Barney Miller: Massage Parlor/The Psychiatrist/The Kid

Massage Parlor

Airdate: February 19, 1976

The Second Avenue Merchants Association has been complaining about massage parlors possibly providing…extra services, so the squad has been sent in, one at a time, undercover to try to catch the practitioners in the act.  Most of the guys have struck out, so Wentworth volunteers, to the chagrin of Wojo.  Even Barney is a bit surprised, but Wentworth counters that there are male masseurs that violate the law in that way, so he acquiesces.

Harris and Chano bring in a mugging victim who claims to have been assaulted by a little old woman, so Barney has them cover their bases by having Mr. Fletcher look at mug shots of real old women and muggers who impersonate old women.  The impersonators are accounted for, so they bring in the old women.

Wentworth succeeds in busting a naïve midnight cowboy, Lance Peterson, upsetting Wojo.  On the one hand he woefully cites Wentworth’s “experience,” and on the other he doesn’t approve of Peterson’s work.  One could say that he’s consistent.  While he does have a Madonna-whore complex regarding women, he still disapproves of prostitution when it comes to men.

Fish entertains one of the mugging suspects, Mrs. Oppenheimer, as Harris brings in three more: Mrs. Mary Dexter, Mrs. Eunice Smith, and the firecracker Ms. Mable Kleiner.  After Harris makes a crack about the Civil War, Kleiner comes back offering to throw out another term from that period.  She even calls Yemana “Boy!”  He offers her coffee in a passive aggressive gesture everyone knows is not the generous offer of calming liquid it would be anywhere else.

Nervous about having to face the rogue’s gallery Mr. Fletcher asks incredulously why there isn’t a one way mirror, or why he can’t be shrouded in the shadows.  Eventually he identifies Mrs. Krause, the cleaning lady.  As is standard practice, she was put in as a plant.  Disappointed Fletcher leaves, but Chano plays a hunch and pretends to engage the women in battle.  Mrs. Dexter takes the bait, so Harris fetches Mr. Fletcher.

Having booked Peterson, Wentworth feels for him as she hasn’t found any priors.  She says he’s just new to town and doesn’t have any priors.  In fact, her sensitivity prompts Lance to ask her out.  Wojo sarcastically gives them permission, but Wentworth is taken.

The whole episode she’s just so playful with Wojo because she knows how to push his buttons.  She knows it’s also the way to loosen him up.  Earlier in the series, her description to a curious Wojo of the illicit act would have provoked angry judgment.  But here, he’s eases from discomfort to attraction.  It’s a nice bit of growth, akin to his asking Barney for fifty dollars, back in “The Courtesans.”  The two of them leave for another dinner, and breakfast, while Fish confesses to Barney that seeing the group of older criminal women made him appreciate Bernice, which is pretty sweet as well.

The Psychiatrist

Airdate: February 26, 1976

This is the most Wojo has been in trouble.  He’s on suspended duty due to the complaints of a mugger, Joseph Pretano, whose litigious lawyer, Lawrence Spiegalgas, has formal charges against him for excessively rough treatment.  That suspension was due to the assessment by a psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Nathan Esterhazy, assigned by Internal Affairs.  Dr. Esterhazy’s go-to assessor is the Rorschach test, and after twenty minutes determined that Wojo should be stripped of his gun.

In other news, Harris brings in a Mr. Frumkus who has been knocking over the smutty newspaper stands in front of his deli.  The stack of evidence makes its way around the squad room, with only some of the cops aware of the context.

One who is blind to that context is Luger, who sympathizes with Wojo over his suspension.  When Dr. Esterhazy arrives, Luger rails against him, providing all the…help he can.  His sweetly intended counter-production is relatively harmless, so the doctor proceeds to Barney’s office, where he begins to examine the rest of the crew.

Luger makes off with one of the periodicals in evidence.  When Harris requests it back, without explaining that is in fact evidence, Luger replies “I told you, when I get through with it!”  Later on, Yemana similarly confiscates the rest of the stack.  But Barney releases Mr. Frumkus on a desk appearance ticket, meaning that while he’ll still be arraigned, he doesn’t need to wait in jail.  To show his appreciation, he shouts his goodbye in the direction of Barney’s office, so that Esterhazy can hear him.

