Posts Tagged ‘David Soul’

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.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS:

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.

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Character Studies 31: Children

April 5, 2015

Children are prominent in many episodes, both as characters and as important metaphors for innocence, the bewilderment of loss as well as inevitable change. They are either the center of the story (“Little Girl Lost”, “The Trap”, “Crying Child”, “Manchild on the Streets”) or are memorably parallel to the story: Little Brother Kiko in “Running” and “The Trap”, the children in “Starsky’s Lady”, old-before-his-time huckster in “Huggy Can’t Go Home Again”, little Meg in “Hostages”, Stevie in “The Heavyweight”, Bobby Marsh in “Survival” and Richie Yeager in “The Plague”, Dobey’s children Rosie and Cal in “Captain Dobey”, the tragic Lonnie in “Pariah” and Joanna in “The Psychic”. As well, we see many characters approaching adulthood who are childlike, either because they are developmentally delayed or socially and emotionally immature and therefore in need of protection: Lisa in “Nightmare”, the pack of thieves run by Artie Solkin in “Vendetta”, exploited Mickey in “Bust Amboy” and to this list I’ll throw in Chicky in “Deckwatch” and dim-witted Mousey, also in “Nightmare”, as well as Larry Horvath, middle-aged but struggling with mental and physical challenges that have him naively stealing candy like a eight-year-old.

“Survival” is an excellent episode that features children in a variety of interesting ways. There is Bobby Marsh, the 12-year-old whizkid who helps Starsky with his ham radio, and there are the two teenagers who ruthlessly plunder the belongings of severely injured Hutch. Both Bobby and the lawless teenagers are dispossessed in some way, the suggestion here is they are cast out into a world of their own making, alienated from parental controls and surviving as Hutch must survive: by their wits, through sheer determination. When neglected they degenerate, and when loved they are self-actualized – even Hutch, briefly helpless as a child, goes through this traumatizing experience, only to be saved by his partner at the last moment.

Ninety-nine per cent of the children in this series are orphaned, acting alone, or in a single-parent home. This is no surprise, as this is a cop drama and happy families enjoying picnics have no part in that. I mentioned earlier that children are emblematic of change, both positive (transformation or innocence) or negative (grief and loss). But it is more personal than that: I think I remember the episodes featuring children so vividly because, like many fans of the series, I was a child myself when watching for the first time. Because of severe parental neglect I felt a strong connection to these scrappy orphans and streetwise tough guys, longed for rescue, and watched with a mix of jealousy and disappointment (boy or girl, who didn’t wish they were trapped in a barn fighting the bad guys with Starsky and Hutch?). These feelings of alienation are certainly not original – most children, especially the outsiders, the weirdos, the kids stuffed into lockers because of their haircuits or their teeth or some invented bit of cruelty, felt forsaken and misunderstood. In the 1970s the gap between child and adult was both vast and dark. Parents were aloof and strange, their lives indecipherable, children spent most of their time running wild in fantasyland. Popular psychology was just beginning to recommend having an empathetic relationship with one’s child, to see and understand the world through their eyes and give advice more productive than “he hits you because he likes you” or “boys don’t cry” but progressive parenting had a long way to go before filtering down to the average household. I don’t know many parents who approved of television generally and “Starsky & Hutch” in particular; the show was made for and intended for adults but it was mainly the secret province of teens and preteens, watched and loved and remembered with the particular intensity of those years. Sometimes I wonder if the inclusion of child characters was a way for series producers to acknowledge, and by proxy include, the majority of their fans.

But there is something even more important: these children, or childlike adults, allow Starsky and Hutch to rewrite the definition of heroism. From antiquity to the 19th century the Warrior Hero was admired for overcoming – with single-minded, steely zeal – those impediments to God or State, but by the 1970s the corrosive horrors of war and a general feeling of cynicism had a marked effect on the definition of heroism, from slashing and beheading your way through obstacles for Crown and Country to something much less definable, and much less “noble” in the traditional sense. Starsky and Hutch perfectly personify this new stateless hero. They have no external object of worship, are led astray by authority (“The Committee”, the “Targets” trilogy, among many others) and their private motto, “me and thee”, tells us they know very well that those in power can be as iniquitous as the criminals they chase. (They are not, however, anti-heroes. For all their independence and skepticism they are not self-interested, and never fully disengage from or believe they are better than those institutions employing them.) This new model of hero, then, is someone capable of rejecting power as well as embracing it, someone who can break down, who can cry, who expresses love, who protects the weak, whose vision is complicated by shades of grey rather than black and white. The presence of children, both as victims and little helpers, allow Starsky and Hutch to become true heroes in this way: ethical, protective, creative, empathetic, and nurturing.

But it’s their very different approaches to children that make the subject so fascinating. Simply put, if there was a conference table of in the boardroom of life, Hutch would sit across from a child and discuss matters reasonably, and Starsky would crawl under the table and make a fort from the cushions. Both methods are equally successful, both require insight and rapport. Both get the job done, depending on the circumstances. And above all both these approaches emphasize each man’s fundamental outlook on life: Hutch as rationalist, Starsky as fabulist. So while Hutch documents, Starsky invents. He magnifies pain (“Coffin”) and minimizes it too (“Shootout”). He uses humorous anecdotes as a way of consoling his partner, and also as a way of clarifying his version of reality (“Coffin”, “Plague”, “Golden Angel”, among others). A perfect example of this is in “Nightmare” when Hutch talks honestly and forthrightly to Lisa while Starsky distracts her with playtime. Even within the partnership Starsky can lapse into playfulness that suggests childishness, allowing Hutch to be the stern adult. For example, Starsky fondles money, Hutch slaps his hand (“The Psychic”, “Las Vegas Strangler”, “The Action”). This ritual seems to be a stress reliever for the both of them, and if I crawl onto a psychological branch here (unstable and unsupported) I might suggest that both are getting what they were denied in earlier life: Starsky lacking a father to support and direct him, Hutch’s natural inclination to be caring (and controlling) negated or ridiculed by others. A strong partnership such as theirs not only allows them to flower into what we now understand to be heroic, they are allowed to reclaim what has been lost in their own childhoods.

Let’s revisit “Nightmare”

February 14, 2015

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

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

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa alone in the house: why 911 was invented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Character Studies 29: Marvelous Minnie

October 4, 2014

Police officer Minnie Kaplan, played by Marki Bey, has more cameos than any other actor, as far as I can figure, and her all-too brief appearances are striking, not only because of Marki Bey’s beauty and charisma (both of which are considerable) or even the terrific lines of dialogue her character gets. It’s because she is inserted into an episode for a specific reason: to magnify the action in some way. Sometimes she gives voice to an unspoken issue, sometimes her very presence is a catalyst. Minnie, as a character, is a kind of pixie in the folkloric sense, immune to spears and arrows, whose appearance heralds – or identifies – trouble. She is both tangible and a little unreal. Even her name is cartoonish. Never out of uniform, keeping her hair short and wearing heavy black framed glasses, of indeterminate cultural and socioeconomic background, she is neither particularly (what this series likes to think of as) feminine, nor is she masculinized. Instead she is both, and neither. She’s unpredictable, deftly dodging our assumptions and our categories, a jokester, a jester and a confidante, an unexpected treat in every episode she in which appears.

