Barney Miller: The Sniper/Fear of Flying/Block Party

The Sniper

Airdate: January 22, 1976

One would think that if a teaser ends with Harris taking a call that alerts the squad room to a sniper that has shot at Wojo that would be the A story.  But I’d have a hard time choosing the main plot of this one, when the other plot involves a man selling $3,500 trips to Saturn.  Maybe because the episode starts with a squeaky chalk gag it seems that both plots are a little slight this episode.

A Mr. Stewart Sobel comes to the one-two to report problems with his wife, so of course an empathetic Fish waves him over.  Apparently his wife was conned into, at least, considering the offer.

Fish tracks down the alleged con man, Morton Hackler, to check him for any actual cases of successfully taking money.  But he really seems like he believes in what he’s doing.  The tricky thing is that it can be a fine line between a true believer and a Jonestown or Hale-Bopp cult leader.

The seriousness isn’t really parsed out because, while it’s implied that death is necessary for this travel, it’s unclear weather some kind of assisted suicide is part of the package.  That seriousness should be important to Stewart’s wife, Rebecca Sobel.  But her reasons for wanting to go seem to have less to do with metaphysics, as Mr. Sobel suggested, and more to do with a genuine need to travel, a need deprived of her by her husband.

Luger comes in to check on the squad to make sure they catch the sniper.  He’s a bit insecure that his boys won’t be able to catch the perp.  He wants the collar for his squad.  So, in his insecurity, he says that Wojo ducked.  Wojo is understandably, not at all happy with such an assessment.  To Luger’s chagrin, but the squad’s relief, Harris, Chano, Wojo, Luger, and Yemana chase the sniper to the forty-third precinct.  The one-two doesn’t get the credit, but at least they’re safe.  Luger suggests that getting shot is not the worst way to go.  “There’s nothing in the world worse than an old cop,” he says, offending Fish.

Later the detectives read a tabloid article on a flying saucer and they get a post card from the Sobels, off on a happy trip, somewhere on Earth.

Fear of Flying

Airdate: January 29, 1976

There is some thematic continuity here between a couple of the plots here.  Fish wants to convince Bernice to take separate vacations, despite her fear that it might be an excuse for him to be unfaithful.  Wojo brings in a Frederick Clooney, a Gemini with two wives, one in New York, one in Cleveland.  Wojo’s job is to chauffer him to Cleveland by plane; he has the fear of the title.  Meanwhile an honest accountant, Mr. Woolen, finds an envelope with $3,500 in it.  Hey that’s enough for a ticket to Saturn!  He earns praise for his honesty and is told that if no one claims the money he can come back to claim it himself.

Wojo’s fear stems from his lack of control on the plane.  It makes sense that he has trouble yielding that control, given his tendency toward action.  He’s restless in general; he prefers to arrest first, ask questions later.  So in order to control what little he can, he asks around to try to figure out the safest place to sit.  Harris offers him the book Fear of Flying, the classic work of second-wave feminist erotic fiction by Erica Jong.

Of course Wojo thinks it’s a self-help book and is intimidated by the potential for long scientific words.  Harris tells him not to worry.  He tells Wojo that the book has little words, “as a matter of fact, most of them only have about four letters!”  Maybe the book could provide Wojo some insight into the female mind, such that he’s less quick to judge them.

Meanwhile, Gloria Clooney, Frederick’s “New York wife” comes in weirdly serene and stoic.  She talks with Frederick briefly before asking to go to the bathroom.  When she returns she shows him an empty bottle of secobarbitol sodium, a strong barbiturate sedative responsible for Judy Garland’s death, as well as a drug of choice for assisted suicides, hypnotism, and misuse in the sixties and seventies, in short a very dangerous drug.

Obviously ill-timed, Mr. Woolen comes back with an idea to invest the money for the thirty days so that he can collect the interest, even if someone claims it.  A frazzled Barney explains that would constitute establishing ownership, which they can’t do.  Perhaps he can wait.

With a book to distract him from his fears Wojo can now take Mr. Clooney on his flight to Cleveland, as Gloria gets taken to the hospital in an ambulance.  I suppose Wojo has something in common with Gloria though.  Both of them vomited in their respective vehicles, and neither of them used a bag!

