Barney Miller: Evaluation/The Sighting/Inauguration/Season Four Ruminations

Evaluation

Airdate: May 4, 1978

This is an episode where everyone evaluates everyone else in a way, whether they want to or not. Wojo walks in on Roz, as there’s only a men’s room in the one-two. As embarrassed as she is, Wojo is predictably mortified for the rest of the episode.

An older couple files a complaint against possible vandal(s) who threw a brick through the window of their mom and pop adult bookstore called “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” They’re lifelong merchants who have had to abandon groceries for pornography, as the market has changed. It is after all, Manhattan in the 1970s.

Harris brings in a Mr. 1223, no “surnumber,” a numerology fanatic who shuns labels and has instead given himself a number as a name. He has a paranoid insight into the patterns that numbers reveal, so he’s decided to play the numbers game his way. Unfortunately the bank tellers weren’t as open as Dietrich to 1223’s attempt to open an account in that name. It’s Harris’ job to ID the collar.

And finally, per new protocols from headquarters, Barney has to fill out evaluations of the squad, making most everyone nervous, like the newbie Roz, except for Harris, who has a lunch meeting with a literary agent.

Needless to say, no one is particularly pleased with their evaluations. Irene and Eddie Schuman are survivors; they don’t much care what they sell, as long as they sell it. They’re victims of the local A&P taking their business, so they started their new store. Their adult kids, Russell Schuman and Susan Edwards are afraid that their parents are in danger of the mob and vigilantes. Of course, they’re the ones who threw the brick in the first place, making them quite hypocritical.

When inspecting the explicit evidence, Barney feels the need to protect Roz Licori from seeing it, betraying a certain hypocrisy on his part. He’s more hands off when fielding Wojo and Roz’ slight discomfort at their earlier encounter. Roz is concerned that the incident might be magnified due to her very brief tenure in the precinct. And Wojo is just easily embarrassed. There, the two manage to work it out.

The parents and children similarly work things out when Barney uses a little psychology by announcing that he’s going to have to book the younger two. That scares the parents out of pressing charges. The Russell would prefer that the two of them would live in a condominium in Florida, but Irene and Eddie proudly assert their independence. Susan would settle for them not living above the store.  On their way out, they recognize Levitt, who might be a customer at the store.

Harris discovers Mr. 1223 is actually a Mr. Ira Grubb and releases him with a slip for a court date. The date and time disagree with Grubb’s theories. So to compensate, he suggests wearing a three-piece suit. I’m surprised Harris didn’t come up with such a suggestion himself, whether numbers were involved or not.

Meanwhile the evaluations of the squad don’t go quite as well. Harris gets rejected by his literary agent for lack of experience. Everyone’s incessant curiosity, coupled with Levitt’s request to include a statement of his own, has provoked a hasty and relatively harsh review doled out at the end, though Barney’s happy to discuss the matter with the squad, in alphabetical order.

This is sadly the last appearance for Rosslyn Licori, but not for Mari Gorman. She’ll reappear much closer to the end of the series.

The Sighting

Airdate: May 11, 1978

When an officer isn’t exactly on time at the one-two, which usually means a few minutes late from the previous night’s liaisons, there’s usually a pretty good reason for it. In this case, Wojo comes in, disheveled with lipstick. Barney thinks it’s exclusively one of Wojo’s typical liaisons, but Wojo’s actually late because he’s seen an unidentified flying object.

Ever vigilant, Wojo called in the sighting, prompting a visit from the Air Force. The representative sent is a Captain William Donnelly, hidden under the comical and symbolic shadow of his uniform cap like band leader Harry L. Dinkle from Funky Winkerbean.

He educates Wojo on the four categories investigations into the sightings usually fall under: artificial or otherwise explainable objects, unexplainable objects, hoaxes, and hallucinations of the mentally ill. After receiving more calls of sightings of the large, metallic, cigar-shaped craft, Captain Donnelly reluctantly relays the official statement from the USAF that the National Weather Service was using a weather balloon the previous night.