We first meet Minnie as a meter maid – sorry, traffic coordinator – being hit on by Starsky and Hutch in “The Collector”, hit on, not for a date, but for a dicey undercover operation they are trying launch without official approval. Minnie’s friendship can be bought with coffee cake, but not her sensibility; she rejects their offer with a wry joke about being snowed. She’s on to them, it seems, she knows their devious ways. Rejected, they pout a little but she is unmoved. It’s a while until we see her again, in “The Avenger”, in perhaps her funniest cameo as Minnie dancin’ her way to self defence with her one-woman kung fu disco dance party. It doesn’t seem as if Hutch recognizes her, and she doesn’t know him either (she calls him “sir”). This moment is significant for many reasons. It’s the only light moment in a bleak and brutal episode. The suddenness – bam, there she is, lunging and screaming alone in the forensic lab – is in shocking contrast to the previous scene. Unlike Monique who is using men as both salvation and a kind of murderous indemnification, Minnie doesn’t even turn the volume of the music down when talking to a superior. By having fun by herself, making the best of long, boring shift, she then can be seen as troubled Monique’s exact opposite: a woman who in charge of her own life, who doesn’t need a man to feel whole, and who uses dancing not to ensnare or victimize men but to take charge of her own safety, her own sense of self. All this in a scene that lasts less than two minutes.

In “Cover Girl” Minnie has achieved the promotion promised by Starsky and Hutch, and is a fully fledged police officer with computer expertise and a crisp, no-nonsense manner enlivened by a gleeful zest for life. Starsky overtly checks out her figure and makes a suggestive comment and Minnie is unfazed. She is neither much flattered nor insulted, but breezily dismissive. She later helps Starsky with a vital clue involving the post office, and when Starsky offers to let himself into her place and “have a fire going”, the sexual banter is capped off by Minnie concluding (to herself, as he has left the room), “you’re a trashy boy, Starsky.” This is said not with either disgust or admiration, but rather with insouciance so broad it’s comic. Minnie and Starsky are play-acting. The flirtation may be real, but you always get the sense Starsky isn’t particularly serious – he isn’t interested in dating her (she might be too sassy for him, I think). His flirting is much like her teasing in this easy-going prefeminist world – it conveys respect rather than desire, it is code for “you’re one of us”.

Minnie has her smallest part in “Birds of a Feather”, but again it’s replete with meaning. She arrives to take horrible Gertrude down to get booked. Gertrude is suspicious but Starsky assures her, saying “Minnie never lies.” This is a pretty substantial comment and implies again that Minnie is more important than her brief appearances may suggest. In “Ninety Pounds of Trouble” Minnie is again prankster and know-it-all, pretending innocence as she tells Starsky “someone” won’t talk to anybody but him to report “a hit and run.” The hit and run, of course, is Minnie’s joke on Starsky: she knows all about Joey’s wretched puppy love. “Ta dah!” she says happily, throwing open the door to certain misery. In medieval times a jester was able to make pointed or political statements disguised as jokes, the only one allowed to take a poke at the king and get away with it, and Minnie, who never lies, can be seen as a similar truth-teller and king-poker.

In her last appearance in “Starsky vs. Hutch”, Minnie appears in the squad room as Starsky wearily sits, marking time, late at night. Sympathetically she hands him a cup of coffee and asks where the “beautiful blonde sergeant” is. Hilariously, she could be referring to either Kira or Hutch, implying, in her mischievous way, the factors in Starsky’s love life are pretty complicated. Reading Starsky’s discomfort she proceeds to needle him a little, trying to make him confess his feelings. This time, however, Starsky doesn’t rise to the bait and simply leaves. “Hmm, guess that answers that question,” Minnie says to herself, again commenting on the scene like she did in “Cover Girl”, electing herself as an ironic Greek Chorus. Minnie is amused by his behavior, but not in a mean or judgmental way. She understands there is tension simmering and goes on her merry way, no doubt to tease and torment someone else.

In all these encounters we note the same factors. Minnie has friendly, or sexually-loaded interaction only with Starsky but does not engage with Hutch, who is more cerebral and intemperate, although she likes him (interestingly, their one scene together in “The Avenger” is not personal in any way). She is either disruptive, insightful or supportive, never bland or invisible. Remarkably, in a series with a complicated and not altogether laudable relationship with its female characters, she is completely unfazed by flirting, appearing to give as good as she gets while absolutely not inflaming or even participating in the seduction. This is an important distinction because it’s Starsky who sexualizes their encounters, who half-heartedly but inventively makes his play: Minnie does not play, not even a little. Her appearances are always work related, no after-hours fraternizations. Minnie Kaplan is enigmatic but earthy, smart but inscrutable, teasable but untouchable. How I wish we could see more of her.

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.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a terrific episode with a focused storyline 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. 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 Prudhom 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?

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 gnore 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.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Studies 28: Rethinking “The Psychic”: Mysticism, Magic, and the Lost Wig Theory

May 2, 2014

“Starsky and Hutch” is, by and large, a hard-hitting police drama. It takes place in and around Los Angeles and brings us a variety of hardened criminals and tough survivors, family men in trouble, lawyers on the take. When people think back to this series they remember the gun battles and squealing tires, the close partnership. But, as unlikely as it seems to the casual fan of the show, there is a consistent thread of what might be called “magic” in the series, moments in which the veil is seemingly lifted, ever so slightly, to glimpse (or imagine we glimpse) a light coming from the other room. In that room is a whole mess of coincidence and divinity, absurdity and ambiguity, signs and portents. The 1970s was a time in which the metaphysical and occult – for centuries known only by a select few – had exploded in popularity, spurred on in part by mass-marketed fascination with so-called ancient wisdom and the explosion of youth culture. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough for the Hierophant to jealously guard his sacred books. UFO hysteria and fetishistic fads like Pyramid Power and Scientology joined uneasy hands with pharmaceutical “trips” and Eastern philosophy; everyone wanted in, they wanted to find themselves, get somewhere that wasn’t here. In this series, this kind of salad-bar approach to mysticism is charmingly satirized by Starsky, whose reciting of supermarket tabloids – and put-upon gullibility – is precisely calibrated to irritate his skeptical partner.

In keeping with the times, there are many episodes playing with the theme of the supernatural. The talismanic dog in “Snowstorm”, the visions suffered in “The Psychic”, cults and magic in “Bloodbath” and “Satan’s Witches”, various psychics – charatan and not – in “The Hostages”, “The Shootout”, and “The Psychic”. “Survival” is riddled by magical coincidences. Commander Jim in “Lady Blue” communicates with aliens. “Voodoo Island” is replete with curse-throwing vodun priests, and it could be said Monique is “possessed” in “The Avenger” as Rene is likewise posessed in “The Vampire”. There are devil worshippers in “Terror on the Docks” and “The Vampire”, and “Satan’s Witches”, and one spectacular instance of sixth sense in “Sweet Revenge”, when the doctor listens to his inner voice and tries once more to revive his patient. There are only three traditional religious figures in the series and none are up to snuff: the discomfiting padre in “Terror on the Docks”, the complicit nuns in “The Set-Up”, and the murderous bokor Papa Theodore in “Voodoo Island”. There are also impersonators who borrow the collar’s cache to get what they want in “Silence”, “Murder on Stage 17” and “Little Girl Lost”.

But it is important to note, with the possible exception of Joe Collins in “The Psychic”, there is not a single instance in which we are shown unequivocally that magic or mysticism is either genuine, profitable, or helpful. Rather, the series shows us, time and time again, supernatural beliefs are either a way of coping with extreme stress, the byproduct of mental illness, or purely mercenary (and murderous) in nature. Starsky and Hutch themselves dabble in occultish guesswork as a way of engaging the other in the loving mockery that so often defines male friendship – Starsky tries out his ESP in “Black and Blue” and Hutch guesses his partner’s biorhythms in “The Game”. The series casts a clear-eyed, hard-hearted look at the concept of slavish devotion to a faith or ideal: even the potions of Voodoo Island are more medicinal than mystical. The two charismatic cult leaders in the series – Rodell in “Satan’s Witches” and Marcus in “Bloodbath” – are sociopaths with inflated egos, who most likely control their all-male lieutenants with the promise of lecherous dominion over female followers, and even the most minor satanist, pathetic druggy Slade, uses his “beliefs” to get young girls into bed. Blind faith of any kind falls into the Institutional Evil category, and Starsky and Hutch are shown as iconoclastic, individualist, their morality not bound to orthodoxy or any sense of belonging at all. If they belong to anything it is to each other, solely. In the remarkable and tricky episode “Survival” – an episode playing with the idea of chance, coincidence, and the presence or absence of an Organizing Principle (my vote is on “absence”), when an injured Hutch cries out into the brilliantly starry sky for help, his own voice echoes back at him.

