we see that Starsky’s lack of engagement is part of the larger problem.

Kira is an interesting character. Because of her beauty – and is Joyce Ingalls a knockout or what – she is probably used to getting what she wants and when she wants it. She’s one of those maddening people who seem carefree and frank but in fact are manipulative, power-hungry, and insensitive. She slyly dispenses information on a need-to-know basis, keeping both Starsky and Hutch largely in the dark as to her motives, inclinations and beliefs. Personally, I think she’s turned on by danger and enjoys causing discord. However, I wonder if she is really intended to be as repulsive a person as we find her now; the average viewer today is more attuned to psychological nuances and can casually – if somewhat inaccurately – throw around terms like “borderline personality disorder” and “narcissist”, all terms that might apply to Kira. But that kind of awareness was not in the minds of the millions of internet-deprived people watching when this series originally aired, and they may have thought of her as more feisty than really liable in any sense of the word, less monster than “free spirit” with every right to act as she does.

Let’s speculate as to how Kira dropped like a flaming meteorite into the lives of Starsky and Hutch. Since Starsky and Kira have been dating a month, it seems unlikely she has been seconded for this particular “Golden Lady Killer” assignment from another department within Los Angeles. Neither Starsky nor Hutch seem to have any connection with other departments within the force (for instance, they know nothing about Lizzie Thorpe, a sergeant in Vice, even though as a woman detective she would be conspicuous). Their workplace socializing is insular, and this operation is only days old, which most likely means Kira is a new detective recently transferred from another division, possibly from another city altogether. Speculate on the troubles she causes, and has caused in the past, with the other males in the force, both here at BCPD and in other departments.

Starsky asks Kira “what has two eyes, two arms, and is crazy about you.” She says, “I give up.” Starsky says, “I wish you would.” Are we to imply from this they have yet to sleep together? If so, this serves to inflame the situation even more, if Hutch eventually sleeps with her first, thus adding sexual humiliation on top of Starsky’s anger and betrayal.

Starsky remarks that Hutch is supposed to be guarding Susan that night. Kira says “lucky Susan.” This is just one of many times Kira says something hurtful or tactless while smiling or laughing.

The police realize there’s a killer targeting blondes. How do they know this, since only two women have been killed? Later on he leaves a note. Has he left notes before describing his mission, including an obsession with hair color?

Hutch is staying at Kira’s house, “guarding” her. Starsky is supposed to be guarding Susan. So what is he doing at the station talking to Minnie?

Kira is not much of a cop if she can’t get away from an unarmed man with a dog.

Hutch lunges out of his hiding place to accost the dog walker, the lecherous Mr. Arnold who doesn’t deserve his beautiful German Shepherd, but he keeps his gun holstered as he shoves it into Arnold’s back. This is extremely eccentric on his part. Afterward, panting with adrenaline, he says “for a minute there, I thought we almost had him.” Really? And you left your gun in its holster? Not likely. What is Hutch playing at?

“What’s a Starsky?” Hutch says when Kira tries to ask him about their schedules. This is about as low as Hutch ever sinks and just hearing it is painful.

What does Minnie really mean when she tells Starsky, “Mother Minnie must have struck the missing chord”? Does she mean she’s hit the mark, or does it mean she’s uncovered something? Mixing metaphors causes more confusion than clarity. She then asks about Kira, “You carrying a torch, Starsk?” Carrying a torch means to feel un-reciprocated love, but Starsky and Kira are dating. It’s only recently Hutch has moved in between them, so carrying a torch isn’t exactly what this is. It’s jealousy, plain and simple. Minnie then asks, “Hey Starsk, is this thing for real with Kira, or are you just playing?” Starsky walks out the door without answering, mostly because he doesn’t talk about his private feelings but also because Minnie obviously isn’t expecting an answer because she yells it across a room crowded with other officers. What’s Starsky supposed to do, answer honestly with about eight sets of ears listening in?

When Minnie refers to herself as “Mother”, it pretty much underscores how she feels about her years-long quasi-flirtation with Starsky we have been watching with amusement in six separate episodes. As in, she has zero romantic inclinations. It also implies she may feel “motherly” not only to Starsky but to the squad room in general, that she is in some way endowed with extra powers of insight. It would be fun to watch the various meter maids and young female patrol officers benefiting from her brassy, smart-alecky wit and advice.

Here, and throughout the episode, is more of the symbolic thunder. Especially obvious is the scene in which Starsky waits in the Torino for the dancers to exit the ballroom. The thunder sounds are so abstract as to be part of the soundtrack.

Hutch, when he returns home to find Starsky sleeping on his couch, seems cheery enough. But there’s an edge that comes close to acute anxiety. He makes facile remarks and bangs around in his kitchen like he’s on top of the world but anyone can see how uncomfortable he is. From cruel jokes to cavalier attitude Hutch seems itchy, uncomfortable in his skin, burning with equal amounts of desire and guilt. The question is: why? Why Kira (Hutch would have his pick of any number of beautiful women), and why now (in the middle of a stressful case, with a lot on the line)? An answer to this would be extremely helpful as we navigate our way through these dark and dangerous waters.

Here, Starsky’s passivity is even more pronounced. Seemingly unable to directly confront his partner about his fears regarding Kira, he instead tries to talk about procedure and schedules. Hutch mocks him throughout until Starsky gives up and leaves. Hutch then, symbolically, burns himself.

Hutch points out the spelling in the threatening note (“spy” and “dye”) and asks Dobey what he thinks it means. Dobey says “it means he’s a bad speller.” “No kidding,” says Hutch. No it doesn’t, people. Anyone, particularly a law enforcement professional, should recognize this as blatantly provocative, the writer of the note mocking the police by providing clues much like the Zodiac Killer did.

The idiocy continues: Hutch and Dobey force Mme. Bouvet out of the office, telling her “bonjour, bonjour”, which everyone knows is “hello, hello.” They should have been saying “au revior.” Was Hutch asleep at his desk the year he took French?

Starsky tells Kira, when she asks about his take on what’s going on, “I figure after eight years on the street, you learn to take things as they come … I figure you come into this life alone and you go out alone, in between try to experience everything as it comes, expect nothing, don’t take anything too seriously.” This may be a direct violation of what he would say to Hutch in regards to “me and thee”, even though he has often expressed similar feelings throughout the run of the series, presenting himself, particularly in contradiction to Hutch, as self-contained, lighthearted, accepting, and in need of very little. So why does it now sound so hollow? Starsky tells Kira, “I got over the possessive stage years ago.” This all sounds more like guarding against inevitable hurt rather than offering a heartfelt confession. So when Kira laughingly tells him he’s full of it, is she right?

We get a glimpse of Kira’s powers of persuasion when she tells Starsky she can see something in him no one else can. Apparently we are to believe she has x-ray vision, able to see through his “silly smoke-screen”. He’s testing her, and she can prove it: rather than a callous cop, apparently he has a “heart that’s so full of love it just lights up this entire room.” Starsky is impressed, and more than that, intensely gratified. He’s been down in the dumps so long – feeling second-best, betrayed and confused – and here someone making him feel special. Kira is plying her trade along with every other scammer with a cardboard sign and crystal ball promising to read your mind. For an intelligent person like Kira it doesn’t take much more than a combination of luck and keen observation to divine someone’s secrets, and Starsky’s secret is that he has become desperate for approval, to be told that he is a good person and worthy of love. For most people this is a basic requirement, nothing secretive about it, but Starsky is not most people. He’s never needed reassurance before. He’s always had the upper hand, and I’m guessing that upper hand applies to everything in his life: job, relationships, career. Look at the way brother Nick is the one begging for attention, the various girlfriends who are both pliable and agreeable; look at his sterling reputation, the awards and citations. This is a man who has set his own pace in the world. It’s not that life has been kinder to him than others, and it’s not that he hasn’t faced terrible adversity, because he has. But he has always faced it on his own terms. My opinion is that his partnership with Hutch is so profoundly important because it’s the one aspect of his life in which he is not compelled by either external or internal forces to be stronger and better. He has found someone who is so equal to him that they might as well be one. But now his world view has been broken, he has lost the upper hand and has become vulnerable to self-doubt for maybe the first time in his life. So he is forced to look outside himself for assurance, which Kira seizes on with a kind of predatory skill. This may not have been her primary motivation but my belief is she relishes the idea of being the one with insight, whose loving encouragements seem almost supernaturally sensitive. It’s easy to control the situation you yourself have created, isn’t it? What happens is nothing less than a form of emotional enslavement. It’s an old conjuror’s trick and an especially cruel one, and boy is Kira ever an expert at it.

