Posts Tagged ‘Captain Dobey’

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.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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.

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Episode 40: Starsky’s Lady

July 22, 2010

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

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

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Studies 8: The Supporters

February 9, 2010

Starsky and Hutch made the world a whole lot better, but they didn’t do it single-handed. Throughout the series they were bookended by two fascinating characters – someone to help from street level, someone to help from administration. Huggy and Dobey are wonderful creations, variable enough to maintain our interest, fully fledged people with complex private lives. The fact that both are black in this often racially-aware series is important, more so in the beginning when the characters are new to us, less so as we grow to know and love them as people. In fact at this stage of the game I have to keep reminding myself of this crucial detail and how it relates to the ugly realities of American culture where African-Americans have been relegated to supporting roles throughout history, never deemed either heroic enough or relatable enough to claim center stage (it’s better now, but barely). Ignoring this or forgetting it may hurt these wonderful characters more than help them. They are, after all, a product of their environment. You could argue both Huggy and Dobey perfectly encompass the issues and problems of black America, the endless cycle of poverty and injustice that can inspire an intelligent, entrepreneurial man like Huggy to aspire to success while at the same time playing the system that so cruelly keeps him down. And Dobey too, more conventionally successful but always looking for ways to circumvent the rigid hierarchy that both defines and constricts him. Its because of the perceived disadvantages of race and culture that make these men – so different from each other, chalk and cheese – behave in similar ways that are so helpful to Starsky and Hutch. In short, they’re provisional radicals. They will do what’s right in the moment,using both wiles and imagination to get the job done. Dobey may be behind a desk and Huggy on the street, but they both ignite, direct, protect, and aid Starsky and Hutch. Huggy is the combustible powder here, Dobey the careful trigger.

Dobey: You could say Dobey is an amalgam of contradictions. He is at once smart, methodical, ambitious, easily swayed and canny. He never shirks from duty, can be reactionary and prone to temper tantrums. He is also adaptable, carrying the shyness of a perennial outsider, the smart guy who hung on the margins of the cool kids. A befuddled, possibly ineffective father and food addict. He stands, somewhat uncomfortably, in the no-man’s-land between institutional power and rough justice, longing to be part of the golf-playing social elite yet fully conscious of his ethnic and cultural roots, and proud of the time he spent on the street. His determination to succeed may explain the elaborate three-piece suits he wears at all times. Big-hearted and generous, he is capable of great humor, and quick to shame. Not a multitasker, and easily discouraged. You sometimes get the feeling Dobey is like the beetle pushing the dung ball that just keeps bigger and more unmanageable the more he pushes – that ball is his responsibility to superiors, to rules, to the bottom line, as well as his responsibility as a family man, a father, a provider. He can be short-sighted and oblivious, two aspects of his personality that reveal themselves most strongly in his deficiencies as a father. Of the two unruly, charismatic detectives in his squad, he may trust and maybe believe he understands Hutch more than Starsky, because he sees Hutch more as assimilated into police culture and more likely to follow procedure, while Starsky, he believes, is volatile and unpredictable. He is more likely to shout at Starsky and attempt to man-handle him, and he is more likely to confide in Hutch and leave him alone. Ironically, while he seems uncomfortable with big emotion, he’s the one most likely to demonstrate it (probably the thing he most dislikes about himself); faced with unexpected events, he flusters, which makes him a bit of a liability when it comes to political correctness. He’s one of those people who have low self-esteem coupled with an easily roused vanity: you can always flatter him into getting what you want. In short, Dobey is a free-thinking, adaptable, creative man whose allegiances never waver, despite being constrained by a vast bureaucracy.