What of Joe Collins, then? This single instance of a genuine psychic throws a spanner into the works. “The Psychic”, as we recall, is tells the story of a high school girl held hostage by three desperate men. It features a vivid and unforgettable performance by Allan Miller as a man who finds only pain and regret in his extraordinary gift. Before the kidnapping is even known to police, Starsky and Hutch are led to Joe Collins by their friend Huggy, who tells them a dead body needs investigating. And who has seen that dead body? It’s a psychic in hiding from a tragic past, who at first vehemently denies any knowledge of the crime and then reluctantly helps the two detectives. He is subjected to explosive, uncontrolled visions that at first baffle and then begin to help Starsky and Hutch zero in on the kidnapped girl. For years I accepted this as true. I wanted to believe it, much as Starsky and Hutch do. But it is possible, though, that Joe is not psychic at all, but rather an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

The first clue comes when Huggy gives a colorful version of what he heard Joe say: “Where giant happy wheels climb into the sky and pretty dead horses grazing in the sun, that’s where you’ll find the last of the remains.” When and why Collins has said this is not clear – he certainly isn’t interested in repeating it or even sharing it with people who might actually be helpful. Does he cry out in a trance, does he mutter it to himself within earshot of our nosy friend? Whatever the delivery, it’s not as if Collins gave a truly remarkable instance of clairvoyance. He does not say “a girl has been kidnapped”. Rather, he says, “a guy I know is lying dead at the fairgrounds.” What the “last of the remains” means is unknown; if it means Joe thinks only one person will die in this case and it’s Julio, he could be wrong, as it’s likely the kidnappers die in the car fire. And yet this isn’t exactly what Collins says. The baroque language isn’t his: Huggy has embroidered this statement to the point of outright invention. If anyone here is a mystical poet it’s him, which adds a fun extra layer of skepticism onto this story. (Huggy, as the self-proclaimed “sorcerer’s apprentice” muddying the waters for his own entertainment.) Anyway, back to the action. The dead man Joe Collins acknowledges he has glimpsed in a vision is Julio, who comes into his cafe regularly. There are many hints in the story that Julio an essentially good man with a gambling habit and a crumbling conscience, and with that comes the strong possibility he blurted out some kind of confession to the severely, even pathologically empathetic Joe, whose capacity to take on the suffering of others overwhelms him from time to time. Joe internalizes Julio’s moral agony, and unconsciously relates it to his “visions”. After all, the Atlanta case that made Joe famous left a lot of people skeptical and angry, and the fact Joe tearfully denies involvement does not mean he wasn’t involved on some level.

The episode could make a case for the supernatural, as Joe’s highly detailed and exact visions blast seeming from nowhere, with an appropriately spooky soundtrack. The scrapyard hiding place could have been chosen spontaneously by the kidnappers, which would make Joe’s “rose” image truly psychic in nature. But a kidnapping takes detailed planning, and weeks of reconnaissance. Julio would most likely know about the truck. With his employment at the garage, which may mean he regularly takes abandoned vehicles to be scrapped, he might have been the one to find it. A single instance of drunken mumbling, with Joe distracted by work and not consciously listening, would be enough to lodge those images in his brain. Also, Hutch remarks that the kidnappers have done this same thing before, in Philadelphia. As a transient club magician, Joe might have been in that city during the crisis, and read all about it in the newspapers. Joe Collins may be unconsciously implicit in all that happens, his “talents” more to do with an extraordinary compassion rather than second sight.

There is only a single instance of “what the – ” in the episode, and that is Joe’s foreknowledge of the “211” down the block. It comes out of nowhere and does not even have a tangential relation to the case. But there is a fascinating coincidence here that bears remarking upon. “The Psychic” opens with the wonderful take-down of a repeat offender by the name of Fireball, who is disguised in women’s clothing and loses his wig in the chase. The armed robbery in the bar down the street is an exact replica of that situation, with the “old lady” getting her wig snatched off by Starsky, who is shocked to see a man. This is unusual enough to get us thinking. Both criminals not only use disguise, but gender-bending pretense. In both situations most people are fooled by that disguise, which is used for ill-gotten gains. Both are unmasked by Starsky and Hutch as agents of justice. The exposed reality is somewhat pathetic and sad (Fireball begs to be shot to avoid jail time). It’s a possibility we are supposed to understand this as a metaphor for the episode’s approach to supernaturalis, that which is ostensibly given by God and separate from nature, is, beneath its wig, prosaic and mundane.

This doesn’t explain why Joe was able to “see” the 211, but perhaps there are some mysteries which are better off unsolved. As with the series as a whole, the episode takes a pragmatic, humanistic approach to the idea of the ineffable. And casting this wonderful, perceptive, beautifully written episode in a skeptical light – perhaps in the light it was intended to be seen in – helps us to appreciate it all the more.

Let’s revisit “Murder at Sea”

April 5, 2014

The two detectives go undercover on a cruise ship to investigate two drug-related murders, but find more than they planned when they stumble onto a meeting of syndicate bosses.

Helen: Lynne Marta, “Oxey”: Pepper Martin, Commodore Atwater: Will Geer, October Moss: Jennifer Shaw, Eric Snow: Timothy Himes, Edna Zelinka: Kay Medford, Bertha: Carole Ita White, Kitty: Devon Ericson, Harvey Schwab: Ed Begley Jr, First Officer Stafford: Ron Moody, Captain LaRue: Jean-Pierre Aumont, Patsy Cairo: Paul Picerni, Nicky Cairo: Charles Picerni, “Crazy” Joey Fortune: Jose Ferrer, Marty Simon: Robert Walden, Mr. Jensen: Burr DeBenning, Clint Takahashi: Richard Lee Sung, Lord Harry: Zakes Mokae, Tina: Marianne Bunch, Hubert Stuffy: Richard Hack, Lily: Gari Hardy. Written By: Ron Friedman, Directed By: George McCowan.

NOTES AND QUESTIONS:

Let’s get our business over with first: the issues of maritime law. You’ll have to make allowances for my lay-person grasp of things, but just who is allowed to investigate a crime committed on a cruise ship is dependent on many factors. Sea law is partially reliant on which flag the ship is flying under. And because maritime law is difficult to define, with many countries having differing laws, criminal activity is usually investigated on a case-by-case basis. Logically, Starsky and Hutch would never be allowed to go undercover to investigate a suspected drug-smuggling operation involving multiple countries; that would be a case for the FBI at the very least. Criminal activity while in international water is only one part of the picture. There are “internal waters” (the port and canals of a particular state) which have jurisdiction over federal laws. “Territorial waters” (twelve miles from its coastline) and “contiguous zones” (twelve to twenty-four miles from its coastline) allow for the nation’s laws to be considered. Only in international waters does the ship’s flag dictate the laws. Many ships are registered through Liberia or other countries for this reason. Cruise ships are another matter again. Crimes against a passenger may be prosecuted by the city in which the passenger purchased the ticket rather than the internal or territorial area. Many regulations, however, are recent ones. During the time period in which “Murder at Sea” was filmed things were considerably looser. As far as the crimes committed on board this particular ship, it would likely be a gigantic pain requiring years and years of international legal wrangling. The captain’s murder may have occurred in international waters, and the attempted murder of all the passengers in Mexican territorial waters could be deemed an act of terrorism, since it involves the likely mass murder of innocent civilians, but that word, while around in the 1970s, had not yet been clearly defined. Nellie Brown would also be charged with attempted murder, and the assorted gangsters with criminal conspiracy. Whatever the legal outcome, Starsky and Hutch would be in and out of court as witnesses for a decade.

