Starsky & Hutch Episode Reviewcap — Season 1, Episode 13: Terror on the Docks

Summary: Starsky and Hutch are called in to solve a series of robberies at a local dock; meanwhile, Hutch helps his childhood friend Nancy prepare for her wedding.

Like Death Ride, Terror on the Docks is an episode I have a hard time pinning the title to the content of. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, but if I think about “terror” and “docks,” I think more about exploding boats and international politicized violence than jewel theft. Jewel theft is, frankly, not that terrifying. Sure, there’s some murder, but it’s a cop show— the episodes without murder are the outliers. I guess something like Embezzlement on the Docks or Defrauding Your Employer on the Docks just isn’t quite as punchy. 

Interesting trivia that gives me very little insight into the episode itself: this one was directed by Randal Kleiser, a.k.a. the director of Grease. No one in this episode bursts into song, and at no point is the terror on the docks of the “oh no did I get teen pregnant under the docks” variety.

The episode opens on the exterior of a church in the Spanish Mission style, set before a backdrop of a pinkish sky. It’s not clear if it’s sunrise or sunset, but when we move inside the church we can see that no service is currently being held, and the handful of present parishioners seem to have been waiting a long time for something. Hutch (who as far as we know is not usually a church-going man) is pulling a Starsky, flopped down on the floor with his legs spread into the aisle between the pews. 

A priest walks in, and Starsky sits up from an otherwise empty pew, and Hutch removes himself from the floor. Father Delacourt is a stereotypical pink-faced Irish Catholic Priest; as a native East-Coaster, I find it immensely jarring that he’s preaching in a building that looks like this:

And not this:

(Actor John J. Fox was a Boston native, so I have to assume it was an odd experience for him, too.) 

Father Delacourt checks in with Hutch and Starsky and we discover why they’re in this church: Hutch is giving away an old friend at her wedding. 

We get a bad ha-ha-marriage-is-a-prison joke, but Starsky’s contained panic at the idea of being mistaken for the groom makes up for it. Hutch thinks it’s funny, but Starsky distinctly does not. Hutch then introduces Starsky as his partner, and it’s Father Delacourt’s turn to try to keep a straight face while panicking inwardly. This man of the cloth clearly thinks Hutch means ‘partners’ in the ‘civil union’ sense, and is doing about a dozen Hail Marys in his head trying not to panic about The Gays. Starsky clarifies that they’re police officers, and Father D determines he doesn’t have to perform a Gatorade shower but with holy water. (I can’t decide whether Starsky’s clarification is defensive or not— his expression is pretty neutral, but his tone is a little strained. Much like Hutch’s crusade against “lefties” (*cough* queer folk) in the previous episode, you get the feeling that the appearance of heterosexuality is more important than the practice— Starsky isn’t offended by the suggestion, but he also wants to make it clear that they’re not that kind of partners.)

Nancy, Hutch’s childhood neighbor and the bride-to-be, expresses her concerns that her fiancé Billy hasn’t arrived yet for tonight’s rehearsal. Now, we shouldn’t necessarily hold this against Billy— I mean, I was a few minutes late to my own wedding because I had to take bread out of the oven¹— but it is, in fact, a sign of what’s to come. Father Delacourt, undaunted, suggests Starsky play the stand-in.

Starsky is immensely distressed by this proposal (har har), but Hutch is not only tickled, he’s delighted. His expression as Starsky gets pulled aside by Father Delacourt— soft, downcast, evasive— is too damn cute. His usual snark is subsumed by an affection he’s doing his best to suppress, and he has to glance away from Starsky for a moment. He only turns back to look at him when Starsky isn’t looking. Generally speaking, Hutch is a little softer than usual in this episode: a bit more patient, a little less sarcastic, and quietly affectionate (and domestic) with Starsky. Both Starsky and Hutch have hidden romantic tendencies, and perhaps the encroaching marriage of his childhood friend has Hutch unable to suppress his.

At odds with this softness is the recurring gags about the undesirability of marriage; Hutch may be seeing this through a vaseline-smeared lens, but the director of the episode is clearly not. As Father Delacourt drags Starsky away, the organist begins playing a funeral dirge. Usually these kind of jokes annoy the hell out of me, because they’re largely part of a very white straight narrative of “marriage is the death of the soul and women just want to entrap men but we must all relent eventually.” My feeling is that if you don’t like your prospective spouse and marriage feels like a “game over” for you, you probably should avoid becoming legally entangled with one another. However, there’s more going on here than that hoary old cliche for two reasons. One, Nancy is in a trap— she just doesn’t know it yet. Two, while everyone else seems more or less on board with the Marriage Bad jokes, Hutch— a divorcé— is largely cheerful and optimistic about the process. Hutch can lean into cynicism, and he’s not always honest about himself with his girlfriends, but he demonstrates here that he hasn’t been entirely disabused of a belief in romance. 

