Posts Tagged ‘Michael Mann’

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.

Advertisements

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

May 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Studies 23: Five Great Soul Scenes

August 23, 2012

While Paul Michael Glaser’s David Starsky is steady and consistent (even when he explodes, it usually comes after a prolonged simmer which telegraphs his actions far in advance of his making them), David Soul’s Kenneth Hutchinson is far more of an unpredictable and mercurial presence in this series, and Soul’s portrayal is a tour de force. Hutch is both vain and anxious, sarcastic and genuine, deeply invested in his professional and personal relationship with Starsky and determined to upend it by being a complete jerk. Despite extraordinary good looks and a privileged background – or maybe because of these things – he can be contrary, sharply disapproving of conventionality and drawn to fads, alternative lifestyles, junky cars and damaged women. Part of him is a psychological mess and part of him is steadfast, brave, thoughtful, and rational. All of him is charismatic. Soul leaps into the challenge on day one and never disappoints in the four years he portrays this magnetic, bad-tempered, loving, deeply moral individual. I’ll probably overuse the word “emotional” but that’s what David Soul does best: he’s an actor with great depth and dexterity, and there’s nowhere in the prickly, dense, scary underbrush of the human condition he’s afraid to go.

Here are some of his best characteristics and the scenes that embody them:

Alienated: irked by rules and regulations in “Lady Blue” (written by Michael Mann) There’s nothing better than Hutch frustrated by the mechanics and confines of modern society. Any other actor given these diatribes would wear out our patience and perhaps lessen our allegiance, but Soul’s sparkling wit and energy gives these speeches a special piquancy which approaches – but never quite steps into – comedy. You just never tire of them. You laugh and feel sad at the same time. They give us access to his complex personality, a man who feels thwarted and misunderstood despite an overabundance of natural gifts. In this instance, anger over car troubles sends Hutch on a hilarious rant against phones, corporations, numbers, numeric systems and issues of personal identity, and it’s a joy to watch. Soul keeps it tight, never tips it into caricature, and easily reins it into drama a moment later.

Patient: negotiating with a psychopath in “Bloodbath” (written by Christopher Joy, Wanda Coleman, Ron Friedman) Beautifully filmed, Hutch’s two interrogations with Simon Marcus are unremittingly intense and show us the intellectual, patient side of this emotion-driven character. Hutch is forced to control both fear and antagonism in order to find information necessary to save his partner. Very often the series uses threat to the partnership in order to bring out the best in both characters, and here it’s perfectly played out as Hutch understands his baser instincts are no match for someone with nothing to lose.

Kind: being a true friend in “Starsky’s Lady” (written by Robert Earll) The beautiful tag on the end of a harrowing episode in which Starsky’s girlfriend is murdered is a showstopper. Hutch is alternately funny, warm, silly and wrenchingly grief-stricken. This scene is made more difficult by the fact both are drunk, and intoxication is notoriously difficult to act convincingly. Alternately goofy and serious (at the same time), tears swim in his eyes as he reluctantly faces his own grief and responsibilities while opening the letter and gift from Terry. In this scene, as in many others, we’re aware of his unusually expressive voice, and how he uses it in subtle ways to convey deep emotion.

Indomitable: the ransom run in “The Psychic” (again written by Michael Mann, who knows a thing or two about dramatic escalation). Yes, I have gone on about this scene more than once, but it does sum up the remarkable gifts of Mr Soul, whose speed and endurance is front and center here, and much missed after a skiing accident in the third season reduced him physically for the remainder of the series. I imagine extreme exertion and an acting performance are normally mutually exclusive, but here Hutch is not only running hard and bursting through the doors of bars and booths and Laundromats, he’s conveying fear, determination, and rage. Every second of the ransom run keeps you on the edge of your seat, and at the end you’re nearly as exhausted as he is.

Volcanic: Coming upon the murder scene in “Gillian” (written by Ben Masselink and Amanda J Green). Mere words can’t describe the devastating impact of this scene, and Soul’s incredible acting range in this and other moments of this episode (the “freeze” scene in the alley, for example). He goes from confusion to dawning realization, from horror to violent rage and finally to sobbing grief within minutes. There is not a false note or hesitation here, from his expressive voice to his extraordinary fearless body language – and all of this matched point for point by note-perfect Glaser. There has never been more painfully acute depiction of what true friendship really means. It’s ugly, raw, redemptive, astonishing. It helps this was reportedly filmed in one take, giving the actors a rare chance to let it flow naturally, and the result is very difficult to watch, but even more difficult to turn away from.

Episode 35: The Psychic

June 4, 2010

Collandra, a psychic, reluctantly helps Starsky and Hutch locate Joanna Haymes, the kidnapped daughter of sports magnate Joe Haymes.