Cruise ships have changed remarkably in the years since this episode. Recent statistics have suggested cruise ship passengers has increased by a staggering 2,000% since 1970, most of that growth occurring after 1980. And with that came larger and more elaborate ships until the new mega-engorged Fantasy and Grand Princess-class behemoths do not even remotely resemble the rather modest ship Amapola. The Amapola dining room looks more like a cafeteria with its low ceilings and cheap dinette sets, and the simple cabins and unadorned decks are very different from today’s multiple swimming pools and vast glitzy ballrooms.

Amapola being the scene of a crime involving cocaine smuggling is nicely done, as “amapola” is Spanish for poppy.

This is the second double-episode in a row and features friends of Glaser and Soul – Soul’s mentor Will Geer, old pal Ron Moody (from the wonderful and strange 1974’s “Dogpound Shuffle”) Lynne Marta as the mysterious Nellie Brown/ Helen Carnahan, stunt coordinator and Glaser’s double, Charlie Picerni, and his brother, Paul (The Untouchables), and even an unbilled cameo by Glaser’s love and wife-to-be, Elizabeth Meyer (memorably sitting at Takahashi’s table during the talent show). Like most of the double episodes, this one is not exactly helped by the format. Would it have been a better episode if it was tightly fitted in an hour, minus the dumb gags and extensive back-story? Maybe, or maybe not. I confess I would have dearly missed the “talent show”.

The two-week shoot was a working vacation for Glaser and Soul, with some of the passengers filling in as extras. It was not an easy shoot, though, particularly the bomb search scene which was filmed in tight quarters with boxes that were weighted for the sake of reality and it was probably oppressively hot and putrid. One cute inside joke is Glaser and Soul’s smirk when Huggy says the line about being the “Houdini with soul”, since Glaser filmed a biography of the great Harry Houdini and is literally with Soul.

I am one of those people completely spooked by masks and so I’m a big baby when it comes to the first scene of the episode when Jensen kills Snow. More savvy viewers than I could probably name the character’s mask this is but my guess would be an ape from the Planet of the Apes films. I uncovered my eyes long enough to wonder why he bothered with a mask at all, since the docks were deserted and it was more than probable there would be no witnesses, and even if there were and someone provided the police with detail of the mask, why would he keep it? This leaves open the speculation Jenson did not intend to kill Snow, but merely wound him – gangster style – as a way of ensuring his silent loyalty.

Helen Carnahan does something really dumb in this first scene: she turns on her car’s engine and squeals away following the stabbing death of her contact rather than simply ducking down and waiting it out. The killer had no idea she was there and would have run off, allowing her to check if purser Eric Snow was still alive and perhaps provide lifesaving first aid, or at the very least phone the police anonymously. Her lack of common sense is a bit frustrating. Throughout the episode she continues to make questionable decisions: lying to police, striking out at Starsky and Hutch, getting herself into a complex and dangerous situation that gets way over her head, and even her final act of revenge, while nicely done and perversely brave, has not been well thought out by someone who presumably has had years of thinking to do. Although we eventually come to understand her motives, her general sense of judgement is way off.

Hutch stops the ambulance attendant and spends a few seconds lifting the sheet and staring at the victim’s face. This is presumably after the scene, and victim, has been carefully investigated. Is he just double-checking his notes (“victim is male caucasian with brown hair”) or is he looking for a flash of inspiration as to the motive for the murder?

No longer the sole province of sailors and criminals, times certainly have changed for tattoos. Harry Persons is seen as an outsider and a genial weirdo, hanging out at the docks for customers, his “special” – a hilarious pastiche of the worst of tattoos, a spider and heart thing, with “born to make whoopee” emblazoned across it – making the guys cringe. Starsky’s refusal of Harry’s offer of his “special” is wonderful, especially through his east-coast drawl: “Nah, too common. Everybody’s got hawts and spidahs.” (A joke, incidentally, for his partner only: they grin at each other, briefly forgetting why they’re there.)

I like the perfectly timed joke about Hutch being a kid fifteen hundred miles from the sea and yet managing to be a sea scout. “How’d you manage that?” Starsky asks. “It wasn’t easy,” he says. All we need is a rim shot.

It’s a beautifully choreographed fight scene as Starsky and Hutch are attacked out of nowhere, and a creative use of two sets of legs. But security honcho Oxey’s actions make absolutely no sense, no matter how he tries to spin it. If he’s port police, why not call for backup when he’s attacked and beaten unconscious? Why not shout “stop, police!” when he spots two strangers on the ship? Both these precautions are the very least an officer of the law should do in that situation. Perhaps he’s been impaired by a concussion into acting rashly.

Repeats: the guys repeat Oxey’s name several times, emphasizing the implication he is tough and dumb as an ox. Then they also repeat the word “commodore” several times as if to emphasize the unusual antiquity of the word. Hutch repeats the name “Clark” later, as if to emphasize how fake it sounds.

The commodore’s office comes right out of a Victorian novel. Dark wood paneling and velvet and lace curtains blot out the sun, brandy snifters, model ships, brass telescopes and other seafaring relics clutter the room. This does not seem reasonable in a busy international port. The commodore himself is a nasty old man – he flicks out his tongue when mentioning the singles scene – but was probably intended to be old-fashioned and even charming at the time. He also claims not to know “one-tenth” of the men on any of the ships but appears to have instant recall of one of Snow’s many girlfriends, down to her hair color.

Why does Helen Carnahan bother putting on her shoes to answer the door? You’d think she should cover up her skimpy “yoga suit” or whatever that is, rather than just slipping on a pair of shoes in her own carpeted apartment. However she does, eventually, put on the world’s ugliest skirt.

Not that it matters much, but October Moss says she and Eric Snow broke up weeks ago, and that he was so violent during their relationship she was forced to take on a roommate as protection and company. Then why is she a sobbing wreck to hear of his death? I can accept she may just be the most tender-hearted person ever but it still seems a tiny bit histrionic. She asks none of the questions (“Why? How did it happen?”) that most heart-broken people might ask, and in the next scene we see her as cheerful and lively as if nothing bad had ever happened.

Why to the guys assume Huggy will know Eric Snow? He’s just a small-time coke dealer and not very important. Huggy’s reach probably doesn’t extend to the shipping trade. And yet they head for him all the same, and ta-dah, like magic, he knows all the answers. It’s amusing when they leave Huggy in his straight jacket, but all the same, once you think about it, it’s more cruel than funny, as this pranking the prankster could lead to something genuinely dangerous. They don’t even look back, either.

Starsky and Hutch leave Helen alone in an apartment in which the horrible murder of her close friend has taken place. There is no attempt to secure the scene or make sure Helen has psychological help or even a place to stay until the blood has been cleaned up. It’s best to assume we simply don’t see the more procedural side of things. Let’s imagine that just out of sight an army of scene-of-crimes technicians and helpful family services liaison officers are waiting to take over as soon as the detectives leave.

Just how does an undercover operation go against the commodore’s grain? It seems to be the upholding of the law and preserving the reputation of his ships would be first on his list.