So, where is Nancy’s hubby-to-be? Turns out, he’s committing a robbery. Masked men on the docks load a truck, and a man on a walkie talkie spies on them. He gets caught, and one of the masked men shoots him. As his walkie talkie drops to the ground, we can hear Dobey’s voice; the dead man, the masked robber explains to his compatriots, was a cop. The robbers leave, largely unperturbed by this news.

Back at the church, Hutch walks Nancy down the aisle as Starsky watches with annoyance (boredom?). Hutch and Nancy have genuine chemistry, and I buy the idea that they’re long-time friends. They play up the “little sister” angle a little more than is necessary, but I understand its inclusion as a way to dispel any romantic reading of their relationship among viewers who might struggle with subtext. As they rehearse, the man who killed the cop on the docks pulls up to the church and runs in, relieving Starsky of his stand-in-groom duty. 

Back at the station, Dobey pulls Starsky and Hutch aside to inform them of the death of Jameson, the cop with the walkie talkie.

Whatever exchange Hutch is having with Starsky before Dobey tells them of Jameson’s death is both inaudible and partially shadowed, but they’re smiling conspiratorially, and then Starsky raises his eyebrows and Hutch breaks into a grin. They seem to be having a very lovely time until Dobey breaks the news. Terror on the Docks has a very sweetly affectionate vibe throughout— this is one of those episodes that makes it clear why these two work so well together and have been friends for so long. Fond mood dispelled, however, they lament Jameson’s passing, and Dobey tells them to go look around the docks for Ted Banks, who they suspect is the killer.

At the docks, they run into Billy. At this point, they have no reason to be suspicious of him, so they ask him about Ted Banks. They joke around a little bit, and Billy offers Starsky some gum. As they head inside to talk to the dock manager, Starsky gently ribs Billy about being late, and tells him he’ll have to stand in for real at the wedding if it happens again.

Full disclosure: I’m more into Starsky than Hutch, but holy crap Hutch is cute in this episode. Terror on the Docks has to be at least in the Top Five Cutest Hutches.

The hooded sweater, the zippered turtleneck, the cords— and his hair is perfect. Seriously. He’s just so damn cute in this episode. 

But I digress. They go in to talk to Nancy, who, as it turns out, also works at the docks. Meanwhile, Billy talks to Rick (one of the other robbers). Rick rather looks like what would happen if Bernie Taupin and Elton John had a baby, and that baby was evil, or at least a middle-manager. 

Billy expresses a concern that, since Starsky and Hutch know Nancy, they’re going to put two and two together sooner than later.  

Starsky continues to hate chairs. 

They talk to security guard Jerry, who was knocked out during the robbery and missed everything. The docks manager is concerned about how large and organized these strikes have become recently, and admits that he can’t think of too many people who would know how to arrange such a thing. He then proceeds to list off the “small handful” of people, which includes almost every single soul who works at both the docks and the port authority and the customs office, as Starsky and Hutch look on in distress. He mentions a recent robbery of a shipment of cameras, and Starsky and Hutch leave with very little to go on.

Walking down the docks, they formulate a plan for tracking down the cameras. Hutch makes a racist joke about Japanese tourists, because of course there’s nothing funnier than both denigrating an entire country and repeating the same old tired joke that’s been repeated ad nauseum for decades. Starsky points out that they only know one fence big enough to deal with such a large shipment of electronics, and at once, they both proclaim: Ezra Bean. 

Behind them, a truck, driven by one of Billy’s gang of robbers, encroaches menacingly.

Hutch pushes Starsky out of the way, and then turns and runs after the truck. In an odd pacing choice, just as he dashes off, there’s a commercial break, and when we return, Hutch is back with Starsky. He admits he lost the criminals, which the two of them joke about, and then Nancy runs by to check on them. Billy saunters suspiciously in and mentions that the driver was Ted Banks, the man they came to the docks to look for, and so we’re off to Banks’ home. Banks does, in fact, have a large number of cameras in his apartment, but nothing else— no Banks, no plans, no cash— and so they’re left, once again, with no lead. However, as he’s playing around with one of the cameras, Starsky notices something:

Banks’ ashtray is full of gum wrappers, folded into neat triangles. Starsky is clearly reminded of something, but he doesn’t say anything to Hutch. 

So, with Banks a dead-end, they take a visit to A HAUNTED HOUSE.