So the crew goes through the examinations.  They compare notes as Esterhazy calls Barney in.  But he’s much more reticent.  He pushes back against the Rorschach test because he doesn’t want to play games.  He wants to know his cops are going to be okay.

Esterhazy admits that he doesn’t consider any cop to be fit to carry guns.  It’s a clear philosophical bias that has no place in such an assessment, and Barney vehemently argues his case.  While Chano argues against the public owning guns in “Block Party,” what he’s really arguing is responsible gun use, which applies to cops as well.

There could certainly be a case made that guns on either side of the thin blue line are too pervasive, and liberally drawn, to be anywhere near safe, but an across-the-board restriction on guns for cops, or even the public, is way above Esterhazy’s pay grade.  What wins the day is Barney’s superior debating skill, arguing for the logic of police having guns, in the imperfect world that exists.  He’s so convinced Esterhazy, that Esterhazy barely realizes what’s going on as Barney dictates Esterhazy’s own report to him, as Esterhazy transcribes it!

The Kid

Airdate: March 4, 1976

Both Chano and Harris have dealt with young thieves with hearts of gold in the past, but so far Fish hasn’t been shown to do so.  In each of the previous cases, the race of the child in question matched the cop, so that the cop could act as a mentor disappointed in the actions of one of his own.  But here, Fish is the victim of an attempted pickpocket, who happens to be Hispanic.  The case goes as similar cases have gone as Fish lets Claudio Trujillo off with a sly lecture.

When Claudio’s mother comes in, Fish really hits it off with her.  Fish has his ambivalence about his wife Bernice, but it’s sort of a game he enjoys playing, more than an actual existential crisis about whether or not to leave her.  Mrs. Trujillo invites Fish over for dinner and he accepts.

Meanwhile Eugene Woolen, the honest man brought in $3,500 during “Fear of Flying” has come in to claim the money he brought in on February 2.  Police policy being that he can keep the money if no one claims it after a month, he arrives on March 2.  Yemana suggests a horse to bet it on, while Woolen tells Chano he’s eating out tonight.  Unfortunately February 1976 was a leap year, but still only twenty nine days.  So he has to come back on March 3.

Barney is slightly preoccupied, as he broke his foot.  Wojo is curious as to how the accident occurs, while Fish tortures Barney with descriptions of the itching that accumulates in such a restricted environment.

This is one of the rare episodes that span multiple days.  Sometimes the tag at the end of an episode is a few days later, but usually all of the action spans one shift.  But these stories need breathing room, much like Barney’s foot.

So the next day Fish tells Barney of his night at the Trujillos.  He feels guilty for having gone there, and for having lied about it.  But Barney is more charitable since nothing actually happened.  As usual, he doesn’t pass judgment, but he’s certainly rooting for Fish to stay with Bernice, despite Fish’s attraction

Mr. Woolen comes back to claim his money just as Chano and Wojo bring in a perp accused of robbing Manhattan Security Systems.  Victor Newell robbed the place of a hearing aid, so the detectives have a hard time communicating with him.  Wojo, especially, only thinks to speak loudly.  Barney has him hand Newell the Miranda card, before suggesting using the evidence.  The hearing aid doesn’t work very well, but Newell couldn’t even afford that $350 hearing aid.

So Barney brings up the situation to Mr. Woolen, a man with well-earned windfall.  He doesn’t come out and ask for the money, but Woolen gets the message.  After listening to a bit of reverse psychology, Woolen doles out the cash to Newell and finds the same satisfaction in paying it forward that he found in bringing the money to the precinct, and finally receiving his money.  It’s a nice little arc that demonstrates the show’s compassion that it sees as inherent to most everyone’s worldview.

Fish is on the phone planning a night at a hotel, and the show’s sweetness even extends to him.  Of course he’s not going with Mrs. Trujillo, he’s going with Bernice.

A couple of days later Barney tells Wojo that his foot was broken trying to change the light bulb above the toilet which had the lid up.  Barney asks how Fish’s weekend went.  Fish had a good time but still felt guilty.  Though Barney reminded him that it was natural, Fish repaid him by realizing what that natural curiosity was called “The Seven Year Itch!”


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