Is the hand-painted Mexican pottery collection Starsky tells the Commodore he is thinking of starting the same one he’ll be talking to Rosey Malone about in the future? And also why does the Commodore looks so startled, then amused, then doubled up in riotous laughter, at such an innocuous comment? He then says the two detectives are “picturesque” and Starsky looks uncertain, as he should. The point remains Starsky comes up with this story about pottery knowing it will turn the tide in their favor. How is it he is so perspicacious in this instance? Does he guess the commodore is helpless in the face of whimsy, or what?

“Now all we got to think of is what kind of cover to use,” Starsky says once their assignment is confirmed. And without much of a beat Hutch says, “I got it.” And thus Hack and Zack are born, “songs and laffs”. One wonders exactly why Hutch was so quick to come up with such an elaborate and ridiculous undercover guise. Couldn’t they have just been passengers, or better yet crew members so they could have access to the closed-off parts of the ship? Why this, this weird vaudeville act? Is this something Hutch has been wanting to do for ages? In “The Shootout” tag he seems to be barely tolerating his partner’s own songs and laffs routine but now he’s anxious to participate. Maybe he’d been thinking for years, gosh, I really want to do a song and dance routine, but how?

It’s very funny that the photographs on the sandwich board are the famous posed publicity shots of the two actors, a bewildering merging of real and fiction with meta-real and meta-fiction.

Hack and Zack meet Mr. Takahashi (played by an actor of Chinese and not Japanese descent, an annoying miscast of its time). Right off the bat Hutch can’t pronounce his name and in fact throughout the episode will mispronounce that name in a hundred creative ways (showing David Soul’s verbal dexterity). Starsky whispers “Japanese” to Hutch and Mr. Takahashi, rightly indignant, says he’s a “red-blooded American from Houston, Texas”. Making things worse, Starsky puts his hands together, bows, and utters what sounds like a genuine Japanese phrase of apology. And it all goes downhill from here, because at this moment the episode takes off its detective hat and puts on its clown shoes.

It’s all aboard the double-decker entendre as Hutch sees the Bayside Singles girls bouncing down the gangplank and says to one of the girls, “don’t you have nice large … signs”, presumably referring to the t-shirt she is wearing. She says, “so do you,” and Hutch glances down at himself and grins, “thank you very much.” Suddenly, from the grim reality of a murdered coke dealer, the shows veers off into sexual shenanigans, mariachi music, eccentric passengers, and inane games of Simon Says.

Hutch, in a sudden case of nerves (as Zack? Or himself?), does a strange performance by repeating “Clark, clark, clark”, like a duck.

It is amusing to see Charlie Picerini, as the brother to mobster Clark, give Starsky a meaningful glance as they walk by.

Why is it that neither of them want to be “Hack”? What’s the difference? Anyway, as usual, Starsky loses. Hutch gives him the name “Hack Tuppleman” as a sort of ultra-Catskills moniker, for his own private amusement.

Uptight singles club manager Harvey Schwab is seen as a cuckold and a prude. His girl Kitty is what would then be called a nymphomaniac, a giggling ditz whose nonstop (and nonpartisan) promiscuity is played for laughs. Both these typically 70s characters make me more queasy than ocean swells.

For such a central character, Helen Carnahan is all mixed up. I always get the feeling writer Ron Friedman likes her but has no idea what to do with her. She gets First Officer Stafford to ask Starsky and Hutch to meet her in her cabin even though there is absolutely no reason for a) involving the ship’s crew or b) alerting Starsky and Hutch to her involvement. They have no idea she’s there, so why tell them? When they meet her she’s obstructive and combative, refusing to say who she really is or what she wants, or why she went through all that trouble to get them to her cabin in the first place. Why arrange a meeting only to throw up all kinds of road blocks, especially if she wanted to be left alone to perform the one task she swore on her father’s grave she would do? Later, Helen tells Starsky and Hutch they have “no jurisdiction here.” Do they? The ship is probably still in territorial waters and they could possibly arrest her for impeding an investigation if they wanted to.

Hutch can’t help but be sanctimonious about knowing “navy time”, but for most of this show this is the only evidence of his habitual superiority.

How come it takes so long to get a passenger list?

Starsky comments, “You don’t kill a couple of people to cover up some misdemeanor convictions.” True, but if that is all it was, it wouldn’t warrant sending in two undercover detectives either.

It’s interesting that both Captain and First Officer are both so obnoxious and bad-tempered. And also that Hutch, rather than Starsky, is the one trying to control the situation through extreme politeness.

Games like Simon Says and scavenger hunts and lukewarm jokes about marriage and bathrooms seem lame, even for the times, except if you’re somewhere between eight and twelve years old.

Elizabeth Mayer is transcendent in her scene, with her thick golden-brown hair and deep tan, simple black dress and large pendant.

Amateur Hour: Hack tells a whole lot of really bad jokes, but there is a genuinely funny one when Kitty slides between them on her way out and Starsky says, “maybe she’d like us to stand closer together.” After introducing “Mrs. Edna Zalinka from Columbus Ohio” (the marvelous character actress Kay Medford) Hutch finally gives up on the whole stupid charade, throws his paper in the air, and walks off with Starsky. Wonderfully, you can just discern in the darkness that he puts his arm protectively, and affectionately, around Starsky’s waist as they walk out together.

Starsky overhears the gangsters colluding in secret. He then continues on his way, abruptly cold-cocked by Nicky Cairo’s gun, and abandoned, stunned, in the hallway. Now what was that all about? There’s no hint Nicky saw Starsky climbing up to see the meeting. If Nicky did see Starsky peeking in, knocking him down and then abandoning him isn’t very practical. It brings attention to the beating in a way that isn’t helpful to the gangsters. And it’s not as if Stafford interrupted the attack either, since he comes along some time later. So why did Nicky do a half-assed job on someone he obviously saw as threatening? Why not kill Starsky and put him in a closet somewhere?

Hutch remarks they have the “biggest meeting of the syndicate since Appalachia”. The Appalacin Meeting was a held in the home of mobster Joe “the Barber” Barbara in New York in 1957 and attended by an estimated one hundred mafiosi from three countries. The meeting came to an abrupt halt when law enforcement became suspicious of all the fancy cars arriving in the small town and raided the event. While this is historical fact, it’s still absurd to think of a bunch of gangsters stupid enough to draw attention to themselves with their insistence on luxurious automobiles.

You would think two seasoned criminals would be able to kill someone (in this case, the captain) and hide the evidence of wrongdoing, if only to buy them time. The scene is left disarranged and bloody, possibly alerting Starsky and Hutch faster than it should have.

The choreography is great in the scene in which they run up the stairs, Starsky turns the corner slightly ahead of Hutch and then in a split second grabs him, pulls him back, Hutch’s hand on his elbow – which stays there while they listen in on the treacherous plot against them.

Hiding in Helen’s room, Starsky does a funny thing. he draws the curtains over the portholes, then glances through them, as if someone might be looking in. I guess old habits die hard, but then again in a later scene Starsky is able to crawl onto a handrail to see inside Cairo’s stateroom, so perhaps it’s not as crazy as it seems.

“The world’s getting killed around you and you’re out there busting heads and playing macho,” Helen scolds Hutch. “The minute the stakes get too high you drop the case, turn tail and run.” This is a searing indictment but completely without evidence. She’s been angry at them since she slipped on board and there is no reason for it. How does she figure they’re “playing macho” and giving up? Why angrily accuse them when she knows nothing about what they’re doing?

Helen tells them it was October Moss who told her about Eric’s involvement in the case. So why didn’t October mention this when she learns her ex-boyfriend had been murdered?

The captain is dead and no one on board seems to notice.

I’m not sure taking three hostages through busy passageways down to the hold of the ship is more private than a state room. It looks far less comfortable for these unctuous gangsters – no chance of a meal or a shower, nothing but pallets and hard chairs to sit on – and has a far more likely chance of being interrupted by some innocent maintenance man or engineer. When we later learn what is in store for the group it makes a lot more sense for Joey Fortune, but you still have to wonder why Patsy Cairo, apparently the brains here, fell for the “second location” excuse.