I don’t know about you, but I get all my best leads in places labeled “Netherworld Science.” (Hilariously, this same building will show up literally two episodes later as a different business— the home of a psychic. It’s just so damn hard to keep your spooky occult business solvent in this economy.) 

They enter Netherworld Science and the door closes behind them automatically. They’re greeted by a bovine furry, who appears to already know their names.

They assume (correctly) that this is Ezra Bean; he removes his cow head and starts talking up his new business. Ezra insists that he’s no longer involved in the criminal underworld, because the regular underworld is so damn lucrative— he explains, gleefully, that “Demonology and devil worship, man, it’s all legal and tax deductible!” Oh, the 70’s. Never change. 

We also get another reminder that this is, in fact, the episode with the all-time cutest Hutch.

As Hutch sits adorably in Ezra’s spooky chair, Starsky threatens to “break his spooky organ” if he doesn’t give them the information they want. Ezra continues to insist he has very little pull now that he’s “gone legit,” but he owes Starsky and Hutch a favor after they had given him a chance to turn state’s evidence in a previous case. In the real world, this would be police harassment with no evidence or cause, but because it’s the magical world of television, Ezra is not only knowledgeable about the case, he’s directly involved. The moment Starsky and Hutch leave, he calls Rick and tells him he needs to eat the cost of the cameras, because there’s no way he can sell them now. 

That evening, the elder Ms. Blake (Nancy’s mother) cooks up a pot of stew at their apartment. Starsky flirts with her a little, as he often does with older women, and she tells him that Hutch is a good boy. A bit of backstory is fleshed out— Hutch was their neighbor “back East,” and after Nancy’s dad died, Hutch was like an adoptive older brother to her. Starsky kind of nods along, and then, in an unreadable tone of voice, Ms. Blake adds, “But you’d know that, being his partner.” Starsky gets slightly flustered and, clearly sarcastic, mutters that Hutch is “okay.” 

These feels like an intentional callback to Father Delacourt’s misunderstanding about “partners;” Ms. Blake seems to be dropping a very mild, easily-deniable hint that she’s aware that their relationship is more substantial than “work pals.” She doesn’t belabour the point, but instead calls to Nancy, asking if Billy has arrived yet. Nancy’s response— “Ma, the apartment’s not that big. You’d see him,” is delightful, and gives us an idea of the kind of friendship she and Hutch probably had. She’s not really given enough time to shine on her own outside of the Billy plot, but you get the idea that she and Hutch must’ve been a delightfully insufferable pair of sarcastic assholes. 

Hutch wanders into the kitchen from the dining room and swats Starsky away from the stew, informing him that he isn’t to eat until Billy arrives. 

His insistence that Starsky is “embarrassing him” serves to underline Ms. Blake’s gentle hint— in order for Starsky’s misbehaviour to reflect poorly on Hutch, to some extent Hutch needs to be taking ownership of him. “You’re embarrassing me in front of XYZ” is one of those set phrases used mainly among family members or spouses; Hutch could have said something like “dude, knock it off,” but his connection with Starsky runs deeper than that. (Case in point: why is Starsky even at this dinner, or the rehearsal for the wedding? I don’t— and I suspect most people don’t— generally drag my colleagues along to see my childhood friends and their parents. You might bring your spouse to meet your elementary school neighbor’s folks, but you might not bring Steve From Accounting.) 

Ms. Blake points out that Starsky is clearly hungry and that Billy is clearly a bum, and suggests they just start eating. Starsky LIFTS THE CERAMIC STEW POT DIRECTLY FROM THE BURNER WITH HIS BARE HANDS, which is clearly a minor filming error you weren’t supposed to notice and not an implication that it’s gazpacho, because about three seconds later Nancy picks the same pot up with potholders, like someone who doesn’t have LAVA HANDS. 

In the midst of demonstrating his MAGIC FIRE POWERS, Starsky attempts to defend Billy’s lateness. Ms. Blake waves it off, and suggests that Starsky is a deeply kind and wise person. Starsky beams.

Unfortunately, she also suggests that his kindness and wisdom is a product of his secret Catholicism, which deflates him immediately. Though never directly stated in canon, Starsky is probably Jewish— he generally replies vaguely or evasively when religion is brought up, gives a noncommittal answer in a later episode when he’s asked if he’s Polish (“something like that,”) there’s a Star of David on his dashboard in Little Girl Lost, and, well, he’s played by Perchik. 

However, even if he isn’t Jewish, he’s definitely not Catholic, and is definitely not thrilled that this is the conclusion Ms. Blake has come to.

