Posts Tagged ‘Huggy Bear’

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.

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Episode 85: Targets Without a Badge, Part One

March 22, 2012

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

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

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 83: Ninety Pounds of Trouble

February 17, 2012

Joey Carston’s continued infatuation with Starsky compromises his cover and endangers Hutch, who impersonates a hit-man to try to stop a killing.

Joey Carston: Mare Winningham, Eddie Carlyle: Kaz Garas, Sid: Lana Wood, Mrs. Carston: Ann Prentiss, Schiller: Peter Mark Richman, Damon: Lenny Baker, Officer Kromack: Tom Jackman, Steve: James Vaughn, Minnie: Marki Bey. Written By: Robert E Swanson, Directed By: Leo Penn.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This episode’s title refers to the short story by Damon Runyon called “Forty Pounds of Trouble”, which was filmed several times, the most popular being a Shirley Temple vehicle. “Marky” is a little girl whose father gives her to a gangster-run gambling operation as collateral for a bet. He then loses his bet and commits suicide, and the gangsters are left with the girl on their hands. Her guardians eventually become fond of her and a new sort of family is formed. Parallels to this episode are a bit murky, except to note that parents very often fail, and that what society may view as “bad” for a child are in fact good, if the love is there. Schiller’s henchman Damon may be a reference to the story’s author.

This is a lushly-filmed episode, with soft lighting and handsome staging, especially the beachfront location. The scene in which Starsky confronts Joey in the hotel hallway in particular has a rich, cinematic look cheapened somewhat by the cheesy flute-and-saxophone soundtrack.

Joey Carston is the character originally played by Kristy McNicol in “The Trap”, now a year or so older and still infatuated by Starsky. McNichol gave her character a fiesty, argumentative edge while Winningham is altogether quieter, more contained, with a bit of princess thrown in – more classically feminine.  Her crush on Starsky is seen (by Hutch and the rest of the detectives in the squad room anyway) as charming, and Starsky’s discomfort as a harmless bit of fun, and Winningham’s pouty determination causes no alarm bells to ring. Fifteen is a lot different from twelve or thirteen and it’s surprising no one sees this situation as inappropriate, and these are hardcore cops who have seen a lot of sexual misconduct in their careers. Is this just naïvite on the part of the writers, or have the times changed all that much?

Hutch’s earlier health regime seems to be in abatement since he eats most of a stale doughnut meant for Starsky.

Hutch isn’t seen very often as the fraternizing type, so it’s nice to see him laughing easily with the other cops over Starsky’s discomfort with Joey’s puppy-love.

How would Hutch handle this, if Joey’s devotion was directed at him? My guess is with a lot less easy charm, and lot more nervous fumbling. Let’s throw in an earnest lecture or two, and perhaps a call to Kiko for advice.

Hutch tells Starsky Dobey is waiting for them to have a meeting, yet seems happy to meet without his partner. What’s happened to Starsky? It’s not like him to miss something like this. Looking for a doughnut shouldn’t take precedence over an assignment.

Apprehending Carlyle, Starsky and Hutch shout to each other, “Cover me” and then “Got you.” Really, is this not what, in the end, we all need from each other?

It’s nice to see how animated both Starsky and Hutch are at the hospital with the unconscious Carlyle. It’s been awhile since either one has shown the least bit of enthusiasm for the job. The energy in the room is high; all Dobey can do is surrender to it.

Dobey reminds Starsky and Hutch that Carlyle has a right to a phone call and lawyer when he awakes, which would jeopardize their plans to get Schiller. Dobey then gives Starsky and Hutch thirty-six hours, which he says is cutting it close. How is Dobey able to guarantee any amount of time, unless he’s privy to medical information he doesn’t share? Or is he prepared to make sure Carlyle receives an extra dose of sedation to keep him incapacitated longer than he normally would be? When Carlyle does wake after several scenes he takes what looks like an ominously-filled syringe from the tray by his bedside and injects the doctor with it. How far do you think Dobey might go ensure justice is done?

Both Starsky and Hutch think it’s a great idea for Hutch to impersonate Carlyle, given a vague resemblance. If whoever hired Carlyle hasn’t hit hasn’t met him, what difference does it make what resemblance there is? And if they have met, they’ll see right away Hutch isn’t Carlyle. Unless Hutch is thinking he might pass in a bad driver’s license photo, this whole gamble is pretty meaningless. Were they wondering if, at some point, Carlyle described himself on the phone? “You’ll know me, I’m six foot, blond, with a moustache.” I guess you can’t be too careful.