Joe “Collandra” Collins: Allan Miller, Moo-Moo: Cliff Emmich, Joe Haymes: Herb Voland, Earl Pola: George Loros, Joanna: Dianne Kay, Su Long: James Hong, Charlie Sireen: Sylvia Anderson, Julio: Edward James Olmos, Policeman: Larry Mitchell, Fireball: Robert Tessier, Cha-Cha: Charles Everett, De Meo: Michael Keenan, Ringo: Chris Peterson. Written By: Michael Mann, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This is a wonderful episode in every way – the acting is terrific, the script suspenseful and tight, the characters vivid, and the ideas relating to vision and clarity are fascinating. This is an ambitious and complicated episode where we are never sure what truth is or who is capable of telling it. There is also a lot of love here, from the partnership itself to a father’s love for his daughter, a woman’s love for her doomed man, and the psychic’s martyr-like suffering on behalf of humanity.

Why is Joanna dressed like a 50’s girl with her saddle shoes, and why is she eighteen and still in high school, unless she’s at the tail end of it? Isn’t she a little old for all this daddy-coddling and gee-whizzing? Her father perpetuates the anachronistic feeling  by using the word “swell.” Joanna is no dummy though, despite her somewhat silly demeanor she gives a pretty sharp evaluation of her father’s football team woes and probably plays up the little-girl act because it pleases him. The fact that she is named Joanna, a feminized version of her father’s name, is a nicely subtle indication not only of being an only child but that Joe really, really wanted a boy and so may treat her more like a son as much of his generation did, i.e. draw her into his confidence, treat her with respect, and allow himself to be closer to her than he might otherwise be.

Their affectionate bond goes a long way in ramping up the tension meter when she’s taken, as well as having the effect of canceling out the invisible mother. My guess is the only reason for her being eighteen, rather than eight or ten (which would make the situation so much more frightening) is the writers had second thoughts about putting a small child in a situation that has her bound and gagged and on the way to being crushed to death in a scrap yard. It’s a sidestepping of the gruesome realities of life and crime I can never decide is laudable or naive, but most likely is simply a case of being severely restricted by the “standards” of the times.

Why did Moo-Moo and Earl need Julio in the first place? Why drag a third guy into the plan? They could have gotten a van from anywhere, and Julio, despite his familiarity with the Haymes place, doesn’t do anything special. He doesn’t get them through security gates, and he doesn’t lure Joanna anywhere, he just stalls her briefly. If they wanted information – the address, her schedule, the best time to grab her, her father’s net worth – they could have gotten that from other sources. Starsky and Hutch theorize she saw Julio and “that’s why she didn’t scream”, but in fact she doesn’t scream because they moved too fast when grabbing her – her familiarity with Julio had nothing to do with it. When Julio becomes unwanted baggage they’re forced to kill him and dump his body, which is extra trouble. One explanation may be Julio himself concocting the kidnapping plan because of serious gambling debts, then recruiting Moo-Moo and Ernie to help. Rather than a stooge this would make him the mastermind who profoundly underestimates the greed and paranoia of his compatriots (who appear, throughout, to be under the influence of crack). It’s either that or he has been violently coerced. Coercion makes more sense, if only because we later witness Charlie’s genuine grief when she learns he’s dead. Charlie doesn’t strike me as being someone who is easily snookered by a psychopath. But then again, she wouldn’t be the first.

Hutch’s burst of dime-store psychology while in the Torino – “you know Starsky, the underlying hostility that triggers bursts of temper like that is usually associated with immaturity” – is doubly amusing because it’s something better leveled at himself. This whole scene sparkles with energy, the guys really enjoying themselves and each other; Hutch is never so happy as being the Mature One, especially if it’s at Starsky’s expense.

Why is Starsky in such a rotten mood? Even the dispatcher is aware of it. No explanation is offered. At the drive-in he complains his food is “too greasy,” which is about as contrary as he can get.

“Breakfast at last,” says Hutch in the beginning of the last scene, before they’re called to a “DB” to find Huggy at the cafe. The estimated time would be what, ten or eleven in the morning? This timing is interesting because Huggy is already drinking a beer – maybe two – and smoking cigarettes, not something he would normally do during a busy work shift.

Why is Huggy at Joe Collins’ café, anyway? At first he’s a customer – itself an oddity, since Huggy’s bar serves coffee, booze and food, unless the bar has closed – and then, later, he’s an employee, although his excuse is that he’s the “sorcerer’s apprentice”, quite possibly on his way to striking it rich after learning the secrets of the occult. However he comes to be there Joe doesn’t even like him that much: at the first sign of trouble he throws Huggy under the bus, shouting derisively, “You gonna believe this two-bit hustler?”

“How am I supposed to know who he is?” Starsky says rudely when Huggy seems to assume they know who the Joe Collins is. “Just give him a chance,” Hutch says, all sweetness and light, putting a hand out to Starsky. Hutch is liking himself as the Nice One, the diplomat, the Reasonable Thinker in opposition to Starsky. (If Starsky was pleasant and reasonable, Hutch would be the irritable, contentious one.) It’s this need to contradict Starsky that puts Hutch in the uncharacteristic position of being the “believer” when normally he positions himself as skeptical of all things outlandish or supernatural. Note, however, he takes a very new-age spiritual approach to the subject, which is truer to his personality than a more Starsky-inspired “weird-things-just-happen” attitude.

