Barney Miller: The Mole/Season Two Ruminations

The Mole

Airdate: March 16, 1976

Wojo has also decided to take his sergeant’s exam and Barney is still nursing his broken foot, while Yemana explains to Chano the economics of the horse races and gambling.  And, it finally happened; Fish has been told by his doctor to get hemorrhoid surgery.

Yet Fish’s sores are not the “moles” of the title.  This show is usually quite good at elegantly weaving together disparate plot threads, and this is no exception.  But here the elegance has been drenched in the disgusting.  We can laugh; we can be happy we’re not in the same boat, or precinct, as the squad of the one-two.  It’s a stinky boat this episode.  Two of the three cases the squad tackles this episode offer liberal opportunities for Fish to react to the situation with his trademark low-key yet exasperated lament of his situation.

This is the first episode with Ron Carey, who will later gain fame on this show as Officer Carl Levitt, but we’ll get to that later.  Here he plays Angelo “the mole of the title” Molinari, a professional jewelry burglar surprised that Wojo and Harris chase him into the sewers.  Receiving an update from dispatch, Fish opts to postpone his trip to the bathroom.  In one of his best lines he exclaims “I better wait!  I could be obstructing justice!”

Of course no one is more surprised than Harris himself.  As a writer, of course it’s natural, to throw Harris, and his $250 suit, in the sewer.  The show can successfully milk his pain in a scene wherein he itemizes his articles for compensation in his standard issue track suit.  With bright blue colors and red and white sleeve stripes, it’s still more dressed up than Wojo’s grey sweatshirt and sweatpants.

Chano and Yemana bring in their own messy situation when a Dr. Alvin Craine and a Philip Shroder, an insurance man, got into a fight at the Greenwich Hotel over their philosophical and professional differences.  The two of them manage to settle things without the help of the squad, which is good considering how preoccupied everyone else is with their stenches.

Since The Mole has some scrapes, Barney asks the doctor to take a look.  He says he can’t afford to get involved, so as much out of spite as charity, the insurance man looks The Mole’s injury over and tells him how to treat it.

Chano’s busy today as he greets a homeless visitor, Randolph Cook, who has lots of articulate philosophizing of his own to do, think Orson Welles with far less luck.  He would like lodging, and convinces a reticent Barney by claiming himself an arrestable vagrant.

Unfortunately he has to share his cell, first with the hotel fighters, then with the reeking robber.  At least the robber got a shower.  But then Randolph Cook claims to be a rich eccentric author whose royalty checks have come in so swiftly he hasn’t had time to cash them.  Barney doesn’t buy it, but he does buy Cook some time with some cash out of his own wallet.

Fish does decide to get the surgery.  This episode being a season finale it allows him to use up his ten days leave and recover, along with Barney’s foot, over the course of the summer, without missing any episodes.  Maybe Wojo will also have the chance to pass his sergeant’s test.  This episode is not a big one, like the first season’s very dramatic finale, but it does subtly suggest that changes are in the air for the third season.

Season Two Ruminations

It’s interesting that the first season’s finale was a big dramatic showcase for Chano.  In retrospect, it might have been nice for such an episode to be placed at the end of the second season.  Though the characters don’t get a big sendoff, this is the last season in which Chano and Liz would appear as credited regulars.  Wentworth already had her last episode in “Massage Parlor.”  Of the three, only Liz would appear again in later seasons.  Uniformed co-star Kogan would also no longer appear, though he would get mentioned occasionally.

More than any other character, Chano was probably the closest to a conscious the show had.  Yes, the show had Barney’s egalitarian sense of compassion, and Wojo’s conviction of what was right and wrong, but Chano seemed to be the one to fight for the littlest among us out of the passion and pride that came with moving to New York for a better life.  That was best exemplified by “The Hero,” but he showed those traits in subtler ways throughout his run by taking on the responsibility of being the best role model and mentor he could be to others that came from similar situations.

Wentworth was similarly far more than simply an avatar for women’s liberation because Linda Lavin gave her mischief and extreme competence to go with her extreme confidence.  As demonstrated in “The Layoff,” there’s a slight divide between the younger cops and the older ones, so Wentworth’s journey up the ranks could have been seen as redundant, given the focus on Wojo’s growth as a cop.  But she served as an outstanding foil for the group, but of course, especially Wojo.

So far in the show the characters can mostly stand on their own, but read as colleagues that like each other, rather than people that are particularly close outside of work.  That’s no criticism because far too many workplace sitcoms go too far to make a family out of their cast of characters.  Here the most overt relationships seem to be between Barney and Fish, Wojo and Barney, and Wojo and Wentworth.

This brings us to one of the most important relationships in the early conception of the life and times of Barney Miller, Barney and Liz.  The pilot for the show suggests a balanced storytelling perspective between home and work life, a style pioneered by shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and even shows like Bewitched.  But even by the end of season one it’s become clear that the focus of the show is on the squad room and the eccentric characters that pass through.

Balancing those two worlds was a conflict outlined in the first scene of the series in which Liz expresses dislike for Barney’s profession and seeks escape.  In the original version of the pilot, The Life and Times of Barney Miller, that conflict is more overt, and the ratio of story time even more tipped toward the home life.  But in Barbara Barrie Barney Miller ironically found someone with the strength and sweetness to understand far more why Barney has to be a cop.  The part was perfectly cast, but it also meant there was less of a story to be told, at least perhaps from the point of view of the writers.

Going into the third season the show would experience more cast changes as Fish appears in fewer episodes.  He’ll be moving on to his own series in the middle of the season, and Dietrich and Levitt will fill in the gaps on their way to becoming full cast members in the fourth season.

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