If Kira plays the tender and sweet card with Starsky, she plays a different game with Hutch. With him, she goes straight for seduction (lots of grabbing and whispering, and she shakes out her hair for him in a later scene). Does she guess this is what will work better with him or she realize there’s no out-performing Hutch in the cerebral department?

Hutch is preening in front of a mirror at the Golden Lady Ballroom, and something drops from his pocket. What is it?

Joey Webster obviously attends the ballroom very often, possibly every night. And yet he’s never under suspicion. He talks about his disability benefits and plays games with the girls – pool and backgammon – rather than dancing with them. Does his disability – and hinted-at sexual impotence – make him less of a suspect to the women, and the police?

It’s a treat to see legendary actor William Sanderson as an impatient denizen of the dance floor.

Hutch says he hasn’t seen this side of Starsky before. “An efficient cop?” Starsky says. “No, a stuffed shirt,” Hutch says nastily. But later Hutch calls himself old-fashioned, which any thesaurus will tell you is just a variation on stuffed shirt.

Hutch watches Starsky drive off to guard Kira. He says to himself in the car, “Keep your mitts off, Starsky.” Now, we can have fun with this by pretending he’s means for Kira to leave Starsky alone – in other words, excising the comma from his statement – but in fact what he’s really praying for is that Starsky stay away from Kira. And knowing they are dating, how does he justify his own demands?

The next thing Hutch says aloud – and he really is an entertaining self-talker (“Bloodbath”, “Fatal Charm”, et al) – is “Six-foot-two, eyes of blue.” Of course the reference is to the lyric of the popular song by Ray Henderson, but he is talking about himself. We know this because he has added a foot to the original lyric’s reference of height. The question is – why?

Starsky follows Kira, Hutch follows Susan. Unbeknownst to them, Joey follows the one girl wearing the wig. Obviously Starsky and Hutch would both know there is a third blonde dancer here, unless this girl lied to police, which seems to me to be extremely unlikely, given her life hangs in the balance. So why isn’t she being protected?

Webster continues his imaginary surveillance of blondes, talking to himself while sitting on his bed polishing a boot, military style. His intensity at a feverish peak, the camera pulls in to him as he continues polishing while verbally speculating on his quarry, and his motions become masturbatory as he speaks. This is a good detail emphasized by director Peter Levin.

Joey’s fixation stems from being betrayed by a honey trap while in Vietnam, a blonde infiltrator he says mocked his manhood and then plunged a knife into his back (yes, yes, the parallels to Starsky’s situation is remarkable). But why would “blondness” be such a dominant factor in his story, particularly as we’re talking about a country whose citizens have uniformly black hair? “No blondes in Vietnam,” he later says to Kira, “unless they dye their hair.” Here, his reasoning breaks down. Where would Vietnamese women get dye during a war (they would most likely wear wigs, if at all), and wouldn’t bleached hair make them look mighty odd if they’re Asian and supposed to melt into the background? How does that work, do you think? Isn’t irregularity an anathema to a spy?

What most likely happened is Joey engaged the services of a Vietnamese prostitute and probably instructed her to wear a blonde wig (otherwise, why would she, since such an aberration might turn off more customers than it turned on). The wig, I’m guessing, was meant to mitigate her “otherness” as an Asian, helping her assume the role of someone he was more familiar with, possibly a girl back home. Whether she was an actual VC spy or not remains unclear. It’s also likely he was already acting strangely – strung out, which was very common in Vietnam, or something else – and got rough with her, and she stabbed him in self defense. The spy stuff, therefore, is pure paranoia, and nothing else.

Using these suppositions, we can now draw parallels between Webster’s spurt of violence, brought on by psychosis, and the romantic complications suffered by Starsky and Hutch. Webster is unable to distinguish between the original girl who betrayed him (whether her slight was imaginary or real), the “spy” he encountered years later in wartime (whether imaginary or real), and the innocent girls at the taxi dance hall (whose “innocence”, in the loosely-defined world of prostitution, is also in question). In his fevered mind everything boils down to immorality of women, their basic untrustworthiness. To him, every woman is waiting for the moment to side a knife between his ribs. While you could easily put Kira in this category, I think that’s immaterial to the important correlation between Webster’s situation and Starsky and Hutch. Which is the breakdown of trust. And I think it has nothing to do with sexual betrayal, and although sexual betrayal is presented here as the catalyst, it is actually the fallout. The cracks have to do with any long term relationship that has become stagnant, vulnerable to outside forces (in Starsky and Hutch’s case, the unending bleakness of their caseload leading to depression), culminating the terrifying fear that the one person you thought you knew may not have your back. Which is every bit a delusion as the one Webster is suffering.

In what may be the single most challenging, complex scene in the entire series, Starsky and Hutch have their talk about Kira. However, it’s not really a conversation, because men in general and Starsky and Hutch in particular are not very good at that. In a way it’s an inverse of the confrontation following the murder of Gillian. In that instance Hutch punches Starsky, which allows for an explosive release of rage and grief, and Starsky responds by holding him. Physical confrontation allows them both to reach a settlement quickly and naturally. Here, they attempt to use language, which puts Hutch at an advantage, but barely. Both flounder in lies, deceit, taunts and inadequate explanations. Nothing is solved, or even properly defined. Starsky uses the shocking word “love” to describe his feelings, the first and only time in the series. Hutch is astonished – not by the idea Starsky might love someone (there’s Terry, after all) but because he used the word. In this scene, as in the scene in Gillian, what is not said carries far more weight than what is said. Here, though, it isn’t physical brutality but rather largely symbolic gestures. Case in point: Hutch spits out the coffee Starsky gives him, recognized in all cultures as the ultimate in disrespect. Starsky then brushes Hutch’s sleeve at a nearly-invisible coffee splash,which is basically affection in disguise. Hutch bolts and Starsky says – shyly, sorrowfully, and most importantly completely inadequately – “thanks for stopping by.”

Why do you suppose Hutch laughs and repeats it when Starsky admits he was jealous? It seem, oddly, like relief. As if he feels he has finally broken through a wall.

At first Starsky breaks into Hutch’s place to talk about Kira, and now Hutch breaks into Starsky’s place for the same reason. Both private spaces are violated, since neither man has been invited, and yet both are welcomed, at least initially. In both scenes, Hutch throws something at Starsky to begin proceedings. Both offer the other coffee, neither drinks what is offered. In both scenes, the partner who “gets” Kira is cheerful, while the frustrated other is prosecutorial. Both use work as an excuse to leave. In the first instance, Starsky refuses to “work out whatever the problem is”. In the second, he also refuses. Both times his refusal makes things worse for Hutch.

The script by series veteran writer and director Rick Edelstein (who wrote other fine episodes like “Manchild on the Streets”, “Partners”, “Body Worth Guarding” and “Black and Blue”, among others) is like a treasure map, with many tantalizing clues to be deciphered, half of which are in code (and with significant sections torn away). Here is what the map actually says: Hutch wants what Starsky has, and takes it away from him, with predictably terrible results. But is this the correct interpretation or an arrow pointing in the wrong direction? Even though my primary supposition is that Starsky and Hutch are at the end of a long depressive drought, I suspect there are other ways of looking at it, and I offer four very different paths to follow, even if they get you lost in this dark, dark forest.

1. The Suicidal Proposition: Hutch has been watching his partner spiral into an all-powerful infatuation with an unstable woman. Possibly unconsciously, he understands Kira as a destructive element who must be erased from the equation. So he sabotages the affair even though it may ruin their relationship forever because he feels he is saving him.