Jose Ferrer is wonderful as “Crazy” Joey Fortune. Perfectly cast, his deep suave voice and physical power – undimmed in late middle age – is impeccable. I love it when he’s caught following the dune buggy chase and he tries to play the victim card, raising his hands and putting on a pathetic waver. This is one canny fox.

Starsky and Hutch know a lot about demolition. They talk easily about impact switches, delayed fuses, directional fuses, pressure sensitive detonators and trembler switches like they’ve just completed a course at the academy.

Now comes my favorite plot twist in the entire two-hour episode, when bad guys are forced to cooperate with the good guys to save their skins.

Stafford finds the captain dead and makes his way down to the meeting room, rifle in hand. Note that he doesn’t attempt to engage any other crew to help him, but blunders into the situation by himself.

The first bomb has gone off and apparently it doesn’t cause any damage at all, since First Officer Stafford seems only peripherally aware of it and we later see Mrs Edna Zalinka from Columbus Ohio happily anticipating more fun and games. No panic in sight. I understand that for budgetary and time reasons the script could not show mass panic, but there must have been a way to suggest it.

One of the funniest lines in the entire episode is said off-camera, when Helen/Nellie cries out, “what can I do!” and Hutch says dryly, “I don’t know.” I laugh every time I hear it, and not only because it’s delivered so perfectly, but because it underscores (in a mean way, admittedly) how useless she is. Stafford does deputize her, however, so she has something to keep her occupied.

“Hey!” Starsky stops them both dead in their tracks on the way to diffusing the bombs. They both stop, turned to each other, momentarily still. “See ya around,” Starsky says. Versions of this wonderful partnership moment, in which life-threatening danger is both acknowledged and then set aside for the greater good – can be seen if at least three other episodes.

Then, as abruptly, the show puts on its crime hat again. A beautifully-filmed and thrilling bomb-hunt is on, the guys leaping over railings and climbing up and down stairs with incredible agility and speed, working seamlessly together in incredibly cramped quarters. No jokes, no wasted time. The background music is nicely done and not too intrusive, and the naturalistic lighting makes it all seem very, very real. Both actors are fully committed to this long, mostly silent action sequence and as a result it is a genuinely stressful experience. This episode was taped after “Little Girl Lost”, during which Soul broke his ankle, so he does all the running and jumping with an injury and probably in great pain. There is a creative shot of the two forehead-to-forehead – actually bracing on each other – pulling the bombs up the ladder.

The sea explosion clip is from the 1958 WW II film “Run Silent, Run Deep”. Rigging an explosion like that would have been unthinkably expensive for a television show; one can’t help but think how CGI has changed everything in that regard.

One of the best chases in the series, Hutch (“I was raised in one of these”) driving a dune buggy and Starsky hanging on for dear life (a scene that they actually re-filmed on their day off after the two stars weren’t pleased with the first take).

Do Starsky and Hutch have their guns on the Amapola? Hutch appears to have his trusty Python after the dune buggy desert chase, but there are no signs of either gun on board. Given what they wear, it would probably been too much of a nice big sign.

And what, finally, becomes of Nellie Brown? Lynne Marta’s finest moment in this double episode comes as she stares murderously at Joey Fortune following her failed assassination attempt. Her large expressive eyes are quite frighteningly cold, and for a moment she is stripped of all the narrative entanglements the writers have strung on her and is pure, in a sense: purely herself, no longer Helen or Nellie Brown, no longer a faux-reporter or a pretty girl entangled in something she doesn’t understand, but Vengeance herself, white-hot and focused. It’s a great moment. If we accept that Starsky’s father was also a citizen gunned down by the mob (possibly as a union man, like Nellie’s father) Starsky and Hutch’s silence on the matter is touching and beautifully underplayed. Unfortunately she is left behind when more pressing matters come to the fore, and is summarily dropped from the story, her fate unknown. I do have a problem with her planning skills, however, as mentioned earlier. She was clever enough to worm her way into October Moss’ confidence and affection, get Eric Snow’s information, and work out how Snow was tangentially involved with Fortune. So why shoot Fortune while he’s standing in a room filled with people capable of shooting back? Why not glean his address in Acapulco (or wherever he’s hiding out), track him down, and shoot him there? Her actions are rash and suicidal – or maybe that’s the point. This is an issue common with the series: they set up a highly motivated killer with a complex story and then forget them three-quarters of the way through as concentration shifts to Starsky and Hutch. Not necessarily a bad thing – concentrating on Starsky and Hutch is never a bad thing – but it does give rise to all kinds of questions that cannot be answered except in our imaginations.

There is a long tag featuring Huggy’s magic show, although why the ship is docked and yet passengers are on board in evening clothes being entertained is not really explained. Are they being held back for questioning? Starsky and Hutch are very funny as they try to hide their anxiety about their friend’s prowess, inching toward the back door to make a run for it. The sword goes in and Bertha screams and this is supposed to be the punch line? A possibly injured woman or – at the very least – a woman screaming for a “comically” unrelated reason (one can easily picture a rubber mouse or some other scare surfacing from the inside of that box). No matter why Bertha screams, you just have to ask: what’s so funny about that?

Clothing notes: at the start, Hutch wears his memorable blue plaid shirt-jacket and tan pants, Starsky his leather jacket, a tan/pink button shirt and leather jacket, and, onboard, the jean short-shorts we’ve seen before and since. The cruise makes white pants a welcome sight, and Starsky looks great in his hippie-style Mexican shirt in the all-aboard scene. Both look fairly respectable in Cruise Director formal wear as they work the dining room. But the star of the show has to be Hutch as Zack in tinted aviators and a fantastic brown jumpsuit with many zippers.

Let’s revisit “The Specialist”

February 19, 2014

After a stray bullet kills retired special agent Alex Drew’s wife, he sets out to kill all the cops he thinks were in on the plot – including Starsky and Hutch.

Alex Drew: Joel Fabiani, Janice Drew: Melendy Britt, Arthur Cole: Charles Cyphers, Sally Hagen: Linda Scruggs- Bogart, Mr. McDermont: Jack Zoller, Carl: Michael Twain, “Flashy” Floyd: Anthony Ziggarelli, Hooker: Denise Gordy. Written By: Robert Earll, Directed By: Fernando Lamas.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Alex Drew is portrayed as a loving, attentive husband. When he insists that he take his wife shopping for clothes she doesn’t need and doesn’t want, is this a loving act? He practically pushes her out the door.

Drew tells his wife – sharply – that he will put his suitcase in the closet. We see later this suitcase is an assassin’s arsenal, with guns and other deadly paraphernalia packed neatly in custom foam inserts. A few questions arise here about motivation and planning. It seems obvious that Drew’s wife does not know about the weapons – if she did, she’d be a lot more tense about the luggage. So why doesn’t he tell her, and why bring such an elaborate weapons stash in the first place? On the surface of things it seems as if this Los Angeles trip is a holiday, but it lasts a rather unusually lengthy three weeks, and Drew’s wife is returning to Washington on her own. What reason does Drew have to stay behind, and does it have anything to do with those guns? Given that we discover later he has been “forcibly retired”, and has suffered a breakdown of sorts because of it, is revenge on his mind already? Has he traveled to California on some kind of crazy mission to get his job back or exact revenge on the person who downsized his department? If so he has done an extraordinary job of fooling his trusting wife, which is not out of the realm of possibility for an ex-CIA operative, even one with a screw loose. But now that Alex Drew is a regular citizen like everybody else, how on earth did he get that suitcase past airline security? Things weren’t that lax in the seventies.

