Goodbye, Mr. Fish: Part I
Airdate: September 15, 1977
At this time I have a tricky job reviewing this story in its proper context. Two days after “Goodbye, Mr. Fish: Part I” aired, the second season premiere to the series Fish aired. It was titled “The Missing Fish,” airdate September 17, 1977. “Goodbye, Mr. Fish: Part II” aired on September 22, 1977. I’m working from the Shout! Factory release of the complete series, which features the entire first season of Fish, but not the second season. I haven’t found a copy of the episode online to work from either. In lieu of that, this review will be of the Barney Miller two-parter, minus the context of the middle part.
It’s a credit to the show that I didn’t realize there was a third part in there, and what’s there is a powerful two episodes of television. The episode starts with the casual acknowledgement of Fish’s retirement as the squad prepares for a “simple dignified presentation of a gift,” but it’s “not a party.” Luger spends much of the episode obliviously skipping to himself cheery that he gets to celebrate the career of someone he cares for. He even assumes Fish is in the bathroom and tries to sing to the bathroom door to surprise him. But Fish isn’t there.
Levitt delivers the mail to a disinterested squad room and of course offers himself as a replacement for Fish’s duties, mournfully conceding that the offer might be in bad taste. Barney addresses the entire room when he says that Fish is not to be pitied, but congratulated for his well-deserved rest, for what really would turn out to be a long life after leaving the one-two (for Abe Vigoda certainly!).
But after that, the episode surprisingly shifts its focus to much more pressing matters. There’s still a job to do after all. Bruno Bender, owner of Bender’s Sporting Goods and president of the Lower Manhattan Merchants’ Committee for Social Reform has distributed posters for a $1,000 reward for the fatal wounding of anyone caught in the act of a violent crime. He’s played by Stanley Brock, previously seen in “Rain” as Arnie the club owner and in “Block Party” as Burgess the Barber, but this will be a recurring character. And here he’s caused quite a stir, encouraging vigilantism with a financial reward.
The first potential victim of this practice is Harold Stimple, an attempted armed-robber of a ma and pa grocery store, each of which was armed with a .38 and a meat ax, respectively. Harris and Dietrich bring him in and he complains about the posters. Barney is clearly not happy about them either, so he brings Bender to assess the legality of the posters and try to see what standing he’ll have to get the posters removed. Bender is far from cooperative, yet Barney tries everything he can, especially his famed reasoning skills. But Bender is completely immovable.
Wojo gives Barney the phone, a Mr. Falconetti from the DA’s office is on the phone. To play his cards to the vest, Barney transfers the call to his office. Falconetti isn’t very sympathetic; it looks like there isn’t much that can be done about the signs.
Wojo and Nick get a call for a shootout so Barney has Kogen send up some uniforms, but Levitt manages to make his way onto the team. To keep Bender entertained, Dietrich gives him a mug book in lieu of a magazine. That’s probably not the best idea for a paranoid vigilante with delusions of grandeur, especially when Wojo and Yemana bring in two of the people from the shootout, Mr. Rosten and Mr. Cotterman, two familiar faces to the precinct. Mr. Rosten is a jeweler, last seen in “Power Failure,” and Mr. Cotterman was previously seen in “Protection” and “Arsonist.”
Cotterman reacted to a stray bullet in his store by running out with his gun blazing. The bullet was from Mr. Rosten, previously established as shooting in the dark. Rosten’s store was the store actually being robbed, so he chased the suspect toward the Cotterman’s. The suspect got sent to the hospital, but the two continue their sniping with words as their bullets while they get booked.
Bender wants to leave, but now that there’s been a victim he’s part of the official investigation. He takes it well enough, congratulating Cotterman. The scene is played for laughs, Stimple is taken to Manhattan South and he wishes for protective custody, the two shopkeepers argue and argue as Wojo takes a call from Beekman Downtown Hospital.
The suspect is dead.
The air might as well have been sucked out of the room as the audience is silent for most of the rest of the episode. This show has dealt with vigilantes before, but never have the consequences been so powerfully clear. Everyone in the squad room is visibly shaken, even, in his own way, Bender.
