Where do I even start with Starsky and Hutch. God is everywhere in this show, even if the creator and producers didn’t mean Him to be. I’ve written about this a bit before, here and here, but now I’m going to focus specifically on the partnership, because it’s what makes the show so good.
Both men would give their lives for each other, and each does indeed endanger himself over and over to save the other. However, if one of them is a “God” figure more than the other, it would have to be Starsky, because he’s more comfortable with himself than Hutch. Hutch, as we will see, seems to have very low self-esteem (the pattern continues!) and is often wracked by guilt. Surprise, surprise. Starsky can be filled with strong guilt too, but usually over a specific incident and less over his own sense of self-worth. In other words, Hutch’s guilt runs deeper and is more a part of his self-concept, not simply a result of his actions.
But let’s start with some background. As usual, major spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t seen the show.
David Starsky and Kenneth Hutchinson are partnered detectives in the Bay City Police Department in Southern California in the 1970s. Starsky is from the East Coast originally but has lived in Bay City for quite a while, and is, it’s implied, Jewish. Hutch is from Duluth, Minnesota and was raised by seemingly middle-class parents. The men met in the Academy, and when the show begins in 1975 they have been partners for about three years or so (the exact timing is questionable, thanks to inconsistencies in writing).
I tend to agree with the Ollie Report’s excellent analyses and guesses about the characters Starsky and Hutch (be aware of spoilers for the end of the series), so I will paraphrase those here: Starsky tends to keep a lid on his emotions until they come exploding out. While he can be very melancholic and moody, he is mostly happy-go-lucky and very much like a little kid; he likes model ships, trains, cars, and baseball. Hutch, while fairly quiet, holds his emotions in less; he is more likely to explode in anger when given unfair orders, faced with an unwilling criminal, or scared. Also, he mercilessly teases Starsky and has a bit of a superiority complex, which actually turns out be just the opposite: his focus on fitness, health foods, and his own superiority is just a façade that hides his very minimal self-esteem and constant guilt and shame. We see this a lot: he chastises himself, such as in “Tap Dancing Their Way Back Into Your Hearts”: “What did you get yourself into, Hutchinson?” Later on in “Fatal Charm” he mumbles, “Hutchinson, you sure picked a winner.” Talk about a developed sense of morality. Hutch knows what is right and wrong (he thinks) and nearly always sees himself in the wrong, though he rarely lets anyone know this.
Regardless, the two men care deeply about each other as not only work partners but friends. Hutch risks his life to save Starsky; Starsky risks his life to save Hutch. Over and over again. If that’s not God-like I don’t know what is.
I’ve picked a few episodes I think really show this unconditional love. This love can be seen in just about every episode of Starsky and Hutch, but some episodes really highlight it. Such as . . .
I’ve written about this one before; it’s a classic. Hutch gets hooked on heroin and when Starsky finally finds him he refuses to take Hutch to a hospital, instead helping him detox in hiding. Starsky could very well lose his job, as could Hutch, but Starsky doesn’t care about that. Once he knows Hutch is okay, he turns his attention to the guys who kidnapped Hutch like a bloodhound on the hunt. He trusts Hutch to take care of himself, which of course Hutch does not, but Starsky is only going after the bad guys to get justice for Hutch, and when he finds out Hutch is again in trouble he makes sure to save Hutch. At the end of the episode he is still focused on Hutch, especially since the bad guys have been caught: after Hutch breaks up with Jeannie (Hutch always thinks he can save girls who need saving), Starsky asks, “You okay?” and even jokingly asks if Hutch wants to drive his car.
Starsky is accused of murdering a teenager and pressured to resign, but Hutch backs him up all the way. Besides the amazing display of loyalty from Hutch in this episode, the tag is worth noting. Starsky says to Hutch as part of a longer line, “The notion that something’s got to taste rotten in order for it to make you feel good.” In other words, he is saying Hutch is slightly masochistic. I see this evaluation as accurate, as does the writer of The Ollie Report, because other episodes back it up. Hutch always seems to need to pay for something, to sacrifice himself to get what is good. Starsky, while called a hedonist later (something that shouldn’t be condoned) doesn’t need to sacrifice himself for anything. He values himself. Hutch does not. Many people are like this too (I know I am): aware of their sinfulness and constantly trying to atone for it, trying to earn love, always distraught over their guilt. But God does not require us to earn love. Similar to how Starsky cares for Hutch, God doesn’t require us to do anything. He loves us just because he does.