2. The Substitute: Hutch is using Kira as a conduit or surrogate as a way to get to Starsky, whom he feels is slipping beyond his reach. By sharing Kira, he can at least have a part of what he really wants. Power, indivisibility, whatever you want to call it. (A variant of this is The Holy Acrimony, in which Hutch finally snaps under a years-long resentment over Starsky’s peaceable self-containment, which has found its definitive form in the Perfect Girlfriend.) In both these scenarios, Hutch deliberately wrecks something dear to Starsky as a way of convincing himself he retains ultimate power to define and control the relationship.

3. The Last Staw hypothesizes Hutch is having a nervous breakdown, and so his actions are those of someone not in their right mind. Joey Webster, therefore, becomes a kind of mirror of his own struggles as he suffers seizures of murderous rage against those he feels have deceived him. Joey is still “on the job”, believing he is carrying out orders from a higher power, and so is Hutch, succumbing to a delusion that he must hurt an innocent person as a way of expunging his own darkness, and to right an invisible wrong. Hutch is on his own blond-killing spree, only the blond he wants to kill is himself. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds: Hutch throughout this episode is irrational, emotionally unbalanced, and agitated.

4. Lastly is The Svengali, which takes both Starsky and Hutch right out of the equation. Here the blame lies solely with Kira, who has engineered this entire conflict through an extended campaign of subliminal suggestion. This too isn’t altogether implausible, as a cunning psychopath can manipulate people into doing things they would never do otherwise. Starsky and Hutch are overtired, depleted by their recent battles with the department, and enter Kira, bored and looking for excitement.

“I’m having a hard time handling it!” Hutch shouts at Kira, when asked to suggest she is more like a man than Hutch is prepared to admit. He then says “I’m a one-man, one-woman kind of guy.” Is this true? What would Kathy Marshall say, or Sally Hagen, or the more than one woman he admits making love to in a single week? How does Hutch define “serious”, anyway? This “old-fashioned” attitude has been brought up more than once: he tells ex-wife Vanessa the same thing.

Kira says Starsky and Hutch are “two very different human beings” it’s possible to love “in a different way”. This is an interesting distinction for her to make and the absolute antithesis of my own thoughts on the matter, since I think Kira loves both men in the same way: that is, as a narcissist does. Satisfaction can only be achieved through recognition of, and submission to, one’s own powers. But of course it could also imply Kira is more maternal with Starsky, and more of a mistress with Hutch, if that’s how she wants to play it. Is she protective with one, and adventurous with the other? Does she see this as two different kinds of love? This extreme kind of compartmentalization does make sense with someone with her pathology.

Kira is wild-eyed and excited when she proclaims her love for both Starsky and Hutch. Rather than some quasi-liberal free-love philosophy this hints at a deviant sexual kink. Hutch tells her she’s confusing, which is the understatement of the century. She then tells one more whopper of a lie: “life’s a lot simpler than you’d like to admit to.”

Starsky stops abruptly in traffic, causing a tailgaiter to honk belligerently. The honking goes on for some time. The other guy is using the car horn to shout “you’re an asshole!” in a way Starsky is never able to, using any means. Hutch behaves horrendously. This is not up for debate. But why does Starsky play it like he does? Typically a masterful alpha-male type, throughout this episode he prevaricates, hesitates and otherwise holds himself in check. Never once does he accuse his partner or demands Kira be exclusive.

Dobey seems to be suggesting every regular of the ballroom will be hauled in for questioning following the murder. This is predicated on the idea the murderer will immediately immediately return, which is a little optimistic.

Procedural Problems: Harding, the scene-of-crimes investigator, shows Hutch a piece of rubber from the house. He’s carrying it in his bare hands and it isn’t even in a plastic bag.

It’s a nice detail when the shot goes from a closeup of a grenade to Starsky angrily pulling the tab on a beer. Although it isn’t exactly wise to look as homicidal as he does if you’re trying to blend into the dancing crowd.

“You really dance good, you know,” says one of the dancers. This goes against everything we know about Hutchinson, which means either Hutch has been practicing (which I would pay to see) or the dancer is trying to get a good tip for her services.

It’s great that Starsky and Hutch must work together to disarm Webster, one to deliver a kick, one to throw the grenade away (although one hopes no one’s walking on the street at that moment).

The grenade goes off and Kira immediately crawls to Joey without a look to Starsky or Hutch in order to comfort him. What might this tell Starsky and Hutch? And what does it tell us? When Kira sees Joey injured and covered in dust she shows more compassion in that moment than she has during the entire episode. My guess is there’s a substantial egomaniacal element here: when someone is in pain she feels compelled to prove she alone can make it better.

Tag: as with the episode as a whole, the tag is excessively complicated. There is a distinct shift in energy from the gloom to lightness. The pacing is quickened, the jokes have begun. Starsky tells Huggy, “I have a beautiful blond coming to meet me.” Enter Hutch, whose beauty and blondness is duly noted by Huggy. Both men are dressed exactly alike in black leather jackets, black turtlenecks and jeans – this should tell us something – but appear to still be in confrontation mode. Hutch makes exactly the same drinks request to Huggy, right down to the wording. The antagonism, we soon discover, is a bit of theater the two have cooked up between them, although the twinship of clothing and drink orders seems to be unconscious. For an episode in which a lot is made of concepts of separation and difference and a partnership torn asunder, the fact that they appear in the tag as the same person is profoundly significant – and very funny. But the question is why? Why the elaborate set-up, when Kira isn’t even there? Is this for their own amusement? For Huggy’s? Or is it to rile Huggy to the extent he will inadvertently play his part when it comes time to deceive Kira?

It appears they have, outside our periphery, already reconciled. How this happened we are never to know and it’s maddening to be left out of this conversation. What excuses would Hutch have to offer to make Starsky forgive him?

“Whatever happens, I can handle it,” Hutch says. “So can I,” Starsky responds in his Bogey voice.

Kira enters, looking manic, and the play begins. There is a bewildering repartee with Huggy still in the translator’s chair, in which Hutch quotes Shakespeare’s plaintive “The Merchant of Venice” and then Starsky tells Kira, “We’re tired of being treated like objects, having our lives determined for us by women.” Hutch responds, “Loved for our bodies and not for our minds.”

This statement is very interesting, and one wonders if this just posturing for Kira, if they really feel this way, or if they’re playing a joke on her by endorsing this traditionally feminine complaint in the same way Kira endorsed the traditional masculine one of adulterous behavior.

All this back-and-forthing causes Kira’s power to leak away like air from a punctured tire. “We decided if there’s a decision to be made,” Starsky says – narrowing his eyes in what seems like a Clint Eastwood impression – “then we’re going to make it.” We, note – not you. The circle has closed again, all outsiders forced away, the men have the big stick now. Also, this is the third shift in “voice” in as many minutes: Eastwood, Bogart and Shakespeare have all been used to convey information. This is another hint that plain old talking is very difficult for both men, which makes me believe Hutch probably secured Starsky’s forgiveness by arm wrestling.

Kira asks how the problem can be solved. Hutch says, “after a long deliberation we’ve finally settled it.”
They both get up, and turn on each other like a duel in a western. They come close to each other, then turn to Kira. Now, here is where it gets murky – again. Are they suggesting she take them both simultaneously? Or are they asking her to choose one or the other? Call me dense, but I honestly cannot tell which it is. Kira looks at them. “No,” she says. “No.”
This firm refusal (is it my imagination or is it tinged with fear?) goes against her earlier behavior, as she seemed to have no trouble at all loving both men in “different ways”. There is a somewhat comical suggestion this is a purely sexual offer (a sort of let’s go, right now, there’s a room above The Pits we can use) but I doubt this is the case – it seems too simple in an episode as complex as this one is. Whatever it is, it is something they know Kira would never accept. Her vehement response is not only expected, but desired.
“Okay,” they say happily, and leave with arms around each other.