As is usual in the fourth series, the tone is a bit on the light side. Very often the episodes crumble into absurdity, but in the scene in Carlyle’s hotel room in which Hutch tries to get in character as the urbane hit-man while Starsky plays the useful role as dour kill-joy, the humor and tension are perfectly balanced. Hutch’s enjoyment in his role is lovely to watch and nicely underplayed by Soul, as is Starsky’s suppressed amusement at his partner’s foibles. As Hutch adjusts the fedora Starsky gives him an up-and-down glance that manages to combine affection, sarcasm and exasperation, and no small amount of what I’d have to call flirtation (here the limits of the English language are frustrating, as I mean a certain kind of flirtation there are no words for, a kind of ribald admiration that is not really overtly sexual in nature, not really. This is not evasion on my part, but rather an attempt to put into words something that is indescribably lovely and rare). Glaser’s moment here is worth a roomful of Emmys. He then gives the expected insult in a near-drawl, “you playing a classy character is about like Lou Costello playing Noel Coward.” Hutch stubbornly insists he’s getting into character “like a serious actor”, and that he would be “at home with the hoi polloi as the Rothschilds.” Notice how he waits for Starsky’s full attention, before asking, “What do you think?” even though he knows what Starsky will say. He’s practically demanding to be ridiculed. Starsky gives one of his grins.  “Don’t ask.”  “Why bother,” Hutch says as if completing the thought. The two of them continue to tussle in this way for quite awhile, the pleasure in each other’s company evident, but note how, when the phone rings and the meeting is arranged, both Starsky and Hutch instantly coil into apprehension without losing a beat.

How much confidence does Starsky lose in their plan when Hutch asks, “where’s my hat” and Starsky has to point out it is on his head?

What is Hutch really trying to say when he complains he “may have the salary of a cop, but he “has the soul of an aesthete”? Does this mean Hutch believes he doesn’t have the soul of a cop? What is his definition as the “soul of a cop” and who would he say has it? He persists in this grievance for so long even though it’s clear this isn’t remotely true. Starsky does what he always does in these situations: amused, he knocks his partner down a notch, forgets it, and moves on.

Hutch doesn’t want Damon to meet him in the hotel room, instead he picks a fancy French  restaurant instead (one he obviously remembers from some time in the past although the name – Chez Moi – slips his mind). Seems to me the hotel room would be a better bet, a much more easily controlled environment (cops in the other room as backup, listening and recording devices, etc, no troublesome bystanders to worry about). What are his reasons for this? Does he believe he is thinking like Carlyle, or is he sure the department wouldn’t back up such a risky plan? His cowboy attitude must annoy the police administration to no end and perhaps he is wiser to keep Dobey out of it. But by relying solely on Starsky, who is later removed from the action, Hutch is taken to a warehouse without backup, which is worse trouble.

11:45 am and Hutch is drinking wine and eating crab and caviar? Pretty “classy”. Hutch probably had to pay for this expensive meal himself; I would imagine it would be difficult to convince Accounts to pony up. Notice how in this acting job Hutch defaults once again to Supercilious A-hole when it’s not strictly necessary. Surely the haughty speculation on the merits of caviar is more for his private enjoyment, because it dangerously antagonizes Damon.

And on a minor note, caviar on a saltine? Oh, so wrong.

Hutch does an extraordinary amount of eating in this show.

Starsky’s game to get Sid to talk to him – by searching for a lost wallet under her table – is very similar to his bluffing to Mickie about wanting to purchase the car in “Class in Crime.”  It didn’t work particularly well then but it works better here (bad Bogey impression notwithstanding). In his scenes with Sid he’s breathtakingly masterful. Self-assured, authoritative, physically relaxed, and powerfully sexual without a hint of threat or malice. You can see that at first she’s irked at being hit on but within seconds she’s genuinely happy to have him stick around. It’s the same act he pulled with Rosey too, a season earlier. Now, as then, when he really turns it on it’s painful to see the look of hopefulness on her face – another woman beaten down by men in the past, certain there are no good ones out there only to be swept off her feet by Mr. Perfect – and know for sure she is going to get hurt.

Once again Hutch and Dobey have a meeting sans Starsky.

Joey’s flaky mother mistakes Hutch for Starsky. At least mother and daughter won’t be fighting over the same man. It’s always great to watch Hutch’s subtle and variable emotions: here, it goes from annoyance to loathing to, eventually, a kind of flat disgust.

Sid tells Starsky she met Schiller once in New York, and he showed her a good time. She tells Starsky “You don’t want him mad at you,” meaning he’s both violent and unpleasant, but here she is, meeting him again. What is Schiller’s hold over her, and what exactly is her role in this organization anyway? It’s never explained, although she seems to have some pull. Gangster’s moll doesn’t quite cut it – there’s more to the story of Sid than we are ever told.

Joey Carston says to Huggy, “Love’s a runaway train, and I am riding this one to the end of the line.” Does or doesn’t she end up doing just that? Seems to me she jumps off before the station. Speculate on the fact that all of Joey’s relationships are going to be “runaway trains.”

When Huggy tells Joey, as discouragement, that Starsky is “over the hill … set in his ways … basically a demented sex fiend.” Strong words, but is there any truth in this description or is Huggy think he’s doing his job as a friend? What makes Huggy think he has to play the role of Discourager, anyway? Had Starsky been complaining about her?

Speaking of Huggy being in the know, Starsky doesn’t have to explain about Schiller and Carlyle and all the rest when he phones, he simply trusts him to understand what he means. Did they tell Huggy all about it at some point? If so, isn’t that risky and potentially illegal, and likely to get them all into trouble?

And when Huggy, on the phone with Starsky, says (loudly enough for Joey to overhear) “your lunch date is here” and then in the same breath, meaning Sid, “is she pretty?” what the hell is his game? If this is indeed a conscious ploy to let Joey know Starsky isn’t interested in her, it’s clumsy verging on cruel. If it was just an oversight, this is pretty lame. Huggy, in the snitch business for a long time, not to mention proprietor of all manner of drunken secrets, should know better.