Meanwhile, Doris Roberts returns. Previously, she played Louise Kaufman the wife who shot at her husband for using a sex surrogate…in the episode “Sex Surrogate.”

But here she plays Harriet Brauer, a role she’d play several more times in the series. This character is a similarly distressed wife, this time to a Phillip Brauer, played by Peter Hobbs, who previously played Charlie Prevette, the thief who took advantage of the police strike in “The Strike: Parts I & II.”

Phillip Brauer has been warned of an imminent global financial meltdown that would reduce paper monetary assets to a value less than the paper itself. Dietrich informs Harris of this warning, to which Dietrich is of course privy, prompting Harris to reassess his portfolio.

However, Harriet Brauer wants Phillip Brauer arrested for an even more panicked response. Not only has he traded as much of his paper money and investment portfolio into gold, he’s sold most of their possessions for the same precious metal without discussing the matter.

Harriet is less concerned with their financial well-being than she is that they’ll share the burden. So Harris brings Phillip in, found armed with a shotgun in his apartment.

With Barney preoccupied with Captain Donnelly, Harris resolves the Brauers’ situation by using one of Barney’s classic speeches on perspective, while buying up some gold for himself.

Levitt is left bringing in the gold as evidence. It recalls another role of Ron Carey’s, Brophy from the Mel Brooks film High Anxiety (1977). Of course, when Harris handles it, Dietrich cites the hold gold has on people, which could recall the John Huston/Humphrey Bogart/Walter Huston collaboration Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

With both Nick and Roz gone, Levitt has taken Yemana’s desk, filling in for him. He gets to be a detective, on a temporary basis, without the full promotion. So Dietrich commiserates with him, as a recent newbie himself, before claiming his coffee mug.

Dietrich also exacts his trademark unsettling comfort-making by telling Barney and Wojo that more and more people are convinced that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, that some of them have visited Earth, and that some of that smaller group may already live among us. He gives the two a knowing smile, as if he himself is one such omniscient being. We already know that he is!

Inauguration

Airdate: May 18, 1978

There are times when Barney Miller plays slightly fast and loose with the timeline in the show. Some episodes take place in winter, but air in spring or fall, some episodes cite a specific historical event, but air a while later. So it might not surprise many that an episode that takes place on the inauguration day of Mayor Edward Koch, which was January 1, 1978, airs as the season finale, in May of the same year.

Besides the fact that use of the actual speech at the end, would necessitate production after the event itself, I suspect the theme served as an evocative context for a season finale, of beginnings and endings and transitions.

If we’re to take the timeline of the episode literally, then there’s no suspense for the decisions characters make because we’ve seen them around the precinct in stories that presumably take place after Inauguration Day.

This analysis is necessary because of what happens in the episode. With Harris assigned to the inauguration, he impresses the mayor enough that he gets offered a job at the mayor’s office.

Levitt has bought a new blazer in case his filling in for Yemana leads to a more permanent assignment to the squad room. The blazer is an awful plaid mishmash of colors that look like what Doctor Who’s Colin Baker might wear to pose as a used car salesman. But since it’s the 1970s, no one notices.

Since he’s occupied in his dream job, it falls to newcomer Officer Zatelli, played by Dino Natali, to be the uniform assigned to mail call. For Levitt the grass must always be greener on the other side because he’s horrified at the lack of bombast with which Zatelli delivers the mail. We’ll see more of Zatelli, though it would be spoiling too much to reveal any further character traits at this time.

Wojo has been assigned to check out the mayor’s apartment building during the transition and found an Allen Korbel smoking a joint in one of the apartments. Mr. Korbel cited medicinal purposes. Dietrich observes the thick lenses of Mr. Korbel’s glasses and realizes the marijuana’s being used for glaucoma. This is another case of Barney Miller being certainly as relevant today as it ever was.