Right as they sit down to eat, supposed vehicular-homicide-enthusiast Ted Banks calls, and asks if Starsky and Hutch will meet with him. He insists that he “heard they were cool,” and admits he has information that might help them with the case. Starsky lampshades the fact that he’s never allowed to finish his food, and complains the whole way out.

When they pull up to the address Ted gave them, someone is leaving through the window. We can see that it’s Billy, but it’s too far away for Starsky and Hutch to identify him. Starsky shoots at Billy as he escapes, but doesn’t manage to hit him. In the apartment, a bleeding Ted provides them with absolutely no useful information despite being directly questioned:

“Who did this to you?”

“It’s because of the score…”

“Who did this to you!?”

“It’s coming in a steel box…”

“Okay, but like, who murdered you?”

*hurk blargh*

Thanks for that, Ted. “Billy” is way less syllables than any of what you said.

Since Ted is now dead on the floor of his father’s apartment, Starsky and Hutch figure they should probably go let Mr. Banks know his son is deceased. (We don’t see them call for backup or talk to a coroner, but I have to assume they don’t just leave the kid’s body on the carpet for pops to find later…?) Before they leave, Starsky notices the distinctly folded gum wrappers he had seen in Ted’s own apartment, and suggests to Hutch that maybe Billy was the man they saw running away. Hutch doesn’t want to buy it, but Starsky points out that in dating Nancy— who is the secretary for the Port Authority— Billy could be getting some inside information. Hutch starts to get angry at this insinuation, and Starsky quickly explains that he doesn’t think Nancy’s involved, but that she could be being used. 

A very annoyed Hutch turns to Starsky as they leave and asks if this is actually a new theory, or if he had already checked in on Billy somehow.

Starsy lies, briefly, claiming he wouldn’t go behind Hutch’s back like that, but when Hutch presses him he breaks immediately. They’ll have a background check on Billy tomorrow, to Hutch’s great annoyance. Of course, as usual, Hutch is really more annoyed at himself than Starsky— his lack of indictment or comeback (unless you count “yeah” as a real zinger) seems to indicate that he’s aware that Starsky’s instincts are probably right and that he was blinded by Nancy’s love for Billy. 

They arrive at the back of a restaurant to talk to Ted’s dad, who is a dishwasher. It’s a very quiet, slowly-paced scene, with the camera backed claustrophobically into a shelf of dishes, sandwiched between Mr. Banks, Starsky, Hutch, and an industrial pan. Mr. Banks is consistently shot head on, whereas Starsky and Hutch are filmed in profile or obliquely, and always individually. When they tell him about Ted’s death, Mr. Banks starts asking about whether or not Ted had his shoes at the time, and whether or not he’ll be able to get them back. Initially, this seems like callousness: the father of a criminal is a hardened, emotionally unavailable man himself, focused more on material possessions than his son’s life. However, it’s quickly apparent that his questions about the shoes— repeated, half-formed, staccato— are a sign of shock. He’s attempting to focus on the one thing he has control over rather than look the tragedy straight in the eye, as the camera is doing with him. He sends Starsky and Hutch to the ship’s chandler, back at the docks, claiming this person is the one who “filled Ted’s head with nonsense” and led him down the criminal path. 

The moment Starsky and Hutch leave, he breaks.

Alas, it appears to be the next day by the time Starsky and Hutch have made it to the ship’s chandler, as Hutch is no longer in his Cutest of All Outfits. As if to make up for this great transgression, Starsky is looking very handsome in his brown leather jacket— a major step up from the denim-on-denim he was rocking the day before. They watch Billy pull up to the chandler’s office as Dobey reports on Billy’s history over the radio— he disappeared for a few years, and was arrested for armed robbery in Illinois. 

Inside the chandler’s office, Billy meets with his crew of diamond thieves. The men are suspicious of Billy’s ability to deal with a robbery of this size, but he pulls out his ace— they have an inside man on the boat, and he’ll be delivering the diamonds personally. Starsky and Hutch wander into the outside part of the office, and the thieves watch them through their incredibly obvious peephole-behind-a-piece-of-paper. 

Rick goes out to meet them, revealing the thieves’ terrible animal husbandry. RIP to the chandler’s fish, man. That water is the color of lentil soup.