Episode 87: Targets Without a Badge, Part 3

May 2, 2012

Allison May (Laura Anderson): Hilary Thompson, Thomas May (Uncle Frank): Bert Remsen, Judge McClellan: Peter MacLean, James Gunther: William Prince, Dep. DA Clayburn: Ken Kercheval, Agent Smithers: Richard Herd, Agent Waldheim: Angus Duncan, Soldier: Robert Tessier, Karen: Lee Bryant, Bates: Alex Courtney, Policewoman: Barbara Ann Walters, Mr. Gore: Darryl Zwerling, Miss Evers: Catherine Campbell, Flower Girl: Sandie Newton, Blaze: Gino Conforti, Nancy: Joan Roberts, Fred Oates: Peter Jason, Marty: Chuck Hicks, Alex: Charles Picerni, Mardean: Troas Hayes, Mayor: Dave Shelley, Mrs. Swayder: LaWanda Page, Dodds: Ben Young. Written By: Joe Reb Moffly, Steven Nalevansky and Jeffrey Bloom, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.

With the current economic crisis in the United States and around the world this episode, and the story arc as a whole, is curiously prophetic. Unscrupulous mortgage dealers are not your typical evildoers in this series or on television generally, and so it’s fascinating the writers decided to concentrate on this silent and deadly enemy as the apex of the crime meridian. Yes, drugs were the first symptom, but the disease itself is far worse – and so much greater – than that. James Gunther’s financial scheme is reponsible for the death, not of body, but soul, in the form of poverty, humiliation, economic vulnerability and loss of faith in the democratic and judicial process.

Starsky and Hutch have never needed Huggy more than they do now. They’ve been stripped of all authority and are aware they’re sinking deeper into a miasma of a case. So why does Hutch treat Huggy in such an imperious manner? He demands Huggy get a suit and go rooting around in people’s private business with nothing more than a terse “Car. Suit. Salesman. Refinancing.” Unless he knows Huggy would be embarrassed by anything as mushy as a thank you, this seems like questionable behavior.

The Man Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: In the following scene Hutch redeems himself by approaching Mardean with his usual emotional directness, but here his gentle voice is particularly effective as he urges her to talk about “how we felt, how we still feel.” He’s not afraid to face difficult things head-on but somehow he does it in a way that makes the other person feel intimately included rather than confronted. Sometimes I think Hutch would make as great a therapist as he is a detective, someone who understands and has experienced what it is to be in torment, but who is not the least bit squeamish about it. In this way he manages to get her to their side by being, I think, authentically himself: powerful, insightful and brave.

It’s another fun-filled trip to the Marlborough Health Club (“The Action”), and Starsky and Hutch’s four – count ‘em, four – trips to a sauna as part of a criminal investigation (“Pilot”, “Murder on Voodoo Island”, “The Action” and here).

Starsky and Hutch should have stayed behind to question Alex and Marty thoroughly after the beating at the Trojan Spa. As mere civilians, are they afraid of getting into trouble? Are Alex and Marty too beat up to be coherent? What’s the reason for this seemingly lack of common sense? Still, the guys deserve credit for fighting in nothing but towels, especially Hutch, whose cover-up during the brief conversation beforehand is what I would call in dangerously negligent.

Am I missing something? Where did the hillbilly truck come from?

Hutch comments to Starsky, “It’s a pity that even after four years, it doesn’t get any better.” To what is Hutch referring? Time as cops? Being yelled at again by federal agents? Their contracts with Aaron Spelling?

The agents are easily dismissed by the guys, who suggest they get a warrant. This is the first indication that being freelancers without the badge is, in fact, to their benefit.

“I’m all for doing my part to support mass transit, but this is ridiculous”, crabs Hutch as they exit yet another bus. They are then subjected to two more so-called humiliations: the crappy truck is towed, and the street cleaner douses them in water. This merry-go-round of different vehicles, all worse than the last (culminating with the pimp-mobile), is an interesting subplot. The writers seem to think it’s important to divest Starsky and Hutch of the Torino just as things get really bad. This begs the question: is this missing Torino (shiny, fast, eye-catching, robust) an instrument of both literal and figurative power? Without it, they seem comically at the mercy of whatever degradation the world throws at them.

Just how does Huggy pilfer the stationery from Capricorn Mortgage? This extraordinary bit of detective work is never explained. Also, despite what Huggy says, isn’t it unusual for a simple piece of company letterhead to have on it a list of both the board of directors, founding members and operation officers?

When Huggy makes a racial comment to “Blondie” regarding his chances of having a relative on the corporate board it seems to come out of nowhere, but perhaps is understandable.

Cringe-o-Meter is high when Huggy sets his glass of orange juice down on pool table’s felt, a pool table no-no.

It’s the same female police officer with the attitude problem again, and here the merry background music alerts us to the fact that this is supposed to be the amusing snippet of the show. It’s deeply irritating, but salvaged by how Starsky and Hutch respond to the situation, which is entirely in character. Starsky reverts to harmless flirt, Hutch to more direct sarcasm.

“You guys are a perfect match,” Huggy says when Hutch complains about the furry dashboard on their giant black limo/pimpmobile. Does he mean Hutch and the car? Hutch and the fur? Hutch and Starsky? Is he implying that Hutch has a tacky side?

Given the car, Starsky immediately assumes he’s the driver; Hutch assumes he’s the passenger. What does this say about their partnership, and their relationship as a whole?

Starsky comes to a complete halt while sitting in the driver’s seat. Hutch digs at him a little to get him going, but until the phone call jolts him into action Starsky seems to be semi-comatose. It’s one of those odd-but-fascinating moments that makes this show so enjoyable.

Starsky and Hutch are stood up by Thomas May at the Trojan Spa at 10:15 pm. Yet it isn’t until lunchtime in front of Rutt’s Hutt that they think of going to see May, and even that is because of Soldier’s phone call. Why don’t they go roust him sooner? Do they feel guilt an earlier visit may have saved May’s life? Or they may have gotten info from him that would have solved the case differently, or faster? As well, the unpleasant question remains: did Thomas May set up Starsky and Hutch to be murdered? Would he have done such a thing?

Soldier is at a public phone booth, yet he’s nonchalantly polishing a gun with wicked silencer on it in full view of any passer-by.

How do Starsky and Hutch gain entry into the May home? It could be a case where utter confidence opens doors, but more likely it’s the warm relationship they have nurtured with the uniforms at the crime scene.

Hutch has to be ordered to remove his hat when talking to the bitchy desk officer, but when seeing Thomas May’s body he immediately, and respectfully, takes it off.

Thomas May is ostensibly a suicide, and only moments have passed since the shooting occurred, yet Captin Dobey is already there. Two issues arise: one, just how would the shooting be discovered so fast, unless a neighbor overheard the shot? Solider would have to use a gun owned by May to do the job, a gun without a silencer. But this is a guess, because is no hysterical witness at the scene. And two, Dobey’s presence may be result of the FBI informing him that May is a person of interest, and therefore his death is immediately suspicious and potentially calamitous. But we learn later the FBI brass has no knowledge of May or his troubles. This, for all intents and purposes, is a mundane everyday suicide. So who tipped Dobey off?

Gunther shows a deeply unsettling contempt for his lieutenant Bates throughout their stilted conversation. You can almost see the revulsion, a fact that will come in handy in the final episode. Later, they have an extraordinary scene together in which Gunther snaps his fingers as a substitute for speaking.

I hope Dobey does something more constructive than saying “and so’s an old man lying dead in his living room, he’s real. Real dead.” He knows Starsky and Hutch better than anyone. Do they sit down and hash out the case in an attempt to make sense of the whole thing, or does Dobey dismiss them as over-imaginative kooks? It better not be the latter.

Hutch feels the case went bad because they did everything people told them not to do. One thing he doesn’t blame is Starsky, nor does Starsky appear to blame Hutch. Instead Hutch is more interested in analyzing the big picture. This is his particular strength – Starsky is more of a details man – but are his conclusions correct when he blames them both for going where they shouldn’t? Yes, their actions accelerated things, and yes Gunther’s sticky antennae was alerted to movements in the air. But wasn’t all they did necessary, even laudable? Given more information they may have made smarter decisions – hustling Thomas and Allison into hiding, for example – but that doesn’t guarantee the police department would have cooperated or that Judge McClellan would have been stopped, or even that Thomas May would have done what they asked of him.