Both Joey and Sid are women with men’s names. Joey has insisted on hers as a talisman against girly weakness and Sid has been subsumed by a disappointed father. Both will do anything for a man’s approbation, and will endure all kinds of danger just to feel protected and wanted. Both see femininity as a tricky but powerful weapon rather than something integral to their being. Both are creatures of impulse. Both are driven by a sense of victimization and helplessness. Both prefer to see themselves as passengers rather than conductors on their “runaway trains”. Both give the impression of capricious high spirits but in fact are deeply insecure and despairing. And both are inexorably drawn to the same man.

Carlyle comes to and goes for a syringe on his bedside table, all while the nurse is less than two feet away. Why not wait until she’s out of the room? He can’t be sure she’d be as oblivious as she in fact turns out to be.

I love when Sid, casting about for a way to keep Starsky around, blurts out “do you want to get a room?” (Ignore for a moment the depths she is prepared to go for the sake of the organization). Look how Starsky gives her a quick glance consisting of surprise, pity, wariness and calculation, before gently replying, “No.” It’s probably the nicest rejection Sid ever had and Starsky is able to make it seem more like a compliment than a refusal. Nice work, Glaser.

What’s going on in Hutch’s mind as he walks up to Starsky to “shoot” him? Whatever it is – and it’s likely to be fuck I hope this works –  you can see the shock in Starsky’s face quickly, nearly instantaneously, turn to understanding (you can almost read it: Hutch is in danger of being made, they know cops are involved, he has to prove he’s legit by pretending to shoot me, so go ahead and I’ll make it convincing) in what may be the best psychic moment in the series.

When Starsky goes down, you can see a mark on his shirt, perhaps the “nick” he mentions later. As good as he is with his trusty Magnum, a “nick” would most likely mean something pretty grisly, particularly since Hutch moves pretty fast which compromises accuracy. Starsky is up and about and completely fine moments later. Was he, in fact, injured, or was this the smudge of a powder burn?

Joey having a CB radio in the Mercedes is perhaps the only element of the episode compromising its plausibility . It’s too pat and convenient.  Other than this detail, this is a very well-written episode (despite a personal dislike of the Joey storyline).

Tag: who’s more upset at being considered old, Starsky or Hutch? It seems about even. It’s shocking how fast Joey dumps Starsky after adoring him so ardently, and for so long, and disturbing too how smug she is about snagging the captain of the football team. Her relationship with Starsky hasn’t really had a sexual element to it; for all her clinginess and talk of having a “date” it’s quite sweetly prepubescent. It’s only when she meets the boy in the park does she suddenly burst into estrus. When exactly did she change from earnest tomboy to status-driven manipulator? And why, exactly, is this presented as something cute, a necessary rite of passage into womanhood?

It is a foregone conclusion that Starsky will end up taking Hutch to the Springsteen concert.

Clothing notes: Starsky has stopped wearing his Adidas, and wears brown crepe shoes. He walks into the station room in jeans so tight it’s amazing he can even move around. Hutch wears dark-wash jeans plus a grey wool jacket and both his tusk necklace and the sun and moon necklace, a simultaneous pairing that takes some guts to pull off. When he dresses as the flashy hitman he looks absolutely wonderful in a fedora, scarf and suit ensemble. Starsky wears a nice jacket-and-slacks outfit to pick up Sid.

 

Episode 74: The Avenger

September 21, 2011

Monique, a woman who leaves a string of dead lovers in her wake, claims a jealous acquaintance is responsible for the murders.

Monique Travers: Joanna Cassidy, Phil: Tim Thomerson, Roger: Michael Delano, Bobbie: Hildy Brooks, Minnie: Marki Bey, ME Delaney: Charles Cyphers, Hotel Clerk: GW Bailey, Barman: Steve Mayne, Girl in Disco: Suzanne Kent. Written By: Robert E Swanson, Directed By: Sutton Roley.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

When Starsky and Hutch are wrong: During the run of the series the two men have excellent intuition, memory, and detecting skills. However, there are times in which they come to erroneous conclusions based on the available facts (as opposed to being temporarily misinformed). I’m thinking of “The Crying Child”, where they point the finger at Guy’s father rather than his mother, “Foxy Lady” in which they are spectacularly hoodwinked by silly Lisa. Hutch is led astray – or, more precisely, the truth is withheld – by Gillian; Starsky is similarly taken in by Sharon in “Starsky and Hutch Are Guilty”. They are both completely suckered by fake-friend John Colby. To a lesser extent, they believe Terry Nash’s story in “The Set-Up” for far too long. All these instances have one thing in common: Starsky and Hutch’s sympathies have been aroused by a victim story. In this episode, too, they are misled by Monique’s version of events in spite of its inconsistencies, and feel compassion for her plight. However, this an instance in which the victim story is partially true: consciously, Monique believes her own tale and so is not technically lying. But Starsky and Hutch do not use their normally excellent skills at reading people here. The whole San Francisco murder thing is too low-key (surely the lack of evidence would make them suspicious), she complains about having to go down to the squad room again even though it’s crucial to the case, has no problem staying at her supposedly blood-drenched hell pit of a house, and goes out to a bar the night after the murder. Starsky and Hutch, for the most part, ignore these glaring oddities, even if the whole experience feels strange and unnatural to them on an unconscious level. They know something is wrong here, but are unable to pinpoint why.