“The Amazing Collins,” Huggy explains.  “He took that name after all that ethnic-pride jive here.” Hmm. What could Huggy mean by this? Collins is hardly an ethnic name, and throwing an “Amazing” onto it hardly makes him a soul brother. As an aside, Huggy referring to any kind of ethnic or cultural advancement as “jive” is hilarious, both because it betrays his deep skepticism and his pragmatism.

Hutch’s recognition of Joe Collins again shows his great memory. Atlantic City four years previously, and Hutch wasn’t even involved.

Collins calls the Torino “the red tomato”, which is the nickname Hutch has for Starsky’s car. This is eerily accurate, although he incorrectly identifies Hutch as the owner of the car, something neither Starsky nor Hutch don’t appreciate, for opposing reasons. One can really go to town speculating on why Collins makes this error after being so dead-on about his earlier statement about the body at the fairgrounds. Could it be proof that Starsky and Hutch really are a single entity, and that Hutch has as much ownership in the Torino and all it represents as Starsky does? Or does it mean the Amazing Collins is not so amazing after all?

The two young kids trying to steal the Torino’s wheels are like miniature Starsky and Hutch, blond and dark, curls and straight, plaid-shirt and not. Afterward, in happy lecture mode, Hutch throws his arm around Starsky in genuine affection, and keeps his hold on him for a long time.

“And you think I do some very weird things,” Starsky says, beginning to enjoy his bantering with Hutch, which appears to be dragging him out of his bad mood.
“You know, I had this dream one time,” Hutch says as they get into the Torino.
“You know,” says Starsky, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”
The conversation is cut off, which is bad news for fans.

If Joe truly is psychic, it’s difficult to believe Starsky and Hutch didn’t return in other episodes to exploit his talents, although it’s likely Joe disappeared from Los Angeles, driven out by the misery of his own success.

It’s interesting to note the psychic’s powers flare only because the facts concretely replicate the Atlantic City case (same perps, same circumstance). He’s successful because he knows the facts already, and because he’s become familiar with Julio over time. Therefore, this is not some out-of-the-blue flash with no connection to the mundane and ordinary. This lends a kind of grim realism to a story that could easily become far-fetched.

Starsky attempts to take Hutch’s shirt and use it to open the doors of the van. This is the sort of boundary-obliterating details that define their partnership, and Starsky, generally, is more comfortable with the intimacy than Hutch is. It doesn’t matter to him that Hutch is wearing that shirt. He just dives for it. But Hutch recoils, says irritably, “I can do it, I can do it.” “I can do it, I can do it,” Starsky mimics, frustrated by his partner’s temper.

I love Starsky’s neatly timed flashing of the badge to the car wash owner. He later flashes the photo of the guy in the same manner, like a magician with a trick set of cards.

“He went to the Elysian Fields where little fat babies play harps,” says Hutch, in – perhaps unconscious – mimicry of Collandra’s psychic premonitions. He adds, dryly, “the man’s dead.”

I like how both the guys tap him on the shoulder in exact imitation of each other.

I like how Starsky interrupts Joe Haymes talking about how you can’t negotiate sensibly with terrorists by saying “(but) she’s your daughter”, and then shooting a look at Hutch, although there’s no real reason for it, other than the need to connect during a difficult conversation.

Are we to make anything of the fact that both Collins (hero) and Haymes (victim) are named Joe?

Joe Collins’ speech about the fears and frustrations of being a psychic is one of the greatest moments in this and any other episode. The speech is affecting, bitter and real, and a beautiful moment for Allan Miller. Interrupting the litanies of his own misery to slap the photo violently on the counter and say “twenty one,” and then amend it to “two-one-one” is genius. Note that his vision of an armed robbery comes in as police code, which is something he probably doesn’t consciously know (how many citizens do?). This implies his skills have less to do with something purely supernatural and more to do with an extreme form of empathy. In a flash, he sees through the eyes of the detectives. He is, briefly, embodying them. Which is why, I suppose, he uses their private “tomato” slang for the car.

Charlie Sireen is a real character, yammering on about fish and whales, the Call of the Siren, doing a routine that is as much about smoke-and-mirror distraction as it is about flirting.  (The old-timey magic show allusions flood this show: carnivals and sleight-of-hand, death-defying stunts and trick motorcycle riding, Charlie’s stage patter and even Su Long’s exotic “Chinaman” act). Her reflexive, almost compulsive speech has the quality of a long-practiced routine, used to great effect on every guy she meets. Wails, whales, whatever. But beneath the show-offy act she’s a sweet girl; when faced with awful facts she shows real grief, the only one to show respect for poor Julio. This is also another instance in which a “man” turns out to be a woman, a gag repeated many times throughout the series which reflects the rapidly changing sexual politics of the times.

It’s stated Su Long is Korean, but everything about James Hong’s character, including his name, seems more Chinese than Korean.