Huggy: Principled, brave, loyal to a fault but with no genuine or lasting ties. One could make a guess he is the middle of a child in a large chaotic Caribbean family, although there is something about Huggy – something emotionally adrift about him, the cautious refusals of someone who has been betrayed in the past – makes it clear there was no father or father-figure in the house. “Huggy Can’t Go Home” is an episode that deals with this issue, a well-written and much-needed foray into his complicated familial ties. He can have a slippery relationship with truth and authenticity, and while he’s not easily angered, he is capable of great and lasting grudges. Huggy is an entrepreneur, resourceful and determined, with an understandable us-and-them complex. We learn something of his hard-scrabble early life and his relationship with an older male mentor whom he continues to help despite growing disillusionment. He understands family dynamics and the imperatives of kinship in a society that is deeply troubled by racial divide, sees the jealousy of those among his group who have not “made it” as well as the selfish expectations of those who expect a handout. In this way he is always pressured in a way that Starsky and Hutch, or any white character, may not be. He is capable of tremendous perseverance, and, despite a casual, slangy, laid-back blasé, is intensely watchful and calculating. His fascination with Starsky and Hutch’s partnership may result from his own feeling of alienation, his sense that he has no anchor to keep him steady. His willingness to associate with cops despite the danger is a complicated question having something to with justice bordering on vigilantism, as well as a certain curiosity about their stable and productive relationship. He is not, despite a throwaway Hutch insult, a pimp. Rather, he is a live-and-let-live guy, turning a blind eye to anyone who needs to make a buck. A survivor, a nonconformist, whose bravado is part pride, part necessity. By the way, where did Huggy Bear get his name from, anyway? There couldn’t be a more paradoxical name for a tall skinny hustler who is as far from a cuddly toy as is possible to be. Is it like calling wrestlers “Tiny”, or bald hit-men “Curly”? Huggy explains to Nick Starsky “Huggy’s the name and my game is the same. The ladies they love me ’cause they all want to hug me.” This is either a boastful lie or he has quite the secret life, as we never see anything remotely like this. Still, we don’t know everything, do we?

To end this somewhat inadequate summation, Huggy and Dobey do not like each other. This is a wonderfully unexpected dividend to this unlikely pairing. Dobey is derisive of what he sees as Huggy’s jive-talkin’ persona, which he sees as both ethnically troublesome and possibly felonious, and Huggy – bewildered, always optimistic – sees Dobey as an uptight dude who treats him like garbage. Maybe, just maybe, beneath the festive shower of the emergency sprinkler system, drunk on champagne, they may start to feel differently.

Episode 11: Captain Dobey, You’re Dead

December 20, 2009

Starsky and Hutch try to track down escaped felon and former cop Leo Moon before he can get revenge on Dobey, the cop who put him away.

Leo Moon: William Watson, Edith Dobey: Lynn Hamilton, CJ Woodfield: Lester Rawlins, Rosie: Claire Touchstone, Cal: Eric Sutter, Lola: Taaffe O’Connell, Pommier: Kurt Grayson, Norris: Bill Traylor, Frisco Fats: Lee McLaughlin, Sheila: Marla Adams, Mechanic: Michael MacRae, Fry: Michael Durrell, Ethel: Robin Raymond, Doyle: Marty Davis, Crenshaw: Duncan McLeod. Written By: Michael Fisher, Directed By: Michael Schultz.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Prison escapes and that prisoner’s declaration of revenge on the person who put him there are always great stories. Sometimes they are fictional and sometimes they are horrifyingly real, as evidenced by the recent high profile escapes in the news. This episode is a straight-ahead depiction of a not-too-smart guy whose lust for revenge makes him easily manipulated into doing dirty work. As with most in Season One, this episode has one foot in the staid cop dramas of the late 60s and early 70s (the staccato and heavy-handed expository dialogue, the fast narrative trajectory) and one foot in the progressive, more psychologically oriented approach that would soon change the way we see televised drama. The plot is classic but the way Starsky and Hutch move through the narrative – sophisticated, unpredictable, nearly feral – is genuinely new.