On the other hand, the idea of a victim being also the perpetrator is so unusual no one can blame them for not getting it right away. Psychotic and detachment disorders are poorly understood even to this day, particularly this, the mother of all psychiatric conditions: Dissociative Identity Disorder, once known as Multiple Personality. Once thought to be a)fake and b)extremely rare, DID is now thought to affect a surprising number of people who have experienced severe trauma. It may not manifest itself in dramatic ways, with personalities emerging and submerging on cue, each with names and jobs to do, coping mechanisms like the one Monique has are very possible. At least Hutch gets it when he does – most cops wouldn’t.

There are other factors at work here too. At this point in our social history a young, single, and powerful woman is a kind of psychological no-man’s-land. Monique has a kind of desperation mixed with potency that is very difficult for men to identify and respond to, an imposing mix of guilt, masochism, and rage that is very late-1970s Looking-For-Mr.-Goodbar and a remarkable precursor to the kind of tortured, vengeful heroine only now surfacing in contemporary culture. It’s both distracting and disquieting to the detectives. Look at Starsky’s hands-off attitude throughout. He’s cautious, unable to figure her out. A generally flirty guy who has been known to overlook flaws if the girl is hot enough, he stays well away from this one.

On the marvelous Joanna Cassidy as Monique: She is perfectly cast here. She has a muscular, imposing, mature presence and is very different from the smaller, perkier, more frazzled or less competent female characters we often see, and it’s essential she project this air of authority since she has to convince both Starsky and Hutch of her absolute innocence. Calm and detached as a sleepwalker, she moves in slow-motion through a series of bad dates, exemplar of feminism gone wrong. Even when dancing and smiling there is something murky and inscrutable about her. Cassidy imbues Monique with a kind of tragic forbearance – she’s in the grips of something terrible, is helpless to combat it while on some dark level understanding, even welcoming its inevitable manifestation – that so very difficult to convey. In the magical scene in which Starsky sings and plays guitar during his late-night turn as guardian, her schizoid shift into murderess is nicely handled. It’s a challenge to switch identities without the audience guffaws, and yet she manages it. I wonder if my own response to this character – sympathetic, uneasy, supportive without any warmer feelings of wanting to protect or save her – is typical of audience reaction. The combination of Swanson’s nuanced script and Cassidy’s intelligent interpretation of that script make this a very special episode indeed.

Sutton Roley shines again in this strange episode. He makes use of odd angles, slow-motion photography, and documentary-style camera shots to tell a story that is dependent on who is telling it. This episode is also notable for a measured pace, and the long stretches of quiet punctuated by bursts of sound. Hutch’s slow realization in the squad room is very well done – it seems to take forever, and it’s wonderful that way: we are lulled into intense anticipation for the last pieces of the puzzle to slip into place. Monique’s warped sense of realty is wonderfully depicted using tricky lens and lighting, and you can feel the director’s enjoyment in depicting the unusual and the esoteric.

The first scene is similar to last season’s “Deckwatch”, in which a young woman sitting at a bar in a disco is bored by a hungry male. In this case, it’s even more bitterly amusing, as the guy drones on about his car and Monique finally says she isn’t interested in cars, but in organic food. The guy smirks: “your body’s a temple, right?” If Monique’s body is a temple, then her bell tower is suffering a pretty severe crack.

Monique agrees to go back to her place with boring Phil, who irritates her with his self-absorbed talk of cars, macho posturing, veiled put-downs and his smoking. The reason she agrees to do this is not only about loneliness. I always had a feeling she is briefly supplanted by her altar-ego, who is desperate for a homicidal fix and doing all he can to engineer one will happen. If Monique is all there, i.e. sane, she would have refused Phil’s advances. A girl as beautiful as she is, alone in a disco, would have her pick of any one of a dozen men. Surely not all of them are as bad as Phil is (or Roger, later). Or are they? Is this a supposition buried in the script: that all men are, in fact, losers?

At the pool game Hutch has an “astrological biorhythm calculator” that tells him Starsky’s numbers are a big fat triple-zero. Hutch is gleeful. Huggy doesn’t help much by saying Starsky should believe it, given his skills that night. Starsky tries to get his money back from Hutch and it rips between them. Starsky is crestfallen, but look at Hutch, in possession of a worthless half-bill. Look at the satisfaction on his face: he could be looking at a stack of gold coins. Just what has he won? Whatever it is, it’s really, really good.

It’s funny how Hutch has to turn the light switch down to get the light to the bathroom on. It’s always up, as far as I know. Would it be a stretch to think this indicates a topsy-turvey what’s-down-is-up quality to this case?

The chaos surrounding a murder scene is very well captured as Hutch quietly walks through by himself in a very withdrawn, insular way as voices and activity go on around him. It’s only later we see Starsky talking to a very casual-sounding ME. This seems to suggest Hutch is more solitary than a team player. He states some facts about the killer that show up the ME and Starsky does his usual sardonic half-smile, accusing him of “raining on the witch-doctor’s deal”. In this episode Starsky and Hutch don’t seem to be as connected as they should be. Hutch seems to be in his own world much of the time, and Starsky has withdrawn into languid irony.

