Posts Tagged ‘Ken Kercheval’

Episode 87: Targets Without a Badge, Part 3

May 2, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 86: Targets Without a Badge Part 2

April 9, 2012

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

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

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to know what sitting position aggravates sinuses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 85: Targets Without a Badge, Part One

March 22, 2012

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

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

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.