Time has not been particularly kind to the character of Captain Dobey. Watching now, we’re aware too acutely of how old fashioned he is, and the haunting professional failures (his decade-long inability to bring justice to the case of slain civil rights leader Issac Douglas, as well as his own partner’s murder in “Snowstorm”), the decision to leave his family in the protection of a sole police officer, even the fact that he lies to himself about his dietary habits (understandable), all point to someone who is not all that self-aware. Very often Dobey has to have the case explained to him (“Death Ride”, “Targets”), and very often his unthinking tantrums actually hurt the investigation (“Bloodbath”, “Tap Dancing”). Of course we must acknowledge the triumph Dobey represents and has earned, that of the African-American in a position of power, and as well we must recognize the archetypal Authority Figure (especially one that occasionally dips into comedy, as Dobey’s does) is by its very nature an unfashionable constant, while the heroic figures of Starsky and Hutch have only improved over time. Awesomely progressive then, they still seem radical, and we can thank both the writers and the actors themselves for how fresh and contemporary these characters are. In fact we are only now appreciating just how radical they were and are – their fierce independence, enlightened humanism, and barrier-breaking love and loyalty to one another is still as rare a commodity now as it was then.

A couple of interesting issues arise immediately: one, those guys in the car are dressed very well, and very warmly, for this job. A suit and a sweater vest in what looks like ninety degree heat? As well, they are awfully casual as they wait for escapee Leo Moon. They don’t position themselves by the iron manhole cover, but sit in the car. Moon has to tap furiously to signal he’s raring to get out, and precious seconds are wasted while Sweater Vest gets out of the car, gets his crowbar, walks over and opens the vault; meanwhile sirens are loudly blaring away, which should have sent them scurrying into position long before now.

How does Moon escape, anyway? He seems to have merely crawled through a super-convenient concrete tunnel system, probably some kind of abandoned sewage outflow. It seems very close to the prison and isn’t even secured by razor wire. He’s not even dirty or out of breath.

What Happened Last Night: “Just admit it,” Starsky says to Hutch, swinging his gun in its holster around in a casual way, as they sit at their desks. “You’re just ticked off after what happened last night.”
“No I’m not,” Hutch says, but he’s lying. Determined to win, he throws Starsky a manual on ways to become right-handed. “If your best friend can’t tell you, who can,” he smirks, ever the genius at undermining. “Sooner or later you have to realize this world was designed for right-handed people,” he says, after a particularly graceful lope from his desk to Dobey’s to deliver a typed accident report, “you’re just out of step.”
“I do all right,” Starsky says, all earlier confidence disintegrating.
Hutch regards him coolly. “Aren’t you a little tired of doing just all right?” What precipitates this exchange are never revealed; it’s either a marvelous script extra or lost on the editing room floor, but nevertheless this nice little scene adds much to our understanding of the characters’ complicated, amicable, and subtle dance of not-quite rivalry.

As the photograph of Issac Douglas is developed, we see it bears a striking relationship to the final photographs of Martin Luther King. It’s a great moment when Dobey comes out of the photographic room at the station and stares longingly, not at the pretty young female cop, but at the chocolate bar she’s just bought from the vending machine. The guilt and desire, it’s all about sugar and fat. His sudden craving for junk food comes immediately after a loaded emotional moment, which is both illuminating and touching.

Starsky and Hutch display an impressive social intelligence when they come to the Dobey household to talk about the Moon escape. They don’t frighten the children, they include the wife, and then discreetly leave before a marital conversation has to take place. In fact, throughout the series, they’ve shown similar sensitivities to families, particularly children.

“Who’s the boss around here anyway,” Dobey murmurs to his loving wife. “I am,” she says, but notice he does what he wants to anyway, despite her wishes he stay home.

More expository dialogue as we get a hasty explanation of who Leo Moon is and why he’s gunning for Dobey. And here comes what I consider to be the secret heart of this episode, slipped in as if it means nothing: “We went through the academy together… The beat you guys have now is the one he had.” Here, in the space of a few seconds, we learn several astonishing things about Dobey. One of his best friends was murdered. And another close friend (“we went through the academy together” must be short-hand for the kind of camaraderie that comes from such an experience) was convicted of murder through Dobey’s testimony, which is a kind of cruelly necessary breaking of that friendship. And now, years later, Starsky and Hutch walk the beat Moon once had. Dobey must be both reminded of tragic events and feel as if, on some level, he has rectified the sins of the past. He is a deeply religious man. Does he ever see this turn of events in a spiritual way?