When the guys confer quietly at Hutch’s apartment, they share a beer.

It’s great that when Starsky and Hutch burst in to the agents’ office they are dressed like their iconic selves, in a way we haven’t seen since they lost their jobs: leather jackets, collars aggressively up, and jeans. For a couple of seasoned federal agents, Smithers and Waldheim are pussycats when guns are pushed into their backs: they get scared and spill the beans without hesitation. They should have been thinking: what are these morally conscientious ex-detectives going to do, murder us in cold blood inside a federal building? I think not. Apparently both men think this is not only possible, but probable.

Filming notes: Glaser got so carried away while filming this intense episode he smashed Angus Duncan’s hand through a window during one scene, requiring twenty-five stitches.

When Dobey is stuck with the food bill at the Pits, can he write it off as a business expense? Would this make Starsky and Hutch his newest snitches?

Clayburn gives Starsky and Hutch mixed messages about the difficulty of proving McClellan’s guilt. First he says it will “be hard.” Then he says it “won’t be hard.” Did he say these two conflicting statements because he is stressed out and having to think on his feet? Or is it something else? Seeing how most lawyers in this series prove to be sneaky and crooked, why are Starsky and Hutch so trusting of Clayburn – Hutch in particular? Is it because he is so casual in his manner, nearly to the point of goofiness? He allows his secretary to boss him around. He is perennially late for appointments. He is colloquial in his speech. He flatters both Starsky and Hutch a lot.

It’s good to see the Mandalay Heights fair grounds again (“The Psychic”).

It’s touching when both hesitate when Soldier demands one of them be a hostage, but not because neither of them want to do it but because both of them want to spare the other.

Following the shoot-out, a touch on Starsky’s midsection is all Hutch needs to do to convey an enormous amount of emotion.

Why don’t Starsky and Hutch wonder why Clayburn is so anxious to implicate McClellan when the two men have been “very close personal” friends for the past ten years?

Why, oh why, when they finally do the matinée – something Starsky has been pining for since part one – is it a cheesy porn flick? Is it because of their strange job interview? And why on earth would two – three – men see something like that together? Isn’t that a more solitary pastime? When Starsky comments, “I could have been in this movie,” regarding “The Story of X,” is he more excited by the thought of simply being an actor, or of being an actor in a porn film? What does Hutch think of this? Also, the absence of the patented Hutch Sneer is particularly noticeable: all he does is note that Starsky is “much better looking than that guy (on screen)”. You can just barely make out Starsky (or Glaser’s) grin as Hutch pulls him from the seat.

Hutch is off the force but introduces himself to Sheriff Oates as a detective. Oates asks Starsky and Hutch if they are back on the force. Starsky answers evasively, “we’re trying to keep a low-profile.” Was the use of the word “detective” a slip of the tongue or are Starsky and Hutch using the title to get information from Oates? Peter Jason as the star-struck officer gives this tiny cameo a great deal of charm and wit.

Starsky, Hutch and Dobey need to catch Clayburn before he leaves the country. Dobey says Clayburn’s flight, “is a legitimate worry, the way rumors have been flying.” What rumors? If Dobey has heard something, has he bothered to share it, or does he keep it from them because they aren’t cops anymore?

Why does Bates know Soldier has been dead at least two days, but hasn’t told Gunther? Is it a weird sort of power play?

For all the time it took for Hutch to tell Nancy who to call and what to say, he should have just done it himself. It appears to be some sort of punishment for her sedition.

Starsky, don’t pick up the discarded gun with your bare hands, please.

Is it me, or is the revelation that DA Clayburn is on the dark side one of the bitterest plot turns in the entire series? He’s a genuinely attractive and quirky character. Plus, Hutch really likes him.

One of Gunther’s most senior people is arrested at the airport, the mysterious Karen. One suspects, from her ice-cold manner, she won’t break under questioning. But it would be interesting to speculate what explanation she gives for shooting Clayburn, if anything.

The avuncular mayor’s speech when returning Starsky and Hutch’s badges seems like it should end with, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” One of my favorite details in this episode is how that beaming public face shuts down when the cameras are off, which is remarkably chilling given the happy vibe in the scene. He then mixes up their names, and also gives out the wrong badges. Hutch is amused. “You’re never gonna believe this,” he says to Starsky, and it’s a weary joke, as if in acknowledgement of the many times it’s happened.

The mayor says Starsky and Hutch “challenged a powerful enemy and emerged victorious.” Allison asks them, “Well, didn’t you?” Starsky replies, “Who knows.” Why isn’t anyone else thinking this same thing? It’s obvious someone other than Clayburn killed the judge and Thomas May. This conspiracy has too many tentacles to think it’s so easily wrapped by with the arrest. Joking about a vacation and pulling poor Allison in two directions is a moment of simply blowing off steam and not an indication either detective thinks this case is over.

Clothing notes: Starsky is wearing two rings on his left pinkie rather than one. Hutch wears his tusk in combination with the sun-and-star necklace. It’s sad to see those Adidas gone but they were destined to wear out eventually. Both wear brown earth-shoe crepe sole runners. Hutch wears three extraordinary hats in three of the four parts of this story. Here, it is a cowboy hat.

Episode 86: Targets Without a Badge Part 2

April 9, 2012

After Lionel Rigger is killed and they resign from the force, Starsky and Hutch look for work. But a meeting with a girl from Starsky’s past unwittingly involves them again with the same powers they had tried to bring down with Lionel’s help.

Allison May (Laura Anderson): Hilary Thompson, Thomas May (Uncle Frank): Bert Remsen, Judge McClellan: Peter MacLean, James Gunther: William Prince, Clayburn: Ken Kercheval, Agent Smithers: Richard Herd, Agent Waldheim: Angus Duncan, Soldier: Robert Tessier, Karen: Lee Bryant, Bates: Alex Courtney, Policewoman: Barbara Ann Walters, Mr. Gore: Darryl Zwerling, Miss Evers: Catherine Campbell, Flower Girl: Sandie Newton, Blaze: Gino Conforti, Nancy: Joan Roberts, Fred Oates: Peter Jason, Marty: Chuck Hicks, Alex: Charles Picerni, Mardean: Troas Hayes, Mayor: Dave Shelley, Mrs. Swayder: LaWanda Page, Dodds: Ben Young. Written By: Joe Reb Moffly, Steven Nalevansky and Jeffrey Bloom, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.


With this intense double episode, the stage is set for the final episode in the series, “Sweet Revenge”. In this, the biggest, most serious, and difficult case of the series, Starsky and Hutch’s powerful and still unknown enemy continues to call the shots as the guys unwittingly close in on him while trying to help Starsky’s old friend. But while Starsky and Hutch are reinstated into the department at the end, they continue to be bothered by the question of who is behind everything, a question only solved in the series finale.

No longer cops, Starsky and Hutch still spend every waking moment together. They look for jobs together, go to counseling together, eat together, and go back to Starsky’s place to discuss the facts of Thomas May’s case. No professional partnership any more, and they’re never more intensely “together” than in this episode.

The opening scene is truly wonderful as Starsky passes the time with a 1930s-style sand dance in the street while kicking a can. He’s graceful and without a trace of self-consciousness. I like how he misses the can at first, then incorporates that into the movement. Starsky seems to have moved up in the world since we saw his pad last. This is a distinctly upper crust neighborhood, with winding roads, parkland, and big houses. Oddly, the Torino isn’t parked in what might be “his” space, but rather precariously perched on the narrow shoulder of the road.

Hutch pulls up driving Nash Metropolitan convertible we later learn he has just purchased (probably for a tidy sum, since it’s in excellent condition and very collectible, which means unemployed Hutch is not worried about money). The car – and its name – the umbrella, tweed suit, hat and jaunty humming are all powerfully ridiculous. Hutch has gone all Wooster in his few days off the force. As he pulls up and begins fussing with his umbrella and scarf we realize this is another kind of dance, about as loving and selfless as we ever see throughout the series. Hutch knows exactly what he’s doing with his silly props. He’s giving Starsky both a distraction and plenty of ammunition. He’s saying: here, take this and run with it. Do your best. His ingenuous question, “nice little car, huh?” is like lighting the fuse.

