Barney Miller: Rape/Eviction: Parts I&II


Airdate: January 26, 1978

Hoo boy. This is kind of a misstep for Barney Miller. The show tackled a similar theme in “Heat Wave,” back in the second season. In that episode, a Mrs. Boyle files a complaint against her husband for assaulting her. Barney and company hope cooler heads prevail, but that’s not enough. She files charges anyway. The episode showed a flaw in Barney’s approach that was of its time. He assumed that a situation like that could best be resolved within the confines of the home, that a husband and wife would always know best how to reconcile, and that it was always best to do so over divorce. Only Wentworth and Boyle disagreed.

Here a similar situation plays out, with even higher stakes. A Mrs. Catherine Lindsay storms in accusing her husband of rape. The scene is played for laughs, as if it’s Mr. Kopeckne reporting another supernatural occurance. In fact Barney claims that such an accusation has never come up. He prefers to enlist the aid of the DA’s office for an opinion on the matter. Dietrich cites the precedent that the husband has been allowed certain conjugal rights. I’ll let him pass on this one since he was only stating factual precedent.

But the rest of the episode muddies the point the show is trying to make. It’s unclear at best. When the Assistant DA drops by, it’s a Leslie Dornan, a woman both Harris and Wojo find very attractive. The accused, Marvin Lindsay, has enlisted his lawyer, Neil Korchak, who finds the idea that a husband can rape his wife ridiculous.

Korchak cites precedent dating to English common law. His assertion is that the highest charge possible is assault. Dornan is eager to use this case to set that precedent that Korchak finds ridiculous. He even objects to the idea of a woman Assistant DA working on the case. They argue the definition and precedent of rape. It’s as if it were the backward summer of 2012.

Dietrich and Harris are engaged in a case which also involves countering the presumed authority of the status quo. A Mr. Duggan reports a theft from a priest while he was in the confessional booth. Dietrich’s hunch is that it was someone impersonating a priest, so he looks into other crimes involving perpetrators impersonating authority figures. It almost suggests Frank Abagnale, Jr., but Dietrich guesses that the crook is doing it, not just as a way to gain trust, but as a mask for his own feelings of inadequacy. It’s a psychological approach Harris would have taken a couple of years ago, but his jealousy over the usurpation of his role in the squad room convinces him that such crimes are coincidentally related, nothing more. The two finally catch Ross, a thief impersonating a cop, and Harris concedes to Dietrich’s methodology by asking the cop if he feels inadequate.

Meanwhile Yemana has decided to give up on his bookie, instead opting for state off-track betting. Though legal, he brags about it in front of Dornan, oblivious to her position within the department.

This episode raises a very serious issue, but resolves it as though it was a typical marital squabble. The men of the squad give Marvin some advice that he should attend to her with romance. That would be fine in another story, but this is not a simple case of neglect, as far as we can tell.

I will say that the audience seems to be ahead of the writers here. When Dornan rebuts Korchak by saying “When I’m through, there won’t be a woman in this country who won’t be grateful that we didn’t bend under the pressure of convenience,” they applaud and cheer.

Harris agrees citing William Wordsworth, perhaps in a competition of intellectualism with Dietrich, “Spirit, yet a woman too!”

Dietrich counters, “There is nothing like a dame,” citing Oscar Hammerstein’s song from South Pacific.

Though neither of them, nor Wojo, “gets the girl,” I was glad that Dornan and Korchak didn’t end up “finding each other” as happens in other episodes. Dornan remains fiercely and wonderfully independent, even from the ideologies of the writers of the episode, who might very well have found both her, Catherine, and Korchak to be opportunists.

I’m sure the writers were well aware of another show on the air around the same time, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It was a dark Norman Lear comedy that used the soap opera format to examine consumer culture and conformity. The show was syndicated, and usually broadcast during late-night, so it could get away with a lot more than perhaps Barney Miller could. But even Lear’s primetime shows certainly weren’t afraid of rape.

In the very first episode, airdate Mary Hartman comes on to her husband, Tom, and he rebuffs her. That would be well enough, and even applauded, as it runs counter to the stereotype that men are always willing. But that’s not Tom Hartman. He explains to a sexually frustrated Mary that he doesn’t like it when she initiates. His actual words are “Because every time I feel like doing something you do it first, that’s why…it kills everything. It makes me feel like not doing anything…that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

“What am I supposed to do when I feel like making love to my husband?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he counters, trapping both of them for the next several weeks.

On the flip side, on episode 178, which aired on December 8, 1976, over a year before this episode, Tom actually does force himself on Mary. She frantically calls him out on it, as it’s happening and desperately manages to talk him down. To Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, it’s clear that rape within marriage happens.

Part of the problem is that the thesis of Barney Miller as a whole is one where Barney goes by-the-book when possible, yet urges complainants to settle things outside the justice system. In most cases this is a perfectly good approach, but when abuse has occurred, there needs to be the support of the system.

Until 1993, it was up to state law to ascertain the legal rights of the victim in cases of marital rape, as precedent had indeed been set by 17th century English common law. As late as 1962, the Model Penal Code included a marital exemption. But in New York, the case of the People v. Liberta in 1984, struck down the marital exemption to rape as unconstitutional. The movement had certainly been underway by the time this episode aired.