I wish Leo Moon’s crimes were more fully explained. It would be interesting to know how a cop could turn bad, and who exactly he killed, and why. And also how Dobey managed to be in a position to know what happened. Moon and Dobey were not partners, but Dobey was partnered with the tragic Elmo Jackson, whose murder is revealed in the later episode “Snowstorm”. We never know how these time lines intersect, if they do at all, and most times I do not like to draw links too strongly between episodes unless the writers themselves do. Each episode, to me, is its own island. That said, it’s impossible not to think about Elmo Jackson and how his murder, along with Moon’s murderous acts, affected Dobey psychologically. It could be that his intemperate bumbling has a lot to do with his perceived failures. And it’s not too much of a stretch to think that Leo Moon might have been working with Stryker, who eventually had Jackson killed, which would make Dobey even more complicit in events than he says.

“I used to leave my bike out when I was a kid too,” Starsky says genially, after Dobey shouts for the kids to clean up, another example of Starsky defaulting to child status, the free spirit in a world of grownups. “I’ll bet you did,” Dobey says, in a sudden burst of emotion bordering on anger. It’s a jarring moment, and discomfiting. Nerves, or something else? Does Dobey find it upsetting to see harsh police matters intruding on his private sphere? And if this is the case, why express it in such a passive-aggressive way?

Dobey’s house is protected, but he isn’t. He’s allowed to drive himself to the television station and back at night. Sure, he’s a police officer and should be able to take care of himself, but he’s also a civic official who has been behind a desk for some time. Doesn’t anyone see him as vulnerable to attack?

Ignoring a man’s outstretched hand is as nasty as it gets, and it shows that Pommier, even though he is an expert and a trusted henchman, is not one of the cool kids in Woodfield Industries, but rather an outsider who can easily be let go.

The Fat Man’s bad attitude as he wins at pool would eventually get him into serious trouble, wouldn’t it? Cackling and grinning as he beats some poor schlub at pool is eventually going to get him killed. As well, note the tiresome amount of fat-baiting on this show, aimed at this guy and then at Dobey (twice).

At the TV studio, Hutch delights in taunting Starsky about the left-handed “midget” Maxie Malone (such an offensive word I can hardly bear to type it) who ran the show he once attended as boy scout, insinuating it was left-handedness, of all things, that brought the host down in a hail of disgrace. This sort of extended, detailed torture takes a lot of imagination. What did Starsky do to “last night” to provoke this sort of elaborate reprisal? Beat Hutch at darts? At pool? At arm-wrestling? Attracting a girl attracted to lefties?

Isn’t Dobey worried about slander on Sutton’s show when he accuses Woodfield, along with showing his photo, of murdering Douglas? Or is this the reckless behavior of someone who no longer cares about the legal ramifications of lobbing as-yet-unproven accusations?

Going to the massage parlor to track down missing girlfriend Lola, we’re treated to a lovely little scene where the world-weary madam swans around with a cigarette cracking jokes and teaching her girls chess. It’s these details that add so much to the texture of any episode, even if its whimsical view of prostitution is a tad romantic. Although, as an aside, Leo Moon leaving both his name and phone number is a pretty stupid thing to do. The guy’s an ex-cop, but apparently any cop-like skills have rusted pretty badly in prison.

The actual working police aren’t much better if Moon can get the drop on one of them so easily, especially on a clear, quiet street. But while Moon is breaking in, we get to see Edith’s bravery and fast thinking as she wards him off and then dares to race into the night to find out why they were unprotected. I really don’t appreciate Dobey’s refusal to even look at his son Cal in the aftermath, instead ordering him to check on his sister. Hopefully there was a moment we didn’t see where he comforts and praises his son. Rosey’s shy tottling down the stairs and into Hutch’s willing arms shows again how natural and unaffected Hutch is around kids, and how Starsky hangs back, in most cases more effective at acting like a child and not a parent. Their tenderness toward the child – particularly Hutch’s beatific smile – is a beautiful sight.

At the airport, chasing down the lead of the rental plane that brought Moon to Los Angeles, Hutch is seen through an office window nonchalantly stubbing out a cigarette in the ashtray before he leaves. Although the man at the desk touches the cigarette himself while taking a call, it still seems as if Hutch either took it for himself or perhaps used it in one of his patented menacing moves, stubbing out the cigarette of someone he wanted to intimidate.