And now, dropped like a rock in the middle of the show, is the ransom run. It’s a transcendent, marvelous, self-contained set piece that can be viewed independently from the rest of the episode. Beautifully conceived and directed by the legendary Michael Mann, it’s a little movie unto itself. If pressed, I would admit this is my favorite scene in the entire canon, because it not only has all the best elements of the series compressed into a few intense minutes – action, grit, love and loyalty – but also because it has other, less definable components to it. Call it a kind of environmental sensitivity. There is empathy with the neighborhood and its denizens (the gay couple in the laundromat, for example, is a priceless detail) which both Hutch and Starsky must blast through and destroy like a meteor blazing through the cosmos.

Both partners often use sarcasm to offset or distract themselves from fear. They throw barbs at each other as a way of both hiding their own trepidation or bolstering the other with a “you’re not in trouble, because if you were I wouldn’t be so mean” kind of inverse (masculine-specific) logic. And Hutch’s routine starts immediately as Starsky arrives at the site. He remarks irritably, “what are you doing with that?” when Starsky puts down the rifle. Starsky explains with equal asperity about needing “extra reach” (which is, I suspect, a back-handed compliment regarding his partner’s speed and agility), then mentions a having motorbike, and Hutch says, “you got a bike too, huh?” with disdain, as if he didn’t know and now that he does, he’s disapproving. But he must know, because this is a carefully orchestrated police procedure. But he isn’t finished yet. “Will you put that away,” he gripes as Starsky looks at the ransom money. Then grabs it from him. “Whatya going to spend it on.”
“I thought I’d get some flowers for you,” Starsky says, mock-hurt, playing the role with his usual good grace.

It goes on, too, as they exit the van and Hutch watches Starsky prepare the bike. In a sarcastic, nearly demeaning tone, he makes the following statements: “You sure you know what you’re doing on that thing, huh? What you got a dirt bike on the street for? Got enough gas? Check the oil? How about the chain? Tight enough? Air pressure?”
To which Starsky replies with phlegmatic yeps and nopes, then mimics Hutch’s questions by saying, “Shoes tied?” Hutch looks down at himself. He deflates. It’s a lovely micro-second in which he gives up the act and thinks Hutchinson, you’re an a-hole. “Yeah,” he says.

In the end it’s Hutch who amps up the emotional content of the moment – and also signals that the game of fake-insult is over – by telling Starsky to “be careful,” staring at him intently and then touching him on the arm. Starsky looks shocked by the gesture, unpleasantly reminded of his own feelings and how much is riding on this risky endeavor.

How often does Hutch make it “real” in the middle of ersatz bickering, and when does Starsky do the same thing, and is it evenly matched?

Filming notes: David Soul ran the actual grueling ransom route himself, as filmed. He is never better than here, managing to balance extreme athleticism with emotional subtlety, and best of all make it look entirely real.

I wonder who the kidnappers think is the stand-in for the ransom run. Surely they don’t think Haymes is running the route – he’s in his late fifties and out of shape. “Not bad, clown,” smirks Earl as Hutch gets to the phone in time. There’s no indication of suspicion, of Earl thinking, who the hell is this guy? So why do they so easily allow other people to be involved?  Why not set it up so Joe has to drive to a drop-off? That would be the sensible thing to do. Or is this an exercise in sadism? Does Earl get off on seeing somebody go through a tortuous obstacle course while suffering verbal torments?

“Get moving, Baby Blue,” Earl says as Hutch heaves for breath at the Laundromat – exactly what Hutch has been called many times in the past, and it’s about as startling as Joe Collins and the “tomato” remark. Is he close enough to see the color of Hutch’s eyes, or is he just making a supposition? Is there more than one psychic here?

Yet, when he sees the police car, Earl freaks and cries out, “Man, you called the cops.” And then announces “she’s dead”. It seems as if he really does assume Haymes hired a civilian stand-in (maybe one of his football players) programmed to do his bidding exactly. The idea of being double-crossed really shocks him.

Do you think Starsky meant to kill both kidnappers as they drive away in the car, or is the spectacular conflagration a lucky gas-tank hit? It seems most likely he only meant to stop the car, but it’s possible there’s a more troubling reason, that he fully intended to kill them in an act of revenge (I say this even though there is no evidence for it, and in fact would go against his compassionate and rational nature) because he says later to Hutch, almost as an explanation, “I thought you were dead.” But killing the kidnappers means almost certain doom for Joanna, something Starsky would never deliberately cause.

Hutch refers to himself and Starsky as “Lazarus” when uniformed officer says “who are you guys?” It’s Hutch who’s been shot and returns to life and not Starsky. And yet he is inclusive when he says Lazarus refers to both of them. I wonder if he’s thinking back to the time earlier in their career (“Pilot”) when Starsky announces to the bar crowd – all of whom are expecting them to be dead – that he’s tired of being looked at like “we’re Lazarus – the day after.”

The series has never had a good record of keeping details straight. But here Hutch keeps coughing, in obvious distress, long after being shot in the bullet-proof vest.