The roles are switched here, with Starsky hurt with a bullet in his shoulder and a graze on his head, and Hutch taking care of him while they are held hostage in a restaurant. This episode is filmed in real time and Hutch’s care for Starsky stands out markedly: he is just as intent on taking care of his partner as he is on taking down the criminals. He carries Starsky in his arms into the back room, puts a pillow under his head and bandages his shoulder wound. He also continually reassures him. Later on when Hutch finds Starsky on the floor, he lifts him up, holds him against him, and gazes worriedly at Starsky’s limp arm. And he totally forgoes any insulting because Starsky is hurting. This happens in other episodes when Starsky is hurt, too: Hutch doesn’t tease and becomes much more serious and, dare I say it, maternal (ish). His real, extremely caring, self comes out.
Only when Starsky finally cracks a joke about Hutch messing up his teeth with the unpredictable pistol does Hutch insult Starsky. “You look terrible,” he says, really trying to cheer Starsky up, not bolster his own self-confidence.
And then Starsky says, “I was just kidding about the teeth.” He cares so much for Hutch he wants him to know that he didn’t mean any harm. Starsky shouldn’t care at his moment; he’s the one in pain, the one losing blood and barely conscious. Yet he cares so much for Hutch (and Hutch’s sense of self) that he reassures him of his love. The Ollie Report puts it best: “[Hutch] is just decimated”; he leans his forehead against Starsky’s, overwhelmed with how much Starsky values him.
A Coffin for Starsky
Again, Starsky is hurt; having been injected with a poison destined to kill him in twenty-four hours, he and Hutch try their best to find the antidote. And again, Hutch is very serious in this episode; when Starsky exclaims, “You forgot my pants?” upon his initial release from the hospital, Hutch can’t even come up with a sufficient comeback. He constantly looks out for Starsky: he watches him going up the stairs, catches him when he stumbles going down, asks him how he’s doing in the lab, rushes the lab attendant to hurry up on the anti-nausea medicine, and catches Starsky when he collapses. He is mostly strangely calm, probably keeping his fear under wraps, though it does show when he barks at the lab attendant. With Starsky, however, he is dead calm and focused on one goal.
When they finally get on the tail of the man they want, Hutch tells Starsky to stay in the apartment hallway, but of course Starsky doesn’t. Hutch is caught in a dangerous game of hide-and-seek with the bad guy up on the roof; the gunman seems to know where he is, but he can’t find the gunman. Just when the man jumps out and is about to shoot Hutch, Starsky shoots the guy, saving Hutch’s life.
“What’d you do that for?” Hutch asks him, looking absolutely devastated. He cares more for Starsky than he does about himself.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Starsky says; he cares more about Hutch than about himself, too. As much as he doesn’t want to die, he also doesn’t want Hutch to be upset, and Starsky’s death would make Hutch very upset.
Starsky only has a couple hours left (cue the very dramatic music) and has to be admitted to the hospital once again. Hutch leans over him, saying, “Hey buddy, I have to go now,” but at Starsky’s, “Hey” he stays in place. Instead of speaking, the two of them share a long gaze that would fill up paragraphs. This was a choice on the part of David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser, and an excellent one at that. In this instance less truly is more.
Hutch’s look at the end of the episode, when he knows Starsky is going to pull through, is one of deep care, admiration, disbelief, and very strong love. I would call it maternal, but it’s more than that; it’s paternal; it’s brotherly; it’s intimate. It’s like Hutch is saying, “Ah, Starsky,” and in those words is really saying a million things—I can’t believe we made it, I can’t believe you’re going to live, I’m so glad you’re going to live, I couldn’t live without you, I love you, etc.
Starsky and Hutch have to deal with a group of men who have kidnapped a teenage girl. Finally, the kidnappers require them to get them the ransom money by meeting all their phone calls on foot at different locations. Hutch is chosen to run with the money, and even though only one officer, according to the kidnappers, can deliver the money, Starsky follows Hutch on a motorcycle. Just before taking off, Hutch and Starsky banter a bit; then Hutch suddenly break the cycle by saying, “Hey. Be careful,” and touches Starsky on the shoulder.
After running to four payphones, Hutch, exhausted and a bit exasperated, stands around outside, knowing the kidnappers are somewhere, waiting for them to come out. Instead, they shoot him. Starsky immediately follows their car and shoots it, accidentally blowing it up and killing the men. He then goes to Hutch, yelling at surrounding people to “Get out of the way” and dropping to his knees beside Hutch and touching Hutch’s face. “I thought you were dead,” he says, and Hutch reminds him of his bulletproof vest. Both keep their hands on each other’s arms for a while; each is obviously grateful that he is alive but also—and maybe more so—that the other is alive.