Block Party

Airdate: February 12, 1976

Aside from his crime novel, Harris also writes a column for the precinct newsletter.  But he’s got writer’s block.  Maybe he could write about Wojo and Wentworth, both of whom are conspicuously tardy after a night, and morning, out.

Wojo, of course, objects to the idea, even if they remain anonymous.  Barney pulls the couple into his office, not to disapprove of the relationship, but to warn them that they still need to be at work on time.

And today is a busy enough day.  Fish receives a call from a Laundromat regarding a man washing his clothes…all of them, and Wentworth and Chano are assigned to crowd security a union block party.

A slight amount of tension persists and Wojo asks why Wentworth is assigned to the party, so Barney asks if he thinks he’s really entitled to that information.  Chano asks if Wentworth is going to dance as much as he will, but thinks better of it.

While at the party Chano and Wentworth, they witness a speech about the use of union pensions being interrupted by an attempted assassin.  Wentworth bolts into action but Manhattan South scoops the collar with sexist condescension.  Barney tries to make Wentworth feel better by letting her know that part of a cop’s job is to take satisfaction in a job well done, even without the glory of credit.

Lieutenant Scanlon from Manhattan South visits the precinct to talk to Barney about Wentworth’s language to the cops that stole the collar.  Barney makes his case for a commendation for her actions.  A boor, Scanlon suggests just taking Wentworth out as a reward.

As they leave Barney’s office Harris is reading his draft of the column.  He’s found a topic in touting Wentworth for her collar.  Scanlon doesn’t want the story to run, as it contradicts the official record.  Barney cites freedom of the press and manages to negotiate a “recommendation” for a commendation.

If Harris needed something else for his newsletter The Sentinel of Truth, he could have asked for Chano’s speech in this episode.  Before they go to the block party, Chano brings in a barber, Burgess, applying for a gun permit.  He fills out the permit, but the exchange between the two is so good I have to transcribe it here:

BURGESS

I suppose you people know there was a shooting in the streets just a few blocks away from here?

CHANO

Yes Mr. Burgess, we’re well aware of that.  Now do you understand why we don’t want people to carry guns?

BURGESS

Yeah, but that’s attempted murder!  You know?  I mean I’m just a barber!

CHANO

Mr. Burgess, if I had my way I’d take every gun in New York City and throw it right in the river.

HARRIS

Hey man, you can’t do that!  Then the boats couldn’t get in and out!

BURGESS

Well how long is it gonna be until I hear?

CHANO

I don’t know Mr. Burgess!  There’s a lot of lunatics ahead of you, okay?  C’mon!

BURGESS

Well what am I supposed to do?  I mean what if I get held up in the meantime?

CHANO

Okay, Mr. Burgess.  Okay!  I’m gonna tell you what to do.  As a matter of fact I’m gonna give you a demonstration.  Now you take your finger, point it at me, and say “Stick ‘em up.”

      (beat)

C’mon.  C’mon.

BURGESS

      (mimes a gun)

Stick ‘em!

CHANO

See?  Here’s what you do if you’re smart.  Here take this.  There’s my wallet, there’s my keys, huh?  Here’s my comb.  See?  Understand?  That’s how you fool ‘em Mr. Burgess!  Huh?  Because nothing you give him is worth much anyway, right?  So he gets nothing and you live to buy more junk until the next idiot comes by and says “Stick ‘em up!”  Right?  But the fewer guns there are out there, Mr. Burgess, the less guys there would be to say “Stick ‘em up!”  And some day, si yo quiero, your junk will be safe!  In the meantime, get out of here, huh?

BURGESS

I’m gonna move some place where the police have everything under control!

CHANO

Huh?  Tsch.  Alright go to Miami and take a left to Havana!

At the end of the day Wojo and Wentworth plan their night out, but Wojo is still reticent to mention anything.  So Wentworth playfully grabs Wojo and announces to the squad that they’re going to go out, maybe fool around a little, and be late tomorrow morning.  Wojo sheepishly, though cannily, tells Barney that they’ll be on time whether or not they fool around.

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