Barney Miller: Asylum/Group Home

Asylum

Airdate: February 24, 1977

Maybe Wojo really is growing. True, he naively exercised authority he didn’t have by granting a pianist for “Swan Lake” named Mr. Fyodor Jininsky political asylum from the persecution of a Soviet agent named Bulganov who committed assault and attempting kidnapping in forcibly trying to return Jininsky to the Soviet Union. And true, Barney has to clean up his mess while walking the line between loyalty for his officers and the rule of law. But there’s a moment where his position may be evolving in other ways.

But first a uniformed officer that would have made Wojo look enlightened even a year or two ago brings in Marty Morrison on charges of possession of marijuana. It’s made quite clear that the officer was hunting for collars at a gay bar due to his homophobic prejudice, but as usual, Marty slightly overestimates the rapport between himself and the detectives of the one-two.

Barney scolds Marty for stupidly carrying the joints. In a more subtle form of the period’s discomfort around gays, Dietrich turns even more detached than usual after Marty extends his hand for a kiss. He does explain to Marty that, though he was caught with less than half an ounce, it merely means the precinct has discretion over how to handle the case.

To Dietrich, the extremely thorough explanation of an idea or concept is simply the way he makes small talk. It’s just one of the many reasons I probably relate most to Dietrich as a character. So when he explains to Barney that he’s aware of a particular procedure, he invites him to detail the explanation anyway.

When a newly minted Mr. Jeffrey Stevens from the State Department arrives to assess the situation, he asks Jininsky why he wanted asylum. When Jininsky poetically describes the differences between Soviet Russia and the United States, Stevens is not satisfied that he’s escaping for a specific enough injustice. He insists that asylum not be granted on frivolous grounds.

This gives Barney the opportunity to do some explaining of his own. Barney cites falling in love with a girl as a frivolous reason for seeking asylum and Jininsky explains that he could never be frivolous; he’s homosexual.

So Wojo appears much more civil in that light than usual. And while Marty awaits the results from the lab, to determine the contents and weight of his contraband, he courts Jininsky. The feeling’s mutual between them. Perhaps things aren’t going so well with Darryl Driscoll, since last we saw him in the “Quarantine” two-parter.

There are several other characters that could use a more perspicacious understanding of each other in this episode (Stevens does lament Wojo’s lack of perspicacity in the episode). Stevens wants perspicacity in that he’s a new part of the Carter administration, perhaps a symbol of contemporary criticism of Carter’s lack of experience, beyond simply the usual criticism the show has against bureaucracy. Harris takes voracious notes of the entire situation in the hopes of selling the story to a magazine. Bulganov seeks solidarity with Harris over what he sees as a shared experience of persecution. Harris is of course skeptical of the comparison. Stevens, Jininsky, and Dietrich all mistake Yemana for an immigrant.

And then, of course, Stevens tries to explain the conundrum to Barney in his office. While Stevens is from the State Department, the only person who could actually help Jininsky is the District Director of Immigration. The problem is that there’s no official way for them to get Jininsky there, or even to point him in the right direction. Stevens is afraid of losing his new job, but Barney sees it as extremely silly. So he has Wojo take Jininsky to the Department of Immigration in a squad car anyway. Stevens tries to obstruct any of that information from entering his ears by covering them while whooping.

Later, the squad reads the paper and finds that not only has Jininsky defected, so has Bulganov, perhaps despite the encouragement of Dietrich’s analysis that the USSR had liberalized by the late 1970s.

In one last peek that only diffuses the perspicacity we all have of Dietrich, he asks Stevens to forward a message to President Carter, “Arthur says ‘Hey.’” When Stevens asks for clarification, Arthur Dietrich says “He’ll know.”