Another classic that I’ve written about before. Starsky is faced with having to tell Hutch that his girlfriend is actually a prostitute, but before either she or Starsky can tell Hutch, she is killed by her boss. Starsky finds her body first and is just as devastated as Hutch. As Hutch reels from despair to rage, Starsky calmly takes his disparaging words and even punches, all the while telling Hutch that what he’s saying isn’t true. The writer of the Ollie Report interestingly interprets Hutch’s use of “Buddy boy,” “friend,” and “pal,” and his accusations, “You never did like her! You never did understand her!” as possibly Hutch actually projecting his own feelings onto Starsky. That is, Hutch may feel that Starsky let him down somehow and/or that Hutch himself should have saved Gillian and didn’t. Certainly it would be only natural for someone in Hutch’s situation to think that he should have saved his girlfriend, and considering Hutch’s behavior about and towards himself in other episodes, The Ollie Report’s statement that Hutch’s behavior here is “tremendously masochistic and reveals to us the depth of his self-hatred” makes a lot of sense. His rage at Starsky may well be rage he feels for himself.
Starsky, though pained, perseveres with telling the truth: Gillian really is dead. He even offers to let Hutch hit him again. Finally Hutch collapses in his arms, sobbing, and Starsky simply holds him. He is there for Hutch every moment in the rest of the episode, and it’s clear he is just as devastated as Hutch is. This certainly reminds me of God, who identifies with our suffering and comforts us in the midst of pain, not wanting us to hurt. He is a really good God.
A horribly sad episode in which Starsky’s girlfriend is shot and inevitably dies from the wound. Starsky and Terry seem very compatible, and Terry is a great person. When she is allowed to go home from the hospital with instructions to not jar her head, Starsky asks her to marry him. He truly loves her, so understandably he is devastated at the news that she is going to die.
Hutch is there for him throughout the whole episode. He takes over finding Terry’s near-murderer Prudholm, letting Starsky spend time with Terry. And after Terry’s death, he tells Starsky about Prudholm holding people hostage at a grocery store, knowing Starsky, despite his grief, will want to help. When Starsky says, “This one’s mine,” Hutch corrects him, saying, “This one’s ours, partner.” They free the hostages together.
The last scene has Hutch playing Monopoly and getting drunk with Starsky to remember Terry and the two-week anniversary of her death. He is entirely on board with Starsky’s idea of quitting the police force and tries to get them jobs as football players. Then he accepts Terry’s gift to him with tears, just as grieved as Starsky. Like Starsky felt Hutch’s pain in Gillian, Hutch feels Starsky’s pain here.
Hutch is run off the road by men getting revenge for a recently-jailed man Starsky and Hutch busted and ends up trapped under his car on the side of a cliff. Once Starsky realizes something is wrong—based solely on a “hunch”—he works overtime to find Hutch. One visit to a prostitute is especially intense: he leans into her face and says, “Someone very, very, very close to me may be dead,” he says, and won’t take no for an answer. When he finally does find Hutch, he holds Hutch’s head in his hands and says with tears, “We made it, partner.” He identifies himself with Hutch—they both made it to each other on their long journey. In fact, one could argue this show is all about these two men repeatedly losing and finding each other, and coming closer and closer in the process. The Ollie Report alludes to this here—but be warned if you haven’t seen the entire show.
A very intense and creepy episode in which Starsky is kidnapped by followers of a cult leader, Simon Marcus, and Hutch is left with nearly no clues on how to find him. This is another episode in which Hutch’s emotions take a back seat to his logical, problem-solving brain—mostly. During his questioning of Marcus he remains very calm, trying to keep the upper hand, but finally pins Marcus against the wall and says, “I know you, Simon Marcus. Now you tell me where—you tell me where my partner’s being held. Talk!”
“You won’t hurt me. You’re the white knight,” Marcus says, laughing, and Hutch, visibly shaken, lets him go. Marcus knows Hutch extremely well; better, it seems, than Hutch knows Marcus. Not only is Hutch afraid of Marcus’ knowledge of himself, he’s also afraid of himself—that he may not be able to get the information out of Marcus, that he may fail Starsky, because of his personality. Marcus plays on Hutch’s biggest fear: failing because he can’t overcome his own nature.