But he’s unrepentant. His attempt to comfort Cotterman betrays his deep misunderstanding of the situation as he argues that no jury would convict Cotterman or Rosten. They’re safe from that kind of persecution. Cotterman and Rosten are both clearly afraid of what may happen next, but everyone but Bender understand that conviction is so very much not the point. The two of them ask if the ballistics analysis will be able to determine who killed the suspect. They agree to share the grief by requesting that they not be told who killed him. That might not be a request Barney can grant but he understands.
Luger reenters having searched high and low for Fish. It really says something about the gravity of this episode that the revelation that Fish is nowhere to be found is what lightens the mood for a final dark joke from Dietrich in which he mentions a guy he knew that would go for angst-ridden contemplative walks. Barney asks what happened to the guy, but surely regrets it when Dietrich says “The tide brought him in.”
Goodbye, Mr. Fish: Part II
Airdate: September 22, 1977
It would appear that “The Missing Fish” is a prequel to the events of the two-parter, or a midquel, situated during the two-parter. Continuing immediately after the previous episode, Barney is on the phone with the eight-six. Bernice enters during the phone call, worried about Fish, but even before the end of the teaser, everyone’s relatively optimistic assumptions are ostensibly confirmed when he strolls into the precinct as if nothing happened.
But, as it’s the middle of his shift, and the beginning of the episode, there’s something to worry about. Bernice mentions the way Fish was talking the previous night and the mood he was in, but he obviously doesn’t want to hear about it. In fact he’s in such denial that he’s convinced himself that today isn’t his last day.
That’s where the meat of this episode lies. It’s something that Dietrich, Harris, and Barney psychoanalyze in Barney’s office. It’s a simple concept, executed beautifully by Abe Vigoda’s performance. He doesn’t exactly appear out of character, but he does reveal a side that’s slightly alien. He’s just a bit tougher and he’s not there to deliver his fantastic one-liners at all.
When Fish and Wojo are out on an assignment, Fish tackles Harold Sanders an attempted robber of a liquor store. Fish yells at the perp to sit down as he furiously lectures him before he books him. But Barney doesn’t give Fish the chance, instead asking to talk to him in his office. Barney tries to get Fish to relax so he can ease Fish into the reality that today is actually his retirement.
The force with which he tells Fish that today is his last day is almost as shocking as Fish’s outburst to Sanders. During his walk to work, Fish came to the conclusion that there was too much crime out there and that he’d talk to the commissioner about making an exception to the mandatory retirement requirement. Given the state of the city in the 1970s, he’s not wrong, but Barney reminds him, as he reminded everyone else in the previous episode, that retirement is not a death sentence, but a reward. Fish reluctantly complies.
Fish isn’t the only one that’s suffering from some mental distress. Dietrich and Harris bring in an Edward Sellers, a paranoid vandal who tore down grocery store security cameras and suspects that there are low-talking clones everywhere.
After Sellers is taken to Bellevue, Fish announces that he’s going to clear out his desk, so Harris whispers to Wojo to get the present. Luger and Yemana each thought the other was going to provide the cake and the punch. A hush comes over the room as all attention goes to the man of honor. Wojo presents an envelope to Fish. It’s a $1,000 New York City municipal bond, which may or may not mature by 1997. Eh, well the thought counts for something.
After the brief party, Fish presents Dietrich with his desk. Dietrich has been looking for a home desk since he transferred. Fish has an eerie moment of prescience as he tells Nick to take care of himself. He tells Harris that the young detective will soon be gone, off on a successful writing career. Wojo wants to say something to Fish, but instead gives him a deep and sincere hug, to which Fish replies “My very words.” I guess there was one sweet little one-liner in Fish’s last show. Fish simply tells Barney “Thank You,” before surrendering his gun and slowly savoring his last moments at the one two.
There is lingering sentiment on the peg used for the roster board as Fish moves it from “On Duty” to “Off Duty” and Barney later takes the peg himself. And that’s all that needs to happen as the show simply shares in Fish’s and the squad’s long goodbye.