Starsky always gets the best parking in the place – right in front of the building.

They’re in the locker room, changing from what is probably a workout, and Hutch is worrying over his hair in a way you would never see Starsky doing. Starsky is not fussy about his appearance, Hutch is, or appears to be.

Hutch of course enjoys needling Starsky, who says he’s “thinking”. “Well, we all want to wish you beginner’s luck,” he says, and smirks off to the side as if he’s got a rapt audience for his witticisms. Starsky proceeds to blow Hutch’s mind with a series of what-if questions, and it’s fun to watch Starsky’s intense, blue-eyed gaze at his partner as he weaves an absurd alternate universe. It looks like a cobra-charmer at an Indian market. Hutch, the cobra in this instance, can’t look away. For a moment there, acting or not, he is stunned by the absurdist leaps in logic Starsky makes. When he says, in response to Starsky’s admonition that they’re going to be late, “what if we were?” we can see how much he has been secretly enjoying this conversation, and is willing to play along.

Where is Hutch’s gun? Starsky has his on. Hutch dresses in the locker room but is gun-less.

It’s ridiculous there is a gun battle in the middle of a busy street. No one shouts a caution, either, even though there is a big point made of this necessity in “Pariah”; the police simply start shooting wildly into the crowd. Only Hutch is seen trying to get people to safety. Property is simply not worth killing over, jewelry or not, a point that seems lost in this episode and every day in actual life too.

Exactly whose bullet killed Alex Drew’s wife? It’s never revealed, although it would be easy enough for ballistics to tell. The beat cops probably use .38s but Starsky and Hutch have very different guns. My money’s on Carl, rather than Mac. He’s portrayed less laudably than his partner and seems sloppier somehow.

Drew wants to bring his wife’s body back home. Dobey seems anxious to help, but then he asks Drew to not only book the flight himself, but to then report back with the airline, flight number and time. It seems like an awful lot for a bereaved husband to do, a husband whose very bereavement is due to grievous police errors. It seems to me there should have been more done by the department. A ride to the airport isn’t enough.

Do Dobey, Starsky and Hutch know that Drew is a government agent during this initial meeting? Common sense indicates they would, considering the flurry of paperwork following the shooting, but it’s never said one way or the other. When Drew makes his angry call to Washington, commandeering a plane, nobody looks shocked by that display of political pull or asks who the hell he is, making a call like that. But then, on the other hand, no one says, when Drew storms out, “I wonder if this shooting is going to get us in trouble with the feds.”

It’s neat that Starsky’s what-ifs continue in Dobey’s office. Since the whole show is about the vagaries of fate, the fact that Drew had the two other officers files ahead of Starsky and Hutch’s is the Big Coincidence never directly addressed by the show.

Sometimes – all right, fairly often – ignoring glaring procedural errors is important if you are to fully enjoy this series. It’s too easy to nitpick about rules, regulations, inconsistencies and outright transgressions, legal or otherwise. This is not a series about the law. The fact that Starsky and Hutch are police officers is pretty much beside the point; this is narrative scaffolding upon which to hang more interesting issues about identity, love, justice and the search for meaning in a chaotic and often meaningless world. This is one big allegory, Homeric in scope and capable of great wisdom and insight, if you want to look for it. I say this as a prelude to my observation that Starsky and Hutch have absolutely no right or reason to be in the meeting between Dobey and Drew. An officer-related shooting is being investigated, and they are suspects in an involuntary manslaughter, an extremely serious charge. Legally, even ethically, they should be stripped of their weapons and either assigned to desk duty or suspended with pay. They shouldn’t be anywhere near this meeting. However, let’s gloss over these tiresome facts and concentrate on the thematic significance of the episode as a whole, and Starsky and Hutch’s role in it. That life is random, inexplicably bad things happen, and a violent intercession is not a way to bring order or meaning to those events. Starsky and Hutch are the voice of reason and compassion: they are narrators of this episode rather than active participants in it. Like Drew, they are flotsam, helpless to change things. But unlike Drew – and also unlike Dobey and Cole, incidentally, who are the metaphoric architects of this disaster, Cole as head of a department which has created and then abandoned this Killing Machine, and Dobey as head of a department with such hazy, ill-defined rules regarding public shooting – they lift themselves out of chaos by acknowledging the randomness of fate. This is nicely encapsulated by Starsky’s game of What-if. You can propose as many alternative realities as you want, but that will never change things. Roll with it, they urge Drew. He does not, and cannot, listen.

If Alex Drew was downsized or fired from the CIA, as we find out later, then how can he command a special flight for the return trip to Washington so easily? He barks out the order, fully expecting to be obeyed without question. It’s not that the people on the other end know about the killing, either, and so are acting out of pity. It’s before anybody knows the circumstances of his wife’s death.

It may be correct procedure for the time, but it strikes me as odd that an old-fashioned hearse is coming for Mac’s body after the explosion. Even if it is a coroner’s wagon (although we see no official insignia) one would expect to see an ambulance, even if nothing is left of the poor man but cinders.

Mac Senior sits on the fire truck after his son’s murder. The truck is a Mack truck, which is a nice detail. When Mac Senior tells Hutch that he told Mac Junior his job as a policeman would make him come to a bad end, could he have possibly imagine this circumstance? This lovely, quiet scene shows that Hutch is unafraid of the sensitive, unpleasant jobs demanded by his profession. He has an easy and gentle way with people belied by his sarcastic, prickly exterior.

Starsky’s behavior toward Hagen is truly reprehensible. (Later, he has slaps another female officer’s behind rudely with a file, and looks disappointed when she doesn’t react). Hutch, on the other hand, is elaborately respectful, but only in an attempt to make himself look good beside his partner and not because he believes in women’s rights. (In the tag he’s as bad as Starsky, and they both call her, at different times, “child”.) This scene contains another interesting example of how Starsky deliberately sets himself up for ridicule: he says to Hutch, “have you ever wondered, Hutch, what would have happened if you’d been born charming and handsome, and I’d been born a dullard?” Of course, Hutch predictably takes the bait. “Well, Starsk, there’s just some things in this world that you don’t have to wonder about.” Is this an altruistic gesture on Starsky’s part? Is this a role he has willingly signed on for?

Ollie the mystical teddy bear is sitting on file cabinet in squad room. He’s glimpsed briefly as the guys look for suspects in Mac’s murder. There seem to be a lot of other toys around too, a Mickey Mouse doll and a plastic horse, among others. Plus the plastic piggy bank which has lived on Hutch’s desk for the whole series.

Invigorating: There are many fine moments during the Flashy Floyd sequence, and it’s one of the great strengths of the series that we get these glimpses into the eccentric debauchery of the sex trade. Of course it’s all a harmless bit of fiction, devoid of the true horror and violence, but it’s creative and enjoyable nonetheless. When they pull up to the Temple of Bodily Invigoration Hutch explains, “it means they probably appreciate a well conditioned body.” And then, with a comic’s timing, he says, “what are you looking at?” There’s a joke about the variety of customers, including a 90-pound weakling who is terrified of what’s being offered to him, and the guys make fun of the décor (Hutch says it’s “Early Nothing”) when in fact the room displays the kind of energetic set dec a viewer waits for. The striped super-graphics are mod, the clash of seventies modern with faux-Napoleonic are great. Starsky says, following the coin toss, “I’m in the mood for tails”, it could be an off-color joke.

Also, the collapse-and-drag is a great trick to getting into rooms. The whole thing has a wonderful choreography to it, and performed with such practiced ease we know this something they’ve done before. (Filming note: When they filmed the fake-collapse scene, Glaser’s shirt rode up and an assistant dashed over to tuck it in, but Glaser’s so ticklish, he collapsed for real, laughing. The rest of the day, Soul had to just wiggle his fingers at Glaser and he would burst out laughing.)