And why is Hutch sacrificing himself by offering to be the subject of ridicule? Because he feels responsible for the situation. All this – the car, umbrella, striped scarf and hat – is his elaborate apology for the loss of not only their jobs, but their place in the world. And to Hutch’s way of thinking, it’s an eye for an eye world, which means he must personally suffer the same punishment he feels he inflicted on the partnership. When Starsky at first refuses to take the bait, Hutch pulls him back. He is going to do this, no matter what, he’s going to take his lumps. “No wait a minute,” he insists. “You didn’t tell me what you think.” And Starsky accepts the challenge. Look how his cutting words – “a grown man wouldn’t drive a car like that” is tempered by the amusement in his eyes. “Not a grown man,” he adds. Yes, it’s a mild rebuke, but it’s sort of perfect how he attacks the one thing Hutch has prided himself on for years, namely his maturity.

Note the guy out for his morning walk, happening upon this inscrutable scene. He stares, uncomprehending, before heading off.

Considering how many bombs/assassination attempts these guys have endured, Starsky’s reluctance to search the Torino is mighty puzzling. Maybe he’s just so aggravated at Hutch’s tweediness he can’t think straight. At least he comes to his senses eventually when Hutch’s voice changes from an annoying harangue to genuine caution. Good thing too, for the cat, at least. Although I don’t know why the cat is a signal to stop looking – they hardly started. Contrast this with the wordlessly long search in “The Specialist”.

Why do you suppose it’s assumed they will drive together to their appointment?

Are they really looking for a job? With their police credentials, experiences, and commendations? Wouldn’t they at least apply with the FBI, or some international security firm? What sort of jobs were they going for, anyway, something in hairdressing? Maybe dance instruction?

The Employment Development Quandary: And here, again, is our distinctive old friend Darryl Zwerling playing another nerdy, hopeless type. Starsky asks Hutch how he did on the aptitude test, which seems to ask questions such as “if you were a farmer, which would you raise, cows or goats?” and “if you were married, would you take another woman to lunch?”. This is not any test I am personally aware of, which means the California Labor Branch has some very odd ideas. Starsky and Hutch seem to have fallen into a funhouse of impossible exams, collapsing furniture, houseplants, indoor murals and squeaky blondes.

Hutch, once again, is mistaken for Starsky by the guy at the employment office.

Between his time at the Playpen in “Vampire” and here, Starsky has learned to pronounce “debonair”. Of course the joke is Starsky has always known how to say it. He just says it wrong because it annoys his pal.

Hutch appears not to want Starsky in on the “great opportunity” he finds in the newspaper, jerking it away when Starsky attempts to see it (he’ll do the same thing later in Allison’s house when he finds the photo album), but a second later he says with a grin, “I think we ought to check that one out, huh?” meaning he meant for Starsky to join him, all along. Why the mixed messages? Is this just a habit with Hutch, or what? Then Starsky tries to talk him into going to a matinée at least once, and Hutch says in a mean way, “Alone?” and Starsky gives him a wounded “hey.” Throughout the entire run of the series, can it be that Starsky only nears his limit twice, once in “The Shootout”, when sarcastically calls him a “shaft of sunlight” and once in “Little Girl Lost” when he calls Hutch on his cruel streak?

There are some great psychic moves in the scene in which they stop the chase using that poor man’s car, allowing an open the door to crash the motorcycle. They never even look at each other throughout, much less make sure each other is on the same page, but it all works seamlessly. The cops are strikingly nonchalant when arriving to clean up the scene and make arrests – no “who the hell are you guys?!” or anything. Starsky and Hutch stroll away and there’s no attempt to hold them for questioning, or even have them give a witness statement, an explanation, or anything.

I like how Starsky half-remembers Allison as she walks away. He’s bothered, but doesn’t know why, and his thoughtfulness is nicely underplayed.

Gunther remarks that Starsky and Hutch won’t be alive much longer as long as “if they follow their present pattern”. What pattern is that, exactly? Drinking coffee and looking for jobs?

It is not the Year of the Dog, as Blaze says on the phone. That won’t fall until January 25, 1982. Perhaps Blaze is making an altogether naughtier reference.

The scene in the pornography studio is hilarious. It’s fun to see Gino Conforti, late of “The Fix”, in another priceless sleazoid role. The whole double-entendre of “we do everything together” and Hutch’s shy admission that he can do handstands (and Starsky’s charming nod in response to this – turns out he’s proud of Hutch’s handstands) coupled with Blaze’s oozing enthusiasm for their talents as a “team” and how “fit” they look is a great little set piece and actually a bit disconcertingly adults-only, even now.

I would like to know what sitting position aggravates sinuses.

Huggy seems to have calmed down somewhat by the time they come around The Pits again. “I’m just sounding off, is all,” he apologizes. What changed his mind? Did their resignations shake him, just a little?

Let’s ignore for now the fact both Starsky and Hutch buy the improbable coincidence of Allison appearing – alone – in a place like The Pits so soon after they meet her. Starsky, in his focused and quiet way, gets up to talk to her. Hutch blusters, trying for time, wanting to get her before Starsky does. So he suggests a stupid game. Starsky watches him the way a charmer watches a cobra, listening patiently to Hutch and then following orders by hiding his eyes and thinking of a number. Hutch thinks sucka and dashes off to introduce himself to Allison. But of course Starsky is acting. He plays dumb, the way he always does, with every assurance things will work out his way in the end. He’s just going to let Hutch blunder around until he gets tired and then he himself will quietly step in and get what he wants. What Huggy thinks of all these mind games is difficult to determine, yet he’s watching the whole thing very closely.

The seduction of Allison seems abstract, somehow. She’s reduced to all-purpose Female and the flirty come-ons seem by rote. It’s as if the frustration level of the two jobless detectives is so high it has to seek an outlet, and fake sexual acting-out is as good an outlet as any other.

Hutch’s description of the pornographic movie he was almost in, the “passion of a woman or a man and his friend” is remarkably, and hilariously, suggestive. His comfort level with Allison, to entertain her with this potentially embarrassing anecdote, is a little surprising. I’m not sure I would tell that story to someone I have just met.

Why does Starsky purchase three tickets to the Boston Symphony? And why the Boston Symphony, anyway? Why not the Los Angeles Symphony? Do symphonies even travel?

When Starsky recognizes Laura Anderson the wind is literally knocked out of him. A huh, like an exhale. It’s a great, spontaneous moment.

It’s strange to hear Hutch call Starsky “David”.

Allison says she heard about Starsky from the newspaper reports about the Judge McClelland case. While this goes to show how much publicity the case received – one can imagine the “Tragic Murder Leads to Brave Cops’ Resignation” headlines – I’m sure they’ve figured prominently in other stories, in other years. Hadn’t she heard about them before? She says she’s lived on the west coast for most of her life, probably in and around Los Angeles. Starsky and Hutch have been in plenty of high-profile, much-lauded cases, ones she most likely would have heard about before now (“Cops Expose Satanic Murder Cult” is one headline that springs to mind). Or is she smudging the truth because she doesn’t want to seem completely selfish?

Allison tells the guys they were easy to find. But in fact how easy would it have been? No detective would ever have his name in a telephone book, or have any personal details well-known to the public. It’s not like Allison could do an internet search. Overt sniffing for information would alert any number of people, and perhaps get back to Starsky before now. Because they resigned from the force, they would not be hanging around the department, so she couldn’t stake them out there. And just how would she learn about their habitual visit to The Pits? One explanation I can come up with is going to the police department and fenangling her way into someone’s confidence, probably through a combination of lying and sexual enticement, possibly while pretending to be a journalist (which entails fake credentials, a further complication).

Allison’s explanation for her trickery is “I had to believe in you (Starsky) again.” Just how does flirting, playing helpless, and setting one against the other for her affections bring about trust and belief? Surely coming to Starsky straight, and telling him her problem and asking for advice would be far more effective, and also faster.