At this point in the episode it becomes clear there is a strong correlation between the abstruse and the everyday, the magical and the scientific. I’m not going to articulate it all that well, but the mention of a witch-doctor, the metamorphosis of one person into another, the jokey biorhythms talk and its correlating pop-occultism swirling around contemporary Los Angeles all seems very of its time. It seemed, in the late 70s, that reality wasn’t what people assumed it was. Old preconceptions were being overturned, stereotypes exposed to be wrong and harmful, the political and religious landscape was undergoing upheaval, mass communication and its resultant wave upon wave of cynicism and revision meant that what you thought you believed, what your parents and their parents steadfastly proclaimed to be true, was probably not true at all. “Starsky & Hutch” itself is a paradigm: this “new breed” of cop understands that empathy, compassion, open mindedness and intuition can play a major role in a police investigation. Yes, they are not perfect in this regard. They should have listened better, and thought about the disparity between what Monique said and what the evidence showed. But all in all their willingness to use a more perceptive and less persecutorial way of seeing and interacting with this case – particularly Starsky’s breathtakingly gentle song – is very revolutionary, and reflective of the uncertain, questioning times.

All that blood? All those wounds? And none on Monique?

Starsky tells Dobey “8427” seen on letter Monique finds is “the last half of a zip code” in skid row. It isn’t really “half” if it is only missing one number. Current viewers could assume he did mean half of the ZIP+4 codes we use today, but those didn’t come into use until 1983. This assumes, knowing California ZIP codes all start with a “9,” the ZIP is 98427. This, however, make it a place in Washington State. Strangely, there are no ZIP codes that start with 984, even in Washington as ZIP code structure skips from 983 to 985.

The guys go to the hotel to check on Harry Ashford. In the foreground of the scene are two rough-looking guys sweating through an arm-wrestling contest. Starsky and Hutch are comically riveted to it throughout what should be a fairly average incident: this is staging genius. Note, too, the interesting “scary” music as they go into the creepy room, reminiscent of “Bloodbath”.

The way the initial murder scene is shown, as well as in this later hotel room, shows an increasing respect for actual police procedure. This is the first time either detective is shown collecting evidence properly. Latex gloves were not widely used until the late 1980s.

Why would Monique have a book of matches, if she doesn’t smoke, and in fact seems the be the sort of person who actively abhors smoking? For burning incense, perhaps?

Disco, Act Two: this boring guy, Roger, is talking stocks. Monique barely listens and seems very melancholy, which is odd for someone out on the town and actively cruising for a good time, but Roger, like Phil, doesn’t notice. Or if he notices, he doesn’t care. Again, men on the make (perhaps the only kind of man Monique knows well) are portrayed as boorish, self-involved, callous and predatory.

Two murders in three nights on her bed and Monique still goes back to stay there? Not only is this pretty weird, but her apartment would be a crime scene, and she wouldn’t be allowed back for a while. Changing a minor detail – having the murders happen in an alley behind the disco, for example, would have made more sense. In fact this would make Monique’s involvement even more tangential and therefore even less likely she would have anything to do with it, making the “twist” even twistier. But I digress.

Monique is once again visited by Harry. Interestingly, she appears to be in flux for several moments, aware of the personality takeover and suffering for it although many people with dissociative disorders as severe as this one are unaware when the change happens or at the very least 100% one or the other. There is no half-and-half, as here when Monique says she will get rid of Roger in order to make Harry leave. This could mean Monique may suffer from schizophrenia rather than multiple personality, or some surprising hybrid which makes for great television.

There’s some great direction as the guys bring Monique in for questioning and then Dobey calls them into his office. The camera is documentary-style and the lighting in Dobey’s office is the same as in other Fourth Season episodes: lush and diffused rather than bright and stagey. Dobey is flattered by the soft blue sky behind him sliced by Venetians, and the scene is highlighted by Starsky’s lovely naughty looks at Hutch when he’s announced as the “winner” in the who-gets-to-date-Monique sweepstakes. Of course, Hutch has to have the last word in this scene. The nosey, journalistic camera moves in with an intimate close-up as the two of them look at each other, not two inches apart. “You really think you can make him jealous?” Hutch says, “Why not,” Starsky says, laconic and enjoying this. “Well, the guy may be crazy but he’s not stupid,” Hutch says. Hah ha, good one Hutch. Proud of yourself?

Starsky calls Hutch a “home-in-front-of-the-fire type of guy” as opposed to Starsky’s “charisma” and “flair.” Is this generally true, or is Starsky just getting back at Hutch for saying he has zero biorhythms?

Crime and Punishment, or the Lack Thereof: this is an episode about a psychotic act of feminist retribution. However not all the egregious offenders are punished like the truck guy and the stock market guy. Hutchinson, I’m talking to you. At the disco, Hutch’s nodding off is interrupted by a woman asking “blondie” if he would like to dance. She is attractive and a good dancer, but because she is heavy he makes an unbearably rude comment, dismissing her. This is similar to his bad behavior in “Discomania” but worse here, because here the victim of his rudeness merely vanishes, unlike Judith, who stood up to him. He probably ruined her night and took her self-esteem down a few notches too. He also says he’s going to get Starsky “dancing lessons” for his birthday, even though he knows Starsky is a good dancer and he is not. As far as good behavior goes, Hutch is on par with every other man in the place.