Starsky talks unsuccessfully to Rick, and Hutch notices the very obvious peephole. He walks into the back room, unperturbed by the dozens of goldfish poltergeists that must be swimming through the air, and confronts Billy. Not about the diamonds, of course— rather, he asks him if he’s told Nancy about his criminal past, and if he plans on “changing his ways.” It’s… adorably lame, but not effective, and Billy laughs off this intrusion into his personal life. Hutch, clearly disappointed that his paean to justice fell flat, tells Billy he makes his skin crawl, and leaves. A few seconds later, Starsky comes into the inner office more or less out of nowhere, and flips the table the thieves are using for poker. It’s got to be the least violent table-flip I’ve ever seen— he just kind of grumpily plops it on its side, tells them gambling is illegal, and leaves. I appreciate when they dial back the police brutality, though, so I’m okay with his piddly revenge for Hutch’s bruised feelings. 

They return to the docks manager to check what kinds of shipments are coming in, since their only lead is Ted’s dying admission that the “score” is going to be “in a steel box.” The manager says only three ships are coming in with valuable cargo on Saturday, so it must be one of those. At this point, Nancy storms in, (rightfully— from her perspective, her childhood friend has been harassing her fiance at his place of work) angry at Hutch. She tells him he better stay away from the wedding, and Hutch points out that since tomorrow is Saturday, and he’s involved in a heist, Billy will probably also stay away from the wedding. Nancy slaps him. Starsky finds this hilarious, and mutters to Hutch as Nancy starts to leave, “Anyone ever tell you you got a real way with women?” Nancy stops in her tracks, turns around, and tells Starsky that he better stay away from her mother. (Oh Starsky, always turning on the charm for nice old ladies.) Hutch angrily smacks the bell on the counter, and they go outside to figure out their next move.

Outside, Starsky’s irrepressible charm instantly dispels the bad mood. He explains the plot of some kind of movie involving elephant smuggling. Hutch grins, and in what must be a reference I don’t understand, tries to recall the name of this film and comes up with “Giveaway on the Docks;” before Starsky can correct him, however, they’re ambushed. In broad daylight. By the guys they were just talking to in the chandler’s office, wearing black and ski masks. In the extremely silly fight that follows, many clearly empty crates are tragically destroyed, some masked baddies swing around what look like ice hooks, Hutch is knocked into the ocean with a barrel like the thieves are playing Donkey Kong, and Starsky gets groped.

Right for the crotch, palm-to-peen. (I have to assume this was an accident of fight choreography gone wrong, but PMG rolls with it.) 

After scaring the Handsy Bandits off with gunfire, Starsky goes looking for Hutch. When he can’t find him, he begins to fear he’s drowned, and throws off his shoes and jacket before jumping in the ocean to rescue him. Meanwhile Hutch, who we will discover in a later episode is actually super into boats, is a perfectly capable swimmer, has already saved himself, and is climbing up the ladder behind Starsky. Back on dry land, Hutch peers over the edge of the dock and notes his partner splashing around; they argue for a bit about why Starsky is taking a swim, and it’s all very charming.

Unfortunately, Starsky’s dip in the sea has landed him in traction, and the next we see him, it’s at Hutch’s house, all bundled up and snuffly and miserable.

Hutch decides to grace us with another Painfully Cute Outfit as he talks to Dobey on the phone; they make a plan for the stakeout as Starsky whines about how much he hates the water. (We also learn here that Hutch’s response to his partner having the sniffles is apparently to take him home for the night; I would like statistics on how common this practice is among members of the Bay City PD. Like, is there a social-emotional support program in place among all the members of the precinct? Does Detective Steve Smith from Robbery take his partner home when he’s got a cough? How does this work with married cops— do their spouses just take it in stride when they bring their partners home, oozing? Or, y’know, is this just Starsky and Hutch, and all the other cops pretend they don’t know they’re in love?)

Probably because Hutch can only offer goat’s milk and spirulina, Huggy comes by with a thermos of soup. Starsky is initially on board with this plan, until Huggy explains that the soup is made of mustard greens. Clearly hoping for Campbell’s, Starsky grimaces as he tucks into his bowl. (I like mustard greens, and I like them in soup, and Starsky is being a bit of a baby here, but to his credit, the thin green liquid Huggy pours out of the thermos looks a lot more like kale juice than actual soup. Hutch probably has plenty of kale juice, so this is clearly a disappointment.)

Please note: Hutch and Huggy sharing that same sort of knowing camaraderie we’ve seen in previous episodes, Hutch’s feigned exasperation at checking Starsky’s temperature, and the gold hoop Huggy is sporting. It’s hard to find high-res shots of Huggy’s ears, but he doesn’t usually wear an earring— however, there are a decent number of photos of Antonio Fargas, out of character, with the same piercing. He’s only in this episode very briefly, so I wonder if no one remembered to tell him to take it off.