Hilary Thompson is appealing as Allison/Laura. Very few women can get away with tricking the guys into helping her and not looking manipulative or unscrupulous doing it, but she manages. She has a vulnerability that doesn’t come off as overly sweet, and once the charade is dropped she’s refreshingly direct and honest. It’s interesting how Starsky’s attitude changes when he finds out who she really is. Subtly, almost invisibly, his body language turns from flirtatious to brotherly. Hutch, too, simultaneously loses interest, even though the door is now wide open for him. Sympathy turn-off? It couldn’t be simple professionalism, because neither Starsky nor Hutch appear to have difficulty mixing romance with the job. Could it be it’s much less fun without the competition? Or did he not want to seem like an opportunist?

At Washington Square Towers, Hutch hesitates and loses the elevator, for no apparent reason. He tries to blame Starsky.

The guys treat the flower delivery girl like an innocent pawn rather than part of whatever criminal activity is going on, which is an interesting assumption to make. They confront her directly, and when she denies all knowledge – lying, obviously – and they drop it. They don’t follow her van or attempt to get any further information.

Both Starsky and Hutch display a very specific response when confronted or bullied by men in suits: they degenerate into sulky, disingenuous, naughty boys. Starsky corrects the FBI agent’s grammar, which is just the sort of snotty thing Hutch would do.

It’s a tactical error when the two agents treat Starsky and Hutch badly, threatening them to leave the case alone. Agent Smithers even tells them the case is above their intelligence. Every Psychology 101 student knows the very worst way to get a determined person to leave something alone is by goading and condescension. Where were these guys during the “Effective Communication” class at Quantico?

Starsky and Hutch’s horror of mass transit is really comical. They act as if they’re riding on a pile of manure. “Dear diary,” Hutch calls out to no one in particular as they exit. “Today my friend and I went for a ride on a bus.”

The engine is stolen right out of Starsky’s Torino. Is this a metaphor for how Glaser feels about his own powerlessness with the show?

What the hell is that police lady’s problem? This is meant to be a light moment, but instead is extremely unpleasant to watch. It almost feels like a skit illustrating how any power at all, even the most minor kind, turns women into humorless bitches.

Starsky and Hutch put together a plausible scenario involving mortgage loan companies and escalating rates leading to unscrupulous foreclosure. With the current economic crisis ravaging the housing market, this is a strikingly contemporary problem.

It’s amusing that, with the temporary loss of the Torino, the only car at their disposal is little Belle. Does Hutch regret his purchase?

Thomas May is unremittingly hostile, yelling at Starsky to leave him alone, and it’s here that Starsky’s calm demeanor is at its most mesmerizing: nothing May shouts has any effect on him. Sometimes it seems as if Starsky has a special absorbent layer, one able to soak up all negativity and then expel it later without touching the inner man.

Starsky and Hutch call Dobey, “Captain” even when they aren’t cops anymore. The scene ends quietly, with no tag.

Episode 85: Targets Without a Badge, Part One

March 22, 2012

An informant has information about a drug-dealing Federal Judge.

Lionel Rigger: Ted Neely, Deputy District Attorney Clayburn: Ken Kercheval, Soldier: Robert Tessier, Deputy Police Chief Reasonor: Quinn Redeker, Judge McClellan: Peter MacLean, Mardean Rigger: Troas Hayes, Jamie: Heather Hobbs, Gesslin: George Pentecost, Judge Belin: Michelle Davison, Linda: Susan Kiger, Kathy: Linda Lawrence. Written By: Richard Kelbaugh, Directed By: Earl Bellamy.


This is the first part of a four-hour story in which Starsky and Hutch set in motion a series of events that awaken a powerful enemy. It’s among the most brutally realistic of episodes as it follows a case from the first crimes to the informant Lionel Rigger, through the investigation, to a court hearing that tests their dedication to the badge.

Ted Neely is perfectly cast as the unfortunate Lionel Rigger, and he has a difficult job to do. He has to make Lionel, a down-at-his-heels snitch with a history of drugs and crime, both likeable and believable. In a very short time, and without much to work with, you have to care about him, and Neely does this wonderfully by giving extra dimensions to his character, bringing to life a good friend and a generous person, quick with a joke and a helping hand. His accent places him somewhere between Louisiana and Georgia, and he has an earnestness and sincerity that is entirely without sentiment. You just feel that Lionel Rigger, despite doing things he regrets, is a worthy person, someone you’d like to know, whose loss will be very hard to take.

Why don’t the girls get changed after their show in the club’s dressing room? It seems silly to walk upstairs to their apartment still wearing their glittering costumes, much less starting to pack for a trip. It looks good on camera though (which is, of course, why they did it). It’s a bit of a mystery when one says to the other, as she’s stuffing drug envelopes into the fake pregnancy pouch, “well, you said you wanted a girl!” They both laugh, as if this means something.

Starsky is unfazed by Hutch’s angry refusal to pick a card, cajoling until Hutch, playing the victim, is nevertheless either momentarily arrested by the possibility of magic, or certain that if he doesn’t pick the damn card this will go on for hours. It’s charming when Hutch accuses his partner of not “dealing with a full deck” and Starsky says agreeably, “True”. Hutch says “sad but” and Starsky finishes it for him, “true.”

They go off in hot pursuit of what Hutch calls “the mule train” although it’s not really possible they would know this for sure, as it’s too far to see a plate or any distinguishing details of the car, and surely the drug barons aren’t dumb enough to use the same vehicle over and over again.

I like how the worst thing the girl can say when she’s busted is that Starsky and Hutch are “tacky”.

Is it me or is playing drums by the seaside – not the more portable bongoes, but a full-fledged set of drums – a really, really peculiar thing to do? Perhaps this is close to Venice Beach, renown for all things funky.

Despite having all four seasons in proximity to the the Pacific Ocean this is the only time we see Starsky and Hutch on a beach. I’m not counting “Class in Crime”, because that beach is atypically cold, windy and deserted and not something we associate with southern California. This scene is very scenic and adds to the atmosphere of the episode; it can be nowhere else than crazy-making Los Angeles. Later, the ocean provides a watery grave for the famous badge-throwing scene.

It’s wonderful how the guys stare at Lionel intensely, indicating through silence that negotiations have begun. They also look at each other, evaluatively, searchingly, and you can almost hear what they’re saying without a single word being spoken: this feels bad.

Rigger could not possibly be in trouble because he has simply listened to the judge’s offer. Huggy mentions Lionel wants to work something off, but he hasn’t done anything wrong in this instance: all he has done is listen to the judge and consider it. Then he approaches Starsky and Hutch and offers to help them. If anything, he’s a hero at this stage, so why does Hutch say the best he can get Lionel is a suspended sentence? The only way around this is what Huggy implies – and it’s an implication only – that Lionel Rigger is in trouble for another crime, unrelated to this one.

Throughout the interrogation at the station, Hutch is remarkable for the affection he shows Lionel. Starsky is more guarded, but both have obviously formed an immediate positive impression of this man, further evidence of their good instincts about people. It is reminiscent of their immediate trust in Tom Cole (“The Hostages”) and Jimmy Spenser (“The Heavyweight”), two guys who might have been on the wrong side of things given a superficial reading of the situation.

Starsky appears to be dead tired throughout this episode. He has shadows under his eyes and is uncommunicative and pessimistic, and so dour Hutch says, amusingly, “I bet when you were small you were one of those kids who used to go the library and tear out the last pages of the mystery.” Starsky, true to form, merely looks blank and doesn’t bother to spar. The reason for this is unknown, but it may hint at a season’s worth of buried resentments and unvoiced concerns, either between the two detectives or with the job as a whole, or both.

The guys have a long discussion with the assistant DA and Dobey about Lionel testifying. They run down several gruesome stories in which informants have met untimely deaths just before their court date. Here, the question presents itself: why don’t they take Lionel right out of the picture entirely and go undercover themselves instead? Starsky looks a bit like Lionel, and the judge has not met him in person. All the judge would have to go on might possibly be a mug shot, but slap a moustache and a wool cap on Starsky and it would be quite convincing. Then you have the recording of the deal, and Starsky’s expert testimony, and Rigger is kept safely out of the picture. In “Ninety Pounds” Hutch had no hesitation in adopting the guise of the hit man, so what’s the difference here?