“You cops don’t even look like cops any more,” Flashy Floyd says, ingratiatingly, which is a long-running point of pride in the series and repeated fairly often.

By the time we get to the end of the sequence, and the cute pinch Starsky gets – apparently this temple is staffed by happy-go-lucky hookers – it’s difficult to remember why we’re here in the first place. The brutal murder of a police officer is nearly lost in all the fun and games.

Alex Drew changes his method of killing, deciding to poison the next one instead of rigging his car with explosives. This aggressive ingenuity, while cinematic, is exhausting and inexact. Drew, an experienced agent, should have just followed each man home in the dark and placed a quick bullet in the back of his head. Boom, over. However, logic has relatively little to do with story-telling. On a more superficial note, he shaves his moustache off and looks ten years younger, which should be a lesson to every man.

Could that be the glass that poisoned Carl Hutch is holding – sans gloves – at the bar? It better not be. And on the subject of fingerprints, Alex Drew is mighty careless when he leaves without taking his own glass with him. However, it’s possible he knows they’re on to him at this point and has ceased to care about anything but getting the job done.

Hutch shouldn’t look so surprised when it’s revealed Drew has their personnel files. It’s obvious he’s after them too, as both detectives discussed this at length following Carl’s murder.

The aptly-named Charles Cyphers as Cole, the CIA operative, has an unforgettable scene in which he is forced to explain a few Unpleasant Facts about Drew’s capabilities. He seems to pop out a sweat bead with each reluctant fact. He’s mesmerizing, as is Hutch, who goes head-to-head with him, trying to make him see the human cost of bureaucratic operations. Starsky, as usual, is phlegmatic and understated.

How often is the Torino in the shop? In other episodes Hutch makes a few disparaging comments about its continual need for tune-ups. When they both get into it, there’s a lovely moment of synchronicity when they look at each other, each thinking the same thing. “Care to take a little stroll?” Starsky says.

In the garage scene there’s a rare “swipe-edit” cut between the guys sitting in the Torino and the bomb disposal people carefully lifting out the explosive. They transfer it to the truck while the voices of Starsky and Hutch are barely heard is very creative and unusual. We join them in mid-meeting.

Neither detectives accept that Dobey is in charge of the case. “We’re living in a regular democracy, aren’t we?” is Hutch’s parting shot as they walk out of the meeting. Well, actually, the police department is not a democracy, and both Starsky and Hutch are naïve to think it ever was.

At the dingy motel, Dobey nods to the two undercover detectives scrubbing the pool. This is far more likely an undercover role than the cruise ship social directors, country music stars and dancing instructors enjoyed by Starsky and Hutch.

Hutch looks very dubious reading from the Bible in the hotel room, as does Starsky, in his dramatic legs-on-each-bed pose, watching a typical shoot-em-up TV show. Apparently both these call for a fair bit of skepticism.

Talking to Dobey, both men show tremendous humanity when saying Alex Drew is a victim like all the others.

It doesn’t seem possible Hutch would have missed Cole sitting in the corner of the restaurant, especially if he is being extra-vigilant. However, it does give Starsky the opportunity to call him “Mr. Personality”. At this point we start to wonder about the logistics of this operation. They have checked Starsky and Hutch into the motel to draw Drew away from … from what? Populated areas? The motel is fully booked, if the restaurant is any indication. And what do they think Drew is thinking as he tracks them to this place? Starsky and Hutch wouldn’t be the only ones thinking they were like a “duck in a barrel”. Alex Drew would know for certain this was an elaborate set-up, and would plan accordingly. Keeping to their daily routines, however, might have lulled Drew into a false sense of security, enabling an arrest without endangering more lives. The only explanation for this would be if they thought it looked suspicious not to go into hiding.

Soul has the best sad laugh in the business, a sort of gentle exhale. He does it when Hagen gives him the endless series of choices at the restaurant, and when Starsky compliments her on her waitressing.

It appears Hutch ate Starsky’s plain baked potato, as he mentions the two Irish plums he consumed. (The plain potatoes they both order is a weird detail – they both say they’re “counting calories”, which is so not true.) But Starsky pays him back by hogging all the pillows in room 39 at the Country Squire. Hutch has to make do with some sort of upholstered cushion. Uncomplainingly, apparently. The Nasty Hutch Game has been retired for the evening.

“Don’t scream,” Alex commands. “There’s nobody around to hear you.” But there are. Cole and Dobey are just steps away, and the kitchen must be full of staff. Alex Drew is good, but good enough to incapacitate ten, fifteen people?

Why does it apparently take at least four hours for Dobey and Cole to discover Officer Hagen’s kidnapping? It’s interesting to speculate. Perhaps Cole has talked Dobey into trying to solve this by themselves without the help of the two detectives. Cole seems to genuinely despise them in the tradition of all suit-and-tie bureaucrats who take an instant dislike for no discernible reason. Jealousy, maybe? Imagine the scene where Cole and Dobey try unsuccessfully to bring Drew in, hammering on doors and trying to get a fix on strange cars in the neighborhood and talking to frightened kitchen staff. Imagine Dobey’s growing frustration, and Cole’s unwillingness to concede defeat. Imagine when the phone rings and it’s Drew, wanting only to talk to Starsky and Hutch.

Despite all the gunfire, only two innocent bystanders are shot in the series. Both are women and both shootings involve Starsky. (“Photo Finish”, “Specialist”).

Why does Alex fire at the van from so far away? All he does is alert them to his position. An expert like him, he could have waited until they got closer and then fired from close range. We can blame is mental disintegration for all the odd choices he has made throughout.

There are more excellent climbing and high-wire acts from Hutch. Starsky draws fire not unlike how he distracts Father Ignatius at the movie theater in “Silence”; is this what Starsky is talking to Hutch about when he comments about feeling like a carnival game when he and Hutch walk along the balcony at the hotel on the way to dinner? It is an incredibly selfless and brave thing for him to do, and shows a great faith in his partner’s abilities.

Hutch asks Cole what’s important to him. He replies, “the continued strength of our nation.” (Off-camera, an exasperated “oh boy” from Starsky.) Cole adds, “And it should be important to you, too.” “Oh it is,” Hutch says, “but not at your prices.” This conversation is even more relevant today – Cole would have been in Homeland Security.

Tag: Everyone is laughing and joking about Sally Hagen, which seems mean and unfair. When she shows up, she’s subjected to even more flirting and grabbing from the guys, who pass her between them like a trophy. Yet it’s important to note the tone of this scene isn’t vindictive – again, like the scenes in Flashy Floyd’s place it has very little to do with the actual horrible realities of sexual harassment. The line between teasing and respect is a thin one in this instance; one feels certain Starsky and Hutch will cross it soon, and wholeheartedly. Plus the denouement is all having to do with their comeuppance, which is richly deserved but again without any hint of real bitterness. This particular war between the sexes is a fairly good-natured one. Meanwhile, it’s back to the joke as Sally asks them for “research” as she’s starting in Vice.
“There’s two of us,” Hutch says, taking her around the waist, “and only one of you.”
“I thought about that a lot,” Sally says, “but I think it would more fun with the both of you.”
Now, at this point, given the whole threesome innuendo, the thing to do would be to laugh it off and refuse her offer. But what do they do? Cut to Hutch’s apartment. The guys have actually agree to meet her, and Hutch has obviously added, “let’s go to my place.” Thrown hard on the floor, they groan in pain. “I don’t know about you,” Starsky says, “but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Oh? What exactly did you have in mind?

This tag makes the later “Starsky Vs. Hutch” war even odder, since the guys seem to have no compunction about sharing.