When Starsky goes undercover, it’s the only time Monique is seen dancing and enjoying herself. And yet she later feels the urge to kill Starsky, even though her conscious mind understands he is not like the others, but rather someone assigned to protect her. A clue to her motives surfaces when she asks him point-blank if he likes her. Starsky says that he does. Is this her trigger? Both Roger and Phil obviously liked her, at least in the beginning. So perhaps we can surmise it isn’t a desire to rid the world of sexist boors but rather to punish those who like her that lies beneath the urge to kill. This says a lot about the emotional and psychological complexity of this case.

Monique says she would like to get to know Starsky better. Starsky says, “under different circumstances, maybe.” This cautious reply is in stark contrast to both Starsky and Hutch’s earlier behavior in which they freely engaged sexually with any witness or potential victim (“A Body Worth Guarding”, “Class in Crime”, “Running”, “Rosey Malone”, “Blindfold”, among others). This could be a case of Starsky maturing, or it may be because he is actually turned off by her. Starsky’s good instincts may be in play here, as he tunes into the depth of her sadness and the hint of psychological torment (which he would most likely interpret as “high maintenance”). When they eventually return to her apartment, he is notably not flirting with her. Instead he is every inch the Detective, checking windows and doors; and when he removes his jacket he makes it clear it’s a professional decision and not a personal one.

Like the arm-wrestling championships, it’s a nice scenic detail of Minnie and her disco kung-fu moves after midnight. Everybody is having a better time than poor Hutchinson. Minnie mentions the letters “CII” as the place that identifies fingerprints. Central Identification Information? Something else? Fictional?

The scene in which Hutch puts together a composite sketch of the suspect is truly wonderful. Broken with scenes of Starsky and Monique, it nevertheless is one of the longest and quietest of the entire series. It emphasizes Hutch as a solitary individual who perhaps is best on his own, with no distracting partner to tease and torment. Does this mean Hutch would be better off going solo? How much better would Hutch be without Starsky? Let’s speculate on the idea that what is best for someone professionally is possibly the worst for them personally.

This is, sadly, the only episode in which Starsky plays the guitar and sings. It’s a rather startling performance, coming as it does out of nowhere, and is a moment of total vulnerability on Starsky’s part, unusual in such a strong, self-contained person. It’s late and he must be over-tired, which may have allowed him to take a risk and use music as either a way of comforting someone he knows is suffering, or soften the atmosphere to make it more pliable for some surreptitious questioning. His motives remain a mystery, so we are left to enjoy this beautiful and gentle scene. Is this a song he has written himself? The words are apropos: the isolated misfit, looking down at the normal world, emphasizing the isolation of the moment and the loneliness of people who feel different and out of step from the world.

Most people, particularly actors, look beautiful when they are listening, and Joanna Cassidy is no exception. For a brief second she looks completely at peace, which is mesmerizing.

Filming notes: the guitar is apparently David Soul’s, which is only fair as Glaser lent his to his friend when Soul recorded his first album. Also, note the long finger-picking nails on Glaser’s hand.

As complex as the case turns out to be, Hutch also comes to a similarly complex “jealousy” reading when thinking of the sister as a suspect.

Monique drugs the chamomile tea to incapacitate Starsky. She does this because he’s more than able to overpower her and grab his gun. She didn’t bother with this with her earlier, more clueless victims. If she had, she would have been discovered long before this. Also, why does Starsky remove both holster and gun? He should have tucked the gun in his waistband. Rolled up and behind the chair is bad planning on his part. Didn’t he learn anything from the debacle of “Quadromania?”

Monique’s long speech about what Harry hates and loves about her is one of the most satisfyingly complete scenes in the canon. It’s a potent mix of self-knowledge and delusion, an abrasive, haunting, nasty tutorial on how to hate yourself. Starsky is riveted, and for good reason: her staccato delivery, her refreshing lack of self-pity, her refusal to excuse herself, to a suicidal degree, well, it’s just amazing. Nicely filmed from an unusual angle, it’s Robert Swanson’s best writing gig on the series, although “Hutchinson for Murder One” is also excellent.

Starsky is drugged, the world is a kaleidoscope. And yet he manages to say, “Hutchinson” even though Monique is familiar enough to know him by his nickname.

Hutch visits Bobbie to accuse her of the crime. This is, what, two, three o’clock in the morning? And yet Bobbie is dressed, alert and awake. With altar candles burning.

Both Travers sisters have a similar drive or emptiness; they are both compelled to go out every night, though to two different types of establishments. Church and sex: each of them has found something to fill those empty spaces.

Hutch knows she’s a murderer, but doesn’t call a back-up?

Unlike Lionel Fitzgerald in “Quadromania”, and without the aid of props or makeup, Monique looks completely different when under the guise of madness. She is truly terrifying when she attacks Starsky and screams at him through the window. In this moment it is very difficult to believe Monique and Harry are the same person. Nice going, Joanna!