Finally Hutch does something rather incredible: in a second interrogation of Marcus, he lays his hands out on the table, figuratively giving himself up to get information on Starsky’s location. Indeed, as the Ollie Report says, “He is willing to sacrifice himself. . . . He’s saying take me instead.” Just like Christ sacrificed Himself for us.
Finally, though, he finds Starsky, and he holds onto Starsky just as tightly as Starsky holds onto him. Both men appear to have tears in their eyes.
A bit of a melodramatic episode, but with well-developed, interesting characters. Hutch and Starsky go undercover at a very creepy mental hospital to find out about some recent mysterious deaths of patients there. Hutch is an orderly or a nurse (hard to tell), and Starsky gets to have all kinds of fun as a sex maniac patient in the hospital.
Hutch shows a constant caring for Starsky the whole time: when a nurse first shoots Starsky with a drug to quiet him, Hutch says, “Was that really necessary?” and later briefly watches Starsky sleep with a slightly concerned look on his face. Later, when Starsky is suspected of murder and the criminal doctor is planning an appointment with Starsky the next night, Hutch says he’s going to go to Captain Dobey and call off the whole case. But Starsky wants to continue, and finally Hutch caves, only exclaiming, “What am I going to do with you!?” He’s clearly impressed by Starsky’s commitment to justice but also concerned for Starsky’s welfare.
After the creepy doctor has tied Starsky down on the operating table the next night, he finds Hutch and pours some of his potent drugs on Hutch’s mostly-eaten apple, making him incredibly drowsy and off-balance. Then Hutch finds himself confronted by a crazy prisoner with a knife (who’s been working with the doctor) and instead of saving Starsky from the operating table, runs right past the room. A kind nurse lets Starsky go, and Starsky thanks her before bounding off to save Hutch. And save he does: he grabs the knife man, knocks him out and manages to half-carry half-drag Hutch into a hallway, telling him to stay put. But of course Hutch doesn’t stay put; he helps Starsky catch the doctor. Even then Starsky is there for him, asking, “You okay?” and pulling him close to him while keeping his gun trained on the doctor.
Both men care a whole lot about each other in this episode—Hutch in the beginning and middle, and Starsky at the end. They both worry about each other because they love each other, and each puts the other before himself. That is certainly Christ-like.
A great two-part episode in which Hutch contracts a plague from a criminal and gradually worsens while Starsky desperately tries to find the criminal to get at a cure. Like Hutch, Starsky is all business when it comes to saving Hutch, serious, thoughtful, and focused intently on directing his fellow officers. But when he is visiting Hutch, he is focused intently on Hutch. Both ways of focusing, of course, are for Hutch’s benefit, because Hutch is Starsky’s partner and, well, he loves him (I shouldn’t have to say this any more).
While Hutch is still descending into the throes of the plague, beginning to struggle to breathe, Starsky asks for a lipstick from the female doctor and actually writes “Starsk” on the glass window of Hutch’s isolated room. Not only does Starsky reminds Hutch of his presence and care, as God continually does for us, but he shows he doesn’t care how he does it or what anyone else thinks as long as Hutch knows it. He will do anything to make sure Hutch knows he cares. That sure sounds like God, letting His only Son die to show us He cares.
Later, when Starsky is allowed in to see Hutch, he sits down close to Hutch on the bed and grasps Hutch’s hands, saying, “What can I do for you?” He obviously wants to ease Hutch’s pain, but Hutch wants him to go catch the bad guy. For once, it appears Starsky doesn’t want to go, though; he wants to stay with Hutch because Hutch is in so much pain. This sounds a lot like God too, comforting His people. As Hutch struggles to breathe Starsky’s eyes fill with tears; he is sympathizing and possibly empathizing with Hutch, much as Jesus knows what we are going through.
When Hutch is finally healed and cracking jokes about living to be over a hundred, Starsky chides him while also grinning like crazy. He’s incredibly happy just to have Hutch back with him, healthy; he values Hutch for Hutch, not for anything Hutch can do or say. God does the same: He values humans because He created them and loves them, not because they did or said anything to merit His favor. Maybe this sounds repetitive, and it is, because it is so important. So many people need to hear this over and over and over. (And over . . .)