Clothing notes: nothing special, although they both wear their iconic signatures: the brown leather jacket for Starsky and the dark green t-shirt for Hutch.

Episode 19: Jojo

January 20, 2010

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 possibly his 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 conclusion, watching this is that they intended to murder the receptionist as part of the plan, even though this would make a whole lot of trouble for Dombarris he didn’t need.

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 (coupled with his low intelligence) 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. Even his murder is a case of “good riddance”. The overall superficiality – all flash, no substance – to both his character and his impact in the episode, therefore, is anomalous and 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, 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 Jo-Jo 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 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 Jojo 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.

Later, at Elaine’s, tempers play out the way they usually do: Hutch explodes, while Starsky simmers. It’s an act they play over and over. 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 could have done it.

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 9: Lady Blue

December 18, 2009

When Starsky’s former girlfriend Helen Davisson, a cop, is murdered, Starsky and Hutch suspect either Solenko, the thief she was investigating, or the insane Commander Jim.

James March Wrightwood: James Keach, Cindy: Timothy Blake, Polly: Elisha Cook, Dr. Melford: Quinn Redeker, Wally: Tony Ballen, Fifth Avenue: Ed Bakey, Ruby Solenko: Victor Argo, Slow: Richard Karron, Touhy: Jim Gosa, Harvey Ritlin: Gene Borkan, Angie: Lee Pulford. Written By: Michael Mann, Directed By: Don Weis.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

The dream team of Michael Mann and Don Weis will later bring us “The Psychic”, one of the all-time best episodes in the canon. Similarly, this episode is a perfect amalgam of great writing and no-nonsense, crisp direction. Both episodes also give us treasured little extras, those special scenes that enlarge our understanding and appreciation of the partnership, such as the fight about Hutch’s broken-down car.

Why do you think Huggy changed the name from his bar from the proud “Huggy Bear’s” to the more incognito “The Pits” in later episodes? Was this unusual deceleration from capitalizing on one’s name and identity (surely Huggy would be well-known in this rundown neighborhood) or the result of some kind of trouble? Perhaps Huggy inherited a bar with a name with even more cachet than his own, and decided to keep it.

Imagine how desperate Hutch must be if he’s willing to let a guy named “Sneaky Pete” fix his car.

The moment of private joy Starsky experiences when seeing Hutch’s tub engulfed in smoke is memorable: he throws his head back and laughs.  This reminds us how Hutch’s superiority complex and its unpleasant side-effects (such as taking it out on Starsky) is part of a complex and satisfying ritual the two enact through mutual unspoken – or unconscious – agreement. Starsky is thinking, oh yeah, this is going to be good.  He’s probably anticipating his partner’s name-calling, undermining, and other sour psychological underhandedness with what can only be described as masochistic delight. It’s easy to see what Hutch gets out of this – he’s allowed to spectacularly decompress, with no lingering resentments, lucky to have a friend and partner who takes what he dishes out – but what does Starsky get out of it?

Starsky pretends to read the sports section of the newspaper while inquiring casually (to an about-to-explode Hutch): “what were you doin’ in there?” while his mouth twitches in a nearly invisible grin. Which, of course, brings on the expected, and anticipated, temper-tantrum from Hutch, who rails about names and numbers in a speech which has since become a classic moment of the series: “Do you ever think about it, Starsky? Here we go, another day, another dollar, ten-four, five six, tack-two, Zebra-three, they’re trying to make us into digits and I’m tired of it! … Zebra Three, ten-four, forty buffalo and a gaggle of geese …”
“And a partridge in a pear tree, sounds like Christmas,” says Starsky, with the ingenuousness perfectly designed to increase rather than decrease the build-up of explosive energy from his partner.

It’s an interesting glimpse into Hutch’s psyche when he claims “they feed us numbers all day long to try and make us one of them“. He really does have a loner’s distrust of society at large, a paranoid streak that never really goes away. It could also resemble the “crazy” talk of Pollie later in the episode, perhaps reminding us the line between sane and insane is relatively thin.

Starsky says it was a good thing they were called Zebra Three, when they could have been called “Weimaraner Four”. It’s very amusing how he comes up with the name of a relatively obscure dog breed that fast.

When Hutch uses his nasty-nice voice to say to the dispatcher: “hello there fellow person, nice human being, are you calling us?” you can see Starsky, while ostensibly concentrating on the newspaper, suppress a pleased smile at Hutch’s frustration. It’s a truly lovely, subtly acted moment.

Angry as he is, Hutch is also quick to react professionally at the call, proving there is always a rational person in there somewhere.

When the guys arrive at the “dead body” at Lincoln Garden there’s a lovely modernist cedar wall erected between lawn and pond, hiding the patio of a restaurant, which some idiot has defaced with spray paint.

They call out to “Marty” right away, signaling their knowledge of all the beat cops. When they see how that his shock at the murder scene has caused him to neglect his duties they’re sympathetic rather than angry or impatient; they know he’s a rookie and understand that in the stress of the moment things are undone. If Marty had been indifferent to the carnage it would have bothered them more.