The episode could have gone a long way towards acknowledging the seriousness of the charges, simply by establishing the knowledge of previous cases. Considering the show brought the issue up, only to take some air out of it, I’m not sure it was worth the premise.

Eviction: Part I

Airdate: February 2, 1978

Two-parters are the only ones to show titles on screen. I’ve mentioned before that cliffhangers on this show are done in a fairly low-key manner, as I’ll get to soon.   Wojo brings in a prostitute, Elena Elezando, (who previously played another prostitute way back in “Courtesans,” and was also Azetbur, acting Chancellor of the Klingon Empire in Star Trek VI), and an elderly non-English speaker, Jorge Rodriguez. I bet the squad wishes Chano was around to help. The two are among several low-income residents who remain in Hotel Manchester, a hotel being torn down to make room for high-end condominiums. They have no place to go to as it appears eminent domain does not apply in the private sector. The city departments have not been of any practical help either. Barney tries to convince them to obey the court order, but has no choice but to put them in the cage.

On a lighter note, Barney suggests that Dietrich follow the relaxed protocol of the other officers and call him by his first name instead of rank. On his way out to field a case, Dietrich suggests Barney call him “Arthur.” Barney, understanding the tension between roommates, assigns Yemana over Harris on the case. The two come back with a shoplifter from Landry’s Market, eating as she goes through the aisles. Dietrich alerts Barney that he’ll need to take her to Bellevue, as the suspect doesn’t know her own name. He’s of the opinion that she exhibits the symptoms of amnesia, confirmed by Bellevue, so he brings her back and hopes to get a room for her at the Greenwich. Barney observes that Dietrich is attracted to her, gently warning him that this isn’t a Mickey Spillane novel.

Aside from Luger coming in to announce that he’s using up some mandatory vacation time, (he asks Yemana if Flower Drum Song is still playing on Broadway. To Nick it’s an annoyingly racist remark, to the audience, it’s an in-joke referencing Jack Soo’s performances in the stage and film productions of the musical), these are the two plots over the two parts. They run pretty separately, though Luger plays an important role in Barney’s plot.

Barney is someone who has fought against Internal Affairs on behalf of his detectives, but he’s escaped accusations in the past. That’s because he’s very by-the-book, and has been able to marry that consideration with the best interests of the cops, complainants, and arrestees in his charge. But here, he attempts to stall Manhattan South, as well as the representative hired by the hotel, Clayton Walsh (played by Dave Madden, the hilarious straight man Reuben Kincaid from The Partridge Family).

He finally lets Rodriguez and Elezando go, to the loud objections of Walsh. Levitt volunteers to be part of the assault team, should one be necessary. As Barney clearly doesn’t want to use one, Levitt settles for translating, even though Barney knows more Spanish than he does.

Wojo and Levitt return from bringing the two back to the hotel, out of breath after running from the SWAT team deployed by Manhattan South. Luger returns, on record for expressing disgust for what he’s about to do, relieve Barney of duty, placing Yemana in charge…

Eviction: Part II

Airdate: February 9, 1978

When I say that these cliffhangers are low-key, what I mean is that business appears to return to normal, such as it is. Nick bought a suit and tie to go with his temporary promotion, though he exercises no pleasure in replacing Barney. If he did, it is robbed of him immediately as a Lieutenant Vogel from Staten Island replaces Nick in command, glumly hiding in his office, a bit like Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s previous captain played by Michael Hagerty.

Vogel is morose and cynical, aware of Barney’s reputation. Barney comes in from his debriefing to pick up his mail during his suspension. He finds Vogel in his office and Vogel is incredulous that Barney is as civil as he was. He almost has a point as Barney tries to fight Wojo to be the one to yield his desk. It’s Barney’s famous civility taken to an extreme.

When Wojo, Harris, and Yemana return from the Manchester Hotel, they report to him that the Marines are there and shots have been fired. This is an issue even more relevant today, what with the militarization of the police, and increased use of intimidating assault uniforms and surplus military-grade equipment used by municipal police departments. It’s such a problem, there are several books on the subject right now, including Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko. With Manhattan South’s Lieutenant Rossmore desperate that a tenant hit by a bullet will yield bad publicity, his captain wants Barney to go in to negotiate. The tenants won’t talk to anyone else.

So for the first time in a long while, we see a set other than the squad room. Barney goes to one particular apartment in the hotel where the tenants have assembled. He frantically tries to explain the danger of the situation, using the little Spanish he knows. Though Elezando, their de facto representative, speaks English, he does it as a desperate gesture of good faith. He asks her to convey that he will do everything in his power to find homes for the tenants but laments that the tenants can’t beat the police.

He does some work on his end to convince Walsh to speak to his corporate superiors at Drexler /Foz to fill one of their vacant buildings with the tenants. As often happens on the show, we see the frustrated, guilt-ridden middleman in Clayton Walsh, so he rants to Barney as well as his supervisors. It doesn’t help that he’s drunk, but the tense situation has been deflated as temporary housing has been secured. It’s a solution, if imperfect. It’s enough to get Barney’s command back.

Dietrich gets a more wistful ending as he finally tracks down the identity of the woman suffering from amnesia, Sister Jennifer DiLucca. There’s no chance of anything beyond a platonic relationship for him now, but he’s cheerful enough about it, “Hey, don’t worry about it,” he tells Barney. “When I lose I lose to the biggest.”


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