The next morning, Starsky and Hutch go to the stakeout, meeting up with another cop named Smitty. On a rooftop overlooking the docks, Starsky paces and clutches himself, a miserable pile of sniffles disguised as a man. Notably, he’s wearing the sweater— it must have finally dried after he jumped in the pool with it in the pilot. As they watch the proceedings, they come to the sudden realization that Ted’s dying words— the “steel box—” must have actually been in reference to an armored car (a bit of a leap, but okay), and dash down to intercept the delivery. 

Unfortunately, they don’t make it to the boat before Billy shoots his “man on the inside,” and Billy and Rick drive away with all the diamonds. The dying diamond merchant, for plot reasons, contracts the same “gotta be vague on your deathbed” disease that Ted had, and mutters something about “trusting the devil” as he expires. Hutch assumes he must be talking about Ezra, and magically turns out to be right— frankly, I would have assumed the guy was just complaining that Billy was a backstabbing asshole, but I guess that’s why I’m not a TV detective.

On the way into NETHERWORLD SCIENCE, Billy argues with Rick that they should probably stab Ezra in the back and just take all the money. Rick is a dingus and points out that their reputation as criminals will be ruined if they do that, and that no other self-respecting criminal will ever work with them again. Billy argues that that doesn’t particularly matter considering how many diamonds they have, and that they can just move to another region with all their money. Ezra’s argument against this plan is quite personal; he prefers being alive. 

Starsky and Hutch pull up to the Satanic Pyramid Scheme Annex and a shootout ensues. Ezra pleads for his life, and Rick gives himself up, coming to the very belated realization that Billy is cuckoo-bananas and will almost certainly murder him in the future. In the accounting of prison vs. Billy, prison comes out looking pretty good. (Really makes you wonder how Nancy and Billy got together— he’s really not particularly charming or likeable. Does he have really great taste in restaurants? Knows a great scalper and can get into any concert? …is he just a really good lay?) 

Realizing he’s been abandoned, Billy grabs all the diamonds and runs out the back. Starsky deals with Ezra and Rick while Hutch follows Billy; he drives after him in the Torino, cuts him off, pulls him out of his own car, and makes the arrest. As he handcuffs Billy, he hisses that Billy should “give him a reason,” but Billy gives up and allows himself to be taken into custody. (Billy seems pretty clear on the fact that Hutch is very much ready to commit a whole bunch of police brutality. Hutch… should probably not get involved in cases that have a personal element.) 

Back at the Blake household, Nancy looks over her uneaten wedding cake, which is so obviously an aging reused prop that I immediately got into a tattered wedding dress, smeared spiderwebs all over my body, and turned into Ms. Havisham the moment I witnessed it. DON’T EAT THE GREYING CAKE, NANCY. HE’S NOT WORTH IT. 

She admits to Hutch that she feels used; he points out that Billy did, at least, want to leave town and not get her involved in crime, which feels like cold comfort at best. Ms. Blake is similarly unimpressed by this statement of Billy’s secret hidden depths, and tells Hutch he’s a good liar (and therefore must not be Catholic.) Starsky argues that Catholicism clearly doesn’t prevent mistruth, since Billy was a Catholic, and Ms. Blake just kind of turns away and pretends she can only hear gentiles now, or something. 

The episode ends with Starsky flinging (clearly different, non-prop) cake at Hutch, and my queer-reading goggles fuse permanently to my face, rendering me unable to read the scene as anything but the plausible deniability version of the old wedding cake face smash. After all, the episode began with a plausible deniability joke about the meaning of their “partnership,” and a priest unclear on their respective roles in a wedding; that it ends with a sly reiteration of the unconventional nature of their bond seems both fitting and purposeful. 

Poor Nancy, of course, is left as a third wheel in the consumption of her own wedding cake, a gentler reminder than usual that being a woman in the general vicinity of Starsky and Hutch is highly contraindicated. Here’s hoping she moves out of Bay City before she gets kidnapped or shot or roped into a cult of devil-worshipping multi-level marketers. 

Overall Entertainment Value: A cozy and personal mystery enhanced by a very likeable cast of side characters and a number of well-done comedic set pieces. Not necessarily a cinematic standout, but a real solid, human story. 4/5 Striped Tomatoes.

Very Special Episode Factor: Hey kids, don’t get engaged to criminals? Run a background check on your romantic prospectives? …Catholics… can’t… lie? I don’t really think there’s a lesson in this one. 0/5 Pyramid Schemes of Satan.

Okay, But How Gay Was It: Not very touchy-feely, but it’s 100% The Episode Where a Bunch of Old Irish People Think Starsky and Hutch are a Gay Couple, so I’ll take it. 3.5/5 Manly Embraces.

