Barney Miller: Evacuation/Quarantine: Parts I&II

Evacuation

Airdate: September 23, 1976

The episode starts with a haggard Barney entering in a rain hat as Harris reads about Hurricane Dottie in the newspaper.  In real life, Dottie was a tropical storm from August 18 through August 21, 1976.  The storm made its way up to North Carolina before retreating to the Gulf of Mexico.  Perhaps a better candidate, weather wise would be Subtropical Storm 3.  But I suppose that doesn’t have as catchy a name.

Whatever the name of the storm, this version of it is expected to travel up the East Coast to New York.  What’s a mere, if aggravating, annoyance to Barney, and most of the squad, is a source of anxiety to Wojo.  He comes into work having read the Grey Book and has discovered there’s no plan to evacuated the city in the case of a disaster.

Callahan, a motorcycle uniform with the inter-precinct communiqués, comes in with bulletins and hot sheets and gossip.  Wojo gets him worked up about the situation too.  Barney, the pragmatic one, wants Wojo not to obsess, and acknowledges that he’s unearthed a problem.  Barney will take care of it in due time.

Everyone except Dietrich is available today, he’s in court.  While other long departed actors have had their characters referenced on screen, this is a signal that Dietrich will return, especially since we last saw him half a season ago.

In other news, Dietrich’s future predecessor, Fish, has a broken clock in the shape of Lady Justice, and has been sent on a call with Harris on the report of a young tomboy named Jilly hocking a horn, silverware, a transistor radio, dentures, and a Knights of Columbus ring at a pawn shop.  Jilly is short for Shirley Papalardo.  She lays on the charm to Fish, who books her while Harris checks her for priors.  Fish is of course charming in his curmudgeonly way himself, whether he wants to be or not.

Jilly does have priors.  She’s a ward of the court, her parents have split on each other, and on her, so she lives in a group home.  While I expect that the cops would know what a group home, Harris explains it to Barney and Fish anyway, for the benefit of the audience.

When Fish takes Jilly to the home, he finds that one of her three foster parents is dead; the other two are out of town.  She and the other kids have been taking care of themselves.  Fish has them sent to the children’s center.

With a bathroom light broken, Barney calls Beckman over to repair it.  Wojo intercepts him to repair the air raid signal.  Another uniform, Krevey, comes in looking for disaster over time.  Soon Luger comes in under the impression a disaster is imminent.  Wojo’s very vocal panic has spread outside the precinct.

Beckman has repaired the siren but it won’t turn off, so the squad room starts getting panicked calls, which escalate in volume.  The frustration mounts so much over the false alarm that Barney starts yelling into the phone that there needs to be a plan!  Barney has been converted, so hopefully if the issue gets kicked up the hierarchy high enough something will get done.

Both Wojo and Jilly desperately want attention for their cases and only partly succeed in the near term.  In real life there is a now a plan to evacuate New York City.  If you’d like more information you can visit the website of the New York Office of Emergency Management at NYC.gov.

Jilly tries to charm Fish to adopt her to no avail.  The next day, Fish receives a call where he explains to the caller that he’s going to a ballgame and that he can’t spend time with her because a crazy woman drove him nuts yesterday.   Harris tells her Bernice is on the other line, so Fish says goodbye to Jilly and tells Bernice the same thing.  We’ve seen this plot before, but this time the phone call shows there really does seem to be a lingering connection between the cop and the poor young delinquent.  Maybe Jilly will reel Fish in eventually.

Quarantine: Part I

Airdate: September 30, 1976

This is the series first two-parter in Barney Miller history and it’s a classic.  The premise is simple, and sort of the opposite of the previous episode: a sick young perp named Philip Dupree has been brought into the squad room.  He has either chicken pox or small pox, so he’s rushed to the hospital.  Until a diagnosis can be confirmed, the squad room must stay under quarantine.

So how do you ratchet up the tension?  The show demonstrates an excellent example by building slowly.  First, it’s Friday afternoon just before everyone’s about to leave.  Harris and Barney both have romantic plans that weekend, and a prostitute, Paula Capshaw has similar plans, for profit.  Second, it’s very hot, so everyone except for Harris looks completely unkempt, hair soaked with sweat.  Third, fill the squad room up with as many people as possible, especially those that might provide conflict.

That’s when the parade starts.  Dr. Freedman, Dupree, and the hospital orderlies depart quickly, but Paula hasn’t been fully processed, Luger wanders in thinking the quarantine sign is a joke, and recurring gay couple Marty Morrison and Daryl Driscoll stop by requesting Barney serve as character witness since they plan to move out of state before Marty’s probation ends.

Since Dupree has already been processed, the entire building has to be locked down.  Anyway, an unseen Kogen brings up cots, while Nick worries about the food situation.  They have to order two hundred sandwiches for the building while Harris tries to unload his $75 scalped ticket, tying up the phone.

Luger and Wojo’s homophobia have made them nervous about Marty and Daryl will be sleeping in the same room as them, so Luger asks Barney why some people gravitate toward that lifestyle.  As in previous episodes, Barney provides the psychological consensus of the day.  While Barney is tolerant for his day, it’s still a vastly different take on the subject from twenty-first century consensus on sexuality.  He gives Luger the couch in his office.