After requesting a crime lab team and a coroner’s wagon, Starsky hesitates and then says “thank you,” to dispatcher Mildred, and you can see this is meant to serve as an apology for his partner’s earlier rudeness. However – and this is an extraordinary, inspired Glaser moment – he does it with a mix of reluctance, amusement, and self-deprecation. He’s inwardly berating himself for having to clean up Hutch’s messes while at the same time appreciating his explosive nihilism. Moment over, it’s back to the action.

There’s a great moment in Dobey’s office in which Hutch hands Starsky the Styrofoam coffee cup in exact duplicate to his gesture in the previous scene at the morgue, except here Starsky takes it; one wonders if this is an unconscious gesture meaning, all right, I will accept your help now.  All this is watched closely by Dobey.

Helen Davisson is described by Dobey as a fine police officer until her behavior changes suddenly: she’s insubordinate and often a no-show. Then she abruptly “quits”. Why is the undercover case we eventually discover she’s involved in have to be concealed to such an extent that not even Dobey, Chief of Detectives, has heard about it? If the case had to do with internal affairs, I could see it. But this is by all reports a fairly standard operation to attempt infiltration into a burglary ring. That’s hardly black ops.

Dobey almost takes Starsky off Helen’s case because of Starsky’s personal interest in it. Yet in Linda Baylor’s attack in “Fatal Charm” Dobey tells Starsky and Hutch, “Knowing how you feel about Linda, I’m going to assign you to her case.” Why the difference in how he sees emotional involvement of his officers in these two cases? Does the presence of romantic feelings – even distant ones – make him wary?

Starsky gives a wonderful speech illustrating why he and Hutch are a cut above the rest: “I’m a cop, not a vigilante. And especially because this was Helen, what will go down will be the most professional murder investigation ever run by this department. I’m going to walk that guy into a corner, and a judge is going to imprison him, or institutionalize him, for the rest of his life” (italics mine). It’s not just Starsky’s rationality that makes this such an admirable statement. It’s also the willingness to accept mental illness as a treatable and defensible motive that shows an extraordinary level of compassion, considering the times (and which must have garnered a lot of guffaws in the squad room.)

Geometry Moment Number One: observe the triangularization when Dobey is deciding whether or not to let Starsky work the Helen case. Starsky pleads with Dobey, Hutch reads Starsky, Dobey reads Hutch, who gives a subtle nod; Dobey agrees.

Throughout the series Dobey seems to have more trust in Hutch than Starsky. It’s in evidence here as he lets Hutch make the decision about involvement in Helen’s case.

The scene with the uncooperative guy at the Mellow Yellow is really priceless – the sort of choreography that’s almost psychic – note that it’s not one, but two judicious slams of the door that floor the guy.

The door to the club locked, and the doorman barks “we’re closed” when the sign reads “Open 24 Hours, Seven Days a Week”. Inside, chairs are piled up, lights are low. Strip clubs must be accustomed to girls coming and going all the time; even the death of one of the dancers wouldn’t be enough to bring a profitable business to a close.

Cindy says Helen was “her best friend”, like a “kid sister”. Yet they’ve known each other only three months or so, and have been roommates for less than that. Cindy is obviously one of those clingy, needy people with boundary issues that are ripe for the picking in an undercover operation. It’s easy to imagine Helen, if she was as good a cop as they say, really pouring on the sisterly charm in order to get as much information from Cindy as she could. Plus, she held her nose and dated the club manager, which probably wasn’t very fun. In this way, Helen shows her pragmatic toughness much like Starsky later does in “I Love You, Rosey Malone”. Too bad the best female cop in the entire series is dead before we meet her.

The initial scene with Starsky creating/exaggerating Hutch’s tantrum outside the Pits is repeated here in a mirror image: Hutch gets into the car after the interview with Cindy, in which she shows the guys a photo of her and Helen. Starsky, overwhelmed, leaves. Hutch first asks “you okay?” then proceeds to get into the car and needle Starsky into a moment of forgiveness and gentleness in the same way Starsky needled Hutch into frustration and anger – by knowing exactly what buttons to push. I don’t mean Hutch is exploitative, or even pragmatic. He is not trying to hurry Starsky along so they can get back to work (well, not primarily). Rather, he is doing what Starsky did several scenes earlier: offering himself as both distraction and target. Starsky’s emotions – unprocessed, abstracted – need to coagulate into action if he’s going to heal. Hutch is popping up like a mole at a carnival game. He’s saying, here, hit this. He looks kindly at Starsky and tells him he’s “not the kind of man a woman’s gonna kill herself over. No matter what your mother said, you’re not Rudolph Valentino.” Roused, Starsky indignantly tells Hutch his mother never said he was Rudolph Valentino, but rather “the Paul Muni type.” Hutch feigns ignorance but of course this is a detail he already knows. He gives a sad laugh, a sort of “huh” and Starsky is jolted out of his paralysis; Hutch slaps him on the arm and Starsky signals the end of his immobilization by saying in a business-like way, “ok, look, we’ve got a psycho on our hands, huh.” This will be echoed in the pivotal scene later in Gillian in which Starsky tells grieving Hutch: “we’ve got work to do.”

