Barney Miller: Recluse/Non-Involvement/Power Failure


Airdate: November 11, 1976

Sometimes when researching the titles for these reviews there’s a discrepancy between the various sources.  Usually that discrepancy manifests itself into the ambiguity over whether or not the title includes a definite article.  IMDB lists this episode with one, implying one recluse, “the” recluse.  But I think the DVD menu has a more appropriate title in “Recluse,” because of the overlap in the theme of loneliness throughout the episode.

First Wojo brings in Graham Roberts, the lone believer in the end of the world, due to end at five thirty.  Wojo’s charge is disturbing everyone’s piece.  Barney is usually willing to indulge people’s beliefs, as fantastic as they may be, so it’s almost a surprise that this isn’t an episode in which he admonishes Wojo for his itchy trigger finger.  Instead Barney agrees with Wojo’s assessment and Roberts is left to shout into the wind from his cell to the annoyance of the squad.

Fish is apparently missing and alone out in the world when Bernice calls into the precinct, worried that he left at five in the morning, and that he won’t make their monthly date night.  Who knew when he left the house the world would only have twelve and a half hours left?  Barney is about to have Harris call the other precincts when Fish walks in, depressed about his impending retirement.

Jilly Papalardo brings in a fellow orphan friend, the very defensive and defiant Victor Kreutzer.  They’re out of the group home and back in the children’s center.  They want out so they ask Fish for a hundred dollars so they can run away.  He gives them a buck to get out of there.

Even Nick is alone in his enthusiasm for a knock-knock joke he’s eager to tell.  Barney gets off a great line when Nick pesters him to play along “Harris, get that will you?”  But Nick does get some laughs when he plays off of Fish’s ignorance.  Fish doesn’t like Japanese food and prefers Chinese.  So Nick recommends “Yamamoto’s.”

Mr. Unger, the actual recluse of the title, has been in his apartment since Pearl Harbor and refused jury duty.  He just wanted to be left alone, but apparently he must have kept his voter registration up to date.  So he’s been brought into custody, assigned by the DA.

He doesn’t remember coffee tasting like Nick’s, who cites it as progress, and he’s awfully sick.  Before going to the hospital he expresses skepticism of the help sulfur drugs could provide, ignorant of antibiotics.

Wojo expresses admiration for his independence but when Wojo returns to the precinct he announces Unger’s death due to a lack of tolerance.  Thinking of Roberts’ predictions he guesses that the world will end with the whimper of attrition.  But Barney tells him that one can’t live in such solitude and just emerge expecting to be able to adapt.  One must acclimate in the company of their environment and learn to cope.

Victor and Jilly are arrested in New Jersey and call Fish using up their call.  He has them brought back into the precinct by a uniform so that he can take them back to the children’s center.  Meanwhile Bernice drops by to pick Fish up for his date.  In an echo of Barney’s thesis, Bernice tries to bring Fish and the children together.  First she assures the kids that his bark is worse than his bite.  Then she pleads to Fish on their behalf for help.  He’s not willing to adopt them, but she counters by suggesting at least taking them to dinner on their way to the children’s center.

Barney tells Roberts a slight fib to prove that the world will not end that day by claiming it’s past 5:30.  Roberts claims it was his prayer on his way to Bellevue.  With Barney the last to leave, he indulges himself in a countdown, proving for real that the world did not end, even as he stands in the squad room alone.


Airdate: November 18, 1976

Seinfeld’s controversial series finale hinged on a Good Samaritan law put into effect in the wake of Princess Diana’s deadly car accident.  But well before that episode, Wojo grappled with the same issue from the other side.  While the previous episode was not ultimately about Wojo’s zealous judgment getting in the way of the spirit of the law, this one certainly is.

As with “The Psychiatrist,” Wojo is in trouble with the authority exerted by outside forces.  It starts when he brings in Mrs. Hanson, victim of a mugging, along with another man he throws into the cage, Al Mitchell, whom he arrested for “non-involvement,” to Barney’s confusion.

Inside Barney’s office Wojo cites the penal code as justification, so Barney explains that Assistance Law Section 195 point “something” requires the cop identify him or herself to the person to whom he requests assistance.  Wojo’s only words to Mitchell before the mugger got away were “Get ‘im!”

With Chano and Wentworth gone, and Dietrich only an occasional presence, often when Fish is gone (Fish is busy this week, worried about the department’s retirement accounting and investments) the show attempts to fill the void by bringing in Detective Third Grade Maria Battista.  To make a good first impression she goes to the bakery to pick up doughnuts for the precinct.  Instead, she comes in late and brings in Charlie Yusick, flasher, processing him at the desk behind Yemana’s.  So he calls in Lyle W. Farber, his attorney and group therapy classmate.  We last saw Mr. Farber in the third episode of the entire series “Snow Job.”

Her enthusiasm matches Chano and Wentworth’s, but she’s new to the precinct, and presumably to police work.  Though proud, she echoes every declaration with a question mark.  It’s a cute way to establish her inexperience without quite as much conflict as had been established in episodes like “Ms. Cop” and “Hot Dogs.”  To make up for her tardy lack of donuts she brings in lunch and screws up Fish’s accounting.