When Starsky and Hutch hear about the pilot, they immediately leap to understanding the large and complicated conspiracy that is in motion. This is some pretty impressive deduction.

Talking to the Mandalay Airport mechanic, Starsky and Hutch are particularly masterful. Starsky has his thumb hooked in the pocket of his jeans as he comes around and confiscates the tool the mechanic is holding. He does this in a mildly threatening way that would make anyone shake in their boots. Both are asking questions requiring uncomfortable answers. Hutch reaches out – like lightning – to grab hold of the guy’s wrist. Both are calm, focused and controlled, all business, no nonsense about left-handedness in sight.

Leo Moon tells Lola, “The Captain’s never late for Sunday service, right.” Dobey later tells Edith, “We’re going to arrive at church five minutes late, but we get better protection that way.” It seems as if Moon has misread his adversary. This points to a common thread in the series: how criminals, especially the Big Bosses, often crash and burn when over-protected, and over-praised, by their underlings.

The film negative is flipped in the car scene, showing the car being driven from the right side. Is this a glaring continuity error or a crafty comment on left-handedness?

Harold Dobey and C.J. Woodfield are both religious but there is a difference in how they view it. In Woodfield’s mind, religion and patriotism are merged into a militaristic code of conduct, necessary to to stave off the general downfall of American society. Dobey is a humble practitioner.

“Did I ever tell you about my aunt?” Hutch says, apropos of nothing while the three of them – the guys and Dobey – sit around the Dobey table drinking tea obviously prepared by Edith. Dobey has just been pessimistic and Starsky replies with a remark about always seeing on the bright side. Hutch laughs at Starsky, and then, in the aftermath of affection, is compelled to ruin the moment. “She was left-handed,” he says.
“What did your family do, lock her in the attic?” Starsky says.
Dobey demands to know what the hell they’re talking about, and Hutch says, “Did you ever notice about left-handed people, captain, that they’re a little strange.” And allows himself The Hutch Specialty: a smug chuckle. It’s a private, inward gesture both excluding and alienating, as if Hutch is conducting a secret conversation in his head. I always love this scene, Hutch suddenly resurrecting the subject of left-handedness right in the middle of the most complex, most frustrating part of the case. They can’t pin anything on Woodfield, the case is stalled, and so Hutch makes a little trouble, decompressing by casting aspersions at Starsky. And Starsky accepts this detour, instead of fighting back as anyone else would have. He knows what Hutch is doing.

C.J. Woodfield and the Collapse of the Confederate South: Woodfield is a rich old racist, suffering from what looks like the effects of polio and living in a vast suburban pile meant to look as plantation-like as possible. Played to the hilt by Broadway star Lester Rawlins, his slight frame, reptilian face and menacing southern drawl make him one slithery villain indeed. “I’m a simple man from simple roots,” he tells the detectives after an obnoxiously showy prayer as they sit with gleaming silver service and obsequious wait staff. This specious declaration is common to many of the gangsters at the apex of the food chain: they declare themselves to be regular guys who just happen to get lucky in life, whose riches haven’t changed their simple souls. Woodfield is an interesting variation on this because of his diminished physicality and the force of his religious beliefs, which bleat nonstop like Baptist hellfire. I wonder why these two embellishments, delightful as they are, have been added to his character. It could be the withering of his body echoes his moral withering, and it could be that a hypocrite of this magnitude plays well against the Dobey family’s simplicity and piety.

At Woodfield’s “breakfast” Starsky plays it with a measure of social awkwardness and bluntness ordering on rude, while Hutch goes for the smooth superiority that comes so effortlessly to him. He still, however, wants to have a little fun at the expense of his partner – you can see him intercept Starsky for the coffee pot, and Starsky’s annoyance. Hutch eats his oatmeal the proper way, spoon out toward the far end of the bowl, letting Starsky do the dirty work, threatening Woodfield and his crony. When Starsky makes a smart-ass comment about Woodfield serving “this mush”, you can see Hutch grin, enjoying his partner’s crude ways.