The Treatment of Women Question: Starsky never hits a woman, but Hutch hits Diana in Fatal Charm, and now forcefully slugs Monique. Does Hutch use more physical force when he is protecting Starsky than protecting himself? Or is it because Monique is dressed as a man and this is makes the rationalization easier? Generally Starsky is rougher with women while using less overt physical force: he’s masterful and controlling when the woman is exhibits behaviors or decisions he believes are weak, unstable, or impulsive, like Sharman, Rosey Malone, and Emily Harrison. By contrast Hutch is more distant and careful, but when he explodes his violence is greater. One suspects Hutch is less comfortable all-round with women, more formal, more “gentlemanly” (this despite his unpleasant “I have a bad back” comment to the woman at the disco). Starsky is less concerned with niceties and rules, but altogether more inclusive.

One thing this episode never tackles is the reason for Monique’s psychosis, either narrowing it down to Multiple Personality Disorder or schizophrenia or revealing what could be terrible enough to precipitate it. Schizophrenia is largely understood to be a biological entity but severe childhood abuse is a common factor in most disassociate disorders, and it fits here although it’s never said aloud. Bobbie’s extreme religious devotions could also be a clue, suggesting both sisters were driven to a kind of madness by a traumatic past (I’m not taking a shot at religion, but rather suggesting immersion to the point of negating one’s identity to something “larger” is happening here).

Tag: Hutch is comically over-solicitous about Starsky’s fake biorhythms and engineers a picnic with Huggy, although one wonders how this solves anything. Hutch is all over Starsky, excitable and micro-managing, trying to get his partner to relax but having the opposite effect. As usual. On a minor note, bumblebees are gentle creatures and rarely stingers. Even if they land on you, grabbing them is not the way to go.

Clothing notes: it must be hot because neither wears a leather jacket, and seem minimally attired. Starsky wears the great orange shirt with placket, and a beige cloth jacket. Hutch wears the blue Port Mungo bowling shirt with white-collar, with a blue t-shirt underneath. “Al” is stitched on the front and the name of a USN bowling club is on the back. He also wears a ring on his right ring-finger, a blue cabochon. During the pool game, Huggy looks great in his red satin ensemble and tortoise-shell glasses.

Character Studies 15: Why Does Huggy Do What He Does?

November 25, 2010

One of the best aspects of the series are the glimpses of the varied street-life populating Bay City and its few desultory blocks of bars, corner stores, gas stations and empty lots. While these streets are populated by an always entertaining and sometimes grimly realistic parade of street characters, no one embodies the down-and-out, the wily or the eccentric like the various informants used by the two detectives. These guys are different from the mostly hostile witnesses squeezed hard for voluntary, urgently needed information, like Carla in “Survival”, Sid in “Ninety Pounds of Trouble”, the engaging John-John The Apple in “The Collector”, or Fat Rolly. Instead, these guys are professionals, however reluctant, guys so down on their luck they’re selling information to the cops at grave personal risk. They all appear to have no personal grudge against cops themselves, despite routinely being hassled and shaken down; mostly it’s a whining “not you guys again!” when confronted (there’s a lovely scene in the pilot movie in which hard-luck sometime-informant Coley is subjected to the friendly menace of the two detectives). Interestingly, three – Micky in “The Fix”, Lou Scobie in “Survival”, and Freddie in “Starsky’s Lady” – are actually blackmailed by Bad Guys in order to lure Starsky and Hutch into harm’s way through the promise of false information, highlighting the dangers of relying on someone only too willing to sell you out for a couple of bucks. But we always have the feeling these treacherous double agents are doing so only because they have hit rock bottom, and wouldn’t ordinarily want to hurt the two detectives. One gets the feeling Starsky and Hutch are among the few cops who treat their informants and other street-level acquaintances with something approaching respect, if not downright affection. One of the most realistic aspects of the series (keeping in mind realism is not really what “Starsky & Hutch” is all about) is the fact that the detectives are heavily invested in, and reliant on, their informants. Best guest-snitch? With a bad case the DTs, bags under his eyes black as tar, my vote goes to Micky in “The Fix”, wonderfully played by Gene Conforti.

But of course the ultimate snitch is Huggy Bear himself, who for unknown reasons opens heart and home to the two detectives. Beautifully and unforgettably played by charismatic Antonio Fargas, he’s the rickety third stick propping up the show, a classic narrative device and plot convenience, purveyor of coincidentally invaluable information helping the story along while providing a glimpse into the street culture of Bay City. Huggy’s spirited fashion sense, snappy dialogue and poetic turn of phrase provide some of the most entertaining moments in the series. I do understand the problematic aspects of this character, and I acknowledge the subtle and not-so-subtle underlay of racism here and in every single instance of American popular culture produced by powerful institutional forces (such as television networks), but things quickly become complicated when we look at historical antecedents, other “helpers” from Steppin Fetchit to Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, overtly submissive but covertly subversive characters who exaggerate or invent helpfulness while secretly being in control. That in itself becomes a troubling stereotype and a subject worthy of close discussion, but let’s narrow our focus to Huggy Bear himself and see the man himself rather than the issues he represents.