Most dangerously though, are threats to the mayor on his day. A Mr. X calls into the one-two, threatening to jump off a building if the inauguration isn’t halted. Revealed to be a Noel Cadey, played by Philip Sterling, who previously played Mr. Buckholtz in “Discovery,” he claims to be the legitimate mayor of the city, “in the hearts and minds of the people of New York.”

Another threat comes from an Evelyn Holly, who has written threatening letters to various departments in the city. She’s played by Florence Halop, who previously played similarly spunky characters like Mable Kleiner in “Massage Parlor” and Mrs. Pierce in “Bus Stop.”

So, Harris accepts the job with the mayor, upsetting Barney and Wojo. Barney tries to be more professional about it through stoic denial, while Wojo wears his emotions on his sleeve by lashing out at Harris, jumping to conlusions. They’ll both miss him, and they both wish he would have discussed such a large decision with them. Even Dietrich laments that he won’t hear euphemisms for Bellevue ambulances anymore.

Cadey is a third-party candidate who may have been a popular candidate amongst the dead. Harris encounters Cadey and the two verbally spar. It’s nice to remember a time when someone of a different political party, like Republican Ronald Harris, could take pride in working for a mayor like the Democratic Edward Koch.

But Harris is actually displeased with the actual work he has to do. Koch has assigned him petty errands, so he quits.

Zatelli brings up a radio so that the squad room can listen to Koch’s speech, much as they listened to President Ford tell New York City to drop dead and to the results of the 1976 elections, where Ford lost to Carter. We too, get a snippet of the actual audio, hearing Koch say “I know that the people of New York have not forgotten how a city really works…we begin a new year and a new administration. The mistakes of the past are passed. This is a new beginning. We have been tested and the testing will continue. But we have survived and soon we will begin again to flourish.”

Again, the selection of Inauguration Day as a theme for the season finale becomes evident when Barney turns off the radio and says “Good luck Ed!” Everyone wishes each other good luck as they end the season.

Season Four Ruminations

We’re halfway through now, which makes one realize that the most famous character from the show was on the series for less than half its run. The season began with the departure of Fish, but the promotion of Dietrich, Levitt, and Luger to regulars, even if the latter two didn’t appear all that frequently.

That means, with Zatelli in the finale, we’ve pretty much met all the cops we’ll ever see as regulars on the show, with the exception of one more who appears in a few episodes in a couple of seasons. So, in effect, act one is over.

Act two, wherein mounting conflict occurs, could describe season four. Whereas previous seasons have featured Wojo’s conflict between what he feels is right and what might actually be more just, this season has diminished that to focus on other characters. It starts with Fish’s reluctance to retire, Levitt’s ambition, and Luger’s loneliness. As the season progresses, Harris searches for an apartment, and eventually has to live with Dietrich.

Though initially a fountain of knowledge, Dietrich’s know-it-all status irks the others, especially the two previous exemplars of intellect: Harris and Barney. Barney’s intellect is always in service of conflict resolution, so he’s less visibly bothered. Besides, Harris has to live with the guy.

But to me, Dietrich has always been a favorite. He’s no Cliff Clavin. Besides actually knowing what he’s talking about, his esoteric interests afford him compassion and empathy, or at least sympathy, with almost anyone who enters the one-two. Before he arrived, most of the complainants and collars would have only themselves as advocates, but Dietrich’s arrival has given them a voice so that their issues can get taken seriously.

Since Liz departed as a regular in season two, her concerns about Barney’s work have gone unheard. But she appeared once again in “Quo Vadis?” to voice those concerns. We were reminded once again how much they love each other with their easy chemistry and like-minds, but that love might not be enough for them. We’ll see their relationship get tested in the next year.

And while Levitt has finally gotten a taste of detective work, it’s been while Yemana is out. But we still have a little bit more to see of Yemana in the first half of the next season, so stay tuned for that.

We’re deep in the middle of the series and have yet to see just what these characters we love will do. Let’s press on to season five.

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