Dobey takes his son Cal for granted. He’s sharp with the boy while saving all his affection for his daughter. It puts one in mind of Jackson Walter’s relationship with Junior in “Manchild on the Streets”. Cal, like Junior, is sensitive. He’s putting up with his father without complaint during these extraordinary circumstances; he’s either afraid for him or of him. But, as time goes on, he’s going to become one surly, resentful young man, maybe in trouble, and Dobey will be at fault.

I can do without the sexual undercurrent of Lola’s tackle on the bed, with Hutch smirking, “Too much for you, partner?” as Starsky holds her down. I also wonder if Lola could have played it cool when she saw Hutch at the window, maybe lying her way out of trouble, but that’s pure speculation and perhaps unfair, because it’s clear throughout that Lola is not at all prepared for the dangers of this lifestyle, even Starsky remarks on her lack of smarts.

Is shooting Dobey at a church Woodfield’s idea? There are other, less public ways to do the job. I suspect it is because religion, and its perversion, plays such a big part in this episode, as Dobey declares he’ll give his thanks to the Lord following the shooting death of Moon. Also, the funereal decorations of coffin and hearse are amusingly reminiscent of the curtain swags at Woodfield’s home.

That’s some splendid act of subterfuge that lets Woodfield’s man Pommier sneak into the Dobey home under the auspices of Tri-State Telephone Co., fooling five police officers who should have known better.

Starsky tells Dobey that Pommier worked for Woodfield Industries for twelve years as a pilot and “explosives man”. What on earth would Pommier have to do with explosives in a seemingly legitimate business like that? It’s never said, but I wonder if the illegal awarding of contracts came about through the gentle persuasion of dynamite bouquets delivered to civic officials.

That is one amazing tackle Hutch does from the airplane to Woodfield’s man – fifteen feet at least, hard on the tarmac.

It’s interesting how much betrayal there is in this episode. Woodfield betrays Pommier, Lola betrays Moon, the aircraft mechanic betrays Pommier. In a sense, Dobey betrays Moon by testifying against him.

There are strong similarities between the two characters of C.J. Woodfield and James Marshall Gunther in the last episode “Sweet Revenge”. Both are older, lonely men without friends or family, whose vast empires are about to fall thanks to the relentless, pesky interference of Starsky and Hutch. A quiet servant comes to announce the arrival of the police, each man says thank you and asks to be left alone. There is a gun on the desk, and a moment of silent contemplation before the arrest, which I cannot help but draw comparisons to the cold realization in the Führerbunker. Both men seem to consider suicide at this point, even Gunther, who holds the gun on his lap and later points it at Hutch but in a way that feels more symbolic and sad than defensive. Woodfield arranges the disposal of his most trusted deputy, just as Gunther murdered his, without qualm or hesitation. Both men long for an imperial past when things seemed simpler. Both are beyond reason, psychotic, half in this world and half in some antediluvian fantasy. In both scenes Hutch is the first one through the door. Rights are read in a way that underscores this will be an above-board, fully legal arrest without a hint of vengeance, despite the enormous emotion beneath the surface. Lastly, we can see just how far the series itself has come in the space of four brief years: while well-written and well acted, Woodfield’s arrest is straightforward, a satisfying conclusion to the plot. In “Sweet Revenge”, the entire scene is swirling in a cerebral miasma, half-spoken thoughts and long intense silences, more real than mere reality. It is not satisfying in the traditional sense, but profound and sad. If this doesn’t make you grieve for the lack of a fifth season nothing will.

Tag: Dobey is tricked into admitting praise. We must come to the conclusion that Edith is the intelligent one in this family, no matter how many demure “yes dear”s she murmurs. Dobey refers to himself as “Chief of Detectives,” but later, in “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty”, it’s Chief Ryan who has the title. Hutch tells Starsky, after learning that Rosey is left-handed, “One out of two ain’t bad,” a statement that remains a mystery to this day. Is he just making stuff up to bolster a non-existent competition persisting throughout this episode? Unable to resist having the last word, no matter what?

Clothing notes: Starsky is wearing a red hooded sweatshirt that looks fresh and modern. Hutch is wearing his green t-shirt, a short black leather jacket we don’t see very often, and the turquoise cargo pants that have made an appearance in other shows.