But back to the trouble Wojo is in.  Barney convinces Wojo to turn Mitchell loose, but Mitchell asks why.  When he realizes the arrest was made under flimsy circumstances he demands a lawyer, in this case, recurring irritant Arnold Ripner.

While Barney disapproves of Wojo’s arrest in private he does everything in his power to protect Wojo in public.  Just as he prefers complainants and collars to settle their differences between themselves, with as little authority involved, so does he prefer the same with regard to his own.

Engaged in a semantic battle with Ripner, who intends to engage the entire department, Barney plays fast and loose with some facts.  Officially the department doesn’t want the hassle of a drawn out fight, but Barney lies to Ripner and Mitchell.  Nervous, Mitchell consults with Ripner in the hall until they decide to settle.  Mitchell takes over the negotiations, so Ripner leaves asking Mitchell to bill him for half of whatever he gets.  With Mitchell outraged, Farber volunteers himself to represent Mitchell in his case against Ripner, who’s representing Mitchell against Wojo and the NYPD!

Wojo offers his two-hole bowling ball, but all Mitchell really wanted was an apology, so he gets a sincere one from Wojo, no authorities necessary, just as Barney likes it.

Power Failure

Airdate: December 9, 1976

Dietrich has taken the desk behind Yemana and is disappointed with the lack of an exclamation point on his forty-year-old printer, to he walks over to Harris’ printer to fill out a “forceful” form.  On his way he couldn’t help but overhear Fish’s latest medical problem, insomnia.  As usual his advice comes not from personal experience, but from an intellectual understanding of the problem.  His intellectual over empathetic authority is actually a bit like a benign version of the type of detachment for which Barney usually has disdain.

Meanwhile Wojo has brought in Charles Foster…Keller for assaulting his bookie in a park.  But the meek gentleman has none of the powerful personality that his possible namesake Charles Foster Kane had.  His claim is that it wasn’t he who assaulted his bookie but his other personality, Lennie.

As if things weren’t obscured enough for everyone the power has gone out all over the block, with only Dietrich still tapping away at this typewriter.  Wojo is skeptical of Keller, and thinks he’s simply trying to beat a rap with an insanity defense, but Dietrich again tries to help with the use of matches, first by using matches to give Keller some light during his phone call, then to punctuate his lecture on multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative personality disorder.

Though he cites Gregory Zilboorg’s Schizophrenia Nacht Enfendungen, he, and the show, reinforces the common misconception that conflates multiple personality disorder with schizophrenia, though even professionally it’s often difficult to distinguish between the two disorders and other co-morbid disorders like bipolar disorder.

Not that I know what I’m talking about any more than Dietrich, but I did attempt to find Zilboorg’s book online.  The closest I came was another review of this very episode by a website for people with different numbers of personalites, self-identifying as multiples, mediums, in-betweens, singlets, and not-sures.  The reviewers, Jay Young and Anthony Temple of Astraea, give the episode four stars.  But they cite this as a rare episode in which Dietrich is “dead wrong,” partly for citing Gregory Zilboorg, a person they view as identifying many different conditions as schizophrenic.  They too couldn’t find the book.  I would guess it doesn’t exist.

Psychology and psychiatry have always fascinated me, so I apologize for the digression.  But I think in this case, a context is important to understand the episode, and its context within the history of psychology, much as an examination of sexuality would inform a twenty-first century viewing of episodes with Marty Morrison and Darryl Driscoll.

Lennie does appear as soon as power is restored to both the precinct building and Mr. Keller.  He’s a very forceful character with the indignant defiance of a James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson character.  So he badgers everyone in sight except Yemana, whom he attempts to provide with gambling tips.  But during the outage Kogan received some calls, one of which was for a burglary that Wojo and Yemana must investigate.

As they leave, Dietrich receives Dr. Fitzgerald, the posh psychiatrist, and doctor to Mr. Keller.  He attempts to bond with her over Zilboorg before she heads to Barney’s office to plead for his release.

Not only is Barney skeptical of the type of intellectually detached authority he sees as inherent to psychiatry, he’s also aware of the doctor’s charming advances.  He tells her that, while he’s sympathetic, in order for him to release Keller into her custody she needs a bail ticket, which she retrieves in forty eight minutes.  He invites her to wait in his office while he fills out a release form, careful to maintain a formal distance, as the happily married captain doesn’t “seduce well.”

On the doctor’s way out, a third Keller personality shows up, Neal, a refined and polite man who longed to talk to Dr. Fitzgerald.  As she escorts Mr. Keller out, she says goodbye to Barney.  He suggests, with subtext referring to both her attraction to him, and to Keller’s plight, that while he’s sympathetic, there’s nothing he can do about it.

The jewelry burglary investigation yields a trigger happy shopkeeper, Mr. Rosten, who took a literal shot in the dark, trimming Yemana’s sideburn.  Despite a stern lecture from Barney, an unsuccessful sale to Fish and Wojo, Mr. Rosten manages to sell something to Barney…for Liz of course.


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