“Antihero” is a word describing someone who is heroic despite lacking the traditional heroic qualities such as courage or morality, and I wish there was such as word as “antifriend”, because Huggy so perfectly embodies it. He is a friend despite having few traditional “friendly” traits, a guy who is as much embarrassed and frustrated by his relationship with Starsky and Hutch as he is warm to them, a guy who is acutely aware of the social and economic gulf between them, who often has competing interests in whatever is happening, and whose interactions are about 80% combative or at the very least light-hearted to the point of belittling. I cannot recall a single instance of Starsky, Hutch and Huggy being on completely equal ground in any social setting. Huggy is always the helper: providing information, doing favors, behind the counter or bringing the food (even in the tag to “The Avenger”, whether or not he provided the picnic cooler Huggy is the one fussing with the blanket and handing out the drinks while his friends mock-argue about biorhythms). This is a major issue, but Huggy is not just a helper. He’s a perceptive and complicated guy making the best of things, his on-and-off-again bar The Pits as well as various street-level businesses marking him as a legitimate entrepreneur as well as a hustler. And a hard worker too: you always see him pushing a broom, working tables, organizing staff and a thousand other mundane tasks, and his myriad sidelines can’t be too easy either. Even though he’s always able to make a buck, willing to do anything and anywhere, he continues to be the main informant to Starsky and Hutch. Why he does this is never revealed. Huggy can’t possibly get paid enough to make it worth his while; at most it’s fifty bucks here and there, and cohabiting with two detectives can’t be good for business. Sometimes you get the feeling he’s doing it for moral reasons – he’s quick to tell Starsky about Slater in “Survival”, a slimeball so bad other slimeballs want him off the street – and sometimes for friendship reasons (most remarkably, helping to dry out Hutch in “The Fix”), and yes, he obviously finds the detective business exciting, which explains his naïve foray into the trade with The Turkey. But most times you get the feeling he feels his role is an inconvenience, an embarrassment, a yoke he is forced to wear. He can be grumpy, obstreperous, stubborn and unhelpful, but he always comes through in the end. It’s interesting to speculate what Starsky and Hutch did to deserve this kind of allegiance, because frankly they’d be lost without his help.

Is it simply because providing information enables Huggy to keep the cops off his back? He makes no secret of his nefarious activities, like providing a hot watch in “The Trap”, and having various ladies of the evening lounging at his bar (most likely at his behest, although he is referred to as a pimp once by Hutch, in “Iron Mike Ferguson”, a comment more satiric than factual, as Hutch probably knows full well Huggy is more of an enabler than an enforcer). He is also seen hawking what looks like stolen merchandise and involving himself in various underground gambling operations (involving mice, hilariously). There are many hints the relationship between Huggy and the two detectives is primarily one of mutual back-scratching. This, at least, is how Captain Dobey sees it; he is suspicious of Huggy and loathe to accept his help (most vividly in “Bloodbath” but also in “Iron Mike Ferguson” and “The Fix”, among others) and seems embarrassed by Huggy’s colorful patois, perhaps because it represents the ethnic identity Dobey feels is an anathema to dignity, ambition, and acceptance in the wider (and whiter) world (an irony, since Huggy is dignified and ambitious, and his social power, while limited, is well established and genuine).

Despite being introduced in the series as a loner and an outsider, Huggy is often depicted as a family man, constantly surrounded by various cousins and other relatives, and is (improbably) invited along for the ride at Playboy Island because his grandmother and large extended family live there. However, these family connections always seem more like entanglements than loving bonds, fraught with obligation and danger (“Kill Huggy Bear”, “Murder at Sea”, “The Vampire”, for example). Family, in Huggy’s world, can be a rather loose affiliation: in “Huggy Can’t Go Home” we see this vividly, as father-figure JT exerts tremendous control over guilt-ridden Huggy, who seems helpless to escape the quicksand-like hold his old neighborhood has over him. Perhaps this is another clue in our mystery, because it appears Huggy has a natural disinclination to cut his ties no matter how they cut into the flesh. This shows how his loyalty with a capital L is an Achilles heel and why he is unable to part ways with the two troublesome detectives, whom he may view as family too (more “family” than “friend”, perhaps, if we understand that some relationships persist in a kind of preordained and non-voluntary way, independent of choice, both burdensome and tenacious to the point of inviolability).

The series ends with an homage to the informant and his uneasy, troubled relationship to the law: the unfortunate Lionel Rigger, played by Ted Neely, in the first part of “Targets Without a Badge”. Huggy trusts Starsky and Hutch to help Lionel, who has information about a crooked judge. They attempt to protect him, but fail. Following Lionel’s murder, Huggy explodes in a rage that seems to have been simmering for years, yelling “Lionel was a nobody as far as you’re concerned”, “just a snitch”, that “you let him down”, “you used him”. Explosive grief aside, this is a great scene precisely because it illustrates how complicated Huggy’s rationale for what he does is. He isn’t a one-dimensional sidekick, he isn’t an endearing oddball or the Groovy Black Guy brought in for ethnic legitimacy. He’s contradictory and conflicted, and by that yardstick becomes the embodiment of The Informer: a real-world Charon, the ferryman who navigates the rivers between the worlds of the living and the dead. Charon didn’t volunteer for this job and a snitch doesn’t either. It’s a grueling necessity, a cosmic pay-back for earthly transgressions. Just what Huggy’s transgressions are remains a mystery.

Episode 38: Huggy Bear and the Turkey

July 3, 2010

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

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

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Studies 8: The Supporters

February 9, 2010

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

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

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

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