Barney Miller: Wojo’s Problem/Quo Vadis?/Hostage

Wojo’s Problem

Airdate: February 23, 1978

Max Gail’s directorial debut has Wojo at work early…five hour early. No, he’s not turning into Travis Bickle; he’s in early for the same reason he’s always in late: his love life. Bruno Bender, last seen in “Goodbye, Mr. Fish: Part I,” is back, just sort of hanging around looking through mug books, disgruntled that the vigilantism he advocated previously hasn’t occurred. Harris is annoyed at Dietrich for jumping in and correcting him on a piece of “Casablanca” (1942) trivia, before realizing, that Harris was speaking about something only indirectly related to the movie they were watching. And an Officer Rosslyn Licori is reporting to replace Chano Amangual, who left two years ago. In short, this is an episode focused more on the recurring characters of the one-two than the perps and victims of the week.

That said, Harris and Yemana pick up a Louis Frankel, a thief in a wheelchair, resulting in a runner where Yemana has to keep track of his collar, who has a habit of effective escape, even in the notoriously handicap-inaccessible precinct building.

Licori is played by Mari Gorman, who previously played Roberta Kerlin, the sexually frustrated and neglected housewife who was picked up for street walking in the episode “Bugs.” I previously thought that her performance stood out as particularly hilarious for its physical comedy. It seems that the producers realized this as well and decided to test her out as a possible new detective.

But as with Wentworth and Battista, most of her character appears to have to do with her gender. An extremely jealous husband, Vince Licori, comes by to bring her lunch, but his ulterior motive is to see if she’s developed an inappropriate rapport with the officers, not unlike her previous performance. That said, she’s great in the role, so it would be interesting to see if she develops further.

Barney’s a bit disappointed with the way his relationship has developed with Wojo. Wojo has kept his problem secret, even from Barney, when Barney says he wishes Wojo would feel comfortable confiding in him. So he manages to allude to his impotence, and Barney suggests not worrying too much about it. As uncomfortable as we usually see Wojo when it comes to what he considers sexually abnormal, Barney is similarly uncomfortable acting in a paternal role in that particular area.

Earlier, Wojo blew up at Bender, so he apologized for the outburst, which Bender appreciated, given the danger of death cops face. Dietrich rebuts this by delivering the thesis of the series by saying that of far more concern are the psychological pressures, listing several symptoms…including impotence.

Quo Vadis?

Airdate: March 2, 1978

Aside from the Solomonesque compassion built into the series, the original premise of the show was to feature a larger component of the tension between Barney’s strong desire to make a difference as a cop and Elizabeth’s equally strong desire to keep him safe. Though that didn’t happen, she was even included in the list of regulars for the first couple of seasons, underlining her importance to the show. Instead, we saw an easy chemistry between like-minded equals who both sought to change the world for the better. They clearly love each other so much, but each also feels the other goes overboard in their desire to protect. Liz particularly dislikes it when Barney tries to anticipate her concerns, as much as that’s what he does for a living.

This tension comes to a head after a teaser that suggests real danger before downplaying it. Yemana’s on vacation, so the squad room is understaffed. Levitt is in late, filling in, and Wojo has brought in a Milton L. Loftus for sticking up a market, this collar attempts to offer Barney and Liz advice through the episode. This forces Barney to go out on a call with Dietrich. Right before teaser, word comes in that Barney’s been shot.

The squad panics and calls every hospital they can find in the phonebook before Barney casually walks in. After everyone expresses their anger at his casualness, he shows off his bandage, the bullet from a nervous teenager’s gun grazed a finger in Cotterman’s Deli.

There’s another story, this week, that reveals itself to have a similar tone. Miss Jacobs has reported the Morrow Gallery for obscenity. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before on the show. While it appears to be another story about the hysteria of obscenity versus censorship, it’s actually something a bit deeper.

She’s finally brought in for vandalizing one of the nude paintings, so it’s brought in as her black paint stains successfully censored the work in question.

Barney’s anticipatory perceptiveness is given positive display when he realizes what Jacobs’ objection is really about. The painting was of Miss Jacobs. It was done in the 1930s as a private object by someone she thought she could trust, but the artist released the painting to the gallery and placed it for sale.

Barney convinces the gallery representative, Mr. Levant, to drop charges in exchange for Miss Jacobs’ purchase of the painting. The two are seen negotiating, but Jacobs is a hardball negotiator, moving up one dollar each round from $20 up on an $1,100 painting!

For the first time since “The Mole,” Liz shows up, concerned about Barney. The two have a conversation in his office that could best be described as “heated for them,” where she reiterates the option she laid out in the pilot, moving somewhere safe, this time suggesting Sweden, as she wipes away tears she didn’t want seen.

She returns at the end of the episode saying she meant what she said, saying she can’t stay. The future of their marriage is in such doubt, the usual freeze-frame at the end of the episode has given way to a shot of her looking towards Barney’s office. While she’s frozen in sadness, the camera doesn’t freeze, staying on her through the credits, watching her subtle mannerisms before cutting to the theme song. The versatility and power of the music is demonstrated well when placed next to the previous shot.

Hostage

Airdate: March 23, 1978

Licori is back, filling in for the still-vacationing Yemana, though she’d prefer to be called “Roz.” Everyone expresses curiosity about the carnation she’s placed on his desk while she sits there. She gets a bit defensive about the flower, though I think everyone else just admires it a bit.

Meanwhile, Harris has a real lead on an apartment, a high-pitched Louise Helton has been harassed by a ventriloquist dummy named Sammy, to the chagrin of the ventriloquist, Oscar Leeds, and a repeat offender, Leon Bidell, is desperate to escape, so he calls “Vern.” Luger even decided to stop by. Behind the scenes, this is also Hal Linden’s second episode in the director’s chair.

So it’s a pretty busy day at the one-two, crazy enough to prompt Harris to ask if Barney wants him to call “Disneyland East” (it should be noted that Disney World opened in 1971, several years before Barney Miller even premiered. A visibly nervous Vern finally comes to the defense of Leon as his defense lawyer. But it was just a ruse. Vern is actually, Vern Bidell, the armed brother of Leon.

The two of them corrall everyone into the cage. Perhaps Liz was right! Now that everyone is stuck, Barney tries to reason a way out, while everyone else deals with their respective issues in claustrophobic confinement.

Dietrich theorizes that Oscar Leeds suffers from schizophrenia, brought on by bitterness, frustration, and possession, traits he associates with the great tortured ventriloquists. He suggests that the death of the dummy will be a breakthrough in Oscar’s ability to socialize outside the act. Louise forgives Oscar when it appears that “Sammy” has “died,” though Sammy comes “back to life.”

Harris regrets not wiring the down payment for the apartment, but the story this week brings up an interesting point. So far, we’ve only seen this apartment business from Harris’ point of view. Though Dietrich comes off as an oblivious intellectual, he’s actually fairly sensitive. He doesn’t say it, but he’ll clearly miss Harris. And the situation will likely be mutual, “He did make a damn good quiche lorraine though.”

Luger, Levitt, and Licori all get in a few lines as Levitt’s request to Luger to move prompts Luger to move toward Licori and admire her wedding ring, making her a bit uncomfortable.

The hostage situation itself is a bit half-baked and improvised as the two brothers try to figure out how to escape. Barney lets them know that there are 157 uniformed cops downstairs, so there’s virtually no real chance for them. He manages to get out of the cage to answer the phone. He walks toward the barrel of Vern’s gun and convinces him to turn Leon in. So everyone else gets out of the cage, as the two brothers take their place.

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