A word about Assistant DA Clayburn, played by Ken Kercheval. It’s a rare case of a lawyer seeming to be a good guy, having the three elements Starsky and Hutch admire most when it comes to those in power: adaptability, imagination, and honor. You can tell they withhold judgment on Clayburn until the magic moment when he gives a wonderfully crooked grin and says “but I love it”, signaling his willingness to play. Hutch is positively flirtatious when he says warmly, “well counsellor, you can cross-examine.” Sparks are flying.

Set Dec notes: the Rigger household is the same set as Gina’s house in “The Game”, down to the wallpaper.

Starsky is very interested in Mardean’s photographs, which is consistent with his own hobby as a photographer.

I’ve never thought Mardean Rigger quite belonged with someone like Lionel. Just based on appearances, she seems like a nice well-dressed middle-class mom and it’s kind of hard to believe she’d throw her lot in with someone like him. Could this be a marriage of opposites, or is there more to Mardean than meets the eye?

Starsky and Hutch tell Rigger they’ve been offered seven thousand dollars for the “grease job”. But if Lionel is the middleman here, how are instructions getting to Starsky and Hutch? We never seen them receiving the details of the job. Later, when Rigger is on the phone with the bad guys saying they have to give an upfront deal in coke, he has to tell them the names of Starsky and Hutch, as if they don’t know it already.

One of the best things about this episode is the dialogue-heavy nature of it. Reams of words are said without action – occasionally, as in the scene in the conference room during the trial, it verges on resembling a PBS documentary about the politics of the district attorney’s office versus the police department. It’s a wonderful hiatus from the muscular action of earlier episodes and typical of the maturing a television series. Ideas are on the forefront here, rather than events.

One of the unanswered questions in this episode is whether or not Starsky and Hutch have considered the source of the drugs the judge is dealing. They are focused on McClellan because he has taken an oath to uphold justice and integrity, which makes his crimes all the more sour. However, the drugs are originating in Las Vegas. Do they ever think of following the trail, not to its end, but to its beginning? And is James Gunther the font of all this misery?

More of Dobey mismanaging a situation, when he sounds “like a police manual” when unsuccessfully trying to reassure Mardean. I think it’s a misstep to have Lionel be a family man, with an attractive loving wife and cute kid. It comes off as an attempt to make him more lovable and with more to lose, and therefore more of a tragic figure. However, given Lionel’s drug and crime history, and the fact he looks and acts like a bum, it makes no sense for him to have a cozy middle-class family. It would be like plunking Huggy down in the suburbs with a two-car garage and a cardigan. Yes, Lionel could be one of those guys making major strides out of trouble and into respectability – it happens – but the depth of his current involvement in this scheme makes that a trifle unlikely.

“It’s a great movie,” Starsky tells Lionel, trying to get him to watch. “This time the Indians win.” Considering this is an old black-and-white movie from the fifties, you can bet the Indians don’t win, but Starsky is trying to change history, and through that trying to change the growing sense of doom surrounding this case.

Hutch does the fastest shopping in the world. However, he displays a remarkable stupidity when he doesn’t alert to the person right beside him having car trouble (wearing, it should be said, the iconic bad-guy silver jacket Hutch himself wore while undercover in “Survival”). Surely he would worry about such a coincidence, given the tense situation. This is the one moment in the episode when I want to throw something at the screen.

The bomb guy gets to the location before Hutch does, meaning he knows where Lionel is holed up. That is, he gets into position with the trigger. If this is the case, why bother planting the device on Hutch’s car? And if he didn’t know where Lionel was, how in the heck did he get there so fast?

Is it too much to expect Starsky to stick with Lionel following the explosion, and get him to safety? He bolts to Hutch just like the bad guys expect him to. There should have been a Plan B worked out beforehand, instructions should Lionel find himself suddenly alone and vulnerable, even if it’s something as simple as locking himself in the bathroom. Also, there would be no guarantee this bomb-as-distraction plan would work, unless the bad guys knew for certain of Starsky’s immediate concern for his parter’s safety above all else. Did they get this intelligence from the street?

When Huggy says, “hang on, Jamie, you’re on your own now” the line has multiple meanings.

Huggy rages that “Lionel was a nobody as far as you’re concerned”, “just a snitch”, that “you let him down”, “you used him and then you back-stabbed him” “you don’t give a damn about people, you just use them.” This is probably the angriest Huggy is during the entire series. He’s despairing and near tears. I’ve always wondered if this solely because of the tragic death of his friend Lionel, or if Huggy venting some deeply buried hostility toward the guys. This could be, in a sense, much like “Starsky vs. Hutch” in which an explosively angry argument is not only in response to the current state of things but to a long-simmering and unexpressed issue. Earlier, Huggy has also referred to his connection to Starsky and Hutch as an “already fragile relationship” after he is beat up by Bagely’s men in “The Trap”. Starsky tells Hutch that Huggy doesn’t seen to be happy to be “part of the team.” However, Huggy has always treated these episodes of disappointment or frustration somewhat impersonally, understanding them as part of his dangerous relationship and never directly blaming either Starsky or Hutch and certainly never impugning their characters.

One has to wonder about Mardean as a mother. Despite her passionate defense to Dobey about her family, first her young daughter climbs into a car with strangers, then is allowed to play with Huggy – alone – after he’s basically the one responsible for her husband getting killed. “Uncle Huggy” or not, I’m not sure I’d let my kid anywhere near him after that.

Hutch plants the purple plastic whirligig into the sand. This is the same one spinning merrily on Lionel’s drum set the first time we meet him. It implies Hutch returned to the Rigger house and spent a little time in the garage, looking at the drum set and thinking about what happened, how a good man was lost and his own part in it. If that’s the case, what a truly heart-wrenching scene that must have been, and it’s too bad we didn’t get to see it.

It’s Hutch who first takes his badge out with the intention of resigning. Starsky, who says he’s going to the movies, has left him to walk down the beach alone. Of them both, Hutch has always seemed the most obviously upset about the situation. “The way I see it, this old badge has polluted me just about enough.” This sounds as if he’s been contemplating quitting for some time, maybe even before this case, but it still strikes me as odd he’d consider leaving the force without even mentioning it to his partner. Starsky has had two previous instances of threatening to resign: one as a way of saving fellow officer’s lives in “Pariah”, a selfless act and not intended to be evidence of him really desiring to leave. The other results from his giddiness about being an heir in “Golden Angel”, a light moment not to be taken seriously, and therefore not a black mark on the partnership. Here, in “Targets”, is a more egregious misstep on Hutch’s part. He seriously intends to quit, and does not confide in his partner. To me, this is a terrible mistake made by the writers, some kind of script shortcut that results in another bit of chipping away at the idea of a heroic partnership. Throughout the run of the series the writers are consistently guilty of avoiding having Starsky and Hutch have a mature conversation about a problem, preferring to stage a shouting match or have one act independently with no regard for the other. This may be pressure to produce thrills, or it may be a generalized squeamishness about the possible implications of male intimacy. It could signal a general disinclination to treat their characters seriously, or the series seriously. But what’s wrong with a scene in which Hutch would say “I feel angry and betrayed. I don’t know how to handle it” followed by Starsky saying, “let’s talk it over” and Hutch then admitting, “I’m thinking we should just quit. There’s nothing left for us now. What do you think about that?” See, was that so hard?

Starsky and Hutch must have informed Dobey about quitting the force, and it’s unfortunate we don’t get to see the blustery fireworks.

A car full of guys shooting at Starsky and Hutch, and what do they do? Run toward them. And by the way, if the intention is to kill, why the messy driving, the wild and imperfect shooting? This is not the way to murder anyone, especially in a public place. Don’t accelerate and veer wildly in the street, don’t make a big idiot of yourself driving into fences and scattering pedestrians. A slow, casual drive-by and two shots, and the job would be done before anyone noticed.

Clothing notes: It’s a treat to see Hutch wearing his great serape again despite the heat (last seen in “Long Walk”); he later wears a sharp black jacket, fancy jeans and his horn necklace. Starsky wears his usual.