Group Home

Airdate: March 10, 1977

The absence of Fish in the previous episode only reminds us that we’re near the end of his time working for the one-two. As of the airdate for this episode, Philip K. Fish had already started his starring role of the spinoff series Fish, in which Mr. & Mrs. Fish become foster parents for a group of kids, among them, Jilly Papalardo and Victor Kreutzer. An earlier backdoor pilot for his spinoff was an episode from the previous season, also called “Fish.” We’ll get to Fish’s retirement from the police department at the beginning of the next season, but for now, we have the first appearance of Jilly and Victor on Barney Miller since becoming regulars on his show. Here Bernice, Jilly, and Victor come to the station to ask Fish for money to go to the dentist in a brief scene, probably just to remind us that they’re around on another night of the week. That said, Kreutzer gives a graphic description, yielding Fish’s catchphrase “Get away from me!”

In this episode, he’s assigned mugging detail. As scene previously in the series, this involves a cop dressing up as a woman to act as a potential target for muggers or rapists. Wentworth had previously pulled the detail, but since she was the most frequently shown female cop on the show, the duty almost invariably went to men. I previously referred to Detective Marie Cirile: Memoirs of a Police Officer, but it seems appropriate to refer to the book once again, to reiterate the growing female presence in police departments, and the New York Police Department in particular, rendering work in drag at least less necessary.

But here Fish picks up lonely john, Lou Hector, played by Phil Leeds, previously seen as Arthur Bloom a comedian’s agent in the second season episode “Rain.” Here, Lou Hector is so lonely that he’s genuinely interested in continuing the relationship, even though he and Fish are straight. Perhaps what he’s after is the nineteenth century ideal of romantic friendship, a very close sort of same-sex platonic friendship very common at the time.

George Murdock returns, for the only time outside the role of Lieutenant Ben Scanlon. Here he plays a similar enough character, Master Sergeant J. R. Reville, appropriately named because his zealous allegiance to the army makes him revile whom he sees as a former enemy in World War II, Nick Yemana. Yemana later reveals that he was in the army, Nissei Division, Full 42nd, for the United States. Reville considers that a neutral position at best!

He is there to report a bomb threat from a caller whose cough he recognizes. Eventually, they bring in a disgruntled sketch artist, Sergeant Wilkinson, played by the equally great James Cromwell. When they have the sketch, Barney wisely has Harris distribute the sketches to hospitals and clinics.

A runner through the episode involves Harris’ purchase of a genealogical study of his family. Throughout the episode he’s on the phone complaining that they’ve only been able find ancestors from Cleveland and Scotland. Since he was inspired by Roots to find out more about his family, he wanted to find his African heritage. Like Abe Vigoda, and Jack Soo, many of Ron Glass’ funniest moments on the series involve his ability to perform on the phone. Of course, each engages in phone play differently: Fish is resigned to misery, Yemana deadpans, alternately oblivious and proud of his absurdity, and Harris rages indignantly against indignity.

Wojo, Harris, and Yemana bring back a Mr. Dilucca from Bellevue, irate over a news article in which the army admitted to germ warfare experiments in the New York subway system. The show is usually quite good with its research, so a quick search online reveals that Mr. Dilucca was of course correct.

According to the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/file_on_4/4701196.stm, accessed 04/19/2014), between 1954 and 1973 the Seventh-day Adventist church recruited conscientious objectors who agreed to trade frontline warfare for the task of becoming guinea pigs in biological weaponry experiments. But the experiments moved beyond the scope of the lab into public transit systems like the New York subway system. There, light bulbs with Bacillus globigii inside were dropped on the subway. Mr. Dilucca certainly had a right to be furious. But the symptoms he cited were common enough that the squad figures Bellevue is a better place for him. Hopefully his examinations will include diagnostics for the biological weaponry, even if the experiments ended in the early 1970s.

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One thought on “Barney Miller: Asylum/Group Home

  1. I wish I had discovered this blog when you were actively reviewing Barney Miller. I’m a big fan of the show, and, not knowing of this blog’s existence, have long been thinking of creating a blog to review every episode in order. I’m enjoying your write-ups.

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