An ever conscientious Wojo looks up “smallpox” in the dictionary, recalling Peter Gibbon’s plan in Office Space (1999), or Lindsey Weir’s marijuana trip on Freaks and Geeks’ episode “Chokin’ and Tokin’.”  An uneasy Luger and annoyed Barney look on as Wojo describes in graphic detail the medical symptoms.  Barney thanks and stops Wojo just as he says “Wait’ll you hear what pustules are!”

Given Barney Miller’s and Barney Miller’s low-key nature, this episode doesn’t exactly end with a cliffhanger.  It ends with a speech from Barney to everyone in the room that everyone will need to try to make it as easy on each other as possible in light of the heat and discomfort.  It’s the perfect way to set things up for a conclusion, while staying true to what makes this show unique.

Quarantine: Part II

Airdate: October 7, 1976

When sending a spec script into a show a writer has to pay attention to the format of a particular series.  Barney Miller tends to have a teaser, the theme song, two acts, a coda, and the closing credits.  If you’re on staff, or especially if you’re the showrunner, producer, studio executive, or network executive, then you can have more leeway in playing with the format.

So this episode opens differently from most.  The theme song plays, and then we jump right into the story, with no teaser.  Also different from usual practice is the title, prominently displayed as “Quarantine” Part Two.  Aside from having the title on display, this change in format suggests that this episode is less like a second part, and more like the second half of an hour-long episode.  In that way, we get to see what this show might have been like if it normally ran on an hour-long format.

Daryl decides to busy himself by cleaning the coffee mugs and making some coffee.  Naturally, Nick thought the mold was a pattern, so he didn’t feel the need.  Wojo gives maturity a shot and takes a cup, complimenting Daryl on a well-made brew.  Daryl feels better, Nick does not, though he will sneak a cup when everyone’s asleep.

Barney gets a call from the hospital Dr. Freedman on Dupree’s condition.  Barney lists the symptoms for the benefit of the squad room, but it just makes everyone nervous.  Barney tries to calm everyone down by working on the sleeping arrangements.  He thoughtfully puts Fish near the bathroom, chivalrously gives Ms. Capshaw the couch in his office, breaking the changed arrangement to Luger, who has to use Nick’s typewriter-cleaning toothbrush to clean his mouth for the night.

Barney leaves the rest of the arrangement to Wojo, so naturally Wojo tries to keep Marty and Daryl separate until Barney counters him with the goal of keeping the guests comfortable…but not too comfortable.

In walks Carl Levitt.  A uniform, he’s been sent up from downstairs as their representative.  As we’ll see for the rest of the series, he’ll continue that role.  He’s upstairs looking for leftover sandwiches, but he uses the opportunity to lament to the detectives, and to Barney, the fact that he hasn’t made detective due to his short height.

Depressed, Wojo, Nick, and Luger talk about the inevitable.  Even if they don’t die of smallpox they’ll still all die.  Luger is adamant that he die like a Klingon (my phraseology), in action, like his long departed partners.  “I really loved those guys!”  He looks at Marty, “I’m talking wholesome stuff!”

The second act of the episode takes place late at night, when everyone’s supposed to be sleeping.  This being a story, that can’t happen.  Anyway, it’s always hard to sleep somewhere you don’t normally sleep.  So Luger sings wistfully to himself, Daryl reads to himself, and Marty’s “not asleep.”

Since they’re all awake, Luger exhibits and episode of gay panic and explains that he wants to set the record very straight about his straightness.  He was reminiscing about the good old days with his partners in law enforcement, a type of brotherly love and camaraderie, totally different from the relationship that Marty and Daryl have.  They explain that it’s not as different as he thinks it is.  Even the fight that Luger fought every day was not too different from the fight Marty and Daryl fight.

While New York’s, and the nation’s, adjustment to a post-Stonewall world is a major theme of the series, thus far the avatar to that unease has been Wojo.  So it’s interesting to see that point of view filtered through another squad room regular’s eyes.  For Wojo, his anxiety comes from his upbringing and his fear of the future.  For Luger, his insecurity is very much about the changes he’s seen in the twentieth century.  It’s symptomatic of his pervasive nostalgia.  From his point of view, the future is here.  And it’s a scary threshold, beyond which he can’t turn around and be with the friends he’s lost.  It’s a heavy peek into his mind.

The show realizes this, so it diffuses the drama a bit by showing us a peek into someone else’s mind, someone who actually is sleeping.  Harris talks in his sleep.  And apparently has nightmares about work.  He already has a slightly pompous and superior air about him, so it’s not a huge surprise that he thinks it’s too hot and dirty at work, that Fish hogs the bathroom, Nick makes rotten coffee, that Barney is too much a compassionate turkey, and that he dreams of escape through his novel and dreams of avarice.

The doctor calls the squad room and lets everyone know Dupree had chicken pox, not small pox.  So Barney lets everyone go as soon as they clean the place up a bit.  Everyone says their fond farewells, Paula Capshaw to a relatively polite Fish, Levitt to the squad room, Harris his almost date, Marty and Daryl to Barney, and Luger to Barney, though not before expressing his attraction to women.

This makes up the rest of the second act, with no coda at the end.  That said, they do express relief that it was only chicken pox, which is far less a threat than small pox, considering how common it is.  Most people had it when they were children, right?  Not Wojo…

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