“The Paul Muni-type” is an inside joke of Glaser and Soul’s that they played often off-camera, which has now been written into the script. Paul Muni may not physically resemble Starsky (or Glaser), except for the luxuriant hair (and the initials), but he was renown for meticulous professionalism, intense immersion into his roles, personal integrity, and public reserve.

It’s interesting Starsky and Hutch both make the assumption Helen’s killer is mentally ill. Other than the unusual detail of the television wire, there isn’t any particular reason this is the work of a “psycho”. Instead of talking to Helen’s current boyfriend – the most obvious choice to make, as most homicides, particularly of women, are caused by a husband, boyfriend or closest male relative – they go right to the San Leone institution to talk to Crazy Pollie.

Outsider artist Crazy Pollie makes some pretty nice drawings. In today’s market, in a good gallery, they could command quite a lot.

I like how Hutch is interested enough to ask Pollie where he’s planning to go when his “dials” or “tiles” – it’s difficult to tell – blast them out of the world. He’s very good with vulnerable, damaged people. Starsky, eminently practical, can’t muster the same level of interest. This is why Hutch, with all his prickly parts – his temper, his arrogance, a certain preposterous bluster, a streak of meanness – will always be deeply lovable.

That’s some awesome driving by Glaser as they pull into the garage where the man is working, looking for James Wrightwood, aka Colonel Jim. He makes a pin-point turn and pulls in an inch from where the mechanic is standing at the work bench. It’s so close Hutch can’t even get around, he has to hop up on the bumper.

Would you hire a guy who just got out of an institution “for the criminally insane” and get him using a blow torch? I wouldn’t.

Hutch tells Wrightwood they’re friends of Pollie and Wrightwood says, “yeah? You’ve been looking for me!” As he proceeds to explain how good he’s been, I can’t help but wonder: the guys have left Pollie from his secure lockdown maybe a half hour or an hour before, and yet Commander Jim knows the cops are looking for him already. It seems to me he really can receive magnetic signals from the ether, after all.

That’s some cool act Jim gives when he insists he’s taken his medication and is living a regular life; this is a guy, we learn later, who has already tortured and murdered one woman, and will soon murder again. How can he be so composed? Does he somehow not see Starsky and Hutch as a threat to his freedom? Does he imagine they’re there for another reason altogether?

Starsky is really thrown by the idea of Jim’s aluminum-foil-cosmic-ray-deflection scheme, in a way Hutch wouldn’t be. He can be more conventional, and therefore more affronted by oddities, while Hutch is more likely take it in stride.

Why would the guys would discuss such a sensitive case in front of Huggy? Isn’t there some kind of presumption of confidentiality when it comes to detective work? There’s a nice moment in this scene when Huggy approaches with the coffee, pours it, and manages to spill most of it on the counter. Starsky takes his cup, and gently touches it to the sleeve of his khaki jacket, absorbing the coffee.  An improvised gesture, maybe?

“Baby Blue, this car could be for you,” Wally tells Hutch, attempting to make Hutch buy the car by noticing his physical appearance. Most do: Hutch is very often called “blondie” and “blue eyes” throughout the series while Starsky is never once called “Curly”, or noted for his similarly blue eyes. As they get into the car, (both guys waving away what must be alcoholic breath) Starsky deliberately – provokingly – says, “take it, Blue Eyes.” Which Hutch does, with gusto, while Starsky is supremely calm.

Note that throughout this scene Hutch’s gun holster is evident. Wally either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Hutch has his pocket watch with him when Starsky (who always has an accurate watch) asks for the time. The same watch Fifth Avenue lifts. Starsky calls Hutch “pushover” at the end of the scene, either a remark about Hutch not being able to detect his pocket being picked, or perhaps it’s a comment about Hutch being too friendly with this seemingly endless parade of eccentric characters. This is what Starsky called him when the cousin makes him test-drive the car at the lot, throwing him the keys in a peremptory way. “You’re a pushover,” Starsky says. What’s going on, that “pushover” is the best Starsky can do given two very different situations? And besides that, wasn’t scaring the guy witless in order to extract information part of the plan? Is Hutch really a pushover, in any sense of the word?

“Degenerates, bums,” Fifth Avenue calls Solenko and his bunch. “They give an honest thief like me a bad name.” This statement is very similar to Starsky and Hutch’s reasoning in “Texas Longhorn” when they allow the Angel to give them information on the killers of Emma Lou. Starsky and Hutch tell her Huey Chaco and John Brown Harris “give heroin addicts a bad name.” They also treat Cheryl Waite, self-admitted drug runner and possible prostitute, with lunch, an offer to stay at Hutch’s place and help packing for a trip. Where is the line drawn between an honorable bad person and one that is not? Do Starsky and Hutch believe that drawing this line is their raison d’etre as good cops?