¹To be fair, we used to live across from City Hall. I thought I had time to finish baking, y’know? I sent my husband-to-be and our parents ahead and followed a few minutes later. I wasn’t going to waste good bread, and it was a two minute walk. This is clearly exactly the decision every normal person would make on their wedding day.

16 thoughts on “Starsky & Hutch Episode Reviewcap — Season 1, Episode 13: Terror on the Docks

  1. I am sooo loving your reviews! This one was hilarious! And yes, as a Hutch girl, I can confirm that this is the cutest Hutch ever. I love how soft he is in this ep, especially in the church scene. He almost looks like he’s blushing when Starsky says “we’re police officers” to Father Delacourt. And that dark blue hoodie, yum.

    And omg, just the idea that they’re in a church at the beginning with the subtext that they’re marrying each other or that Hutch is fantasizing about it, and then at the end, they do the wedding cake thing…I can’t even. Despite watching the eps a million times, I never realized how the 3 consecutive eps, Lady Blue, Captain Dobey, You’re Dead, and Terror on the Docks, are, like, the most gay eps ever. Holy crap, no wonder Season 1 is my favorite season. And Hutch is really soft in those eps, too. Also, bonus whenever Hutch drives the Torino. For some reason, I find that really hot. I assume so does Starsky.

    And I’m still giggling over “Embezzlement on the Docks” and the exterior church photos.

    Also fascinating is all these A-list film directors who directed S&H eps. That’s so cool. And the scene when they tell the dad about his son’s death is so poignant and well-directed. It’s really an incredible scene.

    One thing I find unusual is Hutch sitting on the floor of the church while Starsky sits in the pew, because Starsky NEVER sits like a normal person when it comes to furniture, and Hutch seems like too uptight a person to sit on the floor of a church. Actually, it seems inappropriate for anyone to sit on the floor of a church.

    Also, I think the fact that Hutch and Nancy have a brother-sister relationship is yet another clue that Hutch is gay, and since Mrs. Blake has known Hutch since he was a kid, she’s probably known this for a long time, so that could be why she assumes that he and Starsky are a gay couple.

    I’m looking forward to reading your next review.

    Like

    1. Honestly, it’s a whole run of pretty queer subtexty episodes– because after the Lady Blue/Dobey/Terror trio, you get Deadly Imposter (which I actually don’t like that much, but you can’t tell me Hutch doesn’t have a thing for John Colby, and then fucking SHOOT OUT, which is the tender loving scenes from an Italian restaurant episode. XD It’s gay all the way down.

      I keep being surprised (and fascinated) by how many big names either got their break working on S&H or at least somewhere in the vicinity of it. (As a co-S&H and Miami Vice fan, it’s doubly fascinating that that was the case for MV as well, and that there was so much weird staff crossover between the two shows– obviously there was a serious eye for talent on the S&H staff.)

      Floor Hutch is super out of character– it seems almost purposefully rebellious. (Another thing that’s somehow rooted in the desire to piss off his family, somehow? A full rejection of their values, including politeness with regards to churchgoing behavior?) Whereas Starsky, who’s usually anti-chair, seems to be purposefully on his best behavior, which to me lends credence to the idea that he’s Jewish– he’s a visitor to someone else’s place of worship, so he doesn’t want to do something that might offend.

      Re: Hutch and Nancy’s relationship– it’s fascinating, because they actually have more chemistry than Hutch and a LOT of the girls he dates. That there’s no romance between them definitely feels like an implication that a woman who’s “right” for him is somehow, actually, less right for him than all the women it’s easier to break up with, because then he’d have to be honest with himself as to why it’s not working out. Definitely agreed!

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      1. I agree about Deadly Imposter — I don’t like it much, either. Although the scene of them with Colby in the locker room is totally gay.

        And yes, Shootout is definitely gay too, but I guess in Shootout it’s more obvious and text-y, rather than subtext-y. In LB, CDYD, and TotD, you have to read between the lines to see some of the gay stuff. Although it’s possible that there are between the lines stuff in Shootout that I missed.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I just remembered…the whole thing with the priest disparaging traditional marriage (besides being a strange thing for a priest to say, what with the supposed sanctity of marriage and all), but also, disparaging/discouraging marriage is like a running theme of the show throughout all four seasons. (All the times when a cop is killed in the line of duty and it’s mentioned that he had a wife, or his wife just had a baby, etc. In the Plague, Jake Donner’s wife says the worst thing about being a cop’s wife is the waiting. In Birds of a Feather, Luke Huntley advises S&H to never get married and then we find out that his wife has gambled away their life savings because she was a lonely cop’s wife. In Starsky’s Brother, Agent Weldon says that cops shouldn’t have families). So we are repeatedly told over the course of the series that Starsky & Hutch absolutely should not marry a woman. Why? Because they were meant to end up together, as they do in the tag of Sweet Revenge.