Like I Spy’s “Bet Me a Dollar,” this episode has Hutch betting Starsky that Starsky can’t find Hutch undercover over a weekend. Starsky cheerfully takes on the bet, even making it one for money, because, as he says, “I know how, where, when you eat, walk, sleep, talk, what you know and how you know it, and there ain’t no hiding behind that.” Don’t we all wish we had somebody who knew us this intimately and still liked us? Certainly Hutch does, and I know I do. This person is ultimately God; no one can know you better than God, as He is the Creator of all things after all. He knows every hair on your head, which is pretty cool to think about. Still, this is often quite hard to believe and accept, just as it is hard for Hutch to accept that Starsky really knows him. When Starsky gets shot and Hutch finds out, he thinks that Starsky is only trying to lure him in. In reality, Starsky would never do that, but Hutch doesn’t quite believe anyone could be that good. Similarly, I struggle with believing God is as good as He seems.
Targets Without a Badge
This is another great two-part episode. Starsky and Hutch are working on a tricky case and hiding an informant when Hutch is nearly killed by a bomb going off under his car. Starsky runs straight out of the apartment building to Hutch, picks him up and tries to get him to wake up. The bad guys knew how Starsky would react and are able to get to the informant and essentially break the case wide open. But Starsky, for the moment, doesn’t care about anything but Hutch.
However, while Hutch is okay, the case is not; with it as well as a few people’s lives ruined, Starsky and Hutch are incredibly disillusioned, Hutch especially. He contemplates throwing his badge into the ocean—but then who shows up by his side? Starsky. Just as Hutch is about to throw his badge Starsky calls, “Hey.”
Neither look at each other. “Throw it in the ocean?” Starsky says. “Against the law.”
Hutch is surprised though he tries not to show it. “Thought you were going to the movies.”
“Changed my mind,” Starsky says.
“What was that you were saying?”
“Somethin’ about—somethin’ would be against the law.”
“Yeah. Pollution. Definite violation.”
Hutch looks down at his badge in his hands. “Well partner, the way I see it this old badge has polluted me about enough.”
Starsky opens his wallet to look at his badge. “Really,” he says. Then he takes the badge out and sighs. Hutch watches him intently, nearly concernedly. Finally Starsky looks at him in yet another moment of unspoken communication until Starsky finally says, “Mind if I join you?”
And the badges fly into the ocean.
There is hardly a better way to highlight loyalty. Of course, Starsky isn’t quitting just to follow Hutch; he has his reasons, too. But his reasons are so closely aligned with Hutch’s, because they are both so close, that it only makes sense for him to quit too.
Not only does Starsky quit with Hutch—he and Hutch, in the next part of the episode, look for other jobs and go to interviews together. Always together. Their togetherness off the force is stunning. Starsky doesn’t leave Hutch just because they’re not police partners anymore. He can’t, because he and Hutch have become friends, close friends, and close friends don’t leave each other behind.
Notable in the next episode, too, is just how concerned Hutch is that someone has planted a bomb on Starsky’s car. When Starsky, unconvinced by Hutch’s tirade, goes to open his door, Hutch says, “Starsk, Starsk,” and flails around only to get his scarf caught in his own car door.
When Starsky goes for the ignition, Hutch says, “You sure you want to do that?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Starsky says.
“You sure you don’t want me to take just one little peek underneath that hood?”
Starsky is exasperated. “If you don’t get in this car right now after all the things I’ve said, I’m gonna leave, alone.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. Straight up, and in about a million pieces.”
Starsky finally gets out and they check the car, Hutch leaning down to the ground, getting his new scarf dirty, just to check for a bomb. He likes to appear fashionable and superior, but really he isn’t; his concern for Starsky is always at the top of his list. Both men are incredibly loyal to each other, just as God is incredibly loyal not only to His children but to all people, continually seeking and chasing after them. If Starsky and Hutch are this loyal to each other—and they’re not perfect—then how much more is God, who is perfect, loyal to us? It’s hard to believe and really unfathomable.
And Finally . . .
The final episode of the series is possibly the best in representing God’s love, though. I won’t say why, because that would spoil the whole series. What I will say is that this last episode can be viewed as a beautiful sacrifice—which is really what it is—and has helped me realize that if the guys love one another that much, then God must be loving on a scale that will blow everyone’s mind.
You can read about this on the Ollie Report too; just read it after watching the episode please.
Both men are representations of God’s love, loving each other despite their faults and despite what other people might say about them or threaten them with. Starsky emerges as more of Christ figure only because he is more comfortable with himself and is constantly trying to get Hutch to accept himself. Hutch, guilt-ridden always, is constantly trying to pay for his sins, but Starsky makes that unnecessary by loving Hutch as he is. Hopefully Hutch understands Starsky’s perspective in time, just as we will understand God’s perspective one day and continue to understand it even now.