If Fifth Avenue is so hard to get a hold of, why does Hutch interrupt Dispatch during the phone number read off and asked to be patched through? Does he figure Fifth Avenue would only use phone booths, and out-of-the-way ones at that, so there would be no point?

While on a stakeout of fancy houses which may be the scene of the immanent heist, Starsky asks the cops-in-hiding, “Cóma está usted?” He says it easily, proving he knows rudimentary Spanish, which makes his long drawn-out scene in “Velvet Jungle” with Hutch trying to teach him a simple phrase like “esta Ramone aquí” very suspicious. He’s pretending ignorance of Spanish in “Velvet” for other, less easily understood reasons. It’s great when the undercover cop says, “your Spanish stinks” (even though it doesn’t; it’s a simple phrase and he says it fine) and Hutch smirks happily.

Starsky’s ability to read an honest confutation is evidenced here: in the middle of a chaotic take-down, he’s able to see that Solenko honestly didn’t know Helen was a cop.

Hutch watches Starsky climb into Helen’s confiscated car. You can read his face: he’s sad on behalf of Starsky, and ready for what might be a long moment of mourning and introspection as Starsky sits in the driver’s seat. It’s often the patience these two show for each other during the hard times that defines the closeness of the relationship, rather than any big gesture.

Hutch leans into the car to turn off the radio and just happens to note the buttons are all set to the same station. It seems to bother him greatly. When they discover another girl has been killed Hutch immediately asks the officer to check the car for the same anomaly. Hutch’s intense reaction to this one small detail in an ocean of details is a quirk the episode does not explain. He doesn’t even know what the significance might be, because it’s Starsky who makes the connection, exclaiming “Commander Jim of the airwaves!” This, too, is a bit of a reach.

Helen was a very good police officer, according to Dobey. Smart, resourceful, and probably physically able. How, one wonders, was she subdued by someone as crazy as Commander Jim? This is not to say a male police officer might not have suffered as Helen did, but there is an underlying message here that female police officers are more likely to be victimized. In the series’ run female officers do not perform particularly well. Sally Hagen (“The Specialist”), Sgt. Lizzie Thorpe (“Discomania”) Det. Joan Meredith (“Black and Blue”) and Det. Kira (“Starsky vs. Hutch”) are all overpowered by a male offender. The shadow of a question remains: did Helen die because she wasn’t physically strong enough? And is this a vivid illustration of a long-held fear (or prejudice) of men in law enforcement?

It’s interesting when Starsky talks about his relationship with Helen and seems primarily to remember the fighting. Constant arguing doesn’t seem like Starsky’s style, and makes one wonder if the affair was as wonderful as he claims it was. Helen was most likely a feisty, spirited, ambitious person – she did, after all, volunteer for a dangerous job and sacrificed her relationship to do it. When Hutch says later in “Hutchinson for Murder One” that his marriage to Vanessa was marred by fighting but was still fulfilling in some sense, you believe it. Starsky, not so much. It would be intriguing to know what they fought about, since Helen, as a cop too, would understand all about strange hours and sudden departures and unexplained absences. Was it just a case, I wonder, of being too similar.

Commander Jim’s tinfoil palace is one of the most strikingly beautiful set decorations we see. It must have taken a lot of work to create those silver stalactites.

It’s amusing, in a sad way, that the psychiatrist insists Commander Jim was sane because he got a score of 76% on the “Wisconsin Multi-facet Index Test”.

It’s very touching when Starsky says that Commander Jim was a victim too, and not just the women.

Psychiatry doesn’t come off very well here or in other episodes (“Murder Ward”). Doctors like Melford are seen as little more than insensitive brutes who care more for statistics than they do for their patients. Case in point: Hutch angrily confronts him about using electro-shock therapy on a man so deeply afraid of “being zapped”, and the doctor just shrugs.

He does, however, try to redeem himself by admitting he knows where Jim goes when the waves hit him. This is information spoken in confidence and they all realize he shouldn’t say it, but Starsky isn’t ready to give him one iota of thanks. He simply glares with hate and says, “beautiful.”

This is the only episode that comes to mind in which the disenfranchised “victim” is also the perpetrator of the crime. Usually the show takes a sadistic sort of glee in bringing down the cigar-puffing kingpins, but in this case Solenko and his gang are innocent, and the mentally ill Commander Jim is to blame. Consequently his takedown is not a moment of either pride or satisfaction, but rather bitterly sad.

Filming notes: after shooting the scene on the radio tower, Glaser who, like Starsky, is scared of heights, immediately scrambled down again, while Soul, who loves climbing, ascended to the top to check out the view until Glaser nervously yelled for him to come down.

Tag: it’s a lovely, domestic scene with Hutch once again trying to help his friend out of his depression. The analogy of the sunset and the ephemeral nature of life is not only apt but gently understated.

There is no date coming up in the evening – Hutch is lying. The candles are for Starsky.