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    1. So, one of my other big fandoms is actually the original Man From UNCLE, and this is SUCH a repeated theme between those two shows, and it’s just so interesting to me, because I think the repeated warning (“serious relationships don’t work if you’re married to your job”) could so easily be read as a warning to the main pair of characters in both series to not get involved with EACH OTHER– that any kind of “marriage,” regardless of legal status, is never going to work out. But I think in both cases, the endings of the respective series actual force a reckoning with this idea, and ultimately come down on the side of “actually, these characters AREN’T married to their jobs, because they value their partners over everything, and therefore it’s fine for them to have serious long-term attachments, as long as it’s with each other.” (How frustrating is it that this kind of thing is never the ending of any kind of modern show? It’s like now that it’s technically acceptable to have queer characters on television, somehow television has become way less queer as a whole.)

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  3. Oh, lol, I keep remembering things I wanted to mention. As far as Starsky being Jewish (which I believe he is), there’s the menorah in his apartment in Foxy Lady.

    And I cracked up at your if Elton John and Bernie Taupin had a baby…haha that character really does look like that.

    One more thing before I go to bed…when S&H are smiling at each other in the hallway, right before Dobey tells Hutch to wipe that smile off his face because a cop has been killed on the docks — the way they’re smiling at each other is so endearingly soft and romantic. I keep looking at the expression on Hutch’s face and how he’s looking at Starsky in such an adoring way. Swoon.

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    1. I don’t think there are a lot of gentiles who keep menorahs around, so that probably seals the deal. (I think frequently about the fact that when PMG was doing Fiddler, he was told he had to wear contacts because “Jews don’t have blue eyes,” and he was like “…but, I *am* Jewish? And I have blue eyes???”)

      And I honestly felt a little bad doing Sir Elton and Bernie dirty like that (they’re so much cuter than Rick, and yet….) but the resemblance was too uncanny not to point out. (I spent a REALLY long time looking at pictures of 70’s Elton John last year in order to make sure my Halloween costume was accurate… XD )

      Agreed re: swooniness before they’re told of the death– it is indeed a romantic run of episodes. I just got to taking notes on Losing Streak today, and it’s really interesting how Hutch is suddenly very cold and hands off in that episode. It makes it feel like they were getting a little too close to something real in this string of episodes and he felt like he had to back off. : (

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      1. Interesting about Losing Streak, I hadn’t noticed that before.

        And the “Jews don’t have blue eyes” thing is so weird. I’m Jewish myself and have blue eyes, which come from my dad’s side of the family (Polish Jews). Then again, in the 60s/70s, most people still thought that Jews had horns.

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  4. Going to drop another MatSir fanon on y’all.
    This is the Nancy Hutch spoke of in the pilot. Long time best friends, when she thought she was pregnant and abandoned by yet another lousy choice boyfriend, Hutch married her. They were together for maybe 3 – 4 months and then got it annulled before he headed Bay City.

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    1. That makes perfect sense. I’m not one for actor pictures usually, but there is a heartbreaking shot of DS looking about 16 with his first wife and baby. Maybe Nancy was pregnant and had the baby, then left Hutch when the father came back on the scene…….

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    2. That definitely tracks. I would not be surprised if it was *totally* a marriage of friendship/convenience– I don’t get any feeling these two are attracted to one another. I could see Hutch being weirdly cool (in some ways) with the idea of having his friend be his beard, because it would free him from a lot of his concerns about how he’s seen as a man, but being really very uncomfortable with it in other ways because he’d feel so guilty.

      Also, twice-married Hutch is somehow way, way sadder than once married Hutch. XD

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  5. This is one of the episodes where Soul acts everyone else off the screen. When he’s good he’s very good indeed-his voice and face are so flexible and expressive. (And his hair is beautiful). It’s strange-and sad- that it really only happened in Starsky and Hutch- a series he appears to have had very little time for.

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    1. It’s really fascinating (and distressing) thinking about how many actors from the 60s-80s who got HEAVILY pigeonholed after a particularly iconic TV role despite actually being really spectacular at their craft. (And, because of that, the number of actors who have or had some level of bitterness or detachment from the show that caused it to happen.) PMG seemed to move on a bit more successfully (transitioning partially to directing and stage, etc.), but they really are/were both *legitimately* good actors.

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